How they Drove from Ghent to Aix-La-Machelen

Excerpt from an email to my fellow interns (who were so busy they never read it!!)

So here I was, at 9 pm, driving back from Antwerp to Brussels after a marathon session of completely getting lost on the Antwerp Ring road. There’s something very scary about coming to Antwerp and seeing two different boards, one to the east and other to the west both proclaiming “ROTTERDAM, DEN HAAG” and you have to go to the south and suddenly you are on the road to Amsterdam! No, NO. BRUXELLES!! I need Brussels.

A full day of driving through Belgium and shopping behind us, I begged my friend to keep me awake. And so we were spending our time regaling each other with information assimilation which guys condescendingly refer to as gossip. The constant flow of chatter was repeatedly punctuated by squeals of “Oh! That’s a CUTE dog!!” How endearingly girly!

So like I said, there we were travelling at a comfortable 160 kmph. And then there was this pesky car behind whose lights were filling up the rear view mirror. “Argh. Some commuters have no consideration for my eyes.” So, I went right to let them pass. And the dratted guy cut me off!!!

Whoops. Blue lights on top, red somewhere… POLICE! (“Darling! have we hidden the stolen goods?”)
The lady in the striped shirt, Pingu, volunteered, “I think it’s for someone else.”
And he’s flashing a STOP sign at us.
I took a nice deep breath and willed my clammy hands to steer to the emergency lane, “I think it’s for us.”

And so there we were 14 km from Brussels, parked on a shoulder of the road with two macho looking Politie monsieurs striding determinedly to my poor self to see how much money they could take off me.

#*$*%((^ = That was him talking French
*snort* *cough* *gargle* = That was him trying Dutch.
“Uhm, I am sorry I don’t know French.” (I can swear if you want!)
“Oh. You know Dutch.”
“No”
“Ah. So you don’t know French, you don’t know Dutch, you ONLY know how to speed, huh?”
(“Uhuh”) *blink blink*
“You know you were speeding at 180 (!!) We tried to stop you and you did not NOTICE. (“Ohh, the poor guy is hurt because of that!”) Then we had to give you the STOP sign. And we saw you laughing and chatting with your friend.”

Hmm, I wonder what “Lack of notice”, and “Laughing while on Expressway” can get you in the slammer.

“Give me the papers.”
So there went the red book and there went up a mutter “AVIS!”
No, the only birds on the expressway are the both of us.
And I COULD NOT find my licence!
“Your papers.”
“Uhm.. Well I can’t find them.”
“Oh, no licence, no drive.”
Whoops!

And to Pingu, “Do you drive?”
The poor girl looked so horrified about the prospect, the guy changed the idea, “Passport please.”
And they took it, spent sometime glancing at the visa stamps and laughing at my passport picture. (DUDE! I am young enough to be your daughter! Don’t laugh)
A general cry of “Pfaw. Indians.” went up in the air.

Meanwhile I had finally found my licence. They looked disgruntled and spent some 2 minutes comparing the two.
“I think her picture in the licence is centered better.”
“I did not know underdeveloped countries had cards for licences. We should not have shown them the way. Sigh. The march of progress is a cruel thing to us.”

For all I knew they were discussing the weather in Dutch/French. To calm my wildly beating hear, I ventured a few words, “Would you be needing anything else?”
“Nahh.”
“Of course, your money!”
I laughed politely, sounding a bit like a very upset dying cow.
“50 euros please.”
“Uhm. Do you accept a credit card?”
The younger policeman looked like he was going to burst out laughing, “Hard cash and nothing else.”
“Different currencies perhaps! I have a 100 USD with me.”
They looked flabbergasted.
“Okay we will go to the wall. (“The WHAT?”) and you can withdraw money!”
“ATM?”
“Yes.”

The guy flashed his torchlight into my eyes a few times to see if I was honest, upright, had good eyes, and well, was actually sober. Since I was all the above, he was upset. Again. Man. The chances are slipping away.
“Err. My passport?”
“NO”
Okay… You don’t have to get TETCHY and all.

So off the car went, lights all off, and here I was frantically trying to call my boss man (After all, hadn’t he said I could call him everytime I had a problem?). Did not get him. So Mr.Cointern, who was in the Middle East by now, got a nice little freaked out call. Poor chap, the only speeding he had ever done was on the ship of the desert and I was having it all: car chases, macho looking policemen playing good cop, bad cop. Etc.

Anyways, we went to the local KBC to get money out and yay! what does it say “Not authorised to withdraw 20 euros”
Sigh.
Boss Man h
ad called by then and said “Fine, I will come to Mechelen.”

So I sidled to the duo and informed them my boss was coming and they better be scared, MISTERS.
“Oh, you don’t have money!”
I tried to look suitably shamefaced. “My boss is coming from Brussels.”
“With the money?” (For FIFTY EUROS?)
“Yes. He will be here in forty five minutes.”
“But Machelen is 14 km away!”
“Yeah, but he has a baby.”
The bad cop piped up, “No. His WIFE has a baby.”
Dutiful laughter again sounded. Ha-ha-HAH. (“MALE CHAUVINIST. I HATE being old enough to be your daughter.”)
“So this place is Michelen?”
“It’s MA-CHA-LAN, Woluwelaan 55. Tell him to come to the HQ.”

Ooooh. A Police station and all, I must be moving up in the criminal pecking order.
So after 10 minutes I found myself at the station and the bad cop grimly telling me to ring when I got the money. (“What about if I want to attend nature’s call?”)
Boss Man called back. “Shruti, are you SURE it’s Mechelen? I can’t find this on my GPS”
I ringed, got in and asked the good cop, who was looking suitably busy with some coffee, doughnuts and paperwork to spell it out. So I dutifully spelt W-O-L-U-W-E-L-A-A-N to him. On the way, I also had to spell M-A-C-H-E-L-E-N to him. (Different places, A and E, don’t ask.)

So I was back in the slammer. In this case, my Volvo C30.
After 30 minutes of general laughing and calling people up, Boss Man arrived. In shorts and slippers :)) And asked for the nearest ATM.
“They’re fining me 50 euros”
“What was your speed?”
“180 apparently”
“Lady, you are lucky. If you were Belgian, they’d have confiscated your licence by now!”
So, after Boss Man putting in 40 and me giving them 10 in 2-euro coins, I was finally free to scare the locals of the place.
The parting shot came from Good Cop, “We’re letting you off easy. Next time, don’t speed! And drive to the right of the road.”

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3 thoughts on “How they Drove from Ghent to Aix-La-Machelen

  1. Vinay

    Why couldn’t u ask Pingu to give them that tear treatment where she holds her breath for a minute and then starts bawling. It apparently works according to her.

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