Didn’t want to hex things, but since I logged some actual office time today, it seems plenty official. Due to some staffing changes at Cinema St. Louis, I’m taking on a short-term role as the Volunteer Coordinator for the St. Louis International Film Festival, working on the SLIFF through the November event. In coming weeks, you can be sure that I’ll note some FABULOUS opportunities for you to take part in the Festival. Yes, indeed.

Thanks to Cliff, Chris and Mark for the opportunity.


My family’s decided to sell the house next door to mine, a nice, li’l bungalow. It’s at 3422 Connecticut, 63118. If you know some folks looking for a good home and a reasonably okay neighbor, please let them know. No hoosiers, please.

Boats, barbs and brambles

For some reason, my 2007 has been taken up by a few pursuits that fall just on the other side of common sense. After spending a good chunk of yesterday in a strange, coma-like sleep state, I thought it would be a fine idea to try to find a boat that may, or may not, have sunk in the Mississippi River earlier in the afternoon. Leaving the broadcast of The Fan Show at the Casino Queen – another recent, inexplicable obsession – I wound up driving on and around the Eads and MLK bridges, though the quarry I sought was further upriver, near the McKinley Bridge. Hello, Magellan.

Phoning a friend with access to Google Maps lent some dim recollection to the fact that the McKinley’s been closed for repairs since 2001. (Those memories of recently driving on it? Well, they’re over seven years old. Wow. A bit of time/space loss there.) Picking up said friend, we hurried over the PSB, up Route 3, through funky little Venice and near the river. The eye-opening highlight was passing Moore’s Lounge, a tavern located in a semi-wooded area, found between railyard yards, coal hills and other industrial detritus. It’s near impossible to describe the fortress-like vibe this place gives off. To be searching this area, at night… not a good sign. (I view Moore’s as the final frontier of local adventuring and need coping time before I’m ready to walk through its front door; last night, especially with cars on the parking lot, was not that night.) Eyeing a nearby hill, the car rolled to the edge of what seemed like a complete falloff; it was a sharply-angled hill, navigable by car, but the darkness made it look twice as steep and wind-y as it turned out to be, but the initial shock of pulling up to it was a real one.

I put things off ’til this morning, when I decided to head back over to the Ill Side. I set the alarm for before 9 a.m., a rarity, then headed back into the region’s industrial underbelly, that long, weird stretch between National and Granite Cities. The trucks were out in force, the trains were moving and some construction dudes were watching a power station fall near last night’s hill o’ death.

Figuring that the “no trespassing” signs were just an annoyance, I tried to veer my way on foot to the river, nearer to the McKinley, only to be turned away by groves of trees, huge, brambly weeds and shifting footing; instead of solid land, all this foliage had grown on huge berms of waste coal, broken rocks and slabs of cement. Workers on the bridge was shouting distance, but didn’t see me or didn’t care, though I wasn’t really up for some I-Dot security hound to find me dawdling near the work zone. I figured I had one last burst of energy on this find-the-boat project and plunged into the scratchy, scrappy, scraping, human-high weeds, only to find my footing constantly giving way. Being typically under-dressed for this type of urban jungle walk-through, I was soon ripped to bits by various burrs and stickler bushes. Sheesh.

Getting to within a couple-dozen feet of the passing river, I realized that there was a good, little drop-off between myself and the water and, as I tried to find one last place to stand, I realized that I was out of my element, vaguely frustrated and not interested in proceeding in helping fill-out the headline, “Local man falls into river.” To hell with the sunken boat. I climbed back out of the various holes I now found myself in, wrenching my back in the process, though that wouldn’t manifest itself for a couple hours. I drove back out of Venice, then the quiet burg of Brooklyn, passing the morning-shift hookers near the highway and saying goodbye to all of our least-attractive stretch of Illinois geography.

Sitting at O’Connell’s and eating lunch a bit later, I told Leonard Voelker, the O’C’s veteran day bartender a half-truth: my back was sore, maybe I’d pulled something while sleeping.

“Could be,” he reasoned, before turning to pour a drink. “Could be that you’re just getting old.”

Yeah. Could be.

Damned boat.

USA vs. Brazil, part two

I should note that after yesterday’s note about the STL United FC ballkids having a chance to meet and work near some of the greatest players in the world, their excitement was probably matched by some of the adults accompanying them. We’re just not expected to wear uniforms and stand in one place along the dasher boards. That said, I spent plenty of time along those boards, creeping back and forth, ostensibly to check on the kids, but also to secure as many vantage points of the action as I could. It was a tactic that allowed me to see four of the six goals from close-up. To literally hear a ball cracked, the stadium collectively holding its breath and then a keeper fishing a ball from net… what a piece of luck!

