The conversation I have had with several people over the past week and a half goes something like this: "Are you going to the Super Bowl?"
"Nah. I've got a pretty comfy couch."
"But it's right across the bay," they are baiting me now.
"And the nachos at my house don't cost fifty dollars." I'm not giving in.
It goes on for a moment or two longer, and the reality sets in: The thirty nine miles between my front door and the gates of Levi Stadium could be traversed, traffic permitting, in less than an hour. It is by far the closest geographical proximity I might hope to experience. My son, who understands the value of a hot ticket went online to see if he could wrangle his father a seat to the big game. He came away with three thousand reasons why it is the thought that matters and his father's everlasting respect. Thirty-nine miles and three thousand dollars meant it was possible, but not likely that I would be sitting in the stadium watching my team playing in the spectacle of all spectacles.
Admission to Super Bowl City was free. It was also only thirteen miles away, right at the base of the Bay Bridge. A couple of Bart stops. And no one was more excited about making that trip than my wife. We had a trip to San Francisco on our itinerary anyway, so we figured we could stop by the football Mecca, just to check it out. We took my younger brother, the sports fanatic, along with us. Okay, he's not so much a fan as a good sport. He went along to see the crowd, and he wasn't disappointed. When we came up the stairs from the underground train, we found our way to the line that would let us in. We passed heavily armed police and went through metal detectors, emerging into a land of Bud Light stands and a myriad of NFL logos. The three of us made our way through the throng, stopping long enough to ask some of the orange-jacketed volunteers questions. "Who won Super Bowl VIII?" "Who's going to win Super Bowl L?" and "Where do we buy stuff?"
We were pointed in a general direction, where we found the longest line in all of Super Bowl City. Hundreds of the faithful were queued up in front of a semi trailer, open on one side, with merchandise flying out of it as fast as the credit cards could be swiped. Did I say "fast?" There may have been some part of this experience that flew by, but as people pushed through our line on their way to lines that were actually moving. My wife and brother stuck with me as we crept ever closer to the spot where I could exchange my hard-earned money for official Super Bowl merchandise. We made friends with those around us. My brother and I chatted up the lady in front of us who turned out to be not just a Forty-Niners fan, but an Elvis fan from way back in 1969. Talking about The King helped us wile away the minutes, hours, days we spent there in line. My wife struck up an acquaintance with a lady who was sipping Cabernet from a plastic cup. She worked in downtown San Francisco, and was there getting a sweatshirt for her niece. My wife started to make a deal where we we might get her to come back during the week when it wasn't so busy. And there might be more merchandise.
While we waited, and watched, t-shirts, sweatshirts, and all manner of memorabilia was pulled down from the wall behind the six harried concessionaires. They weren't being restocked. The closer we got to the open windows, the more people seemed to pause and shop, looking for that one particular item. I just wanted a hat. I wanted proof of the time I spent in Super Bowl City. When my friend the Elvis fan got her black and gold sweatshirt, I waited one more time for my chance to participate in the true spirit of the Super Bowl: waiting. The gentleman who was changing his order, adding and subtracting pennants, pint glasses and beanies as he could have been completing his transaction happened to be the guy behind whom I was stuck. Then his card wouldn't go through. Nor would the second. He loudly insisted that he had over fifty thousand dollars in his account. How could this be?
Simple enough. It was all part of thee plan. At last, I was able to pay for my paltry purchase, and I headed with my wife and brother to the exit. We didn't go on the zip line or take in the big stage where Chris Isaak would soon be performing. We fled.
We walked out of Super Bowl City with our lives, and memories of what happens when you close blocks of a major metropolitan area for weeks at a time to sell beer and give everyone "an experience." We walked up the hill to our theater date, leaving visions of the Lombardi Trophy behind us. Later that night, as we walked back to the Bart station, I spied a sporting goods store, where I was pretty sure I recognized a hat next to the cash register. Upon entering, I walked over and looked at the price tag. Same hat, five dollars cheaper. And what was even more apparent to me, there was no line in which to wait.
I laughed a little. The laugh that said, "Well, how about that?" I couldn't be bitter about my journey. It was my choice. I didn't force anyone to join me, and no once force me to make it. There was still a week left until the Super Bowl, but I had already made my trip.