Wednesday, May 26, 2010

High-fiving the World Cup

There's a brief segment of spring weather in Milwaukee that, while it lasts, can generate more excitement, adrenaline and leap-15-feet-off-the-ground happiness than anything else on Earth. We go about things during that time without the sticky humidity of summer heat and the creeping, buzzing insects that come with it. The temperatures are warm enough to make one start asking businesses whether they have a shirt policy. Right now is that time in Milwaukee, and it's with that mood-enhancing environment in the background that this week I've been imagining high-fiving my bus driver about the World Cup.

A little background: In true urban-liberal, Apple-product-using fashion, I take public transportation to work, and sometimes a man named Louie is my bus driver. Louie embodies all the qualities of the perfect Milwaukee spring described above. In a few years of knowing him, I'm fairly certain he has never said anything in my presence in a tone lower than a delirious shout. He punctuates nearly every sentence with "..., dogg!" During Euro 2008, he would scream out things in the pub like, "Look out for Xavi, dogg! That Xavi is amazing, dogg!" Then he'd buy tequila shots. The first time I got on his bus for my morning commute, Louie gave me the hand-clasp soulshake à la Carl Weathers and Schwarzenegger in Predator. Louie's got enthusiasm, man. He's like the Pied Piper of good times, only in reverse – he brings it to where you are. And without the children-killing part.

Regaining focus on the task at hand, let's get way down into the deep-shag fun rug that is the World Cup right now. It's a blast just thinking about waking up on a day when there will be World Cup matches. I envision heading for that bus the morning of June 15, hoping as it approaches the curb that Louie will be behind the wheel. The doors open and, "Did you see Japan and Cameroon yesterday, dogg?! Did you see that shit, dogg?! HA HA!" My heart sings just thinking about it. I would high-five Louie so hard that bus would rocket through time and straight into a universe where this thing was being played out for real:

Whoa! Is that the Jamaican national team beating England in the World Cup Final? A couple of those guys are wearing hats! Look at the Jamaican goal in the background. It's miniscule. No wonder England couldn't score. The stadium is entirely yellow. Rock.

That's how my mind is envisioning every single World Cup match playing out in a few weeks. Yes, it won't happen that way. Nor does it have to be an endless parade of '66-esque 5-3, Eusebio-fueled frantic comebacks versus North Korea to make it worthwhile either. It's terrific as is: a monthlong parade of football featuring a bunch of heroes, villains, stars, unknowns and comedy characters from all over the world. Although, to be honest, it would really achieve an eternal quality if some of the teams featured players wearing hats.

The Guardian ran a piece recently about things they miss from the World Cup tradition of years past, and in a lot the buildup elsewhere that I've been reading, occasionally there's an element of, "Well, this could be better. And, of course, they'll never have that." Fox Sports unleashed the Champions League Final on America's Saturday afternoon sports-viewing audience and immediately declared it better than the World Cup. I'm not suggesting we all just spend June and early July wearing horse blinders, but there's too much fun weirdness and excitement going on to get in the way now. With things like FIFA Sepp on Twitter and, thankfully for all involved, the simple visual delight that is reading William Gallas unhurt after buggy crash, we're already well on our way to jumping into a giant pit of plastic toy balls – and the balls are filled with extra fun.

Flaws, warts, hiccups and other dents in the experience will pop up from June 11 to July 11. When the final rolls around, that Midwest humidity will make the summer days less brilliant, too. It doesn't matter. This thing is a remarkable footballing story that reveals itself to us in periodic installments. We live with it over the course of a full month. An entire chapter in a history textbook that you get to talk about, analyze, revel in and cherish every day, as it unfolds and just as summer starts. It's a time when watching the games, even at home, can be your vacation. Let someone else rank and organize South Africa 2010 versus Mexico '86, France '98, Spain '82, baseball, the movies or an expensive meal at an elegant restaurant. Those experiences are not this story.

You are going to experience South Africa 2010 in a way that this story, with its numerous familiar elements, has never been told. This tournament is going to dominate the global conversation among people with access to the Internet. Have you ever stood on a street corner and been able to find out how someone in Toronto, Newcastle or Paris reacted to a specific World Cup moment – in the seconds after it happened? The possibilities for experiencing this World Cup are outrageous. Your friends, your wife, your husband, Joe the bartender, your cab driver and a really pissed off Germany supporter whose company assigned him to the Seoul office three years ago will all have something to say about this, and you can line up their reactions and share in the whole thing with them if you wish. This is an astonishing change to the World Cup, and, again, you have a month of this coming up. A month!

It's marvelous. Just an absolutely marvelous experience. Share it with anyone because no one else will be having more fun.


Richard Whittall said...

Thank fuck! Somebody had to write it.

Jim said...

This post would've been slightly longer and with 3 to 7 more hard obscenities if I wrote it this week. Seeing the articles about the ball and how it's not perfect/too light/wavy/travels through time would've guaranteed that.

Everyone should just take a breath and realize that in a couple weeks, at least in much of North America, they can watch World Cup matches features Netherlands v. Denmark or Argentina v. South Korea before they go to work in the morning.