Uber Tales 17

I sit under the patchy shade of a withaak in an otherwise shadeless carpark outside the lion park on a Sunday, reading Herman Charles Bosman’s Ramoutsa Road when I think.

“You must never worry about money,” I want to tell Loandi of Cortina Whiplash fame when I see her standing in front of the Spar in Melville, but I don’t get to. She’s visibly agitated and when I ask her why, she tells me she she’s worried about shit and mostly money. I don’t tell her about my newly formed ideas about money and not worrying about it. You must not worry about money. At least not when you have two paid-for grocery bags at your feet, is one of them.

I get a call and speed off, being mostly worried about money.

To once more explore the delicious darknesses inside a woman, isn’t what I think of under the withaak in that carpark. I think it some other time and think it’s weird to think it at that specific time. I think it all the same and smile. I sigh.

I see Loandi a week later at the Xai. She’s in high spirits. She has just returned from a gig in Luanda for which she was paid “big”. I tell her what I wanted to tell her at the Spar and she agrees that one shouldn’t worry about money.

I think of my computer not working and the thoughts going unwritten in the shade of that withaak or here, somewhere else. They go stale here from the time I think them to now, but that’s not weird. Under the withaak I think people are weird, especially when it comes to the usage of my time.

They’re quick to flag me for ‘late arrival, missed ETA’, but have no qualms making me wait 10 minutes outside their doors. I sigh. The Frenchman who hijacked Doni’s trip at the Rosebank Mall is paying me to wait under that withaak. He said he’d be away one hour. I see him again three hours later.

What is slightly weird is when I get a call from one Rani in Melrose Arch. I pick her up and she says we must just wait for a guy who is smoking a smoke. The guy turns out to be my friend Clive. That’s weird in a wonderful way. I tell Clive he can smoke in my car, because I do. They’re on an ‘#AfricaSuccess’ mission and Rani asks me to stop the meter while waiting for them. I find this weird since Barclays is paying for the trip. “It’s only about a 20-minute wait,” Rani tells me. I see her and Clive again an hour later. Long 20 minutes, I think, but it’s a good trip and Rani says she’ll buy me lunch.
 4-chuckv-changing-lives-with-chuckv

This is weird because most Uber passengers turn weird when they see you outside your natural habitat (your car) where you had a pleasant conversation. It is as if they think you’re stalking them. I’ve made the mistake of going to the same restaurant as passengers, not with them, but just because I’m hungry. Their features turn stony, their eyes widen as they try not to see you. It’s as if they’re thinking that I’m there to kill them for giving me a poor rating. It’s weird, I tell you.

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Weird…

What is weirder to me is that my Uber rating keeps on falling despite the fact that my 5-Star ratings keep on climbing. Cleanliness seems to be an issue. Weird that. I almost always shake out the carpets after each trip. I also have the car washed and vacuumed at least once a week.

Another weird thing is the number of unlikely ‘doubles’ I score. I’ve written extensively about my knack for picking up the same person twice in the most unlikely places weeks apart. The weirdest was one Jean whom I picked up at Rosebank Gautrain (nothing weird about that), but when I picked him up again at his home in Pretoria it was weird, also in a good sense. Just try and work out the odds? The mind boggles.

Weirder is double happenings. Take my two bumps in two days after an almost bump-free life. That was weird in a shit sense and I don’t want a repeat of that. It wiped out my cash-flow so completely that I’m reduced to eating garage sandwiches for my sins. This very morning somebody at the Rosebank Gautrain Station asked me if I could help him with jumper leads (thanks for them, Mon Ange, they’ve got me out of two tight spots already when my battery ran down). I help the man and two trips later in Sandringham, a lady passenger asks me for the same service. Sandringham is weird on its own in ways that are beyond me. Anyway, I pick up my first ever Fin ever and the second one the same day. As you know, Fins are spread thinly, even in Finland.

But back to my falling rating. That is weird, for I do the exact same thing for every passenger I get and most people love my work. I get more 5-Star ratings than people who are much better rated. My friend Jan, who is good at that kind of thing, does the math: Out of 1200 rated trips 1006 people gave me 5 stars and then the picture becomes clearer. People (180), who don’t give me 5 stars, actually give me 3 stars and … and fewer! To the 14 people who gave me a 1-Star rating: You’re Uber weird, I think. The problem with the lower rating is that it affects my earning capacity and that makes me worry about money even though I know I shouldn’t.

Then I spend a day in Pretoria. My rating drops dramatically as further proof that Pretoria can’t stand my guts. I get flagged in every category from late arrival to dangerous driving (dangerous driving!) to service (service!) and cleanliness despite the fact that I’ve stopped smoking in my car. Then I think: The people of Pretoria are Uber fucking weird.

