Monday, October 22, 2007

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

Our day of sightseeing in London was pretty non-eventful in terms of anything too crazy happening. We visited the Imperial War Museum to check out an amazing collection of War Posters they have gathered. Government has employed some ridiculous tactics to garner support for war. The museum also housed an exhibit devoted to camouflage, which is not a small science. Seeing how much money has been devoted to killing human beings is a bit staggering. If you find yourself in London and in the mood for a museum, I definitely recommend the Imperial War Museum.

After the museum, we rode the London Eye, the world's tallest observation wheel. I'm not exactly sure what an observation wheel is, but the views were pretty spectacular; although at no point can you see the tower bridge. After the eye, we marched towards the tower bridge and made our way back across the Thames in an effort to meet up with some of Mick's old colleagues. That did not pan out as planned so we headed to Brick Lane to take in some of London's delicious indian food.

Feeling pretty knackerd, we almost called it a night but Mick and I rallied and met up with my cousin-aged uncle, Anil. Mick and I were initially denied entrance to the clubbish lounge, but Anil's excellent negotiating skills saw us through the top-hat wearing doorman's guard. Inside, Mick passed me his credit card and told me to make it rain. When I ordered 3 shots of patron, 2 vodka-tonics and an asahi that totaled 70 pounds, he regretted his words. Each shot of patron rang in at 13 pounds - that's $26 a shot. Jeebus H. That pretty much called the night for us and we wanted to be at our best for the Fulham-Derby County match in the morning.

We met up the next morning with Anil for some brunch near his amazing pad in Notting Hill. In line ahead of us at the restaurant were a russian-mob son and his not so attractive girlfriend. A table for 2 and a table for 4 opened up simultaneously so one would expect that our party of 4, and their's of 2, would be sat simultaneously. Not so. The russian mob boy asked to be sat at the table for 4 so we were forced to wait longer. That would never happen in NYC.

The Fulham match was pretty awesome. Craven Cottage is set back in a very quaint, rural part of West London, just past the border of Chelsea. We encountered many, many Americans before, during and after the match. The match itself ended in an intense 0-0 draw. Despite being down a man, Fulham controlled the play and probably deserved to win the game. For some reason, Kasey Keller did not start but Anton Niemi was impressive. Clint Dempsey, Carlos Bocanegra and Eddie Lewis all put on good shows. Benny Feilhaber lived true to his words and did not even feature in the substitutes list. Shockingly, we did not drink at all during the match. When I walked up to the concession stand before the match, I was informed that they are not allowed to sell alcohol until halftime. When I tried at halftime, they said that I could no longer buy alcohol because the second half had just started. What a stupid system. You basically have 12 minutes to buy beer.

From there, our night began. We headed to a pub near Anil's flat to watch England and South Africa play in the Rugby World Cup final. Rugby is an amazing game because despite being so brutal, the fans are very civil and hooliganism is never a threat. The pub was packed solid and provided no thuggish-doorman to prevent people from pushing the occupancy to an excess. As I was pinned to a wall, I motioned to a South African fan posted at the bar to order us some beers. We exchanged beers and cash baseball game style. A fine moment of drinking camaraderie. The English fans cheered on their team by belting out the chorus to the song Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. The history of why they sing that song can be found here. Despite England's brave efforts, they could not withstand the South African discipline and fell 15-6. We celebrated anyway and made it official with car bombs. We were a little hesitant to order car bombs in London, but the bartenders acquiesced after Mick offered up the recipe.

From there, very little is remembered. One more post will follow this offering up my comparative analysis of the three places we visited on this trip. Then, I'll keep my fingers off the Blackberry until January, when we take on Sweden in LA.

Friday, October 19, 2007

London Calling

Last night was pretty subdued. The boys acquiesced to my desire to pay homage to the birthplace of the Hard Rock (if the HRC london, as it exists now, is not actuallly the original location of the HRC, do not tell me). That officially makes it 2 visits to the HRC on this trip (Barca; Basel did not have one). Afterwards, we visited Richard Branson's shop and picked up some local tuneage.

Today, were off to visit the imperial war museum and ride the London eye. As I write this, we are on the platform of the tube and I am holding an empty water bottle. Not having rubbish receptacles at tube stops or train stations = god damn osama bin laden. Seriously, Osama, I am going to kick you in the ovary.

Another random thought: I had to abandon my toiletry liquids when they forced me to carry-on my luggage so that I could make the flight. As such, I had to buy some new toothpaste in Barcelona. It has aloe vera in it. My teeth feel silky and smooth.

London Baby!
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Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Tight Place

Wow. Last night is a total blur. After I finished my business at McClean's (note to all those lactose intolerant: steaming milk does not prevent milk from destroying your insides), we headed to the Rathaus to take some pictures before heading to the meetup spot to get matchfit. We did a quick interview predicting a US win and shared in on some of the journo's chestnuts while Luis ate gelato for the neunzenth (19th) time. Roasted chestnuts taste like butt, but are apparently not so bad if you dip them in ice cream.

We met Erin (who existing readers will remember missed the Venezuela trip), Mark and Mike. Mr Pickwick's proved to be a suitable drinking establishment as they were very agreeable to our desires to drop some pre-match car bombs, and shockingly, they were not outrageously priced.

We stopped off at home on the way to the stadion and were pleasantly surprised to learn that Mick's luggage had finally arrived from Paris. Upon arriving at St. Jakob Park, we were greeted with shouts of "Oooooooh Esssssss Ahhhhhhhh!" Several young swiss offered us beers, taught us swiss songs and taught us some swiss drinking customs. Apparently, the way to cheers is to hold your beer out, at which point your cheersing buddy smacks your beer, then you take a swig, pass your beer to your buddy, then you smack the beer, then he takes a swig. Awesome.

The stadium was spectacular and there was a large contingent of Americans, prolly students, confined to the upper deck. Fortunately we were seated in the VIP section which meant that we could drink in the stadium. The match itself was crap, but due to Clint Dempsey's deft touch, die US Boys clinched a rare win on European soil.

Post match, we head back to Pickwick's where we met up with Alex from nyc and more carbombs were dropped. Pickwick's has a yard long glass hanging behind the bar which they'll fill with beer. If you finish the beer within 3 minutes, the beer is on the house. It's called "the Challenge.".They basically could have hung a sign up with my name on it. I knocked the yard down with at least 20 seconds to spare. Luis has video proof.

After we shut down Pickwick's, the USA drinking team marched on to the late night haunt called Red Rocks, stopping for donner kebabs on the way. We were soon joined there by several members of the US team. Props to Jay, Heath, Seitz and Benny for joining in for a few rounds of car bombs. After we shutdown Red Rocks, we embarked on a questionable Bataan death march to get home.

In jollly ol' London now. Hopefully will hit the Hard Rock tonight. Apparently the alcohol of yesternight did not impair my memory that much.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

VE Day!

Wow. We won in europe! Holy shit!
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McClean

Mick has finally arrived although not without first enduring more travel drama. His backpack is still in Paris which will require us to alter the gameplan today.

Luis and I have been touring the city all day and have seen just about everything there is to see in Basel. Its a beautiful city with interesting people. We have seen graffiti that ranges from the communist sickle, to "F*ck the Police" to the omnipresent "Thug Life".

Luis and I had lunch outside the Rathaus. We each had a sausage and had some scalloped potatoes in cheese sauce. Awesome indeed. A swiss guy from Zurich explained to us that many people don't care much for the Swiss national team and prefer the local club, FC Basel Young Boys. That prolly explains the lack of atmosphere. Hopefully that changes closer to matchtime.

I'm sending this blog from the comfort of the McClean in the train station. Gotta love clean public restrooms.
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Wilkommen a Basel!

Luis and I continued our tour through Basel by paying visits to the Cathedral and the Rathaus (city hall). Despite being at the French and German border, Basel is decidedly a German city. They speak German, eat germanic foods, and well, even act German. Like circa 1938-1943 Germans. As we approached the Rathaus, which was built in the early 1500's, I commented on how welcome I felt when I saw the US flag hanging alongside the Swiss flag. That welcome quickly faded when an old man struck up some conversation with Luis (who is conversational in deutche) and said "USA heute auf Auschwitz" which apparently means that today, the USA is going to Auschwitz. Way to keep it classy you damn nazi.

Onwards.

Basel Live Blog - swiss miss

In a sharp contrast to our catalan adventures, Luis and I woke up before the sun and have set out to take in the city before the match today.

Because I am actually alert, I am going to live blog the days events as they happen.

First stop this morning, the St. Alban tower for some hot chocolate. We've all had delicious swiss-miss growing up so we were excited to try the real thing. Umm, its the exact same here except the envelope says "Chocolate en Poudre" and "Made in France.".

Dammit.
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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Meetup in Basel.

Okay, we found an English pub in the center of Basel. Its called Mr. Pickwick's. It's right at a part of town called Barfusserplatz - which is in the main part of town and on almost all of the tram lines.

For those of you not in town yet, this city has an amazing tram system. It gets you around super-quickly and operates on the honor system: which means its free for Americans.

The match is at 8 so let's meet at the pub at 4:30. It looks like its a 15 minute ride to St. Jakob park, so we'll leave the pub around 6:45.

You can text me at 646 696 8875.


