19 Sep 2016

Accelerated Change: Dirt

Moonlit wings at 36,000 feet. Black below. For most of Africa, outdoor illumination is a prized commodity. Our path is marked by dozens of oil rig gas flares which dot northern Algeria like Christmas luminarias. In 12 more hours we will be near the exact polar opposite spot to my home in L.A. for a warm and spectacular sunset after a two-day journey. Wine and grilled prawns next to powerful crashing surf. Arrival!!…on the opposite side of the world.

This 7th edition of “California Man in Africa” begins at the very bottom of Africa, on the Cape of Good Hope. Then we move north to Johannesburg, Pretoria and into an area that used to be called Bophuthatswana during South Africa’s previous life. The place has grown up over the 40 years I’ve been exporting auto parts, tires, motorcycles and race cars. My record in the good times was 11 containers on one ship. While the incredible energy remains, wild currency manipulation means their South African Rand has very little purchasing power in 2016. So, our trade opportunities have become more focused.

But never forget, Africa will always surprise you.

Let’s jump ahead…over the good friends, food and business. One reason we are here is to attend the marriage of a sparkling, intelligent, 30 something free-spirit of a South African girl who first visited me as a speed bump in her mum’s tum.  Emmy Lou Rivers has captured all the light, laughter, and joy of her late mother Meryl and her marriage to my friend Carric Shepard is simply the highlight of our 10,000-mile adventure. But her father…my friend of nearly forty years,
Keith Rivers has a growing and difficult problem.

A big, filthy, messy, dirty problem that can only be described in the automotive world as ‘unique’.

We have a slight conflict. On the Sunday following the wedding is the first ever running of the national Concours d’ Elegance for classic automobiles. Think Pebble Beach for the southern half of Africa. This is a big deal. Keith Rivers has a car that could win the entire thing…and I am chasing it now through the streets of Johannesburg to make it to the wedding on time.

When you drive something exciting in South Africa, everyone walking or riding along the road, whistles or shouts, waves or pats the ground with their hand. WHAT? One more time. Say that again please.

They will pat the ground with one hand. It means “stand on it”…turn those tires.  Let’s hear what you got. At some clear intersections there are like 25 people waving their arms and asking for a show…so…well…you know…carefully check for the cops and let the rumba begin.

I don’t have a bad job this weekend. I’m driving the chase car.
2009 Ferrari F430 Scuderia light weight, in a pale metallic blue with brake rotors the diameter of an extra large pizza. Ever so quiet, calm and socially acceptable while at idle alongside little school children. Yet, with a couple of paddle shifts, it will scream so loud you cannot converse inside the car. Sign language only.  Intense joy. Truly fast, nimble and modern.

The star of the show is just in front of me. Cell phones up!! Keith Rivers is going to his daughter’s wedding in his F40. If you are one who knows, please read on. If not, Google just three key strokes. Decades ago this red, winged projectile was the celebration of Enzo’s 40th year in business.  He lived just long enough to see it in production. Twin turbos, about 500 horsepower, explosive acceleration and valued far above most of the homes we are flashing by. Define the last century of 200-MPH super cars…the Ferrari F40 was a significant player.

Keith’s car is already a “Best of Show” winner at the annual Ferrari gathering a year ago. Now this near perfect example is headed toward an uncertain fate as the father-of-the-bride planned to go to the wedding, and then leave at dawn to get to the inaugural Concourse South Africa. But Dad has discovered that the ceremony is along a beautiful riverbank in a very natural setting that requires running down a mile of dirt road. Dry. Washboard. Dust like powdered sugar.

Stop tape. Pause here.
Just ponder this problem for a moment in deepest darkest Africa.
1. Daughter’s wedding is a mile down a filthy dirt road.
2. Rare Ferrari F40 and the inaugural Concourse South Africa.

Dad is contorted on this one to say the least and on the phone the entire way occasionally steering with knees.  He shoots off into the town just before the venue and into a tire shop go both Ferraris for a quick sleepover. Someone will come ‘collect us,’ and by magic the shop will be opened very early Sunday so we can get the show cars out. The event is 120 miles away. Helps to be the former CEO of a national chain of tire and accessory stores. Magic just kinda happens with a cell phone.

The wedding and elaborate parties are all held outdoors, with campfires, stars, and the sounds of Africa at night. “Wild life” defined two ways – one with glad rags and a DJ. The other is happening more naturally all around us. Warm weather embraces about 70 guests from around the world with both laughter and tears for a mom and great friend that can only join the party in thoughts. Much merriment and toasting ensues…at the end of the long dirt road.

Next time we finish this most incredible Ferrari road trip in a second installment.

Please check for the next posting of Accelerated Change, entitled “Goats.”
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