The other night at about 11 p.m. I put a sizable wad of cash in my pocket and went out onto the streets of Cape Town. According to all the South Africa guidebooks, this is a very stupid thing to do, but I was on an international mission: I was going to meet an Israeli guy named Amit, whom I had been referred to by a Miami guy known as ``Motor,'' who told me that Amit could sell me tickets to the semifinal game between Holland and Uruguay.
This is business as usual at the World Cup. In the later rounds, nobody knows until the last minute which teams will be playing where, so all of a sudden huge numbers of rabid fans from various nations will descend on a city, looking for (in order of priority) game tickets, beer, food, more beer, still more beer, and finally -- assuming there is time -- a place to sleep.
But tickets are the big thing, which is why I was on the streets of Cape Town looking to buy Holland-Uruguay tickets from an Israeli recommended by an American called Motor. I didn't feel unsafe, because I was surrounded by happy, high-spirited (I am using ``high-spirited'' in the sense of ``high'') people, many of them wearing brightly colored wigs made from what appeared to be toxic waste, which is formal attire for soccer fans. Many of them -- especially middle-aged men -- also had their national flags draped over their shoulders, which made them look like superheroes who had missed going to the gym for several decades.
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They gave the streets a festive vibe that you could feel all over this beautiful and exotic seaside city; everywhere you went, bewigged people were laughing, shouting, dancing, singing national songs and using their newly purchased vuvuzelas to make a sound like a bull elephant triumphantly breaking wind.
Amit and I finally found each other in the crowd, the two of us waving our phone phones aloft in the international signal for ``Hey! I'm the person you're talking to!'' We completed our ticket transaction, and the next night I took my family to the game. I rooted for Holland, because I'm a big fan of Dutch culture (I am using ``culture'' in the sense of ``beer''). But I did feel sorry for the Uruguayan fans, who were vastly outnumbered, as Uruguay is a small nation.
FACT: 73 percent of the Uruguayan population is on their soccer team.
Holland won the game, after which tens of thousands of ecstatic vuvuzela-blaring Dutch fans spilled into the streets and resumed partying, while the Uruguayan fans climbed into their VW microbus for the long sad drive home.
As a journalist, I feel I should point out that there is much more to South Africa than the World Cup. This is a fascinating and complex country that has a compelling history and is still wrestling with many critical issues, which I will tell you about if I have any room left over after I tell you about petting the cheetah.
I am not using ``petting the cheetah'' in the sense of committing some kind of pervert sex act: I petted an actual cheetah. This happened at a Cheetah Outreach Facility that is connected with a winery. Yes! Wine and cheetahs! Apparently somebody thought it would be a good idea to have semi-intoxicated tourists interacting with the fastest carnivore on the planet.
The cheetah I petted was named Joseph. He once (I am not making this up) appeared in a movie with Patrick Swayze. Joseph was a laid-back cheetah; he was reclining with his head in the lap of a Cheetah Outreach worker, and he barely opened his eyes when I petted him, using the prescribed technique. (In case you ever need to know: you pet the cheetah on the back, stroking toward the tail. Also you call it ``sir.'') The Outreach people told me that Joseph is their slowest cheetah, which means that if he decided to chase you, you might be able to run as far as six inches before he relieved you of your haunches.
I'm out of room here, so I'll conclude by saying that Cape Town -- I am also not making this up -- is one of the most beautiful, mellow and welcoming, cities I've ever visited. This is not to say South Africa has no problems; it has plenty. But I'm glad I came here with my family, and I know I'll come back.
I also know that this place will be in my thoughts long after I leave, for two reasons. One is that I've met some wonderful people and made some wonderful memories. The other is that both of my children somehow acquired vuvuzelas, which they enjoy sneaking up behind me and blowing.
Maybe I'll just stay here.