Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Hello, old friends: the Old97s in Dallas

Upstairs at the Sons, the band shared the room with a big tree. . .

Mary dropped the hint a month ago with an e-mail announcing the Old97s, one of our all-timest favorite bands, would be playing four nights at Dallas' Sons of Hermann Hall to close out the year. With the second show on my night off, December 28th, how could we say no?

We rode over with friends Lance and Emily and were joined by Wes for an Italian dinner nearby in Deep Ellum; Mike met us at the Sons. All of us except Emily were '97s veterans--my first exposure to them was with Mike back in 1998, I believe, in Denton, on an incredibly hot summer night when bassist Murry Hammond collapsed on stage in the small, packed club due to the heat. After a glass of water and a few minutes in front of a fan, he was back on stage. How could you not like a band like that?

So I've probably seen a dozen Old97s shows since then. There've been outdoor venues and little dives, big crowds and little ones. Most of the shows have been positively electric; a few have been duds, but even those had magical moments.

And they're a personable group of guys. One afternoon before an evening show years ago, I was purchasing tickets at the Ridgelea Theater boxoffice in Fort Worth. I was wearing a shirt with a storm-chasing motif upon it; Hammond, there to set up their gear, happened to walk by and asked about it--he was intrigued by storm chasing and storm chasers, having grown up in Boyd, Texas, deep in Tornado Alley. We struck up a conversation, and discovered we both had a strong interest in trains. Not just strong. Make that obsessive. You don't pace Rock Island trains on your bicycle as a 12-year-old making 8mm movies if you're just casual about liking trains. Murry really liked trains. And storms. And traditional country music. So we hit it off well, and still keep in touch.

My favorite band? Probably second only to the Gourds. But not too far behind them. I'll give the 97s the edge in blistering-hot live shows; going to see the Gourds is often like stumbing into a basement jam session fueled by lots of pot and beer. Musically, I think it'd be hard to match the instrumental virtuosity of the Gourds as players. In putting on a live show that leaves the crowd drained and wanting more, though, the 97s blow them out of the water.

I was a single man when I first saw the 97s--unrestricted by the responsibilites of marriage, children, and having to provide for someone beyond myself. In that sense, the arc of my life has paralled that of the members of the band--now we're all married men, and fathers to boot, which has changed me as much as the band. . . new responsibilites, interests, and priorities come to the surface. Bassist Hammond, a dad and a husband, moved to California, and pursues his passions of researching Texas backwoods railroads and writing and recording original compositions steeped in bluegrass, early country, gospel, and hobo music. Lead singer Rhett Miller resides in New York, married with two children, and has released three solo albums, most recently last summer. That leaves Dallasites Ken Bethea and Phil Peeples, lead guitarist and drummer, respectively, holding down the Texas homestead, dabbling in side projects with other local players. The maturing interests of the bandmates probably has something to do with a scarcity of new studio albums in the past few years. . .and I plead ignorance in not buring their latest studio release from 2008, nor Murry's solo CD (which has since been rectified). I've been too busy, I suppose, to keep up with the band much anymore.

So, back to Monday night. Mary and I figured it was high time we'd find a sitter for the kids (thanks to Christie down the street!) and make a night of it and maybe roll the calendar back a few years. And the Sons of Hermann was as perfect a place as any to see them perform, associated as it is (along with the Barley House) as Ground Zero for the band's early days.

The band promised that no song--with the exception of their signature enclose barn-burner "Time Bomb"--would be repeated during the four-night gig. The material spanned their career, not particularly favoring one era over another. Those who wanted a big dose of Dreamy Rhett and his whistful romantic ballads about being Nineteen (Mike would refer to them as "Tiger Beat") were well served by a solo set before the band assembled on stage--serving as quite a contrast to Murry Hammond's own solo performance of quiet, largely introspective original compositions on death, relationships, and trains. At one point, channeling the long-gone past of the Carter Family, Murry accompanied himself on Harmonium. Our party marveled at how two such disparate musicians with styles completely opposite can front a rock band. . .but when one gets right down to it, it's the passion of the music that keeps the band together--now for over 15 years.

Anyway, enough already. It was a great show. And now on with some photos:

Rhett, Ken, Murry well into the show. . .

Solo Murry in his opening set.

Rhett and Phillip. . .

Sweaty Rhetty. . .

Ken, steady and reliable, trademark white shirt, on the Telecaster. . .

