Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Super Bowling in New Caledonia

The girl at the tourist information center blinked at me uncertainly. “Pardon?” she asked.
“The Super Bowl,” I said again. “It’s a big sports event. American football?”
“You mean rugby?” she asked hopefully as she twisted her hands together. I felt sorry for her 21 year-old self - they clearly had not covered this eventuality in training.
“Not quite.” I looked over my shoulder at my father. He smiled at me hopefully. I hated to burst his bubble, but even if I spoke French like the President of l’Académie Française, there was no way I was going to find him the Super Bowl on TV in Noumea.

A good host should be prepared for all eventualities, but, I have to admit, this request caught me by surprise.  I've always been of the opinion that sports, like most things in life, are better played than watched, so these major viewing events aren't really on my radar.  Before my parents arrived in Noumea, I did what I thought was sensible: I prepped the dinghy for water excursions, saved the car rental number in my phone for land trips, and had a list of ideas at the ready. But after a couple of lazy days of reading, adjusting to the time change and having the girls crawl all over them, my dad decided it was time to take care of priority items, and in the number one spot was: where was he going to watch the Super Bowl?

It may not be my cup of tea, but I was of course willing to help.  But who were we kidding?  Visiting a French territory means travelling to a parallel dimension. The French are often unfairly accused of sneering at the anglophone world.  I disagree.  They aren't sneering - they just don't notice that the anglo world exists.  All eyes are turned to Paris (which isn’t even referred to as Paris, but simply as “la métropole”.)  A niche sport like American football was not going to make it onto the French radar.

So how was I going to help my dad?  After striking out with the tourist bureau, our next stop was the ice cream stand.  This is more sensible than it sounds: I knew that the kid who works there is a hockey freak. The last time we got ice cream, he waxed lyrical about visiting the US and watching the New Jersey Devils play someone or other.  He was the best source I had.

As soon as the kid handed over our ice cream, my dad pounced. “I hear you are a sports fan. Where can I watch the Super Bowl on Monday?”
The kid made a face. “Oooooh. That won’t be so easy. I am taking the day off to watch the game on my computer.”
As they discussed details, I shook my head internally. Surely this was only giving my dad false hope.  He couldn’t realize that he was speaking to the one person in Noumea who had even heard of the Super Bowl, much less planned to watch it. But I gamely wrote down suggested websites and traded email addresses with the kid, in the hopes he could think of a bar that might be showing the game.

As the days ticked by and the kid didn’t write, I could see my dad getting more and more anxious. We took trips to the beach, we walked around town, the kids played on the dock, but the still the question came up: how was Dad going to watch the Super Bowl? My suggestion that, while my internet connection wouldn’t be good enough to stream the game, we could probably download a highlight reel afterwards was met with scorn.  Ditto offering to have the kids reenact the game later.
Prepping for their big scene.
“I don't want highlights.  I’m taping it at home; if I can't watch it live, I'll see it all then.”
I looked at him, wondering why we were going through this for a game he was taping. “Then why don’t we keep you in a news blackout and you can wait?”
“And stop talking about it,” muttered my mother.
Dad shook his head. “It’s not the same.”

One morning as I was preparing breakfast Dad called down from the cockpit. “Amy! Bad news.”
“What’s that?”
“There is no American Consulate in Noumea.”
I paused for a moment. “Were you seriously planning to call the American consul to ask where to watch the Super Bowl? Really?  You're not even an American.”
“Yes,” he said in a way that sounded a lot like “Duh, obviously I was!”  Why else does a consul exist but to take care of such weighty matters for temporary expats from another country?  The things we learn.

During all this, I was in the middle of selling our old dinghy. As I fielded phone calls on the back deck, my eyes squeezed shut as I tried to focus all of my brainpower on understanding the French crackling over the line, Dad called to me from the cockpit.
“Amy!  There is an American bar in town!  They will definitely have the Super Bowl!”
We were getting down to the wire: only one day to go.  My phone rang again.  “I guess you’d better call them and find out.”
Dad was taken aback. “You want me to call them?”
When I made it back into the cockpit, Dad looked optimistic.  “So," I asked, "did they know anything about the Super Bowl?”
“The woman I talked to told me that, if I could find the channel, they’d play it.”  My father viewed this as a positive sign.  I was a little less convinced.

But I’m not made of stone, and I really did want to help my dad if I could, even if I couldn’t relate to his quest. The least I could do was try to help him find a likely channel.  Inevitably, our internet was down during this crucial time. I suggested to my dad that we walk to the town square, where they have free internet. We hiked over, found a bench, and tried to connect. We chatted about home, and the prospect of retirement (mine ending at some indeterminate point, his beginning at a similarly indeterminate point). I made it to the registration page, only to discover that some genius/sadist constructed the system such that to use the free internet, you have to register your email address, and they send you a password… which you can’t access because you don’t have access to the internet yet.  Stymied, we walked home again.

But my dad was a man on a mission.  Monday morning dawned, and he was ready for the 1030 kick-off (local time, of course).  He planned to go to that bar and scan every channel for the rest of the day if it meant a chance in finding the Super Bowl.  We reviewed the bus routes and walking directions. I set out for my French class hopeful that he would find the number 70 bus and - more importantly - would find what he was looking for on the other end.

As my class drew to a close, my phone beeped. The SMS read: "ESPN 2 reaches Noumea.  Me and a big screen.  Heaven.  Dad"
I shook my head. Amazing.  The old man actually did it.  As I put my phone away, I reflected I should have had a little more faith.  Have my years on the water taught me nothing?  A little persistence will take you a long way.  

As he recounted later, my dad was the only person in the bar before, during and after the game. The staff genially set up the projector for him, found ESPN2 out of Australia, and supplied him with beer and curry as the need arose. And so, all alone in a bar in the South Pacific, with only the Australian commercials to keep him entertained between plays, he saw the Seahawks win, and he was satisfied.
My dad had a very comfortable space all to himself.

Success!  Seattle takes it 43-8!
The World Series was months ago, and the Stanley Cup is months away. No one has mentioned the word “Olympics” yet, so I am cautiously optimistic.  Super Bowl accomplished, now we can get down to the serious business of vacationing, and leave the sports behind.


Stephen said...

Well done. Now that's a much better story than my superbowl Sunday.

Grant J said...

Reminds me of most of the bars around here after halftime...

Anonymous said...

Well done, dad. I cannot believe he was the only North American in noumea to want to watch the game!! Great story Amy, I was laughing all the way through, and cheering your dad on! Sounds like Karen and I with Nascar!! Cheers, Enjoy! John M.

Anonymous said...

Good for my obsessive brother but too bad the game wasn't worth crossing the street to watch. I hope he switched the channel to cricket to keep from falling asleep. And Amy, I resent you calling him an old man.
Uncle Doug