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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August 19th


May 2018
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