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Barcelona

Three days in barcelona = a total blur. Luis, leo (luis's friend from argentina) and I met up saturday afternoon and set out in search of a bar with a good atmosphere for the Spain-Denmark match. We were unsuccessful. Granted that the match was meaningless as Spain had already qualified, we were shocked at how little the people in Barcelona cared about Spain. Perhaps the Catalan apathy was caused by the Castillian display of dominance when cancelling the match with the US.

Of course, no one was more disappointed by the lack of the match than us and, left with no other choice than to drown our sorrows in beer, we embarked on a 3-day Catalunyan bender. One night, Luis and I made friendly with a middle-aged english couple at an Irish pub as we watched Argentina get crushed by South Africa in the rugby world cup final. After dropping a couple of car bombs in the tank, the couple and luis and I set off to a club to continue drinking for no reason. Or so we thoguht. Turns out the english couple had ulterior motives. After several rounds, our friend john propositioned luis and I (separately, and me before luis) to continue the night them. Wow. Quick way to end the night.

We did take in the sights and paid the requisite visit to the sagarda familia and la perdrea. Gaudi definitely did drugs. I wonder if the sagrada familia will ever be used as a cathedral or if it will only persist as a tourist trap.

We also paid visit to a place affectionately known as the champagneria - a small bocadilla that serves awesome manchego cheese and chorizo and cheap, cheap bottles of cava. Its near las ramblas on the water end. Definitely worth a visit. The place gets packed so head there early.

We're in Basel now. Mick is meeting us tomorrow. Ill post deets of the meeting place shortly.

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

On the road again . . .

Just landed in Barcelona and the trip is not off to an awesome start. Mick managed to miss his flight and it looks like his trip just got listed as doubtful. Apparently, he tried to check in just after the cutoff time and they bounced him.

Oddly enough, the same thing nearly happend to me. My flight was scheduled to depart JFK at 5:20. I tried to check in at 4:14. Uh oh - they moved the departure time up to 5:10 which means the cutoff time was 4:10. A little sweet-talking and blatant betrayal of my sexual orientation and I'm through though!

I'm supposed to meet Luis in a couple hours and I urge all of you who know Mike Mick to email him (or leave comments berating him) and urge him to meet us in Switzerland or London.

Oh yeah, the plan is a few days here - head to Basel on tuesday, catch the US-Swiss match on wednesday (its on Fox Soccer I believe) - then head to London on thursday and catch Fulham (USA) take on Derby County. Potential to see 5 americans on the pitch at once in an EPL match.

If anyone has any suggestions for Barcelona, Basel or London, please pass them along.

Probably gonna drink beer and watch Euro 2008 quallies all day today though!
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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Roger

is the one on the left. What is happening to his pants?

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Jesus Phone

For those of you who are still reading this, you may be wondering what that Test picture was all about. Well, I lost my cell phone the other day and decided to replace it with an iPhone.

No, the sombrero is not a scalp-like trophy I scored off of some Mexican. It is merely a decoration on my wall designed to keep me filled with the appropriate amount of rage.

Several upcoming matches - US-Brazil on September 9 at Soldier Field. The match is being billed as the "Clash of Champions" and will feature full strength squads from both sides.

Also, Luis, Mick and I are heading to Barcelona and Basel in October to catch the US play Catalunya and Switzerland.

Finally, it looks like the last match on the schedule for 2007 is a friendly against South Africa in November. I will most likely not be heading to that match.

I'm guessing if Bob Bradley fails to get a result for the rest of the year, he will be fired early next year and everyone's favorite candidate will sign on to lead the stars and stripes.

Chicago is setting up to be a complete boondaggle. Hope to see you there!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Highlights of Venezuela!

Top 10 Things We'll Miss

1) The women - My god, Venezuelan women are beautiful. They take care of themselves and they just know how to walk.

2) Polar Ice - Such a cheap, flavorful beer. I think El Cuatro consumed nearly 500 of these during our two weeks there.

3) Guaky - The mascot embodied the spirit of the tournament and was not nearly as cheesy as that damn Leo the lion from Deutschland.

4) Corruption - From getting us beer when it was illegal, to offering us super-powerful chew, corruption only benefited us.

5) The fact that everything cost 33 cents - The official exchange rate is VEB 2150 = $1. The Black Market i.e. the only place you change money offers a rate of VEB 3500 = $1.

6) Y Va Caer - One of my my lasting memories from each of Korea 2002 and Germany 2006 is the stadium songs of the hosts. It is no different for Venezuela 2007 except that the Venezuelan stadium songs had nothing to do with football.

7) Hamburger Stands - It seems like every place has its preferred late night drunk food: In NYC we have pizza, in LA there are tacos and Pink's, in Europe you have Doner Kebab. In Venezuela - you have hamburger stands like Freddy El Negro and Whopper Express.

8) The Random Futbol Fans - James from Ireland, Carrie and Todd from New Mexico, the Gang of Four from New York and Victor from Barinas. Meeting people makes these trips special.

9) Free drinks from prostitutes - One night in Maracaibo 4 American men held the line against a troupe of aggressive prostitutes and scored 3 free rounds of beer. Magic I tell you!

10) The Women - it starts there and ends there.

Top 10 Things We Could Do Without

1) Hugo Chavez and the Chavistas - Wake up. Your vision of socialism will not work. Your country has tasted democracy before and is full of passionate, intelligent people. Equality is a great idea, but let it develop organically. You are pushing your country towards irrelevance.

2) Kasey Keller - Dude, please just retire. You were pretty awesome right through 2005, but you have fallen apart since. Please pass your knowledge on to the next generation and be done with it.

3) Mosquitos - Thy have some nasty, nasty bugs. Luis and I both were receipients of terradactly sized mosquito bites. The bites would welt up and puss like an oozing volcano - not sweet.

4) The Sidewalks - There is no reason for a sidewalk to be more than 4 inches higher than street level. Toes are a good thing.

5) Icebox rooms - On more than one occasion I thought I was going to pull a Hans and soil my sheets. Someone needs to introduce the thermostat to Venezuela.

6) Small Bills - Nobody has them and when you're drinking, you definitely need them. People would get visibly annoyed when you tried to buy a round of beers with 50,000 bolivars.

7) Organization - The ticketing process was as big a clusterfudge as I've ever seen. In the end, all worked out well. However, if we had opted to wait on line in Maracaibo, I'm pretty sure we'd still be waiting for the cop to call out my name.

8) Broken Glass Bottles - Well, not all of us hated them, just Luis as he had a penchance for stepping on them and cutting his feet.

9) ATM's - it took us nearly 10 attempts to figure out that when the machine asks for the first2 digits of your ID number, it really means the last 2 digits of your ID number.

10) Lack of Beer Sales at matches - This is a stupid idea. Stadiums should always sell beer.

PICTURES



More will follow!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

U-20 World Cup

After the US boys came from behind to knock off the dirty Uruguayans last night, I, along with several ESC guys, have made the decision to hit up the U-20 World Cup quarterfinal in Toronto this weekend between the US and Austria. This will make it 3 tournaments, in 3 weeks, in 3 countries, on 2 continents.

By Friday, I should have the first batch of pictures from Venezuela up. My recap of Chavismo will follow next Monday, as well as the aforepromised top 10 lists.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

POS Toyotas: 1 Gringos: 0 (2ET)

In what can only be described as sheer devastation, our last night in venezuela ended at the unexpected hands of a goddamned 1978 toyota corolla.

While Roger remained sidelined in bed all day after succumbing to two weeks of pure awesomeness in this wonderful slice of heaven called venezuela, Luis and I ventured a whopping three blocks to the local mall. We searched in vain for vinotintos jerseys as Venezuela played what turned out to be its last game today. We met up with Fabio to watch the games and then headed out to meet some friends we had made the night before.

If the night were a soccer match, it could only be compared to the Italy vs. Germany semfinal in WC 2006. The night was certainly headed towards legendary status when our friends' car broke down. The damn battery died which forced us to seek assistance from some drunk guy who was looking to practice his english. His jumper cables were complete shite and were not even connected to one another. I'm pretty sure the conductors were plastic too. We finally got the car started and then headed home. My flight is in less than 2 hours so Luis offered to join me at a local diner to consume our last Polars of the trip while we lamented our misfortune. Oh well, sometimes you beat the game and sometimes the game beats you. And when in a country like venezuela, sometimes a piece of siht car beats you.

Keep reading the blog. I will be posting lists of the things we loved and hated about venezuela, as well as a full review of my observations on the socio-political situation here. Oh yeah, there will be pictures forthcoming too.
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Saturday, July 07, 2007

It cost more than 33 cents.

Emboldended by our hotel bill of 2.5 million bolivars, we decided to up our game. It began with the lunch yesterday, which, despite our celebrity status and willingness to take a picture with the owner for him to hang on the wall, cost us a whopping 250,000 bolvars. Towards the end of our meal, more people approached us for autographs and photos ad after the told us they had an official program with them, we quickly finished our meal and fled.

We arrived in caracas and almost made the decision to ditch the city and head to the beach. We had our driver take us to the nearest beach/shantytown and quickly had him drive us back to civilization. We nearly ran over a dog, and then nearly ran over him again three blocks later.

For dinner, we searched for benihanas and ended up at some awesome seafood restaurant called El Braquero. Luis and I ordered paella and the waiter asked us if we wanted it special with lobster and prawns. Too be we had a fat, drunk old chick karaoke singing right next to us because we said yes without really knowing what we were saying yes to. The bill: another 500,000 bolivars.

