Monday, November 22, 2010

Crosstown Traffic

Despite its mega subway system and buses, dependable transportation and Bejing are not synomous, My apt is about 2 miles frm the nearest subway stop which would dump me about a mile away from the mighty Global Times.

I've spent many months trying to decode the taxi matrix system to and from work but still it's a mystery.

Just when I think I've cracked it, everything changes and Im standing as a frozen loon feebly trying to flag down cabs with no success, frozen, standing and waiting thinking: "This is not forever. Really.I will wake up warm in my bed tomorrow no matter how long I stand here."

Winter is closing fast. Not the best time to be standing like a human Popsicle waving creaking and doing my best hitchhiker moves, which is why I made a deal recently as I was when a grizzled three wheeled motor cabby pulled up and recognized me as a sucker who once paid about three times the going rate to take me from my apt to work.

Fair enough. He knew where I lived and then began a plan. After I clambered in I phoned Chinese fluent/Global Times rock writer James Tiscione, late of NYC and Tucson, to see if he could seal a deal with Mr Motor Trycycle pick me up at 7pm Sunday-Thursday for a ridiculously inflated daily rate.

It worked well for four nights til the fifth as we were doing the death ride through crowded commuter traffic and pedestrians (vehicles rule over all people and over each other depending on size; a three wheeler only outranks a walking human or bicyclist) and he tried to squeeze in front of a bus.

Three wheelers are typically powered by worn lawn mower engines and strung together only with industrial rubber tubes, duct tape and faith.

Bad move. It went into slo-mo for me as I watched the bus loom. I've only been close to apparent death once before when a Denver hitchhiker pulled a gun on me and it was the same feeling this time: "Ok, this is where it ends. Sorry for messing up what I did and hope I did some good and will miss you Julian, forgive me for picking up this mofo, etc."

It was also a weirdly peaceful easy feeling. Accepting that my time had come and I couldn't prepare, but it was how it will be. I hope that's how it might be for many and maybe there is a brain chemical that mercifully kicks in to cushion it.

Enough shaky science. In this case, the earworm went from Jimi Hendrix's
"Crosstown Traffic" to "Hear my Train a' Comin' " and morphed into "I hear my bus a'comin' to squash me like a bug" and braced for the impact as the three wheeler managed to turn sharply and only scrape the behomouth bus. What followed was pure Two Stooges.

Lurching to keep steady and escape, three wheeler sped up to maximum 5 mph mower speed and I thought we were outta there, scattering pedestrians on sidewalks and bike lanes alike.

No way. Bus man, ignoring his primary directive to move passengers reliably and on time, braked suddenly to a halt, jumped out and in completely crowded commute traffic overtook us on foot and squared himself in front of the three wheeler hands on the hood. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.

Obscenities flew, bus man pounding on the three wheeler til my crosstown driver turned the cab off and emerged for what I thought might be a street fight.

Pedestrians and bored bus passengers emerged for the showdown as more traffic piled up behind us.

It was short and ultimately comical. Both frothed at one another, bus driver forcefully pointing to what appeared to be an invisible paint scrape and three wheeler ranting about bd's bad driving. Then as I thought I'd just better find another ride home, three wheeler takes a small wad of cash outta his pocket and hands it to bus driver who grins and gets back to his appointed rounds.

Three wheeler then comes back to his cab to ferry me unstably over sidewalks and against one way traffic as usual for an otherwise uneventful night in Beijing.


Peter said...

Watch yourself Justin!

You're just like crosstown traffic
So hard to get through to you
Crosstown traffic
I don't need to run over you
Crosstown traffic
All you do is slow me down
And I'm tryin' to get on the other side of town

Justin said...

"Tire tracks all across your back.
I can see you've had your fun.."
Thanks, Peter.

Marianne said...

Man, that's one of my fav. songs.
Be careful though!

Anonymous said...

You've got to start posting videos of these encounters.

Chuck said...

Hope those tire tracks are Goodyears because they would never hurt you Justin. I do know the peaceful feeling thing dating back to a charter flight from western Nebraska through heavy thunderstorms. Our small twin engine plane was flipped by an updraft and went into a flat spin at about 8,000 feet. In peaceful slow motion we were upside down headed to earth. No panic. No fear. Simply calm. The pilot righted the plane at 800 feet. My flying companions have never forgiven that pilot for going into the storm with no radar. I thanked him for his heroic efforts to save us, and started the rest of my life with a new perspective. You never know when it's all going to end . . . so enjoy it all to the end. Hope you are well my friend.