George is not just a coach. He’s like an uncle to me. And although we’ve been checking in via text every week or two, I hadn’t seen him in person since March and that was starting to feel really weird. Also the gym — which is on the site of an abandoned petrol station — has been undergoing a major renovation since February. I was eager to see how things were going.
Obviously I still can’t exercise at the gym, but I figured I could go for a masked, socially distanced visit. Yet I felt apprehensive, like the coronavirus somehow makes Hillbrow more dangerous than it was before. It’s weird how the pandemic makes me afraid of things I wasn’t previously afraid of.
I promised George I would visit this week. Today was the last day of the week. So I finally went and I’m so glad I did.
Hillbrow, which has always had a serious problem with sanitation (in fact that’s a huge understatement), is as clean as I’ve ever seen it. The streets are practically sparkling. Sanitation workers are busy sweeping on every block. All the robots (traffic lights) are working.
I know this is hard to envision but Hillbrow is SPOTLESS. There’s hardly a single piece of rubbish to be found.
George greeted me with a mask and an elbow bump, like I’d never been away, and we inspected the renovations together. The floor in the outdoor section of the gym, which was previously sloped, is now flat and smooth. There seems to be so much more space than before. Workers were busy constructing a new boxing ring.
George proudly showed me the new bathrooms inside — one for men and one for women, each with a shower. He also showed me the new gym cat, who doesn’t have a confirmed gender or name yet. S/he enjoyed being petted and photographed.
I was sad to leave, but there’s only so much I can do at the Hillbrow Boxing Club other than box. I said goodbye to George, promising to come back for a full photoshoot once the ring is finished.
Taking my usual shortcut on the way out, I passed a corner where there had always been a massive pile of garbage. Every now and again the pile would be cleared, only to return in full force a day or two later. Now there is a big dumpster standing where the pile used to be — presumably the rubbish is inside the dumpster. I wish I’d stopped to take a photo.
Today, on Day 99 of lockdown, I’m grateful for one thing to feel optimistic about. I probably won’t go back to Hillbrow for a while; the pandemic is becoming an acute crisis and I know I need to stay home as much as humanly possible. But today, this visit was everything.
See you tomorrow on Day 100.