While waiting for a cab outside the restaurant, we witnessed a couple guys across the street getting into a brawl. Must have been a full moon because we saw some guys roughing up some chicks earlier in the night too. Sorry, no heroes here. Some spectators to the fight threw a large brick at the fighters that fortunately missed them. A guy on a motorcycle that may or may not have been a cop drove into the center of the fracas and immediately pulled out his gun. He engaged the aggressor in the fight and popped a shot in the air. Can't believe I had to come to Caracas, and its uber rich area of Altamira no less, to see my first gunshot.

We met up with Fabio and a buddy of his at a club, where, from the bathroom, I sent the live blog last night. The place was pretty awesome and we dropped another million bolivars. We spent just over 5 million bolivars on they day. Adios budget.
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Live bloig: caracas nightclub

A cioncept I should have introduced earlier, the live blog coming at you fresh and fueled on alcohol. I have been officially rated the worst dancer in venezuela. This is bollocks. They needx to play some house music. I can dance (terradactyl jump - thanks venku) the siht out of some house music. Full failure to bag a venezuelan chicl blog forthcoming tomorrow. Some douche is banging on my stall right now. In case you have not realized and comprehemded, this blog is my brain. You are looking though it. Hanjoy!
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Friday, July 06, 2007

Good Luck and Play Hard

Currently sitting at a restaurant in Barquisimeto called El Mana. Our cab driver had to ask if we were allowed in because we are all clad in shorts. Despite the intense heat, this country does not respect shorts. Bollocks. Pretty sure our cabbie may have implied that we are players as the restaurant accepted us. When they asked if I was a player, Luis told them yes. Free salads just arrived. The food here is amazing. I started with an apple cuury soup which was delicious. They just brought us a salad that is covered in a fig-caramel hairnet. Its awesome.

Several women wanted to take pictures with us and wanted my autograph. I signed: "Good Luck and Play Hard". This trip is doing wonderful things for my ego. Some lady at the hotel last night asked me if I was Rambo's brother. Not wanting to dissapoint, I of course answered yes. I'm just happy people do not recognize how out of shape I feel.
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Match Report: USA vs. Colombia - it was boring.

We woke up on match day with three things on our agenda: 1) pick up our tix; 2) chill poolside; and 3) get to the match. We stayed at the Hilton during our time in Barquisimeto and the US team and a few other US fans were also staying there. It's always a little odd when you're a fan staying at the same hotel as the team. You never want to seem like a freak groupie and at the same time you want them to know you're there so they know they have the support. The results on the pitch naturally dictate the mood and the staff was definitely very uppity over the way the team performed after the first two games. My elevator ride with assistant coach Piotr Nowak was a little tense to say the least. Also, there were a number of autograph seeking kids in the hotel and a few approached me. I informed them that los fanaticos son gordos y los jugadores son flacos. I think that set them straight for the rest of the day.

The ticket office in Barquisimeto employed a logical distribution system - ranges of order numbers were assigned to different windows. The only problem was that the lines were at least 4 hours long and required us to roast in the blazing hot sun. Not sweet. Luis suggested that we just play dumb and cut the line. In the process of doing do, we encountered a future chavista cop: a 17 year old who demanded $20 for letting us cut in front of him. Again, we refused to pay and offered him beer instead. We got to talking and he and his friends were very knowledgeable about MLS. They asked everyone's favorite question: "Where is Donovan?"

After returning to the Hotel with tickets in hand, we met up with Fabio and some other US fans at the hotel bar. The bar interfered with our ability to chill poolside as it turns out you cannot just pick it up and move it to the pool. We met a 12 year old at the bar who was drinking cappucino which we all found pretty impressiv e. He informed us that the coffee was nothing special and that at 12, kids drink cucuy, a. mixture of tequilla, whiskey and gasoline. While we were sitting there, the Gang of Four from NY showed up with their bags in tow as their other reservations had been canceled. I think we jung out with those guys for nearly 3 days and the only times we did not have beer in and were on the raft. James from Ireland also met up with us and set out for the match with us. One of the great things about these trips is the people you meet along the way. Fairly certain this will not be the last we see of James.

After many beers and recollections of the rafting trip and our chance encounter with Ramon Mifflin, we arrived at the stadium to find it unfinished. Once completed, it will be as magnificent a soccer stadium as I've ever seen. The game pretty much sucked. I've never been to a lame duck game and hope that I never have to again. The US team was so impotent in attack that it seemed the Colombians were cheering for us at the end of the game. I got so bored that I spent the better part of the second half staring at chicks. Apparently, there is a big Mexican population in Barquisimeto as the crowd would whistle and catcall whenever a ultrahotchick would walk by. The crowd, as has been custom, took the opportunity to engage in massive anti-chavez rants. After my world cup trips, the chants of the home country have always ended up being stuck in my head. What is weird here is that the Venezuelan chant that will stick in my head is "Lo va cayer! Lo va cayer! . . . El govierno va cayer!" Which means "it will fall! It will fall! . . . The government will fall!". What made the chants on this day more interesting was that it was the Venezuelan independence day. I have some videos that I will post to youtube which you should definitely check out. People literally cannot contain themselves when these chants get going.

Post match, we encountered a massive traffic jam of people. Turns out no one planned for how to get people out of the stadium and back to the center of the city, which is a good 25 miles away. We walked 5 miles or so because nobody paid heed to my attempts to hitchhike. After finally catching a cab back to the city, we met up with our new york pals again and dropped a few more cervezas and cucuys in the tank. We watched Bobby Boswell try to hit on a chick with the aid of a translator. In the end, he gave her his shoes. As punishment for their shoddy performance, the team had to leave in the wee hours of the morning. So long US boys, see you in spain.
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Guamanchi:

Sorry for the delay in blogging, apparently somebody forgot to install a cell tower in Los Llanos, the beautiful mountainous plains (think Montana) on the periphery of Barinas. The area is filled with llaneros (cowboys) who marshall cows, goats, sheep and giant cocks (seriously, the biggest roosters I've ever seen).

After a dodgy escape from Barinas (we lost the ginormous key to one of our rooms), a Guamanchi Expeditions land cruiser picked us up for our two-day rafting trip. We had planned to meet up with the rest of the US crew at the rafting camp and we were joined by Tuckman, Johnny Agua, Rodger, and Clint (" the Gang of Four from NY"). The Gang of Four from NY were in the land cruiser when it arrived and had the foresight to suggest that we pick up some bevvies along the way. Our stop at the liqueria would be the first of three. We arrived at the camp and were treated with a delicious lunch featuring chicken. Our first day on the river was supposed to be a training day. We were divided into two boats: the purple boat aka the douche canoe and the red boat (consisting of El Cuatro and the Gang of Four from NY). Our boat was captained by Alfredo who has a limited grasp on English. First, he assigned me a front position on the boat after he explained that the front two set the rhythm of the paddling and also after I protested that I have no rhythm (I don't actually believe this but it is hard to refute the claims of several of my venezolana dancing partners). Then, he explained the commands and repeatedly confused "Left" and "Right", mistakes that would prove near fatal the next day.

After some initial training, including Alfredo intentionally flipping the raft (something that would prove useful on our second trip down the river), we succesfully negotiated the rapids save for Johnny Agua, true to his name, taking the initial fall. Upon reaching our landing, we realized that we were at the same liqueria where we had made our earlier cerveza purchase. Because we had eaten lunch, we decided we need to supplement our now depleted three cases of beer by adding another four to the warchest. This decision was poor. We cruised through the total of seven cases and a bottle of rum (yo ho!) by 11:30. Because the camp's directv receiver had magically disappeared (read Fredo prolly stole it away to his secret MJ smoking hideout), we were left to beer and our own devices to amuse oursekves. Naturally, drinking challenges ensued and Johnny Agua was forced to live up to his 3 beers in 3 minutes for being the river's first victim. To keep with the aquatic theme, we set up a boat race between the left side (clint, roger, rodger and tuckman) and the right side (rishi, luis, johnny agua and kotas). Just like our performance on the water, the right side demolished the left side, and then we did it again just for kicks. As a punishment, and in an effort to level the strength inequality on the boat, the left side did pushups.

(Side note: as I am writing this, we are hanging out with Ramon Mifflin of New York Cosmos fame. Now, back to your regularly scheduled programming.)

Fortunately, before I went to bed, I found the last unopened beer and hid it in the fridge. Smart move by me because that served as a proper brekkie over the cardboard toast provided by the camp. Shampoo effect indeed.

Our second trip on the rapids began with a jump off of a 30 foot bridge. Awesome. At the end of our first trip, Fredo commented on how impressed he was at our strength and ability to make hairpin turns. Again, he did not heed my advice when I assured him that after drinking 7 cases of beer our responsiveness and endurance would not measure up to trip 1. Our second adventure was at times exhilarating and at time like LA traffic. We repeatedly found ourselves stuck on large rocks and rocking the boat to free ourselves. Early on, we lodged ourselves between two rocks and our boat filled with water. Tuckman, Kotas and Johnny Agua bit it. Kotas recovered to a rock and sat down while the rapids flowed over him. The rest of us were forced to abandon ship so that Fredo could free the boat. When it finally broke free, I dove into it and Fredo recovered part of the team along the way before having to pull to the shore to let the rest of our now terrain-traversing team back in. Over the remainder of the trip, I was the fortunate (or un-, depending on your persuasion) one to fall out solo, twice. We got stuck mamy times, for which the fault I blame on a triumvirate of unfortunate events: 1) somebody decided it would be a good idea to stick the 8 biggest guys in a single boat, pushing out weight damn near 2000 pounds; 2) Fredo not being able to quickly shout the correct orders (methinks his difficulty discerning whether to say left or right had something to do with this; and 3) somebody forgot to tell god to turn the rain on the night before. Dammit.

