Getting Their Kicks: The American-Saudi Go Around Come-Around

Despite a decent amount of negativity roiling around the socio-political scene lately, on a fine Saturday night right here in the ole USA, this gives me a lot of heart somehow:

Then, with a scream of revving engines, it begins: a yellow Corvette and a red Mitsubishi go head to head, racing down the road at terrifying speeds, just inches apart. Shouts go up from the sidelines, and another pair of racers shoot down the road, and another.

This may be the most popular sport of Saudi youth, an obsessive, semilegal competition that dominates weekend nights here.

For Saudi Arabia’s vast and underemployed generation of young people, these reckless night battles are a kind of collective scream of frustration, a rare outlet for exuberance in an ultraconservative country where the sexes are rigorously segregated and most public entertainment is illegal. They are, almost literally, bored out of their minds.

“Why do they do it?” … “Because they have nothing else to do. Because they are empty.”

Despite all the shrieking of teh military-industrial class, the iron curtain fell and the cold war subsided because of information, lifestyle and ethos penetration into the supposed enemy. Thing was, they were not the enemy, they were people just like us. And so the walls came down. The Rolling Stones, Beatles and Beach Boys had as much, if not far more, to do with the victory as military might (not to mention the start of the internet and satellite teevee).

The United States government and tunnel visioned world press were too slow to figure out what was really up the first time, and lo and behold, they are biting off on the same steel fisted bunk again. It is cultural progression that is softening the underbelly of yet another clash of the civilizations. Who’d a thunk it? Who will realize it?

Then the car leaps forward, accelerating furiously, and breaks into a sudden skid, spinning around, nearly colliding with a concrete barrier and leaving thick black marks on the pavement. A stifling smell of burnt rubber hangs in the air.

It is not the bombs. It is La Bamba.

46 replies
  1. justiceputnam says:

    Just wait until they get into that Griffith Observatory-stage and cringe like Sal Mineo in the realization of a nihlist existence.

    Hopefully, there will be a Natalie and a JD to help out…

  2. Loo Hoo. says:

    I knew a guy from Saudi Arabia when I was in college. He’d drive like a maniac here in San Diego, but always got off when he was stopped. He showed his international driver’s license (his Mercedes had international plates) and suddenly lost all English.

    It is not the bombs. It is La Bamba.

    I’ve always wondered what he’s up to these days, and what he thinks about how the world has changed.

  3. flounder says:

    I always joke that we could solve a lot of problems by dropping Levis during bombing runs.

  4. nextstopchicago says:

    You’re just wrong about this, Bmaz.

    The cold war ended because my friend Tammy and I went door to door for Sane/Freeze, explaining to the neighbors that we didn’t need any more nukes because the Russians didn’t really wanna use theirs either.

    • bmaz says:

      Heh, I am in for granting some credit there. Seriously, whatever slowed down or stopped the madness was a positive factor that led to a non-violent result. The shallow pundit discourse seems to forget that part.

  5. KiwiJackson says:

    Thanks bmaz for clipping Los Lonelys and Santana tonite of all nights. Thanks for all your posts here.

  6. jackie says:

    Morning all
    I really believe that once we connect as just people it becomes so obvious that Everybody (no-matter where/religion/race etc) has far more in common than those in control would have us believe.
    The Internet (and tech in general) and the way it bring people together in real time is the way to bring back sanity. Thank Goddess ‘they’ didn’t close that window…

    Now for my regular OT
    Hmmn, this is just odd.
    What is ‘paper Terrorism’?
    Do we know anything re; the retired FBI agent arrested.

    LAS VEGAS – Four members of an anti-government group have been arrested on charges that include money laundering, tax evasion and weapons possession, federal prosecutors said Friday.

    Authorities said the four men are members of the Sovereign Movement, a group that attempts to overthrow the government and defy authority with “paper terrorism.” The arrests in Las Vegas on Thursday capped a three-year investigation into the group’s activities led by the Nevada Joint Terrorism Task Force, U.S. Attorney for Nevada Greg Brower said

    .’Brower’s office said Call and Lindsey, a retired FBI agent, are leaders of the Nevada Lawmen Group for Public Awareness, a group affiliated with the Sovereign Movement.’….._arrests_2

    • foothillsmike says:

      The Japanese are learning english by listening to and repeating Obama’s speeches.

