Wednesday, February 1, 2006
Updated: February 4, 11:54 AM ET
Is that Kenny Wayne Shepherd?
By Chuck Klosterman
Editor's Note: Columnist Chuck Klosterman is in Detroit to update Page 2's Super Blog multiple times each day throughout Super Bowl week.
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Friday, 6:05 p.m.
It's currently 41 degrees in Detroit, and -- in a twist of tragic irony that must be killing the city's tourism commission -- it's actually too hot. The problem is that it has started to drizzle. Now, if it were 31 degrees, this drizzle would be a beautiful snowfall, and Bowl-obsessed interlopers would be transfixed by an urban wonderland decorated by downy flake. The portrait would be moving. But February drizzle is not moving. February drizzle is damp, debilitating, and colder than a witch's you-know-what. Do you remember how old episodes of "The Incredible Hulk" would conclude with Bill Bixby hitchhiking down a lonely highway, inevitably accompanied by the plinking of a sad, sad piano? That music is how the weather in Detroit feels.
My goal this afternoon was to Get Out And Experience Life, which is always a mistake. In a previous post, I mentioned "The People Mover," Detroit's (oddly expository) elevated train system. It seems the People Mover has met its match: It simply cannot move all the people who need moving. As a consequence, the traveling public is trying to compensate with a magic form of math: whenever two people exit the train, three people attempt to board. As such, the People Mover has become this wet, claustrophobic death trap, slowly grinding its way toward the Greek Town Casino. Good times come and good times go, but one reality remains constant: Elderly tourists love to gamble.
I got off the People Mover at the General Motors Ice Garden, an excellent place to drink $7 bloody marys while looking at Cadillac Escalades. The scene was (ahem) "sedate." Most of the people walking around the grounds were dressed in Steelers gear, as Super Bowl XL has essentially become a home game for Pittsburgh. One of the Ice Garden's key draws is a collection of ice sculptures representing each of the NFL's 32 teams, which is a dream scenario for anyone wishing to photograph a mammoth eagle head built out of stationary water molecules. The festival must also be hosting a Kenny Wayne Shepherd concert this evening, because KWS was running through a sound check with his band; oddly, it sounded like they were performing tracks off the second Stone Roses record. Maybe this is the future of neo-blues. Maybe Kid Jonny Lang now sounds like the Verve.
You know, I was tempted to fabricate some enthusiasm within this column and claim that all these downtown non-events were latently metaphoric of shared cultural pragmatism (or something equally ridiculous), but that would be untrue. It was just boring. I'm relieved that the hype for this thing is almost over; we're basically 48 hours from football Christmas. So tonight I drink and tomorrow I predict who will win Super Bowl XL. That is the plan, and that is what will happen. Get ready to call your bookies, old people -- the truth will set you free.
Friday, 11:41 a.m.
Last night I ate dinner alone, trolling Jefferson Ave. for tourists who might teach me the Real Meaning Of The Super Bowl. This did not work as planned; I spent my meal eavesdropping on two high school teachers talking about shrimp. "When I was young, eating shrimp was a big deal," one of them remarked. "If someone served shrimp, everyone was impressed. But now that I'm an adult, it seems like shrimp consumption is no big deal. People don't respect shrimp anymore." At the time, this seemed like banal conversation -- but damn it, the dude kind of has a point.
Anyway, I eventually left the restaurant in good spirits, only to be verbally confronted by two mooks in a Chevy Silverado 4x4; they were both about 22 years old and appeared to be looking for potential rape victims who might enjoy listening to The Cult. "Go steal!" yelled the unshaven chap in the passenger's seat, pointing his sausage-like index finger in the general direction of my jowls. "Go steal! Go steal!" His command seemed wildly incendiary: Why did this fellow want me to commit a crime? Was this an attempt to foster chaos? Was he unconsciously asking me to join their pick-up posse (and to likewise embrace their shoplifting bloodlust)? Were these the kind of insurgents who initiated the 1999 WTO riots in Seattle? What could this mean for the future of Detroit?
It was at this point that I noticed their truck was covered with hydrocycloids decals, and that one of them was wearing a Jack Lambert throwback jersey, and that their truck had Pennsylvania license plates, and that the unshaven ruffian was actually yelling, "Go Steel! Go Steel!" But this is an important lesson for all of us: There is nothing in this world more dangerous than homonyms.
Obviously, I escaped from this incident unscathed (and -- as far as I can tell -- there has been virtually no scathing of anyone all week). But it did make me think about football, violence, and the relative risk of attending a major sporting event. As I mentioned yesterday, there is a palpable impression of energy that's emanating from Detroit's vortex, but it is certainly not an intimidating brand of excitement; people don't seem like they're on the verge of destruction. The streets of Detroit feel dangerous and depressing and lawless, but that has nothing to do with the Super Bowl; that's how they feel all the time. There are a lot more overdressed goofballs in the downtown area, and many of them are drinking and acting buffoonish -- but none of this suggests menace or risk. And I suspect this is because the Super Bowl is not a game-driven event, and it's not a lifestyle-driven event: It's an event-driven event. And that means the scale is much higher, but the stakes are much lower.
In his excellent book "Among the Thugs," American writer Bill Buford explains a conversation he had with a man named R. McAllister, the superintendent of police in Sutherland, England. They were talking about European soccer hooliganism, but McAllister had a lot of questions about NFL games in the U.S. "Am I mistaken," he asked, "or is it the case that there is seating for everyone at every American football match?" He was also shocked to learn that football games last three hours without police interference, and that no one ever dies watching a football game. In England, soccer is a "lifestyle-driven" sport, so lower-class troglodytes use the games as an excuse for weekly, temporary revolution. In even crazier countries, soccer matches are "game-driven" events, where the outcome on the scoreboard means everything: this is why Columbian soccer player Andres Escobar was shot 12 times in 1994 after scoring an accidental goal for the United States in a 2-1 World Cup loss. But here, things are different. The Super Bowl is an "event-driven" event, which means people care less about its symbolism and its result; they mostly just care that it exists. They want to see what it looks like, and they want to be around when it happens -- but they're ultimately passive. They don't want to disrupt the event, because the event is everything.
Obviously, American fans always retain the potential to be idiots: it has become something of a tradition for hometown fans to destroy cop cars and steal VCRs any time their local franchise wins a championship, which is weird. Even weirder was a tradition I noticed when I lived in Ohio: whenever Ohio State plays Michigan in football, college kids drag their couches onto the street and set them on fire. Sutherland may have bloody riots and Columbia may have soccer murderers, but neither place can touch Columbus when it comes to couch burning. Still, those experiences are technically detached from the games themselves; nobody ever burns a couch in the end zone or in the locker room. My assumption is that Super Bowl XL will be without chaos (Note to readers: If there ends up being a terrorist attack at Ford Field this Sunday, anticipate this column being used by Fox News to illustrate America's na´ve unreadiness).
Time to go steal.
Chuck Klosterman is the author of "Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story" and is a senior writer for Spin magazine and a columnist for Esquire. Sound off to Page 2 here.