The Flag of My Enemy

It’s a pretty typical sight on suburban highways, even here in liberal Massachusetts.  Sometimes you even see them intrude on the streets of Boston.  An oversized, shiny, clean pickup, the soft-hands kind of truck, not the sort that’s ever done a day’s work in its life, its spotless bed sporting only two things, side-by-side American flags set to wave in the breeze as they head out to haul a heavy load of nothing.  And something dawned on me the last time i saw one, something that kinda curdled in my brain and bugged me; when i see this type of thing, the first thing i think is, “That man* is my enemy.”

Which is a pretty awful thing to think, for a couple of reasons:

First, let’s consider the fact that it’s gotten to the point where someone that disagrees with me qualifies as an enemy.

Secondly, let’s think about how much it sucks that the flag of my own country has been stolen from me to the point where i’m stirred to anger by people that wave it.

It’s a pretty depressing thing, but this is the place that we are in.  It works kinda like this.  Anyone in 2018 so moved to ostentatiously fly the American flag is overwhelmingly likely to be a Republican.  From 2001 on, the Republican Party and its followers deftly moved to equate their views on everything from counterterrorism to taking healthcare from kids, to taking kids from their parents, to rooting for the Yankees with patriotism, and with the flag.  You show the flag**, you’re on their side, almost by definition. And in 2001, we certainly weren’t going to upgrade disagreement to enmity, but by 2003, you could at least understand how we might someday get there.  In 2018, i’m pretty comfortable saying that Republicans are my enemy, in that to the extent that they are fighting for their side, i believe they are fighting for evil, full stop.

So it surprised me not when one of those trucks roared down a city street after the Womens March and shouted slurs at us.  It’s merely a more overt way of saying what they’ve stolen the flag and made it say.  They took my flag and made it say that it hates gays, that immigrants aren’t Americans, that poor people should go uncared for, and that the wealthy should have dominion over us all.

It’s going to say that until we take it back, and we’re only going to take it back by defeating…  that’s right, our enemies.

 

*of course it’s a man, why would you think otherwise?
**an exception: when you’re at the World Cup, you can get away with wearing your flag as a cape, belting out the Star Spangled Banner and drinking Budweiser unironically, and you get it back for just that one month.  The Olympics are also probably okay.

That Guy

For once, i have a good excuse for not having written, dear reader.  After what seemed like forever, back in late June, the girl and i had a kid.  Many have said that this would be a notable event in life, and upon reflection, i believe they may be on to something.

Behold, anecdotes:

