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.

Road Trips, Expected and Otherwise

This is long.  I don’t even know why, but it was fun to write.

Normally, the girl and i do not put a lot of mileage on our car.  Neither of us drive to work, and our routine activities don’t really add up to all that much.  So it’s been a fun month for the car in that we took two ~2000-mile trips up and down the eastern seaboard.  For reasons.

One of these was planned a long time ago, the new and improved summer version of my side of the family’s every-two-years Thanksgiving conclave.  A giant house with everything you could want, with the Outer Banks beaches as its backyard beckoned for a week of slacking off and drinking a ton of beer.  With enough beer, even i probably would like the beach more.

To North Carolina

We set off from Boston on a Friday afternoon and made fine time toward our halfway point in coastal Delaware.  Somewhere near the ironically named Walt Whitman service area on the New Jersey Turnpike, texts start flooding in.  About this.  First we figure we’ll just improvise, as it’s just a power outage.  Buy a lot of ice, plan on perspiring more and altering our grocery plans.  My mom, already in a motel for the night, stocked up on flashlights, because dealing with situations like this is her superpower.  A half-hour further down the road, and the text messages changed further.  Now it was an evacuation, destined to be a long one.  Now my mom’s working magic on her iPad, and suddenly several cars worth of us are all making a right turn and heading west.  As shown.

There’s no booking alternate accommodations on the beach in the summer for 14 people on zero notice, probably not for any amount of money.  Thus did we find ourselves still in North Carolina, but in the mountains of Asheville.  Specifically in a golf/aviation (yes, really) resort on top of a mountain.  So anyway, this is a change of plans, and we packed wrong for it, bought the wrong liquor for it, etc., but we are resourceful people.

Some things we learned:

  • Fuck golf resorts.  We rented a nice house in a nice, but not busy golf resort, with a clubhouse on top of the mountain with gobsmackingly nice views.  It even had a bar!  An empty bar with reasonably priced drinks!  Seemingly begging for well-behaved lushes like ourselves to exchange money for said drinks!  But they don’t take money, they start by asking for a $25 resort fee.  Per day.  Per adult.  Then you can pay for your drinks.  Perfectly engineered to keep the merely comfortable away from the actual 1%, ’cause while i can afford that, fuck you for asking.  Also golf, as typically practiced, is dumb and a waste of human effort.
  • There must be something in the water (or the tax breaks) in Asheville, as three different west coast breweries have branches in the area, as well as numerous homegrown ones.  So much cheap beer to drink in so many places.
  • The fact that there’s a US Forest Service-run natural rock waterslide that you can go play on for $2 is kind of amazing.
  • The Biltmore Estate is pretty cool (once we realized it was a thing you might go see in the area).  It is impressively large, but it’s telling that the thing that’s most often mentioned is how many rooms it has, it’s so impressively subdivided.  As the girl noted, it’s almost like it’s half mansion, half hotel.  And more than half park.
  • This part of North Carolina somehow has butterflies like we have mosquitoes.

To the Middle of Nowhere

After that (also, quality family time, including indoctrinating both my octogenarian great-aunt and my six-year-old nephew into playing ruthless games of Asshole), the girl had another quest for the ride home.  There’s a state park in northern Pennsylvania renowned for the darkest night skies east of the Mississippi, so she figured we should go chase the Milky Way.

One corollary to there being dark skies, which we quickly picked up upon, is remoteness.  Cherry Springs State Park is something like ninety minutes north of I-80.  About 20 minutes into that, we began to appreciate that there would be many closed gas stations between us and our destination, but maybe no open ones.  We backtracked and filled up, and were proven right.

This is well and truly Real America we’re driving through now; ‘towns’ that consist of six ramshackle houses, maybe three with any signs of life, but most with at least four cars (or what used to be cars).  Windy, narrow roads with no speed limit posted.  A burbling stream out our window.  Bugs pelting the windshield like driving through a snow squall.  Progressively smaller roads pointed further from civilization.

Finally we find it, and sure enough, it’s plenty full, with lots of people looking up.  Unfortunately they’re looking up at a full moon (which we knew about, and knew it would set later), and a persistent haze.  We pitched the tent in the dark easily enough, and sat and had a dinner of leftover Chips Ahoy and a beer.  After nearly half a dozen times taking the girl camping, i’ve still yet to actually do it well.  Maybe it pours rain, maybe it’s cold, or maybe we’re just half-assing it on the way somewhere else.  But i swear, you can get good at it, sleep well and warm, eat good food, and enjoy a fire all night.

So we get up several times through the night and look up.  Now there are a lot of stars, far more than we city dwellers are used to.  But we also know it’s not enough.  The just-set Moon is lighting the haze enough to hide a lot of the stars. It’s still nice, though.

The next day, it’s a further 90 minutes on back roads in the middle of nowhere until we get to I-86 in New York.  Through all this, i remain suspicious at Apple Maps’ decision making, but not once is she wrong.  More on this later.

