February 16, 2020

Running Yokohama: The Day Kobe Died

published by Bren

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It’s been almost three weeks since Kobe died.

I still think about him every day. It’s starting to feel real, but still doesn’t feel right and probably never will.

When I first heard the news I had just woken up and was checking my phone with crusts still in my eyes. I was in Yokohama, Japan, lying in my hotel bed. A couple of days earlier I’d attended my friend’s wedding, and was enjoying a few days of free time before my flight home.

I saw the messages and quickly sat up.

I’ve been having this weird thing happen this past few months, where my dreams are extra vivid. So vivid that I wake up and sometimes I have to make sure I’m awake. And often I drift back into sleep and wake up again, so it takes me a second to confirm which is the dream and which one is real life.

So as I read through the messages my first thought was, oh okay I must not be properly awake yet. Because Kobe Bryant doesn’t just die. But then I put my feet on the floor, and I Googled it, and I touched my face, and I realised it might be real.

There are some events, like the September 11 attacks, or the day Princess Diana died, that people will say “I still remember exactly what I was doing when I heard the news.” But I’ve never had a moment like that, until then.

I’d actually had a lot of plans that day. But life stopped, and I spent the next few hours in bed, scrolling through Instagram and reading all the tributes, watching old Kobe videos people were posting and seeing the news unfold. I haven’t felt sadness like that in a while. Perhaps you wouldn’t even call it sadness. More like, being smashed back to reality.

Back in 2013, Paul Walker died in a car accident. That screwed me up for a while. I was no longer an accountant then, I had just finished going back to university in China, I was 26, not earning any money and didn’t really know what to do with my life. I had considered going back to finance and had looked at jobs in London and China and New York. I was travelling in the meantime, and I remember telling everyone, “This Paul Walker thing has got me all messed up, man.” Because to me that was the perfect life – rich, talented, famous, handsome, probably swimming in women and fast cars and famous friends. I just didn’t see how someone like him could have a single problem in his life at all. And then overnight he was gone.

That was when I realised, if life didn’t give a fuck about Paul Walker, it’s definitely not gonna give a fuck about me.

A few months after that, I decided to start my career as a writer and blogger. I knew travel was my true love, and I should try to pursue it, and even if I failed who really gives a shit because Paul Walker just died in a car explosion and that could also be me in two years or two months or two days. And I never forgot that feeling of realising life was so short and fleeting and could literally be gone in an instant. So not only did Paul leave me with Fast And The Furious – that masterpiece I can never stop watching whenever it comes on – he also inspired that little period of reflection that changed my life.

I grew up watching Kobe play, but to be honest I never really became a fan of his until he retired. I hated him, actually. I hated him because he was so good.

When I was younger, I played a lot of NBA on Playstation. My team was the Orlando Magic. It started with a love affair with Anfernee Hardaway when I was a kid, and I still played often by the time I started working as an accountant in my twenties. By then I was running my team around Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson, mastering the big man/little man offense.

During those 9-5 accounting years, I noticed an interesting thing happens with men and sports. We spend every day sitting in this box, wearing these dorky clothes and we loathe it so much that we cling on to any little bit of excitement we can find. And often we find it in a sports team. Them winning or losing literally means nothing to us, doesn’t affect our lives one bit, but we attach our happiness to it, sometimes our entire existence, if our team wins, we feel good, our team loses, we mope through the office for the rest of the day. We need those teams, it’s the only way we get to be a part of something great from our cubicle, and eventually being their fan becomes a part of who you are. Even if we have a shit day, we can say, well at least my team won today. And it makes us a feel a little bit alive inside. For me that team became the Orlando Magic.

During those years, Dwight Howard was a big star so all the Magic games got played live on ESPN. Tip off time in America worked out to lunch time in New Zealand, so any time the Magic played I spent my lunch hour in the office lunch room watching the game with the other boys in the office.

