Hillary and I drove to LA at the end of the week, and met up with Pat and Nora at Karaoke night at Shakey's Pizzeria just in time to see a drunk 70 year old lady doing a free-form, beat-poetry inspired rendition of Fastball's mid 90's sugar-pop hit "The Way". I was both impressed and saddened by this. Jan had been MIA for some days by this point, his tragedy of a cell-phone no longer even a placebo to soothe the pain of being hopelessly out of touch in a vast country that is ever more tuned in and turned on. It has been alternately minus batteries, minutes, and a charger since well before New Mexico.
The first night in LA was Pat's birthday, and we celebrated it by making hilarious prank calls to Greg Gomes in San Francisco until he turned his cell-phone off and we had to settle for leaving hilarious messages on his voice-mail.
The second night we were joined by Jay Marietta and Amanda Baber. Amanda very sportingly accepted the necessity of finishing all 18 of the Budweisers I had triumphantly returned with at 2:00 in the morning only to find that most everyone had packed up and gone home or to bed.
5\3\04: Big Sur.
After exchanging fond farewells with Hillary, we spent a few days in San Diego with Math genius at large John Farina, his good buddy Jana, and Washington DC urban legend Anthony Schneider. Jan showed up to complete our trifecta, and there were some lazy days of swimming and surfing and frisbee golf, before, without so much as a hint of trouble ahead, Pat and I were subjected to what would turn out to be one of the most physically and mentally demanding trials of our young lives.
At 3:00 A.M., we had finished the regular season and were in the group stages of the final cup tournament. The others must have come back at some point, as my handling of the controller was restricted somewhat by a sleeping Anthony on my right. Our old rivals AC Milan and Juventus had fallen to our sharp-shooting strikers, but Bologna, the only other undefeated team, whom we had narrowly escaped with a 1-1 tie early in the seaon, loomed menacingly in the Cup Final. My back ached from ten hours of sitting in the same position, and my left thumb was bright red and throbbing excruciatingly, but we had to press on. We had come too far.
As the first rays of the morning sun reached out to illuminate our furrowed brows and aching hands, we stepped on to the field, full of fear and anticipation, to battle Bologna for the Cup. Bologna neutralized our strike force in the first half, but our defence held strong, and we entered the fray after half-time in a scoreless tie. With 13 long hours of experience, we were grittily determined to see this through, and within two minutes, Totti had bounced one off the right cross-bar, and Batistuta's strike from mid-field was barely batted away by the outstretched fingers of the Bologna goalkeeper. But we couldn't break them. Time after time, our sallies were rebuffed, and the minutes of the second half ticked by and seeped into the Golden Goal period, as our energy sapped, and our passes grew wild and undisciplined. The room filled with the odour of fear, desperation, and countless days on the road with no showers or laundry, and we approached the first Penalty-Shot Overtime of the Season with sick hearts and numb fingers.
I honestly can't remember where Pat's last penalty shot went, but as it sank into the back of the net, our shrieks of triumph resounded through the room, drawing muffled complaints from the sleeping Anthony, while we wept tears of joy and exhaustion, and the morning sun shone proudly on the glorious culmination of the best spent 13 hours of my life. Then we went to bed.