Morton is showing me around the Hovinbyen area of Oslo. It is a typical December day in Norway, and all that comes with that. When he meet me at my hotel, he shakes my hand, then looks down at my feet.
“Good. You’ve got boots on. I gave a tour last week to an official from Italy with leather dress shoes. That didn’t go well.”
Three hours into my tour of the area, I know why Morton was interested in my footwear. We’ve been down alleys, up wooded paths, across slushy parking lots and motorway dividers. The area is a vast expanse of industry, shipping and warehousing. I feel the hours and kilometers we’ve walked more in my lungs than my legs. They burn. The traffic heavy routes leading into and through the area are thick with freight trucks. The cold, damp day holds their exhaust low to the ground.
The area is slated to be the next region for development in the city. A “platform for innovation” is the term being used. I’ve heard a lot of similar plans, and have been on a lot of similar tours. This one caught my interest and faith, however. The understated seriousness and intensity of Oslo has formed a confidence in me of their plans that other cities lack.
Some focus on the macro details of an area. Transportation infrastructure, access routes, zoning and planning codes. I begin at the other end of the spectrum: the bits and pieces that come together to make the whole, the small details, the minutiae beneath the macro. Like the fact that many of the signs around the buildings here are in Polish.
Morton explains that the majority of truck drivers delivering goods to the businesses and warehouses here are Polish, so the signs are in their native language to ease the friction of the final leg of their journey and increase safety. He quickly picks up on my attention to such details and seems to delight in having a guest with a different angle. “Let me show you something special about this area.”
Over the next hour, he guides me to several roadside food kiosks. The signs here are in Polish as well. The glass display next to the service window are lined with Polish beers, chocolates, snacks, toiletries and essentials. The visuals are noteworthy, but the smells emanating from the kiosks are unmistakable – rich, spicy, fatty sausages on the grill. “These are where the truck drivers can stop to get a sausage and a beer when they’ve made their delivery,” he explains.
As we move from one to the next, my mind gets lost in the beauty behind these functional little units. A small portal back home for drivers far from theirs, offering familiar comfort food and drink. The same products, tastes and smells as back home. If, as the saying goes, the best part of any journey is returning home, these units offer as close to that feeling as the truckers can get while on the road.