We ended up putting all of Fredo's training to use on the backend of our trip. After successfully negotiating one of the more difficult series, we were lounging about while our raft was floating downstream sideways. Out of nowhere, a hole in the water appeared and I found myself underwater with Clint's feet on my head. When I surfaced, I looked back and saw all of red boat floating in the water - well, all except for Fredo. It took some herculean efforts to reassemble the team, but we did it. After finishing, we found ourselves back at our favorite liqueria so we picked up 3 more cases of beer. Natch.

The entire red boat had to return to the Barinas city center so after lunch and a case of beer, Fredo drove the red boat back, and not wanting to leave any soldiers behind, we nearly polished off the remaining two on the way. Once there, we parted ways with the Gang of Four from NY and said goodbye to Backdraft Kotas who, for some reason decided to return home (his girlfriend cracked the whip). Roger, Luis and I set out in a cab for Barquisimeto. Along the way, we picked up, and polished off another case of beer. I know, you're prolly thinking we are alcoholics, but, don't judge so quickly, our cab driver had 3 of them. Along the drive, we were stopped at several police checkpoints where passing motorists are expected to pay "tolls" (corruption in its purest form). Luis, ever the penny pincher, offered them beers instead. Shockingly, they refused the beer because they were working. Hmm. . . okay to rob people while on the job but not okay to have a beer. Seems inconsistent.

We reached Barquisimeto and chased our beer filled afternoon with two bottles of wine and some awesome plates of meat. I even ate some intestines which basically taste like mac and poop. Gross.

Full match report tomorrow, but the US is out.
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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Y*N*W*A

WARNING: This post will be long. I highly recommend copying the text into a Word document, printing it out and taking it with you for your afternoon deuce.

We began the day with hope in our hearts. We did not have a place to stay in Barinas, we did not have our match tickets and we did not even know where to pick them up. All we had was a 4 hour ride through the Andes mountains to Barinas in the back of a land cruiser. The ride itself was not so bad, despite the lack of forward-facing seats. The route was scenic and the soundtrack consisted of some sweet bossa nova covers of Guns 'n Roses, U2 and Bob Marley. We passed through the highest village in Venezuela and just so happend to see the Charlotte Hornets team bus. Approaching Barinas, we stopped for lunch at an awesome roadside restaurant that grilled up the world's largest kebabs over a large firepit.

When we finally reached Barinas, Luis and I left Roger, Kotas and our new compadre Fabio under a tree guarding our stuff while we set out on foot to secure accomodations. Barinas is a town illI-equipped to host an international soccer match and the conventional wisdom says that they only received the right to host a match because Chavez is from Barinas. A piece of shit from a piece of shit town (strike that, this town is beautoful). It should be noted that the people of Barinas are awesome and the women are consistently beautiful.

Our plan was to head to the US team's hotel and either stay there or seek assistance from that hotel in finding other accomodations. We had to go on foot because the street was blocked for vehicular traffic by soldiers, none of whom looked like they were older than 15. At the first checkpoint, we lied to the soldier and told him we had reservations. My jersey threw him off and he thought we were players. He was visibly disappointed when I told him we were not. More lies ensued at the next checkpoint. When we finally reached the hotel, the general in charge of the security stopped us from entering and ordered two young soldiers to keep us at bay, at gun point - machine gun point. Fortunately, two guys who worked for the State Department were inside and helped us hook up with two other Americans, Todd and Carrie, who were staying at a hotel just down the road. After locking up rooms, we returned to the tree by the bus station to pick up the rest of our crew and set about to pick up tickets.

Our good fortune continued at the hotel when we ran into a guy who knew where to pick up tickets. Kotas, Fabio and I arrived at the ticket center to find our buddy Juan at the front of the line. He was wearing a USA tanktop and a white USA hat, just as he told us would at dinner the night before. Thinking that we were in Venezuela, we tried to jump in line with him. Those thoughts proved poor as a soldier (the military presence in this town cannot be overstated) clad in plastic armor (think fisher price) told us that we had to go to the back of the single file line. Much to our surprise, the line moved efficiently and we quickly obtained our tickets. Kotas had some extra tickets to get rid of and I notice a white, white guy in the line to buy tickets. That line did not move at all while we were there and it appeared the match was sold out. The guy turned out to be James from Ireland and after we sold him a ticket, we invited him to hang with us for the day.

We returned to the hotel with tickets and James in tow and everyone took a moment to celebrate. Because no celebration is official without alcohol, Luis and Fabio pleaded with a cop/soldier stationed in the lobby to show us a place where we could buy beer. For some dumb reason, the town was declared dry until after the game. For this alone, I hate Chavez. The cops turned out to be the perfect amount of corrupt and Kotas and I hopped on the backs of their motorcycles with backpacks. The cops took us for a 10 minute drive and stopped at a beer store that was definitely not open. The cop in charge pounded on the wall and the store owner opened up a 2 foot by 2 foot hatch. We passed him our backpacks and he loaded them up with beer. Mission Accomplished.

We then warmed up for the match in the innards of our hotel as we had to hide our booty from the public. Stories were exchanged and Kerri informed us that she self "cockblocked" herself while hanging out with the Paraguayan national team (her words, awesome, I know). She and Todd were just friends and apparently, the hotel would not rent them a room unless they were married. She borrowed one of Todd's rings and forgot to take it off when they met the team. A delegate from the team hooked them up with tickets. A good show of sporting friendliness or some Paraguayan basura trying to get laid, you decide.

We managed to scrape together a semblance of a US section by ignoring section, row and seat assignments and just broke into song when ushers approached. The crowd was generally receptive and even broke into a U-S-A chant every now and then. They were very amused when I showed the crowd a yellow card for screaming Par-A-Guay!

The match speaks for itself. I pretty much went batshit when we scored and Kotas, Roger, Luis and I busted out a pseudo congo line. You may have seen this if you watched the match. Towards the end of the match, the Venezuelans broke out into chants of Libertad and The Government Will Fall! Unlike in Maracaibo, other parts of the crowd responded with chants of Fuerza! Which is a pro-Chavez chant. Not surprisingly, the chavistas booed us every chance they got. Tossers.

We did meet an awesome Venezuelan business student named Victor. He had his face painted half us flag - half venezuelan flag. Unfortunately, on the way out Carrie was overcome by pickpocketers. As we were reporting the crime to the cops, many Venezuelans stopped to offer assistance and apologize. Like I said, they we're pretty awesome people.

Victor led us on a march to find a bar to watch the Argentina - Colombia match. Along the way, many school kids took the opportunity to practice their english with us. Amazingly, a kid approached Kotas and I with Carrie's wallet, credit cards and I'd intact. All that was missing was 20,000 bolivars, which equals about 33 cents.

We settled at a pizza place and immediately ordred 20 beers as the ban had been lifted. Several venezuelans asked to take pictures with Kotas and I. One woman even asked me to sign her Venezuelan jersey. When Fabio asked her why, she told him that it would probably be worth something someday. Sweet.

There was a giant propoganda-fest / concert in the Plaza Estudientes and we stopped by to let them know gringos were in the house. We definitely were not heeding State Department warnings to remain inconspicuous. I did some pushups for the crowd and was rewarded with 500 bolivars (33 cents) for my efforts. Being that it was a monday night, the town was dead and so were we after a very emotionally up and down day.

Today, we attempt to kill ourselves again with some rafting.

Oh yeah, Kasey Keller, thanks for your years of service. Now go coach.
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Monday, July 02, 2007

Amy from Detroit.

Do you have any pictures from the game. The consensus amongst El Cuatro is that you're either hot or not. Please advise.
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Missing parts of my brain found.

We are currently driving through the highest (altitude, not weed) village in Venezuela which sits at 3000 meters. Apparently the altitude has disgorged some blogworthy gems from the residual alcoholic goop in my head:

At the US-Argentina match, I took a picture with a Venezuelan solider with my flag sprawled across him. He was none too pleased. Sadly, you will not see this picture due to my aforementioned douchebaggery.

On the way back from paragliding, a car tried to lodge itself in the backend of our land cruiser so I started making kissy faces. Said faces elicited the expected response: the bird. Thinking we would taunt the bird flippers, we held up our beers. The driver's response, he held up not one, but 2 beers. It should be noted that the front seat passenger also had a baby in her lap. See, Britney is not the worst mom alive.

After dinner in Merida, we set off in search of a bar on a sunday night. Nothing was open so we sent Fabio and Roger in a cab to find a liquor store (because we didn't have to leave the next morning till 7 am) while the rest of us walked back to the posada. Bloody Knuckles continued to wage war against insects and stomped a cucaracha to a gooey death. We also passed a couple prostitutes on the street. Sweet.
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Son Mexicanos?

