Category Archives: Lauren

Celebrity Status

We’re painfully behind: there’s almost an entire Euro 2016 trip to recap, followed by a trip to Columbus for a USA/Mexico World Cup qualifier with a less-than-desirable result and a look ahead at a possible trip to Cleveland, Ohio for a Gold Cup group stage match.

For today, however, we are just here to make an announcement: we are officially U.S. Soccer Federation celebrities.

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Yes, it’s true: we’re basically the fan face of USSF.

And, while we don’t always agree with the federation’s choices (BUT NICE CALL ON FIRING KLINSMANN, BTW), this one is spot on.

Who do we need to call about getting our tickets comped?

Redemption, part 3

The elevator opened on the second floor (there was some groaning because we weren’t going straight up to our room) and there was Edgar Castillo. Standing in his team gear, holding his cleats.

2016 Edgar Castillo headshot

This guy has great timing.

And we’re standing there dripping in red, white and blue.

There was no playing it cool.

Lauren: “So, you’re staying here?”

Edgar Castillo, laughing: “We are.”

Lauren: “Okay good because I’m going to need to meet Tim Howard.”

Then we get off at our floor. Lauren more or less immediately went straight downstairs to the hotel bar, where Chris Wondolowski and Brad Guzan and Kyle Beckerman are just chilling at the bar.

Lauren, being no fool, took her seat at the bar.

Which she immediately abandoned when she saw Tim Howard sitting at a table nearby.

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THIS FINALLY HAPPENED AND IT WAS MAGICAL.

She told her darling Tim Howard about his namesake, Howie, and about her Tim Howard is My Spirit Animal sign (which made an appearance in Brazil and Columbus and which he said he had heard about, but not seen) and he was kind and gracious and shook her hand and smiled for selfie.

And it all happened before Alyson could even take an elevator downstairs.

We chilled at the bar after and had a drink and marveled at our good luck and checked out Alex Bedoya’s hair from across the room (that’s…a lot of flow, dude) and didn’t bother another player for a selfie or an autograph or a kiss.

If we hadn’t had our room cancelled.
If we didn’t check out where the team bus was parked.
If we hadn’t parked on the street.
If we didn’t go to dinner after the match.
If the elevator didn’t stop on the second floor.

The soccer gods were looking out for us that day.

A feathered hat and the paparazzi

Monday was a rest day.  No games, no tours, no commitments until our 8:30 pm dinner reservations. 

We started our day at approximately the same time that we start every day here, 9:30 am.  Breakfast is served until 10:00 am, so we’ve set our internal clocks to get us up just in time.  We haven’t missed a breakfast yet.  And good thing.  I hear it’s the most important meal of the day!

Following our breakfast and our morning email check, we sat with our friend James in the hotel lobby for a while.  Though he is from Liverpool, James was travelling with the group of New Yorkers (who had since gone home) and we had spent quite a bit of time with him.  He was with us on our first trip to Ellis Park, for the USA/Slovenia match, and he had gone to the Brazil/Ivory Coast match the night before, too.

James mentioned that he was going to the mall and to lunch with Jackie (the proprietor of our original accommodations and the woman kind enough to take us to the Lion Park) later in the morning.  We decided to tag along.  We ended up back at the African craft market.  Where we bought a few things (of course) and subsequently banned ourselves from returning to because we find it far too easy to burn through cash there.

(I should mention that we’ve since made plans to return this Monday because self control + Lauren + Alyson = does not compute.)

We had a nice, quick lunch and headed back to the hotel to see James off.  Before he left, he delivered several flags to our room: United States, Spain and Argentina.  He had no use for them at home; we promised to wave them wildly at every opportunity. 

The rest of our afternoon passed quietly.  Lauren did homework and took a nap.  I blogged and checked my work email. 

We headed to Melrose Arch for dinner at a restaurant called Moyo.  We had actually tried to have dinner there on Saturday, but couldn’t get reservations.  Moyo is an authentic African restaurant that came highly recommended by Jackie. 