Murry harmonizing while laying down a bass track. . .

One more of Rhett ripping his vocal chords (I'm guessing he'll sound a little rough after four nights in a row. . . )
Here's a link to the Old97s official myspace page. . .
. . . and one to their fan site. . .
and let's support Murry's solo album. . .

And a Little About The Sons of Hermann Hall. . .

There aren't many music venues left in Deep Ellum that have spanned. . oh, the last fifteen years! The area has blossomed and crumbled once more. . . places like Trees and the Gypsy Tea Room are no more, and so it's a bit amazing that the Sons of Hermann remains largely untouched since I've been in Texas. Hell, the place is ninety-five years old this year, reigning on the eastern edge of the Ellum at the corner of Elm and Exposition. Now there's a shiny new Dart light rail line across the street, which wasn't there last time I took in a show (the Knitters, 2007). The hall is still a fraternal lodge of the Sons of Hermann organization, and features a funky bar with great greasy hamburgers on the ground floor and the great dance floor upstairs. There's a rumored bowling alley nearby, but I haven't seen it. The Hall hosts weekly swing dance lessons, a jam sessions for folk musicians. It's a link to the past of the area--and thank God, a stable link.

An institution in east Dallas for 95 years. ..

Just what a beer bar should look like. . .

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Winter's Icy Blast. . .

Our "Texas Sized "blizzard Christmas eve. . .

We just enjoyed a Christmas Eve unlike any other in the Dallas-Fort Worth area over the past 80 years: a snowstorm! Indeed, we had a "White Christmas."

Light flurries came in with a strong wind from the north on late Thursday morning. By the time we headed out to Christmas Eve church services at 2:30pm, it was a full-blown blizzard. Not quite a Nebraska/Upper Midwest blizzard, but for Texas, it was a blizzard. Not much covering the ground, but it was cool to see "ground blizzard" effects driving along. Our return from church took much longer than our trip there. . .by now, the snow was sticking, and the warm ground from the day before (it was nearly 70 degrees) had sufficently cooled off to allow the upper-teens windchill to cause ice and slush to accumulate. One slight hill was impassable due to cars ahead of us sideways on the road, so we detoured through a housing subdivision.

We made it home just in time to head back out again to Mary's aunt and uncle's for dinner. the roads had gotten much worse, but traffic was light due to the bad driving conditions. The trip back around 10:00 that night was the real adventure. The storm had moved on, leaving behind plunging temperatures, clear skies, and a bitter wind. And glare ice! Again, no real shakes for someone who'd spent much of his driving life (before moving to Texas) dealing with the stuff:

  • don't use the accelerator powering through icy curves
  • coast into curves; use a little gas to keep momentum leaving curves
  • drive at least a 1/4 mile ahead of your vehicle
  • tap your brakes--ALWAYS tap your brakes
  • if the roadway has turned slick due to "tire tracks" in your lane, straddle the lane; better yet, drive with one set of wheels on the shoulder of the road, where the snow and slush hasn't been tamped down to ice yet
  • listen to what the road sounds like;
  • and see what's coming out from under the tires of the cars near you. If nothing is getting kicked up and the road is quiet, you're most likely on ice. If moisture is kicking up and you can hear the hiss of the road, you're driving on water.

Our cheap-ass Wal-Mart swingset was swaying in the blizzardy winds. . .

Oh, yes, Christmas. It was a great evening and next day. We ate turkey both evenings. On Friday afternoon, we headed over to my sister's in Plano where her husband and three kids were hosting us, my sister Julie from California, and my dad Lou. Had an enjoyable time--played wii, a bit of Jenja, tried out the new "retro" Atari "classic" video game console Santa dropped off. Everything a family Christmas should be. . .and this year, we had snow to go along with it.

I think everyone will remember this one. . .especially the two little boys who live with us.

I. and his "Club Penquin" ornament.

E. and I. wearing their new Christmas p.j.'s in fron of the roaring (gas) fire. . .

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays!

Remember the "Reason for the Season," and I hope you get lots of presents.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Oh, Tiger, you Tiger you!

I'll say it right off the git-go: I've never been a Tiger Woods fan. He always seemed like too much of robot--so perfect, so bland, so much the corporate shill. Image Is Everything-- and Tiger's image is that of the totally-in-control, unflappable golfer. Over in NASCAR, Jimmie Johnson elicits the same response from me: You want the guy to have a personality, cut loose. Johnson grew a beard for a while. How cutting-edge. Tiger wouldn't do that--it might upset his Gillette sponsor.

