The Limo

The Middle East is an expanding mecca of economies whose New World wealth sits uneasily with Old World traditions. The riches plundered from oil and gas fuel metropolises whose growth overwhelms city planners. The debris excavated in the construction of new roads, townhouse complexes and city skyscrapers needs a resting place.

In Doha, Qatar, a small peninsular attached to Saudi Arabia, that resting place can be a backyard, a sidewalk, or the nearest vacant land. The ability and determination of the Qataris to gain a commercial and cultural footing in the New World is such that the capital city of Doha is expanding at a seeming exponential rate, and from scratch they have created the infrastructure to host the 2006 Asian Games.  

Overlooked in this commercial and industrial ascension is any semblance of a public transportation system. Curiously, taxis rarely fill this void. Rather, the Middle East presents The Limo. If your movements during a stay in the Middle East extend beyond the boundaries of your hotel, you’ll be needing a limo. Everyone whose stay extends beyond a week has sourced the numbers of reputable limo drivers. Like many workers in the service industries in the Middle East, drivers descend from the subcontinent looking for a better life in the new metropolis.  

Initially one man bands, these immigrants are now banding together into collectives to provide a more reliable service. If Mister Anwar is not in the neighbourhood, or on another job, he can send his brother, his cousin, his friend. The cars are late model sedans, usually distinguished by darkened rear windows. If you can’t locate the limo, the driver will cruise around searching for you. Somehow, it always works out. 

Rahim collects me up from the outskirts of town. We exchange pleasantries, I ask about the prevalence of drivers from the Subcontinent, and the prosperity of his line of work. “Not so great. We drive many hours, but ok there is demand now. Many people need limo.”

A humble Bangladeshi, Rahim has been driving in Doha for several years, and has a regular stable of clients. Fares are low: – a typical 15 minute journey is worth 20 – 30 Riyals ($8 – 12Aud). Like most Limo drivers, Rahim is a model of courtesy, and I can’t bring myself to engage in the obligatory haggling over the fare. He quotes me 35 Riyals, and I offer 40. Something of a faux pas probably. 

The fares are flexible, negotiable, but sometimes hazardous. I was slugged close to double the appropriate fare yesterday. Ignorant to my horror at this outrageous ruse, my driver was in no mood for negotiation. It would have been reasonable for me to simply exit the vehicle having paid a fair price, however there’s many a tale about being spending the night in gaol without passing Go after altercations with locals, hence my submission. Lesson learnt: establish the fare beforehand.

Next time you arrive in the Middle East, be sure to ask associates for the number of their limo driver.

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