For­mula 1 thrills thanks to Rea Vaya’s hon­est Pe­tu­nia

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

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.

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