Wednesday, January 25, 2012

File Under Ironic ...

From the UK's Daily Mail:

A woman who defied a driving ban on female motorists in Saudi Arabia has died in a car crash. ... They were in a four-wheel drive on Saturday evening in the northern Hael province when the accident happened. ... Manal al-Sherif was arrested and detained for 10 days in May after posting a video of herself on YouTube as she drover around Khobar, a city to the east of the country.

No comments about women drivers, please. I've driven in Saudi Arabia (rough estimate, 2,000 or so road and off-road miles, plus many as a passenger, including in the Khobar area, but not the province where the lady died), and doing so ranks high on my list of terrifying lifetime experiences.

The Abu Hadriyah Highway, which connects Jubail to Khafji, induces a pucker factor greatly exceeding any roller coaster I've been on.

Like this:

I'm driving north in a Jeep Grand Cherokee (for some reason a number of non-military-issue vehicles had worked their way into my unit's table of equipment).

The posted speed limit is 120 kilometers (about 70 miles) per hour. I'm pushing 100 miles per hour and barely keeping up with traffic.

Up ahead, I see two large military trucks abreast (The road at this particular point is four lanes wide), pulling flatbed trailers with tanks on them. They can't move as fast as everyone else.

The traffic ahead of me splits. Two cars pass the military trucks in the oncoming lanes, which are not empty. Lots of honking and skidding-tire noise ensues.

Another car and a pickup pass as well -- one off-road to the right, one to the left, and a guy in the back of the pickup is waving an AK-47 in the air and screaming ("Allahu Akbar!" would be my guess, but it's impossible to hear over the engine noises and horns). There's no shoulder, per se, just packed sand and the crumpled remains of vehicles which have unsuccessfully attempted this same maneuver in the past.

Imagine something like this happening every two or three minutes for 100 miles or more. Imagine it continuing after dark with half the drivers not bothering to turn on their headlights. Oh, and imagine that every 20 miles or so a herd of camels wanders across the road, heedless of all the other stuff going on.

Finally, imagine that once you get off this endless ribbon of carnage, you can't even find a stiff drink unless you thought ahead and buried a two-liter jug full of Kool-Aid, extra sugar and yeast in the desert for a few days. Trying to thread a big-ass stolen German army truck between anti-tank mines and burning oil wells up north in post-war Kuwait was relaxing by comparison.

That's my version. But don't take my word for it. Here's PJ O'Rourke's, from Give War A Chance:

The road was two-laned here and the driving was, as it is everywhere in Saudi Arabia, horrific -- conducted at absolute top speed with no thought for consequences. Though there were plenty of consequences to be seen. Amazing car wrecks lay beside the road, sometimes a dozen of them in a mile, things you would never know had been cars if a couple of car wheels weren't sticking up out of them. Whole Chevrolets were crumpled like gum wrappers. And these wrecks had taken place without collision on a perfectly straight and level road that is absolutely free of obstructions.

There's just no comparison in the US, unless maybe it's the Kansas City area.
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