Later today, I get picked up by my driver Dolf and taken to the airport in Johannesburg to begin the long trip home. I should be walking in the door of my house around 12:45 p.m. I can't tell you how good it will feel to be home.
I used to have road trips that lasted this long, back in my days at the Daily News, when I'd embark on Yankee spring training for six weeks, or the baseball post-season for five weeks.
Those were different times in my life. Single in the beginning. Married with no kids at the end. And as much as you missed being home, you never felt like you were leaving all that much behind. I was always able to get my wife Linda down for a few days during spring training.
So this was different. I missed my son Tyler's 14th birthday and his graduation (I like "promotion" better) from 8th grade. I missed his entire Babe Ruth baseball season. I missed the end of my son Beau's Little League season and wasn't there to coach his travel team in the playoffs. But more than anything, I just missed being there for the day-to-day stuff that Linda and I have to tag-team. Driving kids around. Making them breakfast. Walking my dog.
So, it will be good to get back to those things, and to Manasquan Beach for obvious reasons. My summer has not yet started.
Hard to describe this journey properly. It was at times physically exhausting, working late nights, packing and unpacking my bags, moving from one place to the next. In each location there were places to be driven (thanks to my employers for taking care of all the rides) and assignments to tackle. There were scenes to be absorbed and history lessons to be learned. And then there was the task of writing it all in a way that would make sense to my readers.
I am lucky to do something I love for a living. Some call it "journalist" or "reporter" but I prefer "storyteller." I know all too well that I talk too much. It's a trait I've had since I'm a boy. I was the kid who had "disrupts the class with his chatter" written on his report card. In college, my fraternity brothers would roll their eyes when I told yet another tale. It got to the point that they'd look at me at times and say, "Go ahead, Brads, we know you've got a story to tell."
Well, who'd have thought I'd be able to tell stories for a living? Lucky guy, I am.
My final full day in South Africa was spent in a van, driving about eight hours from Durban, a large city on the Eastern coast, to Johannesburg. It was me (the American), a Canadian, an Englishman, a Mexican, two Argentineans, and our South African driver Jan. It was wide open country, similar in topography to Montana and Wyoming. Rolling fields and incredibly shaped mountains. Our group shared some laughs as we reminisced about our month together. I think the entire group realized that I'm ready to go home. Probably more than anyone else.
When we got back to hotel, we made a quick turnaround. One of my colleagues had made plans for us to eat at an authentic South African restaurant in the township of Soweto. It was a small place, sort of like a hole-in-the-wall restaurant you'd find in Newark, with a buffet. We filled our plates and laughed a lot. After dinner, our driver Dolf (a police officer by trade) took us to a Shebeen (these are illegal drinking establishments...they originated in the days when alcohol was forbidden to black people). It was, basically, family's garage in a part of town that was a bit downtrodden. Certainly not a place you'd go without someone with local know-how. Dolf had asked a couple of policemen to escort our group to a Shebeen. And this was it.
We were the only patrons, so they had to set up shop for us. Large bottles of beer were served. Music was turned on. Soon, our hosts were asking us if we'd pose for some photos. Next, they were asking us if we'd put our signatures on their wall. Such lovely people. Suddenly, power was lost. The music went off and the whole place went dark. I figured it was time to go.
But no. Our hosts arrived almost instantly with battery-operated lamps. They did not want us to leave. Is there a moral to this story? I don't know. It was just a nice memory to take home. A family opening their garage to a group of strangers who were looking for a few laughs.
Farewell, South Africa. Thanks for opening your arms to me for a while, but I think you understand it's time to go home. Peace.