Recently, I was involved in a terrible crash. It was a case of driver error [mine] that hurt many of those around me. But this wasn’t your average sort of crash. It was a virtual crash, that occurred on www.thenational.ae shortly after a candid blog post about my driving habits. Apparently, boasting about speeding recklessly isn’t a good career move for a budding motoring journalist. Who knew?
The heated, some say nuclear, response to what became known as “blog-gate” threatened to spiral out of control. As readers called for my head on a plate, crisis meetings took place involving important-looking newspapermen with deep frowns on their faces, who kept tut-tutting and shaking their heads. Colleagues would refuse to hold my gaze, their faces red with anger, like constipated babies ready to explode. My boss was called in to the managing editor’s office where he was rumoured to have disappeared down a trapdoor into a dungeon reserved for the world’s most evil journalists. I feared I was to follow.
But the powers that be had something else in store for your humble narrator. I was to undergo correction therapy, courtesy of driving experts at Yas Marina Race Track. The idea was to break me down, through repeated demonstrations of how bad my motoring skills were until I could no longer take it, until even the very thought of speeding made me sick. They would then build me back up in the mould of a responsible driver, reliable as clockwork.
I must confess, at this point I resented the very suggestion that I needed fixing. Wasn’t the decision to speed my own free choice? And if this choice were taken away, in what sense would it still be me - flawed but human Ayesha - who was driving the car? Would I be able to take credit for driving responsibly when the clockwork driver inside me was incapable of choosing any different?
EYES WIDE OPEN
Arriving for my correction therapy at Yas Racing School was an eye-opening experience.
The staff briefed me on the plan for my rehabilitation before taking me to a practice track where a yellow Renault was parked. The mere sight of it made my foot twitch, as I imagined it pushing down on the accelerator. I wanted to speed, speed....SPEEEEEEED. Sweet Carolina let me speed!
But try as I might, my instinct was thwarted. The car was a manual, and I struggled to change gears.
I became confused, my flailing limbs not knowing whether to kick at the accelerator or the clutch. My inner speed demon raged, raged against the dying of the light.
LOOK MUM, TWO HANDS!
My first exercise was to drive zig-zag through a line of cones without hitting them. My instructor told me to position my hands on the wheel at 3 and 9 O’Clock. What was this ‘two hands’ business I wondered. I usually steer with just one, keeping the other free for activities such as answering the phone, or drinking coffee. But on the race track this approach didn’t work so well. I hit more than seven cones.
GIVE ME A BRAKE!
The next exercise was about avoiding obstacles, first by braking, then by swerving. The instructor told me to reach 70kph – a fraction of the 180kph I once boasted about doing – before hitting the brakes hard. Yet even at 30kph I couldn’t stop before hitting the cones. I lost count of the number I knocked over. Swerving didn’t work either. Had I been on the Sheikh Zayed Road each of these cones could have been a living being, a labourer running across the road, or a cat thrown from a vehicle.
GETTING THE SKIDS
For the next exercise, I was sent to the skid pan – a wet, slippery area with fountains of water that showered the car and the surrounding area to induce skidding.
The idea was to learn how to regain control of the vehicle. It sounds fun, but is far from easy. Every time I entered the pan I ended up skidding out, whirling around like an out-of-control spinning top. My inner speed demon was down, but not quite out.
The final exercise required me to use all my ‘skills’ at once. So, accelerating at 50kph, with [both] my hands positioned on the steering wheel I headed back towards the zig-zag lane.
Yet I remained as manoeuvrable as a battle ship, and as I ploughed through, cones flew in all directions. Not a single one was spared. The little orange triangles lay scattered around the track like the final shreds of my self-esteem.
Deep inside me, my inner speed demon wept. It knew the game was up.
CLOCK STRIKES 13
Looking back on my experience, I realise it changed me for the better. No matter how much I once tried to convince myself that I was in control, I know now that I wasn’t.
I look at young people speeding now and think how childish their actions seem. Perhaps speeding is just a stage in life that some of us have to go through, and purge from our systems, before we can grow up and move on.
I know I am not the only young person who has exorcised her inner speed demon thanks to the kind people at Yas. There are many of us, out there on the nation’s roads, highways, and sometimes even the dunes. But you won’t know we are there. We no longer announce our presence with a rev of our motors, a honk of our horns, or the flash of our headlights as we tailgate some poor soul. We leave that to the younger ones who are still battling their demons. That’s because we’ve grown up, our lives have moved on, just like clockwork.