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International Driving School # 1

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posted by Jay on September 14th, 2009 at 8:19 PM

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International driving school starts for West Texas boys in Old Mexico. Your Mom and Dad always warned you about how the police would take your car away from you. That wasnít the problem, trying to driving home full was. Thatís not what this is about. Iím talking about taking a taxi, driving yourself or public transportation in foreign countries like Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Germany, Italy, Angola and many more with just about all having left an impression on me. My driving skills were questionable before I left Texas, I had already knocked the fender off of Lenwoodís 1967 Metallic Blue Dodge Charger.
The morning that I landed in Amsterdam on my first overseas assignment was quite memorable because of a wild taxi ride to the Krosnapolski Hotel on Dam Square in the middle of Amsterdam. This guy was driving down the tracks with the cable cars on it, just barely missing the trains on numerous occasions. You canít get traction on wet brick streets or at least thatís what I thought. Sliding sideways did not seem to affect this guy. I had sport coats bigger than this car.
In Portuguese West Africa if you ran over a native person, you didnít even need to report it. If you hit a Portuguese, it was best to tell the next Policeman that you saw. No biggie. They were supposed to stay out of the street and everybody knew it. There was a path beside every road, cars had the right of way. Stay out of the road or get run over, no one cared which. I had a small problem while working here. I had come from Scotland where I drove on the left side of the street. I still did down here. I got out of a taxi in downtown Luanda, Angola across the street from my hotel. I paid my fare and turned around before taking a step. A taxi came by at about 50 mph so close that the door handle on the passenger side hit my belt buckle, another inch and I would have bought the farm.
There are places in this world where human life has a set price for what someone is worth dead. If by chance you were unfortunate enough to have an accident and injure someone real bad, it was cheaper to go ahead and kill the guy you just ran over. If he was just crippled and maimed, your company would have to pay for him until the end of time. If he was dead, there was just one price. You decided.
From Dhahran to Abqaig is 58 kilometers. One morning after the fog lifted as I was driven to Abqaiq, I counted 56 bad wrecks. One of these was a Greyhound style bus with 14 Aramco wifeís on board going on a shopping trip to Al Khobar. This bus turned over on two 500 SEL Mercedes Benz and a Buick Park Avenue. No one was hurt. I saw a 929 Mazda that was no bigger than a refrigerator. It had been compacted from being hit so many times.
At one time I had a pump truck in jail. A taxi ran into the back of my truck. Everybody and everything goes to jail. It was nearly Christmas so I booked a call home and waited for 18 hours before being connected. My pump truck was in jail. It gave me the nearly the whole weekend off.
I was hit from behind in Dubai by a Sharja policeman while driving a taxi as his second job. The policeman admitted that it was his fault. I had some political clout in Dubai. I had one of the Familyís attorneys with me while going to court over this accident that was no fault of mine. I was the only American present in this court room. Every type person you ever dream of was present. There was an easy fifty people squeezed into a small and not very well ventilated room. I believe the man in front of me may have had some curry for lunch. I was just a little uneasy as the proceedings that were taking place involved a lot of screaming in Arabic and I was having a very hard time keeping up until the Judge looked me in the eye and said in very good English, ďTake your hands out of your pockets or I will throw you in jail for the next two weeks. This is not the Sheraton Hotel and you will have respect for my court.Ē My hands came out of my pockets in a heartbeat. I had no idea that it was considered disrespectful and I did not mean to upset this judge. Jail time in Dubai is no fun. Iím told the first thing they do is shave your head. The lice are real bad, no hair, no problem.
From the airport in Beirut to downtown is about a twenty minute ride in good traffic. If you never rode in an old Mercedes Benz 190 with orange fenders, green doors and some really old post cards glued to the dash, then there is at least one more adventure to experience. I would not expect anybody with a heart condition to try this. There is a Palestinian refugee camp at the end of a road that came directly from the airport toward the city of Beirut. There was a very congested traffic circle right at this camp. People were everywhere. I knew something was wrong as the driverís head began sticking out of the window as he honked the horn and screamed at the top of his lungs never backing off the gas. We went into the circle running at least 50 mph. I couldnít see any way that I was going to live through this traffic circle. I decided the driver was committing suicide and taking me with him. We didnít hit anything while I had my eyes open. I opened them back up when the driver stopped screaming and brought his head back inside the car. When I realized that I was really alive nothing else that he could do would upset me. When I regained my speech I said to him, ďTake me to Abdul Aziz Street, The Blue Building, please. Itís across the street from the American University.Ē The Blue Building isnít blue, the name of it is ďThe Blue Building.Ē To be able to stay at Baroidís staff house for free was great. It wasnít far to Phoenicia Street and ďThe Stork BarĒ. Watch out, here I come. Itís OilFieldTrash gone wild all over again.
Stay tuned for International Driving School # 2.

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