[OPINION] Taxis are uber cool

Someone’s eating Niknaks. I can smell its unmistakable odour wafting through the air. The windows are open so that the taxi can get some air, it’s peak hour and it’s packed. The draught is made up of cheese and exhaust fumes. The scent of commuting and a quick snack.

There’s a white guy sitting two seats away from me. His clothes are faded and paint stained, his blonde hair thin and stringy under a cap that’s lost its shape from being sat on after too many drug binges in the dark. He has homemade tattoos. He took forever to decide whether he wanted to ride in this taxi. He complained because the driver was taking too long to leave and kept saying he was in a hurry – like someone was chasing him. He looked around nervously, while sucking on a cigarette.

Taxis don’t move until they’re at least halfway full so that the trip is worth it, after all, it only costs R7 per passenger. This one is going to Sea Point. I don’t know where the dude is going; he can’t stay awake while he waits. At one point his head bobs forward and jolts him awake. He asks me for the time, even though there is a woman sitting right next to him. I wonder about this. He goes back to sleep.

I sold my car a couple of months ago. I work from home a lot and when I don’t, I almost always walk everywhere. When you stay in Sea Point, there’s really no need to leave. I saw no point in having a parked car. Obviously, Murphy then intervened and I had to start commuting to town again to spend some time in the office. With no car, I spent the first couple of days using Uber. My math was flawed. Having a car actually turned out to be a lot cheaper than using the app. It would never, for example, cost me almost R200 to get to Athlone in my car. It only cost about R400 to fill my tank.

I am impatient. I get annoyed, easily. I often find that Uber drivers ask me for directions. I am horrible to them. I even use Google Maps when I walk sometimes. The ease of Uber is supposed to be that when you don’t know where you’re going, they do. That’s why they have a GPS, that’s why you’re asked to input your destination. If I knew where Pofadder was, I would tell you dude, but I don’t, so my destination is in your hands. This is the kind of irritating backlash that plays over and over in my head while I am sitting in the back rolling my eyes – constantly.

Then there’s the longest route thing. I have come to learn some of the quick routes to the Waterfront from Sea Point, for example. Granted, it’s not hard to figure out, it’s literally one straight road along the beach. Do you know how many Uber drivers have taken the highway to drop me there?

There’s some kerfuffle in the taxi with three kids who are on their way home. They’re sitting behind me and there’s some confusion about the change the gaatjie gave them. They explain that the R100 note was just for one passenger and not three. The gaatjie sorts it out with the help of the lady sitting next to me. He is a bit annoyed, mumbling under his breath. There’s an exchange of money.

My eyes follow the conversation and land on Chu. Chu Suwanappha. Do you know Chu? He is apparently now a highly acclaimed South African stylist and fashionista who hails from Thailand. I worked for You and Huisgenoot magazine when Chu first arrived. He is still employed there. I met him, we worked in the same building and we knew each other in a formal, stoic, colleague kind of way. We shared an office space, and now we were sharing a taxi. Chu is sitting in the back row, squashed into a corner. I wave because he is looking straight at me. “Hi Chu,” I say.

It’s one of those embarrassing moments where someone is definitely looking at you, but only in the hope that you will recognise them because they are somewhat “famous”, so they are entitled to a hello. I’m pretty sure Chu recognises me too, but he acts like doesn’t have to. He greets me in the cold detached way that celebrities greet fans because they feel obliged to throw scraps to the public sometimes. I am not so famous. I don’t believe in the idea of celebrity, especially not in South Africa. Besides, we’re sharing the same taxi – surely he is as regular as I am, or anyone else in that minibus for that matter.

You don’t share your space in an Uber – except with the driver, of course. I find the constant interrogation and need to converse by some drivers quite imposing. I’m not sure if that makes me rude. But I am a pretty aloof and socially awkward character. If I don’t have to talk, I won’t. I feel like taking an Uber is one of those places where you should not have to talk at all. Still, I feel obliged, and find myself engaging in the most exhausting, silence filling conversation. What’s wrong with being quiet? I actually find it quite polite.

I find that taxis in Cape Town are like the food court at the mall - the great economic leveller. It takes all kinds. European tourists, store managers, petrol attendants, aunties going to visit a family member or popping in to a Clicks and young students.

And, of course… people like Chu. I don’t know who they are, I would not be able to recognise their celebrity – I have not worked with all of them. But we can all sit together, share a space and concentrate on our own food (for sake of the metaphor) because we’re all there for the same reason – to fulfill our commuting needs and that’s all. In and out. No time for nonsense. Our mouths can stay shut, and we have the added benefit of our eyes working more.

Like with the white sleepy guy, who remained in his seat after my drop off in Sea Point. Who knows, he might have been going to Camps Bay – never judge a book by its cover and all that.

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is employed by Code For Africa at the head office in Cape Town as programme manager for impactAFRICA - the continent's largest fund for digital-driven data storytelling. She is a regular commentator on gender equality, sexuality, culture, race relations and feminism as well as ethics in the South African media environment.