What’s wrong with our economy when you have to pay for help you didn’t ask for?
Keen is fine. I’m in favour of keen. We can use more keen. Give us keen!
When you find keen, you do not lightly stomp on it.
But the car-guard was over-keen, he was beyond keen. He was as frenetic as a trainee manager on a team-building junket.
This was the corner of Jeppe and Something; could be Gwigwi Mrwebi Street or Ntemi Piliso Street. These new names are nice in principle – named for actual arts people, who are actually connected to this arty quarter – and sensitively balanced vis-à-vis old names. But damn, there’s a time before you get the hang of the new that you’ve forgotten the old, and I’m jammed in that now.
So at the corner of Jeppe and Something a guy waves me to a frantic halt. This guy is wearing the reflector waistcoat that denotes Officialdom. Whether metro cop or sewerage plumber I do not know, but he has the badge and his urgency implies big news. Has the road sprung a sinkhole? Has his grandma fallen, in the fast lane?
I halt. The guy yells: “Bassline?”
We are en route to Bassline but we’re having supper first. I say “Capello”. He whirls his arm-muscles to indicate “good answer!” and sprints away like Usain Bolt on steroids, beckoning me to follow.
So I do that thing and 50 metres later – he has run all the way – he ushers me to an empty parking bay. It’s an obvious bay, in the road, under a streetlight. We’d have had no pain finding it on our own.
But he did darem point it to us, and what I’m going to give him, when we leave, is partly for doing so. That’s a thing I’m slightly queasy about. Paying a fee for a service that I did not ask for is problematic in principle, and an uncomfortable echo of danger-signs in our economy.
But hey, a ou can’t get heavy over five rand for a car guard. And he’s so keen.
As I reverse in, he helps. He helps firstly by standing in what would have been part of my reversing space. He helps secondly by making vigorous invisible hand gestures above my roof.
The process of parking is thus that little bit trickier than it would have been without him, and my little bit of low-key discomfort is a little bit amplified. If paying for a redundant service symbolises an economic mis-hit, paying for a disservice or anti-service clangs a strident alarm bell. This is not an idea to be cultivated in an economy with many dragons to confront and vipers to evade.
But tsk, this is a car guard. I’m about to eat a hundred-rand meal. Give the oke a break.
We alight. Several people are arguing with Keen Man, in vernacular. We are plunged into standard Whites-in-Africa Impotence, alias Total Ignorance Of What’s Going On Under Your Nose.
We fulfil standard Whites-in-Africa Response; we shrug. It’s their business.
We start ambling toward Capello. Rushing footsteps behind us. Keen Man closes in on us, blocks our way, and introduces himself: “I’m Lucky.”
What I think is: Who are you, china, to block our way? You’ll get your thank-you present. And not in shrapnel, either, shnoep bronze and copper; nice round five-rand piece. But you get it when we leave, if the car’s still here. That’s the deal, innit?
What I say is: “okay, Lucky”, and we walk on.
Lucky does a quick offside dodge and is in front of us again. My fuse shortens.
He says: “iss only thirty rand”.
I say: “I beg your pardon.” (Crazy Victorian thing to say, but inbred.)
He says: “iss only R30 for to park.”
Next thing, the good citizens of Jeppe Street must slam their hands over their ears. A vicious brutal fascist, doubtless Eurocentric to boot, is glowing scarlet in the dark while he screeches short words at a poor undertrodden car guard.
The message I aim to convey is that if I wish to give Lucky a tip for standing around while my car is parked in a free public Johannesburg street, I will decide how much to give and I will decide when to give it. I believe Lucky gets the gist, though I admit that the message is low on calm clarity.
When the tirade runs down, Lucky says: “20?”
I take deep breaths. I say: “I think we are missing each other; this is a point of princi…”
Lucky says: “15?”
Sounds of protest. I look up. The guys with whom he was arguing earlier are opposed, as if to a scab during a pay-strike.
My wife and I catch each other’s eye. We turn round. Capello and Bassline forfeit two customers.
As we get in the car, Lucky bends down, says furtively: “five?”
I glare at him, hard, so as to score a bullseye when I unleash the two shortest words of all.
What I see is a sad person, a pathetic person, a person doing his desperate best to leverage the little he has into something that looks like a livelihood for his family. He has nothing; nothing! Beside him, my opulence is obscene. That lousy 30 bucks means much to him; little to me. The comparison is horrible.
The short words stay unsaid.
I tell him softly, “sorry, we’re leaving”. I close the door.