Our adventure day in Merida was by far our most productive day. Upon waking, Luis imposed a moratorium on drinking until 7am the next day. Tanto (Roger), Backdraft (Kotas), Bloody Knuckles (Luis), Freddy (Wes) and the Mexican Assassin (me - duh) set out on a canyoning trip through a river in Merida. The excurison required us to don wetsuits (not a pretty sight) and hike uphill, downhill (you know its downhill when the land ahead of you is lower than the land you are standing on), through streams and under misbehaving brush. We had one of our few encounters with wildlife when Luis took pictures with some hill-dwelling family's goat. I surmise that our lack of wildlife encounters had something do with the sight of us in wetsuits.

The canyoning itself involved hiking through a river and down waterfalls, repelling through waterfalls, jumping off boulders, and sliding down waterfalls. At one point, our guides instructed us to jump off a 20 foot peak into a hole in the river that was no larger than 4ft by 4ft. Pretty damn amazing. We survived the trip without serious injury, although Luis did take out some pent up aggression from the dumb blonde dropping his camera by punching a rock. We had another encounter with wildlife when we broke for lunch - the guides whipped up some jamon sandwiches replete with fresh tomatos, onions, avocado and you guessed it, mayonnaise. In what became a theme for the day, Luis decided to harass some red fire ants.

After returning from the canyoning trip, we were pretty knackered so we rested in some hammocks at the posada with some beers. So much for the moratorium, it lasted all of (insert amount of time in which we did not have access to beer).

Not quite satsified with surviving the day to that point, we, along with several other gringos, decided to go paragliding. We drove up to a 1600 meter cliff and then ran off with venezuelans and parachutes attached to our backs. I wanted to fly with the flag tied around my waist but my pilot had a better idea: he jerry-rigged (debate ensued over the spelling of jerry-rig) the flag so that it would fly free behind us as we sailed over Merida. The other pilots joked that if the Mayor saw us, he would order the military to shoot us down. The pilots were a bunch of life-loving hippies. When Patrick, of some unknownst to me Asian descent (guessing Korean), had trouble launching, one of the pilots quipped that it was due to his inherent vision impairment caused by his lack of round eyes. Brought back memories of Kamikazies.

Special mention that Minnesota Andy wins the POTY award for puking midflight.

After returning to tierra firma, the pilots took us to their neighborhood bar where we saw the most badass SUV ever - untill we saw the rear window which was adorned with an ad for a baby store. Becuase one of the Land Cruisers (complete with military style backseats) that took us up to the cliff had yet to descend, Tanto, Backdraft, Bloody Knuckles and I hopped on the roofrack. Anything goes in Venezuela. At the bar, Luis lunged at another opportunity to harass some ants and did a Mexican hat dance on an ant party. If anyone out there knows why Luis hates insects so much, please explain in the comments.

Famished after a day of adventure, El Cuatro along with Fabio and Juan headed out for a steak dinner. We ordered a couple rounds of tequilla shots which caused the waiter to think we were mexican. We convinced him we were swedish.

We are currently rolling 12 gringos deep in 2 land cruisers on a 4 hour trip to Barinas for the US - Paraguay game. Sam's Army indeed.

None of us have shaved since arriving in Venezuela. When the US finally gets some points, we are going with moustaches.
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Sunday, July 01, 2007

Las Adventuros del El Gordo y El Flaco

After our expedition up the montana yesterday, we stopped off for some nourishment at a pizzeria. We ordered some caeser salads and were presented with a jumble of lettuce, bacon, croutons, and the ubiquitous and ever-present mayonnaise. I will never understand the rest of the world's affinity for the white sludge.

While walking around the city looking for venezuelan jerseys, Kotas noticed a burgundy Pontiac Grand Am with Florida plates that expired in 1998. I'm guessing that car was not purchased legally.

Fortunately, the Vinotintos (the nickname for the Venezuelan national team) defeated Peru which livened up the people of Merida. An activist group put on a rap concert in the center square. They rapped about the things that most activist groups rap about: the environment, peace, the poor and unity. Guess those things are important.

Roger and Kotas decided they'd had enough fun so they left Luis and I to sample the nightlife of Merida. We donned our Venezuela shirts so that we could celebrate the victories with the locals. Luis wore one adorned with "El Flaco" and I sported "El Gordo". Not sure that I'd ever go out with a buddy wearing the exact same shirt at home, but it seemed acceptable in this situation.

We took a cab to La Cucaracha which turned out to have nothing to do with cockroaches, but everything to do with 16 year olds. The cab driver did not have enough small bills for our change so he reached in his glove box and pulled out two condoms and said "you are going to the disco, you'll need these." He had more faith in us than we had in ourselves. (We let him keep the change). The first level of La Cucaracha is a nascar themed chuck e cheese come nightclub. Luis and I made a few laps while sucking down some cuba libres and realized that we were way too old to be there. We were relieved when we saw some people older than us, but then were again dismayed when we realized they were chaperoning their 16 year old daughters. Keep in mind that La Cucaracha is the hottest club in Merida. We decided it was time to leave and on our way out, the bouncer asked in a disbelieving tone why we were leaving so soon. After we informed him of the generation gap, he informed us of the adult section on the lower level.
We re-entered and consumed more cuba libres. Luis asked a chick to take our picture and she dropped his camera. Yup, she was a blonde. Turns out dumb chicks travel in groups - her friend was a chavista, the first I've met in venezuela. She had lived in miami and was married, but divorced the man and happily took him to the cleaners (she bragged about this). Her winnings provided her with a house in miami, a house in merida, the ability to not work, and the custody of her kids (listed in order of importance to her). We couldn't take being around the db chicks so we pulled the ripcord.

Upon arriving back at the posada, we saw an irish kid who is staying at our posada stuck outside and piss drunk. When Luis showed him the doorbell, the irish kid looked as if he witnessed the second coming. Turns out venezuelans call irish gringos as well. That news pretty much shattered my universe I thought we americans had that term by divine right. Bollocks. First report of a mugging as well: one of irish kid's buddies got mugged at gunpoint. Good thing Luis and I took a 30 minute stroll home.


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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Maracaibo to Merida

Maracaibo is Venezuela's second largest city and is the center of the Venezuelan oil industry. Our day to do touristy things in Maracaibo got off to our late start after our extended night out. The first order of business was to acquire a new camera charger for me so Roger and I headed out to a store we walked past on a prior march called "Digital Depot." Turns out the warehouse that is DD only sells shirts (like 7 of them). Obvi.

This necessitated a trip to the Maracaibo Mall. We wondered around much the same as an American mall. The appropriate level of air conditioning was a welcome relief as well. I ended up buying a new camera (a semi-fortuitous decision or maybe a jinx-causing distinction if you're a half empty kinda person) and somehow Roger's pants fell down.

On our way out of the mall, we met Carla, a girl who recently graduated from high school and worked for the Maracaibo tourist agency. Carla graciously helped us acquire an SUV taxi and agreed to be our personal guide for the day. At first we were a little hesitant becuase we knew we couldn't be worthless shits all day if she came with, but she was very insistent so we relented. Turned out to be a great decision. We drove all over the city and Carla convinced the cabbie to drive onto the premises of a condo complex so we could take in some great views of the lake. We then proceeded to the city park, where residents engage in all sorts of exercise. There was a gym set up in the same fashion as the outdoor equipment at venice beach. There was also a separate setup for ellipticals and steppers. Interesting to say the least.

Carla had the driver take us to the plaza Bolivar. - every city in Venzuela has a Plaza Bolivar. Simon Bolivar is a god down here. He led the Venezuelan fight for independence from the Spanish and Gran Colombia. The money is named after him and his effigy can be found in any place of significance. Chavez appears to have bastardized his loyalty and calls his brand of lunacy bolivarism.

We visited the city Cathedral and I'm pretty sure my attire booked a seat in hell for me - flip flops, cargo shorts, and a t-shirt with the slogan "Viva Las Vegas" and featuring a voluptuous naked woman. Oops. On the way out, a young Venezolana curiously approach Luis and I and asked us where we were from. When we responded "Estados Unidos" she curiously pointed to her skin and said "pero, no blanco". We had to explain the immigrant culture of our country. You would think she would know this given the venezuelan love for beisball (more popular than soccer) but that would be asking too much.

We also drove across the nearly 5-mile bridge that spans lake maracaibo. It is the only reinforced concrete bridge in the world. We drove over it merely for the sake of driving over it so we immeadiately drove back.

After winning the war of attrition with the prostitutes last night, we flew to Merida this morning. First time I've ever been on a plane that was not pressurized. Merida is a city in the Andes mountains that is nestled in a valley. It is well known for its eco- and geo-tourism activities.

We were greeted by Joelle from Guamanchi Tours and went straight to our posada (an upscale hostel). We are meeting up here with a total of 7 other gringos to go canyoning and paragliding. We spent our day today riding the world's longest and highest cable car up to an Andean peak that sits over 15,000 above sea level. It was freezing at the peak (there was a little snow). First time I've sweated from the blazing sun and shivvered from the freezing cold in the same day, much less within a 12 hour span. Other tourists also thought we played for the team but did not bother us for autographs.

I am currently writing this from a hammock on the roof of our posada. My view consists of my feet and the cloud-peppered Andes in the offing. Amazing.


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Stardate 30.06.2007

On one of the smaller planes I've ever been on, a Beechcraft series 1900. I think the pilot is hungover from his 8th grade graduation. It is very loud in here and I feel like I have to type fast.