PS: I don’t know about this piece. I think it came out weird.    

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Chuckv

November 6th

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Uber Tales (16)

My Uber Holiday

I stand on my stoep waiting for Sunday’s half Panini to reheat. I’m at a loose end as to what to do. Should I shit in my one hand or want in the other and see which fills up first? I cannot decide. Uber has deactivated my account for want of the uploading of a document. I shit you not. This is a double system failure. I can’t upload it from my side and despite their assurances that they would do it, they disconnect me on a Sunday of all days. Sundays are my favourites for ubering.

My phone rings, so I go to Smithfield. I forget the half Panini, which my newfound old friend Luke bought me on the Uberless Sunday. The Panini has nothing to do with this story. I just want to thank Luke and his lovely wife Carinda for making my uber broken Sunday sweet. “I shall not panic about my Uber disconnection, but rather declare this to be a holiday with you,” I tell them.

So I go to Smithfield. I don’t go to Smithfield, I race there with a certain grimness of aspect. The road is straight as an arrow and I shoot down it at 160. I don’t usually do this, race to a place at 160. I don’t usually go to Smithfield either, but these are strange times and I want to reach Smithfield before nightfall.

I race to Smithfield at the behest of my friend Heidi. She wants to know whether Smithfield is a happening town or just another dump dying on the northern edge of the Karoo. I want to know this too. One can’t know enough.

smithfield

There are certain scientific criteria to determine whether a Karoo or any other rural town in South Africa is a dying dump or happening. As it happens, I am the one who established the scientific method to make such judgments. One cannot afford to be subjective. I reach Smithfield just before nightfall and start applying my method. Is there an open bar? Is anything apart from the filling station open on a Monday night? Is there a panelbeater?

Smithfield succeeds on the first score and I settle down in Buckley’s. Things are looking good, but the acid test is yet to come. “Is there a gay couple in Smithfield,” I enquire of the owner of Buckley’s, Martin. “There are three and then me,” he says gaily. However, there’s no panelbeater, but that’s okay. So that settles it: Smithfield is happening.

Other observations bear this out. There are no palisades around the church. Martin tells me that Buckley’s isn’t the only place open on a Monday night, there are two more. That’s really something. I’m also not the only customer in Buckley’s on a Monday night. The food is good. The town is neat and clean and devoid of tatty traders from places as far afield as Thailand or Timbuktu. There’s a golf course! How much more happening do you need?

I file my report to Heidi: Smithfield is happening.

Then I leave Buckley’s and go and sit on the stoep of the house Heidi is thinking of buying. The silence is so sweet you can meet the stars. You can see them personally. They stare down on you from blue times forgotten, says the lone cricket in their light while the drought dries your thoughts into thinking.

I leave Smithfield slowly and smile. My phone rings, so I go to Clarens. I find a panelbeater in Bethlehem and extend my holiday in the company of Danie and Marietjie in Clarens. Someone spots me in Bethlehem and informs my cousin Francois in Reitz. My phone rings so I’ll go to Reitz next. I think.

 

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Chuckv

October 5th

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Uber Tales (15)

Uber So

So, I cruise down Seam Street in Sunninghill or Sandringham looking for a solid shady spot in a silent side-street to sit in when I notice that there are no side-streets anymore. Then a thought occurs to me. It isn’t much of a thought, but still here it is. I’m slightly startled to think that all side-streets have been usurped by the uninviting gates of security complexes.

It isn’t simply the lack of shady spots and side-streets that so upset me, it is also my sadly sagging ratings that sours my day. What do some people want? Sure, I can see some reason to complain about my navigational skills or lack thereof. I suck at it. I often take left to mean right and vice versa, I’m ashamed to say, but so it is. However, if you complain about my super smooth and distinctly Parisian style of driving, saying it is dangerous and my distinctly non-Parisian style of service, saying it’s not there, I’m seriously concerned about your sense of self and of humanity. I want to call you a so-and-so, but I shan’t.

So, Uber drivers are human too. They also have worries and concerns and the traffic is the least of them. Once again I have to say the rating is seriously serious. Think twice before you give less (I know it’s a solecism) than 5-stars.

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Dangerous driver? Methinks not.

I can also give you as passenger some pointers to improve your rating. First of all, be easy to find. If you sitting in a security complex where they consider taking DNA samples of anybody who isn’t a resident communicate with the gate and don’t make me phone to find your unit number. That gets you a two. Secondly, don’t slam my door and so I can go on, but I won’t lest I sound hissy.