But Tiger's in-control life. . . it just got more and more out of control through the weekend. First were the National Enquirer reports of an affair with a New York "party girl." Which the party girl denied. Right after that, the accident in the driveway. Sounded a little fishy. Coincidental. Like, what a shitty weekend he's having. Where was Tiger going at two in the morning? To get in line at Best Buy for the Black Friday sales? Hardly. And then we get the police report where Tiger's Blonde Norwegian Super-model wife heroically came to her husband's aid, smashing out a back window of their Escalade and pulling him to safety with a GOLF CLUB! At that point, the whole story lost credibility.

"Hero my-ass, " I thought. "She must've opened up some king-hell can of Norwegian whoop-ass on Tiger," I thought.

And, apparently, she did, scratching up his face and, one imagines, chasing him out of the house and into the Cadillac, coming after him with the nine-iron, breaking out the window, and distracting the World's Greatest Golfer--always calm, even under pressure--so much that he careened off the driveway, drove into a fire hydrant, and caromed into the rough. The Escalade came to rest against a tree. Game over. Tiger was subsequently ticketed for a bit more than $150, but this will someday prove to be one of the most expensive traffic citations of all time.

I'm guessing Tiger attempted to smooth things over using the Kobe Bryant method: a trip to Jared. But the Blonde Norwegian Super-Model wife isn't so easily bought-off.

Now, a few days later, Woods faces Bimbo Explosion after Bimbo Explosion. Not only was there the New York Party Girl, there was the Tool Academy Girl and the Vegas Nightclub Promoter as well. And who knows how many more will be coming forward? Their Sugar Daddy has been exposed; there will be no more luxury suites, fancy weekends away, and spectacular gifts--not to mention sex with the World's Greatest Golfer--so, really, what do these girls have to lose by selling their stories to the Tabloid Press? Fame is fleeting--grab for the golden ring while you can. New York Party girl, who originally denied, denied, denied, sees that the other hoochies are in line for their part of the golden ring--and suddenly, she's ready to spill the beans, too.

What the fuck was Tiger thinking? Did he REALLY think that, down the road, these women would remain discrete? That voice mails wouldn't be shared with friends? That e-mails wouldn't be saved to very hard drives? That he could keep these liasons secret? Maybe Tiger DOES lead too sheltered a life--did he really think his bubble of privacy would never be breeched? Or that his wife wouldn't get suspicious and look through her idiot husband's phone for evidence? (You would think he'd have been smart enough to have assistants to take care of the Girls on the Side, wouldn't you?)

So far, the advertisers who had backed Woods are standing pat. And why not? Consider the audience they're trying to reach by hiring Tiger? The almost-middle-aged businessman! The kind of guy who is likely married to a bored trophy wife who stays at home with the kids while he's out of town a lot on business, drinking on a company budget, taking corporate golf junkets (maybe joined by these golf partner/whores?), maybe having an affair, maybe just wishing he could get away with an affair. You can't say that their Hero Tiger, World's Best Golfer with the Blonde Norwegian Super-model Wife, didn't just gain a couple of notches of admiration in their book for his extracirricular activities. If anything, one analyist said, the incident may increase his appeal to advertisers: Tiger is only human! Just like us!

So, Kobe Bryant can bang a manic-depressive concierge at a Colorado Resort and lose his advertising contract with McDonald's--basketball's primary marketing appeal is to the young. Michael Phelps is caught smokin' a little weed--that was drugs, afterall, so he has to do the mea culpa, and loses Kellogg's Cereal as a benefactor. But Tiger's target audience are EXACTLY the men who dream of having the Buick and the blonde Norwegian Super-model wife. . .and a bunch of 20-something chickies on the side.

That's the country we live in. Tiger will pay the price, hire the lawyer, either divorce or not, but essentially, his marketing empire won't suffer a bit. Middle-aged American males admire a guy like Tiger--and the message is they admire him even more now that he cheats on his wife. If you don't believe me, check out some of the messages left on the golf.com website. I'm no prude, but I do believe in honoring vows, something that apparently isn't very important anymore in this country.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Crazy 'bout the Buff. . .

B-52H flying over Spokane, Washington, 1993. . .