  • It’s amazing how much leaving the hospital with the man resembled buying a house or a car, or getting your diploma in the mail.  A huge, momentous thing involving years of effort, buckets of emotion and tens of thousands of dollars, reduced to opening an envelope, or getting handed a set of keys.  In this case, signing a form, and snipping off the anti-theft tag, and off you go.  You have a kid now, and get to/have to go home on your own.
  • Most people’s image of going home from the hospital is probably not chaos.  However, since the dude arrived early, none of his stuff was assembled or positioned.  And since the girl recovered so well and we got to go home early, a full Sunday’s worth of hospital visitors became houseguests, houseguests who even beat us home.  After we were done basking in the glow of everybody being thrilled for us, after the door shut, there we were, in kind of a big ‘now what’ moment, which involved the dude in a little (just-assembled) rocking chair sitting peacefully while we frantically assembled bassinets, put away clothes, ran out to buy stuff we forgot, and tried to piece together a system.  My grandfather tells a story about coming home to a tiny apartment in Queens with my mom and immediately going to the nearest pharmacy and asking, “So, what do I need?”  We weren’t quite that bad.
  • The first few days were near-constant… recycling.  The man?  He’s fine, he’s easy to deal with, sleeps well, eats well, all that stuff, but i swear, i was breaking down boxes on a near-hourly basis.
  • But really, we’re stupidly lucky.  The man has been on one feeding a night since he was 4 weeks old.  He’s largely calm and cheerful and snuggly.  i had just one night of pacing back and forth trying to get him to calm down and go to sleep before i passed out.  One.
  • It should be noted that our sanity is greatly helped by the nice gadgets i wrote about for my employer here.
  • The wicked hot summer has had the unfortunate effect of stranding the girl (with her well-documented love of long-walks) and the dude (who likes sleeping in his stroller just fine) inside for probably half his life so far, which is kinda messed up when you put it that way.  Theoretically the man shouldn’t be able to sweat just yet, but since he’s related to me, he found a way.  Now that he’s finally able to go out in non-blinding/scorching sun, his reaction to seeing the sky and the trees and the skyscrapers and the cars and the planes and the birds is priceless.  Wide-eyed wonder.  We can’t wait to show him all the things.
  • We’ve been very conscious of self-imposed pressure to put our money where our mouth is, so to speak.  We always pictured ourselves being light on our feet, and ready to head out the door with the critter on a pretty quick basis.  So far we probably deserve a C+ on that.  There’ve been plenty of occasions where we’ve been running late, because the man is sleeping, or because the man wakes up and is hungry, or blows his pants up, or whatever.  And of course, before vaccinations, we didn’t bring him inside places if we could help it.  Despite the increase in difficulty level, we generally head out with one small diaper bag, and have brought him to baseball games, soccer matches, bars, restaurants, beer gardens, and so on.  And we’re prepared to flee from these places if things go badly, but haven’t had to.  He’s a nice baby.  And especially while he’s little, and portable, we want to make sure he’s used to the world outside our basement.
  • Terms for the child, other than his name: critter, man, little man, big man, baby man, dude, babby.  More to come, i am sure.
  • A nice side benefit of having a very big, heavy baby: exercise!  Lifting him up in the air has been scientifically proven by me to help burp him, so as a result, it’s good arm exercise.  Corollary: the cat now feels practically weightless.
  • But really, having a baby is an invitation to tackle a whole bunch of new problems scientifically.  Poop color, poop timing, volume, formula consumption, sleep cycles, eat cycles, contrary to my usual tendencies, i don’t have a spreadsheet for any of this, but it’s all in our head, all the time.  Learning about him all the time is key to keeping him happy and well, and ourselves sane.

Most of all, though, every new day feels like there might be something that’s new to him, and if he’s excited by it, we get to be, too.  It’s a hell of a thing and we’re so lucky to be there for it.

On Foreign Dialects, pt. 2

Continued from On Foreign Dialects:

Things we learn from the teenager.

  • Shnack, or Shmack, adj.: We’re not sure of the pronunciation and neither is she.  Describing something tasty, a fitting snack, logically enough.  Example: “I know he brings his Hot Pockets to work for lunch, but they were looking shmack, so I ate them.”
  • Brik, adj.: Possible this is only her, and comes from a misunderstanding of the word ‘brisk’.  It means ‘brisk’.  Example: “I hope you didn’t park the car far away, ’cause it is brik!”
  • It’s been a minute: A clever way of saying ‘it has been a while’, but used by default.  Example: “I think I shouldn’t have to watch documentaries tonight, because we haven’t, like, done anything fun, I mean, it’s been a minute.”
  • Troop, v.: To travel a long way, particularly to somewhere you didn’t want to go.  “If Wednesday is a half day, can I just stay home?  I mean, what’s the point of me trooping out there if I’m just going to come back?”
  • Dip, v.: To leave or GTFO, sometimes implying abruptness or that the place you’re leaving isn’t any fun.  “The cat heard a noise outside and dipped”
  • The Plug, n.: The connection, the hook-up, the one who makes things happen.  Example: “Annette’s like, the plug, we can wait for her to get home to get dinner.”

On Not Going to the World Cup

For the first time since 2002 (when admittedly i did not pay so much attention), i am not going to the World Cup.  Notably, neither is the USMNT, but Russia is not a nice place they stole it, later other things, from us, and doesn’t deserve more of my tourist dollars.

In four years, i’m not going, either, because Qatar is not a nice place and they stole it from us and they do not deserve my tourist dollars.

In eight years, happily enough, i won’t have to go anywhere because it’s coming here.

