Traffic, traffic…you don’t know what traffic is till you’ve been overseas
This is an old story, but one worth preserving. It is complex, so I hope I can keep everything understandable. When I left for Iran with my three-year old son in tow, I had absolutely no clue what to expect. There were no culture classes. I never thought to get any books to read. I knew not one Iranian person, so needless to say I was in total ignorance, and I’m sure I showed it daily while I lived there. Fortunately, I was so young (in my 20s) that I never noticed how stupid I was and have been able to push most of it out of my mind. All except a few things that just can’t be compared to anything else. As Larry the Cable Guy so aptly puts it, ” I don’t care who you are, that’s funny right there.
Imagine if you can, living in the 1970s in a foreign country. There are no TV shows after 6 pm – just call to prayer music. No movie theaters except the one on the military base that was quite a trip to get to. A bowling alley, and it was a fun place to be but not a very good place for a toddler. With that in mind, maybe we were just easily amused, but we use to go out after supper and walk about half a block down the street to a very beautiful mosque that sat on the corner of two of the busiest streets in the capital of Tehran. There were about 50 steps going up to the door, and the farthest we ever came to going inside was about half way up to get a good seat for the traffic show that started around 6pm each evening.
I will try my best to give you a description and a diagram of what it looked like. Now, as you can see by my map, it is just confusing when no cars at all are moving through the intersection. I will confess that I have forgotten the street names, so those on the map are made up, but I figured I might need them to help with the explanation.
In Iran, when the line at the red light gets longer than those in line think is necessary, they move over to the left and start a new line. The lines that divide the lanes going the same way (the dotted lines) mean nothing. They can squeeze three lines into two lanes. So imagine you are sitting at the light going north on Merabad. The line begins normally in the far right lane until someone decides it is getting too long, and they begin another one right next to the first. The same thing happens again, so now you have three lines in a two lane area. Oh but it doesn’t end there. If that light stays red longer than those people pulling up like they begin to move over into the other lanes that cause them to be making their new lines on the wrong side of the road. Now during this time the light is green heading south on Merabad, but only for those turning onto Karim street, so that leaves those that are just creating line after line while they are sitting at the red light with all the room they want and often before you know it the entire road is full of cars heading north at that light. Now, the tricky part starts when that light that has been holding the drivers on Karim street changes to green and they want to head south on Merabad, but all the lanes, plus some are stacked with cars facing north and there is no way to get through. The next attack comes when those cars just turn anyway and get as close to the front bumper as possible and honk, honk, honk, and honk some more. By this time, those cars that are on the wrong side of the street can see the error of their ways and start trying to wiggle over just enough to make yet another line so the folks can head south and suddenly the light changes again for the drivers to head north on Merabad and the race is on. That turns about 12 lines of cars loose while those that have been trying to squeeze through are now just being bullied nearly off the road. This creates pretty much a deadlock and at this time bets are flying on the mosque steps by the foreigners as to how it will be resolved, but the best part at this point is how the policeman keeps from being completely squished (one of my granddaughters words). He blows his whistle incessantly, while moving his arms, but only from the elbow up so they don’t get knocked off. It’s almost a wooden ventriloquist sort of doll without the person to work the strings.
It’s by far one of the most entertaining things we found to do while we were there. It seems to work itself out most of the time. They do have one particular law that helps it along and that is if your car is facing one way then you can go backward as long as the car faces forward. In other words, you can be driving forward down a street when some idiot comes barreling toward you backwards and as long as his car is facing forward he is legal.
Ah, to be back in the good ole days when traffic was the form of entertainment for the day.
Sometime I’ll tell you the story of my wreck with the Iranian Army Colonel. It’s a doozy.