By Huntress Thompson
Now, here’s my issue with tipping car guards – and it’s not just that I’m terrible and cheap.
For the uninitiated outside of South Africa, car guards are people (usually men) who are stationed in parking lots (of malls, venues, busy suburbs etc), and the principle is that they will keep an eye on your car for you so burglars don’t break into it and steal it.
Once you’re done at the mall, for example, buying things like bedazzled iPod cosies, you come out and give a tip to a person much worse off than you for their trouble. So they literally guard your car for you. I suppose it wasn’t that much of a leap of logic, really.
Our country, while beautiful, is full of these cold, nauseating ironies.
With car guards, it’s a service we’re given that we don’t necessarily ask for, but we still have to engage in.
It’s clearly a physically dangerous thing that you’re doing, because you’re wearing a fluorescent vest so drivers can see you, and don’t run you over. And you’re doing it even though I haven’t asked you to. The whole setup makes me horribly uneasy.
My problem with tipping car guards is as follows:
I’m not comfortable with giving a human person my leftover shopping coins (I’m a writer – it’s always coins) in exchange for them protecting my shit.
It’s based on the premise that, once I leave my car, you’re going to look after it with your life. You’re going to physically stop anyone who tries to steal it. I really, really don’t like the idea that your life is worth R5 in brown coins. But I’m rounding out the transaction, so I must believe that, mustn’t I?
Also, I don’t really believe you are looking after my car with your life. I don’t believe it because 1. We both know that would be madness, please don’t ever do that, and 2. You can’t quite be arsed to direct me out of my parking spot when I leave, so I don’t know if your commitment to my parking experience was exactly life and death.
Say that was the case, though. Say someone tried to break into my shitehorse of a car, and you threw yourself onto the windscreen to keep them from driving away, with total disregard for your own wellbeing. And things got violent, and they got away with my car. If I came back, and found you bleeding in my parking space, am I then supposed to say “But where’s my fucking car? I got change from the parking machine and everything.”
The whole thing is full of holes. The logic is not airtight.
I once heard of a guy in Durban who spent his gap year doing two things – writing, and being a car guard at the underground parking of the Hilton hotel (which was new at the time). He allegedly made enough money on those foreign currency tips to pay his university fees the following year.
This is obviously not the universal car guard experience. It would be wonderful to believe that all car guards are only at it for a while, making a lot of money very quickly, and are off on a better trajectory very soon.
That definitely can’t be true though. And people like me, doubting whether or not to tip them on principle, can’t be helping the cause.
So what does, exactly? Because I want to do that.
In the vacuum between dark and light, Siouxsie Sioux and Emmylou Harris, Amelie and Travis Bickle, Huntress Thompson is an idiot lost, and reporting from the field. If you’re after irrational, impassioned rants about cupcakes and Johnny Cash (and you probably aren’t), she’s grumpy, but she’s your girl.