A Merida!
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Losing cameras is for pussies

Yup, it happend. From the comments of my compadres, I gather I look like somebody took my dog, kicked me in the junk, skewered my dog, backhand slapped me and then grilled my dog.

Consolation loser = roger because he no longer gets a sweet camera at a discount. Bollocks.
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Americanos: 1 Prostitutes: 0

One thing you need to know right off the bat is that on weekends I will blog about events in an order that is not necessarily in the order they occured. And by weekends, I mean, any night we decide to take our faces off by drinking cerveza and singing "vamas a matarnos en la raya!".

So, we are back in the hotel room formerly known as the icebox. I say formerly because the room is so hot that is causing me to sweat more than a virgin's (thank you mick and larry anning). We spent the noche at alvarito's where the slogan is "if you don't know alvarito's, you don't know maracaibo"

Another night hitting the town in latin america brought my worst fears (no drama this time) to mind: every chick is either a prostitute or a man with a good, cheap surgeon. Tonight, I successfully managed to get the hottest girl in the bar to dance with me (read, all over me). It was pretty amazing, I managed to not fall over or step on her feet! Trouble is, all the while (45 - 50 minutes) I'm dancing with her, I am en guard against her being a prostitute or a man (the surgeons down here are amazing so piss off). I never got the chance to find out as some croatian men caught my attention after a quick bano break (not really hans).

The whole night, our drinking habit was suported by some prostitutes who thought that equipping us with beer goggles would help them earn our business. Uh, no, but thanks for the beers. Skanks.

After leaving, we stopped at whopper express where luis and turtle (aka roger) acquired some nocturnal, drunken nourishment. One of the cooks clearly smoked too much (insert local drug of choice here - I bet there's more weed in washington sq park than all of maracaibo) because he picked mexico to win and actually believed it. Whata douche.

After leaving the whopper express, we stopped in at Mumba where nobody wanted anything to do with us. I danced like it was Stanley's in chicago on saturday, june 24, 2007. Yes, I did some pushups for the crowd.

Off to Merida this morning. Hopefully we arrive in time to ride the world's longest cable car.
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Put your hands up for Detroit!

So, here is what happend in chicago. At about the 73rd minute mark, a douchebag from Monterrey security (irony should not be lost here- US vs. Mexico, security from Monterrey) entered our section and attempted to displace me with the people who had the tickets for the seats which I was occupying. Now, I'm sure most of my uninitiated readers think that was a perfectly reasonable request. Thing is, in the sam's army section, as a general policy, we ignore seat assignments and operate under a general admission regime. The people who were being moved because the security guard was forced to move them from the seats they were occupying, most likely at the behest of some people who bought scalped tickets from someone else who had tickets for the SA section. For the record, people who sell SA tickets to non-SA members are colossal dochebags and should be kicked in the face by Taylor Twellman (kid's got a rocket).

Anyway, I tried to explain the situation to the Monterrey db, as me moving to my assigned seat would have a catostrophic effect on several people's ability to watch the game. So, I took one for the team and told the db off. He took offense to my words and gestures, but the rest of the section was spared from his dimwitted reign of terror. He cuffed me and escorted me to another security guard. I visited the soldier field penn for all of 90 seconds, gave the stadium security a sweet shot of me sticking out my tounge and flipping them the bird for their records, and then made my way to the front of the stadium. There, I started the celebrations outside the stadium before the police made me stop b/c there were probably 60,000 mexicans in town who would likely stab me upon sight (they really said this).

Was I pissed that I didn't get to see the trophy, yes. But, I have a feeling that me charging up the stairs with the giant db in tow created the perfect air displacement for benny's shot to metamorphosise into a golazo. That coupled with me sparring my compadres from further douchebaggery is enough.

Thanks Amy were you there?
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Friday, June 29, 2007

I am a giant douchebag.

So, being cocky usually bites me in the ass. This time, I was overly confident in my camera's ability to function on a single charge for the duration of my trip. Had this trip solely consisted of the copa america, I think we would have made it (the 100 snaps from chicago were not a huge help). As it stands, on I'm one bar. None of the electronics stores at the Maracaibo mall sell chargers so I was forced to purchase a new camera just for its charger. Roger has graciously agreed to purchase said camera from me for 60% of the cost. I am dumb.
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USA vs. Argentina - match report

We arrived at the stadium in Maracaibo and received a pretty tranquil reception (read: nobody spoke to us and pretty much ignored our reception). We quickly learned that we needed to enter the stadium on the opposite side from where we were so yet another Bataan death march (mick, here is your s-o, now piss off) was in our future. Along said march, our experience transformed into my ususal expereince when soccer-travelling: other fans wanted to take pictures with us and pretty much every news crew wanted to interview us. Here was a problem - we speak limited spanish. Here was a solution - Luis aka C-3PO. Luis became the official translator and consequently should have been on every news channel in the spanish speaking world. My buddy Joe from Nolita House sent me a text saying we were on fox sports espanol.

The paraguay-colombia match was pretty awesome. 5 solid counterattacking goals. That scares me for our match against them. The result was much to the dismay of the then pro-colombian crowd.

By far, the biggest highlight before the Argentines took the pitch was the arrival of Diego Maradona. He was less than 100 feet from us. It was amazing. To be near to arguably the greatest jugador of all time definitely stirred something inside me. Turns out, that feeling was something else. The toilets in the stadium did not come equipped with seats. Or, alternatively, they did and some englishman took them and put them around his head.

Key thing I've forgot to mention up till this point is that it is illegal to sell beer anywhere near the stadium. I blame the loss on sobriety.

Apparently the national anthems are not that important as they cut both the Argentinian and US anthems short. The bombs did not burst in the air (shouldn't they be bursting on the ground anyway?). I went batshit when we scored, much to the amusement of several other spectators in our VIP section. By the time I finished popping up the 1-nil post, we were level.

After the match was decided (re 2-1), the venezolanos broke out with chants of "Libertad! Libertad!" which means "Liberty" and something that meant "the government will fall". A venezuelan who lives in Alabama explained to us that the state of Zulia, the state in which Maracaibo sits, is very much anti-chavez and that the chants were triggered by the prime minister's arrival. It was one of the more amazing experiences I've had - to be in the midst of people openly demanding revolution. The alabaman could not help but to join in passionately, despite his parents trying to silence and protect him.

Ben olsen was the MOTM for the US boys for me.

On the way out, we celebrated with some Argies and did more interviews, one with a Thai tv station that Luis thought was from Korea. The look on the reporter's face when I let out a "Dae Ha Min Gook!" was priceless.
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Pasame la botella!

Back in the icebox aka our hotel room at the Hotel Gran Delicias (fortunately, they have AC, unfortunately, the rooms are connected to the same thermostat that regulates the hotel's restaurant's freezer). I'm not going to blog about the match right now, b/c it is far too meaningful (for a number of reasons) for a 4:30am post.

After returning to the hotel post-match, we decided to lift our spirits at the hotel bar (pun intended beeyatches!). There, I met Carlos. Carlos is a venezolano who lived in nueva york para catorce anos (that's 14 years you silly kazakhs). Carlos was also very insistent on taking us to a club - la termernita - despite the fact that he was in town to visit his novia (girlfriend) for his once per month visit (and the last chick I dated complained about the lack of attention I gave her!).

La Termernita turned out to be much like clubs in the US; they had little interest in admitting 5 dudes accompanied by no chicks. Upon securing entrance through Carlos' efforts (he told the doorman we played for the US team), we walked in to a pretty unique reception. People kept looking at me. I could not figure out if it had to do with my good looks or my good looks. The owner of the club quickly approached us and offered to buy us drinks, well, roger f'd that up by paying for them anyway. We quickly found ourselves occupied with taking pictures with and dancing with several hot chicks

These chicks, confirmed one of my worst fears (lie for dramatic purposes), I am a piss poor dancer. Somehow, I got stuck dancing with a chick whose hair (think jersey circa 97) barely broached my nipples. Although Luis, Roger and Kotas were definitely dancing with bona fide hot chicks, I could not decipher if the chick I was dancing with was even remotely attractive. Worse, I could not even avoid stepping on her feet while attempting to dance becuase her boobs were very large and constantly in my field of vision. She had the audacitiy to tell me to move my hips more and that I could do so by moving my feet (people in venezuela do not believe in toe safety).

Obviously, since I'm blogging right now, things with smurfetta did not work out. Much to the dismay of lily, the non-english speaking chick in a couple that I met, we decided to make the 5 block walk home. Lily, her boyfriend and three other venzuelan girls walked us home to our decent looking from the outside, but crappy from the inside hotel. One of the three insisted that the US was very safe after her experience of studying abroad in Utah.

The night ended with us signing autographs for the three chicks (I kid you not, they still thought we were on the team) before we sent them packing. Afterall, we do have to train today!

.

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Keller, please retire.

Wow, not terrible by our youngun's, but this could have been an amazing match to see if our top squad was here. Oh well. Fuller match experience report to come later.

Flatlander, as soon as I hit send, the score changed.
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1-0!!!!!!!