The big annual Alliance Airport airshow was a couple of weeks ago, and we dragged the boys down to watch some of the planes fly in for display, arriving just as a big, magnificent B-52H from Barkesdale AFB in Shreveport glided in for a landing.

B-52 "Stratofortress" How's that for a name! Though the headline act for the weekend was the Navy's Blue Angles, I really wished a squadron of B-52's, accompanied by a KC-135 air tanker, would've made a flyby instead. Amazingly, the BUFF (Big Ugly Fat Fucker) has been in service for 54 years--over half the era of manned flight! If one can get a soft spot in their heart for large aircraft specifically designed to carry nuclear bombs, the B-52 has done it for me. There's just something so bad-ass about a big bomber that a hot-shot fighter plane can't possess. . .it's a no-frills, no-nonsense aircraft designed for a specific purpose that has survived because the Air Force has adapted its role in post-Cold War times.

The B-52H we saw glide in for a landing was one of 744 built since 1952 in several variations (and of the last series of planes delivered in 1962). At their operational peak in 1963, they were deployed at 38 air bases under the Air Force's Strategic Air Command. For nearly 40 years, a number of B-52's were constantly in flight, not too far off Soviet airspace, ready to strike at a moment's notice; on the ground, flight crews were in a constant state of readyness, prepared to scramble if necessary. Along with SAC's ballastic missile capability, the B-52's formed the backbome of a US strategy of nuclear deterrence--the notion that Russia wouldn't launch a surprise attack, knowing that relaliation from the US would be just as devestating.

Here's a newsreel from the 1950's on how SAC fought their "blood-less, deterrant war." Check out that SAC television control room! That's how it was done, baby, before computers and desktop monitors! And check out that monster tele-copier to send weather maps--we were the leader in world technology!

Gradually, the Buff's role changed as the US relied more and more on missile defense. The B-52's were adopted for heavy conventional bombing during the Viet Nam War, and equipped with long-distance nuclear cruise missiles which wouldn't require the planes to fly into enemy airspace. With the fall of the Soviet Union and nuclear arms reduction treaties, over 300 B-52's were chopped into pieces and left in the desert for verification by Russian satellites. From a huge, all-powerful fleet of heavy bombers, today, less than 100 B-52's, all of them the latest "H" variation, are left in service. the Buffs are assigned to only two air bases today, Barkesdale and Minot. The Air Force expects the B-52H to remain in its inventory until 2040--by then, there will likely be nothing "original" on any of the survivors as they approach their 80th birthday in service!

I mostly remember them from my years spent living in Spokane, Washington, near Fairchild AFB, home of the 92nd Bombardment Wing and its B-52H's and KC-135 tankers. It was humbling to see them flying above the wheatfields and wondering if they were carrying nuclear weapons. The jets made a distinctive whistling sound as they flew, and earlier versions of the plane often took off leaving a black cloud of smoke from their eight jet engines when using "water injection" to provide more power during takeoffs. I was working for the Spokane newspaper at the time SAC ordered a permanent "stand-down" from 24-hour readyness after the Soviet collapse, and visited the crew quarters at Fairchild.

The B-52's left Fairchild soon afterward, the last one unintentionally going out in a horrible blaze of glory when a hotshot wing commander flew one into the ground while practicing for an upcoming airshow (I vividly remember that day, as I was ready to fly to Kansas City to interview for a position in Burlington Northern's train dispatching class and saw the big plume of smoke west of downtown). The story of the events leading up to the crash, the personalities involved, and the dynamics of military leadership make this a fascinating story (one that, given the cinematic reviews that follow, would make a great motion picture).

The B-52--and its SAC predecessors, the B-36 and B-47--were photogenic machines, and figured prominently in a number of Hollywood movies. Most notable, perhaps, was director Stanley Kubrick's 1964's "Dr. Strangelove," a dark comedy in which a SAC base commander goes rogue and orders his bombers to attack Russia. Peter Sellers, George C. Scott and Slim Pickens star, but to me, the B-52 is the real headliner, with a realistic depiction of life on the flight deck during a "full out, toe-to-toe, nuclear engagement with the Rooskies." Who could forget Pickens as Maj. "King" Kong riding a nuclear bomb, rodeo style, out of the bomb bay?

