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