2018 Primetime Emmy
& James Beard Award Winner

Watching Football With a Rampaging Group of Middle‑Aged Couples in Cabana Wear

Photo by: Cristian Viarisio

Watching Football With a Rampaging Group of Middle‑Aged Couples in Cabana Wear

Cristal in Havana

The cigar bar at the Melia Cohiba hotel in Havana was showing the Super Bowl—Patriots vs. Seahawks—in Spanish. My friend Mike and I, in Cuba on a reporting trip, had had a long day of interviews and we were looking forward to kicking back and watching the most capitalist of spectacles over a few Cuban beers from a nationalized brewer.

The problem was that the cigar bar, unsurprisingly, was filled with smoke. As we entered the room we did a little mental math and figured we wouldn’t last more than forty-five minutes. That would barely get us through the first quarter. Mike and I walked over to a café on the same floor to see if they’d show the game. The café was frigid and also smoky, although less smoky than the cigar bar. Everywhere in Havana was kind of smoky.

There was a group of Spanish-speaking men drinking Cristal beer and smoking at two circular glass tables, and a middle-aged American couple at the bar. They, too, were escaping the cigar room. The couple asked the waitress if they could watch the game in English. The waitress didn’t know. Maybe? She flipped the TV to ESPN. It was in Spanish.

The couple shrugged and turned to Mike and I to introduce themselves. Their names were Jim and Bonnie, or something like that: two very American names. I asked where they were from. “Ohio—the Buckeye State,” the man said with pride. He was large, tan, and wearing a breezy Tommy Bahamas shirt.

He told me they were in Havana for “religious reasons,” without elaborating. They were loving it so far. “The people are just great. Just great,” Jim said, and then lamented what Havana might become once the country really opened its doors to America. “A McDonald’s on every corner!”

Meanwhile, his big-haired wife said the one thing she couldn’t take about Cuba was the lack of pretzels, potato chips, and Lifesavers candy. She was very specific about these shortcomings: pretzels, potato chips, Lifesavers. “We’re here for four days,” she said, “I couldn’t stay any longer.”

Just then a group of a dozen or so Americans, each wearing nametags, entered the bar. They immediately began rearranging the tables and chairs, making an incredible racket. One of the men asked loudly why the game wasn’t in English. The waitress looked slightly bewildered by the commotion.

This really did feel like the front lines of some kind of Barbarian invasion. The whole week in Havana we’d been wondering, just like Jim, what it would look like when American tourists came in full, and here we were witnessing it: A rampaging group of middle-aged married couples in cabana-wear with unlit cigars dangling from their mouths, drunk from afternoon daiquiris by the pool and here to watch a man that looked like the human embodiment of America: Tom Brady.

It turned out to be a good game. I drank a few Cristals and observed the group of Americans. There was a couple from Boston who were cheering for the Patriots. The husband had a beer belly and sported a Hawaiian shirt and a worked-in Patriots cap. He looked like Dan Aykroyd. His wife was blond with a ruddy complexion and waxy skin, like that of a baby. There seemed to be some tension between them. The wife was drunk and talking at such a volume that you couldn’t hear the Spanish play-by-play over her voice.

When the lone Seattle fan in the group, a petite woman who looked to be in her sixties, cheered for her team, the women from Boston booed and hollered “Seahawks suck!”

Dan Aykroyd didn’t like this. “Hey!” he shouted at his wife. “It’s called sportsmanship! Look it up!”

Later, things boiled over between the couple. It was the fourth quarter and she was very intoxicated now and wanted to go back to their room. The game was close. The man muttered something under his breath, settled his tab, and then walked to the back of the café to finish off the stub of a cigar he’d been smoking off and on throughout the game.

When he came back to the table he looked furious. He said to his wife, “Let’s go back to the room.”

But now she didn’t want to go—she was into the game and wanted to watch the end. “Why do you want to go back?” she said.

Aykroyd snapped: “Because you wanted to!”

The room was silent. The rest of the group kept their eyes fixed to the TV, spinning the ice cubs around their glasses of rum and whisky.

“Are you mad at me?” the woman said meekly. “What did I do?”

Aykroyd leaped from his chair and stormed out of the room. More silence. The game was entering its dramatic final moments.

A few minutes later, Aykroyd came back into the café. The Seahawks were in the red zone and things looked bleak for his Patriots. He took a seat and folded his arms. Just before the fateful goal line interception, he said quietly, answering a question no one asked, “I just went to the bathroom.”

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