Oct 27, 2008

Life in the fast lane

After a lengthy hiatus, The Flashpacker is back! The date for this post is March 18 2009 which makes it over 5 long months.
Unfortunately for this blog post, routine life doesn't make for interesting travel stories.

Therefore the Flashpacker will turn his attention to observe the crazy life that is London-town. And of special interest to me this week is a suggestion for a pedestrian code of conduct to be enforced in London.

Last night I was walking to a restaurant and got shoulder barged on the pavement by 3 separate people. Each head-down, pavement hogging and without an apology. I tried to get out of the way but that just showed weakness. What was most intriguing was that they were women. Not to say that women don't shoulder barge, on the contrary. In London, women shoulder barge more than the men do. At least they seem to shoulder barge me more than men do.

A nice stroll down the street

Fuck that. If this happened on the road I would be suing their asses for driving in the wrong lane, endangering life etc. This got me thinking. Should the Lord Mayor adopt a strict pedestrian code of conduct?

I'm stating the obvious here but London is a metropolis. Its shoulder to shoulder on the roads, trains and pavements. And as Londoners seem to have no time to waste, an unofficial pedestrian code has been adopted by most pavement commuters.

The Peak hour 'wave'

Its quite similar to road rules: do the speed limit, keep left, don't stop and talk to anyone, allow faster walkers to pass, don't tail gate (or ass gate..whatever).

I said most. There is always a bad apple in the bunch. Slow walkers are the scourge of the city, they can clog up entire tube stations, streets and food hall queues.

Fast lane violators

I follow this 'unofficial' code to a tee. I keep left, overtake when safe to do so, never tail (ass) gate, why should these idlers be allowed to make me late?

Its high time that this unofficial code be recognised and enforced. People just don't have enough time anymore. With fast lanes, speed cameras and pavement police, Londoners could shave minutes off their daily commute. Think about what they could do with an extra minute!

Some years ago a campaign group with no time to waste suggested that a 'fast lane' be trialled on Oxford Street and managed the same way as one would find on a regular road. You know, police hiding behind dust bins, pavement spikes, speed cameras and the like.

Fuck poverty! This is a cause worth fighting for

The Oxford Street fast lane would: 'keep pedestrians moving, there would be a strict ban on using mobile phones, pushchairs, wheelchairs, cameras and personal stereos. Pets would also be barred (except guide dogs), as would eating, map reading, and smoking. ' Too right.

London has a vast network of wasted CCTV cameras. They could be used to enforce pedestrian violations instead of real crime. Gone would be the curious, the idlers and the relaxed. Instead the city would move systematically, efficiently and relieve the ever constant threat of 'pedestrian rage' that hangs above it.

I would lobby Mayor Boris Johnson but I don't have any time. Fucking idlers.

Boris hard at work

Oct 3, 2008

Alaska Part 2: Our RV's name was 'Bertha'

Room with a view (on wheels)

Understandably RVs get a fair amount of criticism from those who don't drive them. They are slow, take up most of the road and allow trailer trash to leave the trailer park and live anywhere they please.

If you go to America, you should use the opportunity to drive a big fuck-off RV. Its the US and in the US, everything is bad for the environment so its a good excuse to have a holiday from your green conscience and get some serious CO2 into the atmosphere.

RVs come in all shapes and sizes. Some are as big as passenger buses, some are painted black with bald eagles down the sides and some have side sections that extend like transformers to allow for extra living space.

Butch and Linda's little slice of heaven

Our final decision to hire an RV in Alaska was a complex one. When drawing up a budget we had to take into consideration the costs involved in hotels/camping/transport for four people. Add to that the constant threat of bears (see Alaska blog part 1) and the choice of a mobile armour plated lounge room easily won over canvas.

We picked up the smallest RV we could get, 22 feet. It was ugly, white and small compared to the other behemoths in the RV rental lot. But it was cute and it was to be home for the next 5 nights. We called her Bertha.

22 ft of Bertha

Bertha had four beds, communal dining area, kitchenette, microwave, TV/DVD, central heating, toilet, shower, storage cupboards and could be powered by a generator when not hooked up to mains. Put simply, she could set up camp anywhere we liked and we could live in total luxury (roads permitting).

