Formula 1 thrills thanks to Rea Vaya’s honest Petunia
WHEN the calendar is several hours into column-delivery day, and you have no idea what the column is, sleep is fitful. A terrible fate looms: “Omigod, I shall have to produce the 50 000th opinion on JZ and No-Confidence!”
If shortly before dawn your fairy godmother then pops into your eardrum whispering “go check out your city’s proud new public transport, the one that you and your gang hardly notice except for grumbling that it squeezes the motorcars’ space”, you leap. This is no time to dawdle. If you’re going to do Rea Vaya, do it at rush hour.
Approaching the bus station, spirits sink. You’re a relic of an age that bought tickets on the bus and got change from the conductor.
Now you must have a ticket before you start. How do you buy tickets at dawn?
Ah, here’s a blue metal ticket-dispenser, on the platform. Spirits bound.
Except, closer, the machine is definitively out of order. Spirits fall.
But… what’s this now? Barely daylight and here is a real-life human official, young and lovely at that.
Petunia comes forth to offer help, so delicate and demure that you’re half in love with her even before she turns out to be a model of artless honesty.
She explains your ticket options. You can buy a single from the blue machine for as little as R5, “except that most unfortunately it is not working”. Hm, so we’d thought.
Or you can buy a season ticket from her tiny kiosk “except that most unfortunately my system is down”. Yes, so the screen indicates.
Your actual option is: buy a R15 ticket, which most unfortunately cannot bring you back from anywhere, even from the shortest R5 trip.
Petunia is embarrassed. She tucks her head into her collarbone and mumbles: “I’m sorry, I know it’s like the city is stealing, but not really.”
Also most unfortunate, you can’t be sure where to buy return tickets.
At many stops the blue machine is not working, or the attendant doesn’t have ticket stock, and “you can be stranded”. But I can get extra R15 tickets here, now, from her.
As we transact, she says: “Where are you going, anyway?”
“Nowhere, actually, I just want to ride the bus.”
She hands me back my money and takes back the tickets, all but one: “That takes you every place in the whole Rea Vaya, just never step out of the station until you are back here.”
The purchasing process might bear refining but the customer care is 24 carat.
Onto the bus, and three overwhelming impressions.
No 3 is that Rea Vaya drivers are appointed for their Formula 1 aspirations. On a full bus – and many are full – hanging onto the straps truly means straps, plural, one hand keeping you upright and the other one to stop you from spinning like a top.
No 2 is the refresher-dose of standard African courtesy and welcome and friendly vibe.
No 1, the sense of zoom, speeding past the traffic jams and the crawling tin boxes, three-quarters empty.
A person can get a little bit virtuous. Cowboy, too, a heady combination. Go driver go!
Not sure whether it’s Vettel at the wheel or Hamilton, but the strap-gymnastics as we leave gleaming half-empty 4x4s and SUVs in our dust puts a fairground sense in the atmosphere. A neat egalitarian flavour, too.
Above all, the zoom factor lodges. Take time zooming past multitudes of stationary cylinders chewing megalitres of octane, and a future of public transport looks nicer than it seems from behind a private steering wheel.