Thursday, November 12, 2009

Big Trucks, Green Peppers and Richmond: The Connection

Around these parts, they're called "Agtien Wiele." 18-wheelers have always fascinated me, from the "little boy, big truck" complex shared by many young males onwards through my life until now. Since they're the death machines flying towards and swerving around us on the N1 on a daily basis I've gotten a full dose of these trucks since I've been in Richmond. The fires of this interest were seriously stoked today, though, with the following story.

Anna and I were stuck at the office late, firing off emails in prepartion for the upcoming training of new GRS coaches in Richmond and, less importantly but a bit more entertaining, overseeing a heated match of foosball spectated by two dozen local kids crowded into our small working space. We finally managed to kick the kids out and, having been so busy that we'd missed All Stars practice for the past two weeks, decided we would pitch up at training, get some soccer in, and see a few of our friends on the team.

Walking to the practice field, Richmond seemed even quieter than usual. There weren't really any people on the sides of the streets hanging around and chatting like they usually do on afternoons with pleasant weather. Normally there aren't many cars driving around town to begin with, but today there really weren't any cars on the roads in the neighborhood of the village where we practice, Dennis Whiteville. All was quiet.

Approaching our glass shard, deep divot and sharp rock minefield of a soccer pitch we quickly noticed that practice didn't look like it was going to happen. Officially, All Stars practice starts at 5:00, which really means that players start trickling in around 5:20 and actual training starts at 5:45. Since we were at the office for a while, we were already "correctly late" as we approached the field and found it devoid of any soccer-playing signs of life. We did, however, see one of the players (and one of our best friends on the team), Atlanta (real name Hannes), hanging around the side of the field. Here is the conversation that ensued:

Me: "Hoe gaan dit Atlanta?" (translation: What's up?)
Atlanta: "Na, neh is nxa my bru." (Nah, everything's fine man.)
Me (Afrikaans knowledge now exhausted): Where's the team? Is practice still on?
Atlanta: Noooo man, didn't you hear? They're at the accident.
Me: What accident?
Atlanta: The truck accident, bru.
Me: What? Is everyone okay?
Atlanta: Yeah, everything's fine. They're all out there, though. Them and the rest of Richmond. Any poor person with access to a vehicle is out at the accident site.
Me: Where did the truck crash?
Atlanta: Just up the road there (pointing towards the N1, where it leaves Richmond in a northern direction). 15 K's outside of town.
Me: Okay, what are people doing out there?
Atlanta: It's free stuff, man! Whenever there's a truck accident around here, people load into bakkies and they make for the accident site to load up on whatever they can.
Me: They take things from the truck?
Atlanta: Yeah, the company whose goods are getting shipped is insured in case of a crash so they'll get everything paid for anyway. Whatever's in there is fair game.
Me: They just let people come and scavenge the truck wreck?
Atlanta: Yes, but you have to get there quick if you want anything. Ooohhh....
Me: So why aren't you out there right now?
Atlanta: No ride. Plus I don't like Green Peppers.
Me (not needing to ask): So what was in this truck?
Atlanta: Green Peppers.

So if Anna and I had been on top of our games this morning, we could have made off like Green Pepper bandits. Our conversation with Atlanta revealed that truck accidents happen so often around here--with November/December as high accident season--that an entire system has developed around how the townships in towns along the N1 take advantage: how they get notified by traffic police family members/friends roaming the highway, how whole sections of highway towns clear out to scavenge truck wrecks, how the companies doing the shipping just let people take basically whatever they want, how people will hitchhike up to the accident site, grab whatever they can carry, and then negotiate transport back to their homes using their new possessions, and lots of other crazy stuff. When the goods are particularly valuable and the shipping company wants to hold onto them, Atlanta told us, it usually takes police positioned on and around the truck wreck spraying rubber bullets into crowds of eager vultures to protect shipments of new Nike shoes, fine Brandy, and the like. In the past year Richmonders benefited from a turnover of a Woolworth's Grocery 18-wheeler, an accident involving a truck carrying massive amounts of frozen chicken, a yogurt freight disaster which could be smelled for miles, a truck carrying barrels of house paint (all the houses' facades got bright color makeovers), another truck carrying enormous quantities of laundry detergent, and a huge crash of a truck transporting cases of Grolsch beer (given the ravages of alcoholism here, I'll say Richmond probably didn't benefit from that one).

Just thought this was super interesting.

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