Three other movies, of a decidedly more pro-SAC tone, just joined my film library: 1955's Strategic Air Command, starring Jimmy Stewart; 1957's Bombers B-52, starring Karl Malden and Efren Zimbalist Jr., and 1963's A Gathering of Eagles, starring Rock Hudson and Rod Taylor. None of these three films are particularly great movies, the three sharing a common theme in a time of Cold War that, by God, our SAC crews are ready at a moment's notice to defend you from Russian bombs, damn it, and even in peacetime, we can't let our guard down! The scripts aren't particularly great, nor the acting. The musical score is at times too rah-rah military. But what makes these films great fifty years after their release is the historic footage of SAC and its aircraft.

Strategic Air Command features the big, new B-36 assigned to Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth. Stewart plays a reservist pilot recalled in the early years of the Cold War from a successful baseball career to an operations officer. And, of course, his wife doesn't like him being gone all the time flying, but he's got a job to do to keep America safe from Russia. He crashes a B-36 in the frozen north after leaking fuel catches the plane on fire, and eventually is assigned to the flashy, new B-57 at McDill AFB in Florida. Spectacular footage of the massive B-36 and its "six turning and four burning" prop/jet propulsion. Glimpses of what was once rural land around Carswell back in the 50s. Wonderfuly Paul Mantz aerial photography. And the head of SAC is obviously modeled after Gen. Curtis "Bomb them back to the stone age" LeMay.

Bombers B-52 is a love triangle between Karl Malden's career maintenance sergent, his young hotshot wing commander (Zimbalist) and Malden's too-young daughter (Natale Wood), against a backdrop of B-47's and new B-52's at Castle AFB in Merced, CA. Malden isn't too happy his young boss is tapping his daughter, and this friction is contributing to a decay of our tactical nuclear readiness. This time, in-flight malfunctions include a stuck landing gear (requiring Malden to climb into the wheel well to fix the problem, very reminiscent of the Pickens scene in Strangelove), and a malfunctioning "secret troubleshooting control panel" which goes up in flames, requiring most of the crew to bail out as Zimbalist bring the crippled plane in for a landing. Malden is missing after bailing out, and Zimbalist strikes out to find him, finally earning Malden's respect and Malden's daughter. And, there's another LeMay clone.

A Gathering of Eagles stars Rock Hudson as a go-getter assigned as commander of a B-52 wing at Castle. He's replaced his well-respected predecessor after his wing failed a surprise inspection. Hudson arrives and shakes things up, pissing off his underlings, getting officers demoted, transferred or outright booted out of the Air Force in an effort to improve the wing's performance. This time, the in-flight contretempts is a leaking air-fueling coupler which nearly results in the plane catching fire mid-air. Rock is right on it, though, bringing the plane in safely and dressing down his maintenance chief for not delegating authority. Through the whole film, the idea of constant readiness is pounded into our heads: there might not be a war, but how can we make a war movie where there isn't a war interesting? Good coverage of the state-of-the-art SAC headquarters in Omaha, and more great footage of B-52's in their prime, including a spectacular sequence of a half-dozen Buffs taking off in a Minimum Interval Take Off. Oh, and there's the required LeMay-like General as well.

For the film buff, this trio of mid-century movies aren't any great shakes. They view more like Air Force recruiting films. But no matter: it's the jets that are the stars here, and they're preserved in beautiful full-color, wide-screen glory. They're a great journey back to the wonderful days of Civil Defense, Duck-and-Cover, and nuclear brinksmanship. Back when the Buff ruled the sky and they were much more than just a side-show in the Air Force arsenal.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ain't got no power!

So the computer failed to start up the other morning. Our power got knocked off in a storm, and the computer was dead. My superb trouble-shooting skills led to me believe that the the storm wasn't so much the cause of the problem, but rather coincidentally the power supply had given up the ghost (thankfully not the motherboard). After 20 minutes of on-line snooping off the other computer, I determined that all this idiot needed to do was pull out the old power box and plug in a new one. Which is really all that was needed. A quick trip to Best Buy and problem solved. Sometimes i'm so proud of my mechanical abilities. . .

The bigger issue here wasn't the computer not starting up. . .it was the helplessness one feels when the power is out. It wasn't a particularly big and nasty storm, but the power was off for two hours.

First: at 11pm, you realize how deadly quiet things are in the house. No fan. No refrigerator. And how dark: no glowing LED's of various plug-ins and appliances. No hallway nightlights.