With that off my breast, let me keep you abreast of my plans. My Facebook page UberchuckV is making great strides to greatness. It now stands at almost 2600 likes, not bad after two months, but soon it will soar, methinks. The plan is to allow my passengers to live-stream their trips back to the page and tell their several thousand friends they’re doing so when they’re doing so. I’m sure you can see how the selfie generation will suck that up.

Step two of the plan is to seek some form of sponsorship, a car or something. Say what? Yes, an automatic car, no less. See? I won’t repeat the sorry story of my sore feet, save to say they’re still sore and the situation increasingly sucks as I now start my days with sore feet. Say what you want, I think my plan is superb.

So, I’m sitting in a shady spot in a silent side-street somewhere thinking of the girl who is no longer speaking to me and whose name doesn’t start with an ‘S’. She said: “So Chuck?” I say sorry. I sayIt’s such a pity her name doesn’t start with an ‘S’ and so I conclude this missive.

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Chuckv

September 27th

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Uber Tales (14)

Uber Zen Branding

“I also didn’t know I had problems until Sunday morning in Kempton Park,” I reply to Petro. “That’s a beautiful opening line for a novel,” her friend Steven says. “I don’t write novels. I’m into short form,” I say.

The day is cold and overcast. It’s blustery too. A harbinger of rain? I hope. Who knows? Good weather for ubering, but my car is having its panels beaten. “How long before ‘uber’ becomes a regular English verb?” I wonder. “To uber, or not to uber? Is that the question?” I wonder.

I look at the car after its first day at the panel beater. “It’s a work in progress,” Koen, the panel beater says somewhat apologetically. I decide not to uber. The car looks like something patched together in a backyard in Bosmont.

“I’m spending money I’m not earning, but I decided that it would be bad for my brand to pick up people in that.” “Bravo,” says Steve, the lecturer in brands. “Why didn’t you let the insurance take care of that?” Petro asks. “I had passengers to take care of first and besides, I’m new to the whole insurance and financed car thing. I also vastly underestimated the cost of panel beating.” “At your age? That’s quite something.” “Should I be proud or ashamed?” I wonder.

Sir Eric comes along and we go through our little ritual. “King Chuck.” He bows an elaborate bow. “Greetings, Sir Eric, I trust calm has been restored to the provinces?” With a raised eyebrow, I shoot him a quizzical glance. “For the time being, My King.” “Then hasten back there and see that it stays so before we need to strike another blow.” “That is my current errand, My King,” Sir Eric blows off.

Chuck in Car

UberchuckV: The Brand

“Everything is so fucking banal. Banal, banal! Thank you for existing,” says Petro. Best compliment ever. She kisses me. “I should trim my mustache,” I think.

I’m slightly (and even pleasantly) alarmed at my Zen-like calm in the face of what would’ve been a calamity a mere couple of weeks ago. Now, I know how things will go. They will be touch and go, I know. I let Petro go. I know she wants me to buy her airtime, for her feet. I know, but I let her go.

With my car being there and me being here, I give my feet a rest on the cold tile floor. They love it. I tile my world with words. Sometimes clean, sometimes broken, sometimes mosaic. Like me now.

I take a bottle of wine home and think of my brand. I’m slightly (and even pleasantly) alarmed to think that I have a brand. Be sure to know that I do not consider myself to be a brand. My brand is UberChuckV and UberChuckV is not me. He is that polite, almost obsequious, guy who drives your Uber car. I’m not that guy. You know.

But back to the business of Kempton Park on Sunday and the stupid guy hooking my passenger door with his by opening it wide without looking. That was a problem, but I had passengers aboard and getting my guests to their destination safely is my priority. I also vastly underestimated the cost of panel beating.

The R3500 little bumper rub with the Gautrain bus in Sandton compounded the problem. It was unsightly. Unsightly is bad for my brand. My panel beater assures me my car will look brand new once he is done. So, the problem is no more and the only thing missing is money. My month-end will be a bit of a battle. Kinda touch and go, you know. “Life is a battle and you better be in it. The rest is just the rest,” I tell Petro, who exhorts me to see things from a brand new perspective.

Thus, and I say this with deep regret, to all my longsuffering creditors, you’re back to the back of the queue. I argue, briefly, by email, with Uber and Facebook about my brand. It is now UberchuckV. Stay calm and know it.

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Chuckv

September 15th

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Uber Tales (13)

That Uber Sensation

It’s a river, you’ll see. With 250m to go I’d much rather have a red robot than a green one ahead of me. The red one puts me in control. The green controls me. With the red, I can slow down to a crawl and eventually catch it green. The green puts its attendant beggar in charge by turning orange at 50m. The Beggar and I. I keep my eyes away.

