Tag Archives | driving

Uber: sweet rides in Abu Dhabi

A few months ago, I read about a new app called Uber, which worked a bit like a taxi service, except you order an Uber car online and can track its progress to you on your smartphone.   Pretty cool, I thought at the time,but something like that would never come to Abu Dhabi because people here are too tied to their cars and the status (real or imagined, mostly the latter) that they think cars give them.

Well think again: Uber is here in the Dhabs, people, and it’s pretty cool.   I met with the Uber people a few weeks ago and they explained how Uber works: you sign up for an account using your  credit card and then that card is charged for your fare.  You can change the method of payment on the spot (decide to pay cash, for instance; or split the ride between two credit cards if you’re sharing with another Uber-ite); you can track the arrival of your driver (unlike when you call to order a cab, and the dispatcher says “five minutes ma’am” but then it might be twenty or thirty minutes), and your receipt shows up on your phone and in your email. There are no other fees involved and the app is free.

Dazzled by the idea of a clean swift car that would be an alternative to a taxi, or to driving myself and wrestling with traffic, crazy Dhabi drivers, and parking, I decided to Uber one night when I had to pick Liam up at a friend’s on one side of town and get him to soccer practice on the other side of town.

I clicked my Uber app, tapped my location pin, and got a little flag telling me the driver’s name, his phone number, and when he’d be arriving.


Except that my housing development is new enough that it doesn’t always show up on a GPS, so the driver didn’t arrive for almost 25 minutes. And then the GPS couldn’t find where we were going, and so we were very late picking up Liam, who had hurt his foot and decided against soccer practice (but that wasn’t Uber’s fault). During this whole ordeal, the driver was unfailingly polite and apologetic, but it was one of those moments where I found myself wishing devoutly for Manhattan’s organized street grid rather than Abu Dhabi’s hieroglyphic sprawl.

I figured there was no way I could write about Uber in good faith, not with such a mess of an experience, but when I explained the problem to Uber’s people, they apologized and asked me to try again, and gave me additional credit for my next ride: customer service par excellence.

So the other night, when Husband and I had to go to a reception where adult beverages would be served, we tried Uber again. Drinking and driving in Abu Dhabi carry incredibly stiff penalties–like jail or deportation–so if you think you’re going to have even a sip or two of wine, taxis are in order.  And if you’re going to be somewhere away from downtown late at night, good luck finding a cab (or requesting one and having to wait for forty minutes).

This time, uber worked like a charm: the driver arrived faster than the app could track him and he knew exactly where we were going.  It was great.  Yes, it was more expensive than a cab, but an incredibly smooth experience and I liked knowing that if there were a problem, I would be able to tap into customer service right away. With an Abu Dhabi taxi, if you’ve got a problem, your best solution is just to get out of the car.

Uber believes in their service and they’d like to introduce themselves to Abu Dhabi, so they’ve offered this promotional code to readers: type in ubermamma and get your first Uber ride for free (up to 80dh).

All of us have those GPS problems now and again — it’s practically a rite (ride?) of passage — but I think that Uber’s service is going to be a great addition to Abu Dhabi life.  It’s like having your own chauffeur service, but without actually having to, you know, pay for a chauffeur.

Happy Uber-ing!



Uber offered me a free ride in exchange for this post, and then another free ride after the fiasco of the first ride, but the opinions here are my own


Continue Reading · on February 9, 2014 in Abu Dhabi, UAE


It’s hot here in the desert.  Even now, in November, when people say “ah…the heat has broken,” we’re still talking 90F at midday.

The road I have to take to my house winds through a whole huge construction project designed to make room for even more cars and maybe a high-rise or two (Abu Dhabi loves itself some skyscrapers, the glassier the better).

The men who dig these roads (and build the skyscrapers) come from Kerala, Goa, Sri Lanka; Islamabad, Peshawar, Karachi — places that, until I moved out here, existed only on maps or in newscasts about “more violence.”

Sometimes, when I see a man lost in thought or resting in the shade, I imagine that he’s remembering his family “back home” (we all think about that place, backhome), or daydreaming about his wife/lover/child.  And then I think maybe it’s much more prosaic than that: what’s for dinner, my feet hurt, I’m hot.

Mostly, I think these guys are invisible — invisible in the sense that Marx writes about, that all laborers are essentially invisible — and in terms of what they wear: heads swathed in scarves (absorbs sweat, keeps the sand out of eyes, ears nose), bodies wrapped in company-issued coveralls.  Without these almost faceless bodies, however, the city would collapse back into sand and dust.





Continue Reading · on November 14, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, environment, expat, NaBloPoMo, Politics, UAE

Where I’ve Been

It’s July 1 today, which means that our summer holiday official starts in five days. Yes, America, my children are still in school and will be until July 4, when, with a touch of utterly unintentional irony, their British school officially ends for the year and sets them free.  I’ve spent much of the last month preparing to move, then moving, then recovering from the move and I’ve realized one thing:

Dante Aligheri never moved house, because if he had, at least one of the rings of hell in The Inferno would have been covered in bubble-wrap, cardboard, and packing tape.

In the meantime, although the pages and pages of the novel bouncing around in my head are…still in my head, I’ve written something for The National about the ridiculous driving here (an endless source of fear and amusement); posted a few times on BlogHer; written something for the World Mom’s Blog that should be out in a few days (and in the meantime you should go read the other stuff that’s posted there now); and written this short piece for the Yeah Write page. The amazing Erica, who also writes at freefringes, created the yeahwrite space as a place for good writing to thrive on the interwebz and this summer, she’s hosting something called “31 Days to Build a Better Blog.”  Some of the advice will be blog-specific, but some (like this piece by moi), is good advice for all writers.

I’m going to work through this 31 days thing; I figure if I can’t trim my actual physique, maybe I can whip this blog page into shape.  Stay tuned (I know, you can’t wait) for the daily blog exercises.  First up? I have to describe this blog in 100-150 words. I hate brevity. Brief is brutal. What did Mark Twain? You can have a three-page report on something in two weeks, or a ten-page report in three days.  If you’ve got suggestions, leave ’em in comments. Be nice.

In the meantime, two photos about moving. For Caleb, the upside of this:


Is that there are boxes to play with.  I think it’s a version of when life gives you lemons…  (And for those of you with small children in your lives, if you don’t know the two fabulous picture books Not A Box and Not a Stick, you need to find them & read them with your small fry.)


Continue Reading · on July 1, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, writing

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

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

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