Sunday, June 27, 2010

Red meat and a Shebeen!

One of the crazy things about the World  Cup is the emotional roller coaster that every fan is taken on from the very beginning. It doesn't matter who you are a fan of- the USA, Ghana, Mexico, England- Germany might not counted in this because of the ice that seems to run through their veins- okay that's a joke, but seriously I sometimes wonder.  Honestly though, I say this because as I read through my last post I realized that as high as we felt the other day, we felt as low last night. Our guys are done. It's that simple. It's clean- there are no hanging chads, no reviews of the "tape", no costly legal wranglings aimed at a reversal of the outcome. Pack it up- we going home! But 30 other teams and their throngs of fans worldwide will feel, if they haven't already, the disappointment, despair, and an overall longing to still be a part of it. Brazil 2014 is already on my mind, though I wish it weren't, at least for another week or two.

Yesterdays game is the cause of much discontent for not just myself but for everyone still remaining in our group. We started as a "wolf pack" of 7, but lost Ryan (bottom) after the second US game. This isn't to say that Ryan didn't make the most of his short time here. In his 8 days here the guy made it to 5 total WC games. Now THAT is a sprint! Then we lost Clint taking our numbers to 5. Clint being a foriegn soil World Cup sophomore this trip tallied his 14th World Cup game game in 3 overall WC's. But it was this reduction in numbers made us think that we could change the way we went to last nights game. Our previous trip to Rustenberg was the USA's 1st game against England. We had only been here in South Africa for little more than 48 hours, we had two cars and not a clue where we were going so we found a nice bus that promised to give us a comfortable ride to the stadium. That trip left us with a poor taste regarding the overall efficiency of the public transport here in South Africa. So for this game we determined that if we left early enough in the day we could drive ourselves up to the stadium and meet some other US fans at  local pub for some pre-game and the application of our face paint. We made it to Rustenburg without a problem, although I was licking the wounds of a major night out the previous evening. Unfortunately for me it was extremely difficult to find a comfortable position in which to feel miserable because we put 5 people(3 of which are in no danger of death by malnutrition)  in a car meant to transport 4 pygmies . We looked like a clown car for sure!
When we arrived in Rustenberg we were told by our trusty GPS to take a left and head down to "Lucky's" where we were to meet the others. We pulled up to the intersection and were told by a cop, no parking permit, no left turn Clyde, so on we drove into the heart of Rustenberg. What we saw is hard to describe and Brett didn't feel it was good idea to slow down to take pictures. It looked like what I imagine Watts looked like after the riot. Trash everywhere, locked down deserted shops, and a "taxi stand" that looked to be about the size of a football field, packed with people and lined with stands selling who knows what. In the end we figured our best bet would be to utilize a park and ride that had been seen on the way in, so off we went. The park and rides are set up to take people from their vehicles, in buses, to the stadium. The idea is simple, there is nothing about this system that would leave a person to think that it could be FUBAR. They get us parked, we jump on a bus and make our way to the stadium. We are dropped off on the complete opposite side of the stadium that they will let us enter so we walk. We are told that Lucky's is about a 1/2 hrs walk but there is a shebeen just across the way. A shebeen is a house that has been turned into a bar and frequented mostly by black South Africans after being unable to enter normal pubs during apartheid. We wondered what these would be like so we were excited to get in and check it out. We walked in the font door and were greeted with a cloud of body odor and loud, aggressive drunk dudes. It wasn't a hostile aggressive, more like "Holy Crap! Look what just walked in here! I wanna talk to THOSE guys!" I had a conversation with a guy that lasted a good 3-4 minutes and I didn't understand a single word he said to me! 3-4 minutes of worrying whether I should be nodding yes or no is an extremely long time. So I said a lot of things like "definitely" and "right?" and "ohhh, you know it!". He kept trying to shake my hand and I kept trying to counter with fist pumps and hitting my chest above the heart. I think I turned away after a proper goodbye was made. I had my beer, a $1.00 40oz to freedom, and I was making my way back out into the welcome fresh air, which says something about the smell in that place because the air here SUCKS! I turn to see German being accosted by a young man that was extremely proud of his US Army cargo pants. He has his arm around German and talking very excitedly about something- probably similar the the conversation I had just excused myself from, and it is extremely obvious that my friends comfort zone is on  the other side of the universe at this moment. I move in an attempt to get my boy out of this mess when I am spotted by GI Joxi. He greets me with an enthusiastic roar while holding firm to his newest American buddy, when from his mouth I see a large gob of spittle exit and fly in super slow motion across the distance that separates us and land square on my cheek just below my eye. Inside I screamed like a 12 yr old girl in a horror flick. We leave.
