Sunday, May 29, 2005

Car Tales: Weapon of Choice

Every weekday morning - which, for us, is Saturday through Wednesday - I drive CJ into work, and then go back to the apartment. This entails going (1) through a busy intersection, where all the trucks go to the docks, (2) over Garhoud bridge, where five lanes shrink down to three and there’s an inevitable tailback (especially if an accident happens), (3) all the way down to, and onto, Emirates road, since the road we used to turn down has been closed off forever while they complete an overpass/tunnel, (4) off of Emirates road, and then back around where the overpass/tunnel terminates, and into the warren of villas surrounding her school.

Got all that? That’s the easy part, driving and time-wise.

The hard part - at least in the mornings - is going back. Because then I have to deal with all the people who are going from Sharjah to Dubai for work, and it is a tailbacked, chock-a-block mess. That goes double around the school area, because there really is no way to get out that doesn’t involve waiting in a huge traffic line.

The way I used to get out was around the side, past the perpetual construction area (where they’re endlessly creating concrete for the new airport terminal) and then onto the road bordering Emirates Highway, which hooks up with the turnoff onto Airport Road. This eventually became impossible to use because everyone started using the bordering road, and I had to wait forever for someone to let me out.

So I switched tactics, went further into the warrens, and came out onto the border road further up, so I could go past the point where I used to have to wait in line. And this worked pretty well for a long time... until everyone and their uncle, their aunt and 20 assorted other relatives decided to use that road, too. As of the last month or so, it’s backed up almost past where I’d get onto it, and I sit for far, far too long.

(This is also complicated by the fact that people insist on driving - and being stopped - on both lanes of a two-way road. And there are huge construction vehicles at the place I used to turn right waiting to turn left. Every so often, some charitable soul lets one of them out, and then it’s a mad scramble over into the right lane as these huge concrete mixers come inching down the road, with highly-uncharitable (and unamused) drivers at the wheel. If an accident occurred, what could anyone say...?)

But there’s a problem: the alternative isn’t much better. The line to get back onto Emirates Road, going the opposite direction, is just as bad, if not worse. Imagine a lane of cars and trucks inching forward, one burst at a time, as everyone in the next lane over shoots ahead to try and cut in at the actual turn. Then imagine that everyone in that next lane has also gotten slowed down, and has tailed back, leading to the next lane over from that being slowed down as well. So once you realize you’re screwed, there’s no real way out.

And that, friends, is the situation I found myself in today. I made the turnoff into that horrendous line after five agonizing minutes, and then saw what I’d gotten myself into. It didn’t take long to realize that I was doomed to sit there for up to an hour if I didn’t get out. But what to do?

Every so often, when I’m faced with a suck-all situation like this, I’m fortunate enough to think of a good idea. The truth is that I’d probably think of these ideas more often if they weren’t blocked by fear of screwing the situation up worse, but every so often I give the idea a go and it works strangely well. This would be one of those times.

The idea was simple: why not get out of line - as soon as I could - go past all this crazy nonsense, find someplace to turn around, and turn off onto Emirates Road from the opposite side of the bridge? It would get me exactly where I needed to be, and past experience showed me that hardly anyone used the turnoff on that side.

But then, there’s always the fear of going off the map. In Dubai, there are times when you can’t trust to rationality or sense when prefiguring the untraveled road ahead. Just because it would make sense for there to be a handy spot to turn around in doesn’t mean that one is there. And that far outside of “town,” there is the legitimate worry of suddenly finding oneself hurtling down a literal road to nowhere, going out into the desert on a harshly-divided highway - next stop, the Empty Quarter.

However, anything - even the slow road to the Indian Ocean - was better than sitting in line for an hour, waiting to turn...

So I edged out into the traffic - made easier by some poor fool slamming his brakes in order to take advantage of the slimmest point of line entry in recorded history, much to the unamusement of the person right behind him - and went forward. As I passed the chokepoint, I saw that part of the problem was a lone policeman, standing in the zebra stripes, forcing those who cut through those stripes off the road so he could write them a ticket.

(I’ve often thought they should just have the cop snap photos of the license plates of offenders, so they can nail them by mail. It’d be a heck of a lot faster.)

After waiting at the intersection on the bridge for a time, I went ahead, over the hump and into the unknown. As the road leveled out, and I saw I wasn’t going into the deep desert just yet, my heart dared to hope. Would I soon see another flyover or - blessed be - a U-turn?

Right about then, just as “Weapon of Choice” came on the radio, what do I see but a sign announcing a roundabout in 500 meters!

I whooped with joy! My heart soared! Christopher Walken was dancing in my passenger seat!

I turned around the circle, came back at the bridge, and then went out onto the Emirates Road, simple as that. And as if to stress the good fortune of that maneuver, I didn’t have too long of a wait going back over Garhoud Bridge’s infamously slow flyover, or the intersection from Hell on the way to the docks.

Dubai, I love you, but you need to get that overpass/tunnel finished before I leave, just so I can tell myself all this crazy aggravation was worth it.


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