Second: I had no entertainment! No television or radio. No computer--not even the laptop, since the wi-fi needs power to throw out a signal. If I were a true pioneer I'd read by the glow of an oil-lamp (and in the future, who knows if that will be possible when all our books are on Kindle.

Third: We're wimps. How could we survive without electricity? Eventually, even our cell phones need to be plugged in to recharge. We can't cook (at least without cans of sterno), we can't spend money (who has cash anymore? it's all plastic cards, and when you DO need cash, you usually get it from an electrically-powered ATM machine). We couldn't get gasoline at the mini-mart (the days of gravity-fed gas pumps are aroudn 60 years in the past). Take away our water supply, and we'd really be up shit creek. It was bad enough that the DVR wasn't able to record the ending of Mad Men or Breaking Bad this week. . .

E. was awakened by the storm and came downstairs and joined me in the dark, on the couch. I held him and I told him how fortunate he was to live in a time and place where temporary power outages were merely an inconvienence. Be thankful, I said, we don't live in a place where power is a luxury only a few can afford, or that power has been knocked out entirely because of war.

Without electricity, we'd all soon become a bunch of refugees. And pray that that doesn't happen. Can you imagine, millions of whining Americans in relocation camps?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Visit from the Tooth Fairy. . .

E. is a couple of bucks richer today after the tooth fairy paid him a visit last night. He finally lost a front tooth that has been loose for weeks. The new one finally pushed the old one out of the way. He's not normally this goofy looking; Mary's camera just has a really wide angle lens. . .

Michael Moore: Not a Left-Wing Kook
Documentary film-maker Michael Moore is usually depicted by the Right Wing fringe element as a kook, in bed with the Nancy Pelosi/Barrack Obama/Barney Frank troika being blamed for "ruining" our country.

Those so afraid of Moore should spend 26 minutes of their angry lives and watch this interview with Charlie Rose from last week. Moore's latest movie, "Capitalism: A Love Story" is out in theaters, highly critical of the Wall Street community and their too-cozy relationship with the goverment. . .and that would be the government of both Republican and Democratic presidents.

To Moore, the U.S. economy has changed from a self-sustaining one rewarding production, manufacturing, and innovation to one more akin to a pyramid scheme with a very few at the top sucking up all available wealth at the expense of a destroyed middle class. Our country doesn't produce anything anymore, and Moore argues this puts our country at great risk. Rather, the business of America has become a complex financial Ponzi scheme where wealth is created not through hard work, but through obtuse economic mechanisms that exist to squeeze the middle class. . .and that few in Washington really understand to begin with.

The Dow just topped 10,000 for the first time since last fall's economic "collapse." But unemployment figures continue to spike upwards and home foreclosures continue--one every six seconds, says Moore. And since the Democrats took the White House, not a single law has been passed to reregulate or extend oversight into the banking or mortgage industry. Change? Obama has to show me change. There's been no change at all, a year later, and after $200 million as been spent by the banking industry to lobby against any change--money, I'd guess, the Government gave them non-strings-attached to aide "recovery." Oh, and Wall Street bonuses are even high this year than in 2007. The Republicans started this mess under Ronald Reagan; Democrats continued it and accelerated it with Bill Clinton; the Republicans moreso with both George Bushes; and Obama has inherited it but so far, apart from flourishy rhetoric, has done nothing to slow it, let alone stop it.

Right-wing nut jobs: Give Moore a chance. He's not the enemy. It's the bankers and Wall Street tycoons who have the ear of Washington that are the greatest threat to our freedom in this country since the Cold War. THESE are the people you should be afraid of, and you should be turning your hate and anger THESE people, not towards the female leader of congress, the black preisident or the gay senator who are Democratic leaders. It's easy to get caught up in partisanship and name-calling and business as usual--but those raiding this country's coffers are not the patriots they paint themselves to be.


Mad Men: Don Draper's an asshole. . .
What, he really fired Sal last night? Then he goes and sleeps with his kid's school teacher? Not that Betsy is much better. . .

A splash of art. . .
. . worth $15,000,000. Now I know what Manga is all about. I don't think this would go over big in the living room.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Vin Scully. Rugby. Not-Dollar-Movies.

The Master at work. . .

MLB network carried the Dodgers-Rockies game Friday night. The winner would claim the National League West title; the loser, the Wild Card slot in the National League playoffs starting next week. The Dodgers won, 5-0, but the outcome really didn't matter to me, simply because I tuned in for Vin.

