I was about as far away from the wooded trails and bogs of Newfoundland and Labrador as I could get.
I was in the middle of a small German city, walking on pavement and surrounded by tall stone and brick buildings.
There wasn't a speck of dirt, a blade of grass, or a tree in sight.
But there was an ATV - a bright red quad.
I couldn't help but notice it. It came roaring up the wide street and came to a stop at a set of traffic lights. The driver signalled that he was going to turn left and when the light changed to green that's exactly what he did.
I lost sight of him around the corner, but his behaviour left me staring in confusion.
Where was the recklessness? Where was the almost complete disregard for the other people on the road?
Anyone living in Newfoundland and Labrador know how ATVs, like quads and snowmobiles, are supposed to be driven while on town streets and country roads: none of this stay-in-your-lane and signal politely when you turn.
Left side? Right side? Irrelevant!
Quads and snowmobiles can take whatever lane they want, or they can just take the sidewalks if they like. Naturally, they're free to swerve back and forth, even if they have to pass and dodge around cars and snow plows. They enjoy total right of way and all pedestrians and all other vehicles must respect that. They are not obliged to observe any kind of speed limit, or any prohibition against drinking and driving.
Many people in this province know what happens if you violate a snowmobiler's rights. If you're driving a car and you cleverly manage to remain hidden from his sight and the machine doesn't actually hit you, the drivers often show their displeasure with high, wrangy motor noises and blustery white rooster tails.
People who are on foot while they're transgressing the unwritten law don't always get off so easy.
A pedestrian who happens to be walking along the side of a residential street can be knocked over and left with broken bones in the snowbank (as happened a few years ago in Happy Valley-Goose Bay).
The driver can explain afterwards that he didn't bother stopping because he thought the boy had jumped out of his way in time.
A transgressor of one of the more serious offences, such as attempting to control snowmobile traffic along a groomed trail, might even be run down deliberately and abandoned where he falls with no regard for his life.
The law is different in Germany. Since all vehicles are fully registered and all drivers must be licensed for the road, that means they have to obey the same rules as automobiles.
Hardly anyone habitually swerves from lane to lane and most drivers don't ignore the dangers they might pose to themselves and others. They also have a limited right-of-way - same as all the other users of the streets and sidewalks.
Of course, the actual regulations governing the use of quads and snowmobiles in Newfoundland and Labrador are closer to what the Germans administer than to how the irresponsible drivers (who, it must be hoped, represent a minority of the operators in this province) want to see them.
In reality all snowmobiles must be registered and they may not be driven on roads at all, except to cross them and then only at the narrowest point where there is the clearest and furthest visibility.
No one under 13 years of age may operate one and no one under 16 may be in control without supervision by someone who is 19 or older. As well, no one may drive either a quad or a snowmobile while under the influence of alcohol.
You could tell the guy who was driving the quad down that German street wasn't really having any fun (having to be an adult, be licensed, wait for the lights and all of that), but at least he wasn't knocking anyone down.
There's a lot to be said for that.
Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.