My last taxi: how I became an Abu Dhabi driver, four years later

I haven't had any taxi horror stories lately, and that's because I don't take them anymore.

My taxi stories have been well-documented in this space. A conservative estimate is that I've taken 2,400 trips since arriving in April of 2008. That's a lotta different personalities (and a wide variety of brake-accelerator capability) to deal with. Several proposals (not for marriage). A couple of inappropriate comments. Some awesome seat covers. A couple of real jerks. Many hilarious stories. A lot of people who like and want to live in Canada, but cannot. And mostly, just really really really nice guys trying to earn a (hard) buck in a tough place.

This picture was taken from the back of an Abu Dhabi taxi. Almost a year ago. In June. 



But I've also realised that not only is taking a taxi twice a day (and on days off sometimes several times a day) an incredibly random experience, it's also a real abdication of personal power, particularly if you spent years getting around on your own steam before arriving. At first I enjoyed it, kicking back and letting someone else take the wheel. I even wrote a testimonial. Sure, I was terrified by several maniacs in those early days. But there were too many good stories, the roads were too scary, the cost of getting around too reasonable to contemplate getting a car. The few times I rented a car were a nightmare: I was in a fender bender just 30 minutes after picking up the first one and there was never anywhere to park by my old flat. I couldn't stand the traffic jams that happen off the main roads; the school rush, which seems to extend from 11am to late into the afternoon.

But what started as a good arrangement has slowly gone sour, and what was taxi angst became taxi anxiety, and that burst over into taxi rage several times. And that's why I've been playing with the idea of renting a car for months now, thoughts prompted by the move into an awesome new building with underground parking. The truth was I was tired of all the questions, of the epidemic of unnecessary braking, of the freezing a/c, of carrying bags of lunch and workout clothes around with me all the time.

Then, one day in particular, I snapped. I was late for something and in a rush and in a mood because I was in a rush (never a good idea, even when at the wheel yourself). The driver was one of the most outlandish yet - listening to the Quran and praying at the wheel. I kid you not, he was bowing his head while hurtling us down the road. All of a sudden he told me he was on empty and must get gas - and get the gas at a station completely in the opposite direction from where I was headed. Next thing I knew he is under the hood of the car and I had lost all patience. I tried to leave, but he insisted he could get me where I needed to go on time. (Not possible at this point). He started the car up and was speeding down the road again, again praying at the wheel. The car was swerving each time he dipped his head. I am going to die in this car, I thought.

"Forget," I told him, yelling by now. "Too late!" He insisted, speeding up more, cutting off people, switching lanes with reckless abandon, braking and accelerating wildly.

"Change!" I yelled. "Najda Street! Najda Street!"

There is a Hertz there, I thought, panicked and fed up. I am doing it. I am doing it now.

Muslims are not supposed to pray at the wheel, I have since learned. Hertz was closed. (Even worse, it was almost closed. The door was still open but the man at the counter said "finish".) I stood outside for a few minutes, dejected, holding all my bags, knowing there was no way I could get in another taxi. If there was a pop can on the ground I would have kicked it.

Then I remembered, Autorent, just down Al Falah Street. Screw it, I thought. And got walking. An hour later (like everything else in Abu Dhabi, renting a car involves a lot of paperwork), I drove out of the parking lot in a shiny new white Nissan Sunny.

I can honestly say driving has changed my life. I am at the damn wheel people! I have control. And I have been exploring Abu Dhabi in a way that just is not possible when you have to bridge a language gap and instruct another person on your wishes.

Sure it's hurting the environment, and don't think I don't feel bad about putting yet another car on the road. It's just that I feel so darn good about every other aspect that I can't worry about it right now.


Comments

Anonymous said…
a nissan "sunni". how appropriate in the southern gulf...
Oops I spelled it wrong!
I'm sure we have some terrible taxi driving stories to share as well. As you've learnt, it's not all that bad here. Glad you managed to rent a car, they can be hard to find here, especially in the peak seasons!

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