After stage three, the “Nature Stage”—which (side note) while so much of what was written in the Technical Manual and on the Dubai Tour Website was overused-to-the-point-of-being-dead corporate seminar zealot PUMP-UP ™ speak X English as a Second Language (ESL), e.g. “THE MAN, THE POWER, HIS TOOL”, calling the day they (the peloton) went up and down the same freeway, like literally back and forth on the same road for miles and miles (and miles), like go down one side of the freeway, exit the freeway using an off-ramp, go under the freeway through a tunnel, take the on-ramp back onto the freeway, go back down the same freeway in the reverse direction, and repeat until roughly 100 kilometers has accrued, The Sport Stage, and calling the day they went out of the city (the only day, FTR) and into the desert and rocky mountains which desert and rocky mountains was filled with—I can personally attest to!—sand and rocks and power lines, and actual living-as-in wild camels walking around in the sand eating gnarled tufts of sandy grass, The Nature Stage, makes absolute sense, and is in that regard, a very informative naming convention—anyway, the afternoon after the Nature Stage, once we had made our way back into downtown Dubai from the UAE outback, Keiran, Mat and I were dropped off on the side of the road at a traffic light near the Mall of Dubai. And from there we walked the rest of the way home. Because even though The Lofts where we were staying and where it turns out, totally by coincidence, Mat is living, was less than a mile away, it would have taken 20 minutes to drive us to the base of it and another 20 minutes to re-orient away from the base of it. Because bottom line in Dubai, driving three-quarters of a mile can take forty minutes, even without traffic.
The roads themselves are part of the problem. It’s not the quality or quantity of roads, that’s all exceptional, it’s an orientation or “lay-out” thing. What’s the opposite of a well planned, thoroughly organized, expandable/adaptable grid the result of foresight and experience?, Dubai is!
For example, this is the kinda place where you can see a building with the eyes in your head, as in clearly and plainly, sometimes you can even see the very bottom of the building like the actual place where the building meets the ground, like basically there’s nothing between you and that building except roads, which roads, ostensibly, you can drive on. And you can point your car in the direction of that building using the aforementioned roads, and start driving towards it, sometimes straight towards it, sometimes diagonally or “in the general direction of”, and but regardless you will often never make it there, to your desired building, ever. Like you will try and try until you say fuck it, I didn’t want to see the opulent-to-the-max, gold lamé, ozi-shaped hotel room where my friend from college who is in town for the Listerine Dental Conference and that I don’t even like that much because when we were nineteen he got me high, then while I was passed-out did sex stuff with my girlfriend at the time, is staying that much anyway. You see the building, you try to drive to the building and but over and over again you fail to make it to the building that you can see, or that’s like just around the corner, or like r-i-g-h-t there. Often you wind up in a tunnel that goes under the actual building and/or the city block onto which the building is built, or on a freeway bypassing a large, blocks-deep tract of the city including the tract of which your building is a part, sometimes it’s a series of one-way streets in the form of concentric circles, often you find yourself passing the building on a road that parallels your building’s actual road, in which case you can point at the building, or wave to the building, or talk to the people in your car about the building, like “look there it is” or “if we can take a left at the light, and do a u-turn, make our way back to that one-way street, not the first one-way, but the second one way…” And that’s if you can see as in get a visual on your building. Which is definitely not always the case, in part because there are so many buildings in Dubai. If you’re not headed towards The World’s Tallest building, or the Scales-of-Justice-shaped skyscraper, or the building with the top-to-bottom liquid neon facade that changes colors every 8 seconds, if you’re just going to a regular boring 165-story steel and glass job, and you need to orient with like a map on your phone because they don’t have printed maps of Dubai because Dubai didn’t exist when printing existed, it’s even more difficult. In large part because maps of Dubai are not at all accurate or up to date or useful or functional. Also, road names in Dubai change often and without warning or any kind of notification. And some roads don’t have names. To that point, cab drivers don’t do addresses, they do building names. You tell a cab driver here’s an address and they look at you like, what am I supposed to do with that information? Sometimes roads just end. Sometimes they just peter-out like a camel track to a decommissioned oasis, like there you are on a real road with two-way traffic and everything when BOOM, suddenly you’re in an underground parking garage above which—side note— is the world’s largest fully suspended exotic wildlife aquarium. Also, Dubai is a shifting tangle of billion-dollar facades. Everything here has a front and a back. The front has fountains and lights and floating gondolas and performance art on the hour, the back has Indians and Bangladeshis in hi-vis vests, blue hard hats and pastel work kurtas lying in some palm shade next to a wheelbarrow napping and/or eating egg parathas. These “backs” and pockets of undeveloped non-facades make already complicated roads more complicated. One minute you’re on you way to the Burj Khalifa for happy hour on the observation deck, next minute you’re in a gravel parking lot nose to nose with a camel or a pack of goats (true story!), in what is, effectively, a de facto nature preserve, by virtue of “We’re building so much, so fast, with no plan, that it doesn’t all fit together exactly, at least not seamlessly, and so sometimes there’s a soccer field-sized patch of undeveloped land, that we haven’t had a chance to pave yet, but don’t worry we’re working on it, we’re thinking about building the worlds deepest, longest, widest salt water swimming pool and filling it with marine wildlife shipped in same day air, and which will be by definition a de facto ocean, making it the worlds first man-made ocean.” Because of the facade thing, the lack of addresses thing and the tangle or roads thing, navigating/driving places, sometimes in spite of short distances, can take a long time. Imagine a place where the consequences for taking a right turn are only slightly less severe than the consequences for taking the wrong turn, which consequences are bad, really bad. Like one minute you’re about to park and the next minute two sleep deprived, fully armed Oman Border Guards are asking for your passport.
Because of all that, maybe in spite of all that, though possibly it’s unrelated, driving in Dubai is a lot like driving in the Developing World. So much so that when the RCS and UAE Cycling Federation decided to run the last stage through the very center of town, over and over again, in a circuit, essentially everybody who lives in Dubai and knew what a bike race was and how it was supposed to work, basically said nofuckingway. I know this because I heard conversations about it repeated again and again leading up to the last day. And I know this because I spent the last day of the Dubai Tour driving the course behind the rolling enclosure just ahead of the peloton in a car with three people; Marlo, Jerry and Josh, who couldn’t stop freaking out about how massive and major and mind blowing it was to drive around on some of downtown Dubai’s majormost arteries, completely empty and devoid of absolute chaos for the first time ever. Except for bike race if you count the bike race.