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Sounds Of Illegal Drag Races Interrupt Islamabad's Pre-Dawn Quiet


Let's spend a few minutes with two of our correspondents on opposite ends of the Earth. They've sent us postcards of the small moments that infuse the cultures they cover. In the case of NPR's Philip Reeves, our man in Pakistan, it involves sudden loud noises in the night that woke him up and inspired him to investigate.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Many Asian cities pullulate with noise around the clock. Islamabad's an exception. This government town is almost as tranquil as the nearby Himalayan mountains. This is the sound of sunset.


REEVES: Here's the sound of night.


REEVES: And then there's this, just before dawn.


REEVES: Most nights here are like that - most nights - not all. Sometimes this city's soothing soundtrack is rudely interrupted by this.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Shouting in foreign language).


REEVES: It wakes me up. Who's doing this? What are they doing? How are they getting way with it?


REEVES: OK. So it's after 1 o'clock in the morning, and I'm going to go out into the streets of Islamabad to see whether I can find these guys who've been interrupting my sleep. So let's see whether we can find who's out there and what they're up to. So what's your name please, sir?

KHAWAR ABBASI: Khawar Abbasi.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Khawar Abbasi.

REEVES: So have you seen these cars racing around here?

ABBASI: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Yes, I have seen them.

REEVES: How fast do they go?

ABBASI: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: They go like a bullet.

REEVES: They go like a bullet, do they?

Abbasi's with a friend, another taxi driver called Azizur Rahman (ph).

I want to ask you a question because - tell him we live near here, right, and the noise I hear of, like, (imitating car sound) neeee-ow (ph) - what noise does he hear?

AZIZUR RAHMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: He says, like, (imitating car sound) shring (ph).

REEVES: Shring.


RAHMAN: (Imitating car sound) Shing (ph).

REEVES: That night, we scoured the city for several hours - no luck. But we didn't give up.

Good evening, gentlemen.

There are six of them. They're very young men with small Suzuki cars re-engineered to make them sound big.


REEVES: Their leader, Sheikh Rahim (ph), says these gentlemen are the...

SHEIKH RAHIM: Route 66 crew.

REEVES: Route 66 crew - is that what you call yourselves?

RAHIM: Yeah, we are the Route 66 crew members.

REEVES: And this is here...

RAHIM: This is the crew.

REEVES: All right. I admit it. I didn't actually catch the Route 66 crew racing. We tracked them down on the Internet. But they do it and they're not the only ones. Rahim says Islamabad has four crews of illegal late-night street racers.

RAHIM: The Bulls, The Mob, Street Kings and the Route 66.

REEVES: Why do this? Why ruin my nights?

RAHIM: It's adrenaline.

REEVES: It's adrenaline.

RAHIM: Adrenaline - it gives us a buzz and makes us happy, the inside happiness.

REEVES: Islamabad is a modern, purpose-built capital. It has wide straight roads, ideal for drag racing.

RAHIM: We run the quarter mile from over there to the first bridge. That's the track.

REEVES: And how long is it?

RAHIM: Four hundred meters.

REEVES: The track Rahim's pointing at is a major highway running through the heart of the city. Parliament and the Supreme Court are only 10 minutes away - or two if you drive as fast as the Route 66 crew. In Islamabad, there are police checkpoints and security cameras all over town.

Do the police ever try and stop you?

RAHIM: They do. They even chase us, but we get to, you know, escape.

REEVES: You escape. How do you escape - by just driving very fast?

RAHIM: Yeah, but we've got our hiding spots as well.

REEVES: Have they ever caught you?

RAHIM: My friend Bilal got once.

REEVES: How much do you have to pay in fines?

RAHIM: Around 1,000 rupees.

REEVES: Which is about $10.

RAHIM: Yeah, that's just $10.

REEVES: So it's kind of worth the fun.

RAHIM: Worth it. But the police call our parents as well.

REEVES: And when your parents are called they are...

RAHIM: Then we are grounded.

REEVES: The Bilal he mentions is Mohammad Bilal Akram, a 19-year-old student. He's the crew's fastest driver. Residents do sometimes complain, says Bilal. That won't stop Route 66.

I mean, it's quite dangerous what you're doing. You know, you could get into big trouble.

BILAL AKRAM: It's fun.

REEVES: It's fun.

AKRAM: Yeah.

REEVES: Fun, huh. Oh, well, I guess I'll just have to buy ear plugs. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.
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