Well I guess you could call it a safari. An unbeatable business opportunity arose this past summer, leading me to spend in Tanzania the 3 weeks of the football season just prior to jailbreak of the Land Thieves. My brother’s reaction might be similar to yours, “Where’s Tanzania at, exactly?” It’s the country just south of Kenya in East Africa and probably the world’s number one safari destination at the moment, featuring Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Crater, and Mount Kilimanjaro, the world’s largest mountain and erstwhile planting location for a five foot long Longhorn flag
So the trip, despite its awesome spectacularity (I doubt that’s a real word – MS Word told me so), was, for a football addict like me, something like going off heroin cold turkey must be to a back alley junkie.
First there was the temptation to miss my flight in Detroit while I watched Michigan State avoid starring in Fourth Quarter Meltdown Against Notre Dame II as they pummeled Notre Dame on the line of scrimmage. Second was the feeling of paranoia as I sat in the middle seat of the redeye flight to Amsterdam, sandwiched between two bizarre passengers. On my left was an African who is the only person I’ve ever flown next to with arms long enough to break my ribs as he turned the page of his newspaper. On my right was a 14 year-old boy from a nativity school on his way to Hungary to live for a month, with 15 other squeaky clean youths in the back of the plane who uttered nary an “Oh my God!” in 7 hours. I mean come on, don’t you have real school to get to? Please tell me your mommy’s hiding on the plane somewhere. But… when you get to be as old as I am, even fear of the bizarre cannot keep you from sleep.
Somewhere over the equator, after hopping on a second plane in Amsterdam the next day, the need for news of the Horns began to creep in. The TV on the back of the seat in front of me had a menu that said “Sports.” Might they have the latest ESPN SportsCenter? Niet! (as they would say in Dutch, I think you can figure it out).
After 20 hours of flying, the last nine of which were spent staring at the bleach blonde hair of a Dutch woman the size of Adam Ulatoski (I kid you not!), the visa line, the luggage line, the customs line, and a 45 minute ride in a 15 year-old Land Rover (the African variety) through the slums of that unknown but ever-expanding metropolis called Arusha, which by the way has more Land Rovers than people and dogs combined, I crashed on a bed with a mattress that must have been flown in from Mattress Mac’s reject warehouse just for me.
Upon being awakened at 5:30 am by a loud, Howard Stern obnoxious, quartet of birds, including a hornbill and three roosters (there’s a band name in there somewhere), I slink into breakfast… but the need is still there. How did the Horns do? How do I find out in this wayward corner of the world?
Driving through town some hours later, I see a sign that says, “Uhuru’s Sports Bar.” Halleluyah, I think, thirsty with desperation. I walk in and this chubby little guy comes right up and says, “Hey wazungu!” I’m about to fire back my favorite Texan “Hah’re yew!” but I worry that might be interpreted in Swahili as “hamu,” which means desire, “hara,” which means diarrhea, or “haribu,” which means to destroy. Despite my sentiments toward the latter two on behalf of my Tanzanian chucklehead, I stay focused and find the TV screen. In the depths of my need for Longhorn news, I think I see, what’s that, Fozzy Whittaker juking past an owl and streaking to the end zone and then, what? Just short of the white line he turns and starts running to the sideline, pulling his shirt over his head…what? Belatedly, I realize I’m watching soccer highlights of some unpronounceably named Nigerian player from the English Premier League (I thought that was a beer). Is there a 12-step meeting here in the heart of Africa?
Undaunted and chin up, I later sashay down to the “business centre” of my hotel, intent on scrutinizing the results and statistics of the Owl hunt on the internet. I open the browser and … one blue bar appears on the status line at the bottom of the screen. Sometime after the November elections, another appears. Sometime much later, after my oldest son graduates from high school (he’s now 5!), another bar appears. You get the picture. After a nap, a drink, a curse, and an evil glare, I stand poised, waiting for the Longhorn-Rice score to pop up on the screen and…. Peep! The power goes down (This happens about 15 times a day in Arusha). Were it not for the fact that the computer on which this is all happening is older than I am, I would be scratching this little missive on the walls of some hellhole jail, having been arrested for destruction of property. A shred of reason prevails and I stomp out, replete with the shakes.
