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  • Gee

The Great Race (10)

Updated: Feb 2, 2020

(dificuldade 10 – pode encontrar uma lista de vocabulário no final)

It seems a long time ago that I first got behind the wheel of a car. It was my father’s old Citroen – a reliable work-horse, but not exactly something James Dean would drive. My father was the patient type. He taught me well, if a little alarmed that I had unexpected difficulties in mastering something as basic as steering. We’d go out to the suburbs, where the traffic was a little lighter, and I’d hit the accelerator and try and get the old crate up the hill out of town. And it was a proud day when I got my license – albeit at the second time of asking. What happened the first time is a tale for another day.

Driving in England is not so different from driving anywhere else, although in winter time you need to pay attention to the ice. These days when I visit, the roads are clogged with traffic and I prefer to take the train. There is something magic about sitting in a train with a cup of coffee in your hand and watching the green fields whizz by. I used to work on the trains actually, but that is also a tale for another day.

In São Paulo, driving is another experience. In fact, it is something akin to a video game – the sort of cheap nasty video game from the 1990’s where mustachioed men in boiler caps hurdled rolling wooden barrels while giant apes rained banana’s down upon them. Ok, perhaps there are no bananas. But there are motorbikes…and pedestrians…and buses…and if the bus is in the right lane, you can be sure it is turning left. The motorbike meanwhile, is a law unto itself, with the right to go anywhere at anytime, especially down the narrow gap between the cars on Marginal Pinheiros at speeds of up to 80 miles per hour. And if you should happen to waver as they pass, they will give you the ‘São Paulo Salute’ – a contemptuous shrug of the arm that suggests you are a mere trifle – a naive idiot with no notion of the rules of the road, who is endangering lives around you. On these streets, the motoboy is king (until he’s scraped off the tarmac at least).

But it’s not so easy to drive in a straight line, no matter how well intentioned. The roads are prone to subsidence – and potholes – and good, old fashioned flash-floods. Before you know it, you are swerving like a hungry conga eel, or like Luke Skywalker as he enters the Death Star. So expect the São Paulo Salute aplenty, cos it’s them or you.

And if the physical hazards to be navigated weren’t enough, there are the moral ones. When speed cameras were first introduced on the North Circular in London, back in the 1980’s, they used film, like any other camera of their time. Apparently the first time they were installed, the film was used up in 20 minutes! These days, the cameras are digital – and ubiquitous. I recently drove from Parati to Rio using a sat-nav that warned me of the cameras around 300 meters in advance. It was like listening to a horse-race. It’s difficult to avoid fines in this city, especially when the traffic lights are so high up you need the neck of giraffe to be able to lean out the window and see them. And don’t forget the rodizio. Woe betide anyone driving on their rodizio day. 4 points. 130 reais. Enough to take me over my limit actually. I got banned for two months. And then when my wife was caught speeding while driving my car, I was banned for 2 years. Two years???? No appeal? So what are your options now? If you’d like to know, write in and I’ll tell you.

But the sad fact is, if you take the roads to avoid the cops, you are more likely to meet the robbers. Choose your poison. Although talking of poison, have you ever been stuck next to one of those old dumper trucks as it pulls away? Yikes. The poison cloud descends as you desperately try to find a way past. There was until recently a law requiring annual smog checks on all motor vehicles in the city – all motor vehicles except those that cause 90% of the pollution, of course. Still, it provides visitors with the unique spectacle of a dirty haze akin to the rim of a bathtub as they descend into the heaving metropolis at Garulhos. Best pray for rain. Except when it comes, the streets are instantly awash, and the traffic brought to gridlock. Best park up. Except if you park up, you need a zona azul pass, or will be faced down by some hoodlum offering to look after your car. And what if I say no, as I did once at the foot of the Corcovado in Rio? Gulp. Worse still, what if you nip into a space ahead of another car, also looking for a precious parking spot? Suffice to say, when you return, your car will be looking like a piece Salvador Dali would have been proud of. Car-scratching is the unofficial Paulistano pastime. The number of cars with artistic scratches down them never ceases to amaze me.

Ok, so now I’m parked up with nowhere to go, maybe I should relax and have a beer? Hmmm. Thank goodness for Uber!


behind the wheel – na cadeira de motorista

steering – dirigir / controlar o volante

old crate – carro velho (gíria)

the second time of asking – segunda tentativa (expressão)

clogged - congestionado

whizz - zumbar / passar rápido

akin to - semelhante

nasty – desagradável

moustachioed – com bigode

boiler cap – boné usado pelos engenheiros de trens antigos

hurdle – pular

rolling – rolando

wooden barrels – barris de madeira

ape – macaco

meanwhile - enquanto isso

law unto itself – algo incontrolável

waver – hesitar

shrug – dar de ombros

trifle – uma sobremesa mas neste caso significa algo trivial

naive – ingênuo

scrape – raspar

tarmac – asfalto

prone – propenso a

potholes – buracos

flash-floods – alagamentos que surgem inesperadamente

swerve – desviar

conga eel – enguia

aplenty – em grande quantidade

cos – porque (abreviação informal de because)

ubiquitous – onipresente

fines – multas

woe betide – expressão inglesa – um aviso que algo terrível vai acontecer. Sozinho ‘woe’ significa tristeza.

cops – policia

robbers – ladrões

to be stuck – ficar preso

dumper truck – caminhão basculante

yikes – caramba (uma expressão incomun hoje em dia)

smog check – inspeçao veicular de emissões

haze – bruma

rim – borda do banho

heaving – movimentada (gíria)

gridlock – congestão / engarrafamento

faced down – confrontado

hoodlum – ladrão / gangster (gíria antiquada)

gulp – um gole quando enfrentando uma situação assustadora

nip – mexer rapidamente

scratch - riscar

to amaze - surpreender / to achar incrível


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