I always enjoyed taking the bus. Two years ago, when I had given up on being manhandled by taxi gaatjies, I turned to the old (un)faithful Golden Arrow services which, though the waiting time was a little random and the bus terminus was a little rank, was a far more pleasurable and spacious experience if you took it at that magic hour (when the commuters are few but the buses still relatively frequent).
These days, I am both fortunate and unfortunate enough to be driving. Fortunate for obvious reasons (oh, the convenience, the safety) & unfortunate because I miss out on the social atmosphere, end up hurting the environment more, and get far too used to swearing than is good for me.
The bus had its staple characters. In my car, my only companion Kieno Kammies on the radio who I shout loudly at. I miss the chattering school kids and the friends on their way to work. I even miss the woman who every morning, without fail, would open & consume a bag of foul-smelling Cheesenaks at 7.30, followed up by a bag of Big Korn Bites and a stiff frown at anybody who dared look in her direction.
This morning I had my weekly commute through the Southern Suburbs in my trusty (haha, I kid) Renault Clio. While idling in traffic back in Claremont, I saw a pair of joggers – father & son (at least, I assumed they were father & son, but in truth, I only saw them from the back). Their muscles were pronounced & I immediately & self-consciously poked my soft belly which I was in the process of filling up with coffee from the beat-up thermal mug I take with me every morning. One cannot do without one’s morning caffeine. One just cannot.
It wasn’t until I hit Rondebsoch & saw the same pair of runners that I realised that sitting in a car in traffic like this was the most stupid thing I could possibly be doing at this very moment. The weather was divine (a light mist), the surroundings were picturesque (if you ignore the vomit-inducing ostentatious houses & the enormous cars which cost as much as most homes do). Sure, I was heading all the way to Woodstock, a fair distance from my house, & probably couldn’t run five meters without getting a stitch, but god damn, these guys were gunning it and beating me in my little French wagon by a rather large margin. I was also rapidly running out of coffee. I was starting to grump.
The only consolation I had was seeing how angry the other drivers were getting. There’s something darkly pleasurable about watching people get truly pissed off at nothing in particular. I mean, REALLY angry. Spit flying, veins popping sort of angry. A tall man, his happy yellow hair flopping out of his little window, was shouting incomprehensibly (and inaudibly, thanks to the roaring of the bakkie engine) at the driver of a cheeky little Champ bakkie in front of him. His face was red and swollen, and the bakkie driver hadn’t yet noticed how severely he tried to threaten her with his flashing lights and beeping horn. Eventually the traffic moved and the Champ lived up to its name and, having accidentally gone to the wrong lane, finally was able to move on, victorious. Or rather, oblivious. I’ve been that angry man. No more, I say, no more. Far better to sit back and watch the fury unfold if you don’t have the option of getting out of the traffic altogether like those damned joggers & cyclists with their healthy hearts and their irritatingly wholesome glow.
As I waited, a middle-aged man carrying a leather tog bag that I coveted walked by. He had the proportions of a boxer and, coupled with the 70’s era tog bag (you know the one, wedge-shaped with white leather trim and a brand label I can’t identify because it’s probably no longer in existence) & a damaged left eye, I imagined him easily knocking out all the honking drivers one at a time and then continuing his walk to work with a grin. But instead of the menace he could easily have exuded (and for sure, this would be the number one expression I would wear if I looked that impressive), he smiled at us sitting on our arses in our tin cans and walked his shiny head off to work. Or the gym. Or the pub, who knows. I like to give the people I speculate about good fake back stories.
And then, I see them. The bloody father & son pair. I’ve spent nearly an hour in my seat, patting myself on the back for every robot I manage to cross while a hair’s breadth from the car in front of me, and coolly jogging past me is the fit fucking man and his muscle-bound, raven-haired son. His long locks wave at me almost mockingly, and I turn the radio up as though it’ll drown out my inner voice telling me how much time I’m wasting sitting here. But the reception is bad (who in Cape Town gets good Cape Talk reception? Tell me! Asseblief) & I my thoughts take over. “Park the car. Take a walk. It’s not that far. These guys made it here in less time than you did.”
When they eventually turn a corner, I swear under my breath that they’re probably not looking forward to the long jog home, and I console myself with the fact that at the end of MY journey is a koeksister from the 100-year-old shop on Woodstock main road. The man who sells them to me might well be 100 years old as well and, come to think of it, so might the koeksisters, but it’s become a thing now, and they taste fantastic.
By the time I reach Woodstock, things are, as always, far more active. While I wait behind a large gas-truck and I listen and I look, people laugh and call out at each other in the street. Near the spice shop, a severely bearded man joked with a gangly marionette of a person who hopped across the street to get the last word in. He wears a ridiculous white hat and a ridiculous grin, and I can’t help but laugh, even though I’m not in on the joke. A woman who I’d seen trying to cross the street behind me is suddenly waiting at the bus stop a few meters ahead of my car, and I wonder if it’s a twin or voodoo, or just the motherfucking traffic having another laugh. The woman ignores me as I drive by, but I know dark magic when I see it.
I even see a friend jogging & think of running him over a little as a joke, but there are cars in my way, so I miss out. There’s always next Monday.
In all, I realised that, when I’m not cursing at the cut-ins, the taxis & the slow pace, a morning commute can be wonderful, if I just watch the movement beyond the car doors. I don’t quite get the vantage point I do in a bus, but it’s a start, and hopefully will lead to far fewer foul words in front of my partner & child, when I forget they’re in the car. But let me try this cycling thing and get back to you. I want to have that irritating glow to brag about too. I might even get a t-shirt that says, “So long, suckers!” at the traffic. No, this doesn’t sound wise. I won’t do that.
All this against the backdrop of the Liesbeeck River, Table Mountain & a dense & comforting grey mist which didn’t quite hide the blue sky which threatened to take over by noon.
There’s so much more to see, I know – this morning was a tame one. I’ve seen a couple break up & get back together on one bus trip, an old lady cuss out a dismayed gaatjie on a taxi, and small child lick the handrail on a MetroPlus carriage (I almost fainted). Now I think I’ll save up for a bicycle & see what happens then. Maybe I’ll find a new path or a new pair of joggers to envy. Maybe I’ll stop out of fear because I don’t actually know how to cycle properly yet. I really don’t want to get stuck sitting on my butt for an hour and a half just getting through the ‘burbs on a beautiful morning. It’d be cool to be one of the people the other commuters get to watch & say: “Damn, I wish I could be like that person”. Though I suppose it’s far more likely they’ll be saying, “What the fuck is that woman doing to that bike?”
If you see me wobbling around out there on two wheels one day, be nice please. You can laugh quietly in your car, but rather come join me outside so you can laugh right in my face.