My work at the Nation News Group of Nairobi, Kenya, wound up mid-afternoon Friday. It was time to get to the airport.
My bags were already packed and waiting for me at the concierge station in the lobby of the Stanley Hotel, where I had stayed the previous 13 nights.
I waited about an hour for my driver… Until I finally got bored enough to venture outside. And found he had been waiting for me there all along.
That’s the second time that same driver had waited patiently for me: He had sat for hours at the airport when I tried to track down my lost luggage.
Once we threw the bags into the car, though, it was my turn to wait. Friday afternoon traffic in Nairobi proved to be just as bad as I had heard. We sat on clogged streets, hoping for some kind of break to the gridlock and entertained only by the occasional witty bumper sticker.
My driver did point out one sight of interest: The Kenyan parliament buildings.
It took the rest of the afternoon, but we eventually arrived at the airport. I checked my bag, picked up my boarding pass and had a quick bite of dinner. During dinner, I enjoyed perhaps the most fabulous sunset I had seen during my time here in Kenya.
Then, I had a little time to wander around the airport. Those Mayans might have developed a wonderful calendar, but do you know what they hated?
That’s right: Paying taxes.
Wow. Confectionery liquor. I can get tanked and go into a diabetic coma at the same time.
President Obama and his folks can talk about “change” all they want. But they’re such amateurs. Here in Kenya, they actually have an entire bureau devoted to change.
How do you say “toilet” in Swahili?
After a while, it was time to board my Kenya Airways flight to Johannesburg. I couldn’t help but notice the airline operating the next flight out of this same gate: Precision Airways.
“Precision Airways. We’ll get you there. Or, at least, somewhere in the vicinity of your destination. We think.”
We were herded down several long corridors, out onto the tarmac and finally to a widebody jet.
Which ended up being only about half-full. Which gave us plenty of room to spread out. What a welcome change from the uncomfortable squeeze I’ve seen in my last several trips.
The trip took four hours. Because I hadn’t been sleeping so well, I crashed hard. I discovered later they had served food on the flight. I slept right through it.
They also showed a movie: Clash of the Titans. You know: “Release the Kracken.”
I didn’t even bother to plug in my headphones. The movie looked awful.
We arrived in Johannesburg just before midnight — or nearly 1 a.m. Kenya time. Naturally, I had to go through passport control, pick up my luggage and then hit the car rental counter. I was given a huge silver Toyota.
I love the car. The only issues: a) I can’t seem to find FiveFM on the car radio. Which is just as well. This time around, I’m only going to listen to stations that play songs by my good friends the Soap Girls. And b) The damned turn signal switch is on the wrong side of the steering wheel.
Every time I try to signal a turn, I turn on my windshield wipers. As a result, I was a very rude driver in Johannesburg this weekend. But give me some credit: I have the cleanest windshield in town.
My next task was: Drive from the airport to my hotel. In the dead of night. Half-asleep. On the left side of the road. Lucky for me, I’ve made this trip a dozen times, at least. By the time I was checked into my hotel, though, and called Sharon to tell her I was safe, it was after 3 a.m.
So I put out the “Do not disturb” sign and slept as late as I could Saturday.
The place where I’ll be staying for the next several nights is the Garden Court hotel in the Auckland Park region of Johannesburg. I know this place very very well: I stayed here for nearly two solid months back in 2009.
In fact, when I went down for breakfast Saturday morning, the same woman was cooking eggs. She took one look at me and remembered how I like my eggs. Which I found a little scary. I mean, it’s been nearly three years.
The two ladies working the front desk during the day both remember me. In fact, one of them remembered the night I tried to hold the elevator door open for a maintenance man and my hand got slammed. She told me how terrified the entire management was that I might have been be severely injured.
In fact, my hand swelled up and was painful for about two days. I kept ice on it as often as I could. The problem went away soon enough. I had to laugh, though, about that being her first memory of me.
My big, painful memory of this hotel is of all the wifi problems I had. I’m happy to report those problems have been resolved. Getting on here is quick and easy. And the speed is every bit as fast as what I get at home.
I swear they’ve given me the most comfortable room in the building. It’s small but cozy.
Over the three nights I’ve been here, I’ve managed to get caught up on the sleep I missed out on in Kenya. I’m able to breathe so much better. And this hotel isn’t quite as noisy as was the Stanley in Nairobi. So no more being jolted awake at 3 or 4 a.m. by someone messing around in the corridor.
During my previous stays in the Garden Court, I was always given a room facing the Southeast — directly toward a huge, ugly concrete building that I later found was the Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce building. This time, I’m facing a nice little apartment complex. With several large universities nearby, I presume many of the residents here are students.
Below is the entryway of the hotel and the car park for the hotel, which occupies the bottom floor of the apartment complex.
I get quite a bit more sunshine here than I did on the other side of the hotel. I even get to see a little of Empire Road and Barry Hertzog Avenue.
Directly across the street from the hotel is this giant glass office building.