Lauren suggested that Moyo may be the Frankenmuth of South Africa.  The staff wears traditional African outfits, which is probably embarrassing yet mitigated by the amount of business that they see.  We were seated in the basement section of the restaurant, which was absolutely enormous and completely packed.  The basement is decorated to look like a cave.  A cave with flatscreen televisions broadcasting the Spain game. 

We had drinks.  We had dinner.  We watched the Spain game.  We had our faces painted – which is apparently an African thing (or just a clever trick to charm the tourists).  We talked a Frenchman named Francois into taking our picture.  We soaked up the atmosphere.  It was really fun.

And about to get better.

Just as we were finishing up our meal, the Spain game finished.  To celebrate, the restaurant played the World Cup’s anthem “Waka Waka” (performed by our hero, Shakira) over the loudspeakers.  The wait staff gathered on the floor and started to dance.

“Go dance with them,” I told Lauren.  We’d been dancing to that song for nearly a week.  And it isn’t like talking Lauren into doing something like that is even remotely difficult.

So Lauren gets up with the wait staff and she starts dancing.  Before long, she’s wearing a hat made of feathers.  And drawing quite the crowd. 

Before I could really comprehend what was happening, Lauren and I were standing at our table and posing for photos with a large group of men.  Who formed a line.  To get their pictures taken.  With us.

There was also a large group of others surrounding us, taking pictures.  (Thankfully, I took a good number of photos of the paparazzi.  So funny.  Can’t wait to share them.) 

Here’s something we’ve learned since coming to Africa: girls with blonde hair and blue eyes are a bit of a rarity.      

Especially to a group of men from Saudi Arabia, which is where the majority of our fan club hailed from.

It was one of those situations that you could only ever get into with Lauren.  You all know exactly what I’m talking about.  Just so unusual that you can’t really believe that you’re there and so funny that you’ll be rehashing it for years to come. 

The night was magic.  Pure magic.  (Plus a bangin’ Shakria jam and one feathered hat.)

Lauren got bit by a lion

We didn’t have tickets for any Saturday matches, so we went on a glorious adventure to the Lion Park!  The Lion Park is located about an hour outside of Johannesburg.  It would have been a costly taxi ride and costlier to have a tour guide take us, but the woman who owned our original hotel was sweet enough to take us to the Lion Park for the afternoon.  She definitely didn’t have to give up so much of her day in order to shuttle us to an attraction that she’s been to a number of times.  It was incredibly kind of her to do that for us. 

The Lion Park has two main attractions: the game drive and touch-a-cub.  We went on the game drive first.  We were driven through the Lion Park’s ground by a very knowledgeable guide named Emma (her family breeds lions for a living.  Seriously!).  We started off driving through an area where we saw zebras, black wildebeests and springbok and all sorts of animals indigenous to Africa’s planes. 

From there, we drove through the park’s four prides of lions.  Each pride of lions is in its own area of the park and the vehicles just drive through the area: no fences, no moats, absolutely nothing between your cars and the lions.  Apparently lions are creatures of habit and they’re used to the cars driving through their fenced-in areas, just as long as the cars stay on the road.

We were fascinated that the Lion Park allows self-guided tours.  Essentially, people can pay a fee and drive their own cars through the Lion Park.  (You’ll be happy to know that soft-top vehicles are not allowed.)  As a result of this option, we were witness to a lot of stupid behavior.  Such as the man who got out of his car inside of one of the lion prides.  Or the man who drove his car off of the road and at a group of lounging lions.  “This is what it is good that a lion kills someone every once and a while,” our tour guide exclaimed.   “That way, people are reminded that lions are very dangerous creatures.”  Well, then!         

Our guide drove us through the back area of the park, where those who are taking the self-guided tour are not allowed.  It was there where we saw other groups of lions, including their most beautiful lion, who is a bit of a film star.  The park rents him out for movies, television and commercials.  He’s the lion in the Pepsi commercials!

