I hate mornings. Always have. In a perfect world, I would wake around noon and go to sleep around 2:00 a.m. Unfortunately, I live in the real world, and on days that I work I have to be there at 7:00 a.m. And I am the late person. Uh, huh. Some other poor sucker actually has to come in at four-thirty IN THE MORNING, and we are there for thirteen hour shifts. It is not ideal, but I get four days off a week, so it's tolerable. Of course, on those four days that I am off, I sleep in. 

Which brings me to this morning. Once in a very long while, when the stars align just right, there is something that gets me out of bed before ten-thirty on a day off, but is not something that is so early that I am flying like a bat out of hell to get to it on time. What is significant about ten-thirty? That's the time that McDonald's stops serving breakfast. So on a lucky morning like this one, I make an extra-special effort to leave my house at about 10:27 to get to my friendly neighborhood McDonald's just in time for a bacon, egg and cheese biscuit. This morning, I was feeling particularly generous and offered to get my mom something. When I got to the drive-thru and saw the breakfast menu I was elated that I'd made it on time. This is what I ordered: 

A #3 with Sprite for me (bacon, egg and cheese biscuit)
And a #12 with Diet Coke for mom (bacon, egg and cheese bagel) 

I should have known that something was wrong when the voice on the other end asked me if I wanted barbeque sauce with that. I did pause and carefully reassess what I was ordering for my mom since it wasn't my usual. I declined the BBQ. This is what the voice thought I ordered: 

A #3 with Sprite (which AT LUNCH is a quarter pounder with cheese)
And a #12 with Diet Coke (which at lunch is chicken McNuggets, hence the BBQ) 

When I realized this, between paying for and receiving my food, I brought it to the attention of the extremely intelligent-looking girl at the window. A manager came over and interrupted, saying that my order wasn't ready. I started over trying to explain to her what I thought happened. She was unnecessarily rude, and I felt myself starting to morph into phase two of my confrontation self. Phase one is extremely friendly and understanding. Phase two is when I hit assertiveness. Three gets downright bitchy and haughty. I don't know what happens in phase four. I am usually to lazy to pursue something that hard. I explained to her that I wanted to not only make sure that I got the breakfast that I ordered, but that I paid the correct amount. She told me to pull ahead, and they would take care of it. This is what I left with 25 minutes later: 

A Sprite
Two Diet Cokes
A bacon, egg and cheese biscuit
A bacon, egg and cheese bagel
A steak breakfast burrito 
Two hash browns 
An order of fries

My mom and I tried to think of someone we could invite over for an impromptu breakfast date, but we just ended up saving the Coke for later, splitting the fries and sampling the breakfast burrito, but throwing most of it away. I am waiting to see my card statement before I decide if this story has a happy-ending. I might have paid $22 for my breakfast, I might have paid $10. I might have even got the whole thing for free. The suspense is killing me.        


One Year

After a week of indecision, we were left with no choice. The sign-up sheet for the weekend Garden Route trip was full, and Leslie, Katie and I were not on it. Katie wanted to go to a rugby match that conflicted with the trip, and Leslie and I never worked up enough excitement to commit. Probably because the list looked a little something like this: 

1) Obnoxious sorority girl #1
2) Obnoxious sorority girl #2
3) Obnoxious sorority girl wannabe that vocalized her distaste for fat people, but had a fat ass herself
4) Obnoxious sorority girls' ringleader 
5) Girl that showed promise until she fell under ringleader's spell    
6) Guy that hooked up with ringleader and was apathetic about everything except Dave Matthews
7) My sickeningly nice roommate who I wanted to punch in the face to see if she really was a robot

There were also like three or four cool people that went, including our future fourth musketeer Erica. However, they didn't have the power to compensate for the others. 