I mention it only because when I stayed here three years ago, a giant advertisement supporting the local rugby team, the Lions, was plastered all over the building.
As much as I dislike obtrusive advertising, I think I liked this building better when it had the giant ad.
Here is one of the ugly concrete buildings that occupy the back of the hotel/apartment complex.
Connected to the hotel is a small steakhouse, where I expect to eat a number of times this week. Thee slogan on their sign out front always makes me smile.
I became friendly with a number of the waitresses at MacRib during my time here. When I worked here in Johannesburg in 2010 and 2011, however, I never managed to drive over here for dinner. Sure enough, when I went in last night, I saw the manager and three or four waitresses who remembered me.
And, of course, the hotel has a fabulous little pool area.
It’s a bit cold to swim here, however — remember, we’re in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s the dead of winter here. Temperatures in the days have been in the low-to-mid 70s, which I find quite comfortable. At night, though, it gets awfully chilly. And this week, it’s going to be down in the 30s. Yikes!
So no pool time this trip. And no worrying how deep 1.8 meters might be.
In fact, I tried to go out by the pool and blog a little Sunday morning. The temperature was fine — perfect, even — but it was very windy. My notes kept flying away and grit flew into my eyes. So I gave up and found a quiet spot in the lobby.
Which worked well until what appears to be a women’s sports team invaded the lobby.
Netball players, to be specific. Netball is a version of basketball, very much like women’s basketball in the U.S., back in the 1950s and 1960s. All passing and shooting with no dribbling at all and seven players on each team. I had to look it up.
Hey, when I was younger — I worked sports information in college — I loved hanging around female athletes. But now that I’m in my 50s? All that staring and leering just embarrasses me.
Hey, and that’s just my behavior.
Ahem. Let’s move on…
The hotel also has a small TV alcove, just off the main lobby.
Even with the Olympics on wall-to-wall TV here in South Africa, however, this one seems permanently tuned to either rugby or cricket.
If I get too bored here in the hotel, I’ll just walk across the street and watch the virgins work out.
Once I had breakfast and woke myself up, it was time to make a brief grocery run. There’s a nice grocery store across the street near the virgin game preserve. However, I had trouble paying for my stuff: The woman at the counter told me they don’t take American charge cards or check cards.
Wow. That’s the first time I’ve run into that. I fired off a message to Sharon to check with our bank to make sure I don’t have some strange issue with them — I’ve never forgiven them for locking me out of my own account when I was in St. Louis last fall — and then went to a different grocery store: One where I’ve shopped may times before.
They had the same issue with my debit card. But they were much nicer about it. So I simply paid cash.
I bought two [diet] Tab colas, a package of blueberry muffins — for fast carbs when I need them — a stack of sugar-free candy bars and four packages of sugar-free cough drops. I’m breathing better here in Johannesburg than I was in Kenya. But there is still a heck of a rumble in my lungs. Most likely, I’m going to be coughing until I get home and get some antibiotics from my doctor.
I also bought a small glass tumbler — it’s on the left, still wrapped in paper just behind the Strepsils cough drops — so I can pour myself my Tab Cola. This is one of the few African hotels in which I’ve found an ice machine.
I expect to spend much of my free time this week down in MacRib. But this should get me through the weekend, at least.
Oh, and I also bought a NewsNow magazine. My South African pal Waldimar Pelzer was the founding editor of this publication. He recently left to return to the world of newspapers — which reminds me; I need to write about that — but let me tell you folks: This is one amazing magazine. Surely it’s a prototype for all magazines of the future.
While I was out running around, I noticed a trend in South African marketing design that I hadn’t seen before: A tendency to fill space by just jamming stuff into it. This wall of thank you messages just seems cluttered.
And that Virgin Active Health Club? They’ve illustrated the lobby and escalators outside with a huge jumble of icons.
I kind of like the icons. But not the thank-yous.
I finished my outing with lunch at my favorite local McDonald’s…
…from where I can get one of the better views of the skyline of Johnnesburg.
The giant Telcom tower on the left — a landmark in Joburg — still had a soccer ball “impaled” on it from the World Cup when I was last here. I see the ball is still there, but painted pink. Apparently, the current advertiser is using a giant pink dot in its marketing campaign.
Because I ordered an extra-large value meal — the equivalent of a large in the U.S. — I was given a commemorative Coca-Cola glass.
I guess I should have gone to McDonald’s before I bought my little glass tumbler, huh?
Saturday night, I went out with my friends from Science Fiction and Fantasy South Africa, who were going to see the new Batman movie.
Which I loved. I didn’t get a chance to see it because the movie opened the very day I left the U.S. for Kenya. Now, of course, I know how all the bits I saw being filmed in Pittsburgh last summer fit into the plot.
Afterwards, we went out for dinner. Here is SFFSA’s secretary Gail Jamieson and her husband, meetings/conventions chairman Ian Jamieson.
As we left the restaurant, I spotted this cute little sign offering support for the country’s Olympians competing this week in London.
