Sunday, April 23, 2017

[D.C. Untied 2.6] New York Red Bulls vs D.C. United, April 15, 2017

Games at Red Bull Arena are the best away games. Everything is heightened--the hope of getting a win, the hatred of the opponent, the comradeship. It may have been Easter weekend but there was no way in hell I was missing the opening game of Atlantic Cup 2017.

My game day began early, on Friday afternoon, when I boarded the Greyhound bus out of Union Station. First stop, New York! Well, eventual stop, New York. Traffic delay upon traffic delay meant that I arrived nearly an hour after the scheduled arrival time. “Where is everybody going?!” I texted angrily. “I mean I know where I’m going but where is everybody else going and why can’t they stay home?!”

But despite the inability of our transit infrastructure to handle the holiday weekend crowds--there were apparently also delays coming into Penn Station thanks to a downed train--the travel gods were with me and the bus inched into the Port Authority station with just enough time for me to meet Bosh, speed walk to the John Golden Theater, race to the bathroom in the theater, and be seated as the curtains rose on A Doll’s House Part 2.

Maybe it was because I had no expectations other than to be taken out of myself for a moment--I’m not a regular theater-goer and I didn’t know anything about the play except that it was a sequel to Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and starred Laurie Metcalf from Roseanne--but I was blown away. The play went 90 minutes right through with no intermission and Laurie Metcalf was on stage killing it the entire time. She had the only 90 minute mentality I would see all weekend.

One of my favorite parts of traveling is getting to spend time with people I don’t usually see and talk about things I don’t usually talk about and Friday night was no exception. I had a blast pretending to a Bourbon Bastard at a whiskey bar with Bosh and picking apart the show, deep diving into the audience reactions, the direction, the annoying guy with the garlic breath sitting behind us.

From there we went to see my dear old friend Bastard Keith who was performing at the Slipper Room, emceeing the burlesque show. I love watching him work a crowd. He can handle hecklers of all sorts from drunk woo-girls to obnoxious old men and can quip his way out of almost any awkward situation with a charming élan. And the dancers, as always, were spectacular. An incredibly drunk girl gave me her cat ear headband to try on and then disappeared.

I promised to visit again soon.

(Pouty--and very tired--Lower East Side FG)

Saturday. Game Day.

After a few very happy hours browsing through the Japanese bookstore Kinokuniya at Bryant Park--my favorite section is the books on America and Americans in Japanese--I was planning to take the PATH train from the World Trade Center station to Harrison, New Jersey and walk to every visiting D.C. United fan’s home away from home in Harrison, O’Donnell’s Pub.

The supporters who had taken the buses up from RFK that day were scheduled to arrive at O’Donnell’s around 4:30 but the traffic between New York and D.C. was still terrible and the arrival time for the supporters pushed back further and further. Would they even make the game at this rate?!

I didn’t particularly want to sit around O’Donnell’s on my own so I decided to do a little sightseeing around the World Trade Center aka Ground Zero. After exiting through the Oculus, vaulted white ceilings a THX-1138-esque cathedral to commerce, and following some confusing signage through a maze of upscale retail shopping options, I emerged about a block away from the National September 11 Memorial.

From a distance the Memorial, which is located in an open plaza at the foot of the ominous silvery behemoth that is One World Trade Center, looks like it might be a reflecting pool, bordered by the names of the dead, capturing the sky and the surrounding skyline in a solemn tribute to all those who fell. As I walked closer I realized the “pool” was actually a giant pit and rather than reflecting the skyline the water tumbles down, down, down 30 feet into the ground and then it falls even further into a second pit, straight down into the depths of Hell.

Why the fuck were we condemning the dead to this empty void? What does it say about our society that we’ve fetishized and are literally memorializing the trauma of the attack?

I’m not sure how to describe the feeling that overtook me walking around the Memorial. Sadness but also frustration and rage at our collective national impotence to stop the horrors unleashed by the terrorist attack. How many thousands died in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen using these names carved into the Memorial as an excuse? How many thousands will die in the ongoing conflicts? The dust from the bodies cremated in the attack still lingers sixteen years later.

I felt sick to my stomach.

I am never going back there.

To get to Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, from New York City requires taking New Jersey commuter rail, PATH. The trip is about half an hour and costs $3, cheaper and faster than D.C.’s Metro. Plus one, Red Bulls.

Shaking off the lingering unease from my Ground Zero experience, I found a handful Red Bulls fans on the crowded platform and faux-casually stood right behind them. My D.C. United jersey and scarf were carefully tucked away in my purse. I wasn’t looking for trouble, just curious. Who were these fans of the least pleasant team in the league? Did they approve of Felipe’s asshole-ishness? How could they take Sacha Kljestan seriously with that ridiculous porn-stache?

Alas, my eavesdropping was for naught. One of the Red Bulls fans, a nerdy looking black guy, spent the entire ride wailing on a Gem Drop-style iPad game and the others, early 30ish middle class white people, discussing a mutual friend’s birthday party. For boring fans, minus one, Red Bulls.

The day had turned grey, making Harrison look even more like a post-industrial hellscape than usual. Red Bull Arena is visible from the PATH station but fans must still walk through what feels like an eternally half-finished construction site, a creepy Stepford Wives style “luxury” townhouse development plopped into the working class town, and a massive gravel parking lot to get to the entrance.

The fans I’d been following turned towards the stadium. I walked in the other direction towards O’Donnell’s.

