I learned a few things about people, and about life, today. Pretty good things, too.
People: never take anyone at face value, not even taxi drivers.
Life: get on with it, boet, it could pass you by if you don't. And you'll never have anyone else to blame....
I met a most unusual taxi driver today. And a very unusual taxi, but we'll get to that. Taxi Steve, I call him - Steve Sivada; medium-sized, wiry, mixed-race guy from Zimbabwe; braided dreadlocks, and a most unusual personal history. Someone who could have termed himself - according to the (I kid you not) Zimbabwean Slang Dictionary - as a "Goffel owne, or coloured person".
But Steve doesn't appear to do that - term himself anything, I mean. He's got some very interesting similarities with Ben, and one most important one is that he is entirely a self-made man, complete within himself. And that makes him a unique human being, and not a label - and all the better for it. Oh, and incidentally just the most reliable taxi / shuttle driver I have ever met, with the most interesting vehicle.
But anyway, I get ahead of myself. Back to the beginning: this story involves, like most of the others, a taxi-killing episode. With me, riding with Ben, again - despite the fact that I'd promised myself I wouldn't, and his previous two stories notwithstanding. It's part of a long story, and one that will be written sometime, but the upshot was that I needed a lift out to a garage in Mowbray from Observatory during morning rush hour - and Ben was the only one I could find to take me. Actually, it was more like I was not allowed to ask anyone else once I had foolishly mentioned it to him, but that's by the way.
One of the best ways to get to Mowbray from Obs is to go counter to the traffic; so off we went in the classic tank, down Station Road to the Liesbeek Parkway, right down to Durban Road, and left into same. We got there briskly, with not much excitement, with a stream of cars from Pinelands - that sleepy village full of trees, elderly people, Mom taxi 4x4s (more on those sometime later), satellite dishes and barking dogs - coming the other way. And of course my car wasn't ready as they said it would be, and of course it would be ready "now-now" - which of course, does not mean "now", although it does imply a greater degree of immediacy than the standard fall-back of "just now". Which meant that I was now Ben's guest for longer than I had intended, and he wanted to go pick something up in Pinelands. This was still against the traffic - it involved pulling out of the garage onto Durban, then left at the lights into Raapenberg - so nothing could possibly happen involving taxis, could it?
Given the almost completely open single lane in front of us once we got there, that would have been a reasonable assumption. But it turns out that minibus taxis have a trick to beat the congestion on Raapenberg: they simply turn it into a two-lane one way, and speed past the crawling traffic in the opposite lane, right up to the traffic light. We had got maybe 40 metres down the road when we met the first: he was a mild offender; he had only just pulled out when he met us. "Bliksem!" growled Ben, as he stamped on the brakes. The guy was both lucky and quick: a space opened up on his left as he got to us, and he slipped in like lightning. I saw Ben's hand stray down to his knee as he was passing us at a crawl as we got started again - the compressed-air ram, I presumed - but the taxi was too far away. "Bastards!" muttered Ben as we got back up to speed. "Why don't the bloody cops just put a camera here, man - they'd make lank money!"
And of course, then we met one of the bolder operatives just 50 metres further on: this one looked to have come all the way from over the hill; there wasn't a break in the line of cars to his left as far as I could see. Seriously bold: he charged right up to us as we inevitably slowed again, then sat on his hooter and gesticulated to us to get out of the way. This one was also lucky, because as I could see the slow smile spreading on Ben's face that usually meant mayhem was close behind, and I thought oh, shit, it's near-death time again, the taxi spotted he could nip around us to the right, as we were stalled at a junction. I could see Ben's face darken as the taxi screeched past millimetres from the bodywork, and I prayed please, please let there not be another one....
