Cruze down memory lane

A very personal look back at the UAE in two identical Cruzes, but two very different cruises

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By Shahzad Sheikh

Chevrolet Cruze Down Memory Lane in Dubai

The Chevrolet Cruze (read our review here) is the marque’s best-selling passenger car across the globe, and it gets a facelift and refit for the 2013 model year. It delivers big-car comfort and feel in a small economical package. But what has always fascinated us most is its name.

Aside from the deliberate spelling manipulation, the connotations seem to hark back to Chevys of old, in the sense that you would cruise down the road in those old road-faring ships. So that is precisely what team MME decided to do with the car. And for a theme, we chose to ‘Cruze down Memory Lane’.

To make it a bit more interesting, we agreed to have a little competitive element to it. We’d ‘Cruze’ from 11am to a little after 4pm and post a live journal of our distinct journeys on our hugely popular and highly interactive Facebook page. We’d be competing for ‘Likes’ and ‘Comments’ throughout our travels. Each Like was worth 1 point and each Comment, 2 points.

Having received two brand new and totally identical Chevrolet Cruze 1.8 models we met up at 11am at the foot of the iconic World Trade Centre on 30th July. Not only is this where General Motors Middle East is headquartered, but this land mark building was actually the first high rise built along Sheikh Zayed Road, opening back in 1978 when it was the tallest building in Dubai.

We shook hands and set off in completely different directions. First. Here’s Imthishan’s story:


Chevrolet Cruze Down Memory Lane in Dubai

Imthishan Giado

Can the UAE be just 41 years old? Hard to believe, given the vast, transformative, pioneering growth this tiny nation has seen in such a scant period of time. We’ve nearly the same age, the UAE and I, and by a pure coincidence of fate I’ve had the honour of having a front row set to the incredibly blistering pace of growth of this proud nation, particularly in the last decade.

Still, it’s hard to appreciate where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been. That is why I took the Cruze on a meandering tour of Dubai and the northern Emirate of Sharjah – to find the places that were cornerstones of my childhood, the little nooks and crannies and parts of hidden history that have lost to progress. That is, if they still exist at all.

Chevrolet Cruze Down Memory Lane in Dubai

1) The first part of my nostalgia tour ironically begins with something very modern – the Burj Al Arab, the shining symbol of Dubai known to everyone in the world as the first ‘seven-star’ ultra-luxury hotel. Hard to underestimate the impact when it first appeared on our coastline, an alien blend of crisp modern design and timeless history – and nearly 15 years later, the Burj remains an iconic landmark.

For me, the beach next to the Burj remains a little slice of hidden heaven, a place to dissolve into the glorious azure waters of the Gulf in solace. And as it happens, the first place I ever got a car stuck, but that’s a story for another day.

Chevrolet Cruze Down Memory Lane in Dubai

2) The ocean theme continues with my next stop, the wonderfully charming Bu Qtair restaurant. Do not be deceived by its rustic Portakabin exterior; this little shack on the beach serves up Dubai’s spiciest, most delicous seafood, fresh fish that you select and are cooked to order moments after coming in off the boat in a unorthodox but delectable South Indian style. A more authentic and simple dining experience, you’ll struggle to find.

Chevrolet Cruze Down Memory Lane in Dubai

3) Now it takes a mere 45 minutes to travel from the megacity of Abu Dhabi to the metropolis of Dubai – but in the ‘80s it took as much three hours to complete the journey. As I whiled away the endless kilometres in the back of my parent’s station wagon, I waited eagerly to sight the Safeway supermarket – the first indication that we were finally entering the outskirts of Dubai.

Today, it would be a task to even find the Safeway building – renamed Safestway to skirt copyright issues! – amidst the many skyscrapers lining the motorway. Today of course, you don’t need a station wagon – the Cruze’s excellent fuel economy and pliant highway manners make it the perfect companion for the long commute.

Chevrolet Cruze Down Memory Lane in Dubai

4) Grand Service Station is a true Dubai icon. A massive garage always bustling with the sounds of cars being maintained, for those in the know it’s a great place to get your car washed – even up to 4AM in the morning! Luckily, the Cruze has remained pretty clean thus far. Once we hit the dusty wilds of Sharjah, that’s likely to change.

