Something crazy always happens when I’m in Columbus for US-Mexico.
In 2005, it was the atmosphere and the shots with the Mexicans. In 2009, it began with the weather and ended with a cab driver who decided there was no way I was missing this game.
The night before
“FUCK!!!!!!!!!!” I punched the roof of my car hard enough my hand hurt.
“You forgot the tickets, didn’t you,” said my girlfriend as she laughed at me.
We were half-way between Chicago and Indianapolis, planning to stay at my friend’s house in Indy that night before heading to Columbus for the tailgate the next day.
I sat in angry silence for the next several minutes as I flew down the next exit ramp, peeled out, turned onto the return ramp and headed northbound. Finally realizing how truly mad I was, she suggested we just buy new tickets when we got there.
“It’s sold out.”
“Well, somebody should have tickets…”
“Probably. But maybe not to the section we’re sitting in.”
Up early the next morning, tickets triply checked (at least), we headed east again. During the night, a storm front had passed through, which we ran into just southeast of Chicago. And drove through the rest of the way.
A seven-hour trip took 10. There were stops under overpasses, a run into a Sears for wiper blades, an hour or more driving 20 mph or less. At times, the rain was so hard that the wipers cleared nothing. Literally, the sheets of pounding water were so heavy that the wipers would go by and the water behind them would be just as thick as the water in front of them.
Then we hit Columbus.
About 10 miles from the city, everything cleared. The setting sun turned the skyline golden. I swear there was a rainbow that arched over the entire city. It was beautiful. It had to be a sign, right?
We checked into our hotel, called a cab and did our customary good luck shot of tequila in the bar while we waited. (See 2005 for why.)
In the meantime, the skies opened up. Between that and the game, traffic in the city was at a standstill. The cab driver asked where we were going and said, “Oooooh… That’s gonna be hard.”
He was an immigrant, I forget from which Middle Eastern country, but he loved soccer too. So he had lots of questions for me about Americans and soccer. Then he said, “What do you think of David Beckham coming to MLS?”
I guess my opinion struck a chord because he turned to me and said, “I’m gonna get you to this fucking game!”
Stuck on the freeway, he goes, “Maybe this!” Then starts using exit ramps to on ramps to skip ahead a half mile at a time. A few of these and he shouts, “Hold on!”
We’re suddenly flying down alleys – so fast that I remember thinking, “If anyone steps out of one of these buildings, they’re dead!”
The car slams to a stop. “This is as close as I can get. You’ll have to run!”
I look around. We’re next to the Comfort Suites from 2005!
“I know how to get there!” I tell my girlfriend as we give him $40 for a less than $20 fare and take off into the deluge.
At first, we tried to use the giant flag I used to take to games as a cover, but it wasn’t keeping us that much drier, and the rain was pushing so hard on top of it that it was hard to keep it from falling in our faces; It’s not much good staying dry if you have to lifting your cover to keep from running into all the other people still marching to the stadium.
Screw it. We get wet.
I opened the flag and used it like a sail, pushing me across the parking lot in the whipping wind. (No joke, it was hard enough to push me along as long as I moved my feet.)
Into the stadium, we could hear kickoff. It took another few minutes to get into the section, but we made it!
Perhaps most remarkably, by the time we found spots in the crowd, the weather cleared and it was clear the rest of the night.
Both goals by Michael Bradley were right in front of us. The supporters section went nuts. We chanted the familiar refrain. And the game joined the lore of Columbus.
After the game, we also walked through the area where Mexican coach Paco Ramirez slapped Frankie Hejduk only minutes earlier. If only we’d known at the time… 😉