There was. Close behind, but now we were abreast of a lamppost and there was no opening anywhere - and at least one car behind us, who had come in from the side road. As the taxi started hooting, and driver and gardtjie swore and gesticulated, I saw the evil grin creep back. Noooo, I thought, but the action was an anticlimax - at least at first. Ben just gently let the clutch out - I saw he was now in 4WD and low ratio - and nudged up against the taxi bullbar with his neoprene-coated railway sleeper bumper, and slowly started to push. I saw the taxi driver's eyes widen in disbelief as he started to move back, then there was a wild revving as he let his clutch out and tried to push back.
There was no discernible effect. The big V8 just steadily increased the tempo of the duh-duh-duh, the taxi moved backwards faster, amid clouds of smoke and the screaming of tyres spinning on tar. It got better - damn, I was starting to enjoy this shit! - when we crested the hill and saw another taxi screaming up in our lane. He took the only option left to him: he swung hard right, and mounted the pavement - quite wide there, going down to the lights - in a shower of bits falling off and being knocked off his vehicle, and front wheels pointing different ways. Then we were past him, with our taxi still going backwards but now without the wheel spinning - when Ben stopped. The taxi rolled on a little way, then stopped too. Ben made motions to the driver to pull up behind the other taxi - which after a long, long moment, where I started to wonder whether the AK47s were going to come out, and after a sudden blip of a cop car siren - one of Ben's latest fittings, I remembered - he did, to the accompaniment of shuddering and much clanking. Ben grunted in a pleased tone. "Hear that? His gearbox is fucked. Shouldn't try to run forwards when you're going back, hey?"
He even waved to the stunned passengers as they started to clamber out of the two now obviously doomed taxis - "Shame, hey, they just trying to get to work - but they must choose better drivers next time!" - as we moved off down to the traffic lights under the M5 flyover bridge. And see these guys - he gestured to taxis who had stuck with the clogged lane - they'll get the business now, and maybe learn a lesson too, hey?"
"No, that was fun, hey?" he enthused as we stopped at the light. "No gunfire, no casualties, two fucked taxis - I must come this way again!" I must have rolled my eyes, because he gave me a hurt look. "What?! You getting like my chick, man!"
I was trying to come up with something to counter that when we became involved in another of the taxi tricks used on that stretch of road. I had noticed that the opposing single lane that becomes Raapenberg on our side of the lights, coming from Pinelands, was actually a merged lane from the two-lane divided road on the other side - or three lanes if you were a taxi, as I could see at least two trying to force their way in up at the head of the road, where the off-ramp up to the M5 was. And apparently the trick was to force in, cut across the two merging lanes, and U-turn in the face of oncoming traffic, and roar off back towards Pinelands - all just to miss out a few hundred metres of the bumper-to-bumper traffic on the N2, which was nearby.
Except the oncoming traffic was us. The lights changed to green. I closed my eyes. There was revving. There was hooting and screaming, then a thud. The big bakkie swayed. There was a louder clang, and a sound that could only be side of a taxi being ripped off. We continued a while, then came to a halt. Without opening my eyes, I said "You saw him cutting across, you aimed at him, and you drove him into the traffic lights - am I right?" I heard the start of a reply, and I held up my hand. "And then you ripped the side of his taxi with the ram, just for fun - right?" I opened my eyes. Pretty much exactly as I thought - and Ben had considerately done it in the centre of the now two-lane road, so traffic could get past, with the taxi stranded astride the centre island. Hard up against the traffic light. Ben smiled again as he gunned the big bakkie partway onto the left-hand pavement to allow cars through. He was nothing if not meticulous after being involved in "accidents" - hell, he even used Google Earth to draw up accident reports now, thanks to me - and something like this usually requires that you wait where the shit happened.