Vin Scully.

He's been the Dodgers' play-by-play announcer now for 60 years. SIXTY! Think about that. It's the longest tenure for a single professional sports team in history, and, apart from Tommy Lasorda, has been with the Dodgers organization longer than any other person. How long has he been there? His tenure long pre-dates the Dodger move to California--it was Vinnie, in fact, who was at the microphone when the Dodgers won their only World Series championship in Brooklyn, in 1955.

To hear him on network television anymore is a rare treat. Scully calls only home games and Dodger road games west of the rocky mountains anymore, and since I don't have the MLB package or satellite radio, I hardly get the chance to listen to his broadcast artistry. He's a rarity among baseball announcers: working solo, without a color man. With Scully at the mike, who needs it?

It's Scully's voice that has been part of so many memorable baseball moments. Don Larsen's 1956 perfect game in the World Series. . .Sandy Koufax's 1965 perfect game. . .Hank Aaron's 715th home run in 1974. . .Bill Bucker's error at first base in 1986. . .Kirk Gibson's walk-off home run in 1988.

And now Vin stands alone as the last of his generation. The other Greats--Jack Buck, Ernie Harwell, Jack Brickhouse--are all gone. The 81-year-old Vinnie has said that 2010 will be his last season. If you have the chance to just sit back and listen to the Master at Work, please do so.

He's not a screamer, nor a puker, nor a homer. Throughout his career, Vinnie has realized that often, less is more. I'm hard-pressed to think of a tradmark phrase he's known for. . .if anything it is the slience that he allows to infuse his broadcasts, the rare ability for the man hired to speak to the masses to just be quiet and let the ambience of the moment say it all. He isn't just an announcer--he is an artist, a man who can paint pictures with words. His words have the pacing and deliberateness of a great mystery writer. Listen to him call the ninth inning of the Koufax perfect game, and tell me chills don't run up your spine!

". . .there's 29,000 people in the ballpark, and a million butterflies. . ."

Tyler Kepner, of the New York Times, wrote: "Scully could read an instruction manual and
make it interesting." Indeed. Here's a great profile of Vin from Salon.com.

Melbourne Wins!
So, watched the National Rugby League Grand Final yesterday on Spike. Melbourne Storm beat Paramatta Eels 23-16. It was clear that Paramatta was in over its head from the start, and rather amazing, actually, that they only lost by 7 point. After a lackluster first half, the Eels returned in the second half with a vengence, but failed to even the score in the last minutes with an impressive final drive that fell short.

I'm sure my mate Rick is in a good mood this morning--he the Melbourne fan who accompanied me in April to the Storm-Tigers game in Sydney. And his man Bill Slater came through with a crucial try.

Myself, I'll remember the barely contained ferocity of Paramatta's Kiwi-born back with one of the greatest names in professional sports: Fuifui Moimoi. It just rolls off the tongue. I could easily imagine him a defensive back in the NFL. Think of the money he could make in the states!

Unscrupulous Basterds
So the kids were out of school early Friday and we thought we'd take them to a movie. That "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" looked like somethiing they'd want to see, so off we go to the Star Village 8 Theater in Lake Worth. Granted, it's 2:30pm--Matinee times. And these bastards want to charge $9 EACH to see this movie. That's $6.50 PLUS another $2.50 because it's in 3-D. THIRTY SIX BUCKS for a matinee show? They've got to be kidding. We decided it'd be a Blockbuster afternoon. Where do these crooks get off thinking we're unlimited wells of money. It's not enough they can charge $12 for a tub of popcorn and a soda. . but then to charge us $2.50 because of the "specialness" of 3-D. It's all about sticking it to the customer. And we won't go for it.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The OTHER football. . .

Geelong--with horizontal stripes--battled it out with St. Kilda--vertical stripes--in the 2009 AFL Premiership match.

Sorry, I didn't catch Monday night's big Cowboys game on the nation-wide broadcast. Football? Oh, yeah, I watched football after work that night, but it wasn't NFL. It was AFL. And I'm not talking about the old American Football League

Rather, thanks to Lance Lassen's DVR, I watched the Toyota Premiership match between the Geelong Cats and St. Kilda Saints of the AFL--er, Australian Football League. That's Australian rules football. Footy. And the Premiership, played Saturday afternoon in Melbourne, is the equivalent of Australia's Super Bowl, played before 99,000 at Melbourne's Cricket Grounds.