Some words about the above:

A lot of ink’s been spilled about the USMNT fucking it up royally, but this relatively recent article best reflects my assessment of it (which is not of course the same as being most accurate, necessarily, but it’s very well-reported).   For me, Klinsmann always struck me as a button-masher with pretensions, someone who had success at the highest level (and obviously on-the-field) but could never communicate why.  And it grated on me as a lifelong defender that he never seemed to care about running out a good, or even consistent backline.  The best i could say about him is that he asked the right, provocative questions, but he’d also sold us on the idea that he had answers to them.  Arena, on the other hand, might well have succeeded if he took over earlier and the US did not dig such a large hole, but he shared a major problem with Klinsmann (hardly unique to either of them).  They both leaned on certain players as binkies no matter what kind of form they were in or where they fit on the field.  Really, neither of them actually got their best 11 on the field as often as they could have, which is an insane thing for us to have been accustomed to.

And that sucks for the tens of thousands of Americans who are still going to the World Cup, because it’s an amazing time, it really is, and it’s a damn shame that a big part of it they could have reasonably expected and planned around is going to be missing.  I feel sad for the people who aren’t going to get to sit in Gelsenkirchen and endure the taunting from an opponent who kicked your ass.  Worse for the people who never have the adventure of fording a river of sewage to get to the match in Recife in the 88th minute.  Worst for the people who won’t get to sing and shout madly for 90 minutes at altitude in Pretoria until that goal happens.  For the stories that are still numerous, amazing, indelible, i hope, but disconnected from the drama of the 31 other countries’ worth of frenemies butting heads.  It sucks that all they get to do is be a spectator.

Past Streams of Consciousness from Past World Cups:

Brazil [Photos]

South Africa [Photos]

Germany [Photos]

Notes from World Cup 2010 and South Africa

Originally posted with the nice people who presumably still run SoccerBlog.com, miraculously still up eight years later. Reposted here because i don’t want to lose it.

6/13/2010
hello there. my name is rob colonna from boston, massachusetts. i support the usa, new england revolution, and charlton athletic. in 2006, christian and shourin were kind enough to invite me to write about some of my adventures in germany, and after hearing that i was off to south africa, asked if i could do the same. hope it’s entertaining. (us/england match discussion is at the bottom, after some local color)
– i got up at 0600 on friday morning in boston and flew BOS-ATL-JNB, arriving at the latter at 1710 local (1100 the next day in boston). had an exit row on a 777, near the galley and bathroom, where people gathered to chat. there was enough room to practice charlie davies’ stanky leg dance over the fifteen-plus hour flight, and talk strategy with other people who would also be landing with three hours to get to rustenberg.
– the typically modern, glass-and-steel airport was filled with the periodic blasts of vuvuzelas. i missed a great shot of some wildly dressed locals blasting away from an upper-level walkway, because we were trying to figure out the fifa ticket machines. they work fairly well, and probably would have been no problem at all if there wasn’t such a hurry. it’s also easy to find them at local shopping malls, assuming you have a car. (if you don’t have a car, i don’t know how you’re planning to get around.)
– so, we were not entertaining the option of making the nice lady at our lovely guesthouse stay up until 2am. after checking in, we were down to about two hours before kickoff to make a roughly two-hour drive. but: we got directions from the proprietor of the house, and set off, hoping that the tom-tom app on my iphone would get us there.
– the r24 to rustenberg is a windy, narrow road with crumbling edges creeping into the lanes, sharp turns, and poor marking. people pass recklessly in oncoming lanes. it’s in the middle of nowhere, and while it was nice for this city boy to glimpse the milky way, it was a bit of a white-knuckle trip.
– all that being said, somehow we wound seeing the lights of royal bafokeng about five minutes after kickoff. great news! unfortunately, the stadium signage disappeared at a key moment. this was a good thing and a bad thing. on the one hand, we were totally stumbling around looking for parking that wasn’t sketchy looking. on the other hand, we actually found a dirt lot that would let us park really pretty close for 100R (it was actually 50R but they didn’t have change and i didn’t care). walking around the stadium was no more clearly marked than the surrounding roads or parking.
– i desperately wanted to walk in (nearly halftime) and find it still a match. every roar of the crowd made us nervous. we’d just punched our tickets and heard the sound that could only mean a goal. we saw england flags waving and our hearts sank, but then the american flags rose and the chants of “u.s.a” were heard. the announcer said dempsey’s name, and when we finally glimpsed the field and squeezed into our row that already had extra people getting cozy, we had a match.
– it was tense, but not terrifying, if i had to sum it up. england’s buildups were threatening, and i suspect the usa’s multiple nearly-in-on-net missed counters probably made the english fans feel the same way. maybe. rooney couldn’t ever be marked tight enough for us. cherundolo was a beast down the right, always finding an extra step to get the tackle just right. clark couldn’t hold the ball well enough, but made key stops. donovan and dempsey were most visible (remember we were only there for the second half) for their contributions on defense, which were timely. hustle back saw dempsey’s orange boot snatch the ball from rooney at the 18 at a nervous moment, for instance. gooch noticeably stepped it up in the last fifteen minutes, as if he could sense that more was needed of him. the extra time actually was a bit anticlimactic, if you can believe it; it actually felt under control, maybe even a chance to steal it, at that point. the steep, packed, usa supporters’ sections erupted at the final whistle.
– it was a great feeling to be able to applaud the whole team as they came over after the match. you really felt like you were helping to propel every throw in and corner in the attacking end, and it was nice to see they heard us.
– the english were mostly good sports. at halftime, there was a spirited discussion begun by a shocked “how the f*** can england not have a goalie?” out of an england supporter in the wrong section. nobody had an answer for him. lots of handshakes after the match amongst fans.
– i’ve got to be honest, especially after dealing with the efforts required to get parked for the upcoming matches at soccer city and ellis park, things have not been that smoothly organized here. royal bafokeng is simply not up to the standard needed for this event (we were keeping our own time in the stands, for goodness’ sake!). but that shouldn’t be a reflection on any of the thousands of volunteers, police, and private security, as well as any other citizens of south africa we’ve encountered. they’re all extremely friendly and cheerful and helpful.
– netherlands-denmark at soccer city tomorrow; hope to share more photos and other stuff later this week.

