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World Cup Travelogue: Day 1

The journey to my fifth World Cup starts at Gate A14 at Dulles International Airport with Post colleague Liz Clarke and my best friend for the next 17 hours, Ambien.

The seat randomly assigned by South African Airways doesn't exactly convey comfort: 62D. This promises to be, in more ways than one, the longest trip ever. So I stroll up to the agent with a big, friendly smile and inquire about a possible upgrade. After all, I have status on United Airlines, which is part of Star Alliance, which includes SAA. Perfect.

Agent: "Well, we don't accept United miles but it is possible to upgrade."

Me: "Great! Let's do it."

Agent: "That will be $1,400."

Me: "......."

The disappointment ends with a call from Mom of Insider, who, coincidentally, is connecting at Dulles after returning from Moscow. The family travel bug is contagious. We are in different terminals, so no way to meet. (She's off to Barcelona in August.)

Back to the seating issue: I was going to have to make due with 62D, an aisle placement. Others pass by: a young guy in a dark blue USA jersey, another wearing Manchester United colors, families, business executives, students, a travel group in matching fluorescent green t-shirts. Departure nears, and still no one has taken a seat beside me. Or in the seat next to that one. Too good to be true, I think. I text Liz with the potentially wonderful scenario.

"Charmed life!" she responds, awkwardly settling in next to her neighbor three rows and a coach cabin ahead of me.

The doors close. I'm in the clear. On one of the longest flights known to man, it is nothing short of a miracle -- and portends good things to come.

How does one burn nearly a day on a plane (interrupted by refueling and a crew change in Dakar, Senegal)?

*Drink a gallon of water.

*Ignore urges to watch "27 Dresses." Instead, watch, appropriately, "Invictus," the Clint Eastwood-directed film starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon about the South African rugby team that won the 1995 World Cup, a symbolic moment in the nation's transformation under Nelson Mandela.

On the occasion of the soccer World Cup, South African Airways is also offering "Goal 2: Living the Dream" (saw it on DVD); "FIFA 2006 World Cup: The Grand Finale" (saw it a few years ago); "In the Hands of the Gods," a coming-of-age road movie chronicling five Brits en route to Argentina to meet Diego Maradona (watched part of it); and "Kicking and Screaming," the kiddie soccer movie starring Will Farrell and Mike Ditka (um, no).

*Drink more water.

*Eat meatloaf and potato salad. (Don't ask.)

*Drink water.

*Crack open "Solar", Ian McEwan's latest novel.

*Explore the IPod playlist by wandering through "Strawberry Fields Forever" with the Beatles, wondering if, after six weeks in South Africa, I "Can't Find My Way Home" accompanied by Blind Faith, finding myself with Bob Dylan "Stuck Inside Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again," listening to "Radio Nowhere" with Bruce Springsteen, going "Down to the Waterline" with Dire Straits, searching for answers from the Grateful Dead's "Estimated Prophet," saying "Hallelujah" with Jeff Buckley, dreaming of an "Angel From Montgomery" with John Prine, looking forward to more than one "Lovely Day" with Bill Withers, hanging with "Rough Boys" and Pete Townsend, taking Peter Tosh's advice to "Don't Look Back," empathizing with "The Weary Kind" from the Crazy Heart soundtrack, riding "Into the Mystic" with Van Morrison, dreaming about "Amsterdam" with Guster, keep "Going On" with Gnarls Barkley, stopping to "Take Five" with Dave Brubeck and listing "My Favorite Things" during 17-plus minutes of bliss with John Coltrane.

*Drink you-know-what.

*Apply pillowy eye mask. Formally introduce myself to best-bud Ambien. Zzzzzzzzz.

*Devour omelette, skip sausage.

*Study World Soccer magazine's World Cup preview issue (aka The Bible).

*Watch line on plane's video map crawl across Botswana.

*Descend into O.R. Tambo International Airport, where the winter sunlight is beginning to fade.

*Check Blackberry, which has flawlessly latched onto the VodaCom carrier.

World Cup banners line the terminal while others lie on the floor awaiting hanging. Customs/immigration is a breeze; no formal slips to submit.

Our driver Ron navigates rush-hour traffic on a road bordered by flags representing all World Cup participants. The dipping sun provides a spectacular backdrop. Ron points out the statue of George Harrison, the first to discover gold here.

We count the number of vehicles proudly displaying South African flags and pass a branch of the famed Nando's Peri-Peri (whose only U.S. locations are in Washington).

It takes about 45 minutes to reach our destination, a way-too-hip-for-a-reporter hotel in a trendy north Joburg neighborhood.

I catch my breath (at 5,900 feet) and embrace evening air 40 degrees cooler than in Washington. I eat well and savor a glass of red wine. The adventure begins.....

By Steve Goff  |  June 1, 2010; 5:46 PM ET
Categories:  2010 World Cup , South Africa  | Tags: Johannesburg, South Africa, World Cup  
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Next: Video: Netherlands 4, Ghana 1


I am just a tad bit jealous

Posted by: rockotodd | June 1, 2010 5:53 PM | Report abuse

Ummm, Ambian.

