June 14, 2014
By Michael Lewis
DON'T BLAME IT ON RIO -- DAY 3
A dog day night at the local mall and flying into a city where it is raining cats and dogs
NATAL, Brazil -- All work and no play will make anyone a dull boy or girl. It also could drive a sportswriter insane.
Friday's mundane menu included a trip to the U.S. hotel in Sao Paulo to talk to Tim Howard, Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, Jermaine Jones and DeAndre Yedlin in a mixed zone outside of the establishment, a return to our hotel to crank out several stories while the Mexico-Cameroon and Netherlands-Spain matches blared on in the background.
Leander Schaerlaeckens of FoxSports.com, who was born in the Netherlands, watched the Dutch match proudly wearing an orange shirt, hoping for a win. He certainly got more than he bargained for, a 5-1 rout of the defending champions. Results like don't happen every day.
Needless to say, the journalists in the room unmercifully teased Leander, who claimed it should have been a shutout because Spain's goal was illegal.
But back to getting some breathing room outside of work.
When I got an opportunity to dinner with several other writers after a long Friday morning and afternoon, I grabbed it. You just don't know when you have the chance to do it at the World Cup (at Italia '90 they kept running out of food at the media center cafeterias, so we learned to eat well the night prior to a game.
So, we went to the Higienopolis Shopping Mall, which boasted many upscale stores, a food court and an Italian restaurant where my roommate, Filip Bondy (New York Daily News), Kelly Whiteside (USA today) and Michelle Kaufmann (Miami Herald) enjoyed dinner. It would have been perfect for my wife Joy because the menu stated that they used some kosher products (you had to ask what they were).
The mall might have been upscale, you but could have said it had gone to the dogs. Pet owners were allowed to bring their pooches inside the mall. And we saw at least one do a little piddling against a tree.
There was even a dispenser where you could buy a bouquet of flowers.
Because we decided not to drink the local water for obvious reasons, buying a bottled version was a high priority. We found these huge bottles of water for a fairly inexpensive price.
Or so we thought it was water.
After Filip went to bed, I had check up on some things on the internet and I decided to quench my thirst. I twisted the top bottle top and suddenly heard the dreaded fizz as the "water" started to bubble up and began to squirt all over. Instinctively, I ran into the bathroom and turned the top the other way to stop the bleeding, so to speak.
So, there I was with a towel, mopping up the spilled liquid from the middle of the room.
I was laughing on the inside at the incident because I didn't want to wake up Filip. But as it turned out, the "explosion" did startle from his sleep as he told me this morning (the incident wound up in his daily World Cup diary, according to a reliable source).
We had to be on the U.S. Soccer media bus at 7 a.m., so Filip and I woke up at 5:32 p.m. Packing was a challenge because GOL airlines supposed allowed weight was 11.2 lbs. A computer weights 4-5 lbs. alone. So with much consternation, I took only my essentials to Recife in a smaller bag that rather use my backpack. I threw my clothes into Filip's luggage, which was going to be checked in.
Before we left the room, we weighed our work bags on a scale and both came in at five kilos.
At the airport, I noticed that other writers and passengers used backpacks.
It's always something.
The bus ride to the airport, which took an hour, was uneventful. I gave up counting the various types and sizes of futebol fields I had noticed (not unlike my first visit to this country 27 years ago). The bus driver, who apparently did not know his way to the airport, needed some help or reassurance from a Portuguese-speaking journalist with us.
Checking in at GOL Airlines was something else. We were told to try the kiosks to print our boarding passes. But because 30 of us had the same booking number, it gave the system a temporary mental breakdown of sorts because the same request was occurring at the same time from various kiosks. So the group had to get on a line to check-in, while David Applegate, the media coordinator extraordinaire, managed to solve the kiosk problem and was able to print passes as long as we gave him our passport numbers. So here we were, shouting our precious passport numbers to David, for the whole world to listen.
I guess there's a first time for everything.
Unfortunately, when we arrived in Natal, our bus wasn't there and we were forced to wait a good (or a bad, depending on your vantage point) half hour. It seems they don't like to drive when it rains here. Perhaps for good reason. Natal is advertised as a city that enjoys 300 days of sunshine a year; the city of sun it is called.
The sun has been taken into the witness protection program during the World Cup.
The weather.com forecast for Natal called for 10 percent of rain Saturday night (although it is pouring cats and dogs outside as I write this column late Saturday night), zero percent on Sunday and 10 percent on Monday. Must be the new math. I'll believe no rain when I see it.
I also heard that during Friday's game between Mexico and Cameroon here that the roof over the media tribune leaked during the match, driving writers crazy trying to protect their computers.
Now, I am trying not to be negative, but didn't they check for something like that before the World Cup?
It's always something.