How I Survived the Demon Monster of Gympie Street
Tik huise, taxi drivers spraying bullets into the air, broad daylight drug deals, and the 2nd most dangerous street in the world: Gympie Street. All in the close proximity of some pretty music. Really gives new meaning to the phrase “suffer for art”
Cape Town is one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Whether this is fact or fiction can only be fortified via experience. Here I have seen my fair share of ‘What the hell” moments. In a sense, true life is way stranger than fiction.
A few years ago, my cousin Donovan told me about the notorious Gympie Street in Woodstock, Cape Town. A shoddy, run-down, boulevard of degradation that no-one in their right mind would want to visit – dead or alive. When Nicholas Cage first visited South Africa to film the Hollywood blockbuster ‘Lord of War’ a few years back, he apparently spent a night living in Gympie Street in order to experience life in the real ghetto. Little did I know I would a few years later spend a fleeting couple of hours so close to certain death.
This weekend my band had booked a last minute rehearsal session in Woodstock. What was meant to be a run of the mill rehearsal turned into something more sinister, as if some unknown force had emerged from the doldrums of Cape Town’s grimy underbelly – a bastard son of colonialism weaned on upper class weekend liquor, deep-fried fish and chips, throwaway ghost pops and 400 year old Hottentot slave bones. The Demon Monster of Gympie Street had raised its deformed head to wreak havoc on a bunch of unassuming band guys trying to make sweet sweet music.
I suppose I should’ve hearkened to the foreboding I experienced whilst sitting on the train en route to rehearsal. The trains are desolate places, where the reek of week old sweat and various other bodily excretions rest hazily on a pillow of tepid air. The permanent limbo one experiences on a Metrorail train can easily force one into a lethargic state of complacence. I decided to message my cousin Don.
“Dude, I’m going to a rehearsal at Gympie Street, Woodstock.”
His response came swiftly and in a cautionary manner of saying, “You Fool.” he said:
“It was nice knowing you. Please inform me of the date and time of your funeral. What kind of flowers do you prefer?”
He then assured me that everything will be fine provided I don’t look ‘loaded’ like someone who has much money. “Look dirty and poor.”
I then pulled my grey hoody over my head and assumed the posture of that recluse from Hunch Back of Notre Dame.
At the station I emerged from the landing to a half-torn poster advertising Dr Abiwambo’s nether-region enlargement cream and various other black market services. At street level I walked passed a make-shift barber shop with a number of foreign hairdressers grafting braids into a young girl’s hair as the stark aroma of beeswax and cheap incense filled my nostrils. Looking for the directions to number 32, I entered a Pakistani convenience store. There, the man at the counter looked at me. After about a minute I asked him for directions. He looked at me. He continued to do so.
Outside the shop, I saw a guy sitting on his haunches and smoking what may have been a cigarette – I’m not sure. I thought he could help me. Later I learned that this dude was working for the ‘tik huis’ (or Crystal Meth dealership) about 5oo metres away from my destination. If you’re not familiar with tik, it’s a potent drug that puts you on an intense high for a couple of days, in which time you will have been sleep depraved and ready to commit any sort of crime in favour of your next hit.
Shortly after I arrived to what appeared to be a bolted-up door to the venue we’d be rehearsing at, Dave (our drummer) stumbled in with red eyes and a bleak look on his face. After cutting off a taxi a little way down the road, the driver pulled out a gun and sprayed some bullets into the air as a warning to Dave. Now I know why this area was ranked as being so dangerous.
After our rehearsal, we stood out in the street and observed with awe the candidness with which deals and other illicit activities are done. According to the assistant at the studio, Gympie Street isn’t even the most dangerous in the area. Apparently crime has come down quite a bit. At least, I made it out alive and survived the Demon Monster of Gympie Street.
Cousin Don then congratulated me on a mission accomplished. My street cred just went up a notch. It appears all those hours of playing Grand Theft Auto payed off in some way.
What do YOU think of this outrageous yet true story?