Observations of a Husband/Dad/Math Geek/Writer/Soap Box Owner/Wine Lover

Parking & Car Guarding South Africa Style

Numerous associations in life, such as the yin and yang, remain intrinsically linked and should never standalone; their value lost when considered in isolation.  Driving and parking is another example of this type of union, whose disciplines are familiar to, and regularly practised by, millions throughout the world every minute of every day.  Those fortunate enough to experience the freedom a motor vehicle brings, be it a car, bike or truck, should not only understand the concept of parking, but in addition, one hopes, possess a degree of aptitude in this discipline.  Whenever taking position behind a steering wheel or similar controls, and subsequently navigating a journey from beginning to end, the conclusion invariably remains the same: parking.  Whether originating from the camp seemingly content to abandon their vehicle at journey’s end or heeding the careful nature of the flat cap and cardigan brigade, the final act of a drive consists of slowing to a halt, removing the key from the ignition, and continuing on foot.  Many, through personal fault or victim of wrong place/wrong time, can no doubt testify that any voyage can potentially stray from this rather rigid format and involve police officers, medics, the fire service or even all three.  Reassuringly however, this kind of scenario is not the norm and the bulk of errands, commutes, and excursions end safely, and more importantly, without injury to you, your companions, or your fellow road users and consequently, minus damage to your car or your wallet.

People approach and experience tasks in a personal and unique way and parking a car or similar vehicle is no exception.  Boy-racers and fellow brash, confident speedsters hold no fear and will often manoeuvre their vehicle into a parking space without hesitation, barely slowing down in order to do so.  In essence, no spot is too tricky or too small; if the car can fit, it will fit.  Scrapes, bumps, or dents that result directly from their rushed actions are inconsequential to these road hogs.  Other road users lack the assurance of their own abilities, dawdling before every inch is painstakingly covered and to park their car often takes longer than the journey itself.  Finally, a smattering of tarmac dwellers aimlessly wonder the roads who in polite parlance, are far from gifted in the driving stakes and whom worryingly struggle with the very basics, often endangering themselves and others, and frighteningly, without ever realising it.  So it follows, the less said about their parking endeavours the better.  How these individuals obtain a legitimate license to permit their presence on the road remains a mystery to all who observe their displays of resplendent ineptitude.

Finer points and subtle intricacies of control aside, the high-level procedure followed when parking a vehicle, regardless of the driver’s capability or lack of, does not vary.  Conversely, the time taken and ultimate success rate (a select band of individuals often try in vain before quitting and returning to whence they came), can fluctuate considerably.  When the time arrives to apply the brakes and exit your metal cocoon the only criteria to follow is selecting a suitable space and manoeuvring your vehicle into it.  For most people, in most countries around the world, this concludes the chore, but the South African experience differs.  Where parking is concerned on the high- and low-field lands of Southern Africa, there is always one extra and critical element to consider, and this relates to the ongoing safety of your vehicle and all valuables it guards during your absence.  The crucial nature of this additional step cannot be overstated because its purpose is choosing whom of the numerous entrepreneurial enthusiasts at hand, with which to entrust the safety of your beloved vehicle and its contents, whilst you attend to the business of your excursion.  Regardless of the chosen parking location, stepping outside your mode of transport means not only extricating yourself from your pleasant, air-conditioned bubble but also a confrontation with one or more highly untrained security personnel, eager to secure your trade with the promise of protecting your vehicle.

Options are available each time you park your car, van, kombi, Bakkie, or motorbike.  First, should your chosen destination be an establishment such as a hotel or shopping centre, official security attendants will vie to mind your car in the hope that upon your return, and their due diligence and successful application of duty, a tip or an appropriate reward will follow.  In contrast, parking at the roadside, or at locations with no official or present owners, sees a band of willing entrepreneurs prowl, offering drivers assurances their mode of transportation, if placed under their watchful gaze, will remain devoid of damage or harm.  Diligent to their task or more accurately, not wishing to see a potential customer leave without greasing their palms, a parking attendant is a breed apart from comparable individuals who also ply their trade on the streets and open lands.  Objection, failure to spot them, or even if they are conspicuous by their absence when you park, it is immaterial, contrasting sharply with the generally perceived acceptance that one can dismiss a street vendor or similar if desired.  Upon ones return to take charge of your vehicle, they will be waiting, and fully expecting payment forthwith.  Ignoring these tradesman does not compute; they have fulfilled a duty (at least in their eyes) and demand compensation in return.  Given the likelihood your means of transport was bought and paid for by you and subsequently insured at even greater cost, you are naturally adverse to the risk of ignoring their propositions/sales pitches for the sake of returning either to damaged goods or in extreme cases, an empty space, which has magically replaced your expensive asset.