On Friday night, we decided to go out. We called a cab and told the driver to take us to Oblivion, a wine bar that the volunteers frequent. Everything started out fine, until we realized that it was taking much too long and that we were driving around in circles. We were a little nervous, because we were driving down narrow streets in pitch dark in an area we didn’t know. Katie, who is good at directions, tried to help the cabbie from the backseat. Leslie was getting a little agitated, and suggested that the driver call base and ask for directions. Thirty rand later, he acquiesced. He got the address from dispatch, but evidently still did not know how to get to that particular street. Instead of risking looking stupid by calling back, he chose to waste more of our time and money, and was getting frustrated. He slowed down and started following a teenage girl, who was walking on the sidewalk, and yelled at her for directions. She did what any smart girl would do: shrugged, picked up the pace and ignored him. "Your mother's a puss!" he shouted at her angrily. Things were getting tense, and Leslie would. not. shut. up. She was spewing contempt, and getting hysterical about our rapidly increasing fare. Katie and I kept shooting each other looks, wide-eyed. I was saying stupid shit like, "It's probably right up here," in an attempt to de-escalate the situation so we wouldn't end up on Dateline. Eventually, the crazy cabbie actually hit another car. Not hard - it was more like a scrape - but he just kept going. He drove to a little store, put the car in park and hopped out to go in and ask for directions. In doing this, he committed a cardinal sin. He left three females sitting in an unlocked, running car with an open door, in South Africa. He was probably praying that someone would jack it and put him out of his misery.  

By some miracle, we eventually got to Oblivion. Thanks to Leslie, I am pretty sure that we only paid half the amount that was displayed on the meter. We ended up meeting a couple of guys that night, one of which was the son of a reverend. Leslie made out with him, and for the next few weeks we would frequently burst into, “The only one who could ever reach me, was the son of a preacher man!” Katie got a little drunk and grilled the other guy on race relations, which was pretty entertaining. 

The next night, following an afternoon of watching rugby, the three of us hit the town again. We ended up at the Dubliner, and within minutes, Leslie found a couple guys to make conversation with. We got a table with them, and shortly thereafter she disappeared for a few hours. Katie and I got drunk, but I got a little crazy. I danced with the cute guy that we were talking to, which turned into me making an Annie sandwich between him, a slice of white, and some other guy, a slice of rye. This made Ralph, the white South African guy, pretty uncomfortable. Ha! Those white South African boys need to loosen up! Later, I decided that the waiters at the Dubliner were cute and put my hand in Fifi’s pocket. To this day, I swear I was just looking for gum. He told me his name was Mike, so at the end of the night when I went to find him, I asked the other waiters where Mike was. They called over a bartender that I hadn’t seen before, and he smiled a gorgeous smile at me. I was not having it. “That is not him,” I said, shaking my head. “He had braids…” I started trying to describe Fifi to them. Mike took his hat off to reveal his braids. Finally, no thanks to my brilliant description, they figured it out. Mike took me back to the poker room, which consists of a continuous velvet booth around all three walls (one of which is adorned with a painting of the American Revolution for some reason that I will never understand), surrounding a poker table. A curtain can be pulled for privacy, and, unbeknownst to me then, I would end up spending quite a bit of time in this place later, and would bestow upon it the nickname of “the boom-boom room.” When it was time to go home, I backed my ass up on another dude outside when a song came on that I liked. I ended up embracing him while we verbalized our attraction to each other’s contrasting features, and I kissed him while Leslie and her new friend, Tom, watched in amusement. I think that was the night I got friendly with our cabbie, too.

There was so much more to come. There would be a wine tasting excursion, trips to the mall, an overnight in a township, African dance parties in the Afrikaans room, a night that Katie and I never came home and thought we would be kicked out of the program, and many conversations that centered around Leslie doubting my judgment, but laughing at me anyway. After that weekend, we would go on to share a friendship with Tom, a special place in our hearts for Western Province rugby, and more nights at Oblivion and the Dubliner. We would share countless meals of chicken and carbs on the porch, Leslie’s hair dryer, secrets, cabs to Rondebosch for chocolate, inside jokes, our love for the staff, a penthouse suite at the Mandela Rhodes, and tearful goodbyes. Most importantly we share a bond with each other and memories that will undoubtedly last a lifetime. And it all started because of that one little weekend.  


