Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A soccer adventure, or how I forgot I was in law school for one night

Last night, I felt like I got a taste of my life in the days before law school was even a twinkle in my eye. Ironically, it started with my skipping class to study Federal Courts.

I do that. Skip class, I mean. And skip it to study. There may be little to no logic in it, but I've realized that instead of beating myself up over it, I should just trust myself that I can learn the material, learn it well enough to do okay on tests and as long as I don't surpass my allowed absences, I need to go with my gut.

Anyway, that's what I was doing last night. I was set up in the little corner of our bedroom that's been designated as my study spot, and which I've recently rediscovered as a less distracting place to read than the couch in the living room. I'm working my way through supplemental jurisdiction and debating whether or not to read United Mine Workers v. Gibbs for the gazillionth time. So I decided to take a break and check facebook on my blackberry.

"COLOMBIA!!!" is the first status update I see listed on my friends page. And that's how I learned that the US was playing Colombia in an international friendly match last night. "We're coming up from DC on a party bus!" was the first comment on the status update. And that's how I realized that the US-Colombia match was going to be played in the Big City. Oh crap!

In typical me fashion, I got super excited extremely fast and immediately start scheming for ways to get tickets to the game, planning the best route to the new stadium (that's 30 minutes outside the City) and imagining all the shots of aguardiente (a popular Colombian liquor) I would be taking in the parking lot. I leap over to the iPod, put on the Diomedes Diaz and start a massive text message campaign.

Can you guess what happened next?

30 minutes later, my blood is still pumping fast, but I have realized that tickets to the game are going to run us a minimum of $35 a person for the worst seats, we'll have to pay $15 for parking, T is going to be tired when he gets home and everybody else is out of town or studying. Plus even the soccer bars in town didn't know about this match, or just didn't care enough to remember it. I can feel my dreams of a Colombian rumba slipping away. I settle on watching the game at the one local soccer bar that's got the game on its schedule. I find a friend who's up for going.

When T gets home, he's up for watching the game but less than excited about watching it at my selected bar, which is admittedly a jock chain irish pub and not exactly our preferred atmosphere. He suggests the local German beer house around the corner from us, where we caught many a World Cup game. I call them up and they agree to play the match. But when 8 o'clock rolls around, T is on the phone with his business partner and my other friend has already committed to meeting people at the jock pub. I walk over to the German bar alone.

Sitting in that German beer house alone, eating a soft Bavarian pretzel and watching old footage of the fateful Escobar auto-gol (can any Colombian match be shown on a US network without that clip being played) I started feeling sad. Sad because I couldn't find other people to share my excitement. Sad because I didn't care about the game so much as the camraderie. Sad because nobody else in the bar was watching the game, and because the damn place was blasting polka music. Sad because I was homesick for another country.

The game started late, and T showed up just as it began. I learned from striking up a conversation with an older couple at the bar that the bar's owners had actually gone to the game. They had a bunch of tickets they were selling to go as a caravan with bar regulars, but they couldn't even give them away. We had just missed them. It occurred to me that anybody in the Big City who actually care about the game was actually at the game.

"I'm sad we're not there," I said to T.

"You want to go?" he replied.

"No, there's no point." I sighed, fully invested in feeling sorry for myself. We sat in silence, trying to get excited for a minute. "I mean, by the time we get there, the game will be almost over," I added.

"We can go, if you want to."

"Well..." I considered it. Thought of all the reasons it wouldn't be worth it. And then thought about what would happen if we stayed. We would drink a couple more beers. I would muster up a little enthusiasm, but mostly continue to feel sad, and then we'd go home. The polka would continue to blast.

"Eff it, let's go." I looked at T to see if he was really okay with it. "Let's just do it, why not?"

"Okay," said T. "But I think the dog needs to go out."

So I handed T my credit card, told him to finish his drink and pay up, and I walked back to the apartment to walk our dog and grab the car keys. Five minutes later, we were on the road. Before we even left city limits, I felt a thousand times better. I didn't even care if we missed the game.

We didn't really have much of a plan. I'd grabbed some cash from T's sock drawer, but not enough for us to buy two tickets to the game. Besides, we weren't even sure how much time would be left by the time we got there. We just decided to go and see if we could figure something out once we were there. Maybe they'd let us in to see the last bit of the game. Maybe we'd just party with Colombianos in the lot. Maybe the whole thing would be a bust.

