Friday, December 19, 2008
In November of 1996, less than two weeks after I had driven in a maroon Chevy Lumina minivan out to Los Angeles from New York to start a new life (which would last exactly one year), I had a spiritual experience. I’m originally from Boston (obviously), so I was, and still am, a die-hard Boston sports fan. And the New England Patriots, having what would turn out to be a Super Bowl season, were playing the Chargers in San Diego on Sunday night. I had no money and no idea how to get to San Diego. The two people I knew in LA wouldn’t go with me, and I had to be at my temp job in Glendale early the next morning, but I knew I had to be at that game.
Okay, maybe “spiritual experience” is a bit too strong an expression to use in describing what happened to me that night at a football game at Qualcomm Stadium, but it was still pretty amazing. I was able to scalp a ticket for my last 40 dollars (which I had to get out of the stadium’s ATM while the scalper held my i.d. – long story). As I sat in the nosebleeds on the forty-yard line, wearing my Boston Red Sox jersey under a jacket so as not to be heckled by the hometown fans who surrounded me, I tried to contain my exuberance as the Pats took a 28-7 lead toward the end of the first half. I was completely alone in this 60,000-seat stadium, three hours away from my interim housing in a strange new city, 3,000 miles away from home.
And I saw him. He wore a sloppy coat of body paint in the form of a Patriots jersey on his shirtless torso. His face was entirely red, white and blue. And he was walking up the stairs, cheerfully pointing to every Charger fan, exulting in the away team’s early dominance, even as he was pelted with paper cups, ice cubes and plastic beer bottles. To complete his victory lap, he made his way back down to his similarly attired posse several rows below.
During halftime, I felt compelled to leave the relative safety of my anonymous seat amongst the enemy and join these marked men. As I introduced myself to a guy dressed like Elvis (the team’s logo looks remarkably like "The King"), he looked at me with amazement and said, “Ryan McDonough?! Tom Leveroni!”
Tom and I played football together in high school. “Oh my Gawd! Levah?” I said, involuntarily slipping back into a long-lost Boston accent. “Who’s the guy with the painted-on Ben Coates jersey?”
“That’s John Grady, dude.”
Grady and I went back all the way to fourth grade. I hadn’t seen either of these guys since I graduated from Roxbury Latin. And here we were, all the way across the country seven years later, rooting for our favorite football team and celebrating a 49-7 victory long into the night.
You know what? That was a spiritual experience. Because all that is just too much to be coincidence. Because a football stadium is too big, and this country is too vast for me to randomly bump into two high school buddies in section 336 in San Diego on a Sunday night. And because as far I was from my comfort zone, I was right at home.