Selecting a suitable babysitter for your respective set of wheels often becomes more difficult when taking into account certain physical characteristics of the would-be carer because appearance, rightly or wrongly, plays upon our psyche and whatever the vocation, if honest, influences our decisions.  Presented with a choice of doctors, the first donning a stereotypical white coat and stethoscope and the other clad in leathers, nose piercing and an assortment of visible tattoos, our instinct dictates we select physician number one if permitted a choice.  Observing those working in the profession of car protection unfortunately leads one to an obvious conclusion – a high proportion of their numbers are far from the most agile or mobile of individuals.  Many carry a severe limp and hardly any walk with gusto or ease, except perhaps when a patron attempts to flee the scene without first concluding the deal, which leads one to a startling, or comical depending upon your viewpoint, revelation each time you are forced to deal with these scallywags.  Should a vile little thief or vandal attempt to either steal, break-in to, or in some way damage your valuable possession, the very person charging you for ensuring its continued wellbeing is not physically equipped to do so, making a mockery of the whole process.  One can only admire their dedication to pursue a trade so obviously beyond them.

Time constraints dictate that eventually your search (or more appropriately, fending off all but one impatient scrounger) for a security guard will cease and an agreement struck.  Once a deal, conducive to both parties, is established, an obligation falls on you to pay for the work upon completion of the service.  As mentioned previously, the nonexistence of a security hand at the potential time of negotiation means entering into an agreement by proxy and thus there exists no plausible excuse for non-payment.  Contracts are verbal and therefore no written word exists for referential evidence should you foolishly choose to pursue a policy of absence implies no exchange of funds.

Termination of a bond or pact occurs when you return with payment and subsequently collect your vehicle, which you hope still casts a shadow over the ground upon which you left it and preferably, exhibiting a condition similar to that when you took your exit.  This is where the territory now splits, dividing itself to form distinct paths.  Nonchalance and brevity are noticeable traits of South African citizens who, at such junctures, saunter down the corridor of familiarity, tossing the car minder an appropriate fee before vanishing from sight.  Alternatively, the trail reserved for tourists and those unaccustomed to the rules of engagement and all its nuances, is fraught with danger and the unknown.  The perils of this pathway largely revolve around the sum tendered for services allegedly rendered.  Tipping is another well-known melting pot of unwritten financial transactions where the chances, and often fulfilment, of confusion run rife, but happily, a quick, speedy resolution often resolves these to a satisfactory conclusion with little fuss or time wasted.  Escape routes from the parking minefield however, remain elusive, and unfortunately, tourist books often overlook it and the tacit rules governing the trade remain secret, shared by natives and learnt by victims under the harsh reality of an African sun.

Exact remuneration for car guarding is not specific.  Official security guards, under the employment of reputable establishments or corporations, receive a predetermined wage for their services and hence should refrain from pestering motorists to supplement this.  Capitalism rules in these murky waters though, as it does in the world of finance and many other spheres, and many guards use their position, suitably hidden from their employers, to seek financial reward beyond their pay packet.  Occasionally, these devious and resourceful individuals serve up curve balls, designed to mislead the wary shopper, and seek recompense in non-monetary items.  Requisitions for a loaf of bread as payment is one such ruse, which catches many off guard and results in the bemused car owner unwittingly donating part of their weekly grocery shop to the cunning vulture.  Resisting the temptation to engineer jokes at the predator’s expense is correct protocol at such junctures, because no matter how absurd the request may appear (not accustomed to carrying loaves of bread about your person for the purpose of anything other than eating) moral obligations mean restraint and possible compliance are the only acceptable retorts.  Opposite to the authorised, first set of workers, the second faction bothers not with high-visibility jackets and, put kindly, work on a commission only basis.  Ancillary benefits to this arrangement are the freedom to charge their customers whatever they deem fair for the particular day and time in question, and the autonomy to grow their territory without restrictions.  The natives and other experienced few handle both parties with comparative comfort and swiftness, which tourists can but envy – a small tip for official employees and corresponding payoff for freelancers and requests for alternative remuneration calmly rebuked without hesitation.  For the outsiders peering in, noses pressed against the boundary glass, testing the waters and learning the protocols first-hand without prior training or advice, the story is an altogether different one.  Apprentice nerves rule the landscape when the learner steps in and often the result is a prickly path underfoot and parting with unfeasibly large donations, whilst simultaneously causing future problems for the locals.  How do the uninitiated manage to create snags in a finely oiled machine and perpetuate ripples everywhere?  The answer is simplistic in nature and precisely the same for all parking profiteers and occupants of the inner circle.

