x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

The bus stops here

Observing life Catching the bus in Abu Dhabi is not as easy as it sounds.

On Monday, I was ready to take a brand new (and, for the rest of the year, free) Abu Dhabi city bus to work. I had taken special care brushing my teeth that morning, in hopes of avoiding that sickening feeling that arises whenever morning breath and intense heat mix. I had slipped a copy of a favourite magazine (bus-stop reading) in the outer pocket of my work bag. I had tracked down and printed off a route map, and was clutching it like a treasure map. I walked outside, felt the last traces of my cold shower boil off my skin, walked proudly past my car and kept walking until I hit Muroor Road to catch the number 54.

Before moving to Abu Dhabi, I lived in New York, and I rode buses all the time. From just a few feet off the ground, everything looked and felt different. I often spotted tiny stores, restaurants and stands that I had walked passed dozens of times without noticing. But there was more to it than that. Just as there is something casually magical about ­being able to drag yourself around step by step - each step a tiny affirmation of the human will - it can be calming to let the world pass by like so much film footage. If it gets really interesting, you can always hop off.

Obviously, I'm a romantic bus enthusiast. But bus-waiting man cannot live by romantic enthusiasm alone. After 45 minutes of sweaty waiting, during which I waved several confused taxis away and failed to complete many simple mental calculations (four routes ... 125 buses ... I'm tired), I was ready to trade all the buses in New York for a cold drink. In desperation, I limped to the nearby Adnoc and bought the first water I saw and a serious-looking energy bar that promised to infuse me with power. I had to get back to that stop.

"Have you seen any buses come?" I asked the cashier, who had a clear view of the road. "Only one," he replied. My heart sank. "How long have you been here?" "Two hours. I hear it's free now, but I don't see any. I took a taxi." I took a sad swig of Masafi and a bite of my energy bar. Trudging back outside, I saw a bus (a 54!) pulling out of the stop. Had I not stopped to talk with the cashier, I would have caught it. I asked my legs to run, and they rudely declined. Through the tears in my eyes, the bus looked like a beautiful teal whale with windows. Inside, four men lounged blissfully in air conditioning. I headed to my car.