Thursday, July 10, 2014

A lesson in Surrealism Day 3

Today we face Germany to decide our fate in the group. When I awake it is to the sound of rain. Not just any rain though. It's the kind of rain that makes you wonder if a boat with giraffes is about to cruise past the window. This poses a problem because, true to FIFA form, the stadium is so far out in the middle of nowhere that just getting to the gates is a half-day ordeal, and we have the early game.


Last night the majority of our group had made their way to an area high up on the hill overlooking the old area of town in which we are living. With a couple of highly touted restaurants, it was this area that we had been making our way to when the blackout happened. While the rest of the guys had agreed to take another van to the game with the same group that had taken us to the beach, Johnny and I decided that it would be much less expensive and perhaps more reliable if we took the train which had a direct run to the stadium. Our guide in the van the previous day had informed us that the train was a very dangerous and taking it anywhere was not advised. He had also told us that our driver was taking the van to the mechanic to avoid any potential "malfunctions". Allow me to clear my throat...bullshit. 0-1 record for those yahoos, we will take our chances on the train. Besides, Johnny speaks Portuguese, we will be dressed in our flags thereby sticking out like sore thumbs and as I had said before, security on game days is tight everywhere.

So at about 7am Johnny and I depart the house and make our way down the hill toward the hostel to pick up Bryce and Leo. The rain is coming down in buckets and the cobblestone streets are slick so we make our way as quickly as we can. The runoff from the top of the hill looks like a river coming down beside us.
When we get to the hostel there is a lot of commotion. Numerous people are waiting in the lobby trying to decide what they should do. Take the "scary" train? Take cab's? Will the cab's even make it? I make my way to the back of the hostel and help myself to a cup of coffee. This is going to be a necessity today. On my way back to the front people are lining the hallway dressed in all variety of rain gear. Some have full-on parka's made for just this monsoon type downpour. Some are adorned with garbage bags with holes cut in them for the head and arms. I am wearing what I always wear to games, add one completely useless light nylon jacket. To the front, we are ready and our group is now 6 as Shelby and Polly, 2 girls that Bryce and Leo befriended, have chosen to join us. We make our way back out into the street looking for taxi that will take us to the train station. There are 2 cabs in front of the hostel but they refuse to take us to the train, it's either stadium or bust for those guys. Considering the fare that they would garner for that trip I don't exactly blame them, but this leaves us with few options. We decide we will wade up to the corner and grab taxis to the train station from there.

We know that we will need 2 cabs for 6 people so Johnny, Leo and I grab one and the other 3 take another. This would have been all good and fine considering what was about to unfold had Johnny taken his ticket from Bryce...but he had not.
The other 3 speed away in their cab and ours pulls in behind them when all of a sudden there is an oddly familiar vibration in this car. Our driver begins to make his way right towards another taxi stop about a mile from where we had started. He pulls in, exits the vehicle and sure enough, his right rear tire was as flat as could be so he must leave us right where we are.  Our friends have no idea that we are not behind them and the rain is still coming down, but now we are again on foot. In terms of transportation, Recife is proving to be a test of our fortitude. We run to the far end of the taxi line and there is nothing. We make our way up to the corner of the street and look down...nothing. From our right, up the hill, a cop car chirps it's siren at us and makes it's way down the hill pulling up to the sidewalk in front of us. They ask us what we are doing here in the rain and we tell them the story of the previous cab. We ask where the best place to catch another might be and they point to the other side of the completely empty taxi stop. We say thank you and begin sprinting in that direction, make our way to the end and look back up that road... nothing. Fuck! Behind us we hear the siren chirp again. They have followed us to the other side. The officer in the passenger seat slowly rolls his window down and motions for us to approach the vehicle. 
At this point we are at wits end. This part of the trip has been a complete disaster in terms getting around. Now we seem to be getting hassled by the cops for what? Being American soccer fans, stuck in the rain? 
In the airport I remember seeing a promotion that read, "The only thing Brazilians love more than soccer? People!" The po-po tell us to get in the car, so we do. They then tell us that they are going to the stadium so sit back and relax, they will take us with them.