A this point I am still not feeling very well from my rock star evening the night before and as a result the beer is slightly bitter. But, we are outside the lions den and back in the dusty front yard. Cory and I are thinking that it might be worth while to go check out what sort of food is on the menu over at the local Tuck Shop. Corey and I walk up, we are greeted by a very friendly young lady and the following, almost unbelievable, conversation follows: Me- Hi!, She- Helloooo my handsome friends, Me- So, whats on the menu tonight? She- Well you are going to have to wait 15 minutes because the meat is cooking. Me- Okay, so what kind of meat is it? Beef? Chicken? Pork? She- Well it's like beef yeah, its red meat. Me- Well I prefer my "like beef" medium rare. She- 15 minutes honey and I will make you a nice plate! I then look at Corey and say "I will definitely be back at this spot in 15 minutes to try me some 'like beef'!" She winks at us as we walk away. True to my word, 15 minutes later I bought a plate of that delicious "red meat". I have no idea what it was and I don't care, it was delicious!
We made our way back toward the stadium and found that once again there was absolutely no order to be found in any way for anything. We have begun to refer to the WC2010 as the "Ghetto Style World Cup". The line for beer is about 45 minutes long, and this is not at all an exaggeration. We have also found that once again there is no US section. We paid for Category 3 tickets because in each of the last 3 WC's the US supporters sections were together in this category. I would have been happy to spend an extra $20 or so per ticket for better seats if I was going to be peppered in with fans from who knows where, and not in support of my team. For instance, there was a young English kid, perhaps 17yrs old, wasted with his dad standing in the isle near our section. He was taunting us and repeatedly telling us that we were going home. Never before have I wanted so badly to throttle someone! It was only made worse when it looked as though this kid might be right. Things were righted in some ways at the half when another of the US contingent saw from around the stadium that our section was the only section in the stadium that refused to sit down and shut up. We were approached by the security staff to please sit down. This request was met with a cheer of "Stand up for the USA, Stand up for the USA, Stand up for the USA..." Security quit trying to make us sit down. So for the 2nd half our numbers doubled and we did what we could to be heard over the now loathed vuvuzela.
Once the game was over we headed back to where the buses were to pick us up and return us to our car. This is just another example of the complete and total lack of anything resembling organization at these events. There is no fan parking within probably 2 miles of the stadium so all 35,000 people in the stands this night were waiting for these buses or trying to find the specific bus that brought them from some other town. Rather than have an organized line-perhaps a system of ropes, nothing fancy just something to fill these buses in some sort of orderly fashion, they have fencing that runs along the edge of the bus pick-up area and the funnels toward a pick-up point. The result is people pushing like cattle toward an exit about 5 ft wide. Thousands of people, trying to get through four 5 ft wide exits, in the middle of a dusty field, miles away from the cars. To make matters even more utterly surreal, some people think that blowing the vuvuzela in the midst of this utter Cluster F%&k is not only a good idea, but something that must be done the entire time. At one point I just fell into a fit of laughter asking "are you serious?!?!", but in a much more colorful way. At last we made it to the car, and we find that it is obvious here as well that there is no method to the madness. There were cars parked facing every possible angle, there are 2 exits that are being approached in exactly the same way as the exit to the buses and to make the night absolutely, perfectly unbelievable one of the parking attendants is patting his belly asking Brett if he can have $20 Rand. Dude?!? Quit begging and start working because this isn't!! Look around! Unreal.
We finally made it home at about 4am.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Yanks went marching in...

Is there a word that can be used to describe the feeling that I, along with the hundreds of people in my immediate vicinity, felt last night when Timmy, Landon, Jozi, and Clint teamed up to score a goal that could very well go down as one of the most important goals in US Soccer history? I would like to say "speechless" but that wouldn't be quite accurate, we screamed until the vessels in our heads felt as though they would burst. We may not have said anything that would be considered a coherent "word" but there was a joyous, defiant, victorious sound coming from everyone I could see. I might try to use the word "awe" but although this was an extraordinary moment, I never once thought it to be impossible. Every fiber of my being was confident that we would make it out of the 1st round but I swear to all things greater than I am, I didn't think it was going to be such a crazy road to the second round! A word like "redemption" comes to mind. We have had 2 of our 6 goals taken away- both of those were game breakers and both of them have been proven to be taken away without proper justification. Try as I might, I can't come up with the words that would do the feeling justice. Spectacular, marvelous, tremendous, wondrous- they are all, I suppose, close to the combination of emotions that coursed through me at that moment and the following few hours. I was utterly exhausted when the high of all that energy came down. I woke up this morning feeling calm.

