Cairo, Egpyt is notorious for its horrible traffic. Roadways are packed solid and anarchy reigns over intersections. But on rare occasions, even the worst gridlock can be a good thing.
It was for Deena Adel Eid, a liveblog editor and social media manager for the Egypt Independent, when someone stole her beloved 2009 Volkswagen Jetta. Otherwise, how else would she have been able to catch up with the thief and scold him until he walked away from the car?
But to understand how Deena lost her car in the first place, you have to understand something about Cairo's non-professional valet parking culture. It could have happened to anyone.
Cairo's traffic is bad, and its street parking situation is, understandably, pretty awful, too. It can take a while to find a spot to park. Out of that situation came the Sayes, guys who post up near potential parking spots and charge people to "valet" park their cars. They're not licensed, they aren't anyone's employees; they're just dudes out on the street trying to make a few bucks.
Most of the time it's a good enough system. Some of the Sayes are more established than others, and people actually leave their keys with them so that they don't have to deal with the car as they rush off to make an appointment.
But as one can expect, there's plenty of room for foul play in this informal system. Yesterday, Deena said she spent nearly half an hour trying to find parking. If she'd spent any more time in the car, she would have been late for her meeting. But a young Sayes — probably still a teenager — spied her. Dressed in an old pair of jeans and a sweatshirt, he had a wad of car keys in his hand — usually a pretty good sign that a Sayes is actually a valet parker (as opposed to a thief) and has been entrusted with other car owners' keys.
Deena had heard tell of Sayes experiences gone wrong, but in her desperation, she went for it anyway, and handed the guy her keys.
He asked me, "You want to park? How long will you be gone? Okay, give me your car I'll park it for you"
She was pretty clear that she would not be leaving her keys with him, and he promised to park the car and give her keys right back to her.
I got out of the car. He got in. And he sped away with my car. I stood there for a moment, stunned at my own stupidity. How did I let this happen? I watched as my car disappeared out of the side street, and it finally hit me. WHAT THE HELL? That guy just stole my car!!!!
So she took off running, hoping to catch up with her car before it got too far away. As she ran, she screamed, "HE TOOK MY CAR! MY CAAARRR!!" at the top of her lungs. People stared, but no one seemed to take much interest. So she kept running, and seeing the car stuck in traffic ahead, caught up with it, opened the passenger door, and climbed in.
I started yelling incoherently like I do when I'm angry and maybe it was me screaming my head off or my puffy face (from all the running) or my hair that magically managed to stick out in all possible directions, or possibly a combination of all three, but somehow it worked. The guy (who looked about 16-17) stared at me blankly then said, "I was just going around the block so I can come back from the other side." That's the story he stuck with.
The Sayes didn't get excited. He looked around and the car was still boxed in, so he just got out and walked away.
I got into the driver's seat, waited for traffic to open up, and drove away in my car.
Thank God for Cairo traffic.
There are 14 million vehicles in Cairo. Can you imagine how quickly Deena's car could have vanished into the chaos had it not been for a traffic jam?
Photo credit: Deena Adel Eid; Getty Images