Tag Archives | cars

Does This Mean We’re Grownups?

Husband and I, we are a rental people.  Or we were, until last week.

While friends were working on a second house, or a vacation house, or a condo somewhere spiffy, we were renting an apartment in Manhattan (which we moved out of when we left for Abu Dhabi: now we got nuthin’).   We felt vaguely smug about it, too: instead of lying awake at night wondering which creak or drip was going to cost us a fortune in repairs, we knew we could just call the building manager and someone would show up to fix the problem.  Equityshmequity, we figured.

Other people had a car, maybe two cars if they lived in the ‘burbs; they had mechanics and garages and lube jobs. (Is there any way for that not to sound obscene? Methinks not.)  Long before Husband was Husband, he owned a succession of incredibly beat-up cars, each more decrepit than the last, but by the time he became Husband, we were firm Manhattanites: car-less.  We rented cars when we needed them and–again–felt smug when we returned them to Messrs Avis and Hertz.  A few years before we moved out of New York, my mom “sold” me her old Subaru for about a dollar: it had more than 100K miles on it but it got me back and forth to my job in Westchester, and in a way that perhaps only another mother could appreciate, I started to think of my drive home in thick traffic as “me time,” even if those precious private moments occurred while I sat bumper-to-bumper on the FDR.

When we moved to Abu Dhabi, we tried to go car-less at first: taxis here are easy to find and not very expensive, but after a while it got tiresome trying to flag down a cab while hauling a week’s worth of groceries.  So we rented a Toyota Yaris, which was a bit like driving a golf ball.  Fuel efficient, sure, but puttering down the road while the Armadas and Land Cruisers and Denalis thundered past made driving a white-knuckled, sweaty-backed experience.  So we went up a size: Tiida, or Tilda, as I liked to call it. Tilda made us a little bit more visible, but she accelerated about as quickly as you might imagine someone named Tilda would, and she wasn’t very big. I got tired of craning my neck around the wheels of the huge SUVs that rule the roads.

Driving, you see, has become a part of my life. I have to drive somewhere almost every day; the errands that I could get done on a long walk in New York are impossible here. It’s sort of like Los Angeles in that regard, except that gas is a helluva lot cheaper–and there’s only one brand of gas: the government-owned Adnoc.  As a result of all this driving? I know the names of cars–I can distinguish between an Armada and a Land Cruiser at thirty paces–and my ass has come to resemble the seat cushions of the Rav4 that we started renting after a near-miss in Tilda.

The Rav4 at least got us into the sight-lines of the lumbering SUVs; I felt a little bit safer as I carted children hither and yon (mostly yon, alas), as I shlepped groceries around, as we went up the Zayed Road (aka the death highway) to Dubai. True, the sightlines for me were crappy–I had to constantly hitch up in my seat when I wanted to change lanes–and, of course, there were all those car-rental dirhams sliding out of our bank account into Mr. Thrifty’s coffers.

So we did it. The grown-up thing.

Dear reader, we bought a car.

A Serious Car. An Officially Fancy Car.

Seems there was a fantastic financing offer, seems there was an amazing warranty offer (five years: everything free, from oil to brakes to, I don’t know, touching up the highlights in my hair? Who knows).  Seems that the car salesman, a lovely man named Alaa (pronounced like…yep, that’s right: it’s as if I bought my car from god), really really wanted to make us happy; he wanted to treat us like Very Important People (to which I wanted to say “gosh, I bet you say that to all the customers”) and my friends? His blandishments worked, although I like to think that my talk about being immune to Prestige Cars and the fact that I started to walk out of his office when he wouldn’t meet our price, may have had something to do with things. Husband also invoked his dear departed mother, who, when hearing that Husband had declined law school in favor of a literature PhD, bemoaned the fact that he’d never drive a nice car.

Her ghost is smiling now.