Posted by: 9Nine9 | June 1, 2010 6:03 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: DadRyan | June 1, 2010 6:05 PM | Report abuse

Anybody know: Did the team fly business?

Posted by: dccal | June 1, 2010 6:10 PM | Report abuse

So with our favorite WaPo soccer reporter now on the ground in SA, are we allowed to start getting excited about this tournament? :-)

Posted by: Juan-John1 | June 1, 2010 6:10 PM | Report abuse

"Solar" = not enjoyable.

I loved "Atonement", like "Saturday" and "On Chesil Beach", and HATED Solar.

Posted by: WEW72 | June 1, 2010 6:11 PM | Report abuse

You're going to need more music...

Posted by: JkR- | June 1, 2010 6:15 PM | Report abuse

A lot of the Insider (Terps and United at least) pages have been hacked and are redirecting to some jerk's twitter. Please fix this.

Posted by: alecw81 | June 1, 2010 6:18 PM | Report abuse

I can't believe you passed up an opp to watch "27 Dresses." Again. But clearly you liked my music library!

Posted by: karengoff | June 1, 2010 6:19 PM | Report abuse

...and the snark index just rose... :)

Posted by: JkR- | June 1, 2010 6:33 PM | Report abuse

Sigh. Reminds me of time I spent in SA in 2003. Amazing country. Wish I was there again!

Posted by: dcbird | June 1, 2010 6:46 PM | Report abuse

Guster is a fantastic band…about the only thing I can stand concerning Boston the next few weeks.

Posted by: LAfanofSI | June 1, 2010 7:11 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: grubbsbl | June 1, 2010 7:13 PM | Report abuse

Nice Goff! I didn't know you were heading to SA! Enjoy!!!

(I thought Invictus was a good story but the production quality of the movie stinked...)

Posted by: redskinsux | June 1, 2010 7:37 PM | Report abuse

ESPN's 30 for 30 entry on the Springboks, produced by Freeman, was superior to Invictus, in my mind.

Posted by: JacobfromAtlanta-ish | June 1, 2010 7:46 PM | Report abuse

Steve, your travelogues are always above and beyond the call of duty. Though I didn't need my memory of watching "27 Dresses" on an international flight.

Posted by: benonthehill | June 1, 2010 7:47 PM | Report abuse

Once off the Ambien, I'm sure you'll "make do" instead of "make due"!

Nando's is moving beyond DC, to the multicultural melting pot that is "downtown" Silver Spring. Opening up on Ellsworth Ave.

Posted by: edgeonyou | June 1, 2010 7:51 PM | Report abuse

Did the team fly business?

I saw some pictures from the plane (South African Airways). They sure as hell weren't in coach.

I had an LAX to Sydney flight a couple years ago... except I was ticketed for a middle seat in coach. I nearly wept blood when I couldn't change seats. But both other seats in my block of three were empty, and I slept like a baby mastodon for two-thirds of the flight. Small miracles!

Posted by: Mastodon_Juan | June 1, 2010 7:58 PM | Report abuse

Looking forward to your posts from SA! BE SAFE and have an awesome time!!

Posted by: rachel751 | June 1, 2010 8:04 PM | Report abuse

wow, that playlist is really stuck in ancient times (except for the Guster)!

Congrats on the seat thing. I probably would have paid for the upgrade.

Posted by: fedssocr | June 1, 2010 8:05 PM | Report abuse

Fine choice with the Pete Townsend, but I prefer the title cut, "Empty Glass". Also, "Wavelength" by Van Morrison and "Paradise" with John Prine.

Posted by: bdwooton | June 1, 2010 8:12 PM | Report abuse

Goff, have a great time -- keep us up on the stuff! Also, pls list Mrs. Insider's blog name so we can see how she's coping without you -- LOL!!!

Posted by: sbuck | June 1, 2010 8:13 PM | Report abuse

Oh, and fedsocr, yes, with tastes like that he should have gone to college with me in the 70's as he was spying on the playlist from my college radio station except for the Gnarls (which is pretty retro in their own way).

Posted by: bdwooton | June 1, 2010 8:16 PM | Report abuse

Great post, Steve. I'm now officially ready for SA 2010

Posted by: Kev29 | June 1, 2010 8:38 PM | Report abuse

I flew to China once. Had a toddler kicking my chair for a good 3rd of the flight. And I was stuck in the middle seat of the big 747's, 2 people on both sides.

Even single malt couldn't help--although it tried it's best.

Posted by: delantero | June 1, 2010 9:00 PM | Report abuse

I'm really looking forward to all your (and Liz's) posts from SA!

Could one of you -- or a webproducer reading through these comments -- get someone to fix Herculez Gomez's name in the roster bio section, though :) Can't be nice to make the team and have some ancient Greek dude's name instead of your own...

Posted by: sec133row5 | June 1, 2010 9:05 PM | Report abuse

Work hard and enjoy, Goff. We'll follow along, word by word.

Posted by: Curious99 | June 1, 2010 9:30 PM | Report abuse

Clarke's contribution to today's dead-tree Post, presumably written before her departure:

Following up on something I posted in an earlier thread, legislation to address a matter of utmost importance (where are Virginia and Maryland on this?):

Soccer America reports that at their hotel, the USMNT found a vuvuzela in every room.

Posted by: universityandpark | June 1, 2010 9:34 PM | Report abuse

What the fCUk is this about?

Posted by: Ivanovich84 | June 1, 2010 9:50 PM | Report abuse

Uh, I snuck my vuvuzela into Lincoln Financial...:)

Posted by: DadRyan | June 1, 2010 9:55 PM | Report abuse

Lucky b@st@ards!

When I went to Cape Town via Jo Burg ten years ago and had to do the red eye to London, hang out in central London for eight hours drinking warm ale (OK -- that part ruled!) then jump on the sold out 12 hour red eye from Heathrow to Jo Burg, middle seat, screaming baby the row in front and behind. And Virgin Airways fancy dancy in-flight entertainment system in my seat was busted.

Once I got to South Africa -- worth every second of misery I suffered getting there. And the local wine is good.

Oh yeah, don't forget the Castle Lager!

Posted by: dchooligan | June 1, 2010 9:57 PM | Report abuse

what the fVck do ya mean Ivanovich?

Posted by: DadRyan | June 1, 2010 9:57 PM | Report abuse

Could be worse. I'm in Scranton.

Open plane to SA? Maybe they should've cut the prices? Nah.

Posted by: Reignking | June 1, 2010 10:16 PM | Report abuse

(interrupted by refueling and a crew change in Dakar, Senegal)

..and the stewards bug spraying the plane in Dakar is another fun part of the layover

Posted by: csd1 | June 1, 2010 10:27 PM | Report abuse

Steven Goff needs a travel channel show where he goes around the world following soccer stories. It's always so fun when he does this.

Goff: The Anthony Bourdain of soccer, minus the drunkeness and the heroin.

Posted by: Palin-McCain2012 | June 1, 2010 10:36 PM | Report abuse

Or so you say Palin... He never said he "DIDN'T" eat the space cakes when he was in Amsterdam did he? ;)
Keep up the excellent work Goff. You rock.

Posted by: DadRyan | June 1, 2010 10:44 PM | Report abuse

Ahh Space Cake...

You must know who I am.

(I'm Kilroy... Kilroy... Kilroy... Kilroy... [chorus of boos])

Posted by: Palin-McCain2012 | June 1, 2010 11:02 PM | Report abuse

Ahh Space Cake...

You must know who I am.

(I'm Kilroy... Kilroy... Kilroy... Kilroy... [chorus of boos])

Posted by: Palin-McCain2012 | June 1, 2010 11:05 PM | Report abuse

watch out for that Ambien - it's the devil

Posted by: diego_r | June 1, 2010 11:46 PM | Report abuse


Mrs. Insider's blog:

Posted by: jmingus | June 1, 2010 11:53 PM | Report abuse

Goff, whatever you end up doing down in S.A., just make sure you don't get involved with a "Hooker with a Penis" (Tool).

It never ends well.

Posted by: Poopy_McPoop | June 2, 2010 2:01 AM | Report abuse

I didn't know that George Harrison was a miner. I knew he was a minor and lied about his age to play, with The Beatles, in nightclubs.

Posted by: I-270Exit1 | June 2, 2010 7:36 AM | Report abuse

Good stuff, Goff. Looking forward to more travelogue posts.

Posted by: ahelms10 | June 2, 2010 7:47 AM | Report abuse

Ummm, space cake!!! Where's the freekin submit button? Oh,

Posted by: 9Nine9 | June 2, 2010 8:15 AM | Report abuse

@ Wife of Insider: no Molly Hatchet on Steve's playlist?! I'm sorely disappointed.

Posted by: Rand-al-Thor | June 2, 2010 8:23 AM | Report abuse

Welcome to South Africa! Am sure you are going to have a great stay (and World Cup). I look forward to following your adventures on this blog.

A proud South African

Posted by: r_mendelsohn | June 2, 2010 8:32 AM | Report abuse

I e-maled the travel editors once about incorporating some of Steve's CONCACAF travelogues into their section. Alas, I never heard back from them. I don;t know why they would get additional content with no additional expense.

Posted by: I-270Exit1 | June 2, 2010 9:07 AM | Report abuse

I love reading this kind of thing.

Posted by: sawyers100 | June 2, 2010 10:27 AM | Report abuse

@Rand-al-Thor: I have no Molly Hatchett, but have approximately 11,000 Grateful Dead tunes if you are interested. Signed, Wife of Insider.

Posted by: karengoff | June 2, 2010 6:56 PM | Report abuse

Maybe no-one is still rading this thread, but...

Other than Knocked Up, all of Katherine Heigl's movies are predictable, boring crap. Now's she's in one with Ashton Kutcher, which will be double crap because all of his movies are crap (except for the one with Amanda Peet, because of, well, Amanda Peet).

Posted by: I-270Exit1 | June 2, 2010 8:40 PM | Report abuse

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