PRETORIA, South Africa — My host in Pretoria gave me this can of pepper spray to fend off bandits. I didn't have it when the bad men struck.
Craggs alerted you to my little predicament the other day. A few Deadspin readers expressed concern, for which I'm grateful. I'll get to what happened in a moment, but a word first about Pretoria, the drowsy capital of South Africa, where this foul crime was perpetrated.
Pretoria is very different from Johannesburg. It's smaller, quieter, more Dutch, less British. To get there, you cross the Jukskei River north of Johannesburg. In the minds of Joburgers, this thin trickle represents a dividing line between civilization and the boonies. People in the big city refer to the Jukskei as the "boerewors gordyn," which translates, wonderfully, to "farmer's sausage curtain." To part the sausage curtain, they joke, you need a passport. On the other side, they also joke, lives a dangerous creature known as the Super Afrikaner.
I came across several Super Afrikaners in Hatfield Square, near where I was staying. They were younglings with mullet hair, skinny jeans, and abominable hoodies. Their parents are derisively called "hairybacks" and lumber about in work boots and bush hats. But these juveniles looked more like Williamsburg hipsters. There were even a few of what you might call helicopter chicks. One evening, I saw two chubby ones dancing seductively with each other. Drooling Algerian men had surrounded them and were filming the pas de deux. I counted nine lecherous cameras rolling at one point. I wondered where the video might —
"What are you writing?"
Shit. It was a Super Afrikaner male. He'd crept up on me with two beta males.
"No one writes anything here."
I closed my notebook and backed slowly away. You must never run from the Super Afrikaner. It incites a powerful bloodlust in him. I backed all the way out of hipsterville and into a neighborhood called … Brooklyn. And Brooklyn is where it all went horribly wrong. After picking up my USA-Ghana tickets in a gleaming labyrinthine mall that puts American consumerism to shame, I made my way to a minibus taxi rank. In South Africa, there are normal cabs and minibuses, both called taxis. The minibus holds about a dozen people and travels set routes. I haggled with the driver. Another man entered the conversation from the side. I turned to face him. Someone in the crowd jostled me. I didn't think much of it. But when I got off the minibus 15 minutes later, I discovered my tickets were gone. They had been in my inside jacket pocket. Easy target. Also missing from another pocket was a pack of chewing gum. You have to be a low gutter dog to steal a man's tickets and his gum. Very low.
Sixteen hours of desperate scrambling ensued. I quickly realized that a regular fan in this predicament would be buggered. My multiple calls to the FIFA ticket hotline went roughly like this:
Me: Help! My tickets were stolen! I need to cancel them and print new ones.
FIFA: "In this case, nothing can be done. If your ticket is stolen, nothing can be done."
Me: What do you mean "nothing can be done"?! I'm the victim of a crime. Your system is automated. You can just void the stolen tickets and print up new ones.
FIFA: "It's in the terms and conditions. You need to read the terms and conditions. If tickets are stolen, nothing can be done."
Me: I have the credit card I used to buy the tickets! I have my passport. I have everything I need to go down to the ticket center and have you print new ones. But you won't?! You're telling me I'm responsible for being the victim of a crime? There's nothing you can do?!
Me: You swine! You barnacle! You think this is fair? How would you feel if this happened to you? You think this is right? You admit to me right now that this is not right!
FIFA: "It's not correct."
Me: You say it again!
FIFA: "If I lost my ticket or my ticket was stolen, it's not correct."
Me: You're going to regret this day for the rest of your life. I'm going to crucify you.
FIFA: "Maybe the police will find it."
I can only wonder what an experience like this might drive the hardcore fan to do. He might commit a crime himself. Life, though, is different for members of the media. I'm sorry to confirm this truth for you. But I must also give credit where it's due. Once I tracked down the FIFA media people and began waving around my press pass, my problems disappeared. Several on-the-ball Brits not only produced two complimentary tickets for me the next day but also upgraded them. I ended up sitting guiltily in the first row behind the team benches to watch the USA flame out. All I had to do on this end was go to the Brooklyn cop shop and fill out an affidavit for stolen property.
The cops here get a very bad rap indeed. But they were helpful enough. "Do you want to open an investigation?" Officer RR Baloyi asked me at the time, though what he was really saying, to judge by his tone, was, "You don't want to open an investigation, do you?" A scene from The Big Lebowski came to mind — the one where the Dude asks the Auto Circus cop if he had any leads about who stole his car. "Leads, yeah, sure," the cop says. "I'll just check with the boys down at the crime lab. They've got four more detectives working on the case. They got us working in shifts!"
In any case, everything worked out in the end. Except for maybe FIFA, whose headquarters in the tony Sandton neighborhood of Johannesburg were burgled last night. Looks like an inside job. I hope everyone there read the terms and conditions.
Luke O'Brien is a writer in Washington, D.C. He's written for Details, Washington Post Magazine, Boston Magazine, SI.com, and other publications. He'll be filing dispatches from South Africa throughout the World Cup.