Holy shit!!!!! Maradona is less than 100 feet from me!
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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Before the match

We successfully picked up our match tickets after employing both methods. Luis stood in the traditional box office line after cutting the line. Roger and Kotas did their best to fend off the giant wildebeasta (female wildebeast) that tried to overcome Luis from behind much in the same fashion as an amoeba acquires its nutrition. Luis succesfully balanced negotiating in spanish and feigning ignorance in english (his parents are from argentina). He sucessfuly received (either there are limited synonyms for "picked up" or my brain is saturated with polar ice) Kotas' tickets but was directed to method two with respect to my tickets. We moved to the refugee camp fans and found out that they had finally arrived at the "r's" much to the delight of the crowd. The problem with this was that they had already passed my name and were preparing to return the r's to the box office. Gringo ignorance to the rescue! I took over and played helpless American. The lead cop in charge of calling out the tickets from the speaker of his crown vic (they use them here too) paused after a selfless venezuelan gentleman assisted this helpless gringo. Great success! Big ups to the guy who helped me. Either I really smelled bad or you are a great guy.

Our hotel is peculiar in that the doors to our room employ some unique safety mechanisms - the keys do not unlock the door unless you jiggle the keys with great vigor. This renders me unable to open the door. Fortunately, luis is latin and was born knowing how to jimmy a door open (his words, not mine). Roger is also quite adept at this. The hotel staff is also very welcoming, especially the barmaids, despite the fact that the front facade is adorned with the slogan "Gringo Go Home!"

Today, we took a Bataan death march around Maracaibo in search of nourishment. More delicious arepas satisfied that need. People have been pretty receptive to the idea that there are girngos in their country, openly rooting for the US and A. This is good. I am predicting a 3-1 loss for our boys.

Argentine lineup is supposed to be: abbondonzieri, milito, ayala, heinze, zanetti, veron, cambiasso, mascherano, riquelme, messi and crespo. Mother. Of. God.

We are supposed to field: keller, wynne, demerit, conrad, bornstein, mapp, olsen, feilhaber, clark, twellman and johnson.

Come on usa - pull a portugal!

FWIW, I am going to attempt to make friendly contact with the ole ole ticket touts who are stationed in our lobby.
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Match tickets.

We successfully survived the flight from caracas to maracaibo and found a hotel room thanks to a tip from some fellow american fans.

We are currently trying to pick up the match tickets we purchased over the internets. The will call area at the stadium is reminiscent of the scenes from Blood Diamond where Dijimon Honsou's character is pounding on the fence of the refugee camp trying to locate his family. I have the sense that most people here, myself included, feel just as passionately about their match tickets.

There appear to be 2 ways to recover tickets. The first is by standing in highly unorthodox lines and walking up to what resembles a traditional box office. The alterntative, albeit more popular system, as it has been explained to me, works as follows: the people without the tickets smash up against the fence and the people with the tickets call out names in alphabetical order. Upon hearing your name called, you pass your confirmation printout through the fence and your tickets are passed over a barbwire fence to you. This "system" has resulted in people openly rooting for letters of the alphabet. The current fan favorite is letter "r". They are on D. I feel like I an embedded reporter right now. The safety of my toes is questionable.

I am very tempted to say this to a security guard: "Si un otro line para los gringos."
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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Hasta Luego Caracas

In a cab on the way back to the caracas airport right now with Roger, Kotas and Luis. We suffered our first casualty when Kotas's buddy bailed on the trip after he ran into some flight cancellation issues. Erin, I don't know you but you'll be missed.

Caracas is a pretty bustling city with people on the streets from sun-up to well after sun-down. After I spent the day exploring the sabana grande (central shopping area), I met up with the crew during the venezuela-bolivia game - after my experience with Mary.

Close to the airport, there are a couple of billboards that have mural-esqe pictures of Chavez that are definitely not election advertisements. Overall though, you do not see an overwhelming number of Chavez images or other indications of socialism. For instance, there is a healthy balance of luxury cars, new cars, middle-of-the-road cars and bona-fide hoopties. When there are blatant references to socialism, they stick out and I will let the pictures tell that story.

By far, the most annoying thing about Caracas is the altitude of the sidewalks. They are elevated nearly 1 foot over street level. They also have sudden drop-offs. When you are constantly distracted by the beautiful Venezuelan women, your toes are in constant danger of being stubbed. Its hostile on those streets.

Off to Maracaibo today! Not sure if we have a place to stay. The adventure continues.

Oh, and a shoutout to people leaving comments, wish you were all down here with us. I can't respond to the comments for some reason.
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Bolivars

Just paid a 47,229.07 bar tab. Just realized that I make 5.78 e8 bolivars per year. Woah.
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Please do not call me!

I keep getting phone calls. They cost me $5 a minute and I may not be in a place where I can hear you. Also, it is difficult to check voicemail. Entonces, please shoot me an email or a text. If it is urgent, ill call you as soon as I can. Now please return to your regularly scheduled tuesday evening. Gracias.
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Holy Shit.

So, I'm sitting in a bar in caracas watching the peru - uruguay match. I should start thsi by describing my attire, jeans, flip flops, amazing hair and a venezuela t-shirt that has the number 2 on the back along with the name "el gordo." I am keenly aware that it means "the fat guy". My other options were number 10 (el rey), number 8 (los 8 pulmones - which I think means the 8 lungs) and a host of other combinations that could not compare to "el gordo".

Anyway, people are looking at me and I think its either the amazing hair or the t-shirt. A lady, by the name of Mary, decided to approach me when she heard my spanglish. It is Mary's 38th birthday and I told her that she didn't look a day older than (cue lie machine) 28. Mary is a doctor here in caracas and has family in boston and miami and in my parents domiciliation of Weston, FL. That fact alone probably caused the conversation to go on longer than necessary. Mary told me that she had to go, but informed me that caracas is very dangerous and that I am probably going to die. Bollocks. She then recommended some clubs and informed me that Venezuelan girls are very pretty. So far, this conversation was full of facts that I already know. I mean, I did walk around all day with sunglasses on.

Mary then offered up some knowledge. I think b/c she knew that there was no way I was going to be her birthday present, she decided to either give me advice that may or may not get me killed. She told me to tell venezuelan girls "yo quiero cogerte". Pretty sure if I said that to a girl in any other part of he world in english, it would get me slapped and/or laughed at. (Flip, please translate in the comments). She also told me not to give girls money when they asked for it (pretty sure that gets you killed in other parts of the world) and that I should not touch paper that people give me because it probably has LSD on it.

Holy Shit.
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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

If you are reading this,

My ability to blog via crackberry is confirmed. Just touched down in caracas. There is a mexican sitting in the exit row in front of me who is absolutely incredulous of the idea that an american would leave his house to watch soccer, much less embark on a trip such as this.

I must go now. Time to get off the plane. I hope this proves to be the correct decision. I am encouraged by the fact that almost everyone I've encountered since I got to houston as approached me in spanish. I think that somehow means I am less likely to be sniper fodder.
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A little nervous

I'm sitting at Pappadeaux's at Houston International right now. Just ate a dinner of shrimp cocktail, blackened mahi mahi and cheesecake. All excellent.

I'd be lying if I did not admit that I have contemplated cancelling the trip over the last few hours. I have received many emails and calls alerting me to the new news reports coming from Venezuela and the apparent increase in tension between Washington and Caracas. After such consideration, I have decided that not going to Venezuela is, in the words of Mick, for pussies. If the US bhoys are there, ill be there supporting them.

Such aformentioned consideration revealed to me that I have never previously set foot in a country that is not capitalist. I have always blindly accepted that the market is the answer to all, so it will be enlightening too see a culture that is not designed to be capitalist to the hilt.

Anyway, the flight leaves in an hour. To George W. Bush, please do not do anything to get me killed. To anyone who may be hostile against my person, please don't hurt me. I am jolly and will buy you a beer. Godspeed.
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Monday, June 25, 2007

The trip is off to a solid start.

For no apparent reason, I bought a new phone.
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Campeones!

Pretty amazing stuff at Soldier Field (aka Azteca Norte) yesterday. After initially toying with Mexico, Benny Feilhaber's blaster of a volley solidified the US's position as the kings of Concacaf. Our crew consisted of Myself, Brian, Mick, Hans and several of Hans' buddies. We tailgated in the parking lot before the game and realized that the Mexicans outnumbered us by a ratio of at least 10 to 1. The Mexicans were very hopeful before the game and were generally very gracious opponents, even sharing their delicious tailgate tacos with us. Inside the stadium it was business as usual. If you watched on TV, you may have seen us unfurl the flag after each of our goals. We did that part in celebration and part for protection. Mexican fans in the sections above us hurled beer, soda and smoke bombs onto us. Never thought we would be capable of coming from behind, but the bhoys showed true heart and never stopped fighting. Not sure how Landon Donovan did not get names to the tournament's Best XI. He was the best player in the tournament for me.

After the game, we continued the tailgate for several hours. Some Mexican fans across from our parking spot had some jalapeno peppers they were grilling. Instead of a hot dog or a sausage, they would put a grilled pepper in a bun and eat it. One of the guys offered to funnel a beer if I ate a pepper. Being a good sport, I obliged. Rule Number 1 when handling jalapeno peppers: wash your hands before you touch your, er, sensitive parts. I vomited immediately after ingesting the pepper, much to the delight of the Mexicans. After I violated Rule Number 1, I basically had to relieve the burning by washing with beer. Not sweet.

