There’s nothing to fear

Except for bad luck, careless drivers and giant sewer monsters

Roads Report Article April 03, 2018
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David Matthews

Tough luck

When the country of Turkmenistan announced an import ban on black cars in 2015, it wasn’t to curb pollution or reduce congestion.

 

Local media reported that the country’s superstitious president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, made the order because he believes the color white brings good luck.

 

This didn’t come as a complete surprise to residents of Turkmenistan’s capital, Ashgabat, which is known as “The City of White Marble” and holds the world record for the highest concentration of white marble buildings.

 

However, residents were shocked earlier this year when police began seizing their dark-colored cars.

 

To get them back, drivers must sign a document agreeing to repaint their vehicle in white or silver before being allowed back on the road.

 

Naturally, this sudden demand for painting services has dramatically increased prices. A full car respray used to run around $2,000, but since the ban was implemented the cost has risen to $3,150 or more.

 

Considering that the average annual salary in Ashgabat is only around $4,200, white isn’t feeling too lucky for many drivers.

 

Driven by fear

If dark-colored cars don’t make you nervous, is there something else that scares you on the road?

 

If you’re like the majority of drivers, your biggest fear is actually other drivers.

 

In a recent survey of more than 2,000 motorists by Finder.com.au, 58% said that reckless drivers were their No. 1 fear, followed by the possibility of hitting a pedestrian (27%), driving in bad weather (25%), hitting an animal (20%) and the financial impact of a crash (20%).

 

Other noteworthy concerns included driving next to a large truck, traffic fines, having to back up or parallel park and teaching someone else how to drive.

 

Generation Y drivers were found to be the most fearful on the road with 91% admitting to a driving-related phobia, versus 82% of Gen-Xers and 77% of Baby Boomers.

 

What lurks below

The things that scare us on the roads are nothing compared to what’s festering underneath them.

 

In September, sewage workers discovered that a section of London’s underground sewer system was blocked by a huge congealed mass of oil, fat, grease and non-biodegradable solid matter.

 

The monstrosity—known as a “fatberg”—weighed 143 tons and was 275 yd long. That’s about the weight of three Boeing 737 airplanes and the length of two football fields.

 

The fatberg was the largest ever discovered (yes, there have been others) and could have led to massive flooding of raw sewage in London’s East End.

 

Fatbergs form when things that shouldn’t have been poured down the drain, like fat and grease from commercial kitchens, combine with things that shouldn’t have been flushed, like diapers and wet wipes.

 

The Thames Water company reports that it clears an average of three fatberg blockages every hour and spends about $1.4 million each month to keep London sewers free from these repulsive obstructions.

 

Because fatbergs usually calcify and become hard as concrete, removing one is slow and difficult.

 

Workers in special protective suits used high-powered water jets to chip away at the blockage. The resulting waste was sucked up into tankers and driven to a processing plant where it was converted into 2,600 gal of biofuel, enough to power one of London’s iconic double-decker buses for nearly a year.

 

It took an eight-man sewage team nine full weeks of working seven days a week to remove the toxic monster.

 

For those who want a closer look, the Museum of London is now displaying a shoebox-sized sample of the fatberg until July 1.

 

The chunk, which looks like a moon rock crossed with Parmesan cheese, had to be enclosed in three nested, transparent boxes in order to protect visitors from deadly bacteria and an absolutely horrid smell, not to mention the swarms of tiny flies that have hatched within it.

 

After viewing the exhibit, visitors can stop by the museum gift shop for exclusive commemorative merchandise, including something called Fatberg Fudge.

 

About the author: 
Matthews has been chronicling the unexpectedly humorous side of transportation news since 2000. The stories are all true.
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