To maintain a pleasant temperature in my car and keep the general aroma fresh and not overpowering ‘car freshener’, I drive with my windows open. The beggar sees this as an invitation to an audience with me about two bucks and bread. No amount of staring in the middle distance slightly to the left will deter him. He goes on about the bucks and the bread until I roll up the window and feel bad about it. It’s like slamming a door in somebody’s face. It’s not nice and I try, mostly, to be nice. The world is a much better place when people are nice, but I digress.

The beggars at every traffic light bug me and as with most other things that bug me, I develop a strategy to avoid them. This proves to be quite easy to put into practice. Simply never stop at a red light. I clearly don’t mean that one should jump them, I mean try and avoid coming to a complete standstill. Do not rush a red robot. It is a silly strategy. What do you want to achieve? Spending quality time with a beggar talking about two bucks and bread?

I explain my strategy, which also involves stopping two car-lengths behind the car in front of me wherever possible, to two businessmen who query me about the matter. For good measure I point out that in our smash-‘n-grab society it’s best to leave yourself some room for maneuver. The two car-lengths are really part of the beggar avoidance strategy. The beggar knows I’ll roll forward as soon as he reaches my window. This makes him hesitate just long enough for the light to turn green. I briefly feel bad about impeding his possible revenue stream from the cars behind me, but only briefly.

The businessmen are excited about my strategy. They say they’ve just discussed something similar that very morning. It is apparently a traffic technique developed in Mumbai by someone called Funck and it has applications in business. I just have time to point out that great minds Funck alike when the one businessman takes a serious business call. I switch off the radio and listen to the usual talk about strategies and buy-ins and revenue streams and such. I want to learn more about Funck or Foenck or Fuckit, no amount of Googling will reveal anything about that technique and the businessman left my car while still on the phone before I could even ask him to like my Facebook page ‘Uber ChuckV’.

While I’m on that subject, please like Uber ChuckV. I have a plan with that too. As you know by now, I really love what I’m doing, except for one aspect. My feet are killing me from braking and clutching and maybe I’m clutching at straws, but if I get enough ‘likes’ on Uber ChuckV I may just get some form of sponsorship for an automatic car. It’s a long shot, but I’m good at long shots. So please get your friends and their friends to also like Uber ChuckV … pretty please. Okay fuckit! Just do it.

Now, I often think of Mark Twain while driving. I especially think of his descriptions of his time as trainee steamboat captain on the Mississippi. One of the veteran captains told him he must ‘know’ the river as one ‘knows’ where the furniture in one’s house is in the dark, even if the river often changes course. The more I drive, the more I ‘know’ the river of traffic. I can almost foretell that the guy on the delivery bike is going to swerve in front of me, or that a specific truck is going to break down in the middle lane of a busy road just after I’ve passed it. It’s a skill.

With Jessica, my trusty GPS and wife (she gives me direction in life), I mostly successfully avoid heavy traffic and flow freely over hills and through vales and that’s when I get that Uber sensation: The singularly sweet, semi-orgasmic, sensation of soaring when coming over a rise.

 

 

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Chuckv

September 7th

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Uber Tales (12)

Uber Coincidences

I pick up Nandi from Walton Avenue in Auckland Park and drive her to 410 Jan Smuts. She’s nervous, she tells me, because she’s going to the first day of an internship. Five weeks and about 410 trips later, I pick up Nandi again from 410 Jan Smuts after the last day of her internship. You may not think that’s worth writing home about, but consider the magnitude of the coincidence.

Many, if not all, of my Uber guests ask me how they can get me as their driver again. I have to tell them that it is impossible. It’s part of the charm and excitement of my ‘job’. I do not know where I’ll go next and with whom. I’m also constantly delighted by the little random coincidences filling my days. The doubles, like Nandi, are one of these.

Nandi’s case is interesting for the first and last days of her internship, but seeing that her pickup and drop-off points were the same and vice versa, perhaps not so much. Still the double of Angie’s elderly father, Tony, who has to go for dialysis at the Linksfield Medical Centre on a weekly basis is worth a mention. I pick him up in Norwood and take him to Linksfield.

Simple enough, but I still have to be the closest, highest rated Uber to him at the very moment when Angie hits the ‘Request UberX’ button. Long odds, yes? (For some reason my heart always skips a beat when an Angie calls me and I’m always a little disappointed to get a Tony.) Tony is Italian and the cold of Joburg gets into his kidneys. I close the windows and sweat the trip out with the aircon on full blast.