Sometime long about high noon the next day, the DT’s set in. I’m on a bus from Arusha to the sweating, diesel-smog-choked expanse of 5 million people called Dar es Salaam to make sure the ol’ boys in the Tanzanian government are happy about the way their forms are filled out and their fees are paid (only US bills printed after the year 2000, thank you very much). Trying to ignore the babbling of a radio talk show in Swahili, I’m staring out over the brushy landscape, the landscape of… West Texas, dreaming of Colt McCoy and musing that this must be the sort of place Tuscola lives in. Or was that dreaming of Tuscola and where Colt McCoy lives? Surreally, I hear country music on the speaker in the bus ceiling, the old Don Williams 1970's croon, “I Believe in Love.” I see a tin roof, and think wow, I can almost see Tuscola from here…I believe in Colt... and… a blare of Swahili pounds down from the speaker. Something about stopping 20 minutes for lunch. What? Yes, that really was Don Williams on the pipe, a favorite CD of the bus attendant’s (yes the buses have “attendants” in Africa who play only the music they like, pass out bottles of Coke and Fanta after 4 hours, hard candy after 7, and luggage after 10, when the trip is over but your body doesn’t really believe it). No, that wasn’t a young Colt running barefoot in the dirt. And no, those aren’t the Davis Mountains in the distance with the jungle on top.
Just when I think I can’t take any more, we arrive in Dar and I’m on another bus to the hotel. This is one of those minibuses that make a minivan look like an aircraft carrier. Why not a taxi, you ask? Let’s put it this way – it’s a business “opportunity” and I don’t work for Donald Trump. In any case, by the second stop, the bus is full (that’s 18 people in a vehicle the size of a Toyota Corolla). On the third stop, 4 more people get in. On the fourth stop, three more. The ticket guy is hanging out the sliding door, holding on by the roof rack as the bus pulls away and a woman the size of Cedric Dockery is, and again I am not kidding, sitting on my lap. Well actually she was squeezed onto the six inches of empty seat between me and the next guy, but she might as well have been sitting on my lap. This must be what it’s like to be Roy Miller facing a triple team.
Sometime after all the feeling is gone from my legs, the bus stops and I emerge from the pile. Entering the hotel, I try to decide if the smell in the lobby is a dead person or just mildew. I notice the newspaper strewn on the coffee table, flipped open to a page with a picture of four Nigerian guerillas with mud-covered faces a lot like those of the pygmies in the movie Congo, kneeling in a boat, automatic rifles at the ready. One of them is wearing a burnt orange do-rag with TEXAS emblazoned in white on the forehead (again, really, I’m not kidding!). Ack! Blake Gideon has turned back into a real freshman and they’ve reinstated Robert Joseph, past Texas recruit at safety and convicted felon! Panic sets in. If rehab is like this, no wonder anyone from Hollywood ever stays for the whole course.
A half-hour later, hands trembling, lip half bitten-through, I tap the mouse to open the Texas-Rice score. Ahhhhh, a 52-10 FIX. But wait, Blaine Irby, UT’s only real tight end, out for the season? A-a-a-h-h-h-h. But this time, there’s no Swahili waking me up. This ain’t no daydream , son; welcome back to the real world.
You know what? Just say no. No to drugs for sure. But no to the drug that is the Texas Longhorns 2008 (or any year other than 2005, for that matter). As for me, cold turkey didn’t do any good. A goat herd the size of Memorial stadium blocked the road for the big bus back from Dar es Salaam yesterday for five minutes. Those goats started to look a lot like sooey pigs. So today, I snuck onto the internet between power surges, and man, that was some uncut 52-10 stuff, since, as Colt would have it, the Razorbacks looked like the goat that the T rex ate in Jurassic Park.
But still the Big 12 looms...That bus that’s losing the game of chicken with our bus but winning the contest to see which of the two has the louder horn reminds me of Colt scrambling in the pocket in the 4 wide WR offense (that the Horns have to run because they have no TE) after Malcolm Williams gets jammed at the line. And, for the next two weeks, I won’t be anywhere near the internet, much less Uhuru’s Sports Bar and the object of my “hamu,” the television. So wish me luck… I may need a victory over the wagon drivers from Norman the day after I get back to ever become whole again.