x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

The Air Bag: the car brings a country together

From elaborate and imaginative decorations on the vehicles themselves, to long, honking lines of slow-moving traffic on public roads, to organised classic car shows and motorcycle rides, Emiratis love their cars, and love celebrating with them

It's been a week since National Day, and the country is slowly coming back to Earth from its heady celebrations. What a time; certainly, the highlight event was the stunning, special-effects-laden show at Sheikh Zayed Stadium that was broadcast over television. People years from now will still be talking about that spectacle.

But away from that, the country celebrated like it does every National Day: with its cars. From elaborate and imaginative decorations on the vehicles themselves, to long, honking lines of slow-moving traffic on public roads, to organised classic car shows and motorcycle rides, Emiratis love their cars, and love celebrating with them. It's funny, but people here honour the birth of their country by burning barrels and barrels of the stuff that made the UAE what it is today - oil. Kind of poetic, in a way.

And it's one thing to see from the pavement or read about it; it's quite another to actually experience it firsthand.

Now, a lot of expats would be loath to sit trapped in their cars on the Corniche or some other motorway surrounded by a sea of giant SUVs and kids spraying silly string; it's really very foreign to many of us. And it was my intention last week to stay out of the revellers' way, too. The only way I planned to go out on December 2 was by motorcycle, so I could weave around the festooned cars and get to where I wanted to go, when I wanted to get there. Relatively speaking, of course.

But I needed to make a stop at Ikea up on Yas Island on the day before National Day for a few items, so I hopped into the car of a friend of mine, who was also looking for a few things for her own place.

Unbeknownst to me, however, my friend was keen on seeing the car parade that was set to head off from Yas Island that day. And, coincidently enough, she had also decorated her convertible with large decals of the UAE and slyly wanted to show it off.

Well, no problem; it would be fun to see the cars go by and honk a few horns. So with our shopping done and the car packed, we started roaming the Yas streets looking for the parade.

It didn't take long for us to find it; coming in the opposite direction - thankfully for us - was a long line of slow-moving, multi-hued SUVs with children sitting out of the sunroofs and people spraying foam at each other.

It was fun, and their festivities brought a smile to my face, but after a few minutes we took off, glad to have missed being caught up in the madness of it all.

But, not so fast. What we thought was the smart route down through Saadiyat brought us smack in the middle of a four-lane celebration that stretched for kilometres in front of us; there was no way out. And yet, by this time, I wasn't worried.

The honking, the cheering, the happiness - it was starting to rub off on me. And as we crept forward with the pack, metre by metre, people in the other cars - children and adults - would wave and take our picture, while we would do the same. One man handed us two confetti poppers to join in. We followed the horn beeping led by a lorry driver in the right lane and smiled at the children who were smiling at us.

It wasn't all pleasant; a few young men were a little too aggressive with their foam, and we were sprayed with bits of hot rubber as another guy did a burnout in an SUV in front of us.

But in all - in the two-and-a-half-hour ride that would normally take 20 minutes - we felt like a part of the celebration. And from the bucket seats of the convertible, in among the many families waving flags and honking horns from their own SUVs, we felt like a part of the country.