Sunday, May 24, 2009

Looking at the world through a windshield

Back in Amman, we checked into another room in the Hisham Hotel, larger and more comfortable than the mini shower. A real, honest-sized shower. We could turn around in it and everything. Happiness abounded, but only until we tried to go out and find where I was supposed to pick up my race numbers and the bus pick-up point for the Dead Sea Half Marathon. Actually, it was the pick up point for the Ultra (50 km) the Marathon (42 km) the Half Marathon (21 km) and the 10K (self explanatory).

We drove and drove and U-turned and swore as kid-friendly as we could for literally hours. I think it was on this portion of the trip that Bethy learned (and thank goodness forgot) at least one extremely non-kid-appropriate word. Perhaps if I hadn't hit Mike after he said it she wouldn't have zeroed in, but I couldn't help it. She chanted it in the backseat a few times while we burned with shame in the front.

The strawberry sellers rushing up to the car at stoplights, risking their lives in the traffic, the houses built into the hills, the banana selling stands and even the occasional donkey lost their luster for the occupants of our car as time ticked by and all of us decided we dislike Amman. Intensely. Or at least driving in it.

Now, I know you must be thinking at this point in getting to know us that we are truly navigationally challenged. It cannot be denied that we were missing the GPS sorely, but the directions to the race number pick up were: " located in Shmeisani, (a neighborhood,) second right after Burger King, third building to the left. Hussein Al Jisr Str, second floor."

We had actually found the Burger King in a previous getting-lost episode (then we were looking for a gas station). We did find it again, which was quite good, after several tries, but then it was on a street that went both ways, and had another street running alongside. After Burger King which way? North, south, towards a hotel, give me something to work with here, people!

I asked a woman sitting, eating her supersized whatever and she immediately hoisted herself up, ignoring my protests that she should sit and eat, and in rapid fire Arabic queried the workers at the counter for me. The burger flipping guys inside had no idea where the society was, and apparently had been asked by other lost looking "British" during the day. I thanked her profusely and tried to look more confident than I felt so this good-hearted lady could sit down and finish her lunch.

Mike and the kids ordered something to eat while I headed out on foot. Would you believe I actually did manage to find the place, and there I asked the nice volunteer stuffing race shirts into bags how to find the start. "Oh, it's easy!" he exclaimed, "no problem at all. You've been driving around Amman, of course you know the city?"

"We've been driving around, yes, but have been lost for almost all of that time," I told him, "I need really, really good directions. Idiot proof."

He sketched me out a map, off the 7th Circle, here is the store everybody knows (I didn't and said so), don't take this turn, drive up this hill, if you go this way you will be will be no problem.

No problem, easy. Why did those words send a chill up my spine? But, I had the city map, and now this hand drawn map, How bad could it be?

Apparently quite bad, as, again, hours later Mike was gripping the wheel with white knuckles, closer to crying out of sheer frustration than I'd ever seen him. I was apologising over and over again for even liking running, the kids were in the back keeping their heads wisely down most of the time, whining when they couldn't help it.

Some time, during the driving around and trying not to scream because the street signs didn't match the map at all, I realised the problem. Whereas the map might say Al-Ameer Ali Bin Al-Hussein the street signs said "Prince Hussein St." Oh, hell. So, Al-Ameerah Bint Talal was "Princess Talal St," and Al-Shareef Abdul Hameed Sharaf Street was what, again? I'd figured it out on Al-Malekah Noor St: Queen Noor St. I was reading her autobiography, after all.

At least we learned the words for prince and princess and queen and king (king is malek). However, while decoding the map helped, it didn't get us there, not by a long shot, and the hand-written map simply didn't have enough information for us, even if someone else would have found it patently obvious.

As daylight was beginning to fade, I got a great idea. We'd go to the pre-race pasta feed and ask the folks there. I had friends from Dubai also running the race, they'd know. We abandoned Traffic Circle 7 and headed towards the dinner, which, according to the directions was at Zara Centre off the 3rd traffic circle.

Need I tell you how that went? After asking and driving and asking and more driving, now in the dark, we finally found the place, where they were packing up the food. I suppose it was not their fault we took an hour and a half to find it, though it was 7 and the dinner was supposed to go until 8. Dashed in, got some noodles for the kids. I asked a fellow runner who looked like he spoke English how to get to the start gathering point. He looked surprised. "You take the bus from the hotel, of course."

Ah. The bus from the hotel if you had booked your hotel through the race's tour company. The same ones who would have brought the race numbers to our room, had we booked through them. A light was beginning to shine, got it: use the tour company or you are on your own, bucko.

Accursed map in hand, I cornered the race director, interrupting the gushing from her admirers as soon as I deemed it reasonable. "Show me where the buses pick you up to take you to the start." She looked surprised. "But it is so easy!" She said. "Just off the 7th Circle."

"Show. Me." I said again. She never even looked at the map. "Take a taxi," she said, dismissing me. "They will all know where it is. No problem."

Trying not to cry into the map, completely worn down, looking for something substantial to bang my head against, I had another idea. The front desk at our hotel had mentioned several times that they had a driving service for folks to and from the airport. I could use them!

I had heard that the taxi drivers in Amman were notorious cheats and while I didn't care overmuch about the price, I didn't need to be taken on a wild tour of the city to run up the meter while missing the bus to the race start. Nor did I want to pack Mike and the kids into the car and repeat our no-finding adventure: it simply wasn't worth it. I queried at the front desk, they set it up for 5:15 AM, plus a wake-up call, and we went to our room and collapsed.

No problem, right?

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