It’s Wednesday evening. I love Wednesday evenings.
Most of the rest of the world is marooned on an island as far away from a weekend as it’s possible to be. I’m lucky. My weekend begins two days sooner than yours. With a Wednesday evening comes my Wednesday evening ritual.
I’m driving the fifty miles back from work. Everyone is bombing down the highway, faster, more aggressively, more recklessly than usual. We’re diving in, out and around each other. You can flash your headlights all you like, my friend, because this heap of junk doesn’t even go over one-thirty. Finally there’s a gap to my right and I ease over to let the guy whizz past. There are 3 or 4 behind him, nose-to-tail, shum-shum-shum-shum they go. I’m so busy looking in the mirrors, trying to get back over to the fast lane that I almost don’t see the guy right up in front of me. I catch it just in time, and there’s nowhere else to go but lurch round his right side; the sand tails blown across the asphalt by the non-stop wind nearly whip me right off the road. Ah screw it, it’s Wednesday. They’re all fast lanes.
We’re all racing in to the city at the same time. Every day there is at least one amazing sight as the traffic is squashed tighter together. Yesterday there was an 18-wheeler on its side. Today there was a sedan with its radiator halfway through its engine. The remains of blowouts are everywhere.
On to the inner city highway. Less space, more pace. Dodging the Dodges, ducking the trucks. I’m finally back home.
An hour later and I’m out the door again. I’m on the way to my favorite coffee shop. I’m going to drink cappuccino, smoke cigarettes and catch up with friends all night long. I feel so damn good I might even zip over the bridge early tomorrow morning and spend the day in Bahrain. But first to my favorite sandwich shop. I get there and bang! The door shuts in my face. It’s maghrib prayer time – the sun has just gone down. Yallah, ithneen shwarma dajaj, bass…please?
Five steps to next door, my second choice. Click. The door locks.
Driving through the back streets, over to the coffee shop. Crawling through unmarked intersections every fifty meters. At the third cross, two young boys sail right in front of me on rollerblades. They don’t blink. I’m shaking my head so obviously that one of them notices, does a quarter turn, and offers me a cheeky two-fingered salute from his right temple, and they carry on. I’m even impressed.
I park up at the coffee shop – it’s still closed for prayer. Off with the A/C and the engine so it doesn’t overheat. Ten minutes later I’m inside, I’ve ordered, and I’m cooling off. It is great. An hour later, the bill is delivered and it’s time for the last prayer of the day. I leave my laptop downloading and go for a drive down to the beach.
Just before the bridge to Bahrain there’s a guy behind me flashing his lights again. I can’t move out of his way – there’s another car to my right. I’m not trying to slow you down, friend, but what can I do? I know you can see the car to my right. I’m out of his way as soon as I can be, but he’s already parallel. As his trunk passes my hood, he swings it out a little to give me a little scare, and he’s on his way.
The beach is deserted, and anyway by the time I’m there it’s time to head back. I’m coming up behind a guy who kindly drifts over to the middle lane. I’m almost parallel. I’m on his left. We’re curving left. Shit, has he seen me? He’s drifting back towards me! Hit the horn! He catches it just in time, and I’m away from him.
At the lights we’re stopped for a while. From nowhere an oversized teenager on an undersized BMX comes across us at speed, bangs straight over the crosswalk, around the median and disappears up the street, against the traffic, in to the darkness. The lights change, and I’m in to the back streets again, keeping my eyes open for those two damn kids on rollerblades…
This piece isn’t about me. It would be pretty boring if it was, wouldn’t it? In case you didn’t notice, go back and count the number of near collisions I had in less than two hours of driving. This isn’t even about driving standards. It’s all been said before.
What this is about, though, is my crazy admiration for people who drive – and in many cases live – like they couldn’t care less whether they live or die. It’s truly amazing – and I’m not even being sarcastic.
They’re not stupid. They know that driving at 180, chipping every car in front off the road, is lunacy. They’ve all seen the gory consequences. If there’s one thing that isn’t censored here, it’s blood and brawn smeared over asphalt and aluminium.
They know that taking 3 or 4 spoons of sugar in their tea is going to give them diabetes sooner or later.
They know that chugging down 40 hardcore smokes a day is going to kill them young.
They know that staying up all night shatters them for whatever they have to do the next day.
I’ve said it before and I’m certain I’m going to say it again:
I like the Arabs. I don’t understand them, but I like them.