Long shutter, Colombo evening
Sometimes I forget that this isn’t normal. We’re taking the kid to school. Today the cow isn’t nosing at the gate. We can leave without gathering mangos to bribe her down the street. The neighbors did an ice cream dansal (street alms-giving) last night and the canopy is still taking up half the street. There’s a van parked and an old lady having a chat in the morning commute is always a bad trip.
The streets are flooded. The streets are narrow. We pull over to get the kid to put on his seat belt. We’re behind a bunch of construction sand piled on the street. Merging into traffic we come across a school van heading straight for us, going the wrong way. OK. We’re on a detour to avoid the main road but now we get to the right turn down Hill Street. There’s a pack of dogs in the intersection, grinning stupidly. I thought they were having an orgy but it looks like they’re just hanging out. Normally as you head down Hill Street there’s a bit of beauty as you see the ocean over the overpass. I can usually tell how the sea is feeling by what color it is. Today I think I didn’t even look.
The left turn off of Hill Street gives you a green light at the same time as pedestrians. So you’re turning into pedestrians, every day, by default. It’s confusing, but I don’t get how something can be confusing every day. There must be another word for that (that isn’t a swear).
There’s more traffic going into Colombo than out (to Mount, where school is). People heading in try to drive in the oncoming lanes, which is illegal and rude, so the cops set up cones. These cones are nothing unusual, they just mark the normal, legal lane boundaries. It seems unnecessary. Just ticket the people.
The traffic gets messed up today cause a cop is jaywalking across the street carrying cones. When there’e a human crossing the person immediately in front usually stops, but everyone else uses it as a sort of pick-and-roll blocking tactic. Same goes for ambulances. Everyone swerves around the cop, messing up the traffic flow. It takes a while for things to readjust.
The hallowed St. Thomas college is the worst. There is no traffic plan, just hundreds of cars snaking through roads wide enough for a bullock cart at best. What baffles me most is that there actually is room – hotel and restaurant parking – that simply isn’t open. Everyone could cycle through there if there was a plan, but those vacant, paved areas remain closed. I don’t get why those places don’t just open up and hand out menus to the parents. I for one would be grateful, plus people are forgetting anniversaries and stuff all the time. Top of mind is not a bad place to be. No one has thought of that though. The cars just form an ad hoc loop down a narrow one-way road. And the school vans. And the trishaws.
When I was single I used to drive fast and not care. Now I drive slow because I do. Not stupid slow, which is also dangerous, but I leave a car-length ahead and don’t rush. Today this is infuriating the guy behind me, who is honking incessantly. There’s like three cars behind me and we’re driving down a residential street with kids and animals in the road. I know the road and it’s not possible or even worthwhile to pass, but he keeps trying, running into speed-bumps and oncoming traffic. I just keep driving but it’s irritating.
What Sri Lankans call a two-lane road is what Americans would call a driveway, or an alley. Even these roads sometimes randomly narrow out to a one-way stretch, with no particular warning. You just have to hope your car gets in first, cause whoever gets in second will have to back out. The road narrows like this, then clears. I turn off and the honking donkey behind me honks again for good measure. He’s got kids in the car. I don’t get it.
Get back to the intersection and the dogs are still there, grinning off to the side. Guys try to pass, running into oncoming traffic and honking cause they’re angry. If you have to honk in order to pass, maybe it’s not safe to pass. Maybe just wait till, say, you’re not cutting across a pedestrian crossing in front of a school between a bus and van full of children. Or maybe not. Get back home down our actually narrow lane and there’s a huge school bus parked directly in front of my gate, looking confused. I would say FML, but that it doesn’t even register as especially bad anymore. This is my life. These are the Colombo streets.