This car? It does everything. It does everything so cleverly, in fact, that the day after we bought it, I got in to do some errand or other, stared at the dashboard for a while, pushed a few buttons, and then had to call Husband to ask how to turn the damn thing on.

Well. It doesn’t do everything. The German engineers forgot to install a bicker button, which would silence backseat bickerers by sliding a piece of soundproof glass between the drivers and the squabbling passengers.

I tootle along feeling pretty near invulnerable, I have to say: I can see everything; I can stop instantly when the guy in the far-right lane decides to make a left turn; I can see to change lanes as the Armada comes barreling up behind me, flicking its brights and honking because it needs to get to the red light up ahead really really fast.

After a few days on the road, however, I have to say that I don’t feel quite so fancy: when you’re flanked in the parking lot by one of these:


 and one of these:


It puts things into perspective. My fancyshmancy is someone else’s Lumina.

Nevertheless, Husband and I are settling into our new life as owners. When we leave Abu Dhabi, we’ll sell the car, but until then, the half-hour drive out to the boy’s soccer practices seems a little less painful.

Husband, in fact, has been exploring a solution to the missing bicker button in this car. “I was looking at a convertible the other day,” he said. “A two-seater.”


Liam indulging in a little automotive fantasy at the car showroom

Continue Reading · on April 27, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, expat, family, growing up, Kids, shopping, UAE

Mixed Message, Parking Category

Abu Dhabi has a parking system that (mostly) works really well. You can set up an online parking account and then when you park, you just send a text to Mawaqif and presto, you’re paid up. I’ve never had any problems, at least until the other day. I parked, did my text-n-pay, but when I finished my errands, I discovered a little parking violation ticket (PVT) tucked under my windshield wiper.

I went to the parking office (there is one in almost every mall), filed an “appeal” and then today I got this text message:


Whoohoo, I win!

And then a little while later, I got this message:



Clearly the system has a few kinks.

Continue Reading · on January 13, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, lost in translation, UAE

Abu Dhabi Driving: A Refresher Course

Dear Abu Dhabi Driver,

I’ve been driving around quite a bit the last few days and I’m thinking that maybe a little review about how to maneuver a several-ton vehicle through crowded streets would be useful, maybe even essential.

Let’s  start with some basics, shall we?

I’m driving a (rented) bright blue Nissan Tiida, which in the US they call a Versa. No, I don’t know why they change the names, but that’s not the point. I know that little blue hatchbacked rear end is really, really cute, and you want to get close enough to see if the name is “Tiida” or “Tilda,” but probably you don’t have to get your white Toyota Land Cruiser close enough to climb into my backseat. Really, I can see you–you can drop back just an itsy-bitsy bit. See? Isn’t that better? Gives us both a little breathing room.

While we’re talking about following distance, here’s something to keep in mind: having an entire car length between you and the car in front is probably a good idea. Sudden stops and all that, you know? Someone explained to a friend of mine that the correct following distance is being able to see the rear wheels of the car in front of you. Mmmm….no. You want to see the entire car. And if you’re so close that you can’t see the wheels at all? Then suddenly you and your car have become passengers in my Tilda.

See those white dotted lines that divide Abu Dhabi’s avenues into four lines of traffic going in either direction? See how those same lines also mark one left turn lane for U-turns, and another left turn lane for just regular turns, and even another lane for the free right turn? Those white lines–they’re pretty, right? Some of them even sparkle and stuff.  But here’s the thing. When you straddle those lines as you drive it’s really hard for the rest of us to see the pretty marks.  It’s sort of selfish, if you see what I mean. So just like when you choose a cookie at snack time, pick a lane and stick with it, mmmkay?

By the same token, those pretty white lines are intended to keep us all moving along in the same general direction, which is to say, forward. So when you come in on the far right and then cut across four lanes of traffic to get into the far left u-turn lane? Well, that’s just a bit confusing for the rest of us, because it’s like you’re going sideways, while we’re all going forwards. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about the march to a different drummer thing, but you might want to consider whether you absolutely need that left turn this second.

