La Pequeña Quito

The Match: Honduras v. Ecuador

The Date: Friday, June 21

The Venue: El Pequeño Coffee Shop in Jackson Heights, Queens. Actually, all of Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights where pumped up Ecuadorians celebrated their win.

El Pequeño Coffee Shop
El Pequeño Coffee Shop before the match between Ecuador and Honduras

I wrote the first draft of this post while I watched Ghana draw Germany and put serious pressure on the USA in their match tomorrow against Portugal. Even when he’s not playing the USA, Asamoah Gyan haunts us! He scored the goal that made the score 2-1 Ghana before Klose equalized.

My original post was bland and boring. Basically, it reflected my experience inside El Pequeño. That was my second consecutive mundane World Cup experience after several days of fun and excitement.  I was disappointed by the restaurant, but not by the neighborhood of Jackson Heights.

Queens County has the highest Ecuadorian population of any county in the USA so let’s start calling Jackson Heights “La Pequeña Quito.” La Pequeña Quito, LPQ for short, was awesome and I would live there.

I think my expectations for the restaurant were too high. Several websites recommended El Pequeño Coffee Shop as the place to be for Ecuador games. I took the 7 Train to LPQ and spotted five yellow Ecuador jerseys in my car. When we reached Roosevelt Avenue, I descended the station steps into a loud and lively cityscape, flecked with yellow jersey after yellow jersey.  I stopped for a moment to watch a drum circle entertain a small crowd in a sidewalk park. I passed a few Ecuadorian shops selling jerseys and traveling vendors hocking jerseys before I ran into Katie on the way to El Pequeño. I thought she would get there much later than me. Surely, this would be a great experience.

Yet, we got there right before kick-off and there were several empty tables. A hostess sat us near the door, in the center of the restaurant and there was no one within high-fiving distance. I was concerned.

El Pequeño’s faux-wood and -brick walls were decorated with posters of South American cracks Neymar, Messi, Falcao and Antonio Valencia plus flags from each South American country in the World Cup. It’s nice that they embrace Pan-South Americanism, but I wanted to embed myself among fierce Ecuador partisans.

The place was partitioned so that there was no real sense of community among the fans. Each time the El Pequeño crowd reacted to a play, I was surprised. Where did that noise come from? I thought when a lone woman behind me screeched after a shot on the Honduran net. No one else seemed very emotional.

I wondered if that’s just the Ecuadorian way — calm, cool, composed (It’s not, I found out later).  The serious supporters sat directly in front of one TV showing the Univision broadcast. Their heads were tilted with the brims of their trucker caps pointed toward the screen during the entire match. They rarely moved. I’m sure they have stiff necks today.

A group of five men and women in Ecuador shirts sat at the neighboring table with a bucket of Coronas. Three watched most of the match, but  the other giggly couple seemed to be more focused on one another.

For the first time, I didn’t talk to any strangers other than our waiters and a cameraman from New York 1 who showed up near the end of the game. Each of the servers wore Ecuador jerseys and holstered scores of red drinking straws in their aprons. Three attended to our table and we didn’t chat much. They did give us some solid straws though, the kind you get with a a Blizzard at Dairy Queen. Love those straws.

People, including our friend Julia, flowed in and out of the restaurant as the game progressed and eventually all the tables filled up. A group of hipster cyclists arrived near halftime and sat behind us. A few young Latin American men entered alone and sat on stools near the windows. When a flower salesman headed to our table I cringed and prepared for his sale pitch. I figured he would try to sell me a rose, I would refuse, he would gesture to Katie, I would refuse again, he would hand it to Katie then demand money, I would refuse, Katie would hand the rose back, he would give me a dirty look and I would ask him to leave us alone. But before he reached us, he turned around, checked the score on a nearby TV and left the restaurant.

El Pequeño offered one twist on the typical soccer viewing experience, however. There was a TV showing a pretty scary CGI film called Walking with Dinosaurs to entertain a family with a toddler. Oh, and Katie too. While I watched the game and noted some observations about the environment, *SPOILER ALERT*, Katie delivered an impassioned play-by-play of a young dino escaping white water rapids and a top-notch recap of a Triceratops snapping a T-Rex’s wimpy arm.

I had hoped to watch the game with my friend Gustavo, whose dad is from Ecuador, but Gus couldn’t join us because he was celebrating his dad’s birthday. Another Ecuadorian friend, Manuel, told me he was also watching the game at home. Perhaps people from Ecuador cherish the time they share with their families and prefer to watch La Tri with their abuelitas en casa.

Whatever the case, no one seemed content to stay at home after Ecuador’s 2-1 victory. Roosevelt Avenue was a cacophony of honking car horns and screaming fans. I guess they are not subdued after all. Reveling passengers stood up out of sunroofs and shrieked like Vegas bachelorette party-goers drinking Andre in a stretch limo. Passing cars draped with red, yellow and blue flags responded with rhythmic honks, which were answered with more honks, which were answered with more honks. It sounded awful, but at least it was an expression of joy and passion. LPQ provided the kind of impromptu, outlandish celebration I looked forward to experiencing during this World Cup.

Ecuador fans
Fans of Ecuador celebrate their victory over Honduras as they drive down Roosevelt Avenue

OVERALL ATMOSPHERE: 5/10 in El Pequeño, which lacked energy and community among the fans. Again — zero high-fives or fist bumps distributed, my all-time low.

9/10 in Jackson Heights, aka La Pequeña Quito, which provided the kind of neighborhood-wide excitement I was looking for. As we headed to the train, a young boy waving an Ecuador flag sprinted along the sidewalk while his dad held a soccer ball and chased him. That was beautiful! 

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