Jeremy Opperman

 
Gautrain Experience 
Part two
Back again!

Friday 10th September
3.45 My business complete, my client has dropped me off at the same Gautrain bus stop outside Monte Casino. Although somewhat apprehensive about exactly when the bus will arrive, I am nevertheless confident that the return trip will be just as smooth and seamless.

Gautrain assures their bus passengers, that traffic allowing, busses will arrive at their various bus stops every 20 odd minutes and every 12 minutes at Peak time. Given that this was a Friday afternoon, I concluded that 15.45 pretty much heralded peak hour. So I patiently stood waiting for the bus, confident in the belief that it would be around in a maximum of 20 minutes.
16.00 Oh well it is Friday and the traffic is no doubt hectic between Sandton and Fourways.
16.20 Still no bus. Patience aside, I cannot help feeling increasingly vulnerable waiting on the side of the road, carrying a Laptop in my bag, cell phone wallet etc. (one hears things about Jo'burg crime when living in Cape Town, as if we are strangers to it ourselves)
16.25 I am just considering hiding my laptop in my shoe, and swallowing my Cell phone, to present a less appealing target, when the voice suddenly emerges from the murk of my remaining vision.
"You have a nice dog, it says, he is so big." I hear the bus at last I am saved! Alas, it is only my heart which is hammering away.
"Is he dangerous?" it says. Ah at last, a chance to reveal my arsenal and defences. Now I can show that I am no helpless sap sitting prone on the side of the road. 
I consider revealing that in fact Barklee is a Black belt Ninja guide dog that would not only defend me but vivisect any attacker. But the potential humility of this myth being unearthed at the worst possible time prevents me from saying this. All I manage is lamely mumbling that he is not really dangerous but would probably defend me if necessary. Here I need to point out that as much as I adore Barklee, the fact is that he is more Omega than Alpha and I honestly would not bet the farm on his intervening in any way if I were to be set upon.
16.27 The voice turned out to be a jolly and garrulous Zambian taxi driver called William. William it emerges, apart from chatting about everything from the value of the Rand, to the weather and the price of dog food, really wanted to solicit my custom for his taxi. It turned out, that he had a dead cert tip that there were no Gautrain buses running today due to a strike. I of course defended Gautrain to the hilt citing my terrific experience a few days before.
16.35 Presently we were joined by Arnold, a 60 something promoter of expensive mattresses. He catches the bus daily back to Sandton where he parks his car and the conversation broadened to encompass global warming and COSATU.
16.45 still no bus, being a veteran traveller, particularly one who always has to depend on others, I have built in my customary padding of time. I am rather proud of this, as in over 350 flights, I have never been late or missed one yet. I am conscious that my flight leaves at 18.55 leaving me with 130 minutes to get from Fourways to the airport via two sets of public transport; and I am standing here with a cheerfully verbose taxi driver and a gloomy sales man outside a Casino. On a busy Johannesburg highway with not many options open to me.
16.50 And T minus 125 minutes, we have now been joined by a group of wonderful cosmopolitan texture. As an equity practitioner I am always moved by natural and unpretentious diversity. We meet Craig perhaps early 30's returning to SA after 8 years away, with his Scandinavian wife, completely confident about relocating to SA and picking up a new life from scratch. His sister Sarah, a sunny and unflappable 28-year-old Airline pilot and her cerebral but funny Indian fiancé Nervesh also an airline pilot, make up this delightful foursome. Most importantly they come with vital data, irrefutable information they have somehow gleaned, that indeed Gautrain is experiencing a strike at this moment. In addition, it is disclosed that Gautrain has said that instead of buses coming every 20 minutes, they will be arriving approximately every hour. 
Some relief with this knowledge after all I have been here for just over an hour, so surely that means that a bus must be imminent?
17.00 T minus 115 minutes, Anxiety reseeding with the warmth of the chattering group and the knowledge that I am not alone in any sense in this experience. Of course Barklee shamelessly hurls himself at the unfettered attention. William the taxi driver is still cheerily pessimistic about the Gautrain bus ever arriving, is now seeing dollar signs, and is calculating how he is to get 7 people and a large dog into his 3 series BMW still hopefully parked just by the bus stop.
17.15 T minus 100 minutes, anxiety is now returning palpably. Arnold is texting his wife to assure her that he is not testing out his expensive mattresses. William is growing despondent at our tenacious faith in Gautrain, and I am considering the awful reality that I may just miss my flight. What are the chances of getting onto another flight on a Friday? Could my credit card sustain another hit right now? Even the foursome are showing signs of restlessness, only Barklee seems oblivious of the potential drama.
17.25 T minus 90 minutes, still no bus. However, the resourceful Nirvesh has once again come up with the vital gen, that a bus left the Sandton terminal at 17.15 and should not be long now. Only William shows signs of disappointment.
17.35 T minus 70 minutes, at last the bus, with an inexplicably happy and courteous driver. Relief at the undeniable step forward but will it get me there on time? Force myself to engage and enjoy the ongoing conversation, but the mood of all has changed to one of grim determination to get Barklee and I on to the train as soon as possible.
