The Reggies Rush Of The R26
The show warped my ten-year-old mind. I frothed with schadenfreude whenever some undeserving punk couldn’t reach a Test Match cricket board game or remote-control helicopter on the top shelf. Worse, Reggie’s Rush cursed me with the hope that I’d one day be summoned to the all-you-can-steal buffet. Surely I would get my chance one day...
Hope eventually turned into bitterness when I realised that nobody in my primary-school-sized universe had ever appeared on Reggie’s Rush, let alone Simba Surprise. This cynicism for freebies stayed with me as a journalist, when I was regularly reminded that if you want a free lunch, you’ve got to listen to a publicist tell you how wonderful a toaster or mouthwash or a government policy is.
After several years of munching canapés that came with terms and conditions, I quit my job and cycled around South Africa for six months.
Four months into the trip, while lying in a bath in a stranger’s house on a farm in the Free State, I had an epiphany: I realised Reggie’s Rush wasn’t just a childhood fantasy. It was real and I had found it on the R26 between Zastron and Wepener.
To explain how I got to my epiphany, I need to start where most stories end: karaoke.
I pedalled into Zastron, pitched my tent in a caravan park and prepared for another evening of pilchards and pasta. Unknowingly, the Reggie’s Rush starting gun had just been fired and the first gift appeared in the form of Arend de Waal, a former kickboxing champion from Witbank, who was holidaying with his family and hoping to make a dent in Zastron’s carp population.
I knew he was a former kick-boxing champion because it was the first thing he told me. When he invited me to his braai I said: “Asseblief, meneer. Baie dankie, meneer.” with the humble formality that I reserve for addressing kickboxers.
I discovered there’s no such thing as a free dinner in Zastron, only a free dinner with unlimited brannewyn and endless after-dinner entertainment. Because when Arend wants to connect with nature, he does it with his fishing rod and an enormous PA system... with a karaoke machine.
He belted out predictions of a bad moon rising, his false teeth glistening in the light of his laptop. He crooned on into the night, clutching the mic in a fist that had solved more arguments than Judge Judy. Occasionally he was interrupted by a cackle of tannies around the braai who yelled “Nie op ’n Sondag nie, Arend!” every time he swore.
I Garfunkeled to his Simon for a few duets, and took over the mic for “Piano Man”, which was much longer than I remembered it being. I was glad I didn’t stick with my original choice of “I’d Do Anything For Love”.
After many self-nominated encores, Arend went to bed. I said good night to the tannies. In the midst of a hug, one of them furtively pressed a R10 note into my hand. A minute later, another tannie slipped me a R20, somewhat less furtively. Then they plied me with a stack of braaibroodjies for padkos.
They all seemed to feel desperately sorry for this soutie who was cycling across the country. Kan jy nou meer?
An hour later I was freewheeling down the R26 outside Zastron when a farmer who was missing an index finger and wearing a cowboy hat gave me some bottles of ice water from his bakkie.
Several hills later, a truck swerved into my lane. I waved so that the driver could see me, but the truck carried on. I was about to jump off the bike when a forearm with a snake tattoo reached out of the window to pass me a bottle of juice – all without stopping.
Soon, a couple pulled over to give me two cold Energades and an ice cream. They’d seen me earlier, driven all the way to Zastron then backtracked to find me. All in the name of delivering a cold ice cream on a summer’s day in the Free State.
Then, on this Mary Poppins’ bag of a road, a car with a lesser spotted CA number plate stopped in front of me. I hadn’t seen one of these in ages. Imagine if I know this guy, I thought.
It turned out I did. It was travel writer Toast Coetzer, on his way to a wedding. Had he been driving by himself he would have given me pleasantries and well wishes, but fortunately his mom was in the car so I got several apples, two more Energades, sticks of biltong and a loaf of Mrs Coetzer’s home-made banana bread.
As they drove off, I struggled to close my pannier bags to fit in all the day’s gifts. I couldn’t believe how undeservedly lucky I had been. It was as if I had leant on a spade and hit a gold reef.
My plan had been to look for a campsite in Wepener, but I figured I’d ride out this lucky streak. I pedaled until dusk, knocked on the door of a farmhouse and asked if I could pitch my tent on the lawn. Of course, the farmer said.
A loaf of banana bread later, I sat in the bath, feeling full, uncharacteristically clean and teary-eyed with gratefulness.
When you’re travelling on a bicycle, you’re going to get the occasional helping hand from a fellow human. That’s because people are kinder than you think they are.
You’ll discover that these gestures of generosity are all equal – from an encouraging hoot up the Swartberg Pass to a slice of watermelon outside Burgersdorp to a R10 note in Zastron. They’re all equal because all of them vanquish the question that haunts you every day – in homesickness and health, in thunderstorms of doubt and head – winds of regret: Why am I doing this?
You don’t deserve such gifts so you learn not to expect them. However, if you decide to do something as stubbornly silly as travel the country on a bicycle, people will stubbornly insist on helping you.
When I had arrived in the Free State, my morale had been ebbing. I had heard so many crime anecdotes. The ones that affected my route would maybe cause me to decide on a different route, but there were also endless unsubstantiated claims and generalisations.
That’s why the Reggie’s Rush of the R26 was so well timed. A slice of banana bread at the right time can remind you that the state of South Africa can’t be reduced to what you see on the news or read about on Twitter.
I need to remind myself about this because I also forget sometimes. I forget that my doubts are mostly unfounded. I forget that my preconceived ideas are exactly that: preconceived. And I forget that good news isn’t always loud news.
South Africa is perennially surprising. One of these surprises is a cross-cultural tendency to spread peace by sharing padkos with strangers. And while questions about safety are necessary, my answer – that I rode for 4 000km without an incident – carries the same satisfaction as giving an unexpected gift.
In fact, the only crime I encountered was the one I committed when I destroyed “Can You Feel The Love Tonight?” in Zastron. Some things are better left to Elton John, or to Witbank’s toughest kickboxer.
This column was published in the February 2018 issue of Go! Magazine.