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2005-06-23


Welcome to the agony of driving in Malmö. Hope you brought your C RING. You didn't? Don't worry. You can use theirs.

I had to drive Jens to Malmö last night after he was done putting down drum tracks. I didn't want to do it. I mean, I was happy to get to spend more time with him. It's just that I've driven to Malmö a few times now. And, no matter how many times I drive there I find that four things inevitably occur:

Step One. I drive an hour to get there.
Step Two. I get lost once I'm there.
Step Three. Car danger—either a near–accident or a catastrophic automotive failure leaving me in harm's way.
Step Four. I drive an hour to get back.

I call this this the Malmö Checklist, and it happens each and every time I drive there. One and four are unavoidable, of course, and their order never strays. Steps two and three sometimes happen in a different order—or even at the same time—but they happen. Every. Single. Time. I've driven to Malmö plenty of times now. I can't escape. The Malmö Checklist follows me like an albatross around my neck, stabbing thorns under my fingernails, pulling out my pubic hair, and generally torturing my every trip to Sweden's southern port city.

So, number one on the list is the hour drive. If you like to drive, then this isn't a big deal. I don't like to drive. Jens is a great guy to hang around with. No matter how you look at it, he's wonderful company. He made the trip quite pleasant. But, he didn't make it shorter. That's step one—the hour drive.


Jens Jansson.

Step two on the list is the getting lost part.

Being lost is definitely irritating. It's humiliating and it makes you late. [I have some minor anxieties about being late, but that's only a tiny part of what makes me hate being lost.] The real issue is that being lost is dangerous. Lost people do things like back up in an attempt to correct their direction—even though there's a car right behind them. Lost drivers drive over sidewalks, make illegal turns, drive down one way streets, and erratically swerve off the road in an attempt to right their course. You've seen them driving. They're the ones driving through your garden. They're the ones mowing down rows and rows of orphans, puppies, pregnant teens, and the elderly because they thought they finally saw the right street over there and, oops, did they hit something?

Making dangerous art and music is OK. There really isn't anything cool about coming to another country and crashing the car you borrowed. Unless you do it on purpose and the videographers you hired capture it with multiple camera angles. But, otherwise, it's just bad.

Then there's the fact that Christoffer's car always breaks. Ok, I can't say that it always breaks. Wait, yes I can. It's completely stopped working three times since I borrowed it. I've personally had to tow it twice in the last week. And, there are the little things wrong with it—the passenger side mirror fell off a few days back, the fuel gauge doesn't work, the right side door doesn't open, and so on.


The Worst Car Ever. It's official. It's been written on the internet. Therefore it is FACT.

One time I took it to Malmö to visit Tambourine Studios. I was lost, of course, when all of a sudden a geyser of steam started to pour from under the hood. It wouldn't have been a problem if I could've just pulled over somewhere. But, there was no place to pull over and park. The official stance of all European cities on parking is that it should lie somewhere between incomprehensible and strictly forbidden—violators punished by death. So, there I was, breaking down in the middle of a major motorway with cars honking all around me and no place to pull off safely. I managed to push the car into the parking lot of a shopping center. It seemed like a godsend, except that evening parking there was forbidden. The guard came to talk with me. I explained to him in my pathetic Swedish, "Hello! How are you? I am America. The car is broken. Can you English? No? Haha! That is good!"

This last trip to Malmö definitely followed my four–point checklist. First there was the hour of driving to get there. This wasn't a problem, though, since I had Jens' company. Next came the getting lost. Jens doesn't drive at all. And, like most people that've never operated a motor vehicle, his driving directions don't take into consideration things that are important to a driver—such as one way streets, streets that never existed, and the fact that cars still can't drive through buildings.

Jens: Hm. I think we should've turned right somewhere.
Justin: Where?
Jens: Hm. Maybe a few exits back? I'm not sure.
Justin: This is where you've lived for years, right?
Jens: Yes.

I got off the freeway, made a few turns, followed some signs, and in the end found myself on the exact same stretch of freeway going the exact same direction as I started. Jens smiled and nodded enthusiastically, "Ah, yes! Perfect. This is the right way now."

The car didn't really break this time. But, that's because it broke the day before and was left with the mechanic. So, I borrowed yet another car. But, even without the crappy car, I still managed to work in the near–accident danger portion of Step 3.

I was lost and trying to get directions from Jens. I thought it would be smarter to pull over and park rather than drive around lost. [I guess I could've just stopped the car in the middle of the street. The voice of reason told me to park, though.] So, I started to parallel park into a spot just behind me. A Volvo station wagon sped down the narrow lane and right into my backwards path. Not only did Volvo Guy block me from the only parking spot in all of Europe, but he also almost ran into me. Worst of all, he then proceeded to honk endlessly. Then there was the part where I thought I was putting the car back into a forward gear, but instead it was still in reverse. Then there was more near–crashing and definitely more honking.

I didn't crash, though. And, I finally got Jens to his destination—safe and sound. There he gave me directions to a restaurant. As he explained the route, he used his finger to draw a map on the dashboard. According to his drawing, I was supposed to go both left and right at the cryptic zig zags. Then I'd follow some spiral shaped somethings until I came to a statue, which, according to his drawing, was a one inch square with some little lines near it. Once I found the statue, he instructed that I should park—he pointed to two spots on the dashboard, "either here or here, I'm not sure"—and then I should ask someone. "It's called Tempo." Sensing my confusion, he reassured me, "You'll like Tempo. It's bohemian. There's always someone from the Cardigans eating there. Just look for someone from the Cardigans."

I thanked him for and drove off, ready to get lost a few more times.

The streets he told me to turn on didn't exist, except for the one which was a one way street in the wrong direction. And, I couldn't find any zig zags or spirals anywhere. I didn't see any statues. Malmö must be the only city in all of Europe without statues.

I was lost again. Wherever it was, The Cardigans' food frenzy was going to have to happen without me.

For a while I was adding some fun, new creative spins to the Malmö Checklist—alternating between totally lost and only sort–of–lost in this really artistic way. You should've seen it. Ok, not really.

In the end, I somehow figured out exactly where I was. What a glorious moment that was. It was the biggest driving victory I'd ever had in Sweden. My chest swelled with pride at the accomplishment. I felt like a hero. I wanted my initials appliqued all big and bright on my hero–colored lycra unitard and a flowing cape—in a complimentary color, of course—to blow behind me in the wind as I towered victorious over the Swedish road system.

Things got even better when I finally found the other only parking spot in all of Europe—a block from the restaurant–lined town square! The restaurants were everywhere—crammed together and stacked on top of one another like chickens in an industrial meat factory. None of them were Tempo, but that didn't matter. I wasn't going to eat the Cardigans or even eat with the Cardigans. But, I was going to eat.

I chose an outside table facing the square. I drank schnapps with my fiery Indian food, and I entertained my mind watching people much more gorgeous than me eating, drinking, and soaking in the summer sun at 9 PM. I knew that soon I'd be driving an hour back to the studio—alone. And, that would mean that I'd be able to check off number four on the Malmö Checklist. But, right then it didn't seem so dismal. It was something I'd come to accept as a necessary part of the whole experience—like the cycle of life. Ok, not really. But, having a good attitude is just more fun, so why not?

Flowers lined the restaurant, and for those moments everything really was sunshine and roses. So I raised my schnapps in a toast—a toast to danger, a toast to driving, a toast to the Malmö Checklist! And, then I did what any sane person would do—I had more schnapps.


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