x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Leave your speed fantasies at the movies – and buckle up

Driving from Abu Dhabi to Dubai is like being an unwitting extra in the movie Fast and Furious 7.

The other day I drove from Abu Dhabi to Dubai. I know that thousands of people make this drive every day, but for me the trip was something of a landmark: I had never driven the route myself before.

I've been to Dubai, of course, either in someone else's car or via bus or taxi. But last week was the first time I gathered my life in my hands, got behind the wheel, and headed north.

That morning, before I left the house, I noticed a photo in the movie listings announcing the showing times of Fast & Furious 6, the cinematic tour de force starring the biceps of Vin Diesel and Duane Johnson (aka "The Rock") and an assortment of other bodies, both human and vehicular.

Unfortunately, I've missed instalments one through five of the Diesel oeuvre, so I can't speak of the new film's narrative arc. But judging from the pictures I think it's an continuing saga of big muscles and fast cars.

I think also, judging from my drive to Dubai, that many, many residents of both Abu Dhabi and Dubai are perhaps auditioning for Fast & Furious 7.

In fact, I felt like an unwitting extra in the movie as I tootled along - doing a very respectable 130km, I might add. I watched in my rear-view mirror as cars loomed up on the horizon and then, like motorised sharks, swooped to my rear bumper, swerved around me into another lane (left side or right, it didn't seem to matter), and then sped away, sometimes honking in indignation at what they perceived to be my tortoise-like progress.

Perhaps that's the "furious" part of these movies: no one is going fast enough to suit Messrs Diesel and Johnson.

I am not sure what role their biceps play, however. Do you need big biceps to drive that fast? In FF6, even the women have biceps bigger than most people's heads; Michelle Rodriguez, the female star, could snap me in two like a twig and I imagine that in the movie she drives like a Formula One champion.

But on the motorway, not one of the drivers I could see in the cars zooming past me was a woman. Nary a one.

Maybe that's because the women were in the passenger seats holding small children - babies even - on their laps. Or, if the children weren't in the front seats staring out the windows, they were bouncing around in the back seats.

When I see children in a car, unfettered by seat belts, I am reminded that when I was a child, there were no silly seat-belt laws; one lucky sibling got the front seat and then the rest of us smushed into the back, bickering about who got to sit near the windows. Of course, those were the same years when smoking was being advertised as a digestive aid - and when seat belts did become compulsory, people shrieked about this appalling infringement of their individual rights.

My mother, ever the law-abiding citizen (albeit one with a Marlboro dangling out of her mouth), buckled us into the back seat against our will: the belts made it harder for us to reach across the seat and whack each other.

The only seat belts ever referred to in Fast & Furious, I believe, are those mentioned in the reviews, almost every one of which advises us to "fasten your seat belts" for another ride in this franchise.

Otherwise, Vin and Duane and their cronies seem unconcerned about things like going through the windscreen or having their necks snapped by an airbag.

In the movies, of course, when cars hit each other at speeds upwards of 170kph, the stunt drivers have long since jumped out - or else the entire sequence has been orchestrated on a CGI screen, where lives and limbs exist only virtually. It's bad enough to see children bopping around inside a car when the car is stopped at a red light, but when it's racing along a multi-lane motorway? The biggest biceps in the world won't keep a child from being hurt if something happened at those speeds.

I drove fast to Dubai but I wasn't furious until I saw these unbuckled children.

It's one thing to endanger my life and yours when you get so close to my car you might as well be parked in the boot. But it's another thing entirely to live out your fantasy of being a member of Vin Diesel's gang while your three-year-old is sitting in the front seat of your car.

 

Deborah Lindsay Williams is a professor of literature at NYU Abu Dhabi

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