Saturday, November 06, 2004

Meet Thumper: マイカー (My-Car [sic])

Thumper is the fourth in succession of an unfortunate series of cars assigned to grunt out their final kilometres under my ill qualified stewardship. There was Behemoth (Reference Job 40:15), who thundered off the side of I-87 on cruise control one early, early morning with Kazu Kato and myself in her belly. We all survived that one, but a couple of months later I lent the old beast to Kazu for one of his shopping expeditions and she self-destructed, leaving Kazu stranded on I-276. Then there was Cheesebox, officially christened Bucephalus Squirrel (Bucephalus in honour of Alexander the Great’s horse, and squirrel because that crazy little yellow Dodge was . . . well, just squirelly. Cheesebox turned out to have a weak spine, and one day his sub-frame suddenly snapped as I was pulling out of a gas station. Then there was Onesimus, a black five-speed stick shift with a sun roof. A very, very snazzy car for a fourteen-year-old, but when his breaks gave out I just let him sit in my Toronto driveway for a year. Onesimus was towed away for free the month I came to Japan, and by that time his wheels wouldn’t even turn in neutral. His tires left a long black trail as he was dragged off to recycle heaven. Now, thanks to the generosity (or possibly cruelty, from Thumper’s perspective) of Jacob and Autumn Witt, Thumper’s soul (which exists on a little piece of paper) has passed into my hands without even the dignity of a pecuniary exchange. Tonight, as his unworthy master, I brutally forced him to carry me over the harrowing fifteen kilometres of gravel, mountainous road to the kappa’s hot spring, and he certainly thumped around pretty hard all the way up there.

And now to our real point: are Japan’s roads safe for civilians, or do you need to be a Gundam pilot to survive them? Here are some daily events that used to shock me, but to which I have quickly grown accustomed:
1) senior citizens dodging out of nowhere onto shoulder-less roads
2) people passing me on a solid orange line when I am already well over the speed limit
3) the three cars ahead of me going through a red (definitely not yellow) light
4) a car behind me passing me and three other stopped cars on a solid orange line in order to go through a red light—presumably because it didn’t look like anyone was coming anyway . . .

Now I am Canadian, and I pride myself on knowing how to speed. I am not foreign to the concept of ethically modified defacto speed limits. But lately I’ve seen a lot of police cars hanging out on the side of the road, the Noheji police almost pulled me over, and all this is making me a little edgy. So the other day I was very carefully trying to keep around the 60 mark in a 50 zone. Oddly, I began to feel very dirty inside, as if I were committing a social crime against the local humanity. As ten, then twenty cars began to pile up behind me I was faced with a choice: live in harmony with all people and go back to driving 70~80 klicks, or really screw up everyone else’s afternoon in order to save my own metaphorical buttocks from the possibility of police interference. I chose the latter out of sheer meanness.