Balance, by one particular definition is a harmonious or satisfying arrangement and in the parking world, such a condition exists between offering appropriate compensation for the work and straying into the realms of too little or too much.  Offers deemed inferior are likely to lead you into a debate that you were never interested in and remain best avoided.  Tendering amounts contrary to these low value propositions results in difficulties too.  Paying over the odds will always see your contribution receive an enthusiastic reception, but unfortunately, you are setting precedence for future customers who up until now, viewed the agreed rates as acceptable and remain blissfully unaware of any increase originating from your inexperience.

Monetary exchange, although a common obstacle for the intrepid parking novice, contributes but a solitary law or guiding principle from the car park survival manual and familiarisation with other straightforward, but no less important, facets should ensure a smooth, safe experience.  Adherence to acceptable topics of conversation for example can ultimately prove a lifesaver.  Definitely unadvisable, and understandably propositioned as suicidal by some, describing the contents of one’s wallet or purse to a waiting shark classifies as one such high-risk subject matter.  Informing the car park sentinel no sounds of jingling shrapnel will be emanating from your  empty pockets and high value notes are all that you possess equates to a very bad idea.  No sooner have such words left the mouth do the eyes of the poachers light up, springing forth from all directions, sitting attentively above their owner’s salivating mouths, and scrutinising their intended prey.  Crime, putting it understatedly, is a major problem in South Africa and detailing your personal financial situation in public arenas is a dangerous act.  Posting invitations to burglars, stating the dates and times when your home is unoccupied and the alarm disabled, would constitute a similar unadvised deed if further prospective were required.  Regrettably, not everyone heeds the advice and many an unfortunate soul departs the scene via an ambulance or in extreme cases an undertaker’s carriage.  In addition, revealing your holding generally leads the ever-keen car spotter to wait patiently for your tale to end before notifying you of a magical escalation in the agreed rates.

Happily, the final phase of the parking ritual does not involve your wallet, confusion, or shopping and often leads to some welcome, humorous relief.  Settling the tab in a favourable manner to all concerned ensures your newfound friend of the car park is extremely eager and sometimes overbearing in their enthusiasm, to facilitate your exit and will offer exaggerated navigational tips to aid your expeditious departure.  So begins the strange finale to the melee.

South Africa, although of considerable size in terms of land mass, does not top the list of largest countries in the world.  However, by United Kingdom standards for example, the volume of land is expansive and this, coupled with an inferior populace, means plentiful space for car parks, which is duly used to provide suitable spaces and abundant room for navigating in and out of them.  Unless operating the controls of an articulated lorry, double-decker bus, or similar, ample space exists in which to reverse your vehicle into from the confines of any parking bay.  Hence, the wonder to behold of a security guard offering continuous, navigational instruction from the moment you take position behind the wheel and start the engine.  Waving their arms repeatedly with great fervour and occasionally supplementing this via vocal means, one could be mistaken into believing their aid is necessary and vital, as though reversing onto a busy highway as opposed to a spacious parking lot filled with nothing more dangerous than slow moving vehicles and pedestrians, weighed down under their respective shopping.  Unsurprisingly, with your custom sealed, the self-proclaimed driving instructors become impatient; fervently eyeing their next victim and steadfastly sticking to the true capitalistic motto: time is money.  Akin to bums on seats for the savvy restaurateur, these people demand quick turnover and with grandma’s driving failing to endanger the rev counter, each displays a keen nature to help and hasten the departure of all clients.  Although slightly off-putting, their gestures are of no great concern and ignorance to their actions is perfectly acceptable behaviour.

A final, comical tinge brightens one’s day when pausing to reflect upon the driving instruction offered by your affable tutor during your exodus.  Comprehending why requires an explanation.  First, all forms of motorised transportation are incredibly expensive in South Africa, meaning drivers err on the side of caution when in close proximity of other vehicles, and thus potential damage to either party.  Even the introductory level, basic models carry a price tag featuring too many digits for most to consume.  Throw in the extortionate insurance costs on top and it ensures driving remains the luxury of the prosperous minority and of course, a few extra people whom although enslaved by colossal debts, remain belligerent in their denial, and hither unto unwillingly to relinquish their means of mobility.  In addition, only foolish misconception regards petrol as a cheap commodity – vast expanses of land result in sparse population density and hence the distances between everywhere register large enough to negate any savings made from inexpensive fuel purchases.  Second, those plying their trade in car parks and along roadsides up and down the country earn very little, regularly failing to bump their heads on dizzy heights such as the minimum wage.  Together, the outcome equates to the majority of those offering their driving tuition and expertise do not own a car, probably never have and  never will, and in all likelihood do not even possess a license allowing them to drive.

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