Bertha looked slow but she had a 350 V8 Chevy engine inside, which meant she could do 120kph and accelerate past most vehicles. Although she was incredibly top heavy and swayed uncontrollably on corners, Bertha was a pleasure to drive; domineering intimidating and powerful.

The best place to ride her was the front two seats, over the engine and the most solid part of the vehicle. The worst was place to ride was the toilet. Even worse trying to piss in the toilet when Bertha was wobbling down the freeway. It was like trying to piss on a plane whilst it was passing through a cyclone.

Comfortable and stylish RV living

As a man and on a road trip, I needed a function. I decided to declare myself in charge of systems, kinda like Geordi La Forge from Star Trek engineering. Each morning I would do a systems check and walk around Bertha, opening and closing obscure access panels, tightening knobs that didn't do anything and kicking the tyres.

The best part of Bertha was her systems panel. It indicated remaining power, grey water levels, black water levels and water water levels. I pressed it every 5 minutes, I made that little panel my bitch. I kept on pressing it every 5 minutes...it really excited me, like I knew Bertha intimately on the inside as well as out.

Shot from a Highway 101 speed camera

Our idyllic RV camping scene was Bertha parked near a raging Alaskan river, salmon jumping into the mouths of bears, fire crackling away as we drink beer and BBQ. And no park fees. We managed to find such a place on the first night, minus the bears and salmon. However we were parked on an angle, which apparently isn't the best idea if you want to sleep.

Our first night we didn't sleep so good. Not because of the angle, but thanks to the motorised stairs that kept on deploying, making us think that a bear was about to make a civilised entry. Was it a bear? Rationality goes out the window when your alone in a place where you're not the top of the food chain.

After trekking all day there is nothing like getting back to a warm RV. However the grey and black water was almost full even though we'd only been in Bertha for 2 days. We had made a group agreement to only pee in Bertha, not poo. So it was surprising how fast we filled her up. We decided therefore to not dry camp and find an RV park to pump out.

A night at the captains table

An idyllic RV park never materialised, so we took a right turn down a dusty path towards a river for another night of bush camping...

When it comes to driving a massive truck down a narrow forest path, there is a point where males and females separate logically. According to male logic, try no matter how stupid. According to female logic, don't do irrational things that could damage the RV or it will void our insurance.

Daniel and I HAD to drive the RV down the narrowest path in Alaska. Female logic was right, we should never have gone down the path. We scratched up the sides and almost ripped of the entire toilet and shower section off, but it was worth it for the serenity.

A morning fish

The camp site was the Alaskan RV ideal that we had all been searching for. It had a raging river, smelt of bears and was perfectly flat. The next morning we went fishing for breakfast. We ate bacon and eggs in the morning sun. We couldn't have asked for anything better.

Paradise found (at a price)

But our sewage issues weren't going away. We had to pump out so we went south and set up camp in a drab RV camp. .

As systems manager I volunteered my services. I mean, how bad could it be? I only had to attach a pipe to Bertha's under carriage, release a valve and let it all flow out. BIG problem was that the pipe was broken and had to be held on by hand. I got under Bertha, held the pipe in place and released the pee. It rushed out so fast it surprised me, and my hand slipped off the pipe, pee gushing out all over the ground and all over me. The girls ran away. And in the panic, Daniel managed to take this pic.

On my knees covered in pee

After being covered in piss I am now truly qualified to say that the smell of pee doesn't easily go away. Its like an oil or vinaigrette that just doesn't wash out, no matter how much disinfectant you use. My dignity was gone.

Although driving an RV is probably the worst thing you can do for the planet, it helped to make me realise how much waste we humans actually generate. In cities, we just press a button and its gone, in Bertha we had to take it wherever we went.

Pee pumping 101: correct method

When we handed back the keys we lied about the damage. We lost 300 dollars but it should have been more. We took a long last look at Bertha, all feeling a sort of sadness in saying goodbye. She had become a part of our lives, and in turn we had become a part of her. She peed on me but she kept all of us warm, safe and sound. Our little mobile home and savior in the great northern land.