6/17/2010

hello again from freezing cold johannesburg.
– it’s pretty clear that the folks who are running things are learning as they go along. the parking and logistics situation at soccer city improved markedly between netherlands-denmark on monday and argentina-south korea today. for instance, they mowed the grass in the parking area–of course they mow the grass by lighting it on fire and now it’s a charred wasteland. the biggest improvement they could make is a boldface mention of the fact that you need to buy ticket for a park-and-walk lot or a park-and-ride lot for ellis park and soccer city, and that you need to buy this from a computicket outlet (online, pick it up in a local supermarket). once you figure this out, all that’s left is to leave for the match a good 2.5-3 hours early. going to an afternoon match is an all-day commitment.
– the empty seats everywhere are a bit disappointing, but the atmosphere in soccer city is certainly not lacking because of it. it’s a vast, covered stadium which does nothing to dissipate the noise of vuvuzelas, but still allows you (at least in person) the ability to hear singing and drums and yelling. on monday, the dutch were in predictably good voice, and today, there were two small but very well-organized south korean sections which drummed and chanted until the end of the match (as well as pulling off some great flag displays).
– the crowd roared today when maradona randomly side-footed a ball that came to the technical area. messi is not too bad either.
– vuvuzelas are as little as 30R, but are surprisingly hard to use. i have two already. i plan to give one to the small children of all of my friends, so that they will hate me forever.
– it’s unfortunate that so much about johannesburg is so decentralized. security concerns, whether or not they’re warranted, have you going from hotel/house, to car, to mall/restaurant/stadium, and it’s a rare treat to walk even a block, in pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods like melville or newtown. it’s a huge switch from the fan-fest/city-center centric experience in germany. even so, we’ve met/talked with/had drinks with people from dozens of countries already, which is half the point of coming to the world cup. it’s an unstoppable social experience.
– both the locals and the americans we’ve run into love rooting for the underdog–even if it’s north korea.
– we were downtown last night cheering on bafana bafana at the fan fest, which for once was actually populated (see previous statement). the locals we’ve talked to apparently detest the cold, which explains some of this. the penalty/red card call took a lot of the starch out of them, which made us sad; we’d all like to see our hosts have as good a time as they’ve helped us have. even if many of them still prefer rugby.
– is it me (with a limited-commentary, live/foreign viewpoint on the matches), or have there been a ton of short corners, free kicks that don’t clear the first guy, etc., and can we blame the lack of scoring and underperforming of the superpowers on this? i will choose to until proven wrong. argentina-south korea at least delivered some truly high-quality scoring plays as opposed to the parade of mostly soft goals or o.g.’s that preceded.
– us vs. slovenia tomorrow–come on, usa!

