Thursday, June 24, 2010

Gooooaaaalllll!!!! (I always wanted to say that)

Welcome to the World Cup in Abu Dhabi, where Americans are clearly second (or third) class citizens, well down the pecking order from the lordly British, Germans, Italians, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Brazilians, Ghanans, Algerians, Serbs, Australians ... well, you get the picture.

Some of that is because of sheer numbers (there are probably 10 or 20 British ex-pats here to every American), and some is because of our (lack of) pedigree when it comes to international soccer. Excuse me, football. They invented the game right there in England, have you heard?

So it was not really a surpise when, even though we showed up early and were promised the U.S. game would be on the big screen RIGHT IN FRONT OF US, when the games kicked off last night we were escorted to three seats at the bar in front of a 17-inch set with fuzzy reception and no sound. And it was not a surprise, really, when the management could not find the game for the first five minutes or so. Of the six channels showing the World Cup, five had the England-Slovenia game, and the one with the U.S.-Algeria game was proving quite elusive.

But soon we had the game and a bucket of Budweiser -- ("I traveled 8,000 miles to drink Budweiser?" my friend asked) -- and settled in, three of us along with a quiet American gentleman and a guy who I think was Italian. He never said a word but stared at the screen the entire game and seemed to get excited whenever the U.S. did well.

All around us the room was teeming with England fans, of all nationalities. They were comfortable and confident after an early goal, moaning loudly at every near-miss and agonizing over every Slovenian attack. Some would walk by our TV from time to time to check the score -- if both games had ended in a draw, the U.S. would have been in and England out -- but mostly they stayed in front of their big screens and cheered on The Three Lions.

As the U.S. game went agonizingly into injury time, a scoreless draw almost a certainty, we dejectedly calculated the time remaining and became increasingly resigned to our fate. A handful of gleeful England fans gathered behind us, and you could almost sense them counting down the final minutes in their heads.

Then suddenly, the ball went from the American goal-keeper to a player up the field, and two quick passes later a shot bounced off the Algerian keeper and into perfect position for Landon Donovan to drill home the winning goal. It was dejection to jubilation in a heartbeat -- we jumped and shouted and high-fived like we had just won the World Series.

The England fans were very gracious; when both teams win, I guess everyone's happy. As we sat there chatting and waiting for replays, eager to relive the moment, the joy of being an underdog became evident. Our small but merry band of Americans was just happy to have survived and advanced; the England fans were already working themselves into a state of worry about the next round, where an impressive Germany squad awaits.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A good day to stay indoors

I've had to cancel trips to the beach because of rain and clouds and wind and work and hurricanes and tummy aches and a balky MGB that just wouldn't start ... just about every reason imaginable. Today, I discovered a new one.

I was looking forward to an afternoon at the Hilton Beach Club. It's a great place when it's 107 degrees out, because in addition to the beach and the gulf, you have a couple of pools you can dip into when the heat is intolerable, plus a poolside bar with cold beverages. What more could you ask for?

My faithful cabbie arrived at the right time and I climbed in with my backpack full of beach wear and my iPod and a NY Times crossword puzzle book and some sunscreen. (An aside: Dammika, my driver, is always shocked when I get into the cab not wearing work clothes. To him, a day off is a foreign concept.)

We had gone several blocks before I realized ... it was really foggy. Or at least, it looked foggy. Turns out it was a big sandstorm, which fills the air with wind and grit and is definitely a good reason to cancel a day at the beach.

So I detoured to the mall and walked around for a while and bought some books - including my first Stieg Larsson novel - and had a nice lunch and came home. A glass of wine, some cheese and a good book ... not exactly Pass-A-Grille Beach reincarnated, but still not a bad afternoon.