Chevrolet Cruze Down Memory Lane in Dubai

5) Khafayef is one of ‘old Dubai’s true hidden treasures, nestled in the heart of Satwa. While some think Satwa and think Indian food, the real oldtimers head straight to Khafayef to order up an authentic UAE-style shawarma, served straight to the window of my Cruze. Wash it down with some of Satwa’s famous fruit juices and bizarrely-named cocktails like ‘Burj Al Arab’ or ‘666’.

In the past, Khafayef played host to the young men in Dubai who would gather in this quiet back alley every weekend in their super-expensive cars and gossip until the early hours of the morning. Sadly today they’ve all taken their fancy rides uptown to JBR and the Marina, while Satwa and its surrounding restaurants fade into obscurity.

Chevrolet Cruze Down Memory Lane in Dubai

6) No trip down nostalgia lane could be complete without a trip to my old high school! I graduated from St. Mary’s Catholic High back in 1997 and still have many fond memories of good times spent within its walls…and many an afternoon as well trying to get to the other side!

But St. Mary’s is more than just a school – it’s the oldest Catholic Church in the country, the land donated by His Royal Highness Sheikh Rashid to the Church trustee Father Daveri back in 1966, his nuns running the school ever since. In other words, this site predates the actual formation of the United Arab Emirates.

Chevrolet Cruze Down Memory Lane in Dubai

7) On my way to Sharjah via Deira and its network of traffic choked side streets and thousands of tiny groceries and curio shops, but cool as a cucumber within my climate controlled Cruze. Another old memory for me – this stationery shop with its outsize pencil was where I picked my supplies every academic year. The shop is more than 20 years old.

Chevrolet Cruze Down Memory Lane in Dubai

8) This long dusty road was my route every day to catch the bus to school. Boiling hot in the summer and bone chillingly in the winter, it would take me precisely eight minutes from my doorstep to the main road and then to cross to the other side. Did I mention school buses didn’t have air conditioning in the 1990s?

Speaking of schools, the wall on the left belongs to the Pakistan Islamia Higher Secondary School. Founded in 1974, its most famous pupil is legendary fast bowler Waqar Younis, who went to high school here.

Chevrolet Cruze Down Memory Lane in Dubai

9) Final stop on my Cruze down memory lane – this is the villa I grew up in in Sharjah, a place with very fond memories for me. I’ve washed many a car in that garage…

Sadly ‘Pegasus villa’ has seen better days – the place looks dilapidated with rust-ridden gates, weed strewn gardens – it might actually be abandoned. Very sad indeed – I was hoping to come here and find another family happily living inside, with perhaps another young son who biked down this dusty road, dreaming of one day driving the fastest cars, visiting the Motor City, exploring the unknown in a life of petrol- fueled adventure.


Chevrolet Cruze Down Memory Lane in Dubai

Shahzad Sheikh

I think Imthi’s stretching it a bit to claim he is nearly as old as this nation – in fact he’s quite a bit younger (I add this for the purpose of assuaging all his female fans out there), although admittedly in his head he is at least that much and probably more in age. I on the other hand, was most definitely born before the UAE was, however my time here is only limited to the last seven-and-a-half years.

Having said, the number of changes and the growth undergone by this fast-evolving city in that short time span, would probably have taken 10 times as long elsewhere. And it turned out that the allotted time for our ‘Cruze’ wouldn’t even cover such milestones as most of the Marina and the entire areas of Festival City and Motor City, to name a few.

Chevrolet Cruze Down Memory Lane in Dubai

But seeing as we had started off at the WTC, I knew exactly where to start. So once I’d paired my phone (we’d be checking each other’s progress throughout the day!) and selected my preferred tunes through the extremely user-friendly standard MyLink system, I fired up the 141bhp Cruze and eased out of the car park.

