This post originally appeared in ADATO magazine (Issue 2, 2019), with the title Sundowner. An alternative title was Sunset Effect, the name given to one final, fleeting show of exuberance before something disappears completely. The title of this post, End of the Road, is another way of saying the same thing.
“I had the extraordinary feeling that all these cars were gathering for some special reason I didn’t understand.”
Crash (1996) by David Cronenberg
I’d arranged to meet a friend who was staying in a part of town I’d never had reason to visit. I had some vague memory of driving through it ten or so years ago when it was just a road through nowhere. Before I left the apartment, I checked the hotel’s location and saw that the road I remembered was now six lanes each direction and with two new interchanges with two highways leading into the desert to places I never knew existed. I didn’t have the time or desire to enjoy getting lost so rather than drive I caught a taxi to Dubailand.
We left Dubai Downtown and Business Bay behind us and crossed the new bridge connecting the new road linking the southbound artery. For the next fifteen minutes or so the driver and I chatted about junctions and bypasses and flyovers and how much smoother and easier everything now was. We didn’t have much more to say so in silence we wove in and out of traffic going with the flow. I was glad I hadn’t driven. I could sit back and enjoy seeing these new things and let my mind drift.
Roads are really nothing but lines that come into existence when two points are connected and become this new thing that’s not an origin or a destination. Roads take us where we want to go but this one I was on now didn’t exist for the sake of my destination or for getting me to it. It was there solely for me to move along it. Me and everyone else were all like salmon swimming upstream. The only direction was forward and only thing that mattered was to satisfy our base compulsion to move with everyone else and participate in this mass performance.
“There’s more of them.”
– Crash (1996) by David Cronenberg
The sun sank without any of the reluctance characteristic of the higher latitudes. We were speeding towards it but were overtaken by dark. Trucks, taxis, buses and cars became high-speed colours along the yellowlit road. Mass disappeared and it seemed that for a while neither did time and I was in some new dimension where only the present existed unburdened by regrets for the past and hopes for the future. It was a perfect moment.
If ever you’ve arrived in a city for the first time and taken a train or coach into town you’ll have gazed out the window and seen a landscape you’ve never seen before. You won’t have known exactly how the city will unfold but you won’t have been surprised to see the familiar progression of farmland or market gardens give way to industrial units or suburban houses or some mixture of both before entering the city proper. In this way we’re slowly eased into the city as it reveals itself but along this road there was none of that. Clusters of apartment buildings came into view and then retreated before the next appeared. The view was always changing but never towards or away from anything. There was no sense of leaving one place behind and approaching another. We were everywhere and nowhere.
This road had no interest in knitting together urban fabric. It powered on indifferent to the apartment buildings and the people inside. Those residents had to use the road to access their apartments but to take an exit and leave it was to abandon the public spectacle and make one’s way home via some tortured sequence of service and feeder roads. The apartment buildings themselves were equally ambivalent and neither turned away from the road nor acknowledged it as the reason for their existence. These were no pioneer settlements as some were as much as fifty stories, well turned out and standing proud yet slightly aloof like someone who’s arrived too early at a party. They made no excuses and stood their ground without apology or pretense.
“Sorry,” said the driver as he deftly slipped into an opening in the traffic to enter the grand arc of a cloverleaf exquisitely designed so people going in one direction would never have to stop or even slow down for anyone going in another or even be aware of them until they entered the flyover of the secondary road and became local traffic. We turned off this secondary road and into a two-lane dual carriageway with grassed verges lined with frangipani and poinciana trees. The driver turned right again and into the hotel driveway, slowing to negotiate a speed bump. I lowered the window and let in the night air with its heavy scent of petunias just watered and sounds of the trees alive with birds resting halfway between West Asia and East Africa. On the far side of the verges were hedges of bougainvillea concealing whatever was beyond. After the grandness and openness of the freeway, this world was managed and finite. I paid and thanked the driver and wished him a good night.
The doorman smiled as he made a slightly florid yet welcoming gesture towards the entrance doors, courteously sparing me the trouble of activating the motion sensor. I crossed the lobby towards the pool terrace where I saw my friend sitting. A lifeguard in his elevated chair was watching two children splashing in the pool that, in mid- October, would be still chilled to 28.0°C. From the other side of the lake came the sound of a live band starting their set at the exact moment the theme building began to cycle through its evening light display. Small circular ripples indicated the presence of carp in the lake that was there for the people in the hotel rooms, serviced apartments and short-term stay apartments to look at. This lake was nothing special. It was just there to stop there being no there there. And for those on either side it also created an “over there” to be curious about. It became difficult to hold on to thoughts like these. I let them go. Maybe there was no there there or maybe whatever there there was was quite fine without one and nobody including me by now even cared. I felt light and happy here.
A waiter had wheeled out an evaporative cooler and was positioning it a comfortable distance from where my friend was sitting smoking a cigarette and picking at a plate of strawberries dipped in the chocolate fountain. I sat down. After a discreet interval, the waiter came over and greeted us, asked how we were and, upon seeing the strawberries, suggested my friend and I might enjoy two Brandy Alexanders. We were momentarily confused, not understanding why we needed anything more or how anything could be complemented or enhanced. Everything was already perfect and nothing could be done to make it any more so. We ordered Hemingway Daiquiris and drank to the end of times.
Ernest Hemingway was diabetic. A Hemingway Daiquiri is a sugarless cocktail made by shaking a large shot of rum over ice along with maraschino liqueur and lime juice plus some pink grapefruit juice for sweetness. They weren’t what killed him.