Nandi

Nandi, who inspired this story and who had her birthday yesterday (26/0816).

Happy birthday Nandi!

When I mention the case of Nandi, my friend Kevin, who is that way inclined, finds a thread discussing the very odds of getting the same passenger twice on some international Uber forum. It would appear that the odds are very long indeed. One guy on the forum mentioned that he has picked up the same people twice in the neighbourhood where he begins his day. That shortens the odds considerably, but still. It has happened to me in Melville twice too now with Steven and Ruhan.

I like to think that I know many people in Melville, but so far I’ve only managed to pick up two friends and five acquaintances, and none in Melville. The friends were Adi in Braamfontein and Kutlwano in Melrose Arch.

Clearly if you’re going to be in the same spot a lot, like I am at the Rosebank Gautrain Station, your chances of picking up daily commuters Albert and Ruan for the Vox Telecoms run or Anette for the Wanderers Office Park more than once if you’re there at the right hour are good, but how about Sandra who comes in at various hours and goes to various destinations? I’ve had her thrice.

Now consider the case of Collins. I first picked up Collins at the Spar in Fairlands, he tells me. I can’t remember where I dropped him off, but many days later, I pick him up again from the Multichoice customer care centre on Oak Street in Ferndale. Fairlands and Ferndale are worlds apart. Now that’s something, you’ll agree.

Then there’s Thomas. At first glance, Thomas takes the cake. Thomas takes the cake, not because I picked him up once in Sandton and dropped him off in Bramley or that I picked him up in Bramley and dropped him off in Rosebank, but because I pick him up the second time while writing this story. Then I remember that I also picked up Tony and Collins while thinking about writing this story. So it’s really no big deal.

Okay, I forgot about James who lost his leg in a bike accident, but he lives in my neighbourhood, so he doesn’t really count. Etu and Christian who were almost back to back doubles in Kempton Park yesterday were too late to be included in the story.

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Chuckv

August 27th

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Uber Tales (11)

An Uber Tale

The sequence of events that lead to the event needs careful scrutiny. It would be fair to say that it didn’t start with Monica, whom I took from 5th Avenue, Sandton to Ernest Oppenheimer Road in Bruma. If one was of an unimaginative narrative, one could be tempted to say: “Monica took me there and that was why I was there at that specific spot at that specific time, all of which made me part of the event.” The reality here is that I took Monica to her destination as paying guest and that is how I landed up there.

It could easily enough have been Monica herself, except it that she was fat and ugly, so that was never going to work in the end to begin with. It could easily have turned out differently in so many ways, which I do not wish to contemplate now. It is difficult enough to just deal with the bare facts available to me. Suffice it to say that nothing about the event or what lead to it is clear by virtue of it having happened.

One may argue that it really began when I started Ubering three months before it happened. That argument would be convincing in so far as nothing of this would have transpired if I didn’t Uber, end of story.

Let’s rather look at the events that brought me to the shady spot on Cooper Street, Cyrildene at 12:17 on Saturday 18 August 2016, my birthday. Here we have to go back to Andrew, whom I dropped off at the Audi dealership on Ernest Oppenheimer Road in Bruma, two days before.

Andrew, from Oxford Road, Illovo, was agitated in a sort of druggy ‘coming down’ kind of a way. You know what I mean: Sudden, unnecessary movements of the shoulders and hands to signal watery blue eyes. Andrew loves my ‘Welcoming Song’ and the Classic FM (102.7) music I play afterwards. It is ‘way cool’, he says.

He is on his way to buy a new car and nervous about best routes and bucks. One can understand that. Alas, Andrew is not germane to the story apart from the shady spot on Cooper St, just before it becomes Frederick, or is it Friedland, which I would not have found without him. The shady spot sits on a triangular circle, for want of better words, on Cooper St. I can’t tell, but the road splits and wends its way down over Sylvia Pass after turning left on Grace Road. Be sure to turn left onto Grace Road. Going right will take you nowhere there.

When I drop Andrew off, I’m in two minds about staying or moving so I wait my customary 15 minutes and move back in the direction of Rosebank Gautrain Station. Going back, uphill now, up Friedland or Frederick? I dread the dead kilometres I’m driving and more so when they’re uphill. “Freewheeling is much the same as sitting still but with more range,” I tell myself. Then I see the shady spot on the triangular circle on Cooper. I park there to see what gives.

Here, I’m tempted not to even mention the call from Bongani, taking me for a three-minute trip through the McDonald’s drive-thru on Marcia St after a seven-minute sit in that shady spot. However, it’s all in the timing and Bongani’s call puts me right back in that shady spot to get a call from Colleen on Louise St, just up the road.