18.10 T minus 45 minutes, flanked by my loyal commando including the surprisingly spry Arnold, who forgoes his wife's suspicions and insists on accompanying us to the gates of the station, we dog trot from the bus on a bewildering maze of pathways, escalators, and elevators to Gautrain, which we pray will be waiting at the platform.
18.15 T minus 40 minutes, it is, also the wonderful foursome need to catch the train as they live near Rosedale station just before the Airport. This helps to facilitate my finding the right carriage and getting on the train. Also it means saying goodbye to my now firm friends, as they have to get on another carriage as they will be getting off before the airport.
18.17 T minus 38 minutes, we are off! Damn this train is great, so quiet and smooth it is hard to know which direction one is going. Incongruous mixture of tension and relief that we are yet again making another step toward boarding in, oh my God, 38 minutes to take off! When will they close the gates, how will I get from the train terminal to departures and find Mango check in? Barklee, unperturbed as usual, has made a new friend and I hatch my instantly formed plan. I shamelessly, accost him with my predicament. He turns out to be David a 50 something British business traveler. In a lugubrious Oxbridge drawl, he assures me that he will ensure that I get to the Mango check in on time.
18.27 T minus 28 minutes, just left Rosedale station, only a couple of minutes to O.R Tambo, outwardly grateful to David for his kind offer but inwardly dubious whether this languid and genteel man can keep up, and especially since he has the biggest suitcase on wheels I have ever seen which is partially blocking our little compartment.
18.30 T minus 25 minutes, I need not have worried, David effortlessly strides alongside Barklee and I, Barklee sensing the tension picks up the pace, and David seems always to be in the lead and in control. At the last swipe point, my trusted Gold card fails me, and refuses to be coaxed into responding when swiped. I have all but given up, stuck on the wrong side of a glass barrier; it seems I am destined to remain. David, however, in a friendly but dangerous tone informs the gauds that I am about to miss my flight and could they please open the gate for me. Without delay, the guard complies and we are off again.
18.33 T minus 22 minutes, David for the first time shows sign of a creaking confidence, when he discloses that he has absolutely no idea where to go. We encounter a surprising number of people in the same boat, although none of them quite as anxious as ourselves.
18.35 T minus 20 minutes, at last we seem to be getting somewhere, at least we appear to be on the right floor. Still no sign of local airline check-in desks, let alone Mango, when David suddenly lunges at something to his left causing the three of us and his huge suitcase to get somewhat mixed up, it turns out to be something he recognizes is an automatic check in terminal. Of course I have never encountered one of these, always opting for counter service, and anyway, knowing that I could not use it, as it is utterly inaccessible to a blind passenger. However, this one, and perhaps they all, come with a living breathing person! He assures me that I will be able to check in on this machine. All he requires is my flight reference number. They both look at me expectantly as if I would have this information somehow on hand. In fact, I rarely do as a rule, usually just thrusting my ID and the flight time at the check in personnel and trusting in the system. However, in this case, with the last vestiges of cerebral energy I remembered that I had inexplicably put the reference number into my cell phone, something I have never done before. suitably impressed at my experienced forethought, David bids me farewell, and strides off outwardly Sloanish and confident, but I suspect inwardly a bit more frazzled.
18.38 T minus 17 minutes, last lap, need to find and get through security now, but still have no idea where I am. I think a short note here is in order; no amount of good access can substitute for good service. Service is the ultimate currency in ensuring easy and seamless access, particularly but not exclusively for the Blind. Lucky provided This Service, who, abandoned his machine without hesitation and took me to security where I habitually regret owning and traveling with a Laptop. Lug it out, throw all offending items into my bag, go through the metal detector, set it off as usual, probably Barklees harness, get frisked although with some circumspection as Barklee is still attached to my hand, retrieve my Laptop with the customary relief, and at last I am on familiar territory.
18.48 T minus 7 minutes, although technically home and dry, clutching my boarding pass, I am running on inertia and adrenalin, I swarm up the familiar ramp toward D level, the shops and my destination D3. Barklee takes over, I think he can sense the end tape. How he did it I have no idea, but he somehow, screeched right into D level, scorched a path weaving in and out of fellow passengers, me passively and exhaustedly in tow, hung a left, all on his own, and skidded to a halt in front of a counter. I had stopped paying attention about 60 metres back, and dazedly asked no one in particular; "can someone tell me where D3 is?" "Right here"; said a voice.
In closing I just want to say a heartfelt thank you to Gautrain for whatever imagined or real industrial transgressions they performed on their staff that day, that caused me to have one of the most stimulating and enriching days of my life. Would I recommend Gautrain? Absolutely!
Jeremy Opperman (C)  2019