We also got to see our guide’s lion, who she calls Legs.  Emma has been working at the Lion Park without pay for a year.  As a result, they’re letting her take a lion home with her.  I’m not even kidding.  Apparently that’s a pretty good deal; we were told that a lion costs 150,000 Rand.  Emma is going to take Legs back to her family’s lion breeding operation in a few weeks, once she has the proper import and export paperwork.  In her car, I might add.  Just in a crate inside of her car.  No lie!

After our tour of the lion park was complete, we headed over to the touch-a-cub area.  In groups of eight visitors at a time, you’re allowed into a pen with three or four lion cubs.  You’re allowed to pet them and pose for pictures.  The cubs are generally quite playful and good-natured about the whole thing, although we saw them get naughty and swipe a man’s hat or grab a water bottle and crunch on the plastic. 

Lauren made a friend of one of the lion cubs.  He liked her so much that he didn’t want her to leave!  That’s the only reason I can think of that he would grab a mouthful of her shirt (with a bit of skin, too) and refuse to let go!

The park employee told Lauren to swat the lion on the nose.  She wasn’t so excited about the prospects of hitting a lion.  Eventually, he set her free.   I might have spotting the young lion weeping as we walked away.  I think that he wanted to come back to Michigan with us.

We were so fortunate that the owner of our original hotel, Jackie, offered to take us to the Lion Park.  Tourist attraction or not, it did not disappoint.  I mean, come on, we got to pet a lion cub.  That’s pretty much the coolest thing ever.

Vocabulary lesson via email

From: Lauren
Sent: Thursday, June 10, 2010 1:21 PM
To: Alyson
Subject: OMFG

We’re going to the World Cup on TUESDAY.

Bafana bafana!
Waka waka!
We will have too many dops and get crazy babbelas!
Hopefully no one bliksems us!
We will take ambien and doss on the plane!
Ja-well-no-fine!
Kak! I am so excited!
LADUUUUUUUUUUUUUMA!

The Scholarly Scare

Travelling to such a momentous, global event requires a lot of preplanning.  Trust me, if the purpose of our trip wasn’t for the World Cup, I wouldn’t have been making bookings a year in advance. 

Daydreaming about cuddling with lion cubs?  Yes. 

Putting down cash money for accommodations?  Nope.

But, this is the World Cup.  And the World Cup requires dedication!  Passion!  A 16 month commitment! 

When we bought tickets, Lauren was not a graduate student.

Within a few weeks of winning tickets to seven matches in the first ticketing phase: Lauren was admitted to a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program. 

This was (and is) a very, very good thing.  Except for the part where her class schedule conflicted with our two weeks of South African glory. 

We didn’t exactly know that at the time.  But, with the knowledge that Lauren could have school commitments, we proceeded with caution.  And purchased travel insurance with a “cancel for any reason” upgrade. 

Cancelling the trip would be devastating enough.  Cancelling the trip and losing the money associated with tickets, airfare and accommodations would be doubly so. 

Shortly after starting her program last August, Lauren mentioned the trip to a professor.  Who thought that it was great!  A once-in-a-lifetime cultural experience that will help you grow as an individual and make you more sensitive to your diverse patients!

And so we continued on with a little more confidence and the travel insurance as our parachute: full steam ahead!

In April, I sent Lauren an email.  Probably about something very important.  (Likely topics: a recipe that we must make, what we should buy our beloved mom for Mother’s Day, a gem of a quote from our darling father, weekend plans, Gossip Girl.)  I wrapped up the email with this eloquent statement: “p.s. WE LEAVE FOR SOUTH AFRICA TWO MONTHS FROM TODAY.”

Lauren responded with: “Yeah…hopefully I can go. My professor made me feel scared about it on Tuesday. Cross your fingers. Find God and pray to him.”

I immediately:
-Got very nervous
-Invited every person I know to be my backup travel partner

After a few (somewhat anxiety-ridden) days, Lauren received the okay from her professor and from the head of her program.  She might have to do a bit of schoolwork while we’re in South Africa but, face it: doing homework in South Africa is a LOT better than being completely denied the opportunity.

Soccer and scholarship: this is sort of like high school all over again.