6/22/2010

– let’s talk about the usa-slovenia match and get it over with. i was seated in the usa supporters’ section near the second half offensive end. it was utter bedlam after the equalizing goal; we all knew it was coming and it did not disappoint. beer flying, hugging strangers, jumping up and down. the third goal was almost a continuation of it, and upon catching a glimpse of the referee, i was trying to get people to stop celebrating and look at the field. by the time it had calmed down, it was practically too late to boo and swear. i think a lot of the hardcore supporters took it better than i did; it felt like the party we’d righteously earned had been stolen from us.
– practically everyone we ran into (still wearing assorted usa jerseys) for the next 48 hours would stop and tell us how screwed we got. practically the entire security staff at the stadium in durban wouldn’t let me through until they said as much, and barely patted me down.
– durban is a six hour drive from johannesburg, but couldn’t possibly feel more different. the walled-garden/gilt cage secured houses/malls/parking lots of johannesburg feel a bit stifling after a while. durban, on the other hand has miles of lively boardwalk along the beach, dotted with high-rise hotels. couple that with warm winter weather, drinking beer outside, and the fifa fan fest in the sand, on the beach, and it’s a great part of the world cup.
– beyond that, moses mabhida stadium is one of the most spectacular sporting facilities i’ve ever been to.
– i made a point after the netherlands-japan match on saturday of complimenting japanese fans we met on their team’s performance. their support against the netherlands was great, and they’ve been a fun team to watch.
– brazil-ivory coast at soccer city on sunday night did not quite live up to the billing on the field. it was, however, the first time my hearing felt threatened by the vuvuzelas. the brazilian fans do not take no for an answer when attempting to expand their party to fill the available space. the stewards were very patient in repeatedly removing the drum corps and dancers from the aisles.
– my internet connection here is slow and i’m not around to use it much so i haven’t kept up on news coverage. is anyone talking about the dust situation at soccer city? it’s surrounded by giant plateaus of old mine tailings, and empty lots of red dirt that blows around like mad and makes it hard to breathe on the 2km walk to the stadium. between the dust and the smoke (at any given time, i’d bet that there are 50 fires of various size burning brush or structures in the johannesburg area) and the altitude, soccer city may as well be the new azteca.
– leaving the country on thursday, usa-algeria on wednesday beforehand. looking for a happy plane flight home.

 

Notes from World Cup 2006 and Germany

Originally posted on Soccerblog.com, twelve years ago, but reposted here because it’s kind of amazing that i found them again.  i was young and naive about a lot of things, soccer being only one of them, and i hated capitalization even more.

