Do not try this at home…or anywhere

Nov. 6, 2009

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

I’m not saying this is the dumbest thing I’ve ever done.

On the other hand, it’s certainly not up there with remembering the principal products of Brazil in 4th grade or deciding not to see if my dad’s Lincoln Continental could do 120 on a Pennsylvania country road.

Picture the scene.

I’m walking down a side street from my apartment in an ethnic neighborhood in central Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,  heading to a small laundry run by a Bangladeshi. It’s about 4pm on a Wednesday afternoon — the beginning of the weekend here. I’m holding three sizeable bags of laundry ranging from bedsheets to shirts, so picture the bags pretty full and formless.

About a block and half away I see a black SUV fishtailing crazily out of a parking spot and heading in my direction.

Now, I’m not sure I can explain why the next thing happened. Let’s just say that having been here approximately two months now, I’m feeling like I have certain rights to walk down the street like any other resident. Let’s also say I was in a cranky mood and hadn’t had my afternoon nap.

What I do is I step out in the middle of the street and start waving my laundry bags in the air all around…at the approaching SUV driver.

In truth, unlike certain governments who don’t like to see major industries fail, I cannot say I had a bail out plan. All I know is that I’m waving these three white plastic bags and yelling down the street some kind of gibberish like “Hey, what are you doing driving like that, you madman!” I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a question so I’m not going to bother putting the correct punctuation there.

I see the black SUV coming toward me, but he’s stopped fishtailing and the next thing I know is…he’s come to a stop, about three-quarters of a block away.

In my mind’s eye of memory, I believe I saw the vehicle as though it were out of some Ferdinand the Bull episode, with the SUV sort of paused, snorting, preparing to disembowel me and leave bedclothes and button-down shirts scattered amongst the stray cats and poorly parked cars.

I am now replaying that memory as a reality check to see if what happened next really happened. I’m pretty sure of it.

What happened was that the driver executed a neat right-hand turn, slowing down as he did so, smiled and…flashed me the Hawhang-looseaiian “hang loose” gesture.

I could see that it was a 20-something Saudi in Western-style dress—that’s how close I was.

I flashed him a hang-loose in return and off he went.

I guess sometimes the laundry is mightier than the sword.


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