The rain sprinkled lightly in Lodz as we drove around the city en route to Warsaw. The paltry precipitation had little to do with what would happen next. Where on Earth is Lodz you may ask and why were you there? First a lesson in pronunciation. Polish is famously difficult to speak, second only to Welsh (I lived there four years) among romanized languages. For instance there are two different ways of pronouncing the letter L, and there are four types of Z. Lodz is pronounced Wooj. A word can display five or more consonants in a row, and then have four vowels punctuated with a solo non vowel. For example have a go at saying this word: Przybyszewskiego - it’s a street name in Lodz (remember, that's Wooj).
Visiting Lodz was a trip back in history, tracing Mark’s ancestry through his mother’s maternal grandmother. She was born in Dobrzyn nad Wisla (such easy Polish words), married a man from Warsaw, and emigrated to England where she opened a chain of clothing stores. Lodz (do you remember how to pronounce it?), situated 100 miles south of Dobrzyn and 100 miles west of Warsaw (said ‘Vatsava’ in Poland), became a hub of European textile manufacturing after 1820, growing from 250 citizens in 1800 to 250,000 in 1900, and 538,600 inhabitants by the time my maternal great grandmother began her clothing business in London. As a Polish immigrant making her fortune in London, the capital of the western world, from where did she most likely import her fabric? You guessed it … Lodz.
Thus Dobrzyn nad Wisla, Warsaw and Lodz formed a triangle of first stops on the Poland leg of our journey. There is one other thing you need to know about Lodz: it is the wild west of city driving - a bit like cities in China. You know about unlimited speeds on the German Autobahn — Lodz residents seem to think it applies to their city streets as well.
Our wagon, packed with four adults and enough luggage each for a three week’s vacation was quietly proceeding in the Lodz late morning rush hour. The light turned green and I steered left under an overpass across a second green light, when a small black mass tore across our path, right to left. My brother shouted, I slammed on the brakes, tires squealed, our white wagon froze, and then … a sickening thud, metal on metal, shattering glass, the frenetic skidding black object spun 180 degrees and slid to a halt. Ashen pale, from behind a smashed windshield, the black Polo driver and boyfriend emerged unscathed. Stunned, I stepped out, surveyed the damage, flagged down the semi driver behind me asking if he could be a witness — he apologised pointing to his load of vehicles for delivery, and wondered at the ramifications.
Using broken English, hand signals and a listening posture I understood that the young lady driver was accepting full responsibility — she had run a red light and was in shock, the color had not returned to her jaundiced face. Her boyfriend took command of the situation, had called the police and was now speaking Polish to someone else; Andrea was on the phone to the rental company, and then the credit card company. A kerbside pedestrian, wearing a pale blue zipped jacket, with limited English said he saw and she caused it. Dazed, yet appreciating the help, we waited for the police to arrive.
Looking for the police four other emergency vehicles on other missions passed by, several irate motorists honked, a friendly opportunistic tow truck driver sought to help, and we remained a spectacle for hundreds of tram passengers. Eventually the police turned up, questioned both drivers, strictly instructed us to sit in our vehicles while they sat in theirs, asked for various documents one by one and told us all — drivers and passengers — to complete various forms. Names, addresses (US and UK), driver’s licenses, insurance, vehicle registrations, passports, and names of parents even if deceased. It took a long time for them to run all this information through their databases, reconstruct our genealogies, and verify our identities.
An eternal ninety minutes ticked by, passportless and stripped of all documents, confined to our cabin, anxiously on hold with two different phone conversations (credit card - very polite and had Avis Germany authorized Poland for the tow truck and replacement vehicle and when, if ever, would they arrive?), were we in peril of punitive measures from the Polish police due to the undiplomatic methods of Trump in Europe and the unpopularity of Britain in Europe with Brexit? Then, through the rain spattered driver’s side window, magically the lady officer handed back our documents. We were free! Almost instantly we heard skidding tires and a double crunch of metal on metal on the other side of the street as the next victims of Lodz driving sealed their fate: one truck and two vehicles, upstaging our incident. But for the police officers present we would have burst into laughter!
Now the passing tram passengers had even more to talk about.
The friendly, opportunistic tow truck driver — he would both tow and repair any damaged vehicles - visited the second accident also, but no luck. And a second eternity passed for us milling around our vehicle, waiting for our tow truck that never arrived. In the end we took matters into our own hands, Polish-style, drove our well-photographed, damaged rental to the nearest Avis dealer, presented our case number and politely demanded a replacement vehicle. After our six hour detour we were back on the road in fifteen minutes.
We drove on to Warsaw, in the rain.