Nothing beats South African minibus taxis. They make up 90% of the taxi industry – metered taxis (aka cabs) only make up 10%. They are dirt cheap and yeah, some of their drivers are aggro-maniacs with questionable driving skills, but what’s there not to like about a mode of transport where by sitting next to the driver, one automatically becomes his assistant? They even have special seats for pregnant women, women with children and even women with baggage! So, they can’t be bad at all, right?
Travel sites like South Africa Dot Net refer to them as “the somewhat unconventional system with a language and a code of its own” *and here I thought language and code were one and the same – Coin* They even say that “a ride on a minibus taxi will certainly provide you with an authentic South African experience” and (my favourite) “a minibus taxi can provide interesting insights into the lives and cultures of ordinary South Africans.” That last sentence is wholly debatable but I’ll reserve my comments and get on with my post.
Yes, minibus taxis are an experience on their own but I reckon they’re just like any other mode of public transport since one runs into some interesting characters. Considering that a majority of South Africans use taxis, over my years as a taxi-user I’ve come to identify eight common taxi personalities:
1. The One Who Dares To Challenge The Driver: taxi drivers are scary beings, no? Well, not really but there is always that person who will argue with the aggro-maniac version about anything, including: their driving, their chosen route, the fare, why they strike, taxi violence, the change and the state of the taxi. Then this character expects the rest of the commuters to back him/her up and if that doesn’t happen they threaten to start using Rea Vaya or Metro Bus.
2. The One Who Greets: It’s a common African practice that whenever one enters a space that they should greet the people already occupying the space – should it be occupied. It’s understandable, kinda like “I come in peace” thing… But in a taxi O_o This type of folk will open the door (regardless of the 10 car back-up caused by the taxi in rush-hour traffic), greet loudly in a happy-go-lucky tone as if to say “Hi, I”m [name] and I will be providing you with the entertainment for the duration of my/your journey” and then only get in after they get a response, find a seat and spark up a group discussion starting with how everyone’s day was. *Thank heavens for Beats by Dre – Try*
3. The Ones Who Don’t Know Where To Sit: Seats in public transport are tricky, especially when it comes to moving seats at any time during the journey. Questions like “can a person do so? Will anyone be offended?” start running through ones head but in a taxi, yes? Seating is everything! Most taxis don’t have aisles but you will get that person who insists on occupying the flexi-seats near the door even though there is space elsewhere and only move when told to do so by the driver.
There’s also that other character at the taxi rank who knows that after two minutes they’ll be getting off but insist on sitting at the back, forcing six people to get out the taxi before they can, which can be annoying especially when a person with baggage who also has trouble moving their limbs is the one occupying the door seat – adds 20 minutes to a journey.
4. The Ones Who Insist On Keeping The Windows Closed: No matter what. Be it a hot day, stuffy rainy day, farts, B.O, someone with freshly chemically processed hair, feet, fried food or even a mix of all of them, the windows stay firmly shut. Try it. get into a taxi, open a window and within seconds someone is bound to tap you on the shoulder telling you to close it.
5. The Ones Who Eat In A Taxi – especially fried chicken: it’s just wrong, especially with a person like in No. 4 around and a taxi is not a cafeteria. Food is messy, taxi swerves. Food falls on me. You laugh it off and there goes my favourite chemise.
6. The Ones Who Stare: they’ll look at you for uncomfortably long periods, look away for a second and carry on looking at you again or look at your big screen smartphone as you are IM-ing your BFF and comment.
7. The Ones Who Hold Conversations About Sensitive Matters (mostly about themselves): like bodily functions (think The Spa of Embarrassing Illnesses inappropriate), divorce proceedings, sex lives and anything else that should not be discussed in a taxi.
8. The Single-Serving Friend: self-explanatory… These make for great conversation.Take “Chocolate Thunder” and Tee, these two guys I met the other day in a taxi. CT is a graphic designer slash ex-male stripper and escort with an American accent and Tee was the guy who didn’t know where he was going – literally and figuratively – but knew if there was pot and beer where was meant to be going, he’d get there. They had a killer idea for Coin’s next children’s book: a bear made of chocolate who always saves the day by offering kids a piece of his body… *OMG! That is wrong on so many levels – Sang*
So, next time you’re in a minibus taxi, take note… you might spot one of these characters or even get to figure out what your taxi personality is!