In which we run a 5K, and a red light. One cost QR140; the other was slightly more expensive…
If this were Sesame Street, this post would be brought to you by the colour red and the number 6,000. In the red corner: traffic lights, t-shirts and embarrassed faces. As for the six thousand, you’ll see.
This week, we were visited by that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach that you get when you realise you have done something avoidably stupid.
Like arriving to give a presentation at work, only to realise your laptop is back at home, where you left it by the front door so you wouldn’t forget it. Or that the taxi which just brought you to the airport is now driving off with your passport still on the back seat.
Or like accidentally driving through a red light in Doha, thus instantly incurring a monstro fine of QR6,000 (GBP1,100 / US$1,700)…welcome to our week.
One stop cop shop
It all began with a quick visit to the Hukoomi site. Yes, e-commerce may still be in its infancy here, but one of the sites that really does work is the government’s traffic violations portal.
In theory, you can’t renew your vehicle’s registration if you have any unpaid fines against it. There are also apocryphal tales of people being turned back at the airport because of outstanding money owed (anyone got any first hand evidence of this?)
Sadly, the frequency with which I have picked up speeding tickets here means that we have got into the habit of checking the site regularly. Still, normally it’s nothing worse than a QR500 fine, which can be paid then and there, as easily as it was accrued in the first place.
(An aside: you might wonder how, given how much Doha residents moan about the constant traffic jams, it’s even possible to ever be going fast enough to get caught by a speed camera?
Well, for a start, the authorities sometimes reduce speed limits overnight, without any warning, and also, when you do finally break away from the infernal queues, the temptation to step on it and make up for lost time is strong, to say the least.)
But this time, the news was worse. Way, way worse.
Doha is many things, but it is emphatically not – to use Agent Cooper’s beautiful description of the (admittedly fictional) Twin Peaks – “a town where a yellow light still means slow down, not speed up”.
We had been warned when we moved here that the cameras were super trigger happy plus, and so we have always taken yellow to mean slow down, even when that incurs the beepy wrath of someone behind us who wasn’t expecting us to do so.
Like setting fire to fifties with hundreds
Which made the news of a fine all the more galling. It hadn’t been given because of a reckless decision to race through a flashing yellow light at 60kph, hoping for the best. Instead, this was a genuine mistake (as you would expect from people who obey vehicle laws that don’t even exist in your adopted home country).
On her way home after an extended day at work, Mrs LC was at the front of the queue, waiting patiently for the lights to change. Minutes of not running the red light passed, before she finally saw a green light and moved off…only to discover the light was actually for an adjacent pedestrian crossing.
Flash! Flash! Six thousand riyals, just like that.
That’s like booking two return flights to the UK and not using them. Or buying three new TVs and promptly chucking them in a skip. At the end of the day, you’re a lot poorer and you still need a new TV.
Asking around, it turns out that if you think there is a valid reason, you can appeal fines. But not at the weekend; for a couple of days, therefore, there was nothing more we could do, so we tried to put it to the back of our minds.
Run for the hills (if Qatar had any)
The perfect distraction arrived in the form of Doha’s first Color Run, (yes, it’s an American idea, so that lack of a ‘u’ is as deliberate as it is painful for me to type).
Anyway, it looked too much fun to pass up, and so it proved. It’s basically a paint-splattered 5K where very few of the entrants were actually running. But that’s fine; it’s all about enjoying yourself. There’s no clock, no pressure, just six thousand peopl-
Yes, we couldn’t even escape that bloody number in the early morning sunshine. There were indeed a very impressive six thousand of us looping round the Convention Centre getting in touch with our inner Stone Roses. (I imagine the Manchester edition goes one step further and plays them over the PA, too).
It was a carnival atmosphere, with plenty of wigs, tutus and even drones on display. The good mood was so infectious that I didn’t even mind the abundance of selfie sticks in use. (But, seriously people; this needs to stop, right now.)
We left the kids to spectate as we wanted to, you know. run, but we hooked up with them at the end and took them to the most vibrantly-colo(u)red after party ever. Thousands of people, thousands of packets of paint, all leaping around furiously.
As a mornings person, who isn’t quite yet past his wave your hands in the air like you just don’t care days, I thought it was a brilliant way to end the event. More outdoor raves at 10am, please.
Reduced on appeal
So having run 5K, our attention turned back to running red lights.
We returned to Traffic HQ at the appointed hour for Mrs LC to ask for a benevolent review. She admitted her mistake and, as it was a genuine error, some clemency was granted. The fine was reduced; it was still painful, but it could have been so much worse.
Actually, it was a tiny bit worse.
In between the discovery of the red light fine and our visit to Traffic HQ, I had been caught speeding yet again (this time on Bu Arayyen St, from Drug Roundabout towards Al Waab; I was doing 92 in an 80 zone.) Nabbed by an unmarked police car with camera in its radiator grille: that’ll be another QR500, thank you very much.
And I thought my kids’ lessons were expensive…
As a way of reducing the risk of getting any more speeding tickets, we’ve swapped cars for a bit, to see if that helps. I’m driving Mrs LC’s smaller, slower car; she’s in charge of the powerhouse 4×4.
By the time we headed out for a pub quiz a few days later, we had nearly come to terms with our cumulative losses.
The top prize at the quiz was QR3,000 cash. Or, as one of our team helpfully pointed out: “You could run a yellow light for that.”