Those free right turns. Love ’em, right? Just barrel up to the stoplights and blammo, blast that right turn without slowing down. No light, no yield, just floor it and go. If you’re lucky, you can take out one, two, maybe three pedestrians (those are the people standing up outside your car. They may look sort of blurry to you, given that you’re going about 120km in a 60).  Slight problem, though: those right turn lanes are also where the vertical people have to perform that death-defying act known as crossing the street. I know, stupid of them, right? They should just get cars like everyone else. Just so you know, though, it is possible to slow down as you make that right turn. Maybe even, you know, stop for a minute, and let the verticals scurry across. Just a thought.

Perhaps you could use that pedestrian stoppage time for your texting. Because you know what? Texting while you’re moving rapidly down the road is a big multi-tasking don’t. Yesterday, a woman texting in a red sedan rear-ended my kids’ schoolbus. A big bright-yellow bus sitting at a stoplight. No one was hurt, but here’s the thing: the driver didn’t see a BIG YELLOW BUS. It’s not like she bumped into a little Mini or a Smart car or a bicycle. Nope. She was so intent on C U LTR that she CRSHD the front of her car. SUX.  You want your hands at 10 and 2, darlings, 10 and 2. What? You say you weren’t taught that? Okay, fine, let’s skip the technical stuff and go simple: two hands on the wheel at all times.

Let’s think about the car interior for a minute, okay? See those sort of stick things coming out from the steering wheel? The stick on one side is for windshield wipers. We don’t have a lot of use for those here in the desert, that’s true. But the stick on the other side is pretty useful. It’s something called indicators, or turn signals, or blinkers, or those-pretty-flickering-red-light-thingys.  That stick will let the people behind your car know if you’re planning a turn. Generally speaking, letting the people behind you know that you’re about to turn is a good idea. Keeps us from becoming vehicularly intimate, if you see what I mean. But when you turn on the left blinker and go right, well, that can make the person behind you swear as she stomps on the brakes to avoid you. And then if she were to have children in the car, that braking driver would end up owing her children money, because maybe she made a deal with them that every time she swears, she owes them a dirham.  If you decide to turn without bothering to flick your indicator, well, that could lead to more sudden braking, more swearing, more dirham-owing. A person could get out of her car owing each of her kids 10, 15, 30 dirham.

Kids. You might have kids, O Abu Dhabi driver. Maybe you have a little boy, whose eyes glisten when he looks at the array of gadgets on the dashboard of your Porsche Panamera.  Maybe he begs, whines, pleads to sit in front and watch the speedometer rev.  I say to you, resist those limpid baby eyes! Your kid shouldn’t be in the front seat of your car, especially not your turbo Porsche. I mean, think about it. You just dropped more than 75K on a car and if your kid is in the front seat and you have to stop suddenly–then it’s forehead on the dashboard time, and there’s bruising, maybe scratches on the finish, maybe blood staining the leather, and really, who needs that? Putting a kid’s car seat in the front seat isn’t going to solve your problem either, although it might save the leather seats. When the passenger-side airbag detonates, it’s going to carom into your child’s sweet face with a velocity we don’t want to think about. Throw the little darlings in the back seat. Really, trust me on this one.

But if they’re in the back seat, your little habibi? You might want to suggest that they shouldn’t hang out the windows waving at people as you roll down Hamdan Street. Also? Ix-nay on the hanging out the unroof-say. Limbs and digits inside the car, darlings, inside. Do us all a favor and prevent your kids from becoming, you know, speed bumps. Ouch.