09 june
frankfurt is a very modern-looking city, with a striking skyline quite atypical for europe. after getting here and checking in, i went immediately to the river area, where the first game between germany and costa rica was kicking off. they had giant video screens moored in the middle of the river, and people lined the shores and nearby bridges, taking it all in. there was much singing and shouting, but it was actually very mellow, and the police seemed primarily concerned with making sure people had a good time.
since germany won, there was much rejoicing about town. at one end of the zeil, a shopping area for pedestrians, people were forming a gauntlet of black, yellow, and red and demanding cars honk before allowing them to pass.
they have open-air grills in the street, a giant grate hanging over coals, covered with sausages. it smells amazing. beer is everywhere, also sold on the street. there are people wandering around with both beer and sausage, dressed in all the colors of the world. even paraguay was represented. oddly enough, the toughest jersey to find is the us jersey.
10 june
the english team is staying at my hotel. they’re being rather cautious about letting people in, as you might imagine. it took me an hour to get back into my hotel room after going for a run, because they blocked off the entrance so that becks and crew could get onto the bus without much hassle. there was a large crowd watching.
the train ride to the waldstadion was actually as fun as the match. on a lark, i got in the first-class compartment with the loudest, singingest bunch of drunk englishmen i could find. they had fun and cheered on mexico, too on behalf of a few mexican interlopers.
pretty much every one of their songs says the word ‘england’ er, ‘enger-land’ as many times as possible. they are also adept at changing the lyrics of the songs to suit the situation, such as ‘nice trousers’ to salute a german still on the platform who had a truly reprehensible pair of pants. this batch had no love for the germans, though, for the most part, and were frequently not very tactful about it, perhaps owing to history on-field and off. it was sweaty,
cramped, loud, and smelly (someone farted) and spectacularly fun. i wish i’d had my camera, which reminds me: whatever i’d read about not being allowed to bring cameras was clearly false. d’oh.
the match was actually relatively calm. the singing continued for most of it, but the fans were fairly calm up in the nosebleed seats. they even did ‘the wave’ which shocked me. everything was extremely well organized, and the stadium was so clean that i felt bad for leaving peanut shells on the floor. the match was entertaining, but had its rough edges. england profited from a gift goal early, and was making paraguay look fairly second-rate to start with, but as the game went on, they had trouble finishing plays, and seemed to always make one pass too many. in the second half, paraguay came out strong and played a better half, and the refereeing was decidedly one-sided against the english, making them have to hang on for that 1-nil win.
the english fans were, it seemed, pleased to have won, but hardly blown away by the performance.
i wore my charlton athletic jersey today. i have an england jersey somewhere, but i couldn’t find it before i left. at any rate, more than a few charlton supporters stopped me to shake hands. even after i explained that i’m an american who adopted them ’cause they were the first premiership match i went to, they were still happy to have met. nice folk indeed.
later that night:
the english fans are still at it. they’ve totally taken over the romer, the old-fashioned-looking, half-timbered house-lined city square. they’re mostly singing, dancing, but also occasionally throwing bottles, or kicking the ball around. lots of shirtless guys jumping around. it looks like the night the red sox won the world series, and all they did was win their first game. i am thoroughly impressed. either way, they’ve been at it there pretty much ever since the game let out; i walked by and gawked no fewer than three times. the polizei have been mostly good sports; they’ve got nasty-looking dogs, and riot gear, but they’re mostly letting the english run amok. even though they’re kicking balls around and windows are occasionally being broken, the police have more than once thrown the ball back to the fans, to great cheering. some of them seem kinda bemused by the rest, but the singing, the singing is unanimous, and it continues.
there’s a good crowd on the river tonight, too, watching argentina and cote d’ivoire, but it’s clearly not where the, uh, action is.
june 11th
it has been a quieter day in frankfurt thus far, although that’s not to really say it’s quiet. there is no game in the city, nor is the aftermath as significant. of course, the english are still here, many of them returning to the same bars that they’d taken over the night before, bursting into song again whenever they spot kindred fans. which is reasonably often. there are more mexican fans about today, too, but they’re more cordial than boisterous so far.
later in the day, the mexican fans are doing the driving around and honking thing following their win. there’s a more significant delegation of fans from iran here now, and they don’t seem to know their side lost, because they’re dancing wildly still, having fully taken over and densely packed a side street off of the zeil. their music is pretty good, too. the polizei don’t even have anybody watching them, and after all, why not–they probably don’t even drink, and they’re clearly having a blast anyway. the english, on the other hand, are still there in force, even if nothing compared to last night. they’re still encamped in the romer, a painted limousine parked in the middle of the square, and have fully taken over a bar’s outside tables on one side of the square. they’re playing the same game that some folks were playing in the hauptwache the night before, which is to say, take a ball, and kick it in the air as hard as you can. cheer when someone volleys it, boo when it’s missed. windows narrowly miss being broken. a ball got lost in the fountain in the center, which is fenced off; initially, the police seemed disinclined to let them retrieve it, but eventually relented (or, as likely, were too late to stop it), and a man got in there to get it, adding a nice cannonball dive before exiting the fountain. while most of the police had been pretty easygoing before, eventually this ball was confiscated. another was produced within moments, naturally.