Now, I am not sure how to accurately describe how I felt at that moment. The rain and flooding was, at first, laughable. It then turned very quickly into an incredible annoyance which parlayed into an intense fear that we might get stranded right there on the corner of that taxi stop. Just moments later we are being given a ride to the stadium, which is at least 30-45mins away with no traffic or weather issues, in a police car equipped with lights and sirens and cotton candy and a Farris wheel, and guns. This is so unreal that I can't help but pinch myself. I mean I've been taking malaria pills and they are known to cause some really weird, lucid dreams (which they do by the way). So perhaps I am still sleeping on my pad, getting sucked dry by the mosquitoes and all other form of man-eating bugs I've been sharing space with the past 2 days. Nope, its real. All too real, as we realize at that moment that Johnny doesn't have his ticket. Bryce has it and he is en route to the train station and Pele isn't driving the cop car. We are forced to kindly decline the 1st class ride to the stadium and opt for a ride to the train station instead.


Sorry to be the bearer of bad news boys, but the train station is not on our way. We are going to have to drop you off at that gas station back there where you can try to get another taxi.
I didn't want to be rude so I had to swallow the 5 min long expletive explosion that was teetering perilously off the end of my tongue.
Pulling into the gas station the cops get out and approach the 1st cab thats sitting at one of the pumps. The driver is chatting up one of the lady gas pumpers oblivious to the approaching officer. All the gas pumpers I've seen in Brazil have been ladies... both of them. The cop tells him these here red, white and blue hooligans need to get to the train station, and he is going to take us. The cabbie agrees at first but then balks and says we it is obvious that we are soaking wet and this will completely ruin the splintered naughyde interior of his broken down jalopy. The officer hears his objection and then counters with a rebuttal.
The 2 officers begin to remove their personal rain ponchos, cut them with their knives and lay them across the seats of El Hoopty. The senior of the 2 of them then looks at the cabbie and say's, "now you will take them". He had a dry smile that made me believe our newest charioteer, if he knew what was good for him, had likely attempt to avoid being seen by either of these officers again for worry of finding out they were also practicing proctologists. We depart post haste. But not before a photo op!


As we fly away from the gas station the icing on the cake is applied. Leo and I are in the back seat and Johnny rides shotgun. He takes from a plastic bag 3 tall boys of Schin, cracks them open and passes them out. I look at my crispy-cold trophy with delight and begin to see daylight at the far end of the tunnel when Leo drops this little bomb-shell. "Dude, we were just at the gas station and look at his gauge." All too aware of what is coming next I raise my gaze over the drivers shoulder and see that, in fact, we are driving through the Recife river in a boat fresh out of petrol. Silently I look at both Johnny and Leo, they look back. No words are necessary. We shrug our shoulders, sit back and start drinking breakfast.


Upon our arrival at the train station we find the remaining 3 and tell them our rather unbelievable story as we clamor up to the ticket window and purchase our $1 ticket to certain death. Make our way to the crest of the escalator leading down to the platform. Our gaze is met with the sight of hundreds of others daring enough to take the train. Very few of them are looking shady and dangerous with their eyes hiding under the brims of baseball caps covered by hoodies.
I am thinking if anything this is going to be more like the time Brett and I bought tickets to see Germany play Sweden in the 2nd round of the '06 Cup in Munich. There were so many people trying to catch the trains to the stadium that day, we moved inches at a time as train after train entered and left the station.
Today was much more efficient, or the Brazilians are just that much better at cramming that many more people on a train. Either way we had made it. There was no stopping us now! The train ride was a good 45 minutes so we talked and joked. Looked out the windows as the rain-soaked hill sides and favelas cruised by. Shelby was offered a shot of what we could only assume to be Cachaca by 2 already in the bag young men with bloodshot eyes and ratty clothes. She declined, but thanked them. It was tempting I'm sure. We don't know for sure if it was Cachaca as it was being pulled from a plastic bottle once filled with water. The liquid was now a yellowish substance, slightly cloudy and certainly potent as the swigs these guys took were unusually small for pre-noon spirits drinkers. Very kind of them to offer though. If I'd had something solid for breakfast prior to our swim to the train station I may have taken a walk on the wild side and tried the stuff. As they say, you only live once, but you can have your stomach pumped several times.

We depart the train and board the bus. We drive another 5-10 minutes before being dropped off at a spot that is sure to allow us a solid 1/2 mile walk to the stadium. FIFA doesn't want people thinking that spectators don't deserve a little forced fitness on game days. The road we took wasn't paved with yellow bricks, but we just love the magical place we are headed!

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