Cars V Trains: The car crumbles…

A few weeks back, I shared a story with you about how Birmingham New Street was the seventh circle of hell; turns out cars can be just as bad…

Mid October (apologies on the lateness of these posts, the latter end of October got immensely busy!) I was in work every day for a week’s worth of training. Driving there every day didn’t make much financial sense against the bargain basement price of the train, however, the Thursday involved a rather late finish, about 10pm. Rather than facing the best of the Midlands drunkards and walking home through an area I’m most certainly going to get stabbed, I decided to treat myself to a drive to work – a 15 mile commute to the centre of Birmingham.
Setting off in plenty of time to complete the journey, I had no idea about the living nightmare I was about to encounter…

First off, traffic. It doesn’t matter what car you buy, how much you spend, or how much time and preparation you give for a journey, traffic is completely unpredictable. Coming to a standstill for about 20 minutes is something guaranteed not only to delay you, but also to make your blood boil. Even from the mildest muttered annoyance to full on ‘seeing red’ screaming, traffic always provokes an infuriated response – especially when it makes you late for work.

The next problem is something I’m not ashamed to admit – getting lost. Under pressure that I was now over 10 minutes late (thanks traffic), finding the staff car park in the middle of Birmingham, with no Sat Nav or even any signs to guide me there, made the ‘needle in a haystack’ simile all too real. All the roads look the same, none have any sign posts or names on them and I needed to be at work 15 minutes ago. My heart was racing. I was beginning to panic. Driving around Birmingham’s back streets for a good 15 minutes with no-one to even ask directions was stressful enough, and then I encountered the next problem; a phone call.

UK law stipulates that you’re not allowed to use a mobile phone unless it’s using a hands free kit – something I don’t have (I’m lucky to have a working phone most of the time!). So when the phone starts ringing and you glance down to see it’s your new line manager (I’d only started there four days ago) you tend to stop pretty sharpish – wherever that may be. Finding somewhere to stop is easier said than done in Britain’s choked city’s these days, but answering the phone revealed that she’d already guessed I was late due to my lack of direction. Thankfully, she was able to direct me and by jamming the phone into the dash on loud speaker, I arrived at my destination – nearly 25 minutes late. End of surely? Erm, no. Not quite…

Despite it being a staff car park, you are still required to pay and display. This landed me in another problem – I was completely out of change. Nothing in the car, nothing in the wallet – just my luck. I was now very very late. Locking the car and fudging a note to say I’d gone for change, I dashed towards the nearest shop. Then, when it couldn’t get any worse, I got locked in the car park.

Being BBC property, you need to use your pass to get in or out of the car park – which I hadn’t received yet. Buzzing security, I had to wait to be let out and explain I’d be back to sort out the car parking fee. Successfully finding a cash machine that charged me £2 for the privilege of accessing my own money, I eventually found a corner shop to change the note into coins for the machine and headed back to the car park.

Again, I had to wait for security to let me back in – and then for the machine to dispense the ticket. Why is it when you’re in a rush or late, everything that can go wrong, does go wrong? Slapping the ticket in the windscreen, I bolted towards work. I got to work tired, stressed, bathed in sweat and almost an hour late, all thanks to the problems encountered by the car.

But Birmingham wasn’t finished with me or my car – after an exhausting day of playing catch up, I had to pick Sam up from the train station and once again found myself lost in the centre of Birmingham. She walked to a point I knew where to get to, but this lead to yet another problem – there was nowhere to pull over. It seemed like today’s nightmare was never going to end. At this point I’d gone past the point of caring and parked on the pavement outside the bullring. Scrabbling to get her bags in the car, we made our quick get away before attracting the attention of the police, and found ourselves finally on our way home – the nightmare was over and the car finally got to show its strengths once again.

We were warm, safe and dry; we could talk about anything, both personal stuff and normal everyday chit chat while listening to music and not having to worry about heavy bags. Although the train is cheaper than driving, we wouldn’t be able to have an open conversation on the train, or listen to music our music together, or relax and we’d still have the walk home after, struggling along with big heavy bags late at night.

The stresses of today were still evident, however. I was completely exhausted. Cars are fantastic things. I’m sure that’s one of the major reasons for you visiting this blog today, because of our shared love of cars. But the world we live in is increasingly becoming car unfriendly. City centres are strangling mazes with no signs to guide you and dense traffic to hold you up. Cars require constant money, and if you run out, it’s game over. You can’t make or take calls to inform people of the problems you’re experiencing, and leaving them in a safe place is increasingly difficult. Actually finding a car park can be impossible and then getting back to it in the dark is as dangerous as walking back from the train station late at night.

It seems that cars haven’t changed; the world they exist is has, and it’s crippled the option of using the car to commute. Petrol alone is more expensive than a train ticket; add the problems of traffic, finding a car park, paying to use it, and getting back to it late at night, and every reason for using the car is almost destroyed. Does the cost of all of this, plus buying, taxing and insuring your pride and joy balance out the privilege of having a warm private journey home?

After the day I’ve just had, I’m not sure it does…
These two pictures show that even after you’ve found a car park, some people forget about the size of their vehicle – such as this woman, who caused chaos after crashing into the height restriction and then reversing out of the entrance.

Listen to Car Radio to find out why we get so stressed out behind the wheel – and how an app could have saved me from all these problems:
http://player.soundcloud.com/player.swf?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F27391225  Car Radio – Pilot Show 03/06/2011 by ourtim

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