Chevrolet Cruze Down Memory Lane in Dubai

1) It was only a short sprint from there to around the corner to the very first place we stayed when we arrived here in January 2006 – the World Trade Centre Apartments. These were built in 1979 and there over 500 apts. The area around them, particularly at the back near the exhibition centre has changed quite a bit, and they partially renovated the place in 2012 – I’ll refute any suggestion that they HAD to do that, after my kids were finished with the place!

Chevrolet Cruze Down Memory Lane in Dubai

2) Just on the other side of Sheikh Zayed Road from there is the first McDonalds we ate in. Now you might think this was a rather banal detail to add here, but coming from the UK and being able to walk into a Maccy Ds and order a halal burger rather than scoffing yet another bloody fillet-a-fish, was quite a novel experience for us.

Of course this wasn’t the first McDonalds in the UAE – that was in Al Ghurair City and opened on 21st December 1994. Now there are over 100 outlets in the country. And lest you think this is some kind of endorsement, I’ll have you know that these days my preferred burger shop is Wendys!

Chevrolet Cruze Down Memory Lane in Dubai

3) I then headed up the road to Media City, which used to be terrible for parking, but was much better when the publishing house I worked for, ITP, moved there However parking has since become almost impossible again. So it was a quick stop-n-snap outside the plush HQ building.

Admittedly things got a bit personal as I remembered that this is where my beloved magazine, CAR Middle East, which I nurtured and steered pretty much from its launch to its demise in 2011, was killed off. However, as you all know (because you’re reading this online) print is dead, and MME rocks because it lives online, so I got over the funk pretty quickly.

Chevrolet Cruze Down Memory Lane in Dubai

4) The Dubai Metro system has been built and put into operation during my time here, which is a remarkable feat when you realize that it’s the world’s longest automated metro network at 75km. Launched very cleverly at 9:09pm on 9/9/2009, within its first six months it had carried 10 million passengers.

Despite being a ‘car guy’ I actually used it quite a bit whilst working in Media City, commuting to and from Nakheel station. If only there were more stations and the weather didn’t get so unbearably hot, I’d probably use it more often.

Chevrolet Cruze Down Memory Lane in Dubai

5) It was certainly a hot day, but not really a problem when I wasn’t outside taking pictures, because the aircon on the Cruze was astonishingly powerful – I had to keep turning it down, because it constantly got a little chilly in the cabin.

Chevrolet Cruze Down Memory Lane in Dubai

6) Still, now feeling rather cool, I headed for the nearby 1.7km strip known as The Walk at JBR, because, of course, that’s where everyone in their cool cars goes to cruise nowadays. Not that many Ferraris and Lambos were out at this time.

Besides with its tight, restrictive and clogged one-way system, as well as the harsh cobble-paved street (harsh on ultra-low profile tyre-shod supercars that is) it doesn’t really seem the ideal place to cruise. Having said that, the Cruze did glide relatively serenely over the paving.

Chevrolet Cruze Down Memory Lane in Dubai

7) On the way back, I peeled off SZR again into Business Bay to do a drive-pass the tallest tower block I’ve ever lived in, Manazel Al Safa just at the end of the queue of buildings just past the metro station there. Thing is I was more than a bit thrown, because the whole area has completely transformed with all-new roads and bridges that weren’t even chalked into the sand when I stayed here over three years ago.

Back then, the only way you could go was back out onto SZR straight under a Salik gate! And for some reason the roadworks were designed to frustrate anyone who surmised that it should be easily possible to head into the Downtown Dubai Mall area from there.

Chevrolet Cruze Down Memory Lane in Dubai

8) Of course we were right next to the Burj Khalifa, which I’ve seen rise up in my time here, in addition to the creation of that entire Downtown complex. We witnessed the first new year’s fireworks there from the roof of the car park at Manazel Al Safa.

As we go about our business it’s easy to forget that we live in a city that hosts the world’s TALLEST building. It’s easy to be cynical about it too. But whenever you’re next near there and you have a spare moment, I implore you to stop, get out of your car, just gaze up at it for a bit, and take in all 830m and 163 floors and marvel at the magnificence of this human creation.