Anyway, after the game, I'd say 80% of the Mexican fans took the loss in stride and acknowledge that the US is the true leader of CONCACAF. Still, some were pretty bitter and I definitely was spit upon by a few people. Good thing I got the Hepatitis B vaccine! For many Mexicans, and other immigrants, cheering for their country of origin is one of their ways of remaining connected to their past. That desire stirs up some pretty intense emotions because it is forced to compete with their want to connect to their new homes and the future. It is always heartwarming to see a Mexican family completely kitted out in El Tri's colors, and then to see the children openly rooting for the USA.

Hans definitely wet his bed toniight

T, t.  Amazing result in chicago.  Full report tomorrow.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Initial Report from Venezuela

A fellow BigSoccer poster is already on the ground in Venezuela. His initial report: Beer costs $0.40. Good Lord. You've seen the pictures when you mix me, soccer and beer when beer cost approx. $7 per. Anyone know how I get on a liver transplant list? I kid. I kid.

The Crew

So, thought I'd introduce you to the band of idiots that will be joining me for the trip down to Venezuela. We've got 5 in our group, plus we are meeting up with other US fans along the way. I basically posted our itinerary on a message board and said "Who's coming with us?" People from California, Texas, Minnesota and Colorado responded favorably so we should be meeting another 10-15 in Merida. All in all, I think we'll have around 40 US fans (aside from players' families) with us.

First off, we have Roger:




I met Roger in Germany last summer. He traveled over with Mike (as defined below) and was described as part of the Atlanta crew - though he's actually from San Jose / San Francisco. Roger enjoys long walks on the beach and Jagerbombs. His buddy Luis will also be with us.


Next, we have Mike:



I met Mike in Mexico in 2005. He led the Atlanta crew to Germany and did an amazing job planning and organizing a very well put together trip for 12 people. No small task. Mike is actually from the ATL. Mike's buddy Erin from Wisconsin will be joining us as well.

The Trip looks like this: USA --> Caracas --> Maracaibo --> Merida --> Barinas --> Barquisimieto --> Caracas --> USA. Very much excited. Leaving for el aeropuerto ahora!

Two Weeks, Two Tournaments

This Sunday, June 24, marks not only the anniversary of the best goal of world cup 2006, Maxi Rodriguez's cracker to knock out Mexico, it is also the final of the CONCACAF Gold Cup. For the uninitiated, CONCACAF is the Confederation of North, Central American and the Caribbean Association Football (I know, it really should be North and Central American - it just seems stupid the way it is). The Gold Cup is the biennial tournament where the members of CONCACAF compete for the regional crown. In the past, guest teams from other regions have been invited to provide for a more competitive environ since the US and Mexico are pretty much head and shoulders above the peer nations. However, this year the tournament has been limited to CONCACAF teams and that almost produced a championship matchup of Canada vs. Guadeloupe. Instead, we have the United States and Mexico.

For me, there could be no better matchup. I love watching the US play Mexico. The rivalry has evolved from one of quizzical neighborly battles to one full of sheer rancor and palpable vitriol. After the world cup qualified in September 2005, a Mexican journo asked Landon Donovan what he though of Mexico. His response: "They Suck." After the US defeated Mexico in a friendly in February of this year, Oswaldo Sanchez, the Mexican keeper had this to say about the US team "Chinguen a su madre." Basically, we hate them, and they hate us.

So, this Sunday, Gold Cup final - US vs. Mexico. Soldier Field will be the place to be. Hopefully, we make the Rats and Idiots cry again. I'll be there and this kicks off the two weeks of soccer that I will be living. I leave for Venezuela directly from Chicago.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Copa America 2007 Roster

After keeping us in the dark until the last possible second, Bob Bradley has announced the following roster for the Copa America. Bob Bradley is currently 9-0-1, yet much of the soccer community, and the sporting community at large, have been questioning his tactics and openly calling for his head. My guess is that this roster is not going to appease anyone:

U.S. Men's National Team
2007 Copa America Roster By Position
Goalkeepers (2) – Brad Guzan (Chivas USA), Kasey Keller (Borussia Moenchengladbach)

Defenders (8) РJonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), Bobby Boswell (D.C. United), Dan Califf (Aalborg BK), Jimmy Conrad (Kansas City Wizards), Jay DeMerit (Watford FC), Drew Moor (FC Dallas), Heath Pearce (FC Nordsjælland), Marvell Wynne (Toronto FC)

Midfielders (8) – Kyle Beckerman (Colorado Rapids), Ricardo Clark (Houston Dynamo), Benny Feilhaber (Hamburger SV), Eddie Gaven (Columbus Crew), Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA), Justin Mapp (Chicago Fire), Lee Nguyen (PSV Eindhoven), Ben Olsen (D.C.United)

Forwards (4) – Charlie Davies (Hammarby IF), Herculez Gomez (Colorado Rapids), Eddie Johnson (Kansas City Wizards), Taylor Twellman (New England Revolution)

Wow. Never thought I'd be disappointed to not see Landon Donovan's name on a roster.

I'm sure Argentina is trembling in their boots right now.

Monday, June 18, 2007

365 Days Later

Ahh, just a year ago we were drinking our days away in Deutschland, cheering on the stars and stripes in what amounted to a disappointing finish to the 2006 World Cup. Looking back on the trip, I am very grateful that I kept this blog as I probably would have lost so many of those memories to the drunken abysses that formed in my brain. All told, I spent just over four weeks on the road in three countries with many of my closest friends in tow. Along the way, we saw familiar faces and made new friends that will be involved in the shenanigans to come.

I know that I promised to update this blog with a reflection of my experience. I apologize for not doing it sooner, but four weeks of heavy drinking will generally leave you with a mean hangover, and I'm pretty sure mine lifted sometime last weekend after I saw the US defeat Panama in the 2007 Gold Cup Quarterfinals. Some might think that looking back on a trip like this would leave me with little worthwhile reflection given all of the tomfoolery that accompanies soccer and beer.

I disagree.

Through the bier-fueled lenses that focused my eyes, I saw the world come together to celebrate the sport that the world loves, during a time in which the world is as divided as it ever has been, at least if you're an American. I conversed with Dutch, Germans, Croatians, Swedes, Iraqis, Iraqi-Swedes, Persians, English, Trinidadi and Tobagoans, Argentinians, Brazilians, Ghanaians, Ukrainians, Ivorians, Irish, Spanish, Polish, Serbians, Czechs, Italians, Icelandicans, French, Aussies, Koreans, Canadians, Mexicans, Ticos, Left Coasters, Southerners, people from Jersey and even some Texans. The only people that I truly argued with were the French, and one thing is clear, the world hates the French more than they hate Americans.

I also came to know Germany. The Deutsche Bahn allowed us to criss-cross our way across the country to visit Dusseldorf, Gelsenkirchen, Berlin, Mainz, Kaiserslautern, Stuttgart, Munich, Nuremburg, Cologne, Hamburg, Frankfurt and Dortmund. One of the highlights of the trip was watching the Mannschaft's performance transform the prevailing German attitude from one of cynicism and unnatural self-loathing into pride and hope. A bitterly divided people united and proudly supported their national team with Germans from all walks of life singing and chanting to help Klinsi's boys to their surprise semifinal finish. The band, Sportfreunde Stiller, dominated the airwaves with their hit: '54, '74, '90, 2006 - which has now been changed to '54, '74, '90, 2010.

In Korea in 2002, the US Supporters section numbered up to 1000 people per match. In Germany, we had at least 5,000 people urging the Red, White and Blue on at each match. While the US bhoys appeared to regress in their capabilities shown in 2002, Sam's Army certainly did not. From the massive rally greeting passengers as they exited the DB station in Gelsenkirchen, to the city-encompassing streetfest in Kaiserslautern, to the march into the stadium in Nurmeburg, my fellow Americans demonstrated that they love soccer, beer and being loud as all hell - in other words, they are just like me.


I would be remiss if I did not spend a second waxing poetic on the actual play of the World Cup. As is typical of any big tournament, we saw brilliant performances (Argentina, Zidane against Brazil, Germany's impressive and youthful run, Luis Figo playing like the Luis Figo of 2001 and the impenetrable Italian defense), complete failures (the USA, Brazil, Zidane against Italy, and the officiating), several amazing goals (starting with Philip Lahm's opener, the crackers from Frings and Rosicky, the looping upper-90s from Joe Cole and Maxi Rodriquez, and the brilliant team goal scored by Cambiasso), the emergence of Lionel Messi, Lukas Podolski and Bastian Schweinsteiger, and who will ever forget Italy's late win over Germany in the semifinal and Zidane's moment of lunacy in the Final.

In all, the highlights of the 2006 World Cup trip for me were:
  • German people and German Bier.

  • Irish Car Bombs. 3 car bombs, no, make that 5 car bombs, i mean 8, fuck it, 15 car bombs - This interchange occurred in Nuremburg, between myself and the bartender at O'Shea's. I looked around and saw more and more friends and realized that we all needed car bombs. Getting to go on a trip like this was pretty special, but getting to do it with my closest friends made it that much more so.


  • Red Hot Chili Peppers in the backwoods of Berlin.


  • Schlemmer Pavillion.

  • Not working. The trip started out with a bang as I left my old firm. What a great feeling to be free from the trappings of reality for four weeks. The complete lack of responsibility let me focus on the two most important things at a World Cup - partying and soccer.
Oh yeah, I also promised pictures. Check them out here: