a couple of days ago i went with a bunch of friends to a charming event at a swedish slott (castle) about 60 km south of stockholm. it was a christmas market, chock full of swedish handicrafts and tasty goodies...just a burgeoning winter wonderland waiting to be discovered. we met at the school and gathered out front to divvy up our riding positions in the three cars available: the first car was an audi SUV--it filled up first (and fast); the second car was missing all its hubcaps, parked at a 30 degree angle off of straight along the curb, and was of a make otherwise unknown in the western world. two friends, A and C, got in car number two with its driver, a woman who only one of us knew, who was maybe 4 foot 10 and had glasses about two inches thick. i didn't care what the third car was--there was no way in hell i was getting in car number two so i just walked away from it. the third actually turned out to be an adorable british-made (steering on the right) BMW station wagon...bonus!
there were four of us in car three, J was driving, and we got to the slott in good time. we waited outside for the two other cars full of friends from school--one car showed soon thereafter, but the other didn't...guess which one. 10 of us were standing outside in the drizzling, freezing cold waiting for car number two to make its way to the castle; we were all calling/texting A and C to no avail (again, only one of us knew the driver, but no one knew her number). 20 minutes later, i got a hold of A on the phone--i can hear C speaking swedish loudly to someone in the background--and she tells me they've just arrived, they're paying the parking attendant, and they'll be there shortly. she sounds off...more than off. she is not herself.
a few minutes later, car number two pulls into the parking lot, hesitantly, picks a spot, hesitantly, straightens in and out and in and out and in and out of the space, then two doors open up and we see two women practically flee the vehicle. i don't think the engine was even off yet. it's A and C--they are putting as much distance between them and the car as possible--and we 10 are watching them run to us: A is sober and possibly praying; C is white as a sheet with tears running down her face. they're in shock. the driver may have finally gotten into the space and turned off the engine by now.
A and C proceed to tell us about a car trip from hell in which their driver (who was either not quite able to speak enough english to communicate with them or just didn't care to) ran people off the road by drifting into adjacent lanes, drove literally across a traffic roundabout rather than in a circle around it, ran over rumble strips on the shoulders for miles, almost ran out of gas, and who capped off the horror by driving the wrong way down a highway. the driver amazingly had a GPS machine but it was positioned sideways on the floor, so A had to hold it flat in one hand up against the windshield while wiping the glass with her other hand...because the car had no defrost button (and no cloth). basically, it was a hellish ride for 60 kilometers. while they're telling us this, we're also watching the driver try and figure out how to lock her car doors in the distance.
finally the driver walks over to us and it is obvious that she is utterly oblivious to what she has done to A, C, and countless other swedes on her highway terror jaunt, so everyone clams up and off we go inside the castle. it was lovely and christmasy and wonderful, but the entire time A and C are really perseverating about the ride back. most didn't want to hurt the driver's feelings by explaining why it isn't appropriate to drive like mr. magoo in real life...however to be honest i had no such qualms of telling her as i've looked at enough of rich's trauma reconstructions from editing his photos to recognize an avoidable bad situation when i see one. i offered to explain to the driver why A and C would be riding on peoples' laps to get back to stockholm, but they wouldn't let me. thus, at closing time, A and C trudged back into the car of certain death with assurances that one driver (J) would be right in front and another right in back of them the whole way home. we all hoped it would be enough to actually get them all back to town in one piece--it was the sandwich theory of forced safe driving.
for the first 10 kilometers this actually worked--the driver kept up with us (we were in the front) and all was well. then we got onto the highway, and like a soggy sloppy joe it all fell to pieces. she wouldn't drive fast enough to maintain the minimum speed on the road, so every time a gap was created another car would jump in between us. this was problem number one. then the stubborn people who jumped in would just drive on our tail and not pass us...resulting in several cars between us and them. this was problem number two. problem number three came from our sweet and concerned driver, J, staring at the rearview mirror trying to find the car behind us...and failing to see the car that had turned in front of her on a roundabout. boom. we hit.
as i was sitting in the front on what would have been the driver's seat in the US (but this was a british model) and the car in front of us was trying to make a quick right-hand turn from the left lane, i got the brunt of the crash. the two in the backseat were fine; J was fine. even J's car did pretty well--i happened to be turned at an odd angle when we hit as i was also trying to find madame magoo. J was too stunned for words, except a lone "fuck." she totally earned that one. 30 seconds later we see the driver and our terrified friends pass us, realization dawning on their too-pale faces that they've now lost one of their stabilizing pieces of bread. the back driver was, mercifully, still in place and swooped past them to take the lead. she ultimately led everyone back to the safety of school. thank god.
i've come to think that the driver of car number two was such a force of destruction that she forced J to crash by her mere proximity even though she was not directly involved...and it may be so...but eventually we all made it back to school, but were quite late. of course our group in car number three was latest of all, getting there 45 minutes after pick up, but i have many kind friends who kept astrid entertained until i arrived. i am still feeling sore from the crash, but am trying to take enough muscle relaxers to keep me from remembering much of anything. what i will remember is A's picture that night of her well-deserved, giant glass of gin with lemon that she posted on facebook after she finally got out of the deathtrap. i need to go to system bolaget.
and thus ends the saga of how C cried, J crashed, M got hurt and A needed a big drink...!