With USA gear on, we depart Petroria for Johannesburg, an hour drive to Ellis Park for the USA vs. Slovenia game. We've all seen the horrible call at the end of the game by now, so what follows is about the gameday experience, rather than the game action.
Since we had two cars, we agree to follow the signs to the Park n Ride near Ellis Park - it's a place where we can park our cars and take the free shuttles to the stadium. The highway ride is pleasant, meaning no traffic, but the smoke that is visible as we approach Johannesburg is amazing. The dry grass on the side of the highway and internal areas is literally on fire – we can see the flames, but can’t react fast enough with the cameras.
On one left turn, we find ourselves in a very different environment. We are on a street that I expected to see much earlier. So many locals had advised us against driving in neighborhoods that look like this, so you can imagine what goes through your mind when you’re driving through it.
A few blocks away, traffic slows as we near the stadium, and we are approached by no less than 30 people trying to get us to park on the hills and open spaces they are creating on the side of the road. No one seems official, and the number of people that approach our cars asking us to follow them to a spot is a bit intimidating. And, most of them are wearing different colored 'vests', some of which say security or guard and / or are ripped or faded.
We kept driving and eventually settled on a Park N Walk location, run by the city's World Cup organization. Once parked we enjoy a celebratory beverage and then begin our walk to the stadium.
It's possibly one of the cooler strolls I've taken to a game, through a neighborhood street in Johannesburg, South Africa. Houses on this street did not have electronic wires protecting their front yards. Instead, they had people grilling and selling all kinds of meat for those of us walking by.
A woman and child are holding up a hand-written sign inviting us to their school - which was turned into a bar to raise money.
A little further down, a larger group of little kids are cheering "USA, USA, USA," as we approach. They want pictures, and so do we.
Everyone we pass waves and say "hello," or "good luck." Some approach and ask how we like Africa. It's a bit touching to feel such love from a place that others had described to us as dangerous.
The final block to the stadium was filled with vendor tents and tables, selling all kinds of food and gifts. In a twist from other games, we actually had an extra ticket to this match from a buddy that couldn't make it. We see two little kids playing by their family's vendor tent and we want to try get them in the game. We see another American fan holding up one ticket, so we ask if he'd be willing to give it up so we could offer both kids a ticket to the game. The guy didn't want to.
A few minutes later, we see one of the little kids running from the tent and towards us, waving a ticket. It set us up perfectly to give our spare ticket to his relative / friend. If you could only have seen how big their eyes got when we asked if they wanted our extra ticket. They quickly run back to their family and then join us at the turn style.
Once inside we pose for a photo, the two kids only saying "too much" when we ask if they are excited. They can't contain their excitement and make a dash into the stadium. We find other friends and take up 10 standing spots in the top rows of the lower level.
There are many, many American fans in this section. We can see when arms are raised but can't hear what is being said - the vuvuzelas drown out any attempt to have unified singing.
When it appeared the U.S. tied the game, we all ended up all over the place, hugging and high-fiving everyone within a ten-row area. Within 30 seconds, we realized it had been taken away, no one with a clue as to why.
The comeback over and a point secured. We pose for many photos - with other Americans, with Slovenias, and with many African fans. Our return to the car allowed to stop back at the school, and order more food from the street vendors. We had just watched a great game. We believe we made two little kids very happy. It was a great experience.