World Cup – Bay Area Tour continues . . .

Tuesday noon
Brazil vs. Croatia
Triple Rock Brewery, Berkeley

“Five bucks. And it’s standing room only,” said the bearded guy in an aloha shirt, collecting the money in a pizza box. Even though I lived down the street from Nino’s Brazilian Pizza on MLK Way for a few years, I’d never been there. (Neither did I know that Brazilians were famous for pizza.) No, he wasn’t going to take credit card.

I had (1) just come from an interview at the Berkeley BART station over coffee, which was now overwhelming my bladder, and (2) had only $3.25 left over in change from the aforementioned coffee.

As I headed back to Shattuck Ave. for the ATM, I said ‘screw it’, and headed over to Triple Rock instead. I snagged a seat at the bar. The joint was pretty full, 2/3 fans, 1/3 lunch eaters, mostly young and middle aged men, Americans. There was a sprinkling of women. I ordered a 10 oz hefeweizen from the half dozen beers they carry on tap, which cost exactly $3.25 (Take that, Nino!) I rejected the 8 oz pour for being too little!
TV sets were mounted high up in the front room, so we all watched the game facing the door and windows, under the skylights, on ESPN. The back room was darker, and as we found out later, had the TV sets on the Spanish channel. “What are they cheering back there?” Three seconds later, Brazil scored on ESPN. Apparently, the feed between the two is through different media, and arrives at different speeds!
Overheard: “What’s with the picnic tablecloth uniforms?” (Croatia’s flag features an expanse of red-and-white checkerboard.)

Thursday noon
Sweden vs. Paraguay
Luka’s Tap Room and Lounge, Oakland
Two weeks ago, I had passed up lunching at Luka’s when I spied “Louisiana Fried Chicken” on my way there. Today, any place with a TV screen (even with ESPN) was going to have an advantage. Luka’s had a long bar, with windows parallel. I walked up and down the aisle to see which seat would provide optimal viewing for the mounted TV screens.
“Can I help you?” asked the host.
“I’m trying to see which TV has the least glare for watching the World Cup.”
“Oh, why don’t we go in here.” There was a back room with a projector and a large pull-down screen. It was windowless, with large paper globe lanterns, to provide just illumination to see the menu. It serves as the dance floor for Friday and Saturday nights.

I ordered a fried catfish sandwich and fries. It would have gone beautifully with beer, but unfortunately, they only poured pints. Even though I was contracting, I would have felt funny going back to my desk at the transit agency with alcohol in my system. The bread had been so heavily buttered; I wished I had not substituted the fries for the designated side of green salad. The catfish was very good. The fries were OK. Sparse crowd, a few women. Most left after lunch, at half time, as did I. I had a lot work to do that afternoon. Of course, the first half was scoreless. Back at my desk, I was really drowsy, even without the beer, and morosely checked the score online. Sweden had scored towards the end of the game. Figures.

Friday morning:
Argentina vs. Serbia-Montenegro
OK, I’m jumping on Argentina bandwagon, since Brazil doesn’t look unbeatable. And it’s not purely because they played a blowout game, more a NFL score of a touchdown sans 1-point kick conversion. Unfortunately for Serbia-Montenegro, it wasn’t batting in the top of the innings, otherwise, they might have said, “Let’s just get out of here now, and head for the showers” at the say, the 78th minute (4-0).
The second goal, where one player (Crespo?) kicks the ball backwards behind him, back to his teammate (Cambiasso?), who puts it in. “Look Ma, no hands!” is what won my futbol heart.

