This story is kind of a protest story. I wrote it after listening to the ‘listeners feed-back’ section of Radio New Zealand’s ‘Saturday Morning with Kim Hill‘. People were particularly rude and nasty to Kim after one particular interview. This happy experience is my response to all of those nasty people. I wrote this probably about three months, but did not want to post it until I had finished posting my ‘Clueless in America‘ story. So please read and enjoy this simple lighthearted story. And remember as always, if you would like to donate towards my writing, please just hit the button.
In the Car with KimA True Story from the Olden Days.
It was a reckless, arduous three thousand, seven hundred kilometre return trip travelling from the Baltic city of Klaipėda to the Dutch side of the English Channel. And at that, we did it in the olden days. We all remember the days before cheap laptops, when pocket-size mobile phones were only any good for making calls, and when ipods were still chunky things with relatively few gigabyte. It was before the days of commonplace Global Positioning Systems and posh cigarette lighter chargers. It must have been near on five years ago, back in the days when Eastern Europe was still separated by borders.
We fool-hardy Kiwis had decided to drive our ageing Opel Astra to a conference in the Netherlands and return with a load of humanitarian aid. The trip looked good on paper, but the embassy which gave us our map never prepared us for driving in Poland.
We took the early morning back roads through heavily forested south-western Lithuania, carefully and painfully skirting the Kalningrad region of Russia. We approached the Polish border, with an ageing map, a Thermos full of hot water and my ipod bulging at the rivets with a full four gigabyte of BBC and Radio New Zealand podcasts. This was going to be a long journey.
As soon as we hit the main road into Poland south of Marijampolė, we were swept up into an out-going tide of speeding trucks. My wife, navigator and ipod pilot, was given the job of finding the last service-station before the border. But the tide was departing our adopted nation at a faster speed than anticipated and before we knew it we were befuffling Polish border guards with New Zealand passports, a British driver’s licence and a Lithuanian registered car. I always feel sorry for those who speed up behind me in border queues; their elongated wait and inevitable overheating car are always a direct result of our somewhat eclectic and multi-cultural lifestyle.
Nothing or no-one had prepared me for Polish driving culture. It is a big country with lots of roads, a recent history of Communist dictators and not a lot of money. Thus ninety-nine percent of the roads that we drove on were one lane each way, narrow and unpredictable. Cars or at least what I would call normal cars were the minority on Polish roads. There was an endless fleet of what the British like to call articulated lorries, most of them travelling about twenty to thirty kilometres per hour faster than me. It was more than a wee tad scary having these trucks fly past you as they navigated the tree-lined undulating roads. The other phenomena that truly did make the road terrifying were the schools of tiny Fiat Bambinas and Fiat Nikkis. These excuses for cars were averaging about twenty to thirty kilometres per hour slower than our speed limit-abiding Opel. My accelerator/brake foot was getting a lot of action. It was October so it rained right across Poland. The roads were dark and slippery, my only sanity for this journey was the hours and hours of Radio New Zealand and BBC podcasts.
At one stage whilst battling along yet another wet tree-lined undulating road dodging pothole-bouncing Nikkis, we were confronted with the closing of our side of the road. There had been yet another accident. I hit my brakes and slowed down. Upon stopping the car behind a rather large articulated lorry, I looked into my rear-vision mirror to see another articulated lorry locked up, barrelling sideways down the road towards us. In fear of being the Astra in the sandwich I chucked the car into first gear and frantically drove into the roadside ditch, whilst watching terrified as this truck quickly filled up my rear vision mirror. At the last minute the truck driver knowing, that this was going to be nasty for us all, took his foot off the brake, allowed the truck to straighten up, pulled onto the wrong side of the road and sailed past us and the accident site at a speed of about ninety kilometres per hour. It was only by the grace of God that there was no oncoming traffic.
Shaken we continued towards the very attractive sounding German boader.
My highlight of the Polish section of our crazy trip was during our return leg. We were driving through the late afternoon. The rain, sleet and snow were coming sideways at the car in a fashion that allowed the elements to hit the wind-screen once and then bounce off it three or four times before eventually being collected by the wipers. Those wipers were on full, the heater was on full and yet the windows were still steaming up. My rear vision was blocked by boxes of orphanage-bound shoes, clothes, toiletries and an old rattly guitar. Though it was a Monday, blaring out of our fading German speakers was a rather excited and exuberant Kim Hill, she was talking about food.
I was tired, cranky and my body was hurting. The sleet was hypnotically dancing through the trees before colliding with my windscreen only to be collected by my squeaking hyperactive window wipers. Kim’s fascination with food was the only thing keeping me going and us away from those trees. She was talking about baked cheese cake with some lovely Kiwi cook. I was focusing on the road and focusing on remembering this delicious recipe that was crackling through the car. I was struggling to keep up, when all of a sudden Kim shrieked through the airwaves ‘oh you mean Phillie Creamed Cheese’. And somewhere around here the battery in the ipod went flat. Oh no, suddenly I understood what was being said and suddenly Kim my source of concentration was gone.
As lady luck would have it, we chanced upon a bedraggled looking cafe. We screeched to a stop, grabbed the ipod and charger and hopped our way across the rain-filled pot holes into the dive, the cafe. It just so as happened that beside every second boothed table was an electrical socket. Even before we were seated, our ipod was charging. We sucked down another of Poland’s notoriously disgusting and gritty coffees, scanned our surrounds and waited. The place looked like it had seen a few too many bad tastes seventies parties, with brown paisley wall paper and cream formica tables, but we didn’t care, our ipod was charging and somewhere locked in there Kim was waiting for us. The cafe also supported the obligatory table of leather jacket clad, vodka-drinking men wearing their closely shaved scalps like military medals. And of course a tired middle-aged, pinny-strewn woman served us all from behind a cream formica bench flanked by upside down vodka bottles, coffee cups and sugar sachets. And at that, our coffees were somewhat reluctantly emptied into our complaining stomachs, the ipod was wrenched away from the wall and we were back outside trenching through the sleet in search of our car.
Like a genie being released from a bottle, suddenly into our car burst the sounds of Kim extolling the virtues of New Zealand creamed cheese versus the branded Philadelphia version. My concentration was back and I returned to the tasks of memorising the recipe and dodging Nikkis whilst articulated lorries dodged us. Many a long hour continued as the Monday evening rhythms of Saturday Morning with Kim Hill romantically filled our car. The sleet continued to dance through the trees, the window wipers squeaked, the guitar rattled and Kim and my ipod pilot guided me safely home.
Thanks Kim, it was a long four gigabyte and a long trip home, but you helped us focus. The toiletries are long down the drain, the shoes and clothes are all worn out, the guitar continues to rattle and I forgot the baked cheesecake recipe. Though the ipod has been upgraded, every Sunday morning it eagerly waits for its weekly invigorating and bliss full instalment of Kiwi culture and fun interviews with cheeky, educated comments which we call ‘Saturday Morning with Kim Hill’.Thanks you so much for reading out for lunch. If you would like to contribute toward the running of out for lunch or donate money towards my writing projects, please click on the donate button. Thanks Kel.