Sunday, I slept very late, I worked a little on my blog and then I drove over to the nearby suburb of Parkhurst for a very special reception, held here: A fascinatingly eclectic little place called Jacob’s Board Game Cafe.
The occasion: The 11th anniversary of BizCommunity.com, a web site aimed at all aspects of South African media. My good friend Simone Puterman is the operation’s editor at large. This little celebration was her operation.
The venue is a coffeehouse that specializes in board games of all types, from the classic to the brand-new.
Here, Simone’s guy — Franz Tomasek — shows off one of the Cafe’s collection: One named after me, in fact.
The place is decorated in board games of all types. This is a pictogram… but one that apparently only works in Afrikaans.
In attendance last night were about two dozen members of the South African media: Writers, editors, subeditors, marketing specialists, photographers, artists and online specialists.
Simone urged me to bring my camera. She knew that once I started shooting pictures of everyone, I’d end up talking to them. What a great way for me to make new friends.
And if you got bored, you could simply walk out onto the back patio and watch the employees open the champagne bottles.
I was walking around, taking pictures and introducing myself to various folks when this young lady suddenly jolted up and exclaimed: I just worked out who you are!
Turns out, she follows me on Twitter and reads my blog. She went on to tell me how smart and witty I am. I took a few pictures of her and thought to myself: Sharon is NEVER going to believe this.
Eventually, it came time for the main event of the evening. Simone called the party to order and announced the start of our cheesecake tasting exercise.
We were each given a scorecard. Nine cheesecakes were
contributed by various area restaurants.
Simone tells me:
Four of the cakes were bought, five were homemade.
Our task: Evaluate the cheesecakes and rate each one.
Yeah, I know. It’s a tough job. But someone had to do it.
Funny thing, though. Cheesecake turned out to be a lot like beer. After four or five, you just kind of toss up your hands and declare: It’s all good.
Still, I stuck it out. Here were my final scores:
“Base,” by the way, is what we Americans would call “crust.”
I had no trouble picking an overall winner. Cheesecake E scored a perfect “5” in all three categories.
In addition, Simone held a raffle for a special prize: This drawing of what appears to be a purple cow in front of the skyline of Johannesburg.
I loved the art and wondered what kind of special meaning laid behind the composition. I also wondered about the rendering technique.
The medium, it turned out, was lipstick. I kid you not. The artist — the amazing Sarah Britten — is a media strategist and blogger for the Mail & Guardian newspaper.
The winner of the raffle turned out to be a very nice Hungarian man who accidentally crashed the party but make up for it by buying raffle tickets.
Proceeds from the raffle, I’m told, went to Sarah’s favorite charities. Very cool.
There were a number of other prizes as well. Much to my amazement, I also won one.
That’s a backback with the logo of Philadelphia brand cream cheese on it. Inside is stuffed with all sorts of sweets and munchies. Sharon and Elizabeth are going to love the food. Assuming it makes it home. Heh.
As the reception wound down, a very happy hostess posed with Franz.
It was a terrific evening and a terrific way to kick off my week of work here in South Africa.
After all that cheesecake, I hardly needed dinner. Still, I felt the need to get a little something non-sweet into my stomach. So I finally made it down to MacRib for the evening. Where I ran into the South African under-20 national soccer team.
Wait a minute. Let me get this straight: In this hotel tonight we have both a team of gorgeous young, male soccer players and a team of gorgeous, young female netball players?
Wow. Something tells me there won’t be lot of folks getting sleep this week.
Something also tells me I wish I owned and operated a small pharmacy in the lobby. I think I’d keep it open a little later.
And that was my weekend here in Johannesburg.
This morning, I got up bright and early, went downstairs for breakfast… and ran into a wall of athletes. Hmm. So much for breakfast. The woman at the front door of the restaurant seemed most distressed when I bailed. But I feel a McDonald’s run coming on.
The schedule for today: I need to hit a pharmacy — for yet more cough drops. I’ll meet my good friend Arlene Prinsloo at the Media24 offices at MediaPark and we’ll get to work right away. I’m told we have a lot of work to do this week.
Naturally, I’m looking forward to it.
My blog for this trip, so far…
- Friday, July 20: Leaving today for my next consulting assignment: Kenya
- Saturday, July 21: Hello from Paris
- Sunday, July 22: The last leg of my trip to Nairobi
- Monday, July 23: A Sunday stroll around downtown Nairobi
- Thursday, July 26: Why manufacturers of customized hotel towels need a copy editor
- Sunday, July 29: A Saturday spent at the famous Thorn Tree Cafe
- Sunday, July 29: The Exchange Bar here in the Stanley Hotel has a new fan
- Monday, July 30: Life as a traveling infographics instructor and evangelist in Kenya
- Wednesday, Aug. 1: Good day, Sunshine
- Thursday, Aug. 2: Here, ‘KFC’ stands for Kenyan Fried Chicken. I think.
- Sunday, Aug. 5: My final few days in Kenya went by very quickly.