They say you never truly appreciate what you have until the day you lose it. It could be anything, from eyesight, to your big toe, to bladder control, to your car keys. This phrase has never rung as clearly as it did for me last weekend.
Some of you may know that last year, I joined the polluting horde of the driving force by buying a brand old Honda Civic, pretty much alarming pedestrians across the UAE. Contrary to popular predictions, my behind-the-wheel experiences did not cause an appreciable increase in road fatalities in the region. It has been largely an uneventful year, accident wise. I’m not the best driver you can find, but I’m still chalking up the number of car crashes to ‘zero’. It may not get me invited to the next Fast and Furious installment, but it’s still nothing to be scoffed at.
It’s hardly been a month since I got my car re-registered for the year. It’s a process that the Government insists be done annually, because money. Plus, they get to sleep safe and sound, happy in the knowledge that they have made traffic safe and sound, except not really. So yeah, it’s the money thing.
I was told that the inspection would be thorough. They would check the tires, the engine, the oil, the whole shebang, and if any of these failed to pass the intense scrutiny, the car would not pass for registration. I imagine a comically oversized bearded chap stamping the words ‘REJECTED’ on my application form and shoving me out of the building, following which I’ll have to make corrections and get back in line to repeat the process.
So when I got my car cleared and got it re-registered, I was rejoicing on two counts – For one thing, it’s a boring bureaucratic process that’s best finished off quickly. Nobody goes through this as a matter of hobby. On another count, it also gave me reassurance that my car was a-ok. I had the official seal of approval – the ‘good to go’ rating that offered to put one’s mind at ease.
So it was with a renewed sense of easiness that I drove my car out on the highway this weekend. It was a pleasant afternoon. Mild traffic, almost bare roads, cool winds… well, of course, when I say cool winds, that’s because of the AC turned all the way up, because hello, I live in Dubai, essentially a desert, and we were driving in the middle of the day… but still – pleasant drive. I kept a speed upwards of 80 miles an hour, no problem. It was all smooth sailing – except, of course, not sailing; driving. I wasn’t being literal.
Anyway, once I exited the highway and started traversing through the smaller roads in the interior part of Dubai, the dance began. It was at a random junction where a blue Mustang had stopped maybe a hundred yards in front of me, dutifully obeying the stop sign in front. Not to be outdone in dutifulness, I hit the brake on my car, gently bringing my car to a halt behind the Mustang. At least, that’s how it would have happened in an ideal world. Down here in real life, gently footing the brakes did pretty much nothing in slowing down my car. Therefore, naturally, I started pumping the brake pedals quickly, and with full force – which wasn’t helpful either. The distance between the Mustang and my Honda Civic was rapidly shrinking, and in some part of my brain, I was already bracing for impact.
As panic crept in, I tried pumping the brakes in a more dynamic, more urgent fashion. The brain went on overdrive, trying out varying scenarios – Maybe if I tilt my leg sideways and then hit the brakes… maybe if I used my heels to deliver more power… Maybe if use my other leg instead… Maybe if I stare at the pedal in a disapproving way while I foot it? Maybe if I yell obscenities while hitting the pedal?
None of these options had any effect – to the car, it was no different from repeatedly pumping on the pedal, and it had already decided that won’t work. The one thing that COULD have worked – was the handbrake. I was going slowly enough at that point that the handbrake could have stopped the car. But in that moment of panic, the handbrake didn’t even register in my mind. In fact, nothing did. All that existed was the brake pedal, and the only solution seemed to be fancy footwork. In the end, it was just dumb luck that avoided the unholy Civic-to-Mustang smooch. The Mustang left the scene maybe a second before my car inevitably filled the spot. The Mustang driver still remains oblivious to the brief moment when my Honda Civic tried to land a big smooch on his Mustang’s rear end.
Once the Mustang collision was out of my mind, my brain went off from panic mode, and the emergency handbrake option popped into mind. It’s ridiculous how it didn’t figure in sooner. I mean – it was an emergency, and the thing is called an ‘emergency handbrake’… In any case, I was able to slowly, but steadily steer my car away from the scene and into a garage through a graceful dance with the steering wheel, accelerator and handbrakes as support props.
It was a learning experience. I learned how important handbrakes are, why panicking is a poor recourse for emergencies, and why screaming like a little girl has very little advantages in such situations. It was also a blessing that these issues didn’t pop up when I was cruising on the highway. The handbrakes would not have helped then – it may actually have flipped the car over if I used the handbrake at that speed.
So what is one to do? Of course, there is only one answer here. Redundancy. I urge you to learn from my experience – pack an extra brake with you when you go for a drive.