I am...Bergen West

Over the weekend, Jenny Boe and I went on a spontaneous road trip. She thought that Duluth sounded fun for a weekend trip, so we loaded up the Yaris that I rented after my first attempt at getting to Minneapolis failed when my car died on the highway. We booked a room through Hotwire, and headed north singing at the top of our lungs. We were inspired by our Yaris, by our fictional identities as travelers from Jackson, Idaho (which we later discovered actually exists) and by a bumper sticker we saw on the road that encouraged drivers to practice random acts of awesome. 

We got to our hotel and went to the desk to check-in. The employee at the counter was courteous enough to ask if we preferred a specific location in the hotel. Did we want a room near the pool, on a lower level or perhaps on one of the upper floors? "Let's get high," replied Jenny Boe, thinking of the view. I giggled. She giggled. The guy checking us in smiled, and asked us to excuse him for a moment. He returned from a back office with a paper for us to sign, legally binding us to pay two hundred dollars if we smoked in the room. Once we got to our quarters, we stashed Jenny's case of beer, my Captain and our wine in the mini-fridge. Jenny Boe cut to the chase and started talking logistics. If we brought back guys, someone had to take the shower. That was the only way. This inspired our brainchild, a public service initiative to "Bathe a Hippie." We were full of good ideas.  

We decided to call my cousin, Christina, who lives in Duluth, to see what she and her boyfriend, Chuck, were doing that night, and to get advice from a local about which bars are good. This was a fantastic idea. She told us about a bar with a band that she said would be a combination of hippies and hip-hop. A perfect combination for Jenny Boe and myself. I took to calling the event the hippie-hop, and could not wait to get my hands on a loofah and my first victim. 

After we got to the hippie-hop, things start to run together in my pickled brain. I remember several trips to the bathroom and Jenny Boe pointing out how many people in Duluth drink Mike's Hard Lemonade. I remember describing the crowd as, "a little something for everyone," but also that I wanted to see my cousin. When she texted to say that she was at Quinlan's and that there was still blood on the sidewalk from the stabbing there a few days earlier, we jumped into the next cab. 

When we got to Quinlan's we found Christina and Chuck. I also spotted this guy that I remembered seeing earlier standing in the rain smoking a cigarette. Christina saw me pointing him out to Jenny Boe and informed me that he was Vincent Cadillac, a local musician. This inspired Jen and I to come up with aliases. We were inventing fictional lives, after all, weren't we? Jenny decided to use Vincent Cadillac's successful formula, and came up with Pablo Ferrari. My cousin helped me come up with Bergen West, but when guys asked I couldn't remember it. I think that defeats the purpose of an alias.  

The night was one of those beautiful blurs reminiscent of riding a merry-go-round. I remember a lot of it, but found out the next morning that I didn't remember everything. This realization hit when I told Jenny Boe in all seriousness that someone stole my money. The conversation quickly snowballed.  

"I know that I had some money left," I told her, miffed. 
"Annie. Remember those twelve Captain and Cokes you drank? And remember how you calculated that you had enough money for eight? You do the math," she said.  
"Why does my nose hurt so much?" I wondered out loud. "Did I hit it on something?"
"Yeah. Your cousin's hardwood floor," she said. 
"How did I do that?" I asked. 
"You fell." 
"I did?"
"Yeah. During the dance party."
"Oh, God. I don't remember that. How did we get to her house?"
"We took a cab." 
"Where did I sit in the cab? The front?" I asked, hoping that this would evoke some memory that it actually happened.
"No, I sat in the front. You sat in the back with your cousin and Chuck," she said, "and you told your cousin that she had to sit in the middle between you and Chuck because when you get drunk you sometimes get frisky." 
"Oh. My. God. I didn't," I pleaded.
"I wish I could come to your Christmas."

She filled me in on other details. Like that I kissed a really gross guy and a couple sorta gross guys, and that the really gross guy was rubbing my back in a disturbing way, but I seemed to have liked it. I covered my face with my hand, because I knew who she was talking about, and told her that I was too mortified to look at her. Thankfully, I was still drunk as she was telling me, so it was a little funny. She asked me if I remembered the black guy from the bar and his girlfriend. I informed her that he told me that said girl was not his girlfriend. "Well, she was calling you a bitch from across the bar anyway," she said, laughing. 