I don’t know it yet, but the event is coming.

Colleen takes me to Kensington. In Kensington I can’t remember on which street I sat because I had hardly sat when Siyabonga calls me to take her to, you’ve guessed it, Ernest Oppenheimer. You’re beginning to get the picture. Does fate play an active hand? Does fate even have a hand? I doubt it, but this is uncanny. I’ve landed up successively in the same street thrice before, the curious case of the short and non-descript Connaught Ave in Sandringham, but you’ll remember naught happened there three times in a row. This is different.

Apart from the shade, I’m drawn to that specific spot on Cooper because from there I can go in directly into three different directions. Jessica, my beloved GPS and ‘wife’ does not do U-turns. This has led vicious arguments between us in the past. I don’t mind so much when she takes me on roundabout ways to avoid a U-turn when I’m just driving slowly in the direction of Rosebank, my ‘operational base’ if you want, but when I’m on dispatch or when I’ve already picked up a guest and instead of a suggesting a simple U-turn, she takes me on a kilometre-long detour to achieve the same result, I find it extremely embarrassing. On dispatch I want to get to my guest as soon as possible and on a trip I want to get the person to the set destination as quickly and efficiently as possible. That is my service ethos, but I digress.

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I have to pick up Louise in Louise Street behind me, I know now. Even Jessica does a semi U-turn around the triangular circle and up we go, direction Sylvia Pass, past the Sunday marketplace, onto Grace and then Louise to pick up Louise, who only wants to go to Hope Street across the ridge.

These short trips are killing me. My feet hurt and I cannot think straight about fate and her hands blinding me to something I must somehow see. The ‘Welcoming Song’ has now become an earworm.

Oh fuck! I almost forgot about Fatima, also from Louise Street. Fast and flirtatious Fatima reminds me stereotypes in your own little mind are no good when doing Uber pickups. Fatima just wants to pick up some Chinese sweet & sour pork feng-shui or something from the first right from Friedland?

Then Louise calls and when I drop her in Hope Street in front of a high forbidding gate, I park in a shady spot nearby, glad to be over the ridge. “I’ll just spend another 15 minutes here,” I tell Myself, “and then call it a day and go home.” “Why don’t we just call it a day now? We’ve made target and my feet are sore.” “It’s too early. It’s only 4:53pm. Let’s wait seven minutes and perhaps take one more trip.”

I get a call at 5pm. It is from one Thabang on Hope. Hope is a one-way street. No U-turns then. I follow Jessica’s instructions and land where I’ve dropped Louise. I wait in front of the forbidding gate.

It is Louise who comes out. I look at her quizzically when she gets in. This time on the front passenger seat. Her short skirt is torn, her blouse is pulled askew. There are red marks on her wrists. “My phone died. I got the gardener to order you on his Uber account. It’s a cash trip, so I’ll pay.” “Where are we going?” “I don’t know. Just drive me away from here to someplace nice. And play your ‘welcoming song’ again. The one that says: “drink deeply from the cups of love and life’. Then it happens.

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Chuckv

August 23rd

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Uber Tales (10)

Uber Memories

“It’s not necessarily good for the car to pull off in second gear,” my father tells my brother Noddy when the latter, a learner driver, pulls off in second gear at the corner of Cordonia and Cunningham Avenues with the OK Bazaar to the left and the Mobil (now Engen) Garage to the right in Die Moot, Pretoria, 1978. My father is a good teacher. He never gets around to teaching me to drive.

“Take your foot off the clutch! Take your foot off the clutch!” Auntie Joyce shouts hysterically at me as wannabe learner driver. I take my foot off the clutch, my body out of the car and myself out of her house. There’s no way she’s going to teach me to drive with that attitude. I’d rather walk and live in a tent.

“Would you please go and buy milk,” my aunt Willemien asks me. “Sure, I’ll quickly walk to the shops,” I say, always eager to please. “Don’t be silly, take the car.” I take my uncle’s brand new Audi and when I come back, I can finally drive, badly, but without scratching the gears (scratch around, they’re all in the same box, said Miss Gill, my adoptive mother for my matric year) and stalling the car at every stop while, or before, pulling off in second gear.

I drive. I drive a spanking new, shiny red fire engine. I drive it through dusty roads to extinguish wild raging veldfires in the Great Karoo with our powerful hose. When we’re both suitably covered in dust and soot, I wash it and park it on my bedside table. I wake up and reach for the machine of my dreams. It isn’t there. It’s not even under my wet bed. The heroic three-year old firefighter starts to cry. His mother asks why. “My red fire engine is gone.”

