Highway collectors are out in force at many a busy intersection this weekend to raise funds for a very worthy cause: to send an Aussie team of collectors to the international highway collecting championships in Los Angeles later this year. Los Angeles has been chosen to host this year's "collection Olympics" because its complex highway system offers collectors "a fantastic challenge to cause some world-class snarl-ups" says Brendan Heist, coach of "Support Victims of Pyorrhoea", current champions in the Australian Collecting League.

Since its emergence in the 1990s highway collecting has turned into a multi-million dollar growth sport with many charities fielding a team. "It's the simple rules that make it so popular," says Heist, who cut his teeth with "Help Our Kids", an early starter in the game that has now become one of the country's highest-profile clubs. "Basically teams of collectors are assigned to major road junctions where they compete to see who can score the biggest traffic jam." Points are awarded for skill in various areas of collecting, for instance in persuading "difficult" motorists - "the type that look the other way when the collector comes past" - to wind down their windows and make a contribution. Bonus points are awarded to the team responsible when drivers anxious to get out of a "scrum" of besieging collectors become confused by the excitement of the game and drive off into the intersection without noticing that the lights are still red. There are also points to be notched up for the amount of embarrassment a team can cause to drivers without small change. Victoria's Dandenong Road "Collecting For Community Arts" team scored a runaway victory in this category last Sunday by forcing three motorists to pay by credit card (all players have been equipped with card and EFTPOS facilities since the "sorry I've got no cash in the car" excuse became a serious problem for "the gate"). Most teams will also accept donations in kind. Last year's "Standover Champions", the Maroondah Highway club "Give For Young People Against Climate Denialism", gained extra merit points for persuading a number of motorists to hand over their watches.

Meanwhile, accusations of "driver hooliganism" have been made by the League following an "unacceptable level of road rage" during last Saturday's big clash on the Pyrmont Bridge Road-Wattle Street ground in Sydney ("the Wimbledon of highway collecting"). The trouble broke out because of a mix-up in match schedules which led to four clubs battling for collecting rights over the same intersection. Nineteen players were injured when motorists caught in one of the biggest snarl-ups in the history of collecting left their cars and ran riot, threatening collectors, kicking collecting tins and trampling "Caution - Highway Collectors" placards. "This is the kind of thing that gives our sport a bad name," says Heist. "Drivers need to remember that  they are spectators at the game, not participants. Leave the threats and the violence to us."

Los Angeles will also be an opportunity for the International Highway Collecting Authority to rule on the dispute that's been threatening to divide the collecting community: whether giving should be voluntary or mandatory. Supporters of mandatory donations, such as Andy Turpin, president of "Give Or We'll Bash Your Car", who has already suggested that "uncooperative" drivers who fail to contribute should have their vehicles "expropriated" and sold "to defray collecting expenses", say that if highway collectors are going to be taken seriously they need to drop their "amateur cap-in-hand" status and take inspiration from the "great tradition of highway collecting in the no-nonsense days of the stagecoach and 'your money or your life'."

14 April 2012

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