Monday, April 12, 2010

Xavi drives more than one bus

I spent a portion of Saturday morning imploring anyone who would listen that they have to watch El Clásico by any means necessary. My dirty secret, of course, was that I knew I would be unable to watch. I would be blind to the majesty and the spectacle, unable to view the colossal tussle pitting "He walks among us" against "I walk among you. Don't touch." I was embarrassed that I could not watch the match and felt the honorable thing would be to steer as many eyeballs as possible to the match, so others did not share in my shame.

Of course, I'd like to think that was how it all went down, but in truth, I missed the match because of unfortunate coincidence. I spent El Clásico on a bus traveling from Milwaukee to Chicago with about 35 other people getting ginned up – many quite literally – for the Fire home opener. A sunny patch of I-94 southbound through northern Illinois provided the visuals while modern technology did the rest. The ESPN Scorecenter iPhone app and Twitter were all I had. The voice in my head read off the quotes from Live Ray Hudson.

From what I've been able to gather about the match after the fact, Xavi looked sublime in making the goals, Ronaldo made a stink and footballing thrills were largely absent from the proceedings. Still, in the moment, a remarkable thing happened on that bus that left Milwaukee's Highbury pub just after kickoff: the hush that fell over the group when someone would announce a goal from the game. There's a lot going on during these bus trips from Milwaukee to a Chicago Fire match. To put it mildly, people are drinking more than a little alcohol in preparation for a great time. It's a group outing and an "experience" being shared among different people who've chosen to log on to the same mindset for a day.

But a Barça fan named Jeremy caught the first goal on his phone and shouted out "Goal!" to the bus. I did likewise after fortune made me gaze toward my phone in the seconds after Pedro scored the second. The bus pretty much just shut up each time at the end of that hard G sound in goal. It was like the order of the forest and rule of nature or whatever mysticism you'd care to throw in there joined forces to make clear that everyone can know and comprehend El Clásico. Even amid the madness of a party bus trip, those people instinctively knew that anybody who was making that hard G sound in a loud voice was going to be giving an update about the match. All these – let's be honest here – drunk people, tooling down the interstate somewhere south of Bellwood, Illinois, ready at a microsecond's notice for the world's satellites to beam news of El Clásico into a motoring cocoon of a social circle.

It's not remarkable that all those people cared. Of course they cared. The match was pretty much the only topic of discussion as we left the bar. Could it be argued that any crowd will deaden and turn its attention to someone who is beginning to shout? Sure, but that's not what happened on that bus Saturday. People were jerking their heads because a goal was about to be announced. And everyone knew it. And everyone couldn't wait.

I'd love to be able to divine from that moment some greater universal truth about humanity. Honestly, I think it's in there somewhere, but I'm not really the one to find it. I just think it's really cool and a lot of fun. A bus full of yahoos rolling along a bland ribbon of interstate on the outskirts of a megalopolis. Messi and Ronaldo, and Barça and Real Madrid moving along with them.

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