  7. skdadl says:

    So we’re all geezers here, are we? I remember Route 66 — great show; can I put in a request for 77 Sunset Strip? Some Cassavetes or Peter Gunn?

    I thought this was going to be an O/T, but it’s actually in the spirit of your post, bmaz. I don’t know whether anyone else has been following the progress of the Viva Palestina convoy from London to Gaza, but it has been inspiring all the way through France and Spain and across North Africa, and they are at the Rafah crossing now.

    The Egyptians have been tense the last couple of days — Galloway obviously had most of this negotiated beforehand, but letting the convoy through presumably remains a diplomatic problem for Mubarak. Still, last word was that it’s a go.

    Yesterday novelist Alice Walker and some members of Code Pink made the crossing at Rafah to celebrate International Women’s Day (today) in Gaza, and a Scottish medical-aid convoy that came by sea were also allowed in.

    • jackie says:

      I’ve following Viva Palestina and the MSM’s complete blackout on the Convoy for peace and support for the people of Palestine is so very wrong and what those drivers, supporters and ordinary people are doing is so right.
      This Convoy and those people, by going though several countries without real problems, has done and is doing something amazing. We need to watch Israeli response closely (both ‘gov’ and regular peps) and continue to support these actions.. Good on everyone involved (and you know the political stuff going on in the background has got to be intense)

      • skdadl says:

        The media silence is, um, notable, isn’t it?

        I don’t think the convoy ran into any political troubles at all (I mean, Galloway somehow talked Morocco and Algeria into opening their disputed borders for the first time in fifteen years) until they got to Egypt, and I guess that was predictable. Mubarak: not my favourite person. Still, you deal with the dictators you’ve got (didn’t Rumsfeld say something like that once?), and George seems to be succeeding in making this happen.

        acquarius @ 18: That is a classic, eh? He goes up one side of Norm Coleman and down the other. Och, there is a lot of showman in Galloway, but he is a very smart guy and he makes good things happen. I like to think that he is enjoying the continuing news about Coleman as he trundles through the desert.

        • acquarius74 says:

          The shots I saw of Coleman while Geo. Galloway was slamming him with ‘kind’ worded insults, showed him to be blind and deaf. Sen. Carl Levin, OTOH, seemed to be taking in every word.

          How could anyone vote for Coleman after watching these proceedings? Guess it takes all kinds.

    • acquarius74 says:

      Speaking of George Galloway; here is the YouTube video (Part 1) of his appearance on 05/17/2005 in response to the accusation that he had skimmed off or profited by trading in the Oil for Food Program (Iraq).

      This presentation is priceless. He clearly and firmly gets that senate committee told off, and without referring to notes.

      Here is the link to George Galloway’s senate appearance.

  8. serge says:

    I’m reminded of the scene in Billy Wilder’s “One, Two, Three” (1961, I think) when the Communist border guards get to seize a case of Coca-Cola. They’d died and gone to heaven…

  9. lennonist says:

    I’ve also heard that there are a lot of cars “for sale” in Saudi Arabia, with the number to call painted in the back window. The price is likely high though as the real reason for the “sale” is a hope that a female will call, not about the car but about a date. Of course, she’ll pay a high price too if she calls and anyone finds out. Baer tells of this in “Sleeping with the Devil.”

    Serge- along these same lines, there’s a great story in “The Leaning Tower” about a plane full of FBI agents landing in (I think) Yemen and surrounded by armed men. The agents don’t know what to do and opinions are offered all around. Finally, the one Arabic speaker on the plane grabs a case of bottled water and approaches the men surrounding the plane, offering it as a gift, which causes them to put the guns down. Some of the men are so excited to have such pure water that they don’t drink it but take it home as a souvenir.

