Welcome to Empirical Purple

A blog by Simon Brady to cover a surprisingly wide range of geekiness, in a combination that no-one else does quite the same way. Probably. Either that, or it'll just be Simon talking about the likes of Football (usually the Soccer variety), PC & Tabletop Gaming, WWE, Movies, Music and occasionally even my actual job of Graphic Design, depending on what I'm up to in the world.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The U-Turn Fascination

"Who is that strange Westerner," I imagine the locals think, "who keeps his car between the odd white lines on the road, drives at a speed that happens to be the same as the numbers on signs at the side of the road, and also uses those flashing orange things at the corners of his car before he makes turns and changes lanes? These crazy foreigners!"

Driving in the UAE is... interesting. It's something I'm getting used to, and I'm not sure whether that's something I should feel good about, or not. Even as I write this, every so often I hear cars screeching to a halt at the junction outside that our balcony overlooks. The sound of horns beeping just fades into the background after a while.

Taxis beep at you if you're walking down the road - obviously no one in their right mind would be walking around in late summer (or at all, perhaps) so in the UAE, much like in the Soviet Union, it's the taxis that hail you, most of the time. Drivers beep at you if you don't move off at traffic lights immediately. Not after five or six seconds like you get in the UK, but if you're sat there for more than two seconds expect someone behind to remind you of that fact. One time I switched from brake to accelerator the very instant the lights turned to green, and someone had already beeped behind in the queue of traffic.

It's like a friendly reminder. Sometimes I feel like beeping back, just to join in the fun and make some new friends. Or when they cut me up at junctions, cross lanes on the motorway at random, or generally do something that makes you wonder where they learnt to drive.

Learner drivers are everywhere in RAK, distinguishable by the fact they look like they're driving New York taxis. Actual taxis are white cars with, usually, a beige roof. Female taxi drivers have a pink roof, and some have a red one, which really doesn't help when police cars are white with a red roof and doors. Learners drive around, very slowly, in bright yellow warning-style livery. Watching them, and assuming they're also in automatics like every other car here, makes me wonder quite what they're being taught.

"Now, it's a 60kph limit here, so I'd like you to be nice and safe by sticking to 40. Also, see this roundabout? I'd like you to saunter vaguely around it at a walking pace, not paying any attention to other cars, the lines on the road, or your indicators. By all means start way over on the right hand lane, then cut across both lanes to the inside of the roundabout before coming back out to the right-hand side whenever you feel like it. Perfect!"

Despite the fact largely everyone drives pedal-to-the-metal down the straights, roundabouts seem to present many drivers with some sort of skill challenge that they can only meet by going as slowly as possible. Or, as quickly as possible to make sure they're not delayed in getting to wherever they're already late for.

What really sticks out, however, are the U-turns. It's not 'United Arab Emirates', it's 'U-turn At Everywhere'. Maggie Thatcher would not have liked driving in the UAE. Most roads are dual carriageways and, if you're lucky, there's a roundabout to turn around at when you go past the place you want to get to on the other side of the road. If you're unlucky, and there's a junction, you have to make a U-turn. Or, often for no apparent reason, you can't make U-turns at the junction, and should have made one, from the fast lane, into oncoming traffic, a few hundred yards earlier at the designated spot.

At least you don't have camels to avoid. Except on the motorways, when you do. Travelling between  RAK and Dubai, we nipped down a scenic sandy route from one major highway to another and, coming over a hill, were greeted by the sight of three camels leisurely crossing the road in front of us. If you hit them, it's always your fault and you have to pay the owner for them. If you've been unlucky and hit a racing camel (Camel Racing is something I'm sure we'll go and see, as it's sounds brilliant), then they're extra-costly.

The number of drivers texting, or with their phone to their ear, is staggering. Usually they're weaving all over the road at the time, too. And all this in the country where not wearing a seatbelt in traffic collisions is the number one cause of child death.

The car is king here, there's no question of it. Petrol is a fifth the price it is in the UK, so you - or rather the poor pump attendant stood out in 35 degree heat all day - can fill your tank for the equivalent of about £10-£15 and wash the sand and dirt off your windows for free as part of the service. This makes driving big, fuel-inefficient SUV-type vehicles totally reasonable, as like in the USA there's no such thing as a 'small' or 'city' car here, with even the most compact of cars being five-door hatchbacks. It's a petrolhead's dream, you just need to make sure you don't pick up all the bad habits.

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