I am not sure how I feel about the impression that I made on my cousin and Chuck. I know that I pissed off their cat, Toonses, because I distinctly remember him hissing loudly and swiping a paw toward my face. I am relatively sure that, if anything, I showed them too much affection. But I had twenty-three years to make up for. Now that I know how much I like them, I really hope they still talk to me after this. Plus, Jenny Boe wants them to find her a soul mate. 

I puked on the car ride home, because I always get car sick if I ride in a car (or drive, and let me tell you, that was not pretty) after a long night of drinking. Jenny Boe just laughed at me hysterically, rolled down the window and tried not to gag. This, in turn, made me laugh hysterically and puke simultaneously. "We get closer every time we hang out," she said. I smiled. It was the best weekend of my summer by far.  


I Ain't Seen the Sunshine Since I Don't Know When

I started my weekend with a visit to the federal prison in town. My aunt works there and offered to guide me on a tour around the institution. This probably comes as a shock to no one, but there are a lot of rules at prison, and you have to start thinking about the rules before you even show up. My aunt informed me that there are rules governing what prison tourists are allowed to wear, so I showed up in jeans and a long-sleeved shirt, despite that it was close to a hundred degrees outside, because it was the only shirt that I felt adequately covered my boobs. That is one of the rules. I also sported Nikes, because flip-flops have recently been outlawed for people who find themselves at the institution out of their own free will, instead of due to something more along the lines of butchering a mailman. If you butcher your mailman you are allowed to wear sandals. You also don't have to worry about covering your boobs. I know this because I saw plenty of chests glistening in the yard. Nothing makes you feel dirtier than finding yourself checking out an inmate. Or a few, if I am honest.      

When I arrived, my aunt met me in the security building through which anyone going in or out must pass. Let me tell you, this woman does not look like she belongs in a prison. Not even as an employee. For one thing, she is teeny-tiny. She is also probably the sweetest person you could ever meet. She got a paper from the guard that I had to fill out to be granted admittance. In the center there was a section with a humongous list, and after each item there was a yes line and a no line where I was to check whether or not I was carrying any of the listed items. I'm no genius, but I think that if you do have any of these items, you fail this part. I scanned each item and checked no quickly, with a sort of rhythm. Cell phone, still in my purse in the car, checked no. Marijuana, glove compartment, checked no. Narcotics, at home in my medicine cabinet, checked no. Weapons, tucked safely under my mattress, checked no. Then they got me, those bastards. They put something so horrifyingly ridiculous on that list that they broke my concentration. I couldn't resist. "Oh, man! I forgot my camera," I said to my aunt in mock disappointment, and none too quietly, as if I was visiting a ZOO instead of a PRISON. She immediately threw her head to the right to gauge the guard's reaction. Luckily, he was distracted, attempting to keep order with the group of eight Mexicans (three adults and five kids under six) who were in line ahead of us, unfortunately there for a sadder reason than a tour. My aunt turned back to me with wide eyes and told me another rule. Apparently, one must not crack jokes or laugh while passing through prison security. Lesson learned. I am a work in progress. 

The tour was great. My aunt showed me around the whole place, and I met some of her co-workers. One suggested that I get a job out there, strike it rich and find a guy. He quickly clarified, "A worker, not an inmate." I think that's another rule. The strangest part of the whole thing is that hardly any of the criminals are locked up. They are all just everywhere. Some are working, some are taking classes or researching something in the library, some are working out in the gym or on the yard. I was clearly outnumbered, and didn't see anyone who would be able to save me if anything went horribly wrong. The razor-wire and the acute awareness that if anything happened to me it was one hundred percent my own fault for putting myself into that situation, reminded me of last summer. Some of my best days have happened in places that I probably never should have been, the exhilaration of knowing that I averted some kind of danger only adding to the greatness of the experience as a whole.