I miss South Africa. I miss it in a way not dissimilar from how some get wistful for an abusive ex. This is not to say I suffered mightily on the trip. There was a daily battle with leg cramps. Bandwidth was scarce in town and totally absent outside of the city limits. The infrastructure was poor, and the professional drivers even worse. It was frigid at night, and the hostel I stayed at for the bulk of my trip did not heat the bunkhouse where I slept on foam sliced thinner the finest deli cut you could imagine.
I miss South Africa. I miss the lodge where I stayed, which despite the meager accomodations, was awesome. It doubled as a local shebeen, and the staff, the regulars (the local oaks), and the brothers who ran the place were excellent company on my trip. I spent so much time drinking $1 drafts there, the brothers started referring to me as a ‘local oak’. Cheap delicious beer, cheap delicious drip coffee, cheap delicious bananas everywhere (for aforementioned leg cramps), and excellent meat and curries to be had everywhere – did you know Ghandi lived in South Africa for 20 years? I miss the red dirt that reminded of me Oklahoma, and I miss the sights and smells of the afternoon grass fires wafting in from the outskirts.
The plateau North of Ellis Park gives you the best view of the splendor of Johannesburg. The challenge is getting there. On the 18th of June 2010, I was scrambling to figure out how I was going to get from Pretoria to Jo'Burg in the early morning hours. I had skipped out on some of the rudimentary details of getting around a difficult to navigate country, but I did find an internet cafe that was a brisk 10 minute walk (or a 15 minute cramp-induced pegleg hobble) from my hostel. Despite dialup speeds, I was able to figure out where to catch the new high speed train to Jo'Burg from Pretoria, and I also figured out that the last train to leave in time to make it to Ellis Park would leave 10 minutes before I reached the internet cafe. I figured this had to be a mistake.
The train station was a couple of blocks away from the hostel, and it was a couple of hours from game time so I went to investigate if there was another train to catch. Sure enough, the internet was right. No more trains to Johannesburg today. Instead of going back to the hostel to see if one of the owner's would give me a lift (or negotiate an inflated price to drive me), I started haggling with the local cab drivers at the train station. $50 for a 35 mile ride with no deadhead back seemed like a bargain.
We set out in earnest 90 minutes from game time, and the newly expanded N1 served us well until we hit Sandton, and then things became congested. 3 successive bottlenecks lead us to a spot due East of Ellis Park 30 minutes from game time, and we kept going south. 10 minutes from kickoff, I told Wilson (the cab driver in question- I have a card for him if you need adequate transportation in Pretoria) to get off the highway, and we bogged down further. The old adage of 'you get what you pay for,' can easily be invoked in this moment as I was dreading being late to my first World Cup match as a spectator.
It was kickoff time, and I was meandering through Jo'Burg south of the stadium, and I called an audible. I started chatting up the locals on the street looking for a foot path to Ellis Park. I came across a teen named Jordaan who knew the way to the stadium. I didn't dally long in the cab after this. Despite the fact I had only a vague notion that Ellis Park was to the north, I knew Wilson wasn't going to get me there, so I exited the cab, and enjoyed a jog with one of the locals. True to his word, after about a ten minute jog of roughly a mile, my guide delivered me to the outer perimeter of Ellis Park for the absolute bargain of 20 Rand.
After navigating the walk to the main gate, security, I walked into the stadium shortly before Ljubijankic had put the Yanks in a 2-nil hole. A long plane ride, persistent leg cramps, and poor planning introduced me to a bleak situation at Ellis Park. The US was 45 minutes from bowing out from the tournament when I finally made it to the stadium that night. I waited in a massive beer line in the old brick Rugby ground wondering if I was about to witness the Yanks meekly bow out of a 2nd consecutive World Cup when the crowd erupted (To be continued).