Uh, yeah, I enjoyed it as much as any grade-schooler.

The opportunity to see an international game from that proximity can’t be overly praised On TV, you can see a player boldly scoop a ball out of a tight space, three defenders forming a triangle as they come in, only to see the ball squirt out of their reach with a quick flick. But witnessing that from about 10-yards away borders on the unbelievable. Soccer at this level is faster than you think, true, the shots are coming faster and harder than you’d think, sure. Yet, more than anything, watching a game from field level is an exercise in appreciating a world-class player’s ability to think in space. Open space. Or tight space. It’s really awe-inspiring to view Brazil’s collective skill with the ball at their feet, but let’s not sell this US team short on that count, either. Both teams on Sunday were able to negotiate space in a way that I sort of knew, but couldn’t comprehend until I saw it in person. I probably missed some of the “macro”
themes of the game from that close-in. But the “micro”? Wow.

But even before the game, there was still plenty to see.

Pulling into the Soldier Field parking lots/garage ($25 for a gameday fee; yow!) at exactly 12:24, we had six-minutes to get to Gate 14, the designated meet-up spot. That allowed for plenty of time to watch fans tailgating on the top floor of the shallow, two-level garage. The scene suggested that the US fans were going to be outnumbered by the Brazilians, unless the US fans were going to bum rush the joint late. Already, the dozens of yellow flags were flying, mixed with the smoke of dozens of mini-grills.

Small pockets of youths and adults were kicking mini-balls and hackey-sacks in compact quarters, while the smell of meat, fish and vegetables filled the air. The Chicago skyline was a stunning backdrop. All senses were put to use.

Inside the stadium, we were still a half-hour away from match-time, but the kids and I had negotiated the ranks of overly serious security staffers. (Once in-hand with USSF officials, we were fine, but occasional security folks treated us as if we were US Congressional officials touring an outdoor market in Tikrit. Good grief. Calm down.) A stadium on gameday, even when empty, is quite a sight and the newly remodeled Soldier Field is a strange view, indeed, with the historic lower levels topped by a glass-and-metal addendum that’s at least part spaceship. From field level, the look up is something else.

After the kids were given their flag instructions, they were hustled to the bowels of the stadium to change and drink. I got separated, but wandered around. The US team arrived by bus, driving into the lower levels and I made eye contact with assistant coach Mike Sorber, seated in the front seat of the bus. We nodded to one another and I realized that I usually see Mike at Hermann Stadium or OB Clark’s, so this was a cool, if only passing, “hello.”

In the tunnel, a few Spanish-language media types were entering the field, being cheered by the fans that were now in the building and huddling near the tunnel exits. Eventually, I recognized one guy in an Under Armour t-shirt and khaki shorts as Carlos Zambrano, who arrived with escorts and a young kid, assumedly his son. Sunil Gulati and numerous, other soccer honchos milled about, walking the field in suits.

When the game began, as noted, I wandered the field and watched the fans, especially the Brazilians. This was done solely as a research mission, as I wanted to study their ways. The fact that Brazilian fans dress and prepare for soccer matches so enthusiastically is to be applauded. I’ll sort of leave that analysis, at that. It was fun to watch them, okay? Okay.

And, judging by the applause after goals, the crowd tilted Brazilian, maybe to a 60-40 edge. No way to say, for sure, and people in different sections may’ve heard different things. But down low, there were roars when the US scored and even bigger ones for the four Brazilian tallies.

(I actually, in my head, wrote a whole piece today on whether fans of US soccer should be disappointed or heartened by this kind of thing. Maybe for another day. Suffice to say, when the US plays in front of certain, partisan audiences, they probably face torrents of abuse. The 25,000-or-so Brazilian supporters in Chicago were there to party, to cheer Brazil, to cheer good soccer. I may’ve turned around a lot on this subject over a few hours this weekend. These fans pretty well sold me.)

Watching the Brazilian fans (did I make that point, yet?), Sam’s Army and all the various, mixed-up groups down low… it was all fun. And it made a great complement to the action on the field, which, again, was just top-notch. The US went toe-to-toe with Brazil, played aggressively, and, as noted on several post-match stories, made the game a whole lot closer and more interesting than a 4-2 score might indicate. This was world-class stuff.

And lastly… on leaving town, we took about 20-25 minutes to exit the garage, partially because a US fan was strapped to a restraint board, while being transported in front of us on the back of a golf cart. (Hope he’s okay; don’t know what happened.) On leaving the stadium complex, we hopped right onto Lake Shore Drive, then the highway. Five minutes on, though, we decided to jump off, to grab a bite.

