Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Vignettes from the Road - the Montellanta


Every petrol station has a 'montellanta'. The pariah, shunted to the outer reaches of the forecourt, a tyre fitting and puncture repair shack. An hutment of corrugated tin roofs that shelters a compressor tank and its attendant snaking hose winding across a quad of oil-infused gravel. Columnar pillars of part-worn and entirely bald tyres are built alongside, awaiting re-cycling. Either onto another wheel or, if beyond even that degree of decrepitude, into a creation. Cut up for an ornamental parrot, shrub planter or animal feeder. Establishments that we have little call to visit, yet they can impinge directly on our world.

I'm pedalling up the hill, passing a line of parked-up buses and trucks. One disembodied torso is protruding from under an axle, his scatter of spanners spread out over the road. An ominous ringing crump of mash hammer on heavy metal punctuates my slow pedalling cadence. We swing out and past. An obstinate wheel bolt.

Further on, the rhythmic whump of iron on rubber again draws my attention through between two hulking articulated semis. A mechanic wide-arc swinging a heavy floor hammer, pummels a tyre wall, his toddler son is copying father, timing his stroke......armed with a broom handle.

What defines all these establishments is a particular signature tune. A mixture of pump motor, bellowed conversations and the 'pistola'. That unique machine-gun chatter of the wheel nut extractor. Tonight we have the entire works, the full orchestral cacophony right outside our room. A web-encrusted frosted-glass window that doesn't close, is set high up on the cell wall, the sole source of ventilation and the perfect trap for concentrating the discord from the tropical night outside. A night that at these latitudes comes early and fast. A solitary light bulb will illuminate the swirling dust motes and cast long black shadows across a stage, that seems set for a modern rendering of Danté's Inferno. The tyre fitters, after a day of handling road corroded rubber and break-pad dust are grime coated diabolical spectres moving through an impedimenta of tyre-iron and inner-tube.

I couldn't help noticing the board as we arrived, it's the standard claim of twenty-four hour attention. It could be a long noisy hot night.