It’s been a rather low-key week since my return from St. Louis, with much good socializing and getting-to-know fellows. Plus, it seems this week a sense of routine might finally have settled in, and I’m beginning to realize this isn’t exactly vacation. This is where our life is now. Friday night, Chris and I met up with some of the fellows at a bar called Conor O’Neil’s where we sat outside and ate some appetizers amidst throngs of Penn State thugs who had descended on the town for today’s football game. Occasionally, people walked or drove past the pub, noticed the crowd of Penn State fans and yelled out “We are.” In response, the goombas sitting near us all stood up and bellowed “Penn State!” I mean, really. This is their cheer? Identifying themselves?
Then we walked over to The State Theater and saw Junebug, an interesting little flick that I can’t decide whether or not I liked. We did get to have coffee after the show with Graham, Rainey and Luis Venker (the editor from Buenos Aires). It was really the first opportunity I’ve had to sit down with Luis and try to communicate. His English has become so much stronger, my Spanish is still virtually non-existent.
We talked, among other things, about sports fanaticism and he expressed surprise that the Penn State fans would walk around with their team shirts on. In Argentina, he said, if there is a soccer match scheduled with Brazil, fans of the latter don’t dare identify themselves in public. “What happens if they do?” I asked. “They get killed,” Luis said. Since I’ve arrived here, countless people have told me that I simply “have to” experience at least one Michigan football game. I’m absolutely perplexed as to why. “There’s nothing like it,” one person said, in an attempt to convince me. Yeah, well, I bet there’s nothing quite like electrocution but I’m not gunning to check it out, either.
It reminds me of the fact that I don’t like sushi. That is, when you tell people you don’t like sushi, they don’t believe you. They assume you haven’t tried it (which I have, many times) or you just haven’t tried it at the right place. Sushi lovers cannot accept your failure to see things their way; they are culinary evangelists.
Similarly, people can’t accept the fact that I hate a) football, b) crowds and c) our nation’s absolutely ridiculous obsession with sporting events. They still want me to go. And, for some reason – perhaps all of my resolve was in the tooth I had removed – I agreed to accompany Chris to this week’s match with Penn State.
I should note that I still didn’t get why I should go. (Another person said to me, “I’ve never seen so much yellow and blue in one place.” Now, see, that doesn’t sound to me like a reason to go somewhere. More like a reason not to go somewhere….) But I agreed that if everyone thought I should, maybe I was missing something. Thus, around 2 o’clock today, Chris and I ventured out from our house to walk the mile or so over to the stadium.
Within blocks of our house, we found ourselves marching in step with Wolverine fans, all decked out in the team’s unfortunate colors. We passed the high school field on our right, where tailgaters had been occupying coveted space since early the previous evening. The crowd grew thicker on either side of Stadium Boulevard. People were jostling now, pushing past one another with beer bottles or plastic cups of bottles.
As we gathered at the intersection of Stadium and Main, police officers used whistles and a loudspeaker to bring traffic to halt and to let us lemmings cross en masse. Next to me, some young men were grunting out unidentifiable guttural sounds. People became completely indistinguishable from one another.
Yes, there was energy in the air but it didn’t strike me as particularly positive energy, tinged as it was with possibility. Yes, there is something to behold in the collective conscious of so many people gathered in any one place, for any purpose. But all these people – the stadium seats 110,000 – were pushing forward for what? A football game? I paused on the far side of the road, right outside the entrance to the stadium and just watched the next wave of people waiting their turn to cross. And I thought: I hate this. I truly, completely hate this.
Sometimes, the universe hands you a gift. And in my case, my gift was the combination of my ignorance of stadium policy and the fact that my purse measured more than five inches by eight inches. I was refused entry by a man pushing 80, who used a protractor-like plastic guide to illustrate to me exactly how out of bounds my purse – bulging with, of course, sun screen, reading material, an apple, etc. – was. Chris’ face fell. “Oh, man,” he said. The relief I felt was indescribable. “No,” I said bravely. “You must go in. The fellows…they’re counting on you.” “But…” he stammered. “I can’t possibly go in without you.” “Oh, yes,” I said. “Yes, you can. Be brave. Be strong!”
And with that, Chris entered the stadium and I turned around and faced the task of crossing the road in the opposite direction of hundreds of Michigan football fans. I bobbed and wove my way across the street, the flickers of yellow and blue making me dizzy as I went. It took me one block, then two and finally three blocks towards our house before the crowd died down and the sidewalk opened up and I felt completely free. You know, the way you do when you have a beautiful Saturday on your hands and you get to spend it any way you want to.