In the past three months, I had given up driving. One reason was because I wasn’t feeling too well, another was because we don’t have adequate parking where I work and well, it’s fun to be driven around (for a while). But it’s amazing how over a course of 90 days you meet a wide variety of people who happen to be your driver for the day.
I feel for these guys. They live away from their families, only getting a chance to see them once a year for a few weeks, which I am 100% sure doesn’t feel like enough. But at the end of the day, Dubai traffic isn’t the safest or the most predictable. People change lanes across the 6 lane highway, brake without any warning and turn without a signal. So you can imagine my glee when I stepped into the cab and looked up to see a large-sized phone suspended on a stand right next to the AC vent. The cabbie had his headphones on and on the screen was a little girl sticking her face close to the screen, yapping away happily. It was a sweet sight, but at 100 km/hr it’s wasn’t the most comforting one. And on top of that, I was constantly featured in her screen, trying not to stare into the camera; the creepy/awkward rider in the backseat. The little girl was dancing, singing (I could hear her chipmunk-like pitch through his headphones) and basically drawing all of her father’s attention onto herself. This cabbie barely looked at the road. One glance here and there and he was back to laughing happily at his daughters antics while I tried to keep a straight, uninterested face in the backseat. After all, I was part of this film as well, my face very much a feature in the frame.
I had to tell this cabbie 3 times before he comprehended my request. He couldn’t be bothered. Throughout my 45 minute long journey, he Skyped; yelling at intervals at his wife, laughing at his daughter, lecturing his son. I should’ve said something because he almost kissed the front car’s bumper many a times but to be honest, I really didn’t have the heart to do that to him.
So as you may know, a few cabbies here can be quite rude. I was about to get into one cab and he’s like ‘Listen. if you’re not going to Downtown (which is far from here), I’m not taking you. I need to go that way for an oil change.’ Lucky for me I could please him, since I was headed in that direction. Too tired to chastise him about his tone, I jumped in and he whizzed on.
This man was a serial braker. With little sense of distance or even the simple mechanics of a car, he would pull up really close to a car and then hit the brakes with such a vengeance that the grinding of the metal could be heard in the backseat. With my already foggy head hitting the seat in front of me, I requested him to either keep a distance or change lanes. I received a snappy reply that this happens in traffic and after a bit of an unpleasant back and forth he decided to comply. But only to spite me. Because this time, he decided to brake even harder to a point where things were falling all over the backseat and I had to put my hands out to protect my forehead. I finally threatened him with a call to RTA and requested to change cabs. Being the gentleman that he was, he was more than happy to leave me in the middle of the highway and carry on with his braking ways.
The Righteous One:
Then there are the cabbies that are hell-bent on teaching the rules of the road to all those around them. The ones that pull up right next to anyone sinning in the traffic realm, and roll down the windows to yell ‘Are you BLIND? Didn’t you see what you did back there?’ Or chase a wrong-doer all the way down the highway, with little regard for one’s own safety, to dispel some unwanted advice: ‘Couldn’t you have given your signal 3 kilometres back? Are you BLIND?’
These guys are be particularly stressful to drive with. It seems like you’ve been transported into a bad movie where the protagonist is the corrector of all wrongs and will eventually save the world by correcting traffic. I had the pleasure of driving with someone like this. He stopped a total of 13 times to yell instructions, to chastise and to ‘teach someone a lesson’. And then after the lessons would come the explanations to me. ‘Can you BELIEVE that guy? This is what’s wrong with this country! Blah Blah…‘. In such situations your iPod is your buddy. Just put it on and pray for your life, because there are many a lessons to be taught before you make it home.
These are the ones that test your power of hearing and your patience. They mumble something throughout the journey. It could be curses, could be prayer, could be spells they’re putting on you in the backseat, could be political analysis, but you’ll never find the truth. When questioned, they stare at you in the rearview mirror like you’ve lost your mind. And once that moment passes, they’re back to speaking under their breath, making you uncomfortable and your journey awkward.
The Glaring One:
These guys don’t have lessons to give; they have a stare that can speak volumes. If someone cuts them off, or turns without their consent or even just breathes without permission, he will pull up next to your car, slow it down to your speed and then just glare.
Yes, his eyes are telling you you’re a douche.
You cannot escape the wrath of these eyes, shadowed by bushy eyebrows, staring into your soul, telling you how you’ve broken the sacred code of traffic rules. These guys can be a pain to drive with because half the time, they’re changing lanes. After all, they’ve got so many miscreants to stare down.
I especially feel for these guys. They spend all day in vehicles, cooped up within 4 doors, with limited verbal interaction. So by mistake, if you happen to catch the eye of one of these types, they immediately launch into a conversation which can be very tricky to get out of once you’ve responded that first time. These guys will talk about the Kashmir issue, their families and which corrupt politician owns which hotel on Sheikh Z. You can try to put your headphones on but they’ll speak a bit louder until you’re forced to listen and then consequently respond. These guys are harmless unless you’re tired, then these cab rides can get quite tedious. Some of them also don’t know the fine line between harmless small talk and personal probing questions which can offend. That’s when it gets awkward and squeamish. I’ve figured the best way out of this situation is to just ask someone to call you so you can have an ‘important’ phone conversation and spend the rest of the cab ride in peace.
I got this weird cabbie once who kept twitching! He just wouldn’t stop. Every few seconds or so he would move his leg and jerk his head back with a lot of force. The first couple of times he did it, I was honestly a bit scared. I honestly thought it was a upcoming seizure and I was going to have to jump forward and take control of the wheel (a la Fast & Furious). But throughout the next 45 minutes I realised this cabbie probably had some form of Tourette’s. Needless to say, it was a bit nerve-wrecking and in hindsight, kinda hilarious.
Cabs are a blessing in Dubai. They’re convenient, efficient and usually quite clean, but with the rising traffic and population here, they can be hard to come by, especially during peak hours and can be uncomfortable if you come across these special types of cabbies. And trust me, I’ve experienced all types and all I can say is: keep those headphones handy and that iPod charged because you never know who’s going to be driving you today.