Killing your drive
I know a lot of people who are passionate about driving. Something about the roar of the engine, the high of being in control, the weird psychological feeling that it’s an extension of your personal space – I’m not sure exactly what drives the passion, but it’s irrefutable. There are entire movie franchises which have discarded plot and logic in favor of the ever-familiar purr of an engine.
This interest feels stranger, yet more powerful when people enjoy driving despite bad infrastructure. My dad absolutely loves cruising the mean streets. And when I say ‘mean streets’, I’m being quite literal; he drives in my home state of Kerala, where the roads are paved with pot holes, stray rocks and other random hazards. It is also the land of crazy public transport drivers; deluded private buses that think they’re performers in a street circus, mystic auto rickshaws which magically squeeze through gaps too small for puppies to pass through. Safety’s not the word that immediately presents itself.
But everybody knows how dangerous driving is. If they were worried about safety, they’d think twice about trapping themselves in metal containers powered by mini-explosions fueled by highly inflammable liquefied dinosaurs (ok, so I embellish a bit.)
But two questions pop to mind – 1. If safety concerns don’t put the brakes on the driving passion of the public, what will? and 2. Is anyone at all going to appreciate how I sneaked in not one, but two driving puns in my last question?
There’s an even stronger, invisible hand that can potentially thwart the driver’s interest. Economics. Driving is becoming a really expensive hobby. No, I’m not talking about fuel – Fuel prices keep going up and down more than a bobble head in an earthquake, and it’s not doing much to deter people. But you have ancillary costs like fines and tolls that can add up to a lot.
Let’s rewind to roughly three weeks ago. I had to drop off someone at the airport. That’s a longish drive that requires me to pass four of Dubai’s pesky toll gates. Dubai charges 4 bucks each time you go through one of those – that doesn’t seem like much, but it builds up surprisingly fast. So I took the sensible alternative and took a slightly longer route to avoid the p. toll gates.
After the airport drop-off, I didn’t get time to set my GPS. Yes – I’ve been driving in Dubai for more than three years and I still need the GPS for any navigation more complicated than ‘from my living room to the kitchen’.
But I had a problem; there was no place for me to park my car and set my phone’s GPS. I had to set it up by hand while driving – not an ideal strategy. Setting up the GPS requires a fair bit of concentration – you need to take your eyes off the road intermittently, set the data plan on, enable location services, wait for the phone to get a position lock, type in your destination, wait for it to locate the place, find the route, and yell choice cuss words as your phone hangs and reboots; you repeat till it works.
Putting it mildly -what I did was not safe, so don’t try it at home. No, wait. DO try it at home. Trying it at home is no problem. What you SHOULDN’T do is try it in the car, while you’re crawling through awful airport traffic, blindly following the car ahead hoping you’re on the right track, which is what I did.
That’s what I tried to do, in any case. Setting up my GPS took way longer than expected. GPS Shmee Pee Yes – what’s the point of having a ‘smartphone’ if you can’t get basic things to wor…oh, wait. I got it working. That’s good. But wouldn’t you know it, I was on the wrong lane. And it was too late for me to backtrack. I was stuck in this detour that would set me back by 10-15 minutes because my GPS couldn’t kick in ten seconds sooner.
How annoying. I was forced into this stupid congested path; I had to take a U turn after this toll gate coming ahe… wait… a toll gate?? No! I had to suffer through this toll gate – TWICE – once before my U turn, and once after. Dammit. So I was set to lose 10-15 minutes of time AND eight bucks in tolls just because I didn’t get a parking spot where I could have set my GPS??
I was fuming by now. I would have stepped on the gas pedal with righteous anger, except for all the stupid traffic blocking my way – all the way up to the U turn. But – after my U turn, the road was clear. I was the only schmuck who was on this needless detour.
But hey, at least I got the space to blow some steam. I hit the pedal to the metal, and gritted my teeth as I raced back, trying to shave a few minutes off my detour penalty. Then suddenly, I had this blinding flash of realization. What was that?
Not so much blinding as jarring, I have to confess. And not so much realization as confusion, if I’m being totally honest. What was left was just a jarring flash of confusion. I know that a rather modest little milestone was set when the Blah Blah Yada Yada FB page crossed 200 likes last week, but that is far too modest an achievement to have paparazzi chasing me, cameras blaring.
But I was deluding myself, trying to distract myself from the truth I knew already. I knew what that flash was. It was the speed camera chuckling at my misfortune. Your average camera flash doesn’t care if you stepped on the pedal with righteous anger or not. It’s gonna throw you a ticket anyway. I knew the ticket was coming. And I was all too familiar with the speeding fines to know what it was going to set me back by.
Six hundred bucks. Six hundred big ones gone in a flash. A literal one. It kinda put my 15 minutes and 8 bucks loss in perspective. I wasn’t speeding anymore – I was barely touching the gas pedal. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean I drove safely. I hardly saw the road. The vehicles around were a vague blur. The road signs were weird hieroglyphics. The only thing I could think of was my poor, lost 600 bucks.
The economic hit was bad, yes. But what really got me was not the fine. I’m an Engineer from India, and we have a strict frugality code to live by. We go by value for money, and this ticket was such a poor value. In Dubai, the traffic fines are slabbed like this – You can legally go up to 120kmph in a 100 kmph zone. If you go between 121 and 130, you’re going to be fined 600 bucks. If you go between 131 and 140 kmph, you pay 700 bucks.
I was doing maybe 121/ 122. That’s hardly value for money. I paid 600 bucks for just 2 kmph over the speed limit. For a mere 100 bucks more, I could have gone a whole lot faster. A lot more bang for the buck. That’s just depressing.