Scary stories from a lovely place
Another lauded danger of living in Johannesburg is breaking down; particularly on the highway. Breaking down sucks no matter where you are, but here there seems to be an added element of danger.
Early this year I got a flat tyre on the M1 north driving to Pretoria. I didn’t actually think my tyre was flat. I could hear a repetitive banging noise but I thought it was far too loud to be coming from my car. In fact I thought it was a helicopter flying somewhere above me. I kept looking up through the windscreen to see it pass above me. Only when friendly motorists started doing that whole pointing down, mouthing “flat tyre” thing as they drove past me, did I realise something was wrong. This was the first real time I had the internal dilemma of breaking down on the highway. Do I stop and take my chances with the highwaymen? Or do I push on and potentially increase the damage to my poor car. For me the choice was clear. I waited until the next offramp and then found a petrol station. But I didn’t decide this because of the fear. Sure, I was a little concerned about getting murdered, but more I was concerned about the sheeting rain that was pouring all over Jozi. I hoped the rain might keep away the murderers. But I had just straightened my hair and didn’t want to get saturated trying to change the tyre myself. So it was vanity that saved the day. When I inspected the damage at the petrol station my tyre was shredded to pieces.
A few months before Silas was born Stephen’s protectiveness kicked up a notch and he decided we should join the AA (like the NRMA in Australia). I was more than keen. The NRMA had been my constant saviour in Australia. I needed them for a flat battery and a few times when I ran out of petrol, but mainly they helped me the myriad times I locked my keys in the car. The coolest thing about the AA is that when you break down you can ask them to send an ADT guard to come and wait with you on the side of the road until the repairman arrives. However, the thought of awkward conversation with a bulletproof vest wearing, gun toting guard strikes more fear into me than waiting alone on the highway. The other cool thing is that the AA covers the member, not the car, so wherever I am, in whatever car I find myself, I can call the AA. That makes me more popular.
The months ticked away and I was beginning to feel concerned that I wouldn’t get my money’s worth. That was until a few weeks ago when I went to the Pilanesburg with Sally and Fif. We only had a little over 24 hours and Sally wanted to see the animals. So we drove the 3 hours through the heat to get there. We arrived at the gate. We stopped for lunch and while we were enjoying our picnic I noticed one of my tyre’s was looking a little flat. So we drove back to the nearest petrol station. They changed my tyre. We were on our way again, this time heading for our campground. As we were coming into Mogase we heard the dreaded honk and saw the mouthing “flat tyre”. It couldn’t be true. We had just changed our tyre. We pulled over and had a look, the tyre was indeed very flat. Too flat to try and drive the 10kms back to the petrol station.
So we phoned the AA and began to wait. We waited and waited and waited. We set up our camp chairs and ate some chocolate. I read the Monthly magazine. We talked about boys. We played with Silas. We watched some guys warming up for soccer practice on a makeshift pitch. We listened to the drunk ravings of a mad man waiting for a taxi. We laughed at the confused looks we received from passers by. We thanked the concerned motorists who stopped to help us. I phoned Stephen and assured him we were safe. He offered to drive the 3 hours and wait with us. What a man. Sally and Fi played soccer on the side of the road. Fi’s instinct to get the ball abrogated her sense not to run into the oncoming traffic. I shouted at them like a mum should. We talked to curious kids who wandered past us. We watched the sun drop below the Pilanesburg. We kept waiting. Finally, just as I was about to ring the AA and ask for our guard to come, the Portugeuse tow-truck driver arrived. He pumped up our tyre and drove with us back to the petrol station.
It took them a long time, but the AA finally saved the day. Rumours and hyperbole abound around breaking down. I have heard stories of gangs of murdering and pillaging teenagers populating the roadside, ready to pounce on any hapless motorist whose car wants to take a break. While of course there are no doubt incidents of crime, I have only ever found people to be helpful or disinterested when I have broken down. The AA and a calm demeanour – the best way to survive a break down in Jozi.