The Chelsea Hotel, Hillbrow – Or What’s Left Of It
Jan Smuts International Airport is about seven miles east of downtown Johannesburg, but even in 1991 that seven miles was probably about the most dangerous road I’ve ever driven. We never took one vehicle, always two. Race didn’t matter: black, white, coloured, chinese – nobody cared. If you were a foreigner you were fair game. I am “black” in Barbados but in Jo’burg I was “coloured”.
That was in the days when I was starting third seat on 727’s and “any cargo, anytime, anywhere” was the motto. The biggest lesson I learned that year was to use far more straw than the “experts” recommended.
You say, “Straw? Boeing 727 and straw? What the devil is he talking about?”
A healthy 727-200F can carry about 300 live goats plus a few pallets and lots of fuel. It was a hell of a way to make a living, but that was how I spent most of 1991. My time there was short but full of (mostly good) memories – with the exception of a bad bad happening on 03 Left that I shall never forget. It is a long story but there was no damage and nothing was injured except our pride. Nothing that a change of underwear couldn’t cure.
Although we usually stayed close to the airport, a few times I stayed at the Chelsea Hotel in Hillbrow because one of the chaps had some pretty friends there. The former white enclave became a bit of a free-for-all zone in the early 1980’s but by 1991 the party was ending.
An old friend sent me the above photo of how the Chelsea Hotel looks now and links to a website that shows what is left of the city. He says that the Johannesburg is dead man walking. Nothing remains. Anyone who could get out has gone.
“What about you?”, I said.
“Home is home”, was the reply.
Good luck, old friend – but you’ll have to visit me because my days of travel to Jo’burg are well and truly ended.