Saturday, November 13, 2010

Please don't make us wear seatbelts, we hate them

Before I moved to Sand Land, I traveled and studied in many developing countries. I've gotten around Southeast Asia on motorbikes with no helmet. I've taken bus trips in the Himalayas where we were in perpetual danger of plunging down the side of a mountain. Many a time in India, I've dodged cows and elephants and cars driving on the wrong side of the road. But nothing scares me quite like taking to the roads of Sand Land.

In the U.S., we'll hook ourselves up to ventilators and live out our last days in nursing homes - all to stay alive even when our quality of life is abysmal. But the residents of Sand Land are different. Much like the Viking warrior who sought death on the battlefield knowing he'd be welcomed to Valhalla or the kamikaze pilot plunging into the side of an aircraft carrier in hopes of eternal glory, the Sand Landian aspires to go out in a blaze of glory...and by blaze of glory I mean at the helm of their SUV while simultaneously talking on their mobile, balancing an infant on their lap and eating KFC.

This phenomenon is by no means confined to native Sand Landians. Once the expat has passed the road test, they will adapt to their new environment by tail-gating, driving without their headlights, overtaking cars on a hairpin turn and generally using the horn in place of the brakes. It's quite the opposite of what you'd expect because Sand Land's road test is a real bitch. From my informal and non-scientific polls, it seems to take people an average of 8 attempts at the road test before they get a pass.

[Luckily, American drivers are exempted from taking the road test. All I had to do to get my license was  read an eye chart while the attending police officer texted on his mobile. Had I been required to take the road test, I have no doubt I'd be on my 13th or 14th attempt considering that when I took my driver's test in the U.S. I couldn't parallel park and I almost ran over a trick-or-treater]

Recently, I was driving to a meeting with a few co-workers and I noticed that none of them put a seat belt on. I said, "Guys, what the hell is wrong with you? Buckle up!" They laughed at my eccentricity and reluctantly snapped their seat beats into place. As we drove to the meeting, we were tail-gated the whole way despite driving 10 km over the speed limit and we passed car after car filled with children jumping around in the back seat, people driving while listening to their iPods and people merging into lanes without looking or other words, a typical day on Sand Land's roads.

When I got back to the office, I issued a memo advising everyone to wear a seatbeat at all times while traveling in company transport. Later that day at a staff meeting, I reminded the attendees that I was serious about people buckling up. People looked around in horrified bafflement as if I'd told them all to get naked and slather themselves with peanut butter.

As I got up to leave, one of the ladies raised her hand. "Excuse me, Ms. Adventures," she said pleadingly, her eyes a tad misty. "Please don't make us wear seatbelts. We hate them."

Despite their apparent disgust for seatbelts, neither she nor anyone else present could articulate what exactly was the problem. I guess it just runs counter to the suicidally brave, badass ethos that embodies the drivers of Sand Land.

And below, for your viewing pleasure, are a couple of videos that aptly capture the "here today, gone tomorrow" spirit of the Sand Landian driver:

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