March 01, 2005

All My Life I Knew I Was Different

So my referrer log shows someone who found me by googling for "indiana farm bureau daylight savings time." Just out of curiosity, I ran the same google to see where I was on that list. Turns out my original rant against the Farm Bureau's obstructionism of Indiana adopting modern time is #1 on that particular search. Not too far down the page is the misc.transport.road FAQ. Just out of curiosity (again), I started reading it.

Half an hour and twelve related links later, I came to a realization. I. Am. A. Roadgeek. From Adrian Leskiw's highway photo galleries of (among others) Northern Michigan (where I used to vacation), St. Louis (where I used to live), and the the UK (where I went on business once, about which more later), thence to Chris' British Road Directory and his listing of Britain's worst intersections, thence to, well, let's just say I had no idea roads and highways interested me so much.

Right, then. When I was in the UK on business in September of 2003, the hotel I stayed at was in Swindon but the office I worked in was in Chippenham (about a half-hour drive via the M4 and the A350). Since I had never driven on the left side of the road before, and I knew English roads are narrow anyway, I was a little nervous about the task, so I decided to practice the evening I got into town. I started out on country roads, and everything was fine except that I kept drifting to the left, at one point hitting a few small branches on a bush that was way too close to the road. But you know what P.J. O'Rourke says: "Nothing parties like a rental."

Anyway, emboldened by my success so far, I decided to try to drive into downtown Swindon. Somewhere around the third or fourth roundabout, I exited a little fast and a lot left and clipped the curb (sorry, 'kerb'). Immediately I felt the left front go flat - and by 'flat' I mean 'shredded' - and I had to find a place to stop. Unfortunately, there really wasn't one. I was on a narrow two-lane street with tight curbs and no parking, so the best I could do was roll forward about a hundred yards until I was just short of a pedestrian crossing where the road was a little wider - and by 'a little' I mean 'maybe a foot'. I was more irritated than worried - the weather was good, traffic was light, and I had at least an hour of daylight left, and it was only a flat tire, right?

I dug the jack and the tire iron out of the back of the car and (after a moment's panic where I couldn't find the proper dongle for the anti-theft lug nuts) loosened the nuts on the offending wheel. I looked for the proper hardpoint on the underside to mount the jack against, and realized that there wasn't one. Well, the hardpoint was there, all right; right behind the wheel like you'd expect, but its shape was orthogonal to the top of the jack - it was like trying to balance the car on a pencil point. After a puzzled search of the owner's manual, I discovered why. The jack was a half-scissors model with a semi-circular flange on the top designed to engage the hardpoint, like this:

What the jack SHOULD have looked like

Instead, the flange had been bent back upon itself:

What the jack actually DID look like

The net effect was that every time I would get the car a few inches off the bottom of its springs, the jack would pop out. This was annoying the first time.

It was aggravating the second time.

By the fifteenth time, I had stopped counting. Nothing I did seemed to help, and by this time I noticed that the light was beginning to fade. Finally, after about a million more tries, I got the car up far enough that I could take the wheel off.

Verrrrrrry carefully.

Trying to ignore the grinding metal noises from the vicinity of the jack.

I tucked the old wheel on its side under the front of the car in case the jack popped out again while I was putting the spare on (otherwise the whole hub would drop hard into the gutter and I'd REALLY be screwed), and - with the same level of caution required by mating porcupines - mounted the spare. The jack popped out about the time I got the third lugnut on. It took me five more tries to get the jack to stay up long enough to get the dead wheel out from under the front and hand-tighten the nuts on the spare.

The drive back to the hotel was uneventful, if you don't count the stretch of dual carrigeway where I kept right instead of left, forcing somebody to pass me on the left (with the appropriate hand gesture).

So during today's trek around the roadgeek web, I encountered what Swindon is apparently most famous for: a magic roundabout, which, had I encountered it during my orientation drive, would have made me soil myself as my brain turned to Cream-of-Wheat and ran out my ears. I mean, look at this thing!

The Magic Roundabout

Here's another view:

The Magic Roundabout

Digital Norseman has a few pictures of it in action. I can't even figure out how it works!

The moral of the story: don't drive through Swindon.

Update: Man, I wish I'd read this before I went over to the UK. I may even have been able to deal with the Magic Roundabout:

The Magic Roundabout demystified

Posted by Chris at March 1, 2005 05:02 PM

Category: The Essential parking_god

I'm very glad you posted the third picture, with the helpful dotted lines for idiots like me. I was trying to make sense of the damn thing from the right-side-driving perspective.

Sheesh. If I ever go there, I'm hiring a local to drive.

Posted by: chess h at March 4, 2005 12:13 PM