Then after lunch I’d follow the rest of the game online, and we’d trash talk each other via email until it finished around 3pm.

“Dude your boy better sink these free throws.”

“He’ll nail em with his eyes closed.”

Refresh refresh refresh.

“Choke!”

Refresh refresh.

“Choke again!”

“Motherf%!$@^@!! Wanna go for afternoon tea?”

We didn’t get much work done on those days, but like I said, you couldn’t look away. It became a part of you. Even if your entire day was a borefest, at least you had your sports team.

In my second year as an accountant, 2009, the Orlando Magic made the NBA Finals. They were up against Kobe Bryant’s LA Lakers. All the boys in the office were like, bro that’s your team! And when Jameer Nelson choked on a game winning layup in Game 2, all the boys were like, bro that’s your team! Then when Kobe Bryant dominated us and closed it in 5 games, the boys were like, bro that’s your team! Man, I hated Kobe Bryant. That was my team.

But when Kobe retired I remember reading his letter Dear Basketball, and I became a fan then. Not that I ever truly hated him, I loved watching him play against any other team, I had so many memories of him; his epic three pointer in the Olympic Final against Spain, the 81 point game, the broken finger game. One afternoon I was watching a Lakers game at my desk, my workmate standing beside me. Kobe was his guy, and I said “Kobe’s injured that’s why he’s only shooting jumpers,” then two seconds later he drove to the rim and dunked it so hard my friend burst out laughing and smacked me.

It was cold in Yokohama the morning Kobe died. Around 10 degrees. I lay in bed, digesting the news, thinking about the 10km run I was supposed to do.

But that morning, it was Paul Walker all over again. Too hard to believe – he was all the same things as Paul; rich, handsome, famous, talented, healthy, loved, an icon. The hours of work and sacrifice you take to build a life that great, and the world just decided, whoosh, to take it all away. Most people would be distraught if you just took away their Instagram page. So how can you take away Kobe Bryant’s life?!

My first thought was; tough day, and freezing outside, maybe I could take a day off. But that didn’t last long. I came across a video of Carmelo Anthony saying he was going to play in his basketball match that evening, because that’s what Kobe would’ve wanted.

I thought, if Kobe was my friend, he wouldn’t want me taking any day off either. He would want me to run.

I jumped out of bed, and decided not only would I run, I would make it a special run too. My plan that day had been to try all the different fast food joints in Japan and write a blog post about it, so I decided to merge the two together and do a run/feast all in one.

I planned a running route along the Tsurumi River, starting just a few blocks from my hotel, which included little detours to stop at all the most famous Japanese fast food restaurants.

My first stop would be Sukiya, followed by Matsuya, followed by Mos Burger, followed by Ikinari Steak, followed by the Yoshinoya right by my hotel. Run to each one, have a meal, then run to the next, for a total of 5 meals and 25km. What could go wrong?

It was around 3pm when I finally got my ass out the door. The Tsurumi River is long and winds through Yokohama, with running paths on both sides. I wrapped up in sweats, a facemask, a hoodie and a beanie, and took off right from the hotel lobby. The wind blasted me in the face as soon as I stepped out the door.

On any other day, I would’ve turned around and went right back up the elevator.

My first stop, Sukiya, was around 5km away, straight down the river.

It was actually a nice run, once I got out of the city and onto the riverfront. Yokohama’s winter is cold, the kind of cold that doesn’t set too deep in your bones, but definitely bites your fingertips. But my body warmed up quickly and I had the river to myself. The paths were empty, maybe only one other runner out there.

I had an old video of Kobe jogging in my mind, and I even found myself trying to run like him, the way his shoulders shrugged with each step and the sharp bounce of his elbows.

As I started getting further from the city the paths got narrower and more obscure, and I got a little lost, wandering around odd paths and intersections.

Eventually I came to some train tracks which led me into a very classic looking Japanese neighbourhood.