12 june
it’s good to hear american voices on the train to koln (then to dusseldorf, and gelsenkirchen); hopefully we make a good showing for us soccer fans. according to my dad, their flight from jfk had the new york fire department’s soccer team on it, who were hitting some of the us games, and playing a few friendly matches with local clubs. gelsenkirchen is kind of tough to get to. rather than one large city, it’s in a cluster of other medium-sized ones, thus there are a lot of regional trains that one might ride on to get between them. these tend not to be very fast.
it was good, though, to see so many americans on board, and from all over the states, too, particularly considering this was still a pretty faraway place to be staying from the venue. a friendly but slightly crazy-looking german predicted a 2-0 victory for the us team. it was still a fairly long trip, and very hot (a thermometer in gelsenkirchen after the game, quite late in the evening, still read 29 celsius).
once the train reached gelsenkirchen, that’s where the fun began. as in, multiple entire trains full of people all attempted to pile on the platform to board a single tram car. they refer to it as a u-bahn because it is underground for 3 stops out of 10 or so. it was a long, chaotic wait. which i avoided, and was an early adopter of the bus alternative. which was packed, exceptionally sweaty, and slow, but steady. progress was so slow, in fact, that many disembarked to walk, realizing too late that it was a 7-km trip to the stadium. if you have tickets to a game in gelsenkirchen, allow some extra time to get there. it took about an hour and a half for me to get from the hauptbahnhof to the stadium.
after getting there, it was a chase to find the ticket pick-up. as in, if you get conditional tickets, go to the ‘stadium ticket center’, and do not settle for the ‘ticket service center’. the latter will not help you. in the case of gelsenkirchen, this is like a quarter-mile hike outside the stadium. by this time, myself, a czech, and four scotsmen have made the rounds of the wrong places, and are running like mad to the right place. eventually i get my ticket. section d, row 1, seat 1. hmm… sounds interesting.
i get in, 5 minutes late. i knew that the ticket was as good as it sounded when the usher arched his eyebrows at me. i must have been a sight, dripping sweat, unshaven, and entirely out of breath. it’s entirely possible i wound up on worldwide tv looking like that, since i was literally right behind the us bench…
…and in the middle of the biggest czech section, a field of red. they had pretty good chants going, honestly, not that i could understand any of it, but they were clearly organized so that there was something they could all stomp their feet to in every verse. they were shaking the place. or at least this half of it. a couple of nice americans i chatted with on the train back to dusseldorf sat on the opposite corner of the place, and said that they couldn’t even hear them from there. judging by shirt color and cheering activity (lack thereof, that is), it looked like the place was over half us supporters. impressive, considering that the czechs were a drive or a train trip away, mostly, and not a long plane flight, then a train trip. of course, the fact that you couldn’t hear the american fans wasn’t entirely their fault.
because the us team played mostly badly. for 25-30 minutes after the first czech goal, it was encouraging, ’cause they were really taking it to them, hustling to the ball, winning balls aggressively, and threatening repeatedly. you felt like it was a matter of time before they punched one in, particularly after the shot that struck the post. but it turned out that the czechs would put another one in first, and that pretty much ended the game. after that, the us team couldn’t connect cleanly on more than a couple passes in a row, for the most part. there were a couple of chances, even good ones, but you got the sense that those were flukes. by the last ten minutes, their frustration was plainly evident. it was just ugly at that point. the czechs plainly felt aggrieved by the officiating, but while it wasn’t perfect (there were a few situations where they were seemed to be allowing the players to make the calls for them, wrong calls), it was reasonably balanced. they really didn’t like seeing their players carted off the field hurt, and it was probably better that i didn’t understand some of what they were saying. the field seemed to be an issue, as a number of players were seen losing their footing, or tripping over lines on the field, or something.
the american fans were pretty frustrated by the game, and pretty quiet, too, on the way back. not that they were terribly loud on the way there, either, really, but it’s also not really their way. many chose to walk back most or part of the way, as did i, but i was told later that the wait for the tram wasn’t as endless as it seemed (see previous statements). there were pockets of people doing the math, figuring out whether or not to root for ghana to win, or to merely tie the italians, and what had to happen to advance. the figuring wasn’t terribly reassuring, to say the least.