Finally? I know you’re very proud of your super-fast Lamborferrarasati, but here’s the thing: just because there is a Formula One racetrack in Abu Dhabi doesn’t mean you need to drive like a Formula One driver. Without being mean, let me say this: you are not an international race car driver. I am not a ballet dancer and you are not, nor will you ever be, a race car hero.  I know that your German pepper pot goes faster than my skinny-wheeled Nissan and I’m fine with that. You don’t have to blow by me at eighty gazillion miles an hour to prove it.  But while we’re on the subject, why are you driving a car named for a spice? Porsche Cayenne? What were the discarded tester names for that, do you think? Tumeric Turbo? Salt Supra? Hybrid Harissa?

If you can follow these simple guidelines, dear driver, I am sure we can have a wonderful on-road relationship.  See you in the left-turn lane!


Continue Reading · on February 16, 2012 in Abu Dhab, expat, street notes, UAE

no parking, no problem: parking lot freestyle

The other day I went to Spinney’s, a grocery store that caters to expats. Spinneys has a pork room (aka “the hall of shame”) and next door to the grocery store is the liquor store (hall of double shame). And upstairs at Spinney’s is  Mug-and-Bean, where you can get bagels. They’re not the best bagels in the world, but they’re better than the doughy pucks from the freezer section.

Because Spinney’s shares a parking lot with Etisalat, the cable company, the lot gets really crowded. Luckily, Abu Dhabi drivers–expats and locals alike–are a resourceful bunch, so they can always manage to find a parking space.

For instance, a lesser human might have thought “gosh, that curb is painted with yellow lines, which probably means I shouldn’t park there, especially because it’s the exit lane from the parking lot.” An Abu Dhabi driver is made of sterner stuff:

A newcomer to Abu Dhabi–say, me–might look at the main ingress/egress lanes of the parking lot and see a space big enough to allow people to back out of a parking space easily. Clearly, I need to change my perspective. Those nice white lines down the middle of the lane? Those aren’t dividing lines, you newbie idiot. Those are parking lines. And you should park on those lines right up to the wall at the end of the lot, so that if you accidentally drive too far down this vehicularly divided lane, you have no choice but to back up, alllllll the way to the beginning:

And then again, if you can’t find a place to park on the dotted white lines, or on the yellow striped lines, or even the red-and-white striped lines, then by all means, just pull up to the bumper, baby. Or at very least, the sidewalk:

So I don’t know what this all means; I’m new here. Maybe it’s just the natural response of people with big cars in small spaces, or maybe this lot says something about the national character, or the characters of anyone who comes to live in a brand-new city in the desert: maybe we’re all just channeling our inner Bedouin and hopping off our camels wherever it’s convenient.

All I can say is that when we’re back in Manhaattan over the winter holidays, that whole alternate-side-of-the-street rigamarole will look sillier than ever. Just pull up on the sidewalks, let the street cleaners go by, and be done with it.  That’s the Abu Dhabi way.


Update: I am told by people who have lived here longer than I have that regulated parking of any sort arrived in AD only last year. Before that, “parking lots” were a kind of frontier state, where the best you could hope for is that the guy whose car blocked you in had left a piece of paper with his mobile number on it tucked into the dashboard so you could call him to come move his car.  Sometimes the call worked and the guy would come move his car, and sometimes…you’d have to leave your car where it was and go find a taxi.

Continue Reading · on December 9, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, expat, UAE

National Day: The Big Four-Oh

Today, December 2, is the 40th anniversary of the founding of the United Arab Emirates.  Before this historic union, the various tribes (each of whom would come to govern an emirate) were busy trying to kill each other, take each others’ camels, pearls, and women (in descending order of importance, duh), and generally not getting along.

I’ve been thinking today about being in the United States on its 40th anniversary. What do you suppose these post-colonials did to celebrate their historic break-up with George III?  In 1816, the US would’ve been recovering from the War of 1812. Maybe there would have been, what, readings of the constitution? Mugs of hard cider or ale passed around? Dancing in the town square? Do you suppose anyone painted a picture of the US flag on his wagon, or on the side of his barn?