We started the day like we have for most of the days we've been here with a quiet breakfast discussing the plans and time lines for the day. We broke off into different groups and ran some errands or lazed around the house writing. A few hours before kick-off we met back at the house and began getting ready. Some of us put the face-paint on and got our gear together. I have found that agreeing to take pictures with more than 1 scarf, needing to carry extra paint for touch-ups ( feel a little girly just saying that), my camera, house key, money, I.D., and an extra coat because of how cold it gets here at night, I feel like the little kid from the movie "A Christmas Story". I am carrying around way to much stuff to these games, but as promised I have a couple pics with the Fire scarf and the Byki scarf.

So upon departure we took what would end up being the first of countless pictures with strangers. Something about the face paint makes people want to put your image into their collection of moments not to be forgotten. Since Korea I would imagine that I am in such collections of hundreds, perhaps thousands of people from around the world. Okay maybe "thousands" is a stretch but being stopped for photos on game days has become something to be expected. But that's part of the fun of it. The number of people that have begun wearing more and more extravagant costumes is growing and it makes the experience and atmosphere all the more festive. I am thinking I may have to step things up in Cups to come because my "get-up" is getting dated! I am still wearing the same shirt that Shane bought for us in France in '98. I wear the same design on my face, more or less- I carry the same flag I bought prior to Korea in '02, flag boxers and a cowboy hat because I have met so many people in my travels that relate Americans to cowboys. But, since Korea and the "original" Elvis Trio, the costume has become a novelty. Our friend Skate April who we met in Korea also, made the Evel Knievel World Cup costume famous, as is evident now that we have seen Evel make a reappearance, albeit not the original as he is not Skate and he is not accompanied by the beautiful Mrs. Kenievel- Skates wife Siouxie. There was little drink poured out last night for the "homies that couldn't be here"- you were one of em.

Speaking of people no longer here, our man Ryan was forced to leave after the second game and our group has been forced to carry on minus one. Plus, it is just as unfortunate that we lose another tomorrow as Clint is forced to return home. It is a shame that we can't all just stop the clock and spend the entire tournament here having fun, supporting our team, and pickling our livers, together. Ahhh togetherness!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A little catching up!

In all there really aren't a lot of differences between the people we know and talk to everyday back home and the people we have met here. But, this of course comes as no surprise. People are people. They may not speak the same language all of the time but that doesn't change the fact that wherever you are from you can't be mad when you're laughing and it is impossible to whistle with a smile on your face. So, some random observations thus far:
The air quality here is horrible! There is no way to sugar coat this, the air is full of smoke and exhaust. This isn't changed by the city center to the suburbs- you walk outside and you smell smoke. I walked with a local S. African black named Tendai on the street after the US match at Ellis Park the other night. We spoke about the World Cup, S. Africa, Ben Harper, and why the side of the hill off in the distance was completely ablaze at 11pm. He said it was probably people trying to stay warm. At first this seems like perhaps he was trying to be funny, or he was clueless- this certainly wasn't meant to be a cozy little fire. The side of the mountain was on ohhhh- yes it was on FIRE! But that probably makes Tendais point, it is cold here and there are a lot of people without the kinds of luxury's we are accustomed to so they burn whatever they can get their hands on to stay warm when the temps drop to about zero overnight. This bigger fire was probably just one of those little ones that got out of control. Plus, there are obviously no emissions standards here, and if there are, they are not enforced! If there is some posititve to be found from all of the pollution in the air, it does make for some pretty amazing sunsets. And I was happy he had heard of Ben Harper.

The music here is mostly trance, house, hip-hop! I made a terrible mistake prior to leaving on this trip. I tried to add a bunch of my brother-in-laws music to my I-pod. In my rush to get everything done before taking off I made the mistake of adding his music from my net-book. This of course erased all the music I previously had on the I-pod and added all of his. I am finding out that our tastes in music don't always jive. I miss my music!
There are advertisements everywhere here. The local newspapers put what look like front page story headlines in display cages on lightposts and and street signs. A couple favorites so far have been "FICK FUFA", and "Portugal Nukes Korea". Diesel has been running an ad campaign that I haven't been able to figure out just yet and that sort of scares me. "Be Stupid"! There are signs all over the place about things that are stupid and I just can't figure out what they are trying to say!

