Caveat Emptor


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Monday morning
William Nicol Drive
South Africa

I drive along this route to work every morning, sometimes changing my route so that I don’t succumb to terminal ennui – Like a tiger pacing his small cage over and over and over, but then suddenly changing to go clockwise. I know this itinerary like the back of my TV guide on which I mull Cannabis sativa (just looking for an interesting simile Mom, if you reading this, but the botany did pay off as you can see). I often pass through this way in an ethereal stupor. Yet, I am different from the other drones.

Those automatons that succumb to the deep resignation of a life without dreams. I see them in their personal transporters. Listening to the numbing cacophony of myriad media icons. I do not have a radio in my car. I am alone with my sunroof open. A Rufous-naped Lark chirps everyday only 3 kilometres from my home in an open veld. I know the bird without ever having to see him through my car windows. How many of these clones know him?

I stop at a robot* and what a wondrous place it is. Full of sound, colour and life. The main sound, unfortunately, is the incessant hum of the media machines pumping out bass or classical from the other cars, yet all liberally peppered with commercial breaks (as they euphemistically call shameless swindling). But there, standing next to my poisonous gas-spewing vehicle, is a smiling face offering me something. I look up and smile back as the grin is infectious. I am not a smiley person in the morning as I have noted, but I can never help myself returning a smile. Force of habit I suppose, but I like that one. Nevertheless, I refuse his offer of a simple piece of paper with a direct look into his eyes, a big smile and a polite “No thanks, buddy/Mfowetu/Baba/Mate/My friend”, whichever term of respect or endearment grabs me at the time. He smiles back and often sticks his fist out for me to press mine against. Sometimes we laugh, sometimes he says thanks back. Sometimes he wishes me a good day, or great weekend, but not before I try say it first. Sometimes the piece of paper looks interesting enough to take, or sometimes I just take it to be polite. I usually just accumulate the stuff for a while before another kind soul at another intersection brings by a dustbin bag to collect all the rubbish I have amassed in my car through my own slovenly laziness. I give the man a small token of just R2 for doing me the favour of not having to walk the extremely long distance to a dustbin when I get home.

I make it a firm point of acknowledging and chatting to as many of these great people as I come across. Some of them are real clowns making me laugh out loud in the humdrum monotony of capitalist traffic. Most of them make me smile in fact. I often feel sorry for them, unable to find jobs in the formal sector and even more often simply being exploited by some other profit leering freak that pays them nothing to stand on their feet all day risking skin cancer in summer and debilitating cold in winter. But they keep smiling, not like most of the humans I see sitting in their cars worth more than these people earn in over 10 years. Even worse, these impatient and rude people treat these smiling faces with utter disdain and contentment. I would spit on their cars if I were a street vendor. I would probably hijack someone if he were continuously rude to me over the course of a few weeks. Damn well deserves it for not listening to his parents when they taught him manners.

I listened when I was taught manners and common human decency by my grandparents and parents. And so I offer this very simple statement as a big FUCK YOU to all those people who want to get rid of street vendors. Yes FUCK YOU and your self-serving ways. Your utter despicability. How dare you prance around in your awesome machine, impatient to get to the shops to buy splatter-free cooking liquid, two-ply toilet paper and bottled water. FUCK YOU on behalf of all the street vendors honestly trying to scratch a meagre breadline living to feed their kids or send them to school. FUCK YOU! And if I knew that term in any of our other ten official languages I would say that too. To those people who do smile and politely decline, no matter how many times you have to say no, who cares? Is it such a big fucking deal in your life? Smile at them. Talk to them. Buy them lunch sometime. Buy a freakin pen or calculator. Does your twenty Rand mean so much to you that you have to lose all evidence of actually belonging to the human race? Or would you rather plug it into a slot machine over a breathless minute instead of helping to support our beautiful country and its people. Nuff sed except FUCK YOU AGAIN, YOU IMBECILIC, COLD-HEARTED PROTOHUMANS. Street vendors of SA unite.

*South Africans, having been hopelessly sheltered from evil technology, decided that a pole with three flashing lights was nothing less than a miracle of science. “It must be a robot!” they cried when they saw its green, amber and red hypnotic dance. Yet around the world we are ridiculed. “That’s a bleeding traffic light mate!” the pommies chastise us. South Africa is full of such quaint anecdotes.

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