Friday night I was lucky enough to get another chance to leave campus and hang out with friends. Keri fell ill, but her friend Ana invited me out for drinks. Ana wasn’t driving, so I had to deal with my first experience of taking a cab to get around.
A bit on the transportation situation in Jo’burg: Everyone who lives here and can afford a car has a car, as the city is quite spread out, and public transportation is basic and not well dispersed. There is a high speed train from Jo’burg to Pretoria, but that’s not useful to get around in town. The public bus system is ok and relatively safe, but it runs infrequently and is not well dispersed throughout the city. The form of semi-public transportation that a lot of the working class population use are minibuses. Minibuses are pretty crazy; the drivers generally are REALLY bad (most of the buses you see look like they’ve been rolled down the side of a hill), they drive anywhere and stop anywhere. Mostly they drive from the townships surrounding the city into the city and back, so it’s not useful to get around in the city. It’s actually interesting to see how the system works. There are different hand signals for different townships, so a bus will know to stop if they’re going where the passenger wants to go. They’re also pretty dangerous because of the bad driving, and also because there are different minibus companies that fight for territory, and so there are frequent armed fights that occur between the buses. So, that pretty much leaves cabs for me to get around when I don’t have a ride.
Cab services in Jo’burg have to be telephoned and scheduled, and on busy nights like Friday and Saturday you have to schedule them well ahead of time. Fortunately, Ana had the number for a cab service that caters specifically to women, with only women drivers, which was great. While taking a cab here is generally safe, there have been instances where male drivers assault female passengers, or give tourists the runaround if the cab isn’t metered. This cab company was useful, as they tell you ahead of time how much the cab will be, the cab driver has your phone number and you can stay in contact the entire time. My scheduling was a little tricky because I didn’t really prepare myself with the information I needed to schedule before calling the company, because sometimes I am dumb. Also making the transaction difficult was the man with the incredibly thick South African accent and the rather fuzzy phone connection.
Everything was fine as he was asking my name and mobile number, and I told him I needed to be picked up on the Wits campus. Then we hit our first road bump. “What street is your residence on?” Um….. I had no idea where I lived. I knew I was on campus, that’s about it. Of course in my panic I completely forgot about the campus map that I had in my bag, or the computer I had in front of me that would have solved all of our problems. Way to thrive under pressure, Lindsay. So the dispatcher says “Jorissen is the main street, ya?” Yes, yes, I knew that Jorissen was on the edge of campus and that sounds fine make it there, ignoring the fact that Jorissen was on the opposite side of campus and there was no way I was walking that far at 9:30 at night to find this cab. I was too flustered at this point to try and make it any better, however. Then the next problem arose. He asked what time I wanted the cab and I said “Sometime between 9 and 10…oh… 22 and 21,” remembering that 24 hour time is more common here than 12 hour time. He said ok and then we got off the phone and I had a bad feeling that something was not going to go right with this.
Sure enough, I got a text confirming my reservation about an hour later, and the time had been set for 22:21. I am an idiot. I was supposed to meet Ana at 9:30 at the bar, and now it looked like I wasn’t going to get there for an hour later. So I took a deep breath and dialed the company back, praying that I would get a different dispatcher. No such luck. “Oh, you’re the lady from Wits.” Yes sir, I’m the stupid American who can’t make a simple cab reservation, I understand. May I please change my pickup time to 21:30? “No, I’m sorry, we’re all booked until after 11, so I would just keep your scheduled time.” Fine. I let Ana know that I was going to be late and got on with my day.
I was dragging my feet getting ready when I got a phone call at 8:35. “Hi, this is your cab driver, you scheduled a pick up for 9?” I’m sorry, come again? I was so confused at this point, but 9 was way better than 10:21 so I just said yes, yes, come get me. Fortunately by this time I had located my map so I could direct the driver to me, while frantically trying to finish straightening my hair and throwing some makeup on. This also meant that I forgot to eat dinner, but the cab was here and I was on my way out the door.
To be continued…