Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

Taking Taxis Again

I thought I’d experienced the taxi buses of Johannesburg enough when I first moved here.  Lesson learned!  No need to endure that mode of travel ever again!

Wrong.

This week, I’m back to the taxi buses.  Probably next week too.  Maybe even indefinitely.

Why?

You guessed it.

My car broke.

Badly.

I’m trying to remain positive about it.  No one was hurt!  It could have been a major accident, but I didn’t even get whiplash!  Yay!

The story:

Last week it was hot and sunny all week.  On Friday, however, the rain finally hit.  It poured.  By evening the rain had stopped but the weather remained gray and overcast.

It was 11:30pm Friday night and I was on my way to a friend’s house.  Unfortunately, he lives at the north end of Joburg and I live in the middle, so it takes approximately half an hour to get to his place when there’s no traffic.

I had just left my place and was about 2km from my house, curving left along the bend of the on-ramp to the highway.  My windows were down (my defrost is terrible), my music was loud, and I was enjoying the empty streets.

All of sudden my car started turning sharply to the left and continued spinning.  The front smashed into the curb, slowing the vehicle down.  It stopped with its back bumper along the curb, perpendicular to the road, 270° from its initial position.

As it was spinning, I couldn’t figure out what was happening.  Had I hit an oil slick?  But then I would’ve continued forward, instead of dipping to the left.  Had my tire popped?  But I hadn’t heard anything.

After it came to a complete stop, I got out and looked at the damage.  Not too bad, considering what had just happened.  The front was pretty banged up, but it was already banged up when I got the vehicle.

A car stopped and the couple inside asked if they could help.

“Uh… let me call my friend… I have no idea what happened… all of sudden it started spinning… no I’m not hurt… thanks for stopping….”

I was barely coherent as I tried to piece together what had just happened.

Less than 5 minutes after the accident, a tow truck arrived and offered his services.

I called my friend, a Joburg local.  The conversation was not very helpful.

“Hey.  I don’t think I’m going to make it to your place tonight.  My car just self-destructed on the on-ramp to the M1.”

He told me he wasn’t surprised given the state of my vehicle and gave me a lecture that I was in a “dodgy” area and not to get a ride with a tow truck driver.

Me: “A couple people have stopped and offered to help.  Everyone’s been amazingly nice so far.  As for the tow truck, it’s almost midnight and this area is pretty dead.  I don’t think I have much choice.”

Him: “Seriously, Beth, these guys put nails on the road and wait for cars.  They’re not safe.  Don’t trust them.”

He was too drunk to come pick me up, though, plus he was half an hour away.

The tow truck driver lifted my car and towed it home for me.  On the way, he told me that he had been driving home from work in the other direction when he saw me standing beside my car, obviously in trouble:

“I decided to check on you.  If you’d been a man I wouldn’t have stopped.  But because you’re a lady, I couldn’t leave you stranded.”

“Thanks.”

As you can probably guess, the conversation made me feel super safe!

He got to my place and backed my car into my parking cage.

“How much?” I asked.

“1200 rand.”

“WHAT?!”

R1200 is about $140, almost half my month’s rent.  But I was still shaken and not in the mood to argue, even though he was charging me at least double what he should be.  Furthermore, I was extremely grateful that he’d arrived so soon afterwards.  I honestly don’t know what I would have done otherwise.

I gave him the money (barely had enough in my house) and asked for a receipt.

He didn’t have his receipt booklet with him.

“Can I please have your card then?”

Instead, he wrote down his name and number on a piece of paper.  He said that he’d bring me a receipt the next day.

I wrote down his company’s name as was painted on his tow truck and his license plate number.  I texted him so he had my number.  “So you’ll bring me a receipt tomorrow morning?”

“No.  I’ll call you tomorrow when I get off work,” he smiled.

Suddenly the rest of our conversation during the ride made sense (“Where were you going?  To your boyfriend’s?”): he was hitting on me.  He was hoping to get a date for Saturday night.

I wanted to yell, “MY CAR JUST BROKE!  DO YOU HONESLTY THINK I’M IN THE MOOD FOR THIS RIGHT NOW?”

But I kept it together.  I didn’t have the energy for a fight.

I never heard from him.  The next day I decided it wasn’t worth contacting him for the receipt.  It’s not like I’m going to get reimbursed for it anyways.

Like I said, I’m trying to remain positive about this whole thing.  Thank goodness it didn’t happen when I speeding along the highway!  Lucky it was so close to my house!  Fortunate that it didn’t happen in Hillbrow while I was trying to maneuver around a taxi bus – I probably would have smashed into at least a dozen pedestrians!

Furthermore, three Canadian interns just moved into a house up the road from me and they have a vehicle.  On Sunday morning they took me grocery shopping so that I won’t starve over the next few days.

They also provide amble distraction.  I slept over on Saturday night and we had a braai Sunday evening.  We’ve already started compiling a list of touristy things to do.  It feels great to have expat friends again.

Back to the car:

The worst case scenario is that the car is a write-off and I have to lease a vehicle for the next 5 months.  It’ll be expensive, but money is just money.

For me, the hardest part is waiting.  I want to know the verdict so I can make a plan.  Patience is not one of my strong points.

We got it assessed on Monday and the mechanic said it will be expensive to fix: the suspension is shot, one of the wheel axles is broken, and the sump was hit quite hard.  Plus the body work.  He told us that if we go through insurance, it’ll most likely be written off.  Or it’ll be very expensive to fix because the insurance company will require that everything damaged is completely replaced.

On the other hand, if the insurance company writes it off then they’ll give us the compensation money and we can buy back the car from them for next to nothing.  Then he can repair the damage instead of replacing it and it’ll be much cheaper.

The insurance procedures here don’t make any sense to me.  Big surprise!

Regardless of the outcome, however, I’ll be commuting via taxi buses for at least a week.  This will completely change my lifestyle: I can’t travel at night, I can’t go swimming, my 20 minute commute will now take at least an hour, etc.  At least the ultimate Frisbee field is close to where I live – close enough that I’m sure I can find rides.

I always thought if my beast of car broke, it would 100% my fault.  I thought most likely I’d hit a taxi bus on Claim Street in Hillbrow.  But, in reality, the car was a death trap waiting to spring! 

I’m not sure if that makes me feel better or worse.

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