And so it Begins

Strictly speaking, the trip began at JFK on Tuesday in a bizarrely empty Delta terminal when I exchanged some cash for South African currency. The woman in the hermetically sealed cubby hole told me if I exchanged $500 I wouldn’t have to pay the service fee, so I, being prudent, exchanged $500. That comes to about 3,400 Rand, so the woman gave me 17 200-Rand notes (it becomes significant later).

Then fellow traveler John Walters and I went to the Buffalo Wild Wings, had lunch and got on the plane. The layover was in Amstertdam, one of those strange deals where you land at 6:00 a.m. local time but your body thinks it’s midnight. So we proceeded to go to the casino in the Amsterdam airport (I know), which was precisely the same size and decor of a Milwaukee basement circa 1967. All they had were slots and roulette, so we killed a little time, lost a few Euros, had a couple Heinekens (.20 euro extra if you wanted it extra cold) and got on our respective connecting flights (Walters to Cape Town, me to Johannesburg).

Now, if you’ve spoken to me anytime in the past couple weeks you probably gathered that I was becoming increasingly convinced that I was going to be kidnapped or killed in a wild shootout on the streets o Jo’burg within 45 minutes of landing. So I eschewed the local cabs and called a guy named Mike, who came recommended by SI’s Grant Wahl. Mike is a 6’5″ bulky, hockey-loving Czech who looks a little like Andre the Giant’s cousin and brings to mind the bad guy in the Stieg Larsson trilogy, the Swedish guy who’s incapable of sensing pain. He really looked like you could hit him in the temple with a tire iron and he wouldn’t flinch, but he couldn’t have been nicer. Got me home to the walled-in, electric-fence-protected SI compound, where there’s a fantastically opulent house and a less fantastically opulent cottage, which is where me, Mravic and The Boy are sleeping. (“Two and a Half Men in a Cottage” is the working title of this little adventure.) As I went to pay Mike his 400 Rand, he informed me that there’s been some kind of counterfeiting controversy down here related to 200-Rand notes, but he took the money and all was cool. That’s how Day 1 ended.

Day 2 involved a bunch of tedious errand-running (highlight: picking up credential from a very nice man who, when he saw my US passport, started chanting, “I have a dream!”), made notable only by the discovery that the aforementioned counterfeiting scandal has caused pretty much everyone here to stop accepting 200-Rand notes. So I have virtually no useable currency. We did go one of he two stadiums in Jo’burg, the one that’s hosting the opening ceremony and first game tomorrow (it’s the banner shot above). The outer shell is a series of tiles of varying shades of orange and red. It looked a lot cooler from the inside than the outside.

After that we saw Mexico (who play South Africa tomorrow) train for a bit on the pitch…

…then off to dinner, where I tried, unsuccessfully, to offload some 200-Rand notes.

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