The Adventures of Bullbar Ben…# 2

And there we were on the N2 - again - and we were in bumper-to-bumper, stop-start traffic in the morning go-to-town rush hour - again. Cape Town is getting notorious for rush-hour congestion these days: I suppose you can't have a major city with a population growth rate of greater than 10% a year, that still has only three main routes into the business centres, and no real public transport system worth the name, and not expect it to turn into Bangkok eventually.

Which means the type of traffic that invites misbehaviour from minibus taxis....

Sure enough, as soon as they reached one of the freeway entrance-exit lanes for which Cape Town is famous, the one to Pinelands-Mowbray, every taxi peeled off as if to leave the freeway, only to try to force their way back in at the last possible point before the exit road diverged, a couple of hundred metres further on. And, if they couldn't force in, and there were no cops around, they would simply create another lane on the shoulder and roar on through to the next exit lane.

I think I muttered something darkly as we inched forward, because Ben smiled at me, and said, "Just wait, china, just wait...". As we drew level with the end of the exit lane, I saw Ben put on his left turn indicator, and begin to draw over to the shoulder - prompting a furious hooting from a taxi which had been about to roar through. He just carried on inexorably, and there was a squeal of brakes behind as the taxi was forced to pull up. Ben judged it well; he pulled up squarely on the shoulder, next to a lamp standard on the verge, so there was no way past except in the legal traffic lane, or on grass that fell away to a shallow ditch the other side of the pole. He switched off the engine, and settled back with a contented sigh.

I took a look back: the taxis were stacking up, blocking the exit lane as they vainly tried to push in to the solid mass of cars to our right. The taxi immediately behind hooted again, and then pulled in to the traffic in a tiny gap. As it moved up next to us, the gardtjie at the sliding door window screamed some sort of abuse, his arm swung at us, and I heard a crack as something bounced off the windscreen. I saw a battered taxi back end, the usual off-white, with a garish red "Rule the Road!" sticker prominent across the crowded back window - then it was gone, into an infinitesimal space in the right-hand lane, and away.

"Torch battery" grunted Ben. I looked, amazed: it hadn't left a mark. Good glass, that…. "Ja, they do that a lot", he said. "But now I know that one - he'd better hope I don't see him when we're moving, hey?", he said, and smiled. He glanced in the rear-view, then, and suddenly started the motor and rolled down the window. I wasn't expecting the traffic cop who appeared at his right, but they seemed to know each other. I glanced behind: the queue of illegals had almost vanished; I saw the last of them slowly going off around the offramp, away from their intended destination, shooed on by the cop's friend in the car now parked behind us.

"Ja, Ben, you alright?" asked the one next to us with a broad grin.

"Ja, Duncan, fine - you know how it is with an old wagon like this; go too slow and it just overheats, and you must pull over and let it cool down, hey?"

"Ja, and maybe stop some taxis as well, hey?" said Duncan the cop, with a playful punch to Ben's shoulder. Said man merely smiled.

"OK, we'll take over now - so let's get you going again - see you again soon, china", and then he was stepping into the traffic with hand held up, to clear a space for us to move in. Ben waved, and gunned the big pickup into the gap.

As we idled on down the freeway, I asked: "Ben, why do you do it? Some day one of these guys is going to try to kill you, and you know - they just might?" He looked at me steadily for a while, in silence. I was starting to feel uncomfortable when he sighed, and shook his head.

"No, man, my girlfriends keep telling I'm mal, that I'm aiming to get killed, but I can't help it. What was that thing that German oke said…?". He fell silent, and scowled through the windscreen until I was prompted to ask: "Umm…which German would that be, Ben? Michael Schumacher?", because I knew he idolised him.

He took a quick glance at me, and laughed. "Schumi? Nooit, china! Kind of thing he'd say would be "Zey get in my vay, I drive sru zem, ja?"" He reflected a while. "That's quite a good reason, though, hey? No, one of those okes that died in a camp in World War 2…ag, can't remember; anyway, it's like: "evil thrives when good men do nothing", only the way I see it, shit drivers do what they like if you do nothing - so I thought, I'll do something, hey?"

