Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Just one more for the road...

Unfortunately... it’s time to take down my winter home. While the weather here is still very nice, the breezes aren’t as cool anymore, and the heat is starting to ratchet up. That means the winter season in Doha is over, and the unbearable wet sauna of summer is looming ahead. My majelis (big tent) is still up near the inland sea, but the permits run out this Saturday. Throngs of Qataris and their servants will be out this weekend for one last hurrah under the sandy skies.

And so will I. I’ll be heading out on Friday for one last cookout, one last drunken singing competition, and one last big-ass bonfire. We’re getting as many of our friends to join us in the revelry… also we need plenty of help breaking the tent down when we’re finished. I’ve being trying to get my buddy Tex out there so we can use his new truck to haul the tent back… but he’s a little skittish… and for good reason.

Last year, Tex borrowed some money from me so he could buy a second car. His wife just had a kid (Lil Tex) and needed the car at home. So Tex found an old beater of a Jeep for cheap… something that would get him around town, and something that he could take out to the desert. And his piece of shit Jeep was perfect for the job.

I took him out one weekend, and showed him how to drive on the sand, what to bring, how to dig yourself out of a hole, and… most importantly… how to navigate the sand dunes. The sand dunes out in the southern desert are huge… massive things the size of ten story buildings. Driving up and down them is a lot of fun, but also dangerous… you have to know what you are doing. The one big rule is that you don’t drive over dunes you don’t know…

Sand dunes have a particular shape. They are shaped like the first hill of a rollercoaster. There is a long, sloping side that follows the direction of the wind. But when the dune gets to a certain size, the pileup of sand caves in on itself, creating a sheer cliff on the lee side of the wind. Since the wind is constant in the desert, all the dunes are shaped the same way, and in the same direction. When you go INTO the desert, you NEVER DRIVE OVER AN UNKNOWN DUNE!! Because once you reach the crest of the dune, it could be a smooth slope down, or a vertical cliff. Coming back OUT of the desert, you can drive over any dune you want, as long as you can get up the dune, you know there will be a long sloped drive on the other side. Got it?!

Tex didn’t. Two weeks after his initial test drive, we get together a large caravan of cars to ride out to the majelis. Tex was weaving around and enjoying the freedom of driving over the massive expanse of the desert floor. He was getting a little careless by driving over small dunes that were “clean”, by way of having no other tire treads in them. Driving on clean sand feels like riding a jet ski on a glassy lake… just smooth.

Tex then decided to go up a slightly larger, untouched dune… violating the “never drive on an unknown dune when going into the desert rule.” He gunned it at the base, and quickly climbed up the shallow dune… only to find a sheer six-foot drop on the other side! The front end of the cheap Jeep came down like the General Lee after jumping a haystack! Both Tex, the Jeep, and his passenger, got their clocks rung! He kept driving for a few minutes, but then stopped short of another dune. We all got out of our cars and inspected the damage. Thankfully, there were only a few bruised ribs to show for human damage… the Jeep though… was another story.

None of the doors fit anymore. We could stick our hands clean through the bent panels. Every structural bend and seam had popped. The driver’s side front wheel was now angled about 15 degrees off straight. Fluid was gushing out from under the car. When he started to drive it, the steering wheel shook like it had palsy.

Tex… had killed the car.

We were able to get it to the tent, and enjoyed the day. He then had to drive it out all the way back to Doha… needing prayer and more than one miracle to get it home. Thank god he had a sense of humor about it… otherwise we would’ve needed to get him drunk.
Several of us camped out overnight, and went looking for the carkiller dune the next morning. We found it, and had to take some photos for prosperity. Although it doesn’t look like much, taking a drop from six feet in a car going 60km/hour could have been tragic. Best part… since Tex took that dune, anyone driving by later would see his tracks and think, “hey… someone drove on that dune, so it must be safe.” Dammit if there weren’t a second set of tracks right next to his… but thankfully, the second near-victim had the sense to hit the brakes and gently coast sideways down the lee side. Tex didn’t drive the Jeep after that. But he was able to sell it, AS IS, to a guy who just needed the frame and engine.

We'll pack everything up, and store it in the backyard until October, when we'll ask for another permit, and set the whole thing back up again. I didn't use the majelis much, but it was great having it there... a beautiful drive to a secluded nook of a dune. Sitting under the stars with a raging bonfire nearby to keep warm, swimming the the clear blue sea. If anyone visits this winter, I'll keep a chair open for you.



1 comment:

A. Pauline said...