It all started with an innocent “ping” from my cellphone. I can’t remember the exact wording, but the message was something on the lines of “Park your car in a safe place, because a hailstorm is approaching.”
I walked outside and sure enough, a few dark blue clouds were assembling above the Leisure Wheels office. The cars were parked in a safe spot, but I hit the road, hoping to get the Duster into my garage at home before the hail started. Alas, it was not to be.
I was barely a kilometre from the office when the first raindrops appeared on the windscreen, so I headed for the nearest underground parking lot, which happened to be at Northgate Mall.
With the Duster safely parked under a few metres of concrete, I was free to waste two hours watching the new Goosebumps movie. It turned out to be terrible, but not half as bad as being caught out in a hailstorm — or subsequent heavy traffic — would have been. At least, that’s what I told myself as I walked out of the cinema. It was just after 6pm, so the worst of the afternoon rush hour would be over…
Unfortunately, Gautengers tend to forget their wet weather driving skills as soon as the winter rolls in and the clouds roll away. This leads to absolute chaos early in summer, and it’s always at its worst during the first storm of the season.
On this occasion, it was bad on an epic scale. Not only was the rain still bucketing down, but an intense storm had left the entire Johannesburg/Pretoria region covered in a white blanket of hail – a recipe for disaster. I didn’t keep track, but after hearing a radio report about eight people dying in a crash, I knew I had to get home as soon as possible.
The rain was soon over, but the storm had left disaster in its wake. I live about 33km from the office and on that particular day it took me two-and-a half-hours to get home. It’s a trip I usually do in 25 to 30 minutes…
The problem wasn’t people crashing, but rather drowning their cars. You’d think they would have the sense not to drive through a pool of murky water that had collected on the side of the road, but no. At least three people stalled their vehicles in a 100m stretch of Malibongwe road, which left the rest of us with nowhere to go.
One kind gentleman in a Ford Ranger ploughed through the water and gave the stalled cars a tow, so eventually we could move forward, but not by much.
In England, where it rains 80% of the time, the traffic lights always seem to work. That’s why I want to petition the government to send someone over there to find out how they waterproof their robots, so that we can do the same here. I just don’t understand why Johannesburg’s robots simply refuse to operate as soon as the first drop of rain hits the tar.
After an hour I finally reached the N14 turn-off, but since the highway was nothing more than a parking lot at that point, I decided to ditch the tar and head home the long way round, on my favourite dirt road. I expected a few hiccups, since a stream crosses this road a few times, but it would be nothing the Duster couldn’t handle.
The car did a stellar job on a road that had been mostly washed away, but the final stream crossing had a massive surprise up its sleeve. The amount of hail that had accumulated was so ridiculous that the stream had been turned into a small, slush puppy-like dam in the middle of the road.
I got out and inspected this icy terror. It was about 60cm deep and the Duster could easily clear it, but I had no idea how the vehicle would react to the ice. That’s not a problem we face on a daily basis in SA! My only other option was to turn back and join the throng on the N14, but since I was now a mere 10km from home, that wasn’t going to happen.
Nothing could have prepared me for what came next. I drove into the icy pool and the car immediately turned sideways and began inching towards a nasty looking ditch. There was almost zero grip, but somehow the Duster dug down hard and slowly progressed towards the exit on the other side.
A person in a Polo watched my effort, but he (wisely) decided to turn around and try his luck with the N14.
Another 30 minutes later, I arrived home safely. About ten other people weren’t quite so lucky…
It was a commute from hell, but what really scares me is that we have at least two more months of this kind of weather to get through. I’m extremely thankful that I get to tackle it from behind the wheel of a 4×4 and not some low-slung hatch that’s so easily defeated by a puddle.