The offramp to the Liesbeek parkway was coming up; Ben started to signal left, and ease the big truck over. Inevitably, a taxi squeezed in behind, and then cut across the double yellow lines to beat us into the lane, to jump up the freeway queue from the left. "Fok jou, pellie!" muttered Ben, and suddenly the big V8 was roaring, we were moving across into the offramp lane, and the taxi was centimetres away through my window, about to become a sandwich between us and a bus lumbering along beside. I saw the driver's face register horror - hell, I had gone cold - and then he was braking frantically to avoid the squeeze. Ben deftly gunned in front of the bus, flashed me a grin, and said: "Sorry, hey? It's automatic…", and we were away and joining the Parkway.

I was gazing at my hands, watching them shake, when I became aware Ben had resumed his story: "…so what did it for me was one day on Main Road, turning left to come back onto this bleddy highway going out - you know where I mean?" - I nodded dumbly - "…anyway, so I was driving this thing after my car got wrecked by some bastard taxi - I told you about that?" - another dumb nod - "…only it was before I fixed it up - ja, and I was taking the left lane to go on the highway, and suddenly this taxi tries to pull in front of me across the fat yellow line, and I get the moer in, so I close up to the car in front. So this guy comes right up next to me, and the gardtjie and a couple passengers start hitting my cab, and the bastards broke my window here - man, I got so gatvol I just grabbed the gardtjie's arm through my window and I pulled away left…". He broke off and laughed quietly. "Man, that bastard popped right out of his window, and I ended up holding him here next to me." He shook his head, smiling. "Shit, he was scared…".

After a silent spell I prompted him: "And then? What did you do with him?"

He smiled over at me. "Hell, I just dropped the bastard in the road - bleddy taxi nearly ran him over! And I made up my mind then, forget fancy cars, I want something strong, something they can't fuck around with. So I built this up," lovingly stroking the black fur on the dashboard, "every weekend when I had some time. It's a work in progress, china, a work in progress…" he tailed off. I noticed in passing that we had made it to Lower Main Road by now, that haven of chaos and delivery vans. I saw Ben gazing intently up ahead. Then he grinned, and said: "You know, sometimes God's a bitch - then sometimes she's pretty kind also, hey?" - and I recognised a familiar back window sticker, directly in front of us. Stationary, as it happened, brazenly blocking the single lane as the driver let passengers out.

Ben flashed a sideways glance at me, and said: "Sorry, hey, but I have to do this…". I saw he had engaged four-wheel drive, then we were gently nudging up to the taxi's back bumper. Ben stopped to let a large woman climb laboriously out, then before the next one could climb out, with the door still open, he oh-so-gently started moving forwards. I could see a commotion in the taxi, with the gardtjie leaning right out to see what was happening. Ben smoothly and gently accelerated, the big V8 going effortlessly up from a thud--thud--thud to a du-du-du, and finally the driver in front woke up and stamped on his brakes. All that happened was that his wheels locked, his tyres squealed, and he carried on going. The gardtjie was clinging on for dear life now, his eyes like saucers, as the driver frantically tried to get in gear to get away from us. Eventually he managed, and lurched forward - only to have to brake frantically to avoid hitting a large truck stopped at traffic lights up ahead. Ben stopped close to a car length behind the taxi - which seemed to empty as if by magic, as passengers poured out. Then the driver's door popped open and an enraged balding man emerged, holding what looked like a metre-length piece of two-centimetre iron pipe. He was advancing on us menacingly when Ben chuckled out loud, said "Shit, I love it when they do this", and gunned the pickup out and partly into the oncoming lane, forcing the taxi man to flatten himself against his vehicle - and continued on into the taxi's door, smashing it back with the bullbar so it pointed forward from the vehicle like a broken wing. I was looking out of my window at an equally dumbfounded taxi driver, iron bar down by his side, when the lights changed, and we moved off together with the truck in front. I heard one clang from somewhere behind as the taxi man finally got it together to use his weapon, then we were around the corner and the mess was well behind.

I discovered I wasn't breathing. As I rectified the situation, I heard Ben say: "Maybe that teaches him a lesson, hey?", and chuckle deeply. I could only concentrate on getting air. I was going to have to stop coming to work with this man, I could see that now.