In Favor of More Traffic Tickets

As always, it’s very likely that any ideas i come up with here are new only to me and/or have serious flaws.

In the angry northeastern coastal elite city where we live, it sometimes feels like our streets are a good barometer of the public’s goodwill for fellow humans. And right now, it feels pretty weak, on its way to being a distant memory.

Naturally i have a keen eye for this as a cyclist, but we’re not going to talk about that third rail of newspaper comments sections today. Let’s talk about the somewhat simpler interaction between cars, other cars, and pedestrians. Having said that, make no mistake, i’m still posing this as part of the War on Cars.

So needless to say, enforcing every traffic infraction is never going to happen. On highways, it mostly shouldn’t happen–speeding isn’t such a menace there and interactions are more predictable, and solely between cars. It’s on city streets where things get complicated, and where the interaction between impatient people’s most selfish impulses is becoming increasingly noticeable and increasingly dangerous.

Mostly, i’m speaking of a handful of things that have become rampant:

  • Speeding: Blazing down small side streets far above the city speed limit, gunning the engine from red light to red light, moving in confined spaces on contested, crowded streets with aggression that pays off in mere minutes at best. Minutes on your commute are not worth everyone’s safety.
  • Endangering Pedestrians: Not merely roaring through crosswalks (but definitely that), but also hooking right turns through reds and through walk signals with abandon. Pushing indignantly through clogged crosswalks against a heavily used walk signal. Honking when you don’t get your way.
  • Unpredictability: Ubers, Lyfts, cabs, and other poor, inconsiderate drivers who stop wherever they please without a moment’s notice and immediately form an obstruction, only to resume movement at an equally inconvenient time.
  • Running Red Lights: An epidemic problem here in Boston. Yesterday, while running home from work a busy intersection in the Financial District watched the light turn to ‘walk’, scores of pedestrians took a breath and looked, then proceeded, only to have white SUV sneak through seconds after the proverbial buzzer. At a running pace across a narrow street, i was less than a foot from impact, at no fault, but in great danger. And this was something that happened despite ample experience and sufficient paranoia; what happens when a family of tourists from middle America get hurt because someone needed to wait at the next light, not this one?

With modern technology and proper application of it, this feels solvable, though. There’s ample documentation of the ambivalent effectiveness of red light cameras–the extent to which the replace one bad behavior with another, and considering that the point of this is less about enforcement on any one individual than reducing the danger created by mass bad behavior, we don’t need traditional red light camera fines. But why can’t we use that technology?

Speed cameras and radars and traps get found out and enforce only localized, insincere good behavior, if you will. But the technology is sound, too, and relatively inexpensive.

It’s a matter of how we use it.

And since gone are the days where this requires an officer, requires a letter in the mail, requires a check, a stamp, a human to open the returned ticket and process this, there’s no incentive for this to be a large ticket, issued on your unluckiest day. Because we’re all apt to take the chance that today isn’t that day.

So what if these tickets were instead issued every time, with ruthless efficiency and high accuracy by vision systems and computers? Okay, but that gets expensive and onerous, doesn’t it? And what if the computers make mistakes?

So why does it have to be expensive, why can’t it just ping your EZ-Pass $10 for running a red light? Every single time. Why can’t speeding between blocks cost you $5, every single time? In the post iTunes 99c single, post-debit card, microtransaction world, this is trivial. After a handful of them pile up, won’t you stop it? And won’t we be safer? Maybe once you pile up ten of them you get a point on your license, too, because your insurance company ought to know about it, don’t you think?

While we’re at it, let’s spend all this money on mass transit.

You can argue that this is a massive invasion of privacy (and at a time when we suspect our government agencies of misusing information like this), but driving is not a right, it is a privilege, and it sure as hell does not supersede the safety of others.

Our behavior, as a society, is deteriorating, and nowhere moreso than where we have our two-ton steel killing machines operating at high speed in close proximity to each other. And while it’s unlikely that appealing to our better angels is going to have a meaningful improvement on our safety during our ever-increasingly insane commutes, can’t we at least use technology to tell the devil on our shoulders to shut up?