Red Fire EngineA dream of 1966

 

I drive. I drive without a licence from when I went shopping for milk, aged 18, until I finally get my driving licence, aged 32. This includes four years in Paris. In Paris I drive mostly drunk. Horses for courses.

I make one minor accident, stone cold sober. I want to nip into the bus lane behind the bus. Diplomats may not, but do. Who is going to stop them? I see the end of the bus and nip. It’s the #80 SuperBus. The end is the concertina in the middle. There’s a whole ‘nother bus to follow. I nip into it. I nip. I don’t have a licence and a piece of my bumper. The bus driver gets out and looks at the scuffmark on his bus. The passengers crane their necks above the farts in their overcoats. The bus driver shrugs. The passengers shrug. I shrug. I nip in behind the bus. This time, the second and real end.

“I cut my driving teeth in Paris,” I tell my Uber guests as I nose, nudge and nip my way through Joburg’s comparatively mild traffic. It’s a lie of course. I cut my driving teeth in Port Elizabeth on a milk run for my aunt Willemien. One must not spoil a good story with the facts as Jacob Zuma is fond of paraphrasing Oscar Wilde or Herman Charles Bosman or Mark Twain*.

I think about all these things as I drive on my daily roadtrip with my foot lightly on the clutch, pulling off in second (because it’s smoother) and fuck the shiny red fire engine. I’m just glad that I stopped wetting my bed aged 12 as I glide through the traffic, knowing it as Mark Twain had to know the Mississippi as learner steamboat captain.

“You have to know it as you know your hall in the dark. Don’t bump into things that you know are there, even if you can’t see them. You must feel the river.” I quote from memory and we all know I can’t remember what happened to my car last Saturday when I bust my front left tyre and scratched the side of my car in blue. Fortunately my friend John’s Brasso trick worked.

* It was Mark Twain who said: “Don’t let the truth spoil a good story.” It is also attributed to Bosman (heavily influenced by Twain and Wilde) and Wilde.           

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Chuckv

August 19th

Uncategorized

Uber Tales (9)

Uber Strategies

I sit. I sit in cool shady spots just around the corner of where I’ve dropped you off. Sometimes right in front of your house under some kind of perennial, maybe a pine or a cedar throwing a solid shadow over me in my cool resting place. I need a solid shadow to avoid dappled reflections on my screen. I piss there too. One must. I sit there mostly for only a short while. Not pining under the pine. Sometimes I attempt to write like now, but I hardly have time to construct one sentence when I get a call. That’s no way to write.

To write one needs time to consider the timing of robots so as to catch them green. Some of my guests take note of my smooth driving style and and compliment me. “It’s Parisian,” I tell th we talk about Paris. One must think of the hunchback beggar on the corner of Bompas and Fricker and ways to avoid him because he freaks one out. One has to find a way to mention Marcia and other Gautrain and airport security staff who have only one ambition in life and that is to clamp somebody’s wheel. One needs time to wheel one’s thoughts to spin a yarn. There’s another call and I had hardly parked in Parktown. This is no way to write.

To write one needs time to contemplate commonly occurring coincidences. Consider the case of Connaught Road. I apply the strategy there. My 15 minutes expire and I start my car. I’m not writing because not a single thought occurs to me in Connaught Avenue, Sandringham, naught. I start my car and proceed towards the Rosebank Gautrain station, without the intention of reaching it. I break the 15km roadtrip there into five 3km furlongs. The first one yields nothing. Neither does the second. The third brings me back to exactly where I dropped the smiling Adrian the previous day. Another call.

Where was I again? Oh yes, another call and I was telling you about the surly Adrian who was smiling when I dropped him off. That’s part of the strategy: Get the surly to smile. In fact, I was telling you about the case of Connaught Avenue. Another call … to Connaught Avenue. I sigh and sit in Connaught and naught again. I do the first furlong and then second and the third to where I hope Adrian is still smiling and get a call to go and drop somebody off in Connaught. I could’ve also told you about the day my first trip was a pick-up in Seymour Street, right next to my friends the O’Gradys and my last drop-off was in Seymour Street right opposite my friends the O’Gradys after having done some 20 trips and 180km, but I’ve got another call and you get the picture: You pick up some Spaniards and your next call is most likely to come from some other Spaniards. It’s uncanny.

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Uber happiness @ Nuno’s after another great day

I pick up a nanny with some kids and they sweep my supply of sweets and litter on my back seats. I smile. It’s part of the strategy. Another call.

