“You’re Such a Good Driver”
Twice in the last two weeks, friends riding with me have said “You’re such a good driver.” You’d think I would be flattered, but instead, it makes me aware of how much I have adapted to driving conditions in Doha. The truth is, I am pretty good. The truth is, that’s not a good thing.
Doha is smaller than Kuwait. The trick in Doha is to know which roads are closed, (that is usually in the newspaper,) and to have two or three routes to get to the same place. The trick is to know where the lanes are going to go wonky with all the people needing to make a left turn, and at the same time, how to avoid the mandatory left turn lane that can catch you by surprise.
The trick is to yield to the bigger vehicle, especially if he is a cement truck, crane, or similar very heavy vehicle, unless you think you can quickly get ahead of them so you won’t have to go 15 km/hr for the next thirty miles. The trick is to avoid being behind a truck loaded with not-secured concrete blocks. The trick is to know that new cameras are going up all the time – have you noticed? Even the locals are slowing down, so I am guessing that the fines here are being imposed across the board.
Last week, I even saw a policeman pull a truck over for an illegal left turn – he turned from the lane next to the legal turn lane – he got pulled over. I don’t know if he got a citation, but he got a talking to. He seemed to be listening respectfully. I was shocked. There are times you will see three lanes turn left, only one of which is the legal left turn lane. It’s so common, you take it for granted. But things seem to be changing.
I have also caught myself doing some things I would never ever think of doing in the US. I needed to use a cash machine, and all the parking spaces were filled. I gave it 5 seconds thought, parked my car behind two cars right by the cash machine, and prayed no one would need to move while I was getting my money. Unfortunately – no one did. My bad behavior was positively reinforced.
The other night, picking up food on the way home, I begged some workers to let me park in a marked “no parking” spot so I could pick up my food.
“Bas hamsa deqiqa” I smiled as I ran to pick up my food, which, fortunately was ready and I paid, ran back out, tipped a little for the spot and drove off.
These are things I would never never never do in the United States. I do it here because it makes my life easier and because . . . everybody else does it.
I can still hear my Mother’s voice saying “and if everyone were jumping off a bridge, would you do that?” That’s what mother’s say. I probably said it myself. And here I am, knowing I shouldn’t do it, and doing it.
When I first got here, a woman was taking me shopping and as we got to the roundabouts, she said “You’ve just got to commit!” and she would whirl through the roundabout with seconds to spare. An Iranian friend got us from the airport to the Diplomatic Club once in 17 minutes in peak night-time traffic. It was easier for me to watch the clock than to watch her drive; she didn’t even look left when she entered the roundabouts. And she got us across town in 17 minutes. I still wonder at that accomplishment, and feel myself, at the same time, quaking in my boots at her confidence.
So I wonder if my admiring friends feel the same way, if I have become so used to local driving that I am adapting dare-devil tactics in my driving as well as in my parking?
I shudder at the re-education I will have to undergo when I return to the US for good.