To the Beach, For Real This Time

The girl was, to put it mildly, disappointed to have missed out on a week on the Outer Banks, as she does love the beach so.  Since we were already going to quest toward the totality of the eclipse, and this meant a lengthy drive in one or more directions, it made sense to at least rig it to stop somewhere near the water.  Thus:

As we drove south on Saturday morning, the girl was entertained in the car by play-by-play of Boston vs. Internet Nazis; even though it wasn’t a very close game, we regretted missing it.

So here’s where we started to appreciate, if not trust our telephone copilot.  Traffic bit us hard on this trip.  First, she routed us around a stopped bridge through scenic Chester, PA. Later, back roads in Delaware instead of the highways.  Sometimes it was a break-even, sometimes it was a huge savings, but we started to notice that if nothing else, these alternate routes were taking us places we maybe wouldn’t see otherwise.  Boring places, crappy places, beautiful places, but at the very least, parts of part of the country we wouldn’t have seen.  Considering how i lament road-tripping with no time to take side trips, having a computer there to generate advantageous detours really changes the experience.

In any event, we arrived at the Bay Bridge/Tunnel at sunset, which is a good time to arrive there.

So i hadn’t been back to the Norfolk/Virginia Beach area since i was in NROTC as a college sophomore; i spent a month there in the summer of 1995 doing push-ups and learning about the Navy and the Marines.  Anyway, not a lot of time at the beach.  Which is nice, if you’re into beaches, but even nicer if you like seeing F-18s taking off constantly or SH-60s buzzing the coast.  The beach was just teeming with people, lounging immersed in the shallows at low tide on a hot day.  And even i like playing in the waves.

But time for business.  The eclipse being a rather fixed deadline, we needed to get within shouting distance of it that night.  This is where we started running into the fun of lane closures on weeknights on two-lane interstates.  Watching the arrival time tick up on the phone, and debating back-roads-at-night versus actual stopped traffic.

This is also where we tried Bojangles.  Listen, i am a Popeye’s devotee, having spent formative years in New Orleans, but there are people who will try to tell you Bojangles is better.  This is untrue.  Chicken’s different.  Spicier at first, maybe, and with a good flavor, but less crispy and not as much like crack.  The sides are quite good, but really my quarrel here is with the biscuits, my good sir.  i say, suh, these biscuits are not up to any comparison <slaps them with a glove>.

To the End of the World

Anyway, the following morning we get up and bounce early and start heading south.  Traffic is heavy, and frequently stopped, but not the sort of thing that will prevent us from getting to our destination.  But, as my wife the weather person reports, our intended destination of Columbia is due for 47% cloud cover.  90 minutes west, Greenville has 25%.  We ask the phone lady nicely, she refers us promptly to a narrow side road with no yellow line and no cars, and we set off west, confidently.  It wasn’t scenic, but it was easy.  We even stopped for gas and what, judging by the line, was the only convenience store with a bathroom for miles.  Maybe i made some rash decisions there.

Emerging from the woods, it turned out Greenville is a nice little college town.  We immediately take the girl to a cocktail bar with a roof deck (full, sadly) and drink a little.  Perusing the map a little showed two parks, one along the river and promising a waterfall.  And sure enough it’s just covered with people, some sitting in the water, others walking around, plenty of nerds with telescopes and shadowboxes, and high-end cameras.

This is the part where we stress heavily: There is no substitute for the actual totality of an eclipse.  

It’s impossible to describe sufficiently or do justice to with bad photos.  It looks like something you’ve seen before, but only in movies or science fiction.  Like some malevolent force has covered it over.  Or like the sun is the malevolent force just barely being held back, with the wispy, fingery corona spilling out.  It feels like a dark amusement park ride when someone accidentally turns the lights on, ironically, like some mechanism behind every day of your life has suddenly been exposed.  The two minutes passes quickly, and light spills out the other side like molten metal.

Staying in a Motel Would Be Too Easy

Now we had a day and a half to drive back to Boston, and obviously we wanted to make headway that afternoon.  The highways out of Greenville were clogged, so we got routed on surface roads, to suburban roads, to rural roads to get around them.  It wasn’t the massive gridlock that people thought might happen, but it was a big, significant movement of people the whole day.  We could tell because we were following this crazy backroads route with other cars from northern states (and in heavy traffic once we returned to the interstate, again, all people like us returning north).  Amusingly, we got within an hour of where we were in Asheville two weeks earlier.

So the plan was to camp the night in Shenandoah and close the loop by getting to see the Milky Way in the sky.  Conditions were perfect for it, but traffic meant that we reached Skyline Drive at midnight, with 25 miles to drive at 35mph, with presumed furry creatures waiting to jump in front of us at all times.  It was not awesome.

But the skies were perfect.  A nice band of the Milky Way (you know you’re looking at the right thing when you have to spend time deciding if it’s a cloud), and many orders of magnitude more stars than we get at home.  A trickle of shooting stars, even.  Getting up to take a leak at three in the morning becomes the greatest thing.

