Every now and again, I try to work out how many hours of my life I have spent on the road
From Dubai to Abu Dhabi: some lessons learnt on a long commute
I have spent the past seven-and-a-half years commuting between my home in Dubai and my office in Abu Dhabi. Every landmark, every tree, every signpost and every petrol station along that long, hard road has been irreversibly etched into my memory. Here are some of the lessons I have learnt along the way:
Make your peace with it. I chose to take a job in Abu Dhabi and live in Dubai, so, as the adage goes, I made my bed and must now lie in it. When colleagues who are new to the commute ask how I have done it for so many years, I tell them to accept their fate in as Zen-like a way possible. Otherwise, you end up starting and ending every day of your life in a fit of rage. I’m no great spiritualist, but if you kick-start your morning with a feeling of dread, it’s probably going to go downhill from there. A bit of perspective can also help here. In any other big city in the world, an hour-and-15-minute commute is seen as pretty average. If you lived in London, you would be happy with those numbers. And at least here, I am commuting in the comfort of my air-conditioned car, bopping along to 2Pac’s All Eyez on Me – rather than standing on a crowded tube with my face nestled in someone’s armpit.
Don’t do the maths. Every now and again, when I’m extra-tired and unable to take the advice doled out so nonchalantly above, I try to work out how many hours of my life I have spent on the road. Thankfully, I’m not very good at maths, so end up confounded after a quick “two-and-a-half times five, times 52 times … where was I again?” I do know that it’s a whole lot of hours. Thousands of them. Hours that I could have spent with friends or working out or learning a skill or getting a long-distance learning degree. As I said, in this case, it doesn’t pay to focus too much on the maths.
There’s no room for complacency. No one knows better than me how long, straight, flat and utterly boring the road from Dubai to Abu Dhabi is. But it is also a road steeped in dichotomy. My commute is basically extended stretches of extreme boredom interspersed with moments of sheer terror, with the threat of death looming at any point. The secret, I think, is to give everyone around you as much space as possible, stay out of the fast lane if you can and, if there’s a white four-wheel drive coming up behind you, move out of the way immediately, no questions asked.
Kris Fade is not your friend. I have spent countless hours listening to local radio stations during my many hours in the car. But there is nothing to be gained from a 37-year-old woman knowing every word to every Justin Bieber song ever made. I could have learnt a language by now. I could have learnt two. Instead, I am the world’s least cool teenybopper.
True-crime podcasts aren’t the answer. They are entertaining, to be sure. I know because I have listened to them all. But for the most part, you end up spending 10 hours listening to pure speculation about a murder case and, by the end of it, are no closer to knowing whodunnit. It’s the audio equivalent of a Netflix binge. It feels good at the time, but you will invariably end up wondering what else you could have done with those hours of your life that you are never getting back.
Buy a car in which you feel safe. There is much vehicular bullying to be endured on the drive between our nation’s capital and its neighbouring emirate. And it is a truth universally acknowledged that the smaller your car, the more you can expect to be tailgated, flashed and generally disregarded. Buy or rent a car that is reliable, roomy, sturdy and gives you a good vantage point of the road, with some mod cons (such as Bluetooth, so you can play those true-crime podcasts without fiddling with your phone). But also be prepared to effectively write it off once you’re done. Invest just enough to feel secure, but not so much that it will sting when you realise four years on that nobody wants to buy a second-hand car with 250,000 kilometres on the clock.
Carpool if you can, but choose your companions wisely. If you are going to be stuck in a confined space with someone for two-and-a-half hours a day, make sure you like them. There needs to be an unspoken understanding.
After a long day in the office, you might want to spend an hour in silence. You might want to vent or bask in a job well done; you might want to talk about work or you might want to talk about anything other than work. Your co-driver needs to know all this, intuitively.
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