Interestingly when it opened in January 2010, it also saw the return of the world’s tallest free-standing structure to the Middle East, where the Great Pyramid of Giza previously claimed this achievement for four millennia before being surpassed by the Lincoln Cathedral in England in 1311.

To get this picture I parked in the now deserted car park of The Pavillion (closed for Ramadan) where we held many of our Meets – until we almost got chased off the premises for overcrowding it!

Chevrolet Cruze Down Memory Lane in Dubai

9) You may not think it, but there are several great parks in Dubai including Mamzar, Mushrif and one of our favourites – Zabeel Park. We even saw the opening of the much-anticipated Star Gate leisure complex inside in 2009. It featured arcades, skating rink, go-karting, science centres, mini-cinemas, roller coaster and of course the obligatory food-court in its centre under a pyramid.

Which always concerned me a little, no not the food, but the fact that with its five globes tracing out a giant pentagon and this pyramid shape in the middle, I felt sure there must be some ancient Masonic Dan Brown-esque significance to its layout. Or maybe it was a landing beacon for aliens. Or possible… Anyway, what makes it more intriguing is that it was closed somewhat mysteriously less than two years later.

Chevrolet Cruze Down Memory Lane in Dubai

10) My next stop was at my first place of work in Dubai, yes still ITP, back at the old offices in Garhoud, where the big board outside, still sits naked awaiting a new sign. It was a dingy place with crap parking, but those were exciting times thanks to some of the ground-breaking work we did with CAR ME magazine. Fond memories.

Chevrolet Cruze Down Memory Lane in Dubai

11) The final stop before getting home was my kids’ school nearby in Al Nahda. They’ve actually been at this school now longer than the entire staff, and have seen three principals come and go. They’re also known as those kids that could be dropped off at school in anything from a Ferrari FF to a, well a Chevy Cruze!

Chevrolet Cruze Down Memory Lane in Dubai


So that was the end of our respective cruises in the twin Cruzes then, and the cars had surprised us both by being excellent companions for the Cruze down Memory Lane, with decent performance, useful agility, great kit, good ride and comfort, nice stereo and excellent climate control – all this from prices starting at just AED61,500 (AED66,800 for the range-toppers we drove).

The drive also proved fascinating and eye-opening for both of us on a personal level too. What was it that Ferris Bueller famously said in the movie? ‘Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.’

Wise words indeed, and based on this experience, we’d urge you to go on your own drives down memory lane and report back with pictures and observations of what you found and how things have changed – or not!

Chevrolet Cruze Down Memory Lane in Dubai

So who won then between us?

Well across 10 posts during the agreed time, Imthi earned 213 Likes and 33 Comments giving him a score of 279. I managed to get more posts in, 13 versus his 10, and received 247 Likes and 43 Comments giving me a grand total of 333. Which on points makes me the winner.

However, I’m going to hand the virtual trophy back to Imthi, because I personally enjoyed his story more, thanks to its deeper, more personal importance. Frankly he deserves the win for a poignant and sentimental Cruze down Memory Lane. Now win us over with yours.

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4 responses to “Cruze down memory lane”

  1. Ali says:

    nice ad. how much they pay u?

  2. fraser says:

    Nice work both of you – apart from the school stuff, for obvious reasons, there was a smattering of memory jogging for me in both stories. I too lived, albeit temporarily whilst looking for a place after my ‘guestage’ experience in Kuwait in 1990, in the Trade Centre Apartments and well remember ‘Defence’, which is now everything surrounding the Burj Khalifa including Downtown. The cars seem to have done the job amicably too and there are some nice pics in both stories. I’m afraid I’ll have to give you a point or two each!

  3. M.Logan says:

    This was such a cool concept guys, and executed perfectly imo! Sharing your personal memories made the read much more involving, and as someone fascinated with Dubai, it’s always interesting to hear about the Dubai of yore with details and insight that could only come from personal experience. MME is the beating heart of the body of passionate car guys and girls in the UAE, no other publication is as tuned into their readers/fans! Had me dreaming of what spots I would chose for my cruze down memory lane. Thanks for this gem.

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