Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Guy Walks Into A Bar And . . .

Other than during Fiesta, would you ever find a bar in town that is filled with people drinking during the middle of the day on a Wednesday? How about The Press Room? Which is where I found myself yesterday spending the late morning and the early afternoon.

How did I end up there? It all started back in March when I lamented how unexciting the prospect of watching a soccer game was. I believe I said something along the lines of, "I'd sooner watch paint dry."

That remark drew an e-mail from John Zant, who covers sports for the Independent. John invited me to join him at the Press Room to watch a European Champions League soccer match. In fact, it wasn't so much an invitation as it was a challenge: If I would come down to watch a game, he would buy me a beer. If by the conclusion of the game I had changed my mind about the thrill factor of soccer, I would reciprocate and buy him a beer.

Watch a soccer game from start to finish? Given the choice between watching soccer and having a root canal, I can't honestly say I would opt for the root canal, but I would have to think about it. So, after dodging John on several occasions, I was finally out of excuses. Late Wednesday morning, I joined him down at the Press Room on Ortega Street to watch Barcelona play Internazionale Milano.

I arrived at the Press Room shortly before noon and the place was packed, proving that people will use any excuse to drink during the middle of the day. I estimated there must have been 60 people in the small bar, no more than a half-dozen of them women. That's a fact that should make the most-downloaded-woman-on-Craig-Smith's-Blog happy.

Despite its proximity to City Hall, I didn't recognize any employees of city or county government in the bar. That should make County Taxpayers Association President Lanny Ebenstein happy.

Joining John and I in watching the game was Barry Punzal who writes for and transplanted Scotsman Jimmy McLeod, a retired Delco employee and die-hard soccer fan.

The crowd in the bar seemed to be rooting for Barcelona. As John explained it, it wouldn't be sufficient for Barcelona to simply win. They would have to beat the Italian team by at least two goals to advance to some higher level of playoffs. As a result, the Italians were playing a purely defensive game which, John and Jimmy admitted, made for less than the most exciting brand of soccer.

An Englishman we talk to points out that the Italians originated the 9-1-1 call, as in, nine players back, one in the middle and one up front. Hopefully, the soccer fans among you will find that hilarious.

In soccer the play is continuous, there are no commercial breaks and the clock never stops running. In fact it counts up rather than down. 40 minutes into the game I'm thinking to myself, "I've seen more action at a knitting circle." The first half expires without any goals being scored. At the halftime break, half the people in the bar, step outside to smoke. Funny, I had no idea that watching soccer was so nerve racking.

During halftime they start squeezing in TV commercials, one of which is for the E-Harmony dating service. Watching the commercial is the most scoring I've seen since the soccer match started.

I do find running the E-Harmony commercial during a soccer game a little strange considering the crowd in the bar is not my idea of the kind of people you might find on E-Harmony. At least not the bartender with the Mohawk haircut.

Then again, with the male to female ratio being about 10 to 1, single women might find the Press Room the ideal place to come during the day to meet men. As long as they're looking for someone who is either retired, works evenings or is flat-out unemployed.

The soccer resumes. The room explodes in cheers when 84 minutes into the game Barcelona scores the first and what turns out to be the only goal in the match.

One goal in 90 minutes? If this was a game where you only drank when someone scores, you'd have the start of a pretty good 12-step program.

When it's finally over, a mere six or so minutes later, Barcelona has won, but the team celebrating on the field is Milano, having kept the margin of defeat below two goals. So much for the old American sports adage that even a close win still shows up as a win in the box score.

With the end of the game, about half the people leave the bar and the great soccer challenge has come to an end. So did John succeed in converting me? Not totally, although I did buy him a beer and I now see the appeal of soccer. After all, what could be better than hanging out with friends, having a beer and watching a game?

How about, hanging out with friends, having a beer and watching a game while everyone else is at work!

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