Two summers ago, as the Olympics were being held in Beijing, a massive video screen was erected in London’s famed Trafalgar Square. Day after day, in the slim shadow of that gnomon-like column and statue of Admiral Nelson, tourists and locals alike gathered to view even the most obscure of Olympic events, together, and rapt.
Uzbek judo and Indonesian mixed doubles badminton heroes grappled and served on the screen, looking as large as floats in a Thanksgiving Day Parade. During breaks in the action, young men hit on young women, offering to continue via text. Couples canoodled. Office workers on break read the tabloids; commuters from soft cover books. Travelers unfolded and refolded their maps.
Why bring all that up now?
Because in case you ain’t heard, the World Cup begins today.
Depending when you read this, perhaps South Africa’s Bafana Bafana lowly-ranked squad, backed by the cry of 100,000 vuvuzelas, will have pulled off an inspired upset of Mexico’s El Tri.
Depending where you read this, perhaps you’ll have watched the game in a public space, such as Trafalgar. And not via your mobile handheld, looking down, whilst catching a train.
Chances are, though, if you’re reading this in City/Culture‘s hometown of Los Angeles, then:
A) You’ll be deeply upset if Mexico lost or even tied; and
B) You won’t be watching the game in the city’s main public square – mainly because the city doesn’t have one.
So where does the public gather during a presidential election, or an athletic happening?
When the Los Angeles Lakers hoops team played in the 2000 NBA Finals, the deciding game was shown on an exterior video board located on private property, affixed to the arena where the team plays. Some fans lit bonfires, and two police cars were torched, among other such acts. (A downtown parade soon after drew 250,000 fans.)
Back now to the World Cup. City / Culture was excited to hear that the England-U.S. first round game scheduled for tomorrow, Saturday, June 12, would be shown on a large screen set-up in Los Angeles’ Miracle Mile, Mid-Wilshire district. The Miracle Mile is home to the Los Angeles County Art Museum, the La Brea Tar Pits, and other cultural attractions. The short stretch ought to be turned into an inviting city center – a grassy mall, unpaved and free of cars, trucks, SUVs, and monuments.
Museum attendance would increase, the Petersen Automobile Museum that’s part of the strip would seem more like an anomaly – instead of a great, glorified garage of everyday L.A. – and best of all, Los Angeles would have the beginning of a public gathering spot. (And one accessible by subway ten years from now. More on that in another column.)
In short: The Miracle Mile is a perfect spot for the England-U.S. match to be exhibited. But L.A. being what it is, it turns out that the match is being shown on the roof of the Petersen Museum, and not out on, say, a closed-off public boulevard. Tickets are required, and cost as much as $22, including processing fee.
The match might well turn out to be a classic, and even better still, how often do the words, “open bar,” “rooftop” and “English football” come together? Anyone read Bill Buford?
Soccer, or football, or fútbol, offers the potential to bring Los Angelinos closer together. The city’s vast international populations bring a great variety of rooting interest to games that elsewhere in the States might not particularly matter. Soccer fans here compare notes about which neighborhood would be best to go watch Korea play, or Japan, or Honduras, or everyone’s favorite, Brazil, and so on.
City / Culture plays in a weekly pick-up game that features a rotating cast of players haling from at least eleven countries, and probably a couple more we’re forgetting.
And then there’s the Outpost Cup. Taking place last Sunday, June 6, the Outpost Cup brought an estimated 600 soccer players, performance artists, deejays, game announcers, and attendees together for a co-mingling of communities. The event was conceived and co-organized by the City / Culture columnist, as a fundraiser for the non-profit Outpost For Contemporary Art, where – disclosure – he’s a volunteer board member.
Some of the teams featured fine art themes, evident in their team names and t-shirts, and were stocked with players with museum or other high culture backgrounds. Other squads were filled with top jocks. Some with wealthier, established adults. Some with poorer, recent immigrant kids. One match-up was a full-field “dictators vs. guerrillas” performance by the Mexico-based art collective called Homeless. Some of the local players in this performance were previously, homeless.
An Anglo player got red-carded for swearing, in Spanish. A deejay from Buenos Aires spun African tunes. The Cool Haus architecturally themed ice cream truck created special edition edible wrappers honoring one of the Cup’s particularly esoteric team names, Death By Mercury Poisoning.
The Outpost Cup took place on an artificial turf field that’s available for booking much of the time through a City agency. (Other times, the field is used by a school.) There’s a beautiful new walking park adjacent to the pitch; both have panoramic views of Downtown. It’s not a public square, it’s not the Miracle Mile, but it does show how easy it is to bring people together, over – as one Outpost Cup participant put it – a shared pleasure.
That’s the World Cup, a shared pleasure. Los Angeles, let’s not all watch these early-morning games just in pubs, or all alone.
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