x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The Air Bag: When black and blue is good news

Neil Vorano welcomes the introduction of Mawaqif in his neighbourhood

Blue and black are colours that don't normally make me very happy when I see them together; that's because they're usually somewhere on my fragile body after an off-road motorcycle ride or a vigorous game of ice hockey, and that usually means I'm in some degree of pain. I'm sure you can understand why I'm not a big fan of the colour scheme.

But occasionally, I can look at the black/blue combination and say "yeah, I like it. I like it a lot". But no, not on a garishly painted, kitted-out SUV, and certainly not in a jar I've suddenly found at the back of my refrigerator. No, the two colours go best together on a dusty kerb.

You see, those are the colours that Mawaqif, the city's paid parking department, use to distinguish its parking spots around the city. You know, the ones that you have to pay for to have the pleasure of parking in, where you would have normally parked for free in the past; the ones that people complain about because it costs them a few dirhams.

Yes, that's right, those ones; the same spots that are now suddenly open to park in, the ones which you would never have found in the past because they all would have been taken already, some by trailered boats or cars inches thick with dust.

I've seen the benefit these Mawaqif spaces have brought to areas in the centre of the capital - it's no longer an impossibility to park anymore. And every time I pull my car into a spot and put in a couple of dirhams into the meter, I lament the fact I don't have it in my neighbourhood.

Have you ever been to Tanker Mai? If you've ever been in the market for the cheapest used furniture you can find, chances are you've been there - side by side by side, these little shops, literally bursting at the doors and windows with stacked gilded chairs, couches and desks that would make Ikea products seem like Renaissance heirlooms, sit beside shisha cafes and other little shops. And for as far as you can see, nestled in any crack, down the centre of the streets and on any shelf of concrete, are cars. They are everywhere; the parking situation can only be described as "organised chaos". It's so bad that I have resorted to just leaving my car at work and walking the short distance home, because chances are at night, I'm not going to find a parking spot.

And so it was that I was walking to a local cafe across Muroor road recently when, lo and behold, a lorry full of Mawaqif meters was idling in the residential parking area next door. And, on the kerb, men were painting those familiar blue and black stripes. Mawaqif was coming close to my neighbourhood, but alas, not close enough. When would the meters be working, I asked one of the men; tomorrow? "No, not tomorrow," he said with a smile and a shake of his head. "I don't know when."

But then, just a few days later, as I walked into my little cul-de-sac and stepped up onto the kerb in front of my flat, I stopped. Under my foot was a blue stripe; there was a black stripe on both sides of it. I looked down the street and saw blue, black, blue, black - it was here. Paid parking was in the car jungle of Tanker Mai.

Of course, living in Abu Dhabi for a few years now, I'm wise to the reality; the system could start tomorrow, or it could be another few months before a sense of order and normalcy descends on the neighbourhood. But at least, it's a cause for optimism.

As I stared down at the blue and black kerbs, I almost felt a tear run down my face.

And this time, it wasn't because I was in pain.