Tuesday, November 16, 2010


The Family Car. Don't fuck with the family car.

I came home from school this afternoon to Lasha cleaning out his Mercedes Benz and thoroughly scrubbing the windows all the while mumbling Georgian, Russian, and English obscenities about Saakashvili. If there’s anything wrong in Lasha’s life, he blames Saakashvili. But now that there are two new ‘outrageous’ auto-laws coming into effect soon, Lasha’s anti-Misha rhetoric has increased to a relative volatile state.

I don’t even know if they were Misha’s prerogative, but all Georgian cars must have working seat belts that have to be used at all times and can also no longer have windows tinted past a certain degree. I personally applaud these ideas because I think seat belts are a necessity that everyone should use while tinted windows are terribly tacky and can’t be used for anything productive. Unfortunately, a majority of Georgian men—inlcuding Lasha—don’t agree with me or these new laws.

This is the gas station in Bandza, where they fill your tank with a funnel and measure how much gas you got with a scale. Not an exact science.

Nobody wears seat belts in this country, and the rare cars that have belt straps usually don’t even have anything on the other side of the seat to click them into. Also, I would say a majority of Georgian men have or want a BMW or Mercedes with tinted windows (disturbing side fact I’ve heard: German cars are responsible for over 90% of accidents in Georgia; although that again could just be one of those ‘Georgian facts’). I don’t know why tinted windows are so popular in Georgia (maybe some sort of hold over from the KGB days), but as I previously said, they’re not good for anything. Only sketchy things happen behind tinted windows, namely drug deals and prostitute solicitation.

This is the preferred mode of transport for most older Georgians, including this guy who had just takin' down six shots of tchatcha

I hope that wasn’t Lasha’s motivation behind having them in the first place, and I really don’t think it was. Odds are the reason was what drives a majority of Georgian men’s auto choices; it looks cool. The funniest part behind the whole thing is the reason Georgia is banning tinted windows has nothing to do with real crime, but so they can see who does and does not have their seat belt on. Given how dangerous it is to drive in this country (which I will get to later), the government is actually only trying to make the people of Georgia safer. What a crazy notion!

This is how the children of Georgia learn to drive before they are thrust into their parents' laps and told 'steer'

But Lasha doesn’t care about that. He’s only worried about people seeing him pick his nose from the streets of Bandza. I love Lasha, but he’s extremely shortsighted at times. Still, Lasha is vitally important to this post since when I get to talking about Georgian men and their cars, Lasha is my main inspiration to draw upon. And since Lasha represents the quintessential Georgian man, I have no problem with generalizing all Georgian men by what I see regarding Lasha and his car.

First of all, it wouldn’t surprise me that when Lasha does pass away—which hopefully won’t be for a long, long time—near his burial plot there will be a mural of him and his Mercedes Benz. Now that might sound ridiculous, but if you pass any graveyard in Georgia, you will see a mural of a man with his car. It’s usually shoddily painted, behind a glass case, with the deceased in the forefront, and his beloved car in the background. It’s absurd.

Saw this in Zugdidi; some guy strapping a giant wine barrell on the top of his Lada. Seems safe enough, right?

I mean, I’m sure there’s some redneck in Arkansas who has his Hemi carved into his gravestone, but the sight is so common here in Georgia, that it can’t compare to anything I’ve ever seen before. What’s so surprising is how important family, religion, and death are in this society, but when it comes to a man’s everlasting epitaph, the car gets dibs. I could really stop right there and not have to say much more in order to convince you that Georgian men are fanatical about their cars, but there’s much more to get to.

You can't see it, but there's a car behind that painting. Classic.

One of the most disturbing aspects of this obsession is the length Georgian men go to for upkeep. I would say behind casinos and betting shops, the third most popular business might be car washes. They’re everywhere, and for good reason, as they’re always busy. But Lasha doesn’t take his Benz to a fancy car washin’ place, he just does it himself, which I have a feeling is an act that takes on some sort of religious importance for him, like a Muslim’s pilgrimage to Mecca.

I’ve also never been in a Georgian’s car that is dirty or has trash littering the back seats. You could eat a meal off their upholstery it’s so clean. This, if you even know just my family, is almost never the case in America. Yeah, we take care of the newer cars, but Georgians will detail the inside of their ’76 Ladas. By the way, Ladas are old Soviet cars and they are all over Georgia, since that was the only car people drove before the fall of the Berlin Wall. My friend Raughley put it best: it’s like the bastard child between an old Volvo and an even older Yugo. 