  10. freepatriot says:

    so the youth of Saudi Arabia have a choice, sit in a cave with osama bin laden, or Vin Diesel style street racing

    hey osama, you be losin em

    it’s the same thing that happened to the USSR

    in spite of all of our faults, Americans KNOW how to have FUN

    • nextstopchicago says:

      I think it’s because we know how to have fun that by and large Americans DON’T street race. I’ve never actually seen anyone do it, aside from in the movie Grease, and even as a child watching tv I knew that drag racing was the most mind-numbingly boring thing ever put on a small screen. All the excitement of serial coin-tossing, except that you don’t have to wait nearly as long for the next coin toss.

      • behindthefall says:

        Never seen it either, as I recall, but *something* puts those long black stripes on straight sections of country road. And those black circles of tire rubber, too. I think it all happens between 2 and 4 in the AM.

        O/T, but is it just me or has anyone else thought that we had better study how West Germany pulled itself up after WWII? We’ve had our city centers gutted, our manufacturing base destroyed, and, even worse, our arable land destroyed, just without all those explosions.

      • Gunner says:

        I am sorry you find drag racing so boring actually top fuel and funny car(the National Hot Rod Association) at 300 MPH is pretty exciting.

    • Hmmm says:

      so the youth of Saudi Arabia have a choice, sit in a cave with osama bin laden, or Vin Diesel style street racing

      hey osama, you be losin em

      it’s the same thing that happened to the USSR

      in spite of all of our faults, Americans KNOW how to have FUN

      Yes. The youth kids of today are already lining up – lining up, I tell you! — to sit in off-the-hook urban-suburban hip-hop settings with Michael Steele.

    • mui1 says:

      imperialistic bias in a nutshell. You sit in cave. we eat burgers, chips watch, tv, race cars and have fun.
      Oh and hmm, where do the women stand in all this. Some guys think we make nice hood ornaments.

  11. PJEvans says:

    There’s more street racing going on than you’d think. Mostly at night – it hits the news here every so often, when a group of racers is busted, usually because someone was hurt or killed (not necessarily one of the drivers). Motorcyclists do this too.

    • dakine01 says:

      Yep. Old and honored traditions, especially in small towns.

      Growing up, there was always the argument “Who has the hottest car, the ‘66 ‘Goat’ or the ‘67 ‘Vette? We’ll settle this out on whatever back country road” (or maybe the road into town if it was after midnight – so long as the cars could slow down and get into proper lanes before hitting the city limits, else the city cops would bust ‘em)

      • bmaz says:

        Cruising and street racing was HUGE when I was a teen in the early 70s and saw it for years earlier than that when I would go with my family or friends into downtown Phoenix on a Friday or Saturday night. Central Avenue. It was a awesome social milieu. Even in our suburb, there was a general circuit to be cruised when out and about at night. My weapon of choice was a 68 Hurst Olds. My favorite was this girl, fairly cute too, who had a SS396 Chevelle with a 402 Rat under the hood. Along the bottom of the back window, in hand painted script were the words “If you can beat me, You can eat me”. Jeebus I tried too; made several runs at her in both my Olds and in a Z-28. No could do, she was fast.

    • bmaz says:

      I think the roots of the song are from old Mexican wedding music that was eventually made a hit by Valens. It is usually hard to go wrong with the original hit, which was Valens; however, just for the record, the version posted here is by Los Lonely Boys (who put on a great show live by the way). My real attraction was Santana playing with them here.

      • Hmmm says:

        I think the roots of the song are from old Mexican wedding music that was eventually made a hit by Valens.

        Well, that and Twist and Shout.