Other Stuff

  • Between the two trips we maybe ate at McDonald’s eight times, which is like, half a year’s worth for me.  It was glorious.  We also went to a Wendy’s, a Burger King, an Arby’s (not just for Jon Stewart), a Bojangles, a Dairy Queen.  No Chick-Fil-A or Hardees, obviously.
  • The girl continues to profess her love of Circle Ks, and their still-100% record on clean bathrooms.
  • Does anyone know why abandoned cars and road debris proliferate like mad as soon as you cross the Mason-Dixon line?
  • Similarly, why do people pull over into the left-side breakdown lane down there?  This is dangerous madness.
  • The further you get from Boston, the fewer Mini Countrymen you see.
  • The two trips were 4,300 miles in total.
  • There were actually very few Tr*mp stickers and signs out there in Real America.  Plenty of confederate flags, though.
  • In a line at a fast food restaurant, an older gentleman looks at the UHC logo on my Revs jersey and asks if i’m in the healthcare industry.  Polite conversation follows, we northerners squirm and wonder why.
  • After spending $28 in tolls in New Jersey alone, we again decided that Massachusetts needs to toll out-of-state-drivers better.
  • Related: Why does the rest of the country have better roads than the northeast?  Is it the snow, or is this an effect of them getting $1.37 back on their tax dollar and us getting $0.63?
  • Alas, i didn’t get to go to a megachurch this time.  Someday, though.

Retracing my steps

Last week, oddly enough, found me in New Orleans for the first time since 1986.  While i’d passed through Louisiana once in 1998, i’d never been back after moving away, and was the last in my family to lay eyes on what became of where we used to live.  Not to mention the last to go back and experience the city as an adult.

It will not surprise, likely infuriate those who know me when i say i didn’t need directions to my old house.  The relative locations of everything were still known to me; the interstate, the service roads (service roads are a foreign concept to the girl) and motels that flank it, the McDonald’s, and where it is relative to the Wendy’s.  The main business road and corresponding lack of a real downtown.  The other roads that sort of let you circumnavigate the town surrounding my neighborhood.  Familiar names, and the hints of familiar landmarks.  Not the Wal-Mart, but the plaza where it stood.  Not the pizza place, but a different one in the same spot.  The ancient nemeses CVS and Walgreens doing battle where a different pharmacy once stood.

 https://www.flickr.com/photos/rcolonna/11695879096/player/814545e552

Finally, my old neighborhood.  Southern, concrete streets that once seemed to tick by slowly on the school bus thumped rhythmically under the rental car’s tires as i slowly read off the themed street names that faintly registered familiarity.  And then my old street.  So tiny.  The walk to the bus stop now looked ludicrously small, the boundary we had free reign over so near to our house.  And our house, not what you’d call large either.  It was big enough that we had rooms that we were simply forbidden to enter, a spacious backyard, a driveway, and yet, it looked so modest, so crammed in amongst neighbors, and yet still the same; immovable in brick and therefore tough to alter the appearance of that much.  The slight bend in the driveway to the tiny garage, rendering the latter unusable by our van, and therefore basically every modern SUV that’s now de rigeur down there.  The big kitchen window where we sat while waiting for my sister to never eat her vegetables.

It blows my mind to look at a place that is now completely other to me, but nevertheless know for a fact that my 7-year-old feet trod every inch of it, and to know it’s the setting for all manner of things that remain indelible until i kill those brain cells with alcohol.

Speaking of which, it was fascinating to visit New Orleans as an adult.  My experiences with the city as a kid, at least the ones i remember were primarily related to the Audubon Zoo, the 1984 World’s Fair (which had a damn space shuttle, so you know it was pretty important to 8-year-old me), and Café du Monde.  And maybe the nice parts of the French Quarter.

It was therefore very strange to me to experience it as being closer to Las Vegas than the wholesome historical stuff i vaguely remembered.  As related to us by a French Quarter (he pronounced it “Voo Carr-ay”, reminding me how mutilated Louisiana French pronunciation can be) local, the longtime residents don’t much care for the tarted-up commercialized to-go-cup bacchanalia of Bourbon Street, the same way Boston locals scorn Quincy Market. At the same time, with so much of an old city’s heritage tied up in those occupied blocks, there’s more than a bit of tension evident.  Personally, i found that history much more fascinating while sipping on a drink the same way Tennessee Williams or Jean Lafitte might’ve in the same places they would have.  And there’s nothing wrong with a little tarted-up bacchanalia, either; happy people and good cover bands and freedom of open-containers make for a damn good time, too.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/rcolonna/11674179505/player/de3a11e3c7

Another thing that was radically different from my memories was visiting a plantation. An ancient house, but updated with modern, scarily stylish ideas, with an old outbuilding turned into a bar that would be impossible to get into in any city, and tour guides sporting the latest in hipster facial hair and highly pleasant nonchalance about the fact that you can touch everything in what he calls “our house”.  Far from the stuffy museum that i remember enduring when company came to town.  One thing remained the same, though—not a lot of mention of the little issue of slavery.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/rcolonna/11696159244/player/dfbfd3c0ff

One thing that was utterly the same, though?  Café du Monde.  We usually got it take-away as a kid, so sitting down and being waited upon was fun.  We went three times in four days, and every day went home happily coated in powdered sugar.  It’s cheap, it’s always open, and it’s delicious and unique.  It’s not of this country.  If teleportation was a thing, i would go there every single day.