This is a Lada, in excellent condition I may say. 

Before we move away from the outside of the car and onto the inside, one thing that Georgians never care to fix or make look right are their windshields, which are almost always cracked. This might seem odd, but based on the gravel and busted up roads that litter this country, it would only be a matter of time before there was a newer crack. This is the only instance in which I find Georgian men’s judgment to be sound regarding their cars.

This was a Ford truck that we got a ride in one day while hiking. One of the only Fords we've seen, and amazingly, it was owned by the Monastery in Balda (those are priests driving in the front).  

There are a ton of mechanic shops in Georgia, and when I say shop, I don’t mean a Jiffy Lube like we have back home. Usually it’s just some guy who has turned his front lawn into a makeshift garage. I would guess the demand comes from all the cars being used, having a ton of miles on them, and the terrible roads that do a number on axles, wheels, and alignments. Just like in American, there’s never a shortage of Georgian men hanging around the action giving advice or trying to help, except in Georgia, unlike in America, every man knows what he’s doing underneath a car. But to be honest, I feel like the only reason Georgian men know how to fix cars so well is because they are constantly driving them to shit.

This is the driving school we came across in Tbilisi, looks pretty legit, doesn't it?

There are the random accelerations, the jerking of the wheel when passing another car or cow on the road (note: there is no such thing as a safe distance from any sort of traffic; it’s almost as if they try and drive as close as possible just to show off their Schumacher skills), the absolute insistency on never putting the car in neutral, and then the oddest move of all when they randomly turn off their car and let it cruise down an incline.

There are certain other weird characteristics that may have to do with some unwritten driving code to which I’m not privy, like the number of honks when passing someone or trying to cut in (I’ve always thought that honking should be used strictly for emergencies and to grab someone’s attention when trying to give someone the bird) , and then the constant flickering of lights at night from high beams to low-beams to no lights at all (many Georgians will cruise at night without lights in order to save battery power; an extremely dangerous practice and also why I don’t run or ride my bike at night). There’s no other way to put it; Georgian men are terrible drivers.

This is the only nice road in Georgia, which runs along the river in Tbilisi for maybe five kilometers before turning back into a road out of Mad Max

It’s no wonder that my most pleasant driving experiences have come with Ian’s host-Mom Lali. Not many women drive in Georgia, especially outside of the bigger cities. But the women I see driving or even have had the pleasure to share a ride with have been exquisite drivers, although that may have to do with them being overly careful, because if anything were to happen to that car… I’d rather not talk about it.

There’s plenty more I could go on with, including how Georgian men always keep an extra liter of gas contained in an old plastic beer bottle somewhere in their car. Or I could try and guess why Georgians park where the park, which is pretty much wherever they want (I tried to explain parallel parking to one of my classes and they were completely lost). Or what about when they drive with their kids in their laps Brittany Spears style (I’m not making that up).

Go ahead and sleep wherever...

But I’d like to end with my most understanding Georgian driving theory. I won’t hide that I think Georgians are terrible drivers (and I’m pretty sure if I looked up some statistics, I’d have some backing on that front, but this is a blog, not some fancy quarterly). It amazes me how they drive with such utter disregard for their fellow drivers. In America, we call these people Assholes. In the South, people have an obnoxious tendency to cruise the speed limit in the passing lane, while in Massachusetts they’ve melded the term into simply Masshole. Even Pittsburgh has it’s own unwritten rule called the ‘Pittsburgh-Left’ that seems outrageously unsafe to outsiders. 

Here in Georgia, I have no reservations in saying that everyone drives like an Asshole. But the difference is that back home, people get angry at these types of drivers (which is why we’re the nation that coined the phrase ‘road-rage’), but here in Georgia, no one gets all that mad. I’ve yet to see any roadside conflicts or yelling out the window; even Lasha doesn’t get upset if someone cuts him off (a common move here). I think it’s because when everyone drives like an Asshole, there’s really nothing else to expect. It’s just one giant system of relative assholeness. And I think Georgians are comfortable with that, so who am I to say differently.

This is a shot of the road right outside of my house, littered with cows

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post, Max! I would recommend you go to Gori and visit the cemetery on the hill. It has a full car literally on a pedestal in the center of the graveyard. Talk about reverence! Also, in terms of Masshole, that's a term used by non-MA citizens to describe Mass. drivers. They tried to retaliate by calling us Maine-iacs, but I think we got the best of them on that one!