“Sao Paulo?” Michael the baggage handler asks.
“You live there?”
“Nope. I live here.”
“Why are you going to Sao Paulo?”
“World Cup. What else?”
“I’m going to World Cup! I have to support my country.”
“Ghana is going to be difficult for the United States,” I say.
“Yes, but Klinsmann is doing good things. This match worries me,” Michael says.
“Maybe I’ll see you in Natal, my friend.”
“See you in Natal.”
And off we go.
Some three hours before lift off from Washington Dulles, World Cup is in the air. At the gate, three young travelers in yellow-and-green are chatting about Fortaleza. Spanish fans, one with his neck wrapped in a red scarf and the other in a Xavi jersey wearing a tall La Roja hat (a la Dr. Seuss), have arrived. There is a guy in a Czech Republic ’06 t-shirt and another wearing Alexis Sanchez’s Chilean No. 7.
The adjacent money exchange booth is moving reais. Best of all, there is a bar 20 strides away. Too soon for a caipirinha?
Wait a minute, didn’t I just get back from Johannesburg, the hum of vuvuzelas piercing my brain and biltong filling my belly?
Four years pass quickly on Planet Futebol. Maybe it’s because the calendar never rests, feeding a relentless supply of league matches, friendlies, tournaments and qualifiers. Trips to Kingston, San Pedro Sula and San Jose, Seattle, Salt Lake City and Columbus are lost in the fog of football.
A summer of samba awaits — actually, winter in Brazil, where Sao Paulo will post a high temperature of 64 on Tuesday. Before long, it will be 94 in Washington.
To the north, Natal, Manaus — particularly Manaus — and Recife will not offer such refreshing conditions.
This is my sixth World Cup, a run that began at Giants Stadium 20 years ago with Baggio’s Italy vs. Big Jack’s Ireland, picked up speed in France and South Korea/Japan, reached the pinnacle in Germany and discovered a continent in 2010.
A Brazilian World Cup promised an adventure like no other, until construction delays and infrastructure shortcomings and protests altered Sepp’s narrative. The build-up is always worse than the reality — we were all supposed to get kidnapped in South Africa and nothing was going to work, and yet everything proceeded with few incidents. Personal precautions, though, are in place for weeks based out of Sao Paulo and the last five days at an airbnb-rented apartment in the Flamengo district of Rio.
Rick Maese, one of The Post’s many gifted feature writers, has joined me on this trip. The Post’s foreign bureau will contribute to coverage. Regardless of how far the Americans advance, we’ll be on site until the end. The internet might work; it might not. Two mi-fis will serve as back-up.