Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A long way to Tipperary...and Riyadh

I saw an ad on the Saudi Expat message board, illustrating the age-old copywriter’s maxim: “Spend 80 percent of your time on the headline, 20 percent on the copy.”

While this works better for ads than Internet message boards, a lot of time and trouble could have been saved if the writer would have spent a little more time thinking about his headline.

It goes:


The particular item that caught my eye was a printer/scanner/copier combo for a mere 100 riyals (about $26).

I called the number listed and the guy and I agreed that since I don’t have a car, he would meet me somewhere and we’d go to my place to fire up the system before purchase. He had all the cables and discs.

At the risk of revealing the Veeds Of Arabia super-secret Fortress of Solitude, I can say that it’s near several prominent city landmarks — to wit, Al Yamama Hotel, the King Abdul Aziz University Hospital and the Radisson Hotel. Cabbies all around town know at least one of these so I figured this guy would too.

We arranged to meet the next day at the Al Yamama. He would use his GPS to locate the hotel.

Now, I’m wary of GPS navigators but I’ve used them before and sometimes they work just fine. But sometimes all it takes is a wrong left turn to throw you off. Sometimes it’s simply a question of GIGO — Garbage In/Garbage Out.

We connect by cell phone as planned Sunday. He says it should take him about 30 minutes, but he’ll call when he’s near the hotel rendezvous.

The Al Yamama Hotel, once the jewel of Riyadh, has faded in its glory, but it still has excellent tennis courts, a big pool and some vestige of tainted elegance in its lobby. Most of all, it’s a well-known landmark in this part of the city and it’s a 7-minute walk from my apartment. I get a call from the guy — we’ll call him “Ramesh” — an hour later and he says he should be there in about 10 minutes. I hurry out the door and arrive 7 minutes later. No Ramesh.

The circumstances become a little cloudy in my head at this later point in time because there were numerous calls back and forth, using up my precious mobile phone minutes but, after all, Ramesh is going to the trouble of driving so I’m figuring it’s a fair trade-off.

Despite, or perhaps because of his GPS, he keeps getting lost. Finally, 40 minutes and a hotel lobby catnap later, there’s a final call: he’s now hopelessly lost and can we regroup tomorrow when he’s had a chance to study a map and check the three landmarks?

We can.

I’m savoring the addition of a scanner to my electronic arsenal at the Fortress and if I’ve learned anything in the Kingdom, it’s that nothing goes right the first time.

Monday comes bringing Ramesh’s call about 4 pm. He thinks he’s got it solved. I hand the phone over to a colleague who’s lived here for 10 years and knows the city well. He gives very clear directions and guidelines. He reports to me afterwards that it doesn’t sound like Ramesh knows where he is coming from.

Ramesh is now on his way to the Radisson Hotel, well-known as the former Hyatt and also as the headquarters for General Schwarzkopf during the Gulf War. I head over.

Ramesh’s next update comes 20 minutes later. Yes! He’s pulling in now and would I come outside so he can verify that he’s at the right place? We don’t see each other and our descriptions of the building don’t match. He concludes that his GPS has led him to the wrong Radisson. Grrrr. He will recalibrate and go the correct one.

Back inside to the lush lobby I think: Why not ask the reception desk for help?

The clerk confirms that the hotel is indeed on King Abdul Aziz Road, known as the Old Airport Road, etc. etc. I ask where the other Radisson is. He says, “There is no other Radisson, sir.”
Ramesh calls back and says he’s confused about the Radissons and why his GPS isn’t directing him correctly.

I estimate that counting yesterday’s driving and today’s he has now wandered aimlessly up and down various highways with a printer/scanner for which he will receive about $26 for about four hours work. The cost to me is mobile phone minutes and some time spent catnapping in hotel lobbies.

Our final conversation goes like this:

Him: “Ok, I must have gone to the wrong Radisson. I’ll have to recalculate my position and get to the other one.”
Me: “I just talked to the hotel clerk. He says there is only one Radisson in Riyadh.”
Him (pausing): “Riyadh?”
Me: “Yes, only one Radisson in Riyadh.”
Him: “I’m in Jeddah.”

See? It pays to pay attention to your headline.
Note: Riyadh and Jeddah are 525 miles apart, approximately the distance between Phoenix, Ariz. and Salt Lake City, Utah. It's a long long way to Tipperary too, I wonder if they have any scanners?

Photos by author.


  1. Let's calculate.....Riyadh to Jedda is approximately 660 miles. Hmmmmm....that's about 9-10 hours' drive time. You could have been arrested for loitering instead of catnapping. No scanners in Riyadh,Jim?

  2. According to my info, it's 525 miles -- um, presumably the same distance either way. I was a bit surprised the hotel people didn't kick me out though.

  3. Not to be oppositional :-) lists the distance between the cities at 660.However, I bow to your estimate since you are now a resident of the country.

  4. Great story!. I'm still chuckling.

  5. Barbara: I don't get much bowing these days, though students at least call me Mister. I'm not sure my Wikipedia source is any more reliable than your source. I'm just going by what a couple Google searches told me

    Jackie: Glad to hear it. Next up (I think): why you come out in the morning and see a street full of cars with their windshield wipers up.