After taking the team to McDonald’s after our recent trip to Jefferson City, I swore to never do that again. Definitely, we wanted to give the kids one last “Chicago experience” and we exited at Damen and drove down to Archer, where, after passing a host of taquerias, we stopped at one, almost at random. The kids quit their griping about wanting Burger King from the down the street and we enjoyed a dinner, with more time to talk about the game, the city, life in general. It was an authentic, very Chicago moment and the kind of thing you can get in a major town, near a major stadium, if you take a few extra minutes to slow down and enjoy.

If the day had already been something-beyond-words for both the kids and adults, the fact that an almost-numbingly-awesome burrito was still in the picture was just a ridiculous capper to it all.

On the stadium’s PA prior to the match, the board op twice played U2’s “Beautiful Day.” It turned into a prescient and apt choice.

A perfect choice, really.

USA vs. Brazil, part one

Wrote this for my soccer club, STL United FC, which sponsors the youth team I coach, named after the group. Will write up the second half of this tomorrow, in all likelihood, along with linking to some flickr pics.


During the second half of yesterday’s USA vs. Brazil match, I realized that Ronaldinho’s goal-creating corner kick came from the zone in which one of the STL United FC ballkids was stationed. I walked along the sideline, past dozens of hysterically cheering Brazilian fans, and asked Melvin (a.k.a. the self-styled Melvindinho) if he’d thrown Ronaldinho the ball. He had. I asked him what that was like.

“I asked him for his autograph.”

Pause. “You what?”

“I asked him for his autograph.”

“During play?”


“What did he say?”

Melvindinho mimicked the Brazil number 10, putting his hands out to the side with an “I don’t know” expression. He then added, “I think he said, ‘maybe later’ in Spanish.”

“Well, uh, good job Mel,” I said, completely perplexed by the last 30-seconds of my life. “Good for you.” (And we did talk about the difference between Spanish and Portuguese later. But that could wait.)

While that story was a particular keeper, moments like that were coming all day yesterday, as one of the STL United FC’s youth team parents (DJ Wilson) and I drove four kids to the Soldier Field match, with three of them joining a group of 41 kids who were put to work in the game. (The fourth watched the game from some great, lower bowl seats; still a treat.) The youngest 22 were escorts, who walked onto the field with the starters of each nation, standing in front of the crowd of 43,453 and a nationwide TV audience. The other, older 19 were ballkids, scattered along the end- and sidelines; they, too, were on the field at the start of the game, holding the flags of the US, Brazil and FIFA.

The interesting thing about kids is something that maybe shouldn’t surprise me, anymore. Most of the players were Scott Gallagher-affiliated, although some were not. Arriving at the field a good two-and-a-half hours in advance of the kickoff, I noticed that my players (Thomas, 14, Dashawn, 12, and Melvin, 9) were chatting up kids that they’d played with or against over the last spring and summer, some of them having met only once, or twice. But there they were, chatting away and immediately easing my worries that the three would form a clique and not talk to others involved. Sometimes, I’m not sure why I even worry, in the first place.

After spending the last few months spending too much time, really, thinking about the paradigms of American youth soccer (the urban vs. suburban models, the club approach vs. open play experiences, etc., etc.), I was struck by the fact that kids, when thrown into a soccer setting, tend to sort things out fairly quickly. That’s not to gloss over conversations that should be held about these topics of inclusion and opportunity. But when given a fun, structured environment in which to interact, kids from different backgrounds can get it together. Bravo, lads.

Clad in matching green-and-white Gallagher gear, the kids went through a variety of experiences, before, during and after the game.

In a still-empty Soldier Field, they practiced their flag maneuvers. Then, they retired to the locker room of the NFL down-and-distance-chains crew to change out and hydrate. When warm-ups began, they filed to their positions on the field, tracking down the odd ball, sure, but mostly, watching the teams train. The flag ceremony was held, then they sprinted to their positions along the dasher boards. Two halves of great, entertaining soccer were played, with the internationals playing within yards of them on multiple occasions. Kids threw balls to US and Brazilian stars and heard the chants and catcalls of the crowd, who were, at times, literally close enough to spray them (okay, just Melvindinho) with silly string. After the match, they ran through the same tunnel as the teams and waited along a rail, where Brazilians like Gilberto Silva and Vagner Love signed their shorts, shirts, boots and arms.

On the way back to town, the four kids in the vehicle were talking about soccer for four hours, before, finally, turning to ghost stories.

If they’re still talking the about yesterday’s game in a few years and are still energized by the potential for the sport, then whatever investment was made in yesterday’s trip will have been seriously proven worthwhile. I’d suggest that that’s the case, already. So thanks to the people who made yesterday click. It was much appreciated, by kids and adults alike, trust me.