Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Thanks, maybe I'll walk

Just in general, you need to pay attention all the time while driving. If it’s not someone coming up to wash your window at the red light, it’s a full “taxi” (large people carrier) with 14 people in it, making a wide right hand turn in parallel with you, and trying to overtake you at the same time.

The taxis are death on wheels. You can tell from looking at them that the driving is not so hot. Most of them look like someone’s taken a sledgehammer to them... all over. Dings, bumps, dents, broken taillights, dangling mirrors. They stop at the side of the road to pick people up, pulling off onto the shoulder, and then they suddenly pull out directly in front of you with no signal, no warning, just “vroom, gotta go!”

They are actually the informal mass transit system for blacks in South Africa. I haven’t seen a white person riding in one yet, though I’m sure it happens. Occasionally.

In order to give yourself more warning about erratic starts and stops by taxis, you begin to look for people at the side of the road, waiting. Someone will be standing there, and then they hold up a hand, formed into a specific signal, which means, “Pick me up if you are going.... (choose one: locally, to town, over thataway, whatever)” The taxi will stop for the passenger if it’s going the same way the person has signaled, if not, it flies on by.

When we were driving back from the game lodge in our (undented) people carrier, numerous potential passengers signaled to us from the side of the road. Going my way?... Ummm, not really.

The big joke was that a few weeks ago the government was trying to encourage participation in an energy conservation day, so they published photos in all the big papers with [white] people making all the various hand signals. A photo-lexicon, as it were. But I didn't see any terrified white faces in taxis on the actual day. Asked a few friends -- "did you take a taxi on the day?"

"No ways!"

All the white people, however, are in their cars. White cars, silver cars, shiny, shiny new cars. South Africans are so very proud of their automobiles. It’s a big status thing. Everyone seems to be driving the latest model, cruising along in their flash wheels. Cars are washed and spiff, and you never see any rust or anything that looks like it needs work.

Well, except for me and my Mazda Etude.

And regarding that, wonderful Mr. D arranged for the car to get its clutch looked at while I was off to London. What a guy! He IS so very thoughtful, really.

No comments: