Wednesday, July 30, 2008

first Lititz Record column from SA

Somehow in spite of no posts for two weeks, I still have 40 to 50 people checking in on me every day. Thanks you guys. I've been stricken with the devilish cocktail of tonsilititis and writers block so bear with me. I need drugs for the tonsils and booze for the writing and we should be back in business. Until then, here's a Lititz Record column I wrote:

Biking Cape Town, Running South Africa

The first full week in Cape Town brought some exciting new developments to the life of Lex. I got the green light for my first paid article from a travel website about tips for traveling India. I ran my first half marathon though I'm paying for it now. But the biggest and best thing to happen to me since I left NYC, I got a bike. This trumps other notable occasions from the last year including two arrests, a deportation and moving to Africa for a girl. I really like bikes and everything is coming up Lex!

The next day, I took my new bike out for a ride. I spent five hours in the saddle exploring the waterfront, taking pictures of myself in front of a giant golden sea lion statue and biking down the Atlantic coastline. Beautiful country. Sheer, almost lunar cliffs tower over the town reminding me of the Cliffs of Insanity in the Princess Bride (wow, second PB reference this month). The morning sun lights Lion's Head Mountain on fire. On my bike down the coastal road, beds of kelp undulate in the surf to my right while green hills rose sharply on my left; studded with high priced houses which are surrounded by the high and frequently barbwire topped walls so typical in this crime ridden country.

Time for a side note on language: Since I've been here, English has shifted on me. A robot is a traffic light and a braai is a BBQ with lots of dop (booze). More importantly, the connotations of racial language become a moving target. In this column, I will frequently be using terms like black, coloured and white. They may have offensive connotations to some in Lititz but I am using these words as this culture uses them. A South African hero, Steve Biko led a powerful movement to instill pride in South African blacks and coloureds. These designations have no shame attached to them here. I apologize for any offense but I will speak from the culture that I am trying to understand.

During my bike ride, I stopped in a park looking over the beach of rock and sand where children of all colours played and yelled. A babysitter pushed the seesaw down for her young blond charge and seemed genuinely surprised at his swift descent when she let it go. What surprised me was how easily the little brat cried. My father taught me no sympathy for whining or tears produced for attention. He's the reason I'm (somewhat) tough today and it's also because of him that I cry like a little girl at animated movies. A wise teacher.

I always find my best stories while wandering on my bicycle. This time I stopped to talk an old man feeding the birds. From the first word, I knew I had a classic Brooklyn native on my hands. Just like me, he came to South Africa for a girl. I know a magazine who would love the story about this old NYC cabbie who grew up in Brooklyn during the Depression and ended up in Cape Town. It's not a magazine that will pay but it's good practice. Most importantly, I just love getting to know an old person and learning about his or her life. My plan is simple: work hard at getting and writing stories that I find interesting and hope that my passion pays off.

After that superb bike ride with a crack bang finish passing cars down the long hill back into town, I hopped into a VW microbus with some friends headed towards the Knysna marathon. It turned out to be one of the most beautiful drives I have ever taken. The gently rolling green hills reminded me of scenic Lancaster County but the gray snow capped mountains over the lush valleys belied the difference. I've also never seen this many sheep and ostriches dotting our fair farm country.

The next day vastly increased my already substantial respect for my sister Anna. A few years ago, she ran a full marathon with absolutely no training and only walked for one mile of it. Last Saturday, I ran a half marathon with no training and the last 2 miles felt like torture. I could never have kept running without being so close to the finish line. Granted, I did run in the only shoes I own, a pair of old man loafers that both sisters apparently mock me for behind my back. I had several runners comment on my utterly inappropriate footwear but I just kept referring to them as the “winged sandals of Mercury.” I set a goal of 2 hours to run the 12.6 miles because I figured I should be able run it in twice the time as the fastest person.

A cold cold morning invigorated us as we waited for dawn and the start of the race. I started off fast, too fast I realized later. The race went about like I expected. I spent the first third getting into the rhythm and the second third feeling great with a runner's high while admiring the magnificent views. Around every bend, I discovered more beauty as I ran through the pine forests of the Knysna National Park. For the last third, I simply hated running and kept cursing my lack of genetic enhancements and titanium body implants. Near the end, I did have fun talking to some sheep farmers. When they told me their line of work, I immediately remarked on the stupidity of sheep. They told me there's a saying in their hometown that the only thing dumber than a sheep is a sheep farmer. I laughed as they pulled ahead of me like everyone else for the last five kilometers.

I ended with a time of 1:53 and beat all my friends by a long shot. I felt pretty great about my time especially with my habits of occasional smoking and moderate to heavy drinking. At the finish line, I gingerly sat down on my rubbery legs next to a man built like a panther. He came in at the same time as me but he ran the full marathon while I had only run the half.

Cue ego evaporation.

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