Hello Summer, Goodbye Winter (Wheels)

You can almost smell the poetic justice. There I was on the way to school this morning, running a bit late. I decided to drive (I almost never do this) because after dropping off kids I had to hot-foot it across town and visit the garage. Needless to say, outside the seat of education that does its best to indoctrinate and educate my son, there was nowhere to stop – legally. So I double parked in a side street, leapt out of the car and sent my son on his way, school rucksack messing with his posture. In the meantime, several other cars had done the same but were now blocking the road as I tried to manoeuvre back out.

At first all I saw was the tiniest glint of sunglasses behind a “people carrier”. And then she appeared, my friend, the Jimmy Conway of traffic supervision, notebook in hand, pen poised and compassion suspended, noting down the number plates of the offending cars (I had turned round at this point, technically not infringing any rules). I sat there with my helpless angelic face whilst other drivers protested that the reason they had stopped was because of me. Jimmy shrugged. She hadn’t seen it. I escaped, the guilt temporarily chasing me down the street.

You would think that given the amount I go on about car driving at the moment, I would, in spite of my protestations, have some hidden affinity to it. A bit like those Catholic priests who lecture the world about the unholy nature of homosexuality only to be down G.A.Y. every week dancing to Abba in a latex cassock. Yes, admittedly, I protest too much at times but this is because I am – like many of my generation and age haunted by Thatcher and jumpers we had to tuck in our jeans – a misanthropic sod.

But this week, I have a good reason (to drive and be misanthropic): wheels. From the 15th November to the 15th April each year, cars in Austria must have winter tyres (and theoretically summer tyres from 15th April till the 15th November). This means that twice a year, car owners make the pilgrimage to their local garage to get them changed. Some people, like my neighbour who stem from that generation who give you that face which would denote “southern pansy” if they came from Yorkshire, do not. They change them on the street or garage forecourt and always have a special pair of gloves and blue overalls to hand. But most people check in to the local dealer or specialist tyre shop and let the grease monkeys do their magic. And yep, today is tyre change day.

Wheels1

Such a system, I admit, caught me off guard at first. As I may have mentioned in a previous post, I didn’t become a car owner until shortly before becoming a father, and took about as much notice of the intricacies of car ownership in Vienna as I did about the possibilities of waxing. I remember when I bought the car, we signed the paperwork and then the seller mentioned something about winter wheels (cars are normally sold with summer ones). Winter wheels? You mean the car I am just about to drive away needs another set of wheels? Already?

I am not really sure of the differences between wheels. I have had it explained to me on numerous occasions but I try and reserve my ever diminishing cognitive capabilities for things I find important, and tyre treads just don’t shake my booty. In any case, change they must which is why I am uncharacteristically immersing myself in the dreaded school run on way to the dealer.

To reach them I have to traverse something called the Tangente. The Tangente is like the north circular in London without the discipline; a bumper-to-bumper, nerve-jangling traffic artery cutting through Vienna. It is renowned for its traffic jams and is reminiscent of something envisaged by Philip K. Dick when he was feeling a bit moody. It is mad, bad, and seat-tremblingly fast. An urban race-track that would put Romford to shame and be the sort of of place that a young Anakin Skywalker would hone his Jedi instinct.

Wiener-S252dost-Tangente-A-231 Better than Romford. The 18Km urban Vienna raceway. You and 170,00 other daily users
Die-Tangente-wird-einmal-mehr-zum-Parkplatz3 Drivers in Vienna spend their time in traffic jams trying to change lanes and steal half a metre on rival motorists (especially those from Germany)

Incredibly, on the morning of my wheel exchange, traffic is moving and I arrive at the dealer in good time. Intriguingly, it is this facet of the car owning experience that I quite enjoy. It is like going to the doctor but with an inanimate object. I simply hand over my keys to the friendly and efficient service guy and then settle down for free coffee and a range of magazines full of cars that I will never be able to afford. About an hour later my name is called and I am reunited with my inanimate object, wheels replaced and the winter ones put in the depot till its time to return again before the middle of November.

I say my goodbyes and leap into my waiting convertible (in my head), waving to the service team over my shoulder who have lined up outside applauding, some weeping, and weave out into the oncoming traffic. Honk, honk! “Du Wappla!” Retaining my composure, my ephemeral post-tyre tranquillity diminishing quicker than a German to a newly opened Kassa in a supermarket, I turn towards the 1st district narrowly avoiding being crushed by a tram. And if there is one thing I have learned on the mean streets of Wienerville, you don’t argue with them.

© 2013 RJ Barratt

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