We spent the drive talking about our days, like we'd do if we had had dinner at home. I watched the city lights as we crossed the bridge, as if we were driving back to Virginia. It felt like an escape. With my stupid new little Blackberry as our guide, we fumbled our way through shitty parts of abandoned towns to get to the soccer stadium. We laughed at the marker on Google Maps for Chiang Jiang Chinese Food. T rolled his eyes when I insisted he use Google Street View to figure out the best place to turn. "I can't even see that thing. It's not helpful!" And then he blamed Street View for nearly turning too early. "It looked familiar! Street View confused me."

Anyway, by some miracle we ended up finding the stadium about 35 minutes after our initial decision to go. Getting there involved turning onto a half-paved road, crossing railroad tracks and driving through a chainlink fence with barbed wire on top. But we did it.

The parking lot was closed off because the game was over halfway done. I jumped out of the car at the barricade and called over a parking lot attendant.

Parking Lot Man (PLM): "You know the game's almost over, right?"
Me: "Yeah, we're just trying to catch the tail end."
PLM: "It's supposed to be $15 to park here. That's okay. Gimme $10 and turn to the left and park over there."
Me: "How about $5?"
PLM: "It don't matter. That's fine."
Me (Running back to the car and whispering to T): "Quick! Give him five bucks, let's go!"

So we parked the car in the lot and walked over to the stadium entrance, fully prepared to bribe some other people to let us into the game. Cash in hand, we sauntered up to the entrance. There were at least three stadium attendances at the gate, none of whom was prepared to let us in without a ticket.

Me: "Even though there are so many empty seats? Can we just pay at the gate?"
Stadium attendant (SA): "Nope. If you don't have a ticket, you can't get it."
Me: "What are we supposed to do?"
SA: "Try over there?" (Gestures to the closed ticket booths.)

T and I wander over and knock on the windows of the ticket booths, where a woman working late came over to tell us that we couldn't buy tickets after halftime. We wandered further down the stadium to the team shop, which had the game playing on a big screen t.v. that we could watch through the window.

As we stood there watching the game, I listened to another couple standing beside us, watching the game and talking to one another about how their passes would get them anywhere except the field. I looked over. They were wearing shirts from the local soccer team and big passes around their necks. Someone from inside the store came out and took orders from them. "How much is that shirt over there?" said the man. The store clerk went in and looked and came back with a price.

I turned to the couple. "Are you here with...the team?" The woman turned to me and smiled, "We're with the [Big City] team."

"Oh, that's cool," I said. "Well, it's kind of a bummer that your stadium won't sell tickets to people who want to go to the game just because we got here late."

"Half-time," she said apologetically, by way of explanation.

I shrugged. "Yeah, that's really disappointing."

I listened to the couple muttering and they eventually went back to their banter as they watched the game through the glass. Getting self-righteous and huffy, I began fantisizing about the bad review I was going to post on Yelp about the experience. After all, every news article about the game mentioned the lack of ticket sales. Why wouldn't they take our money?

"I'm not sure we're going about this the right way," said T. We stared at the screen. Score was 0-0 with just under 30 minutes left. "I don't think there was anything else we could do," I said back.

We glanced behind us to where a small cadre of people had gathered with the couple who had been standing beside us. They'd relocated somewhere back by a flagpole. I wondered who the hell they were.

"They want to get into the game?" I heard someone say. I looked over. A girl in a knitted beanie and big puffy coat rushed over to the storefront. Next thing I know, she was standing beside me.

"Here, take these, quick!" she whispered. "Don't tell anyone!"

She flashed two tickets to the game and pressed them into my hand. I grinned. She rushed away.

"Wow, thanks!" I said. I have no idea if she heard me.

And that's how T and I ended up getting into the game, where we caught the last 20 minutes of the US-Colombia international friendly from mere feet away from the US goal. We were surrounded by so much yellow and red and spanish and beer and soccer chanting that I couldn't stop smiling the whole time. It was amazing! We did it! And when I turned around from our seats, I saw this:

PAZ EN COLOMBIA. Peace in Colombia.

And then it was over. No score. Un empate. But on the way back, we drove under a bridge as a train passed by, and I noticed every diner on the side of the road. T laughed when I said, "The best part was that we just went." When I asked why he laughed, he said it was because of how nonchalant I was. I reminded him that this was kind of thing we used to do on a whim, to just go, to adventure out and find something to get ourselves into. It's how we have ended up tailgating a rodeo, napping on the Gulf shore, eating lobster rolls in Maine, climbing to the top of a drive-in movie screen. (And falling in love.)

Last night, I remembered that there is a life beyond law school, beyond work, beyond the daily grind and its attendant expectations. Thank God.

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