It’s not everyday you get to go to another country so when the opportunity to go to Mexico aroused I knew I couldn’t say no. A lot of people from the beginning told me it was a bad idea. Mexico has been labeled as an unsafe country by the media especially for Americans after president Donald Trump threatened to build a wall between the two countries in an attempt to control illegal immigration and fix the drug problem. I wasn’t going to listen, I never do, and boy was it a good thing I didn’t.
4:00 AM 6/09: I use to be a morning person when I was a kid, I still am compared to some people I know but I think anyone can agree with me that hearing an alarm at this hour when it signals the beginning of your vacation is one you certainly won’t be hitting snooze on. So there I was, trying to come to my senses and get into Eric’s car as he agreed to drive me to the airport.
The next 11 hours consisted of airports and flying which I could go into detail about but no one wants to know, it can be all summed up into my inability to listen to directions from the TSA officer, inability to sleep, and awkward custom questioning in Mexico.
Fast forward to 2:00 local time in Mexico City. Two Americans standing like clueless idiots in the terminal trying to use our high school spanish education to find our way to the exit and order an Uber to our hotel. I made a stop at the money exchange booth on my way out and was astonished at how far the American dollar goes in Mexico. With the conversion rate about 16:1, it made it more exciting I could enjoy myself and not worry.
This was my first time leaving the country with the exception of Canada which is basically another state as the cultures are inseparable along the border except they have better poutine and free health care. I’ve seen videos and photos of impoverished areas and have spent a significant amount of time working with underprivileged people but nothing compared to the first five minutes in Mexico City.
While everyone was taking pictures and wasting in how cool it was to be there, it took me a little before I could vast. Building that you see abandoned or “run-down” in America are thriving businesses in Mexico. Dogs and people wonder the streets, most begging for a peso to eat. Then there was the smog and pollution smell. Now the air is thinner in Mexico city but I don’t think that made a difference just even harder to breathe. At first it seemed as though everyone was depressed but it was completely opposite. People have embraced this as their lives, probably because this is all they know.
Kids played in streets, garages were transformed into bars, people biked and walked, the traffic was worse than anything you could imagine but was still an efficient way of transportation. There traffic cops actually control traffic and keep it flowing. Not like the ones after the Sabres games who cause more of a back-up than the traffic lights would.
The rest of the night would be spent meeting up with friends as our various flights landed as well as meeting other Americans staying in our hotel and of course eating tacos and drinking margaritas. Also managed to catch the Cavs only win in the NBA finals.
5:00 AM 6/10: Now you’re probably thinking, what the hell are you doing setting an alarm on your first day of vacation? Ohh don’t worry, it took a lot of encouragement to do it too but I’m glad I did. We made our way downstairs and into another Uber over to another hotel to get on a bus that was going to take us to Teotihuacan. Teotihuacan is an archaeological site home of Aztec pyramids. We spent the morning with a tour guide learning about the different pyramids and meanings as well as climbing to the top of a few. Definitely wasn’t expecting a workout but it made it a lot easier to adjust to the altitude difference.
After an exhausting couple of hours we made our way over to the Azteca ranch where we were greeted with a buffet of food and five tequilas to taste test. If I wasn’t sold on Mexico by this point, I now was. I went into Mexico with the expectation of eating nothing but tacos for four days and I wasn’t upset in the slightest.
We eventually found our way back to the hotel and pool side on a rooftop pool overlooking Mexico City. This was only to kill time until the US Soccer sponsored welcome party and the infamous night before party. One of my favorite parts about US games is how easily it is to become friends with people from all over the country over one common interest.
8:00 AM 6/11: Finally! no alarm. It was game day and the excitement and nerves were already coming in. Andrew(roommate) and I went and got breakfast and took a walk around the city. Now we were only gone for 30-45 minutes and managed to see a pop up boxing ring, a carnival, a music festival, and a bike ride similar to what we know as the ride of Roswell. It’s safe to say Sundays in Mexico city are bopping.
When it was time to get on the bus to go to the tailgate and game is when things got real. We were put into coach buses and as one bus pulled away a cop pulled out in front of and behind it. Security was always going to be tight and necessary for away fans in Mexico, especially americans. Although the bus was in good spirits singing and chanting anything with the word America in it, I was too concerned with what was going to happen on the field. We really needed an impossible result and I knew Bruce was going to set us up to defend and one mistake would be game over.
The tailgate was at the equivalent of any rich guy’s house stereotyped in movies in Mexico. This beautiful gated in ranch with a covered patio full of food and drinks. Greeted by a mariachi band and later a DJ. tickets were handed out and everyone was in good spirits.
Then it came time to board the buses again and head over to the Azteca. Words cannot describe the feeling I was having. I wasn’t sure if I was in awe of being in the Azteca as it’s a dream of any soccer fan, or if the sight of rows of armed riot shield guards scared the literally crap outta me.
The greeting from the Mexicans was very diverse. Some were waving and smiling and taking pictures. Others were flipping us off and launching beer in our direction. It didn’t help the antagonization by the americans. We slowly got funneled into the gate and frisked. After taking our flags, scarves, bandanas, belts, and dignity we were escorted up into our section. In the section we were greeted by a perimeter of armed guards with riot shields and a 10 foot high steel barb wired fence. It would have been easier to escape prison.
Then came that magical moment by someone who doesn’t normally produce magic, that moment when Michael Bradley picked up the ball and chipped Ochoa from almost 40 yards out. At first I was startled, I wasn’t sure it went in, then the eruption. Every single American flung their arms up and started screaming and jumping around. Pure emotion rushed my heart it was hard to even breathe, seeing the national team i treasure and adore score away against their biggest rivals in a game where we needed a result against all odds was too much to handle…. then 10 minutes later it was 1-1.
The game ended in the midst of a downpour and eruption from the American fans. A huge point, we were all on top of the moon. As we hurried out of the stadium to the booze and jeers of Mexicans and the absolute abuse we didn’t even care. We were all so happy and proud of our boys. As we boarded the buses it may have just been the cold rain but i was silent and in shock. The ride home was a mixture of Miley Cyrus and Toby Keith being blared over the aux, it was a good day,
That night we all went our separate ways with the only thing on our minds being to celebrate and enjoy our last night in Mexico.
The next day we packed up and headed towards the airports, back to reality. Saying our goodbyes already anticipating the many games in July to look forward too when we aren’t photographers, accountants, marketers, doctors, just a group of people who love to watch soccer together.
Onto the next one, Nashville I’ll see ya soon…