Driving Angry: Ogden on Georgians behind the Wheel


After I reminded my wife that my grandfather was once the captain of a prestigious golf club, the rather poor showing I made on the Ambassadori Hotel’s golf course was proof if proof were needed that not all talents trickle down from genetics. Indeed, as I stood bunkered and hammering at the sand with every club I could find, she remarked that though I had failed as a golfer I might succeed as a miner, and, may in fact strike oil at any moment.

These encouraging barbs aside, I had rather a pleasant weekend out of the city celebrating my birthday. In a reflective moment after a number of bottles of Saperavi, I did wonder why people wish you well as you age; it seems rather odd that being one year closer to death is something to celebrate.

This was but a fleeting and idle thought, you understand, and death was far from my mind for the rest of the weekend until it came time to come home, when it came back with a vengeance.

I have been on the Kakheti Highway a score of times before, but perhaps as the taxi we hailed to take us back to Tbilisi was smaller and more banged up than they usually are, I noticed the appalling driving rather more. You may recall that Britain’s former Ambassador to Georgia, Her Excellency Alexandra Hall Hall, had been unfairly slammed by Georgians for criticizing their standard of driving, but spending most of one’s time in Tbilisi numbs you to the real danger of it; there are so many cars in this city these days, the worst that can happen are bumps and scrapes (except at night).

On the main roads out of the city, however, things are very different. Excessively high speeds and needless overtaking seem to constitute the main dangers, and, on seeing this lunacy first hand, it isn’t hard to see why Georgia had traffic-related deaths in the thousands last year.

I was on the cusp of offering our driver more money to slow down, but one glance at the vacant eyes and open mouth told me it would be pointless. There would be a typical outburst as there always is to the slightest criticism, perhaps even a hint that my worry over his driving makes me less of a man. I’ve heard this sort of talk before, and know that it’s no good to point out that he’s needlessly endangering his own life as well as the lives of my wife and I (who have to pay him for the privilege), and that while he may not much of a future career to look forward to, I have plans, d’ya see, and I’d rather not have to end my life flying through a windshield in Kakheti with a scream of ‘West Ham for the Cup!’.

(I should explain that I always wanted my last words to be something special. At the moment I rather like ‘Hey, everybody, watch this!’ Go out with a bang and leave a few smiles behind; it’s a comforting thought).

But it’s still a bloody silly way to die. I’m all for reaching one’s destination in a timely manner, but trying to overtake a long line of cars without being able to see what’s coming the other way is the plan of a moron. I’d have been comforted if it was only our driver who was doing all this, but past experience of all the other cars around me revealed this to be simply the way Georgians drive.

You may recall a few weeks ago I wrote about Georgian men and their methods of wooing that leave a lot to be desired; I wrote that I would have loved to ask them what the overall plan is, and what they hope to achieve. I loathe repeating myself almost as much as contradiction, but feel the need to here. I would love to know why Georgian drivers think that overtaking on blind corners is a brilliant idea, or if they’ve thought about what might happen if the car they’re driving so close to suddenly slams on the brakes, or what good can come of driving so fast at vehicles speeding the other way. I suppose it’s just like when they’re stuck in traffic jams and still feel the need to honk the horn, as though they expect the cars in front to just vanish.

‘Driving Angry’ was an awful film with Nicolas Cage that came out a few years ago, but the title fits the bill here. Behind the wheel, a lot of Georgians do seem to take out a lot of anger; I’d love to know why. Either that or the male population of this country loves Nic Cage, and between those two prospects, I’m not sure which is the most worrying.

Tim Ogden

Cartoon by Brian Patrick Grady

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