Not morning mist

Don’t mess about in extreme weather; a rule I’ve lived by for many years. But with the increasing frequency of extreme weather, it is time to identify some coping strategies.

It was the day the latest heatwave peaked. So, in theory, I should not have been valiantly trying to start my stubborn car at traffic lights in a neighbouring town.

The car had hinted at this untimely demise about 10 minutes back up the road when I’d pulled over to snap a pic. It spluttered and choked and eventually started, with warning lights suddenly obvious and then not.

Last time I’d traveled at the wrong time it was pouring rain. Online, the road was open. As I approached, there were no ‘Road Closed’ signs in sight. I’d just passed two trucks coming the other way which, thankfully, meant I’d already slowed to 80kph when I came around the corner.

There it was, wide and flowing strongly. The creek caught me unawares and I was in it. The voice in my head said ‘don’t stop’. I slowed to 60, perhaps not entirely by choice because, as my little blue two-door car plowed on, the waves of displaced water obscured the view from the side windows. I really was IN it. ‘Don’t stop’. Too scared to drop the speed any lower.

Either the flow wasn’t strong enough, or my little blue car is tougher than it looks, or more likely a combination of both, delicately balanced. I thought of TV news bulletins showing bigger, uglier cars stuck in fast moving water and the consequent warnings from emergency authorities. Do Not Enter Flood Waters!

This time, in the heat, the kindly off-duty mechanic agreed to look at my car. The diagnosis: Lack of coolant resulting in significant but not substantial damage.

It is a trivial matter in light of the devastation elsewhere in the country, but these small events can shed light beyond their limited scope.

In this case, the obvious was not the issue. It was not too hot for the coolant. I’d deliberately traveled early to avoid the heat; checked the opening hours of the two stores, planned to be at each when they opened; checked the temperature forecast, noted the wind speed and humidity levels as both would impact by either reducing or increasing how hot it would feel. The wind would bring the temperature down a few degrees, and I’d be back before the day got too hot.

Instead, the issues were structural … are structural. It’s about the way society works.

Firstly, car service schedules used by most service centres are based on the number of miles traveled. The less you travel the greater the time between services. This increases the opportunity for things to go wrong, remaining unnoticed until it’s too late.

In Canberra, I drove an hour each day. Now, it’s 10 minutes.

My mechanic back then advised that a different approach is needed if a car predominantly takes short trips but never explained what that was.

Which brings me the second issue.

Different service centres will adopt different business models. I’m always wary of the up-sell; there is no practical value attached to that feel-good add-on. But I’m equally wary of the ‘only-do-what-the-customer-asks’ model. Just tell me truthfully what I need to know. This should be a mutually beneficial partnership.

So, extrapolating from my trivial incident, it might not matter how well planned you are for a particular event. Instead, it will matter if you haven’t amended your plans in response to any structural changes – either because you’re life has changed, or the world has changed around you.

In my case, I’m changing the car’s service schedule. It will now get a good looking over at the beginning of each season by a suitably qualified professional (no point me doing it). Should the distance traveled during a season warrant another service, so be it.

I’m changing where the car will be serviced. It was looked at by a mechanic a week earlier for an air-conditioning problem (and that not properly fixed), yet there I was motionless at the traffic lights.

I’m changing when I assess structural changes. Bit useless waiting until the problem has dumped me in the proverbial. I’m a trained sociologist. I should know better.

Our world is laced with intersecting logics that describe how society might work, and each one of them is potentially changed when they intersect. That creates a lot of possible outcomes. But, and it’s an important ‘but, each outcome is knowable if we put in the effort to work it out.

Not Morning Mist

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