Sunday, February 1, 2009

Unemployed Porsche Owner

Photo: courtesy of Mason News Service
One blogger called it the "signs of the time" for Dubai. As thousands of expatriate workers are being laid off from their jobs because the financial turmoil has hit our shores (it was inevitable, right?), one man is "profiting" from an other-wise disgraceful (or at least, dreaded) situation.

Publicity Ploy Brings Unexpected Reponse | The National | Jan, 30, 2009.
By Tala Al Ramahi

It must have seemed like a good idea at the time.

Laid off from his Dh395,000 (US107,000)-a-year job after 18 months as a construction project manager in Dubai, Andrew Blair decided to advertise his newly available services in headline-grabbing fashion.

The moment he heard the bad news, the 28-year-old Briton jumped into his Porsche and drove straight to the Mall of the Emirates. Buying a black marker pen, he sat down in his suit in the car park and scrawled his name, telephone number and the following message across the elegant rear end of the white Boxster S: “Made redundant today. Construction project manager.”

“Lots of people just stood around and watched me sitting on the floor with my suit as I was doing it,” Mr Blair said yesterday. “But I didn’t care.”

That was when the power of the internet and the global media kicked in.

The story seems to have surfaced first on Jan 18, on Life in Dubai, a blog run by “Seabee”, an Australian expatriate living in the city. Seabee posted a photograph of the car under the headline “Sign of the times in Dubai”.

The story was picked up in the local press and on Jan 21 made headline news in The Daily Telegraph in the UK. “The scene,” reported the paper, “is a modern echo of the 1920s Great Depression, where jobless city traders walked the streets wearing billboards and placed signs looking for work on their cars.”

Two days later Mr Blair’s fame had spread back to Bristol, the hometown in Britain he had left 18 months before to seek his fortune in the UAE. Mr Blair, reported the Bristol Evening Post on Jan 23, had “hatched a cunning plan to find more work in the tax-free haven”.

Within a week, the cunning plan had gone global, with coverage on the BBC and CNN, which featured Mr Blair’s impromptu act of graffiti in a story headlined “Hard Times in UAE”. Top down, shades on and with a television cameraman riding shotgun, Mr Blair cruised the streets of Dubai, “where a young man can dream of riches, drive fast cars – and lose it all”.

By this week, the story had travelled full circle. Back on the Life in Dubai blog, Seabee reported that, “The interest in the story is amazing” and that it had seized the imagination of the web.

Dubizzle, the Dubai-based trading website, had set up a link to the blog “and I’ve never had as many visitors from Dubizzle as I’m getting for this. Hundreds a day.”

Internet queries that have brought people to the site have come in from around the world, including one Google search from Skopje, Macedonia, but now there are signs the interest is becoming something other than mere curiosity. One large newspaper group in the UK had searched with the words “Dubai police Andrew Blair”.

And that’s not all: the blogosphere is biting back. One sharp-eyed reader of Life in Dubai wondered “why the mobile number on the car is changing from publication to publication”; the number on the original photograph and the one published in The Daily Telegraph were different.

Worse, another blogger visited the website of Dubai Police and typed the registration number of Mr Blair’s Porsche into the traffic fines inquiry page.

As of yesterday, that registration number had accumulated 12 black points and 37 unpaid fines, totalling Dh3,850, and Mr Blair’s highly mobile advertising platform was wanted for impounding.

The offences credited to the Porsche range from illegal parking and obstructing traffic to jumping a red light and speeding – including one fine of Dh1,000, incurred on Jan 16, for exceeding the speed limit on Um Suqeem Street, off Sheikh Zayed Road, by “more than 60kph”.

He will pay the fines, he says, when he re-registers the car.

All this, and he has still not got a job, although he says he has had a few companies asking for his CV – and “lots of calls from so many random people”, including one woman who spotted the Scots flag on his car and called “to ask how I can say ‘I love you’ in Scottish”.

He estimates that cleaning up the back of the Porsche will set him back Dh3,500 – although he says he might try to cash in on the publicity by selling the rear end of the Boxster on ebay.

“The people who have written negative stuff about me and have been giving me grief about what I did are just trying to set me up,” he said.

“I think it’s quite funny, actually. These people should spend more time on their own life than worry so much about mine. But you know, it’s hard being famous, but someone’s got to do it.”

Does he regret the job-seeking stunt?

“I don’t regret it at all. Life is not about regrets. I have none. Zero.”

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