We have been unbelievabley lucky in terms of getting out to see other teams play. Never before have the tickets to games, or access to stadiums been so available to us. In the past we would always travel from city to city and stay for a night or two- check out the local happenings and then move on to the next place. This time around we have stayed in just one place. This has had its advantages, we have been getting a regular full breakfast with coffee and tea, eggs made your way, veggies and bacon, toast and jam. The lodge owners Ian and Larysta have been doting hosts with Dorothy and Yope making sure that we have whatever we might need or desire. The local stadium, as I have said is but 10 minutes walk from our front door. We have become familiar with shortcuts to the local fan fest so we can get down there without any trouble. We are becoming pretty good at navigating the streets in and around our neighborhood should we need gas for the cars, do some shopping at the mall, etc. It is nice to be able to get some descent sleep when it is needed. We have found what could be considered a paradise in the desert except for one minor detail- there is some construction going on here in Nirvana and they begin at about 7am. It starts relatively calm, with some early moring conversations and opening of tool boxes, placing of tools, maybe some remeasuring. This is the type of soft noise that you can easily work into your dreams. Ahhhh tapping, the sounds of muffled voices...ohhh dreamily warm and comfortable, secure and soft- dreaming of beaches and palm trees....BBBRRRRAAAHHHAHHAHHAH Circular SAWS and jackhammers, THWAK THWAK THWAK GRRRRRR THump THump! What The F%$K?!?! Is that dude hitting the wall above my head? I am waiting for the dust to start falling on my bed from the cieling above me. Oh yes, they must be pulling a 200 year old tree from the ground just outside my door. Ummmm yea, I am pretty sure I have heard that sound in the past, yep that is the sound of a funny car drag racer at the starting line exploding just after take off! But in the room next to me? Good morning! It must be 7am, don't want to waste the day!

We have seen four stadiums thus far; Pretoria (our home), Rustenburg, Ellis Park in Jo-Burg, and Soccer City in Jo-Burg. In these stadiums we have seen 5 games. Our first game was in Rustenburg and it was The US vs England. It was a pretty great experience watching what was a very surprising number of Americans show and support the US in what I thought would be a very one sided display of fans. The English fans were very brash and gave our team very little chance of competing with their beloved England! Looks like the English team had over looked us too.  Because we live so close to the stadium here in Pretoria I was able to go see the mighty Danes play against Camaroon. I have an affinity for the Danes having played for a team there 52 or so years ago. They didn't disappoint and gave an effort equal to the task of getting 3 points. To all my fellow danes out there- you are DYNAMITE!   

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Revenge of the Zela!

The past couple of days have been a bit of a blur. We went on what was possibly the coldest imaginable African Safari, then to Sun City- a Vegas style oasis of gambling and hotels for some lunch and a game. Jim, Ryan and German all won a little cash while the rest of us just loitered around and commented on the number of pregnant women we saw hanging out in casinos which just so happened to be the only smoking sections in the place. In their defense we didn't see any of them smoking but they weren't playing either so I am not sure what the point of their being there was. By the time we decided to leave it was well past dark so we were left with no alternative than to do what we were warned not to do and that is to drive in the rural areas after dark. But we made it without incident but will try not to do that again as it was a little sketchy.

The next day we tried to spend as normal a day as possible by heading down to the gym for a workout and then to the mall to do some shopping- the staples of beer, wine, sandwich makings, chips and trail mix. Bought some local soy milk...interesting. After returning we all had some snacks, a shower and prepared ourselves for the evening. South Africa was playing Uruguay and this type of an event is something that must be seen to be fully understood. The day of a host nation game is a pretty special thing to be a part of. Everyone was decorated with small S.A. flag stickers or face paint on their cheeks or foreheads. Some have gone the route of full on fanatic face paint. The horns and flags are common sights too, but it is the energy in the air- the overwhelming feeling of anticipation that becomes the buzz. This game is being played at the stadium down the street so we don't have far to go to be a part of it all. When we left the house in the morning to head over to the gym we could here the unmistakable sound of the vuvuzela in the distance. We didn't have tickets to this game but in our experience thus far there have been ample amounts of tickets outside the stadiums- the question is always, how much will they be charging? Either way we felt confident that we would be getting into the stadium for this game.
When we arrived at Hatfield Square, which is the official Fan Zone for this stadium we say for what is probably the first time the type of environment that we have become accustomed to and honest have come to expect at the World Cup. Finally the streets were blocked off to allow for foot traffic only and the streets were full of the colors of the days teams. Perhaps things are different in the stadiums of the towns in which have not yet been but in Rustenberg, Jo-burg and here in Pretoria this is really the first time we have seen this type of atmosphere and it was long overdue. The World Cup frenzy was now obvious and the world is finally as it should be; happy, lively and anticipating great things. The shops are full, there are vendors lining the sidewalks and everyone is consumed in the festival-like atmosphere. People are smiling and laughing; posing for pictures and wishing strangers a good day. The World Cup should be everyday! But I suppose that such a thing would diminish how special it is and the effects of goodwill it is responsible for.

