Travel by Conga

It might seem like an innocuous party activity, but the conga is now being seriously touted as a genuine transport solution for some of the planet's most crowded cities. The roots of the idea go back to one particularly boisterous wedding disco in 1962, attended by a young college graduate called Mervyn Fingle. Fingle had spent much of the evening failing to impress one of the bridesmaids and had just come to the conclusion that, bizarrely, she didn't really appreciate his chicken impressions, when he was inadvertently dragged into a conga line as it swept past his table. At first he struggled to escape but found he was unable to because of a) the momentum, b) the middle-aged lady brushing up against him, and c) his own advanced state of inebriation.

However, no sooner had he been incorporated into the conga than it rejected him and he found himself sprawling around in a damp alleyway several miles away. He immediately realised that in order for him to have travelled such a distance the conga line must have been moving at about sixty miles an hour.

Actually, that's not strictly true. What happened 'immediately' was that he threw up and passed out behind a dumpster. It wasn't until he awoke that he reached his startling conclusion. Well, to be fair, it wasn't until he'd gone home, cleaned himself up, had a few cups of coffee... Okay, maybe it was a few weeks later. The point is that his calculations clearly demonstrated that a line of about forty people seemed capable of reaching speeds that a single person could not even contemplate. This was remarkable. So remarkable, in fact, that he forgot about it for the next fifty years.

Until he was stuck in traffic one day in 2012, to be precise. As he sat there, listening to soft rock ballads on the local oldies station and becoming more and more annoyed by the bumper stickers on the car in front of him, his mind drifted back to his youthful conga experience. Surely there was potential here for a better way of moving people around? Someone, he thought, really ought to look into the possibility of the conga as a transport alternative. Then he remembered that he was head of the technology faculty at the University of Columbia and figured that that someone might as well be him.

So Mervyn Fingle - now Professor Fingle of course - set about testing conga lines in the laboratory and was astonished when, during his very first experiment, the conga clocked up a speed of forty miles an hour and punched a hole through the laboratory wall. He decided that it would be wiser to carry out future experiments in the car park rather than the laboratory, but after he wrote off the bursar's Mercedes and the history faculty's minibus, he moved his operations to a field on the edge of town. It was here that he discovered two interesting things. Firstly, that cows get really freaked out by conga lines. And secondly, that the potential speed of the conga line increases exponentially according to the number of people in it.

But can this really be a viable form of urban travel? Professor Fingle thinks so. A conga line takes up less space than a car, is more manoeuvrable and produces fewer emissions, although this last point is subject to diet. The Professor believes that the infrastructure already exists, so it's really just a matter of legislation and traffic management.

But Professor Fingle admits that he has no real interest in such piffling bureaucratic matters. He is far too busy trying to build a conga line that can reach the magic figure of 88 miles per hour, as he believes this will finally enable him to travel back in time so that he can stop his younger self doing his idiot chicken impressions in front of that bridesmaid at the wedding reception back in 1962.


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