Then there’s the romance. The possibility of romance. It won’t be Patrick or Gary or Bongani or any other male name. When I’m in the mood for romantic dreaming, which is often, I have to suppress a slight irritation when a William calls me. However, when Nina calls me my heart leaps a little. Ah Ninush! Oh Ninush! My sweet Ninush! I pick up Nina’s brother Lita. His phone is as dead as my romantic dream. I hand him my charger with a smile.

Amanda is calling! My torturous crush of my high school days flames up with a clear picture of her fiery red hair flowing in the wind as she cycles to school. Amanda my well-loved second ex wife also springs to mind. Who will this Amanda be? That’s the joy of my being. Every girl who calls me could be the one. I only have three minutes to fantasise before I pick up a tall Brazilian girl from the Melville International Backpackers on 1st Avenue. She’s surly and on her way to the Rosebank Mall. I’m cheerful because it’s my operational base. Amanda laughs when I tell her about her predecessors. She smiles when I drop her off. Sweet strategy. Another call.

Sandy takes me to Sandton. I don’t mind doing drop-offs in Sandton, but I shoot straight out of there as soon as I can. Back when I started and was still chasing the buck instead of the stars, I worked Sandton to my chagrin. Now with my rating of 4.77 stars, I can sit in the suburbs, the leafy suburbs and have first right of refusal over the 4.5 and 4.6 guys chasing the buck. Another call, sorry.

This is no way to write. It’s not right. I’ll have to extend my ‘Offline System Maintenance’ that which you call lunch or breakfast and write then. That’s an Uber Strategy.

 

 

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Chuckv

August 13th

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Uber Tales (8)

Uber Hope

The news is uniformly bad. The world is tearing itself apart. I call it GLOBAL 1 and it is coming to a shopping mall near you soon. Locally the thieves and liars are going about their business like it’s nobody’s business and as if they expect to lose some big chunks of the troughs they’re feeding from. Better eat while the eating is still good or something like that. While they’re going at the trough, the people likely to vote for them are going crazy in the streets of your nearest squatter camp as if to emulate their leaders, at least when it comes to looting. There’s a beggar at every traffic light and it’s not a pretty sight. Some try to be funny, but it isn’t funny.

Looking at things from that perspective isn’t very uplifting. The spirit is unlikely to soar like an eagle, but rather teeter like a hadeda fledgling on the edge of its messy nest until it falls to the ground where it would walk around dazed and confused for days. That’s depressing in its own way.

So, yeah, it’s easy to be depressed these days. It was probably easy to be depressed in all ages, but these days all the bad news is so much in your face that there’s hardly any escape from it all. Escape then, if you will, into my Uber car.

We pick up Nomvula, Ntabiseng, Sibahle or Mantesehlo or any of their like. They constitute about 95% of my guests. They are young, black, professional women. They’re well-spoken and well-heeled. They’re witty and funny even. They laugh at my jokes. They’re going places. They’re soaring like eagles. I love them for restoring my faith in the future of this country.

Chuck in Car

The Uber Hope-Mobile

Now, meet Babongile (22) and his partner Bongani (24). We pick them up at The Zone, Rosebank. They’re dressed as if they’re coming from a GQ fashion shoot. Two black gays, we guess at them. We’re wrong. Two young businessmen going to Eskom’s Megawatt Park HQ to pitch a facility management App they’ve developed. They got the idea while cleaning toilets. No, not while running an office park toilet cleaning operation. Cleaning toilets themselves. “We were bootstrapping ourselves,” Babongile says. “We noticed loose wires and broken tiles everywhere in the places we cleaned and we developed an App to bring facilities management from the Age of the Dinosaur into the 21st Century.”

“I’m getting goosebumps,” I say to their positive energy. They say the same about how I’m going about my business. It’s a veritable ‘feel good fest’. “#FeelTheGoodness,” I tell them when I drop them off. “I’m going to quote you on that,” says Babongile.

Now there’s Rosemary. She’s a 40-something and she has just come from lunch at The Local Grill in Parktown North. She’s happy and relaxed. It was a good lunch. She tells me she’s a farmer in the Free State, just outside the little town of Tweeling. I express my surprise. “A female farmer is not something one comes across every day,” I say. “And a black one even less,” she ventures. “I didn’t want to bring race into it.” “Oh Chuck. This is South Africa. Race comes into everything.” We laugh knowingly. “I like you Afrikaans people. It’s you who’ve given me the leg-up that brought me where I am today. You’re real.” “I’m going to quote you on that,” I say and we laugh again. Uber is a hope factory.

 

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Chuckv

August 2nd

Uncategorized
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