"Ja" he said. "But you should have looked, boet - you missed me getting my bullbar hooked behind his so he was pulled forward; no way he was getting away!" He gestured with his hand: "And I ran him straight on into the traffic light, not too fast...." He stiffened suddenly, all attention on the extra size rear-view mirror. I turned around to look - and saw what had to be the most eclectic minibus taxi on this planet pulling up behind us. And that was before I had seen inside. The thing was truly DayGlo; truly Technicolor: multiple garish colours; more tape and body filler than any five cars should see; and an external roll cage and bullbars - and the piece de résistance, two multicolour surfboards on a roof rack, with big bolts holding them on. I was more than a bit alarmed now: just because we had missed out on the AKs up till now, didn't mean they weren't going to start being pulled out - and this guy obviously thought he was a pirate or something.
Things didn't improve as the driver leapt out and walked briskly up to us - on my side of the bakkie. Interesting face: not typical of Cape Town; long hair braided tightly - and a tyre iron in one hand. He rapped briskly on my window, and I was actually cringing away - when Ben leaned across me and opened the door! I skated further back with a vengeance now, thinking OK, blood will flow, let it not be mine.
And our taxi worthy clapped his hand into Ben's outstretched right, and said in a pleasant high-pitched voice "It's craaaazee, hey Ben?" Ben smiled back, and actually changed places with me. "Ja, Steve, so how's it going? The - whatchamacallit dingus of yours, Magic Bus? - it's fine now?" What was obviously Steve smiled back and gestured towards the truly fantastic, if not obviously magical vehicle behind us. With the tyre iron, causing me to cringe again. "Yah, the Boogie Bus - it's crazy, man! Going fine now! And look, I got your tyre iron right here - you want it?" And I began to understand that a) these two knew each other; b) Ben had actually lent him the chunk of iron; c) that Steve wasn't your average taxi driver.
For one thing, he had only a couple of passengers, and no obvious gardtjie. For another - I looked harder to be sure - they looked like German or Scandinavian women; all blondish, plumpish and red-faced from too much solar relief of seasonal affective disorder. For a third - he wasn't from Cape Town, and not obviously from anywhere in South Africa, except maybe Durban: the accent was definitely not a Sow Theffrican sing-song, and was hauntingly familiar from somewhere.
Steve was gesturing back down the road. "That your mess, Ben?" The worthy nodded. Steve looked at him sternly. "Shame, man! You might have hurt a passenger! What happens when an old lady falls off her seat when it crashes, hey!? And the others back there??" Give him credit, Ben actually looked penitent. He started saying "Ja, Steve, but you know...they just musn't do that shit in front of me, man...", when there was a distant bang, then another, followed by something going spaa-aa-aang off the bodywork of the bakkie. We all looked back: a group had gathered around the beached taxi - and there was a suspicious long thing being pointed at us.... "Jesus! Guns!" said Ben, as Steve ducked away back to his bus and his blondes, and suddenly Ben had magicked his way past me on the seat, started the motor and gunned the bakkie back onto the road and away. I noted he was hunched down low, almost lying sideways. "Hey, Ben: I thought this thing was bulletproof??" "Ja, boet - from the front and from the side, hey?" came the reply. "Not from the back...!" I suddenly found that you can get a whole largish adult man down quite comfortably into the footspace on the passenger side of a 1956 4x4 Ford bakkie.
And it transpired that Ben had rescued Steve once out on the N2, when he saw a bunch of taxis descending on the crippled Boogie Bus on the side of the highway, had helped fight them off - they thought he was trying to steal a route form them - and they had hit it off quite well. Steve had his own stories to tell about taxis - and other road users - and I shall get to some of them in due course. And he was Zimbabwean, but had been in Cape Town for years - which explained the accent; I had heard people speak just like him in Harare when I was at school there briefly. And the Boogie Bus was not a taxi: he did contract trips and shuttle services for organisations and select individuals - like the Nordic group he had with him then. But I'll tell you about the inside another time. For now, ponder these lessons:
you can find jewels anywhere, even in a taxi; and -
enjoy life; it could end anytime.
And armour your rear window....
PS: Steve Sivada is real. Click on the teaser above..... And you can enjoy his transport by contacting him on 082 495 5698 or via email@example.com