Fourways, a Suburb of (In)Convenience

I’ve lived in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg for three and a half years now. The initial move was to get closer to work. Not because of all the faux Italian architecture. And definitely not because of the image associated with the various suburbs. But the rent is reasonable within a 1km radius from my apartment is pretty much everything I need. For example, a block away from my complex is a massive hardware store, all major fast food outlets (with drive thrus), four grocery stores, two Chinese restaurants, three pizza places, a Casino and about a third of Johannesburg’s population. There is also a really good pet store and tack shop. The rent isn’t too bad and I’m close to the major highways and driving to the stables takes me 20 minutes.

Monte Casino (photo by marccrowther on Flickr)

However, the amount of people and shopping centres causes a number of problems. Add on the fact that when they planned the roads they didn’t take the population density into account. So there is always traffic. Add on ‘infrastructure upgrades’ (to accommodate the huge office park down the road) and you’ve got constant construction going on and no traffic lights. It’s not unusual to travel for thirty minutes and only move 100m. And there are more being built – there’s even talk of massive development to link the gazillion malls in the area.

I’m very lucky that my complex is quiet. But there are a lot of people living pretty much on top of each other, so when the zombie apocalypse comes it’s going to spread really quickly. On the up side, even though there are probably at least 200 people in my complex, we all live anonymously. I greet my downstairs neighbour because I once helped him find his very ugly cat and we leave for work at the same time. But that’s pretty much it. No other interactions with the residents. And it’s wonderful.

Fourways Mall (photo by andrewmurray on Flickr)

But the majority of Fourways residents are single, young adults. They spend their evenings in the pubs, flirting and sleeping around. I’m pretty sure the Tinder hook up rate is the highest in South Africa and might even beat Vegas and Amsterdam. It’s also known as the Cocaine Belt. Probably because of all the one night stands and disposable income. The pharmacies make a killing selling STD treatments and Valium (because anxiety is the new black).

The area also has a device to person ratio of 3:1, which means the cell phone signal is weak because of the demand. I can only make and receive calls in one part of my house. And if I even lean a little in a direction it drops. I get better download speeds in rural areas. I can’t even take advantage of lower data costs. And no one does landlines anymore.

I love to hate Fourways. Because even though I whine about it on a daily basis, I still haven’t left. And I don’t think I will any time soon.

Fourways, a Suburb of (In)Convenience

A Night in the ‘Burg

I went out of town this weekend. Not too far out, but it felt like another planet.

The town of my destination: Boksburg

I used to party in the East Rand a lot. But it was a long time ago and I have vague memories of those times because I was constantly drunk. That was seven years ago. Not much has changed: they still know how to put away a few out there. The only difference is that I’m not so good at that anymore.

But I wanted to spend time with Mad Laura and I promised I would, so I trekked through the maze that is the Gauteng highway system on a rainy Saturday. Laura is awesome, her family rock and meeting them and the usual small talk was very pleasant. But I wasn’t there to bond with her family, I was there to party. And Laura, freshly single, was up for it too.

Being close to the airport, you are allowed to start drinking at any time, because the Boeings do their thing all day long. And you can’t really be uncertain about it because they come in so low, tall people can touch them. But Laura at least works in Johannesburg so she can wait until the sun sets.

The venue of our night out: Cool Runnings, right on the border or Benoni and Boksburg, so I was deep in the East.

This branch was hosting some Afrikaans band. The direct translation is either ‘Sun Stroke’ or ‘Sun Shag’. So it was packed. Laura did an amazing parking manouver (confirmed: some women can park) and we battled our way in to find a table. But it was a rugby night too, so there was no space anywhere. Eventually we found a counter that was available and sat on that. Savage: but when in Rome and all of that.

And just like back in the day, there were young things everywhere, drinking heavily. They are even younger now. I know that some of the kids I saw were only about 14. But no one asks for ID in the East. And no one stops you from smoking inside the building either.

At some point someone brought me a shooter that was disgusting, strong and a major contributer to today’s hangover. A bit later there was tequila. At that point I was flirting with a young thing and he gave me advice on how to take it. In what universe does a 21 year old know more about drinking tequila than retired pro? In the freaking East Rand is where.

I lost interest in Jail Bait shortly after. At 21, men are still very silly and have no idea how to work a woman. But I guess men are actually really silly and have no idea how to work a woman. But to all the boys out there, if you are lucky enough to have a woman pay attention to you, don’t tell her about all the numbers you collected so far that week. And if you’re lucky enough to have a shot with an older woman, don’t tell her how to drink tequila.

I got pretty hammered and I did have fun. I’ve been invited back – but I’ll have to get over this tour first.

While driving back to civilisation I couldn’t help notice how the East Rand feels a lot like Free State towns. Advertising consists of notices on shop windows and company names painted on walls. There are no billboards, and if I wasn’t enjoying my Billy Idol CD so much, I probably would have found that there is no radio either. It even looks a lot like a Free State town. Until you get to the mall. That looks urban. The East Rand does not have many trees.  The ones that stand around look too deliberate and awkward. There are a lot of 4×4’s, but unlike those in Sandton, these look like they have been used. And I saw Toyota Hilux’s, the signature car of the Free State – so for a moment I felt confused because I could have been driving through Frankfort.

I was delighted to see the Bingo hall is still in business. And all of a sudden I was in familiar territory and felt nostalgic until I remembered my head hurt. The clubs are still in the same places, the businesses haven’t moved. It looks exactly the way it did in 2003. And that’s how life moves in the East. You club as a youngster and play Bingo when you age. Oh yeah, they know how to live it up back there.

It’s good to be back in the city.

A Night in the ‘Burg