The streets were quiet, car-free, with lots of vegetable gardens and residential alleys. I got a few funny looks too. Maybe I looked funny. Or maybe I had Kobe’s Mamba spirit within me and people couldn’t help but be drawn to it!

Nah I probably just looked funny.

Through a few backstreets, I finally made it back to a main road and saw the Sukiya in the distance.

I slowed to a walk and smiled with relief. A solid forty minute job.

The Sukiya was a typical suburban fast food joint, on a quiet road with hardly any customers and just one old lady managing the till.

It reminded me of the little Wendy’s by my house in New Zealand, which is always empty and you wonder how it makes any money.

I hadn’t eaten anything all day so once I got inside I was ready to feast on the entire menu, but had to control myself; I still had 20km to run and four more meals to eat. Though I knocked down the free cup of tea in a millisecond, and then another one after that.

Eventually I decided on the tuna bowl, and ordered the small size just to be safe.

I wolfed it down in seconds and then after one more cup of tea, headed back out on the road.

Verdict on Sukiya: Super fast service, tuna was fresh, huge menu. I like it.

The next stop was Matsuya, about 7.5km away.

I backtracked through the residential streets and back onto the river. By now it was starting to get dark (didn’t plan for that) and quite a bit colder, although this run literally followed the river the entire way so was much easier to get through.

During the last fifteen minutes the rain started to come down and this was brutal on my fingers. I took my beanie off and wrapped one of my hands in it, the other I tucked inside my hoodie.

Forty five minutes later I made it there, just short of 8km.

Turned out this Matsuya was in a mini commercial grid of streets I didn’t even know was there. It looked like a mini Tokyo.

The Matsuya was a little busier, maybe half the seats taken, and was set up like a little ramen bar.

I picked up a Pocari Sweat at the vending machine and then decided to go for the pork and green onion bowl.

To be honest I wasn’t too hungry, the tuna still fresh in my stomach from an hour earlier. Plus with all that running, things hadn’t digested so well.

Verdict on Matsuya: Smaller menu than Sukiya so not as much selection and feels cheaper too. Food pretty good, but wouldn’t be my first choice.

When I got back up to the riverfront, the rain suddenly started coming down with force. It was completely dark now, and getting colder by the hour.

I looked at the Mos Burger on my map 4km away, which would also mean another 4km back to the Ikinari Steak just around the corner from where I was, plus another 5km home to Yoshinoya. My stomach already wasn’t feeling great, and I knew on a sunny day I might be able to pull it off but here in the rainy 8 degree cold, it was going to be a really long night.

I stared down the river into the darkness, looked at the lights way in the distance. As I felt the rain patter against my face I winced and shook my head.

The verdict was in: Abort mission.

(honestly, this still annoys me to this day 😂😂😂 I should’ve kept going!).

The run home was hardly the leisurely jog I’d wished it was. It was a long 5km, fingertips frozen, though the rain eased up to a drizzle and I could see the big tower of my hotel in the distance which made it feel less far away.

By the time I made it back there, my stomach was a washing machine and I further aborted mission on the Yoshinoya and went straight to the showers.

The final scorecard: 18.37 km and two fast food restaurants.

Not quite the 25km and five restaurants Kobe had inspired me to try, but it was an adventure all the same.

Plus I now have unfinished business in Yokohama. If I’m ever back, I’ll be lacing up again, and you know I’m gonna win the rematch!

So what’s the moral of this story?

Let’s just say, this life could be long, it could be short, we don’t know. So while we’re here we need to get off our asses, challenge ourselves, live life to the max every single day. And maybe it won’t work out, but it doesn’t matter. 18km is still better than zero km, and two fast food meals is better than none.

So next time you think about doing something and you tell yourself tomorrow, instead tell yourself Kobe Bryant, tell yourself Paul Walker, and then get off your FAT ASS and do it today.

Doesn’t matter if you fail.

As long as we’re out there and we’re living, we owe our heroes that much.

ALL THE LOVE IN THE WORLD,

B

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