So off we go toward the stadium after a couple beers and a bite to eat. We have become pretty comfortable with the different routes to the stadium and where fishing for tickets is likely to be most successful. However, purchasing tickets on the street is frowned upon here even if the purchase is made at face value or cheaper. But we are left with little alternative as the only ticketing centers have nothing but the high priced premium seating, if any, and the stadiums here have yet to be seen, at least by us, at capacity. So there are tickets out there and we are going to find them! Even so it is a sellers market so we head to a corner at which we have been lucky finding tickets before and almost immediately we are approached by some white S. Africans and an Englishman with available tickets. They are asking greater than face but, as I said earlier, seeing the home nation play is something that must be done at least once. I was able to see Germany play Sweden in the knock-out stage of the last Cup at the new Allianz Stadium in Munich and it was simply thrilling. So 3 of our group decide that they are willing to pay the asking price which leaves 4 of us choosing to wait a bit longer to see if the prices fall as the start of the game gets nearer. Our groups part and the 3 with tickets in hand happily make their way toward the giant bowl of vuvuzelas. The sound where we were standing at this point, still 2 hours prior to kick-off and nearly 1000 yards from the nearest corridor that leads into the seats of the stadium was so loud it was almost laughable!
At this point the remaining four of us decide to return to Hatfield to enjoy a couple beers and the feel good vibes that were soaking the square. We found a nice little reggae bar called The Stone Lion Cafe which invited us in with live music filtering out of the darkness and into the street and a somewhat surprising "Joey's tailor" type of weapons frisk. WHOA! Actually for such a large man he was surprisingly gentle. So in we walked with wide eyes and honestly a little confused by what just happened. I think we need a beer! Not but moments later we find ourselves faced with bottle beers that are less than $2.00, very nice! Good beer, lively music, great company and it entertainment!

There is a young white S. African stallion with two young ladies on his arm who are obviously taken by his fearless swagger and noticeable unpredictability. They order 3 beers from the bar beside us. They turn away, then stop. He has had...wait, I think...yep, he's had an idea. The vuvuzela he has been carrying around blowing like an elephant trumpeting to potential mates, and like an annoying jackass oblivious to startled passers-by and patrons enjoying a conversation about the potential legal implications of an international incident involving a large plastic horn and the non-fatal placement of it in the only other place such a device could be inserted in the opposite end of this fledgling musician, looks as though it could be used as a beer bong. Yep! It's large at one end and narrows down to a little nozzle...perfect! Bottle up, vuvuzela down, flip it over, guzzle-guzzle-guzzle. Uh-oh, I've seen that face before. This guy is going to get sick. He's fighting it, but inevitably he is going to lose this battle. Eyes watering, short breathes and cheeks puffed out like Louis Armstrong he makes his way to the bathroom. I am once again a fan of the vuvuzela.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A day worth remembering!

This morning like most others we are all slowly doing our own thing. Brett and Ryan have gone down to the ticketing center at the Brooklyn mall in hopes of securing some tickets to today’s Denmark/ Netherlands game at the flagship stadium in Jo-burg, Soccer City. While Jim and Corey lay in their rooms, Clint and German type on their computers, I write.

