I might be Asian, but growing up in a very middle-class white family sort of helped me to be more “all-American” than most of my other Asian friends. I learned to love baseball and football, hotdogs and hamburgers, and the fireworks on the Fourth of July. What I did not learn to love was soccer. Sure, tons of my friends played it, sure I considered it in junior high (and then decided it was too much running – ironic for a high school cross country runner), and I knew it was really big in the rest of the world, but I just couldn’t get into it.
But when in Rome (or Madrid)….
As I don’t follow soccer, I didn’t realize it was the European Champions League finals the weekend I was there. I was so engrossed with the Monaco Gran Prix, it took till Friday and the influx of people from all over Europe to really convey what a BFD this was. I had been all over the city, looking for a bar with a TV and SkySports F1, and no one had a TV, or knew what the Gran Prix was. But for the fútbol game, everyone magically had a TV. Apparently I had been inquiring about the wrong sport.
Again, when in Rome….
As the game was at 8:45 PM, I figured heading out for an early dinner would be a good idea. At 7:30-ish, I ventured out and upwards towards the Puerta del Sol (again), looking for a place where I could sit, have a glass of wine, and enjoy a delicious dinner. I was in the mood for something really Spanish – tapas? Paella? Who knows! I was ready to eat, I wanted to find a nice place where I could sit and relax, and potentially catch the game. You know, just because it was on. But, sometimes the best laid plans…and let me tell you. These weren’t even “best laid.” This was straight up, no joke, horribly poor planning on my part.
There was absolutely no place for me to go. Not at all. Not a single damn table – at any restaurant. From the looks of it, people had been there for hours. Some had several empty bottles of wine, beer, and unidentified bottles of what looked to be death in liquid form. I realized quickly it was going to be a very long time before I would find a place to sit. And you know what? I WAS HUNGRY! And yes, at some point, hunger takes over and you’re happy with whatever will sustain you. But I was on vacation, I was in Spain, and no, I did not want “fast food.” My only other immediate option was dessert, I certainly did not want pastries and sweets for dinner. I wanted savory, phenomenal, HOT food. I wanted wine. I wanted to sit down! I wanted to not have been so stupid!
I walked around for hours searching for a place to eat – no, really. Hours. I did end up stopping to watch the game, relocating every 20 minutes to see if a table had magically opened at another restaurant – and every time I moved, I lost my prime viewing areas (aka around other people in the streets). Finally, I found a place in the only area I could actually see a TV without peering around someone, being pushed, shoved, screamed at, or generally caught up in soccer hooliganism.
Following Real Madrid’s shootout win, the crowds began to disperse – like molasses through a pinhole. I started wandering again, to see if I could secure some place where the kitchen was still open, and the celebrants were trickling out. Finally, around 11:15, I managed to secure an outdoor table at what I now realize was a fast food tapas place. People all around me were drunk, hugging, kissing, fireworks were going off, and I could tell the servers just wanted to join the fun. “They’re getting paid to work, these celebrations will continue late into the night, the kitchen is open till 2 am…I’ll be fine,” I thought. Little did I know that I was completely ruining their entire night by sitting down and ordering four plates of tapas and a glass of rioja, three hours before the place closed. Unfortunately, they decided to exact revenge on my ignorance and bring out a glass of white wine, and only two of the four tapas I had ordered. Sigh. I suppose that’s what I get for messing with the almighty sport that is fútbol.