The union of the Arab States, formerly known as the Trucial States (because they’d formed a truce with Britain), marked a seismic shift in this part of the world. For the first time, these warring tribes would figure out how to work together. Led by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nayhan, seven sheikhs came together to create a new entity, independent from the British. These seven countries–Sharjah, Dubai, Ras-al-Kaimah, Abu Dhabi, Fujeirah, Umm al-Qaiwaim, Ajman–form the UAE; Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain all opted out of the union. Sheikh Zayed, who was by all accounts a fairly remarkable man, brokered the deal that led to the British ceasing to govern but continuing to work the newly discovered oil fields (and tithing a very high percentage of their oil contracts to the new country).

Zayed became the first ruler of the UAE; he’s like George Washington and King Arthur rolled into one. But unlike those national icons, who have been dead for centuries, Zayed only died in 2004, after governing for almost thirty years. He’s a legend who people here have worked with, who still exists in popular memory. Abu Dhabi and the UAE itself are incredibly young entities: everything I see as I walk on the streets has been built in the last half-century.  And yet, of course, this part of the world and the religion that undergirds everything  are incredibly ancient.

This juxtaposition (which is sometimes a collision) of the very old and the very new explains why I can be in the parking lot of the huge sports complex where my kids play soccer and see this car, dressed up to celebrate National Day:

But then as I rounded the corner of the car, heading back to the soccer fields, I almost tripped over the driver of the car, who had his prayer mat out on the pavement and was bowing in the direction of Mecca. I stuffed my camera behind my back so he wouldn’t think I was intruding on his privacy, and walked in the other direction.

Just as with any big decade marker, this birthday is being marked with quite a bash: Air Force planes doing maneuvers over the beaches; huge count-down clocks, flags flying from every conceivable vantage point, pageants in all the schools, fireworks for several nights in a row, buildings lit up in a way that would rival anything in Las Vegas.

Appropriately for a country whose primary source of revenue comes from oil, cars seem to be a key aspect of this celebration. The attention to car-decor here puts the Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York to shame. We’re talking cars with feather boas, cars with tulle bows, cars with christmas tree lights webbed across the back window.  And spread across windshields, car doors, rooftops, hoods: the faces of Zayed and his two sons: Muhammed, who is the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi; and Khalifa, who is the current ruler of the UAE:

The image on the back windshield is of the seven sheikhs on the day of unification.

Khalifa, Zayed with his beloved falcons, and the current leader of the military…on a Chevy.

A boa-car, one of my favorites.  I have no idea why there are stuffed bears in the backseat, but we saw those bears everywhere, even popping out of the sunroof a Porsche Cayenne (which are as common as mini-vans around here; like the Dodge Caravans of the UAE).

It’s a young country. Maybe that’s why right now, as I’m writing this, all I can hear is the sound of car horns, air horns, cars backfiring (apparently drivers do this on purpose to add to the general sense of joyful mayhem. Well…a little bit joyful mayhem and a little bit like being under siege. Youth might also explain the celebratory attacks of shaving cream and silly string being exchanged up and down the Corniche and from car to car: passengers standing up in the sunroof, firing water pistols of shaving cream at the cars around them; spectators spraying silly string at the cars; no one was exempt.  Groups of demure abaya-clad women, in sparkly headscarves, were roving the corniche in packs, each woman with two cans of silly string tucked into her draping sleeves.  They would whip out their cans–pfffffftttt–and then dash off into the crowd, cackling with glee.

I suppose that if silly string had been invented in 1816, even James Madison would’ve sprayed some around the White House to celebrate the fact that against all odds, the U.S. hadn’t imploded. Maybe he even would’ve danced around a bit, like these guys, who were doing some kind of complicated dance that revolved in a circle around several drummers. They were all shouting and clapping and having a marvelous time celebrating this momentous anniversary…although I think they were all from Pakistan.

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Continue Reading · on December 2, 2011 in Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi Discoveries, environment, expat, street notes, UAE

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