Not yet knowing what today will hold I can pronounce with confidence, “Yesterday was a great day”! After lunch we decided to walk to the stadium down the road from our house to check out the scene around the stadium on a game day for an African nation- Ghana vs. Serbia and it did not disappoint. We ended up getting some tickets from some guys that seemed to be representing the Ghana Football Association- at least that’s what our tickets say. The scene around the stadium was, as expected, full of Ghana supporters with a couple, and I seriously mean very few, Serbian fans mixed in between the Italians, Argentines, ourselves, and the S. Africans. This is of coursed assumed based on the jerseys present. One guy wanted to trade my brand new US jersey for his old beat up Argentina jersey. This potential opportunity of an old school barter seemed a no brainer to me. The dude didn’t look as though he’d had a shower in days so I can only imagine how long it’s been since that shirt has seen the inside of a washing machine. “Sour apple” was the only thing that came to mind. I walked on with my new US jersey freshly laundered and about my front and back.

With our new tickets in hand we approached the stadium gates hearing the buzz of the vuvuzelas from deep within the belly of the stadium. First place we hit, it was our liquor store…they will sell you as many beers as you can carry. At one point they sold just German and I seven $2.50 beers. Yes the beer is that cheap and the largest number of beers I have seen one person walk away from the counter with is 5. I guess bigger hands, means more beers. So we grab our fizzy fun makers and make our way to the seats. The tickets we have purchased turn out to be all over the place, but at least they are in the same section of the stadium so we all pretty much just found an open section of chairs and called it home. Two of the most noticeable aspects of this Cup, which is in stark contrast to other Cups I have been to and sporting events back in the States. First, the level of organization is a bit lacking. Those who would be considered ushers are really just people who stand at the opening of a section and answer questions if you have them. For those of us that know the “I own this place” rule, the stadium has been our playground. For those who may be unfamiliar with this method of seat selection it is done by finding the section that we feel will provide us with the best experience, walking up to the usher with ticket in hand and if they try to stop you from walking through, (knowing the section) say something like “104, row K” and then point to the left or right and they will enthusiastically point to where you are not actually ticketed. They feel as though they are being helpful and you get to see if there are any open seats where you would like to sit. If there are not we move along, if someone comes to find us in their seats we courteously move along and find a new vantage. But this can only be done because of the less than capacity crowds that have been seen for this opening round of games, which is the other aspect of this Cup that differs from those in the past. Korea also had a small issue filling the stadiums but rather than allow them to look ¾ full they gave tickets away to youth groups and community organizations which ensured a stadium at almost capacity. There seems to be no attempts at filling these stadiums, at least the couple that we have been to thus far. There are ticketing kiosks that do sell any available tickets but these ticket centers are not in or around the stadiums. They are often miles away from the stadiums so there is no way of accommodating walk-up ticket sales. There have been some ticket holders selling their tickets, but these options have been few in our experience. So after attempting to purchase tickets via the ticketing kiosk at the mall a few miles from our house we hit the street and walked down to the stadium to find a way into the game.

The tickets we ended up with cost us about $35 each. To put this in perspective, the seats we ended up in would have cost about double that for an MLS match and hundreds more for any of the other major league sports in the states. This, I think, says a lot about the affordability of great seats in MLS and just how great the cost was for us to see a World Cup match on level 1 at about the top of the penalty area!

So the scene inside the stadium here in Pretoria was fantastic with the drums and flags, dancing and singing, and of courses, the vuvuzelas. As a little side note, I was chatting with my friend, and fellow Fire volunteer, Jenn Jarmula and she had mentioned that the vuvuzela is a bit much for those of you back home. Now I realize this might not ease the nightmares of swarming African killer bees, inside the stadiums it is not at all like on the TV. The group of Ghana supporters next to us were actually using them as musical instruments and blowing them in rhythm in such a way that the different horns complimented one another and was, to me at least, rather entertaining. However, I have also watched the games on television and it would appear that every single horn being blown at any one time is picked up by the broadcast. Sorry about that! It really isn’t as bad as it might seem.

So as we sit and watch the game we have noticed that there is the usual 10 ft space between the stands and the field boards but there is no gate blocking the end of the steps of our row. Not only is there no one really guarding this space between the field and the stands, there are Ghana fans doing a sort of conga dance in it. It’s halftime so I look to German and give him the “you wanna go down there” head point and eyebrow raise, to which he responds as I thought he would with the “hell yeah!” facial expression head nod. Armed with smiles, our cameras, and a fearless sense of adventure we ran down the aisle and dipped into the river of drums and song. After a few minutes we the 2nd half begins and we all return to our seats. Our seats are in an area just a row or two above a section of fans that are mostly women dressed in gowns, scarves and headdresses of the most brilliant reds, yellows, blacks and greens. They sang and danced and clapped without pause for the entire game as I stood in awe of what I was so lucky to be a part of. The Ghana attack is moving toward the goal directly in front of us so every attempt at goal has an added sense of electricity. With each charge up the field toward goal, in this scoreless match, the Ghana fans and us as well become a little more rabid. The whistle blows and a Serbian defender is called for a handball in the box- penalty kick. From where we sat it looked as though it was a poor tackle from the Ghana attacker so hearing the whistle was not a surprise but seeing the referee point to the spot made us think that perhaps Serbia had just been served a cold, stale portion of bad luck. But that’s the game and the kick is taken, goal scored and we witnessed this little stadium split at the seams.

