Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Parking Rage

This story was originally posted on PNG Life but I feel it is better suited to this blog. The chief characters are inner city Sydney, one car park, two cars, a few frayed temperaments and one crazy guy

Back on New Years day, I was in ol' Sydney town, staying at my oldies house in the inner city. This area is pretty yuppified these days and with that comes a problem with on street parking. On crazy days, like New Years day, you get the occasional case of Parking Rage - an offshoot of road rage, part of the same family.

Anyway there were quite a few of us staying at the house, as a whole heap of us were doing the annual pilgrimage to the SCG for the cricket the next day. So parking spots for the casual tenants - let alone the rest of the city - was on the scarce side.

On this particular care-free evening, we were all out the front chatting and on alert for a park. With the lack of parks around we had one of our cars illegally parked across the back gate. Even though it is our gate, we can still get booked by the Brown Bombers, when they're hovering around, which seems to be all the time. Just three days earlier I had parked a car out the back and got a $75 ticket.

After a while a park becomes vacant almost in front of the house - prime location. So my sisters long-term boyfriend, Al, races out the back to get the car and his crazy mate Brian is asked to run over and stand in the park, warding off any would be intruders.

By the time Al gets the car round the front, which would have been less than 30 seconds, a Mazda Somethingorrather comes along and sticks it's blinker on. Brian being the absolute nutter that he is, lies down in the spot and plays innocent. For a moment there is a stand off, Mazda guy waiting, Al behind waiting for him to go and Brian just lying down relaxing.

The crowd of us, on the front steps watching, go into the 'too embarrassed to watch mode' and take shelter inside, peeping through the window.

At this stage the driver of the Mazda, an Indian guys, gets out of his car, walks up to Brian and politely asks him what he is doing and if he could move. He trots out the story that he has been driving around for half an hour on the look out for a spot. Brian politely explains that we are bagging the park, for the car behind his, as we had been waiting for an hour for one to come along. Polite exchanges continue, with neither side budging. Brian gazing up at the guy and the Indian waving his arms around.

From the front steps I decide that it is time to head over and explain that we are locals and that we have been waiting for this park for an hour and that even though we are locals we will still get booked by having our car parked across the back gate as it was. From the polite conversation that it was, my entrance into the debate takes it up a notch in the tension.

My explanation did not work for the bloke. With a continuation of his previous theme, he does not give up and keeps arguing his point that he was here first so therefore the park is his. With this he jumps in his car and creeps it forward almost willing to see if Brian will budge. It was a bluff though and he soon stops and gets back out.

With this, Al has decided to jump out and enter the fray. The Indian is now ringed by one crazy guy lying on the tarmac, one semi-reasonable guy in me and Al who immediately takes it up a notch and tells the guy to fuck off and go and find his own spot and with that turns and jumps back in the car to wait for him to leave.

The stalemate is going nowhere. A crowd has gathered in the windows of the pub across the road, bystanders are forming, one Indian guy is back in his car and two cars are waiting for the one spot.

I decide enough is enough and indicate to Al to just drive round the freak and reverse park in - which in hindsight is what he should have done much earlier.

Al does this and reverses in, Brian jumps out of the way and the prick jumps out of his Mazda Jap-crap, waves his arms and yells at me for telling him to do that. He then proceeds to inform me that he now knows where we live and that we better watch out. My retort was "And do what!?" to which no reply came. The park was filled, the bastard drove off in a huff and we were all worried that he was going to come back later and 'key' the car.

Luckily nothing was done to car, the car hardly ever goes down there so he would be doing well to find it there next time he is in the neighbourhood. But it just goes to show what a tension filled society that the western world has now become. Arguments breaking out over a bloody car park. A week early the pub two doors down was the scene of the owner being killed by some pissed off customers who threw a bar stool. A few days before that there was a bashing from a road rage incident in Glebe. Tensions, tensions everywhere, and they say PNG is a dangerous place.

Brian asking me "when the hell is Al going to park the car"

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Smuggling on the Mongolian Express

The midnight border crossing between Mongolia and China suddenly became tense when the black plastic wrapped bundles started to thud onto our train compartment floor. The Mongolian customs officer's arms delved and riffled behind the roof panel and pulled one pillow sized bundle after another from their concealment. Thud, thud, and thud they dropped at my feet and before too long I was standing on the verge of mini black mountain. I weakly smiled up at him and gave an "I didn’t put them there" look.

We were travelling from Ulaan Baator to Beijing and the mood had been festive in the carriage. Quite a few other backpackers were doing the same overnight trip and after boarding the train in the morning we had had the whole day to make new friends. Once at the border we had been ordered back into our compartments while Immigration came and stamped our passports.

Customs followed, coming down the corridor and stopping first at our door. They ordered the four of us - my girlfriend, two new friends and myself - out and we were lined up against the windows. While standing on the bunks with his panel-removing key, the officer started the thudding and dread.

Immediate thoughts flash through your mind. These initially seemed to be concentrated on a dark dank cell. Sitting on one side of a solitary table, a bright light shinning in your eyes and endless questions.

I tried to blank my mind and be calm, knowing that I was innocent, but my nerves were in no way helped when a call came down the corridor from a mate, yelling "I told you shouldn’t have tried to smuggle those drugs". If I could have shrunk out of sight, I would have.

I focussed my attention on the bundles and wondered what they were. Were they drugs? It looked like it initially. Then I noticed the ripped in half US hundred dollar bills tapped to the outside. They must be bundles of counterfeit notes I thought. This was reinforced by all the stuff I had read a lot about the counterfeiting operations that go on in this country.

My thoughts and spirits changed when the customs officer got down and gave me a wink. We were off the hook. He had finished riffling and was moving to the next compartment where more were discovered. The whole carriage ended up being riddled with the bundles, obviously a frequent occurrence.

As to what the packages contained? It wasn't until the next morning in China, when a smiling smuggler returned to collect packages that had not been discovered, we discovered that they were, bizarrely, Marmot skins.


This story was entered into the Lonely Planet Comet Stranger Than Fiction competition. It is a game where you enter a story and have it reviewed by other contestants. Here is a direct link to the story.