The host at the restaurant in Bodega Bay, California, confirmed what I thought: no televisions. He mentioned a place down the street, but “our food is better.”
Already heading out the door, I shot back, “Thanks, but we’re only out to watch the game.”
At the next spot the roar from the back bar said it all.
The Kansas City Chiefs had just scored in the National Football League’s American Football Conference Championship game against the New England Patriots.
A middle-aged woman led a rabble of fans a few dozen deep, sitting at small tables littered with Irish Coffee glasses and chowder bowls, all cheering for the team from Missouri. None wore Chiefs gear, though a couple donned faded San Francisco Giants hats.
“I might have to run out of here if the Pats win,” I muttered to my friend as we sat down at the only free spots, two barstools in front of the group.
Yes, dear reader, I am a Patriots fan. Before you stop reading (too late?), let me explain.
A born and bred New Englander, I did not watch the franchise flounder for most of my early years, nor did I endure bitter cold at the old stadium- a decrepit joint that would shame many a high school team- to turn on the Pats when success made them the most hated team in the league.
In few places is the loathing more acute than the heart of Raider Nation where I live. Fans of the future Las Vegas Raiders have not forgiven the Patriots for the “Tuck Rule Game.”
Near the end of a playoff game in 2002, New England quarterback Tom Brady appeared to fumble the ball. The Raiders recovered, securing victory. But the refs ruled Brady was trying to tuck the ball into his body, and called an incomplete pass. Given another chance, the Pats kicked a field goal to send the game into overtime and then another to win it.
The play was called correctly. The rule was bad. The league eventually changed it.
Easier to hate a team than a rule, and the Raiders’ fans have, with unrelenting vigor, for 17 years and counting.
The same cannot be said for my level of interest. A mountain of evidence shows the devastating lifelong effects the violent game has on players. And that’s without considering the cultural minefield that is Colin Kaepernick.
But I still tune in when the Pats are in the playoffs.
We had watched the first half from my camper at Doran Beach a few miles away. The Dish Anywhere app that lets me tune into my home satellite service from a laptop is a marvel, in theory, but I’ve used it enough to expect delays and the occasional crash, and we weren’t about to risk missing a decisive moment.
The original plan had been to spend the game sipping Scrimshaw Pilsner at North Coast Brewing a hundred miles up the road in Fort Bragg before watching the super blood wolf moon eclipse, but – stop me if you’ve heard this before – foul weather had intercepted my travel itinerary.
King tides and days of rain forced the evacuation of our campground at Mackerricher State Park.
High water there was at Doran Campground too. And wind and rain. Without them I wouldn’t have been able to drive in and snag a spot on the Friday before a holiday weekend.
It is winter, but it’s also Dungeness crab season, and Bodega Bay is a go-to spot.
While a friend has in the past hauled in some delicious crustaceans, I come for the dog-friendly beach, the quiet and – during summer – the weather. Bodega Bay remains cool when a few miles inland temperatures reach into the high 80s and into the 100s in my little city an hour and a half away.
To the greater world the town is known as the setting for Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”
Spoiler alert: While I’ve seen many birds they’ve never been aggressive.
Second spoiler alert: Most of the film was shot in Bodega, a blink-and-you’ll miss it town a few miles inland.
Third spoiler alert: The movie was influenced in part by an actual bird attack, but it happened approximately 150 miles south in Capitola, and nobody died.
Birds feature prominently on multiple buildings in Bodega Bay, which hosts Hitchcock film festivals. There is even a Birds Cafe. But the town doesn’t go overboard.
After we settled in at the bar I ordered a porter. His back to the TV, the bartender grabbed a pint glass and poured while watching the game over his shoulder. He plunked a pale beer in front of me.
“That’s not a porter,” I replied.
He looked at the glass.
“Sure isn’t,” he said, dumped the beer and repeated the ritual, this time pouring my dark beer.
Two questionable calls went the Patriots’ way, drawing roars of indignation from the sea of haters behind us, and my attempt to explain why one was correct elicited a raised eyebrow from the guy in the next barstool and an accusation that I must be a prosecutor.
I replied that as a Pats fan in the Bay Area I’ve had to defend my team a lot, and that I choose to use logic to do so.
I know, dear reader, logic and sports fandom have nothing in common. Call it a coping mechanism.
Despite plenty of scoring, regulation ended in a tie. The back-and-forth madness of the first 60 minutes did not carry into overtime. The Patriots won the coin toss, received the kickoff and methodically moved the ball down the field.
When Rex Burkhead scored a touchdown to end the game, I clapped twice and hollered.
From behind us only the sound of chairs moving out from tables.
Then the woman who had led the cheers yelled, “Well, go Rams!”
The bartender looked up from a glass he was cleaning and stared.
“No. That is not ok. You do not root for Southern California teams in my bar,” he yelled.
We thanked the bartender and left quickly.
Outside the wind whipped, accompanied by light rain.
My friend packed up his dogs and cooler at the campground as I readied Klaus the dog for a walk.
“I wouldn’t go for a walk now if I were you,” he said.
“Eh, we’ll be fine,” I shot back.
A blast of cold rain hit my cheek as he drove away. We walked for a few minutes as the rain increased to a downpour.
“Maybe this wasn’t the best idea, little buddy,” I said and headed back.
The wind shook the little RV. I turned on Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.” The pitter patter of rain on the roof provided an extra layer of percussion.
When the heartbeat sound faded away at the end of “Eclipse,” the final track, I noticed the background music had stopped too.
I opened the door and grabbed Klaus’ leash. He was off the couch and beside me before I could call him.
At the beach, dark gray clouds that covered most of the sky gave way to bright stars and in the middle shown the moon, a reddish-orange haze behind it. The eclipse that I’d figured storm clouds would cover was in full effect.
I considered taking pictures, but lacking special equipment or knowledge I doubted any would come out well.
That’s an excuse. My hands were too cold, even with winter gloves.
I walked up and down the beach to keep warm while staring at the sky. Klaus sniffed a pile of seaweed.
Later, as I stood with my hands in front of the camper heater, I heard the distinct tap of raindrops on the roof that – stop me if you’ve heard this before – were soon joined by thousands of others.