Friday noon.
Mexico vs. Angola
Futbol, Antojitos y Mas, Alma St., San Jose
Univision, and a Mexico channel feed.
I almost parked on-street on the western edge of the San Jose DMV, until I noticed the “Street cleaning, 3rd Friday, No parking 1 PM – 3 PM.” The other side of the street had street cleaning from 11 AM – 2 PM. I toddled along to the north edge, where there was still a shady spot. A green pick-up truck pulls into the suspect space I just left.
All the seats were completely taken, including the bench where people usually waiting for take-out were in for the long haul. A sea of green shirted men, the ceiling fans whirl slowly, and the noise vibrates lively over a floor painted green with soccer pitch markings. A table with a family and two kids in the center: the parents had come prepared with crayons and paper. Ice buckets of beer, and Clamato-laced margaritas were flowing freely.
I stood at the back by the cash register. A chubby, American-born Latina was perched on a bar-stool, nursing a Pacifico, yakking with her friend about clubbing in Mountain View. “We always end up at the Monte Carlo!” After about 10 minutes of this, I got kinda annoyed, and stepped over to the other side of La Gordita, closer to the big screen, which featured the Mexico channel feed. (During half time, it featured presidential election campaign commercials.) The rest of the TV’s mounted up the ceiling featured the local Univision broadcast. Interestingly, the Coke commercials produced for the Mexico market are different from the Coke commercials seen on Spanish-language TV in the US.
Someone offered me a bar stool, which I positioned in front of a column, so that I could lean back. The advantages of being a woman, maybe a foreign, woman alone, at that. There were about 15% women in the crowd.
Soon, I settled in with a Modelo and two tacos: al pastor and carne. I recommend the al pastor without reservation; but the carne was basically ground beef cooked up. They don’t have agua frescas, but they have licuados, which are fruit smoothies. One comes in banana-oatmeal flavor. Hmmm . . . .
In the second half, a clutch of twenty-something Asians came in for standing-room-only. Much like me, they’d heard about ‘FAyM’ in the Mercury News, and decided to come in for lunch, even if they didn’t know much about soccer: “So how many games do each pair play before elimination?” A group of Anglo grade-school AYSOer’s come in, complete with green, red, and white Cat-in-the-Hat headgear. They sit on the floor in a gap left from tables pushed together, heads craned up at the TV screens. Their dad stands outside the door by parking lot, because there’s no space left. Nothing’s gonna happen to kids in a Mexican restaurant anyway.
The Channel 44 (Telemundo) cameraman was there to catch the local flavor and excitement, but alas, the Angola tied Mexico to a scoreless game. For La Raza, who expected a win, this was tantamount to a loss (like the Sweden-T&T match.) I didn’t get to experience the crowd erupt over ‘GOOOLLLLLLLLLLL!’
After the game, I pass the green truck on my way back to my car. There’s a white envelop on its the windshield. Sucka!

Saturday 9 AM.
Amate Restaurant, Mountain View and Los Altos Garden Supply, Los Altos
Ghana vs. Czech Republic
I used to think that having TVs in eating establishments (as opposed to bars where one primarily drinks, with the food being a secondary consideration) was just another harbinger of the end of civilization as we know it. “You’re supposed to have a conversation and interact with those you’re dining with, not just glue your attention to the tube!” But with World Cup, I have eased up on that theory. Now, I look around greedily for the idiot box of any restaurant I walk into!

A new Mexican restaurant had opened in the spot where a pizza parlor and two Indian buffets had failed. “They have chilaquiles for breakfast,” Joe said excitedly, having checked out the menu after he left his gym in the same strip mall.
I figured I could give the game a miss to try ‘Nuevo Cocina Mexicana’ breakfast at a new place. We were the only ones in there, and opted to sit outside. Until Joe noticed, “Oh they have a little portable TV on the counter with the game on.”
So we moved back inside. Ghana had already scored 1-0. I thought that was just a fluke.
We got gas, and found the game on 1170 AM. Then we headed to the Los Altos Garden Supply for a bag of sulphur. By, gum, they even had a TV tuned into Univision up on shelf above the bags of fertilizer, so the clerks at the counter could watch the game. That’s where I saw Ghana clinch the second goal.

Saturday noon
The Englander, San Leandro
Italy vs. USA
Michelle and I were supposed to have caught the Germany-Costa Rica opener, but she had to go to a meeting. During the USA-Czech Game, she was still on jury duty.
The third try was the charm. “I’m going to be torn,’ said Michelle. On one hand, she’s American. On the other hand, she’s a die-hard AC Milan fan, and schedules her trips to Italy to catch as many of their games as possible. She plays soccer recreationally.
She got there earlier at 11:30 to snag a seat, but I got there late. When I walked in all the shades were drawn, and I couldn’t find her in the three big rooms crowded with Team USA fans. It was as dark as a high school auditorium with a film being shown. I had to go out and find a pay-phone to call her (which takes a good ten minutes). “What are you wearing? Where are you sitting?”
“I’m wearing a blue shirt,” she answered on her cell phone. “In front of the big screen.”
She was wearing a blue Azzuri shirt. “See, Nesto,” she said proudly, twisting to show off the back. But she had a USA flag headband!
She’d polished off her fish and chips. “They brought me an extra beer, you can have it,” she said generously. It was light and wheaty, perfect for a hot day. There were two other men sitting at out table, and one was obstructing our view of the big screen (He sat facing a smaller screen in the opposite direction.) Maybe it had been his beer I’d taken, but he didn’t say anything. He left at half time.

Interestingly enough, the Englander provides the World Cup feed from Ontario, Canada. There were ads for BMO, and Canuck fast food chains. Actually, the buzz of the in-room crowd was so loud; we couldn’t really hear the sportscasters anyway. Michelle and I had to lean in to carry on our conversations.

I wasn’t very hungry, the huevos rancheros I had for breakfast were very filling. But the Englander’s menu looked very enticing.

The game: what can I say? Nothing in it was anything I could have predicted. A tie. An own-goal. 9 men playing 10. A bloody eye. It was crazy, it was ugly, but at least the US got its spunk back. But golly, I wish/hope they’d score at least once, on their own merit, in this World Cup. I hope Brian Ching gets some playing time against Ghana.

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