This is the type of experience that makes the World Cup such an amazing event. Being a part of, and surrounded by what can only be described as pure joy felt by so many people. Each country brings with it a different style both in the way they play the game and also in the way the fans take part. From a cultural viewpoint it is an incredibly wonderful experience. I danced with the people of Ghana in celebration of their win at the World Cup. Even the vuvuzelas had a charming appeal which may be as rare a thing as my opportunities in life to share, with a people who were before yesterday strangers to me, something so special. Will I recognize these people on the streets tomorrow? Probably not, but the memory of the moment will last forever.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

US vs. England 1-1, and the new luxury vehicle - “Elephante”!

Below is the picture of our group just prior to taking off for the game in Rustenburg.
Upon departure, as you can see, the sun was shining and the temperature was in the upper 60’s to low 70’s. So we left with long sleeves and high hopes, and that would become something we will be sure to remedy the next time we leave the house for any evening jaunts into the African wild. It got cold!
So off to the buses we went with smiles abound and the talk of the evening focused on the potential line-ups our man at the helm Bradley might employ to stifle the English effort at making our debut at the 2010 WC a long and painful one. Will it be Buddle or Findley? Will Gooch get the start? Where might Deuce be most effective? 7 armchair managers on the steps of City Hall waiting for a bus that appears to be running late. Surely they have this all under control I mean we did buy our tickets in a trailer on the grass of a courtyard between the City Hall and a museum, it must be legit!  Our bus is scheduled to depart at 3pm, travel 65 miles and we should be partying with the rest of the contingent by 5 for an 8:30 start. Yes, foreshadowing!
Schedules! We are finding that here in S. Africa, that which is scheduled is really just considered a possibility. If something is scheduled it might just happen, so don’t be late! So at about 3:30 we are patiently waiting for the doors of the bus to close and the journey to begin. We are sitting with about 30 or so others from the US, England, Australia and Denmark- when who should appear at the top of the steps? A very unofficial looking man wearing a red beanie- he says that our bus will not actually be departing until 4:30 but we should not worry as the bus will “fly there, no problems, no problem”! Some of the English aboard the bus begin to cry about a refund, “this is absurd, we should have a full refund”, yet no one steps off the bus as it is known that the drive to Rustenburg is not one for the faint of heart. The US squad missed the opening minutes of the S. Africa/ Mexico game after being caught behind a rather large, slow moving vehicle known, at least in these parts, as an elephant which had found the level terrain of the 2 lane highway to be far superior to the vast areas surrounding the road. We believed the bus to be a much better idea than trying to drive our rentals and force 2 of our crew to be DD’s. So when we finally depart we are in good spirits and we watch as the sun begins to set on the day that we hope will bring us a victory in our first WC match!
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I LOVE my new camera!
So as the sun sets we find that the pace of our chariot has begun to slow, and then come to a complete stop. As we snail toward the horizon we see that cars are beginning to pass us on the shoulder. Our driver starts to become as annoyed as we are by being put behind more and more cars so he moves the bus to the left to block the shoulder. This move is countered by the mass behind us with a pass on the right. Now there are officially 2 lanes of cars on a single lane side of traffic and we are in a bus on the shoulder of the road…Africa! This is the pace of our journey for the next 2 hours. We can see the glow of the stadium off in the distance but we are moving toward it in such a way that every person on the bus is fearful that we may not make this game on time. When we finally arrive at the stadium it is about 45 minutes before kick-off (65 miles in 3hrs 15). But we weren’t late, we didn’t miss anything and we left the bus happy and ready to get inside the stadium that was buzzing with the sounds of the Vuvuzela.
The vuvuzela is something that will not go away during this Cup and it shouldn't necessarily considered a bad thing, though it is a very unpleasant sound. Each of the past 3 Cups we have attended have had their common, overly repeated themes. In 98 it was Ricky Martins song “Cup of Life” heard in every coffee shop, club, bus, and car passing on the road. I felt as if I heard “Goal, goal, goal- ole, ole ole” one more time I would fall into a madness induced coma. In 02 it was the Korean chants of “Be the Reds” and “Korea Team Fighting” that rolled over us in waves from the seas of red shirts that filled the streets and parks, and buses and trains. In Germany 06 we couldn’t walk 10 minutes without hearing the song “Stand up for the Champions”. This time around it is like an invading hoard of locusts created through a long plastic tube. This is not to be outdone though as someone has taken it upon themselves to include what can only be described as a sort of duck call. A much smaller version of the vuvuzela that sounds like a furious baby crying, or perhaps a really pissed off duck. They suck just as bad as the vuvuzela. But, again it is the theme of this Cup and every Cup has its own flavor. I can only look forward to Brazil and hope the theme for that Cup is naked girls dancing in the streets, and restaurants, and buses, and trains, etc. Just kidding, but really, that would be kind of cool- really cool!
So we found our places in the stadium and kick-off was just minutes away when the teams hit the field and and the national anthem began. We sang as the flag fell over our section and we were ready. Unfortunately so was England. They came out strong and scored on us quickly but we were seeing from our boys grit and fight. We felt confident that our team was going to stay in the game and they didn’t disappoint. What was disappointing was the number of English fans in our section. In the past the US contingent has been packed into the Category 3 sections behind one of the goals but this was not the case here. But one benefit to the helter skelter organization here is that it wasn’t hard for the guys with seats away from ours to make their way over to our section. Now there were many highlights to the game but when Dempsey scored the goal in the 40th ish minute we went absolutely mad. I can hardly talk today and I am sure that the 2 or so minutes of screaming like a 12 year old girl after that ball went in is likely the major cause. But oh so worth it. That goal was another shot heard around the world and we saw it live. Brilliant!
A few of the pictures of the stadium and game.
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Today we have plans to walk down to the stadium that is less than a 1/2 mile from our house and see if we can get some tickets to the Serbia vs. Ghana game on the cheap!

