Thursday, 17 July 2008

Tyranny of the car guards

The best car guards: don't mess with those

(really I just liked this pic).

Car guards are a South African institution, albeit not a popular one. The "job" does provide employment where it is sorely needed, but they are still freaking annoying. It is quite depressing to think that I have met freaking accountants from Rwanda that were car guards in SA.

Amongst my friends in Cape Town, the term “car guard” was the highest form of insult. It meant you were beyond irritating. So the poor guys are not well loved. It does not help that half the time you are not sure if you are paying them to guard your car, or paying them to not harm your car.

As a scrounging student, I did not always pay car guards. But in April of this year, G and I were back home on holiday from the UK. As a “tourist” in my own home, carrying pounds, and feeling guilty about poverty and all, I felt duty-bound to pay all car guards. After all, R5 translates to about 30p, which is absolutely peanuts in the UK.

There was however this one day from hell, “the day of the car guards”, which I shall never forget. It was the day, on our trip up the east coast, where we drove between George and Plett. We stopped at pretty much each town along the way, and encountered at least 7 car guards. They came at us from nowhere. How come they are not to be found when you arrive, but randomly appear as you are about to leave, helping you to reverse out of a parking lot in which you are the only car? Are they helping you to reverse so that you do not hit them? (tempting…
I did not just say that!)

One of them kind of forced us to park in his area, although there were car-guard-free options elsewhere. He was an awesome guy from Namibia (I hope he is okay after the xenophobic violence in Knysna), but after conversations with x other car guards, we were worn out. We would have happily paid him to leave us alone. After we left him, we realised we needed to stop again at another shop, but after considering having to face another car guard, we decided to stuff it and keep on driving. It was all just too much for one day. I would say 6 car guards in one day is my upper limit.

The UK is conspicuously car guard free, and on the whole it is a pleasure not to need them.

However. In the last two years or so in the UK, G and my mom have had bricks through their car windows, my mom's entire road had their tyres slashed, G had a number 9 spray-painted on his car (of all the things you fear happening to your car, being "nined" must be number one), and my mom had her car “keyed”. My friend had two bricks through his windscreen in a week. And people here dent and scratch your doors ALL the time. They just don’t care.

The ironic thing is that G’s brick through the window happened the day after we got back from a totally crime-free month in SA. We were so sure something would happen to the hired car while we were there. We even forgot to lock the car once or twice, but nothing happened, probably thanks to the damn car guards, if it must be admitted. Typical.

In South Africa at least you feel consoled that people are assaulting your car for a reason, because they want either it or what is inside it. Here in the UK cars are vandalised for no other reason than the joy of pure destruction, and that is particularly annoying. Perhaps there is a niche for car guards here after all. Oh yeah.


Richard Catto said...

I also used to hate car guards until I discovered that they can be quite useful. And if you talk to some of them, you can be quite delightfully entertained.

But yeah, still, they're lucky if they get R2 out of me. R5 is way way way too much.

Maybe when I am a millionaire.

po said...

Richard, I know what you mean, I have met some amazing car guards, like the accountant and the Namibian guy, who played in a band and lots of other stuff.

It is amazing low little R5 seems in UK terms, 30p is nothing at all!

I think if you tipped someone 30p for looking after your car in the UK (if such a thing existed) they would be seriously insulted.

thisrunner said...

I've never not paid a car gaurd, I'm always worried that the next time it'll be the end of the paintjob.

po said...

Yeah, I get that feeling too.