Saturday, February 26, 2011

Six Weeks & Super Bowl XXIII

When I was 19 years old, for six weeks I lived in a homeless shelter. It wasn't really one of those harsh, inner-city shelters that you think about when you think of homeless shelters. However, it was certainly no Ritz-Carlton. Located in a Bay Area suburb, one might think it may be hardly a "shelter" at all, but it was. The town it was in was at that time at the end of the BART tracks (they have since extended past this city), so many an inner city hobo/bum/vagrant whatever you want to call them, would bum enough spare change to ride the BART out at night to stay there. So it had its moments. It's rough, scary, too-much-reality for one day moments. But in general, it felt pretty safe. Run out of a National Guard Amory, it was typical of the late 80's Reagan Era homeless digs. It was a big open room, something like a gymnasium, the bull room or revelry room or whatever the Guardsmen called it. One hundred sleeping pads laid out on the floor, a big partition with 20 or so cots for the women "guests". Another front part where dinner was served, a couple of tables for socializing, and benches set up around a 21-inch TV. Perhaps this scene is why Super Bowl XXIII stands out as the most memorable Super Bowl I have ever witnessed. Then again, maybe it was because it was just an incredible game.


Recklessness and youthful stupidity had brought me to needing a shelter in the first place. Set with a good job at the time ($7/hour - A lucky guy) and a place to live in sunny beautiful, wonderful California, I had fallen in love again with an old flame back in Colorado. I packed up my bags and moved back to Denver. Monumental Mistake. Within weeks we had broken up, leaving me homesick for the good wages and great times of my adopted California homeland. Winter was in her full force, and I completely hated my predicament, making $3.50/hour as a pizza deliveryman. It was Hell. Even though I barely had gas money to make it back out again, after a couple of months I packed up my old Mercury Comet and hit the road back to Cali. Back to Home. Back to Where I Belonged. I gambled that the family run machine shop where I had worked before, and where they had really liked me, would take me back.

So I ended up back there, but without a place to stay for the night and essentially no money. I did the only thing I could think of at the time. I called my Step-Dad. An ex-policeman, he always knew where to turn in moments of crisis. Of course, he told me to call the police station. The police operator told me about the shelter. A place where I could stay for the night. I just had to be one of the first 100 there, because there were only so many beds. It would be my home for the next month and a half.

Life went on. I was one of the very fortunate guests there, as the company I had worked for before, eagerly took me back. So I was employed, which most of the others were not. Weekdays were easy. Just go to work, grab some Taco Bell afterwards (cause they didn't always have food to feed people at the shelter) and get to the line in front of the shelter around five o'clock in order to insure myself a bed for the night. The backseat of my Comet was filled with all my worldly possessions, so I really needed that sleeping pad on the floor for the night.

Over those six weeks, many a sad story I would hear. Just heartbreaking tales of lost employment, lost mortgages, alcoholism, and drug abuse. The eye-opening experience of a lifetime for a somewhat sheltered kid from the "suburbanite in the middle of nowhere" life of Wyoming where I had grown up. I would hear people blatantly lie to each other. Lovers deceive one another. A real life soap opera for the destitute and downtrodden.

Life during the weekends was not so fulfilled. I had fallen out of favor with my closest friends, and I really had nothing much to do. The few friends I had left were barely struggling to keep from having to resort to the shelter themselves, so I did not impose. I smoked their weed, mind you, for sure. But I did not accept their offers to stay on the couch. I started to actually prefer the shelter, and my place in it. Then one weekend, I realized it was Super Bowl Sunday. My buddy Jerry, had to go to a family function (biker reunion) so I was on my own. Ever the Dude, he gave me a doob and wished me luck. I found a park near the shelter and relaxed. After awhile it was time to leave for the line at the shelter.

Much to my surprise, when I arrived they were already letting folks in this day. A church group had set-up a chicken dinner for the inhabitants. I had not had real meat, chicken or pork in what seemed like a lifetime. Also, set up, they had extra benches brought in, and about 40-50 souls were gathered around the TV, watching the biggest event in the USA. At this time, 1989, Raider fans in the Bay Area were a somewhat strange breed, as the team had packed up and left more than 6 years earlier. Only the truly mental ill would root for a Los Angeles team and refuse to watch the cross-town Whiners. So everyone not disturbed was into watching the Bay Area's only professional football team, the Forty-Niners go for their 3rd Super Bowl title. How could one not get caught up in such pandemonium? I sat down to eat my chicken and watch the game.

What a game. That game had everything. I was inside my head, rooting hard for the Bengals. (Raiderfan, remember?) Dick Engberg and Merlin Olsen, perhaps the greatest announcing combo of all time (Yep, way better than Madden-Summerall) were calling the game. A nail-biter great game. Years later NFL.com named this the greatest Super Bowl of all time. What I, however, will always remember was the last 3:10 of the game. Jim Breech, the Bengals kicker, had just given the Bengals a 3 point lead and a penalty on the kickoff return had reduced the 49ers to their own 8 yard line. As Stewie Griffin would say, "Victory is Mine!" Or ours. Or the Bengals, at least for today. I felt satisfaction that the Hated Montana and Rice and Walsh and Craig were going to lose this one.

Mr. Montana and Mr. Rice had other ideas. Down the field they marched. Montana calling all the plays I'm too conservative to call while playing Madden on Playstation. They were doing the incredible. They were doing the unthinkable. They were not going for the tying field goal. The 49ers were going for the win. Right then, in midstream, my fan hood hatred of the Niners left me. What replaced it was my overwhelming fan hood of the game of Football. American Football, the way it was meant to be played. Go for the win, no overtime needed. Guts. Balls. Cajones. I did the unthinkable. I rooted for the Niners to win. I couldn't help myself. Maybe it was the Smoke. Yes. That is what I will attribute it to in future years. I was in a drug induced altered state. Only that could explain me rooting for Montana and Rice.

Of course you know the outcome of the game. Montana hit John Taylor with the game-winning touchdown with 0:34 seconds to play. The room exploded with cheers. Strangers were hugging. Just like a Super Bowl party at any random Bay Area suburban household, the Super Bowl party at the Armory was exactly the same scene. Crying, laughter, cheers and joy mixed as one, and I participated in it all. The room was United. The room was one. Everyone was Ecstatic.

About two weeks later, right around Valentine's Day, I had finally saved enough money to get an apartment. Sure, it was a dump. A cockroach infested hole in the wall in the low income part of town. But it was my own place. No furniture, just a few blankets on the floor for the first few months, until I could afford a futon. My first purchase? A stereo so I could listen to my King Diamond and Jane's Addiction Cd's. So I set up my own pad and place. Soon I would re-connect with my friends and my place in the world. All this grown out of that six week period in my life. Sports and the Super Bowl forever married to the memories.

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