Friday, June 04, 2010

Years become mere hours!

I am here at my desk trying to bring the disaster that it is into some order so that I can leave without those dreaded little nagging thoughts that there was something left undone. "I know I forgot something!" When that thought creeps in you can be pretty sure that you will not figure out what it is that you've neglected until the moment you are faced with that which it would have fixed. "Sir, this jar of South African mosquitoes you have so bravely collected in the swampy area behind the bar while drinking after the US win over England are all infected with malaria, typhoid, yellow fever, and something yet unnamed but makes you pop your collar up and act like a d-bag." Immunization shots! Dammit, I knew I forgot something! Stupid, stupid!
The solution to this is, of course, a slew of lists. Packing lists, shopping lists, to-do lists, and the ever important, list of lists. There is something comforting about a bunch of lists with all the entry's crossed out. A sense of accomplishment. I have to just hope that I haven't lost a list somewhere in this quagmire of folded clothes, copied documents, battle regalia and cords. I have a bag of cords! I need a second piece of luggage for my chords? Camera, I-pod, phone, computer. Chords for power, chords to connect, upload, download, unload, reload. Can't just take a picture anymore and wait until you've come home after thousands of miles of worldly travel and find that you have taken 10 rolls of film with pictures of your index finger, the bottom half of your friends faces, blurry photos of sleeping animals at the zoo, and random strangers in varying stages of celebration. "Who the hell is this person and why do they have my shoes on their ears?" Nope now you have to take chords so you can take the equivalent of 100 rolls of film, save them all on your computer and then try to remember who, what, and where the hell all of these pictures are when you get home. Technology is freedom! I mock this only because I am horribly inept with technology, but I have a kick ass new camera! Now to figure out how to use it.
So the reason for all of this is the World Cup! South Africa 2010, and the 4th consecutive World Cup in attendance on foreign soil. Brett and I have made this a regular expedition and I wouldn't have it any other way. However, we are not alone this time around. Our numbers are growing and I imagine that this trip will be one of the best yet. Jim, Corey, Clint, German and Ryan have joined the ranks and we will be a 7 man platoon in Sam's Army. Our tickets are bought and our bags are packed. The only thing left to do is to wait until 6/8/2010 when at about 8 in the evening I will board a big plane and begin the next journey across the planet in hopes of watching my national soccer team win the biggest sporting event on the planet. I haven't been this excited in a long time. Keep your eyes open for us, we'll be there and no doubt we'll be loud!