Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Qs on Ps

Today I finally made my way to the RTA to exchange the small pink Motorcycle Riding Certificate of Competence for P plates. Now I can get an international drivers license, motorcycle insurance and consequently I can now ride a motorcycle legally, anywhere in the world. In other words - a crucial tool for the set.

It being the first day the RTA was open since before Christmas, the place was filled with the usual array of the glazed faces of people waiting. I took my number which was low but for the disconcerting letter that prefixed the first digit on the receipt and sat down. While waiting I had time to think. I thought about how Sydney is by far the most aggressive in any city I've travelled to - even any city in the US where despite its assembly of over-macho, immense trucks is a yoga retreat by contrast. I have witnessed friends who are normally relaxed intelligent and enlightened individuals transform into yelling, madly gesticulating banshees their teeth gnashing with impotent rage as they slam the heel of their hand on the center of the steering wheel, their world reduced to a pedestrian that is taking too long to cross. There is the constant manta of "let's teach 'im a lesson" as mad eyes pop in the review mirror scan for a face through the grey fog of the cabin in the car behind, as one such friend will slow to a crawl in response to this car getting too close.

Most of Sydney is drawing on, and emptying themselves into a vast reservoir of collective rage that exists just below the surface its streets. If you remember the 1989 film, Ghostbusters II where a river of slime in the sewers New York city provided a focal point for the population's mutual misanthropy. I envisage something similar.

Now, if you will indulge me in another metaphor, consider the concept of anger as heat. Heat is basically the speed with which molecules move in a substance. The hotter something is the faster the molecules move and, more tellingly, the more pressure these molecules are under the less heat (rage) is required to get a liquid to boiling point (an analogy for losing one's shit). A city such as Sydney has a finite amount of volume where more and more people (molecules) are entering the system - this means more pressure. You don't need to be a professor to understand that the more folks crammed into a small space results in more rage but the analogy is illuminating.

There is of course another factor that cannot be explained by mere thermodynamics. This factor became painfully obvious while I was earning that pink piece of paper I was holding, at the riding centre in Botany. The course consisted of an entire eight hour day, hosted by Upright, a company that is entirely separate from the drones at the RTA. It was entertaining and it was an education. The course was separated into two stages - the first was low speed manoeuvring around witch's hats - where our teacher could observe our skills in a more-or-less controlled environment and correct any bad habits that we had developed. The second stage was a street ride where we were taught how best to avoid getting into trouble on the road. The aforementioned road-rage was referred to, both implicitly and explicitly by our teacher, one example was people deliberately opening their doors to hit a lane-splitting motorbike - a disproportionately large punishment for a minor infraction. Defensive driving was the order of the day and as we all travelled on the road ride, we were given numerous tips on how to respond to idiots driving too close, beeping etc. The response was always "slow down and relax, you'll only get there a few seconds later plus you'll be fine". Numerous stops were employed to demonstrate this fact, whereby the spread of the group was timewise no more than a few seconds from first to last rider. The most interesting aspect was that it bordered on a lesson in Zen philosophy by which our swords of imaginary vengeance were to be sheathed, and aggressive drivers were avoided instead of confronted with "let's teach 'im a lesson".

The contrast between my motorcycle Ps and my car Ps test cannot be overstated. The latter required fifty hours of driving, input into a log book as well as reading a book on road rules (what signs mean etc). The supervisor for this learner could be anyone with a license - so the sins of the father could be passed down to the son. I understand today that there is a necessary thirty hours of training to be completed with an authorised supervisor but even here I doubt there is much emphasis on defensive driving. The test itself lasted barely fifteen minutes and tested the most elementary technical capabilities, such as a U-turn. I remember in my particular test I was stuck behind a bicycle going uphill. I was very nervous and remembered from the road rule book it said never cross double lines, the very type which then de-marked the limits of my lane. This meant an excruciating ascent at about 4 km/h until the supervisor said "Aww just go 'round". I am not advocating driving behind a bike for 4 km/h until one reaches an overtaking lane but it does show there are limits to checklist testing of people's ability to drive. Perhaps there might be a single seminar on the benefits of defensive driving or maybe just a demonstration that you don't have to drive like a dick. Now I'm not a lawyer but personally I think there should be a new law called morbidly aggressive driving, severe transgressions of which, especially for those in HSV utes or Holden Barina's will be punished by chemical sterilization to end the lineage of jerk drivers. Might be a good way to start to lower the temperature on Sydney roads.

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