It was a June in the mid-1990s. I’d traveled to Toronto to review the production of a rotogravure cylinder, which is a super cool printing process that otherwise has nothing to do with this story. The printing company folks needed me there on a Thursday morning, so I flew in late Wednesday night. Alas, when I awoke Thursday morning and called over to the printing plant, they told me there’d been a delay. They wouldn’t be ready for me until Friday morning.
Nowadays, I’d have a laptop with me, so I could settle in at the hotel and get some work done. Not so 20 years ago. With a free day on my hands, I looked around for something to do. I was in a new city after all. I ended up doing a number of fun Toronto things, including going up the CN Tower. I also happened to be near the Blue Jays stadium right before the start of an afternoon Business Day Special. I bought a single seat behind home plate from a scalper for $10, and saw a fun game which featured a Joe Carter home run and a Blue Jays win.
All in all, a pleasant time.
Until I got into the cab.
My hotel was out near the airport, which was a pretty good trek from downtown, especially as I was heading back during evening drive time. When I climbed into the cab, I knew it would be almost an hour before I reached the hotel. Or seven hours in “trapped with a obsessive soccer fan cab driver” time.
Actually, the term “fan” is hardly an adequate descriptor. “Terrifying zealot” is closer to the mark.
I’d walked a lot that day, so I was tired and thinking of closing my eyes. But first the requisite chit-chat. Where you from? Your first time in Toronto? How’d you find the city? Did you do anything fun?
My mistake was answering that last question. I mentioned the CN Tower, which was safe. Then I said I’d gone to the Blue Jays game, and that unleashed the soccer kraken. Sorry, the football kraken.
Baseball1, I was to learn, is a degenerate activity played and watched by degenerates. Football—not the degenerate American football, which is an abomination, but true football—is a sublime activity through which the very light of God shines. “It is not called the Beautiful Game for nothing!” he said many times. I did not know anyone called it the Beautiful Game, and from my spot in the backseat of that cab, I wasn’t finding much beauty in the idea of soccer. Er, football.
More than once I politely told him I appreciated his thoughts, but would like some quiet now. That just wound him up some more. (“Degenerate!) I also debated exiting the cab, but since we were in the middle lane of a freeway (albeit moving at a crawl) this didn’t seem expedient. Had he started with his extended diatribe before we left surface streets, I definitely would have fled.
I had a book with me, and tried to read. But he kept talking. He also tried to give me a book he had with him, something about soccer. Of course. I refused it. “It will teach you the truth!” I felt like my head was a soccer ball and his voice was a boot.
Years later, we arrived at my hotel. I paid the fare ($46, a figure I still remember for some reason), and asked for a receipt. Then I told him why I wasn’t giving him a tip. I also told him I’d be calling the number on the receipt to complain about how rude he was. He called me a degenerate again and tore out of there. I didn’t actually bother calling the cab company. I was too tired. All I wanted dinner and about eight beers. And no more soccer. Ever.
So here we are, World Cup time, and I guess people are really into it. Not me, so much. Twenty years later, I still associate soccer (or football, or whatever the hell it’s called) with that cab ride. It’s kinda like how the very smell of rum makes me feel nauseated just because of that one time in college when I drank three-fourths of a bottle of 151-proof Ron Rico rum and got so sick I wanted to (and likely nearly did) die. Sometimes, the mere thought of soccer makes me want to punch a cab driver in the back of the head.
Every endeavor has its terrifying superfans. SEC football (the ’Murican kind) fans certainly rank up there with my cab driver. I don’t lump my many friends who love the game with that cab driver. But I also have to say, I don’t really want to hear about either. That may mean I’ll be spending less time on social media over the next few weeks, but that’s on me. I very much hope everyone can enjoy the things they love, and ask only that we not be a particular Toronto cab driver about it.
1 The funny thing is I don’t care much for baseball anymore either. My once fervent love of the game was killed by Bud Selig, the endless sanctimony, and by all those idiotic “unwritten rules of the game.” Besides, the MLB is full of right wing gun nuts. Oh, I’ll go see a live minor league game, but I couldn’t tell you who’s good, bad, or indifferent in the current MLB. The same is true of the NBA, which is functionally an organized crime operation. The luster has even worn off my longtime favorite sport, American football, thanks to all the Christianist players and coaches, the brain injuries, the jingoism, and the mere existence of the Ginger Hammer.