I put it off for as long as I could.
I let my boyfriend chauffeur me everywhere, even though it didn’t feel right. I bought a bicycle. I called taxis. I accepted rides from friends. I walked. Sometimes, when I really wanted to go somewhere, I just stayed home instead and pretended it didn’t bother me.
If you want to be independent in Joburg, you have to drive. And I had developed a serious Joburg-driving phobia.
I’ve been here for exactly ten months and I’ve used every excuse in the book:
- South Africans drive on the left side of the road.
- I don’t know how to drive stick-shift.
- I’ll get lost.
- I can’t afford a car.
- People stand in the middle of the road. What if I hit someone?
- Driving in Joburg is scary!
Cry me a river, 2Summers.
Yesterday I ran out of excuses. Joe was going to be away for a week, we had a free spot in the garage, and I needed to conquer my fear.
Time to put up or shut up.
I picked up the phone and called Rent-A-Wreck. I’d heard stories of this mythical car rental agency that rents old jalopies at ridiculously low rates, but I didn’t truly believe it exists. Turns out Rent-A-Wreck is the real deal.
I learned that I can rent a “Super” Wreck for R900 ($128) per week, including insurance. (I need a Super Wreck because I can only drive automatic transmission. Manual Wrecks are available for R660 per week.)
Two hours later, a nice man arrived at my door with this:
Super Wreck’s odometer reads 343,000 kilometers. That’s about 212,000 miles. Everything rattles, the alarm is cranky, and a slightly noxious smell emanates from under the hood.
Once I had Super Wreck in my possession, I wasted no time. I didn’t want to let myself chicken out. I grabbed my handbag, hopped into the drivers’ seat (on the right side), and turned the key. The engine growled slowly to life.
Super Wreck doesn’t have power steering so it took me a couple of minutes to maneuver my way out of our quirky garage. But soon, I was off.
My maiden voyage was less than 10 miles round-trip. I journeyed to Checkers in Emmarentia to buy juice, and I visited friends in Linden. I got lost once and hopped the curb twice. I continually turned on my windshield wipers when I meant to use my blinker (indicator). Blinkers are on the right side of the steering wheel here, not the left.
I arrived home feeling triumphant, and believing that I am the best American driver in Joburg.
Here is a step-by-step illustration of how my Super Wreck journeys begin. (Photos courtesy of Joe.)
1) Unlock Super Wreck and get in. 2) Insert key into ignition immediately — otherwise alarm will sound. 3) Insert gear-lock card into slot adjacent to ignition — otherwise Super Wreck won’t start. 4) Stay calm. It’s only a car.
All my fears about driving in Joburg were unfounded. It’s not very different from driving in DC, and it seems that 10 months of riding as a passenger in Joe’s car have conditioned me to driving on the left side.
Best of all, I’ve proved something to myself — that I can really make it in this crazy city.
My only concern now is how I will let go of Super Wreck at the end of this week. Do you think Rent-A-Wreck will sell him to me?