How hum­bling to see street life from the other side of the wind­screen

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

IT’S just past 6am on a Mon­day. It’s dark. I’m wear­ing a pon­cho. I feel like a God-both­erer from some cult about to make a nui­sance of my­self just as the back-to-school rush starts for the third term.

I’m stand­ing on Jan Smuts Av­enue in Joburg and I’m try­ing to sell news­pa­pers. I’ve been in news­pa­pers for a lit­tle more than 25 years, but I’ve never phys­i­cally sold one. I’ve de­liv­ered them, I’ve been sh*t on by shop­keep­ers when the pa­per was late. I haven’t sold Rag mags or rat­tled a tin for a hospice ei­ther so this is a first in more ways than one.

I’m try­ing to sell spe­cial edi­tions of HopeTalk for R10; it’s part-Man­dela Day, partCEO Sleep­Out and all very dif­fer­ent.

For a start you have to learn how the traf­fic lights work. Time has a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive when you’re want­ing a cap­tive mar­ket, as op­posed to be­ing a mo­torist want­ing to hit the green and keep mov­ing.

I’ve cho­sen a bad spot that’s just got worse with the ar­rival of a troop of su­per­amped, su­per-young, su­per-hot Sleep­Out vol­un­teers, al­most danc­ing down the street. I can’t com­pete with their smiles and cer­tainly not with the un­nat­u­ral, al­most glee­ful, en­thu­si­asm. Be­sides, I haven’t sold a sin­gle copy.

In­stead, I slink off down a street that looks like it will bot­tle­neck nicely when the traf­fic backs up. It does.

I walk down the lane of cars, in­stinc­tively look­ing for eye contact. Some smile back at me, wave or show me open palms. Oth­ers lock doors as I ap­proach or try man­u­ally to re­tune au­to­matic ra­dios. The smok­ers are a great tar­get. I know, I used to be one. Their win­dows are open, just like mine was when I got held up in my car in down­town Joburg once.

I smile, I wish them a good morn­ing. Very few ac­tively ig­nore me. No one tells me to sod off, for which I am eter­nally grate­ful at this time of the morn­ing, be­cause nei­ther of us want to go there, trust me.

Some even chat to me; 10 peo­ple buy a copy.

I know who these driv­ers are. One way or the other. The gen­er­ous, the kind, the in­tro­verts, the ob­nox­ious bul­lies. All of them. They’re all me.

I’m learn­ing a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive this morn­ing. Sa­cred cows are be­ing slaugh­tered, new ones are be­ing cast in stone: taxi driv­ers aren’t all bad, though some will drive straight at you – swerv­ing at the last mo­ment – just to see you jump. I’m learn­ing all over again that driv­ers of cer­tain makes of cars are psy­chotic nar­cis­sists; if their cars weren’t so ex­pen­sive they’d drive over me.

I’m learn­ing that pricey cars don’t make peo­ple gen­er­ous any more than the sticker on a wind­screen guar­an­tee­ing ac­cess to the park­ing field at a child’s school does. In­stead, an open heart and a wal­let to match come from the least likely quar­ters, of­ten from those who seem least able to af­ford the R10.

At the same time, I’m re­mem­ber­ing the ab­so­lute hor­ror of cold can­vass­ing, the old days of raf­fle tick­ets com­ing home in the kids’ satchels for cruddy bot­tles of wine or myth­i­cal food ham­pers that would have em­bar­rassed Solomon’s ta­ble.

The thought comes back into my mind un­bid­den whether I shouldn’t, like then, just dip into my wal­let and find the R100 to chuck into the kitty and dump the pa­pers in my kan­ga­roo pouch in the bin in the nearby al­ley­way.

But for some rea­son I per­se­vere. I sell my al­lot­ment bar one and it’s all over.

I’m colder, wiser and hum­bler. I’ve learnt it takes a lot of courage to stand and beg. You’ve got to put your pride in your back pocket, you’ve got to smile when you want to cry, and you’ve got to hope like hell that some im­pa­tient cretin in his warm car doesn’t take you out driv­ing on the wrong side of the road to try to make the green ar­row – for no other rea­son than he can.

All of a sud­den I’m glad I’m stand­ing like a de­flat­ing Zep­pelin in a bil­low­ing white pon­cho. I’d rather look ridicu­lous than be road kill.

But I’ve also learnt there are a hel­luva lot of re­ally great peo­ple out there, quick to smile, even quicker to care. You don’t know them un­til you do. Like the beg­gars and the pan­han­dlers clog­ging the in­ter­sec­tions on the road­side, there’s no one size fits all.

And that made this the best Man­dela Day yet for me. Thank you.


In Septem­ber, Spring­bok leg­end Lawrence Sephaka as­sisted The Star’s ven­dors sell­ing news­pa­pers. On Man­dela Day, The Star’s ed­i­tor, Kevin Ritchie, found it was not as easy as it looked.

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