Away from the 21st century developmental detritus surrounding the stadium, the town swiftly turns back into a classic East Coast “townie” neighborhood, like South Boston or Watertown, Massachusetts. I passed by a shopping center with a plain looking grocery store and what seemed to be a Spanish-language church. The houses were modest, row houses built right up against the sidewalk. A few had Easter decorations--bunnies and chickens-- in the window. There was nobody outside except a couple of bored looking cops in the intersection, presumably there to direct game day traffic.

I hadn’t heard anything from the Screaming Eagles bus since the last update putting them an hour behind schedule but as I walked down Harrison Street towards O’Donnell’s I spotted some familiar looking silhouettes standing around smoking… the Barra Brava had arrived! Now the party could start!

O’Donnell’s is an It’s Always Sunny-esque cash-only Irish pub. No frills; no speciality house cocktail; no need to put on airs. The bar was already packed full of Barra decked out in black and red. I said hello and quickly put on my own game day gear--my signed Jared Jeffrey jersey and a District Ultras scarf.

Perhaps I didn’t quite look like I fit in--at first glance I appear as nothing more than an innocuous, 30-something white lady--and I happened to end up sitting beside a table of dweeby white people on their way to the Red Bull game. They weren’t fans, just people who had purchased tickets to the game. And they thought supporter culture was hilarious. “So, do they have, like cheers and stuff?” One of the women asked the group. “What if I just want to watch the ‘sportsball’?”

I stood up and walked outside, blood boiling, before I did anything stupid. It wasn’t worth getting into an argument with them but I was furious. Smug yuppies. They wouldn’t know what passion was even if David Villa lobbed it at them from 50 yards out. Passion for them was getting an extra scoop of sour cream on their Chipotle or watching “just one more” episode of Game of Thrones.

But finally--finally--we see the Screaming Eagles bus pull up. Relieved supporters, already plenty of beers deep, poured out and into O’Donnell’s. Not quite all of the usual Away Game Gang were there but enough that it felt like a party. The brewery tour ladies were reunited, a handful of Ultras, some Eagles I hadn’t really talked with before. The Easter weekend holiday had pared the supporter group to just the most hardcore away game travelers, folk with no family obligations for Easter, and/or both.

None the (excellent) drummers from District Ultras-La Norte had made the trip but the Barra had brought a couple of drums and a larger and larger group collected outside as their drummers warmed up and we ran through the repertoire. We only had about half an hour until it was time to march!

The classic call-and-response: “D.C. United! (Fuck the Red Bulls!)

An up tempo get-hyped rendition: “Vamos, vamos United! Esta no-che, Tenemos que ganaaaaaaar…! (D.C.!)

And more location specific cheers.

To the tune of the 1982 Madness hit: “Our house. In the Middle of Jersey.

In a conga style: “Jersey smells like Jersey! Jersey smells like Jersey!

All fatigue fell away as I got swept up in the building excitement. There really is nothing like coming to Red Bull Arena. Somebody passed out flags and then we were off!

This is what the table of smug yuppies--by nature narcissistic, as all smug yuppies are--will never understand. Being able to let go of all the stupid shit that marks class and status--what brands are you wearing, what college did you go to, did you go to college--and melt into a crowd of your fellow fans, sinking into the intoxication of pride, anticipation, and beer. We are United.

Rolling up to Red Bull Arena, the parking lot looks empty. A handful of Red Bull fans call out their (pathetic) reply to the “D.C. United” chant--inserting “sucks” after “D.C.”--and we get a few (perfectly acceptable) birds flipped in our general direction, including from a tiny girl in a Red Bulls jersey who is now the one Red Bull fan that I approve of.

Up the stairs and into the away fans section, self-segregated by supporter group. Eagles on one side of the divider; Barra on the other. A handful of Ultras lurking towards the back. A couple of incredibly drunk folk weaving between all three groups.

Red Bull Arena felt empty, except for the home supporters section opposite us. Some (pathetic) Red Bull fan held up small hand-lettered sign that read, “You’re Scum.” Clever.

And then kick-off!

And… the less said about the game itself the better. The first half was a muddy grind, United not creating anything but not letting the Red Bulls create anything either. There was an air of frustration in the stadium as we went into halftime 0-0, a frustration extended to the away fans section thanks to some unintentionally asynchronous drumming.

0-0 was reasonably the best we could hope for coming out of this game. With Mullins and Nyarko out injured and a sieve for a midfield, unless we got a miracle goal coming from a huge Red Bull blunder or managed to convert a corner, we weren’t going to be scoring.

And then the second half started, asynchronous drumming and all.

Seconds later Red Bull score and the game was over.

Oh, there were some limp chances. A piddly Sam attempt in the 70th minute. Striker Birnbaum making a reappearance. But the damage was done. The second Red Bull goal was merely icing on the shit cake we were eating.

Then something even worse. Birnbaum collapses after a D.C. corner in stoppage time. He’d taken a knock to the head. They stretcher him off and Opare is subbed in for the remaining minutes. The whistle is blown before the stoppage time has run but it’s a mercy killing.

And it’s back on the bus for us. Laurie, who earned the title Queen of the Bus Ride, pulls out her reserve case of beer and passes them around. The mood is subdued but not despondent and the beer works quickly. The back of the bus flips a rousing chorus of “We don’t have to live here!” to making fun of Doug, who took a giant shit on the way up, the after effects of which continue to pollute the air near the bathroom.

I ate the buns I’d bought at the cafe at the Japanese book store and put in my headphones. Dozing to the sounds of ABC座2016 株式会社応援屋, a stage play about a company formed to cheer people on. It’s not easy what we do and it comes with plenty of heartbreak and frustration… but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

(Drunk Girl Cat Ears!)

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