Monday, October 6, 2008

Road Trip!

When asked by people if he was ever lost in the virgin wilderness of the United States, frontiersman Daniel Boone always replied "I was never lost, but on a couple of occasions I was a mite confused for several days." I like to think I'm a bit like that. If I'm ever plopped in the woods with a map and compass, I can get my way out with ease. Need to get to Eagle Rock, Missouri from Gueydan and don't want to take the Interstate highways as little as possible? I'm your man. Driving in a city like Houston, Dallas, Memphis, or Hamburg, Germany? I can stumble around pretty confidently until I get a feel for the town enough to pretend like I'm a local.

What gives me the heebie-jeebies are smaller cities. I've been slightly more than "a mite confused" in places like Mobile, Shreveport, and most embarrassingly Gelsenkirchen, Germany (Think of a city slightly smaller than Shreveport) when I was there for the 2006 World Cup. I had a fellow reporter with me heading for the Portugal-Mexico match (I got my blogging debut reporting on the World Cup from a US perspective for a German newspaper), and I assured the reporter, a native German from Munich that I could get us the 18 miles from the Essen airport to the Veltins-Arena for the match. An hour later we still weren't there as we took the scenic route there. Of course, I guess it isn't too much of a thing to blush about considering I'm not a native, but all I had to do was stay on the Autobahn and take a single exit. Yikes.

So when I was advised by several people to go to Houma to get away from here this past Saturday, it wasn't without a bit of anxiety. On the surface, the place seems straight-forward, and people wondered why I was so anxious about it. "You can't get lost!" they would assure me. I tried to explain my problems with modest-sized towns, but they didn't listen. Now don't get me wrong. I wasn't afraid to go. I was positively buzzed about the concept of heading out to somewhere new, especially without my parents being in on it. My parents are pretty protective of their little wunderkind, so this was a chance for me to escape and do something grown-up for a change. I studied maps and readied my GPS and laptop. I wasn't going to get lost. I was going to prove myself wrong.

So I hopped into my car and headed out. The first thing for me to confront was my fear of high bridges. Though I had worked in Southeast Louisiana on several sites, I had always either flown in via helicopter or went around through New Orleans, so I had completely forgotten about the Atchafalaya River Bridge in Morgan City. Now bridges and I have an odd relationship. I love the design of bridges and their aesthetic qualities, but I absolutely loathe crossing them. I usually sit there quietly intensely focused on the road ahead of me, which makes for fun when I'm riding with people, as they try to get me to look at the sights from the top of the bridge. When I drive, I tend to be clever and just get across it as fast as I can on the inside lane. One of these days I'm going to be pulled over for speeding and I'm going to have to explain that I don't like bridges to an incredulous police officer.

Pretty...but I don't like crossing it.

So after surviving the bridge, I zipped down the fairly-empty highway until I got outside Houma. I took the exit like I was told and followed the winding road until I got to the traffic light I was told to turn at. I followed the directions until I found civilization. At the traffic light everything suddenly seemed unfamiliar compared to what I remember how it was described, so I decided to take the safe route and go straight into the mall. What could go wrong from there?

So I went into the mall and begin to wander about, looking to spend some cash, since this was why I was here after all. Too bad everywhere I went there was nothing for me to buy. No nifty ties, no new running shoes, no computer games (I've preordered them all), and definitely no sports apparel I would purchase (Me? Buy LSU gear? I'd just as soon throw the money in the trash!), much less soccer gear, and no movies either (I was searching for the complete set of Horatio Hornblower movies shown on A&E over the years to no avail, but I did find it on Amazon for $33. I win!). Undeterred, I decided to find the rest of the Houma shopping experience to get myself a new pair of running shoes at Academy. That's when the fun began.

I got onto the boulevard and headed north, assuming this was the way to go, but after a couple of miles and seeing nothing but building after building in an early stage of urban decay, I figured something was amiss. I turned around and headed south down the boulevard. I passed the mall up and once again something was wrong. I turned around and passed the mall again, turning on what seemed to be a new boulevard. That proved to be a bad idea, and I was soon winding my way blindly through a series of subdivisions until I spilled back onto the boulevard. I was quite frustrated at this time because I truly was a mite confused at this stage. Everything was supposedly on a single road, yet I couldn't find it. In my exasperation at a traffic light I decided to follow the traffic and alas! There it was!

I was taking the scenic route, honest!

I was so giddy to have stumbled upon the shopping centres I almost got lost a mite confused again trying to turn left. I managed to get that out of the way and the rest was history. I wandered about in a lot of storing seeing nothing in particular, apart from Academy where I did buy a new pair of running shoes, albeit not the ones I was looking for because no one could be bothered to help me out. That perturbed me to no end; though my perturbation was short-lived as I was sitting down to eat lunch when someone tapped my shoulder. I turned to see a little girl wearing a soccer kit smiling at me in an extremely nervous manner, as though she had spent some time working up enough courage just to tap my shoulder.

"Do you like soccer?"

"Uh... Yes! Yes I do." I said a bit shocked.

"Cool. I do too! I had to ask because I saw you wearing a soccer jersey like I am!"

I looked down and remembered I had indeed dressed up to go to town, if you will. I was sporting my PSV Endhoven shirt I had picked up the last time I was in Holland.

Hup de Boern! (Up the Farmers! [The nickname PSV supporters call themselves])

"Why yes I am. I assume you play soccer?" I had to ask.

"Yes! I love soccer! I play it on Saturday mornings and afternoons, and I watch it at night! I love watching David Beckham and the LA Galaxy! They're my favorite!"

I didn't have the heart to tell her that the Galaxy were rather pants and that she should support a proper MLS side like the Houston Dynamo. I mean, she had to be ten at the oldest!

By then her mom chimed in and apologized for her daughter interrupting my lunch. She told me her daughter absolutely loves soccer and had been staring at me since I walked into the restaurant, specifically because I was wearing a soccer jersey. Apparently not too many guys wear soccer jerseys around there, so this was something she had to find out about. I waved aside any protestations and told them how I grew up watching soccer from Europe and had even been to several big club matches in Europe, and most recently been at the World Cup in 2006 writing for a newspaper.

They left soon after, but I was extremely pleased by the situation, as all too often supporters of European soccer sneer at women's soccer. As I stated on a message board this evening, I was extremely happy for this little exchange because it's what soccer really is all about here in the States. It doesn't belong solely to the expats and immigrants, or the cool hipsters that pack the pubs in New York because the Barclays Premier League is the latest fad, nor does it belong solely to the suburban soccer moms who see it as play time for their kids. It belongs to all of us, and it's something we should be excited to find common ground with wherever we go, not something to dismiss with snide comments just because it doesn't fit within our narrow definition of what we think the game is and should be.

The happiness was unfortunately short-lived for as I was walking around Target doing some people-watching I became quite depressed. Why you ask? Simple. Everyone was walking around with their families, friends, and/or people of romantic interest, yet I was walking around alone. As usual, my emotions can't let me be for long, and I quickly became morose at the concept that I would soon be heading back to Franklin to an empty house with nothing to do. There would be no friends calling to hang out, no one to ask how my day was, and especially no one to ask me about things I like for once.

I was disgusted by this turn of events, and the whole way home I wondered why those feelings would come up suddenly. Was I jealous of these people? Probably so. But that didn't mean I had to toss aside the enjoyment I had getting out of the house and doing something new for a change. Something has to give when it comes to me dealing with loneliness. I'm not sure if I can handle this much longer. I think I'll expound on this some more, but not for now.

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