  12. JohnLopresti says:

    I agree with the diplomacy of music concept, yet, would add an economist view, that the disproportion between the GDPs plus the inertia of the central planned economy in the old soviet union provided the conditions for the contest of ennui. Kids ‘without cooth’ played pool and raced cars, drove around with air shocks on their road machines to impress and dazzle. Even Associate Justice Alito recently recognized the permeability of the rigid ancient constructs in paying homage to Lennon’s lyrics recently in re Pleasant Grove City v Summum 07-665 footnote 2 p.12; the Justice seems to argue that the establishment clause is better served by Lennon’s Imagine than by iconry from a12-step paradigm. Heartell, rte.66 was a nice place to traverse a bumpy road after the goldrush, though I doubt the “stimulus” package would view it as other than a quaint distraction; ?why recreate a fiction chain of granaries and miracle miles replete with cicadas the size of baseballs?, with vistas before the invention of the word smog, or, perhaps, because the hwy’s very use helped promulgate the invidious smog itself.

    Anecdotally, I thought the television presentation a haphazard, yet impelling, a compendium of everything wrong with the 50s which the 60s generation had a good idea how to repair. UA Tucson has a nice collection of the musical scores by the program’s composer Nelson Riddle; for me, his jazz influence was a breath of fresh air. A school acquaintance who was in a racecardriving family was famous for decrying the opening clip of the television show, which began with the hood of a vette which clearly was straddling the whiteline, very controlled, but quite foolish, given the vette’s notorious lack of handling at any speed. Thank Dog for RalphNader. The acting on the show was uneven, direction Pinterlike and nearly nil, yet, the writing by Siliphant had an Albeeish dissonance which was for me the show’s enduring charm, even if scripts clearly were pecked out two days before the final take on the sets. I would categorize the program as eminently forgettable, as was the era of transition it represented. Yet, somehow the confluence of its geographic context and the milling actors and excellent jazz scores in aggregate served to provide an excellent way to stay indoors and contemplate a future which obviously was going to be better than the one depicted on the cathode ray tube, and it was.

    If instead of Saudi ennui, those youth were Ruskis, I wonder if their dream race might be on the great oceans in a vessel out of Bremerhavn, evidently coming to Haymarket Sq this very summer2009. The recent discussions about the decline of the US auto industry led me into some research of the Ruski autoworld, which evidently is vibrant in these times, young folks there obviously accepting with glee the American love of the auto, though in a rendition distinctly Slavic, their own passion speaking. In Auburn Hills Detroit evidently Chrysler is about to become the minirod on the block, kind of a Volkswagen with style and swagger, got to like the verve of Fiat for relieving Cerberus of some of its equity stake in the US automaker.

  13. Loo Hoo. says:

    Coleman looked mighty uncomfortable there being eloquently told off in public. All squirmy and busy. A thing of beauty.

    • acquarius74 says:

      Eloquently is the right word, LooHoo. Do you think Sen. Levin was inwardly cheering Galloway on?

  14. JohnLopresti says:

    I looked up the Valens tune, it was based on a folksong. I have heard some different versions with Valens’ group jamming, which was more inspired than the pop hit. I once attended a party in a Spanish speaking country at which the only song played on the stereo, repeatedly, was the Valens hit. I think it was an endurance test. CarlosS always is a wonderful improvisationalist. I thought I had seen a photo of Dylan with Holly and Valens, but nothing like that shows up in a web search, though there is some hilarious reporting out there concering the jokes extant during those years. I suspect there is some similarity of life for youth growing up in Hibbing and Riyadh.

  15. nextstopchicago says:

    Nice La Bamba etymologies. Here’s another story

    bringing it back to the effort to protect the port of Vera Cruz from pirates in 1683!

    For my money, the best version is an old folk version with marimba that I found in the late 90’s just before a trip to Vera Cruz, but the computer I favorited it on is long since sold, and I couldn’t find it now. Here’s a pretty good version:….._/La+bamba

    The Richie Valens version is fun, but I think it’s worth noting on a political blog that he defanged the song. The lines “to go to heaven, you need a very big staircase” and “to dance, you need a little grace, a little grace, and a little something more” were great lines making fun of the rich Catholics and their graceful dances. Valens dropped the humor and made it a cute little song.

    The traditional version actually ends with “I beseech I beseech you, I beseech I beseech you, enough of La Bamba, enough of La Bamba play another song, play another song.” On that note, I guess I’ll stop.

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