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Do you have the Need for Speed?!

March 17, 2011

I know the birth of this blog was partially inspired by my leather-walkin’ through the desert and living off cabs, busses, and my extended thumb on the free-way (not really that last one), but I gave all that glamour up for a pretty little gray 2008 Mazda 3.  I’m once again hooked on the world’s number one drug of choice: oil.  And while I’m burning fossil fuel – pushing 130 km/h – up The 30 toward Kuwait City, it feels like I’m looking through my rearview more than I’m looking at the road in front of me.

Where do I begin?  Driving here is an experience.  And here are some vehement thoughts I’ve gathered from mine.

What twirks me is just the arrogance of the other drivers, the lack of consideration for them, and the sheer carelessness.  It’s only our lives!  But somehow so many play it with a careless touch of a racing game in an arcade.  It’s the “Get out of my attitude!” that, oh, just sends me right to the fist-shakin’!  I’m thinking…where are you going in such a hurry?  It’s 530 in the A.M….I KNOW you’re not late for anything! How often is there a need to be weaving through the lanes at 150 km/h like a bob-sledder down an ice slope?

Think to yourself.  How often have you weaved through traffic at 90+ or 150+ (depending what country you’re in), thinking oh, man…I’m really late for…for what?  What are you so late for that you have to risk yours and everyone else’s life around you?  Where are these people going?!  Are they late for their dinner with the Emir or something?  I’m sure he’d understand.

My mother told me a story of when she was going into labor with one of my brothers in the Philippines, and my father was speeding down the shoulder of the road flying by everybody to get to the hospital.

He got pulled over.

The police escorted them to the hospital, and everything worked out fine.  That’s the closest excuse I can think of to speeding in the reckless way that people do here.  And it may not be that good of an excuse considering the fragility of the lives at risk.

At least some have the courtesy to flash their high beams at you…translation: get out of my way or I’m going to tail gate you so close that it’ll look like my bumper is trying to make out with your bumper.  Please, let’s keep that relationship a distant one (Oh, side note funny story this morning about Islam and kissing…here’s the dialogue between my Jordanian kid (with the sweetest accent) and my Korean kid:

J: Why don’t you like Justin Beiber?  He’s very good!

K: I just don’t.

J: (excitedly) Did you know Justin Beiber has kissed girls on the lips outside?

K: uhh…

J: It’s because he’s Christian.  Muslims are not allowed to do this.)

Kuwait's main free-way

Anyways…Flashing high beams.  When that happens to me I have to remind myself to not take it personal.  Maybe they really are in a hurry.  But the tailgating that follows afterwards if someone doesn’t pullover to let a car pass is just…it’s beautiful.  Never have I seen two cars drive so fast and so close.  If the front car were to break even the slightest – fuhgeddaboudit!

I almost wish that the next time I see that happen – a car tailgating so close the exhaust from the front car’s tailpipe has nowhere to go -that the front car does break and they do create a glorious crash.  Just to teach that idiotic driver a lesson.  Of course, I don’t want anyone to get hurt.  But sometimes it takes the hard way to learn a lesson.  Tailgating is a well-known problem in Kuwait.

What else?

Free-Way Shoulder: Use at own risk, but is used regularly as extra traffic lane to pass.

Right of Way: Who ever gets there first.  It’s like a game of chicken.  If you’re timid or back out too soon, you lose.

School Zones:  Non-existent.  It’s weird – and frustrating – to have people honking at me to drive faster in front of the school where I work.  It’s only 630 am with kids walking to school around us.

Roundabouts: like roller coasters, fun and scary at the same time.

I don’t mean to make it sound like driving here is always an awful experience.  The key I’ve learned is to not take the aggressive driving etiquette “actions” personal.  It’s the way driving is in Arab countries.  They drive fast, neglect their blinker and blind spot. At the same time, you don’t have to be incredibly aggressive, but you can’t be timid or hesitant.  The horn is used regularly also for communicating with other drivers. I’ve used it more here in the last month than I did in all of the 9 or so years of driving back home.

Of course, it’s not for everybody.  There many people who spend years here and never get behind the wheel.  I made the decision to do so because I wanted more freedom in my schedule, particularly with deciding my own time of when to leave for school and when to come back. And now I have more flexibility in scheduling regular trips to the hospital, pharmacy, grocery store, shopping mall, etc.

To a certain extent one has to adapt to the ways of the culture, as I’m learning to do.  I can add gas to the fire by driving aggressive myself, but for the most part I try to balance between the slow lane and the fast lane.  The middle lane is the easiest to handle, making it easy to not have to think much about the traffic around you so much, as nobody “pushes you around” like in the fast lane.

At the end of the day, it all seems to work out.  Like a machine with an incomprehensible and intricate slew of shafts and gears, you scratch your head at how it works.  But it does work!  It’s how I get from one side of the desert to the other.

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