There's a superb gallery of photographs of the match on line.

And it was a spectacular game. Even for one such as myself who'd only had minimal exposure to footy before, it was clear this game had it all. The drama: Geelong was looking to win their second Premiership in three years. St. Kilda was looking to win their first since 1966. The game had lead changes. Controversial calls (how could that goal umpire not see the ball bounce off the central post?). A rainstorm that made the leather ball impossible to keep ahold of. And it had a nail-biting finish when Geelong finally stormed by St. Kilda in the closing minutes after the Saints missed on so many opportunities to score six-point goals, settling for several one-point behinds instead.

After watching this game, I'm not convinced that, given the proper marketing, footy couldn't be a big hit in the United States. The game has non-stop action played on a huge (150 meters by 135 meters) oval field accomodating 18 players a side. The action is rough--there are no shoulder pads or helmets. There are no wholesale substitutions. You get banged up, you pretty much keep playing. The main drawbacks, as I see it at least, are the large field (fans don't get as up close and personal as they do attending NFL games, but the importance of that has been diminished by television driving popularity) and lack of outlandish personalities. Though I'm sure the AFL has its characters, footy seems very much a team sport as opposed to the "look at me" performances characterizing the modern-day NFL and NBA. (Though, to be fair, Geelong has a captain with the magnetism of a David Beckham; a red-headed muscleman who looked like the current incarnation of Carrot Top, and a bearded cave-man of a guy who'd fit right in on a Geico commercial).

Americans are probably most familar with footy from the early days of ESPN, when the nascent network was compelled to put anything it could find on the air. . and Australian Rules Football (back then the AFL was called the Victorian Football League) was a regular ESPN staple back before shit like Poker and World's Strongest Man was on the air. This weekend, the premiership was relegated to a slot (live though it was) on ESPN Classic. I could've watched it at home, but my satellite provider decided to remove Classic from my channel package and replace it with more college sports channels. Buggars!).

Essentially, each side tries to kick the ball between two sets of goalposts. Put a ball between the inner goal posts, and it's six points (that's a goal). Merely put a ball between the outer adjacent goal posts, and it's one point (a behind). The ball can squib across the goal line or sail high in the air--still the points are awarded. The defenders can get a hand on the ball before it crosses the goal line, but you'd still get at least one point. The ball is moved down the field by kicking it or running with it and tapping it (not throwing it) to your teammate. If the ball is kicked to a teammate and he catches it in the air, he gets a free kick. If you run with the ball, you're fair game to be tackled--and if you're tackled to the ground, you lose the ball to your opponent. When running with the ball, it has to make contact with the ground (bouncing it off the turf) every 15 meters, or you lose possession. Simple enough. At least, much simpler to understand than League rugby.

St. Kilda entered the Premiership the underdog, even though they finished atop the standings for the year. The Saints and Cats traded the lead several times in the first two quarters, and St. Kilda tied the score in the final seconds and converted a free kick for a goal after a Geelong player argued that he touched the ball on the tying goal--and St. Kilda should've been awarded one point instead of six. The umpires didn't buy his argument, and penalized the player for being argumentative by awarding St. Kilda the free kick.

The Cats actually trailed by six points at the end of the third quarter, but St. Kilda blew several opportunities for goals with inaccurate kicks.

"Indeed, this is a grand final the Saints will forever rue, for it was their inaccuracy in that quarter that ultimately cruelled their chances," wrote the Australian newspaper. Indeed, they scored no goals at all in the fourth quarter, and Geelong broke a tie with minutes left wtih a clutch Paul Chapman goal, icing the victory with one last goal at the siren, to win 80-68.

St. Kilda was crushed. “To St Kilda, footy sucks sometimes ... we were very, very lucky and we're very proud of what we've done,” winning coach Mark Thompson told the cheering fans following the game.

It's really a pisser ESPN doesn't regularly carry AFL during the regular season. That sucks too.

And Rugby, Too. . .
As the Premiership began late Friday evening, Texas time, the second-tier cable network Spike was carrying a semi-final match in the National Rugby League of Australia. The Paramatta Eels took on the Canterbury Bulldogs at ANZ stadium in Sydney. Rugby is a bit more arcane to follow than footy, so, once again, I really wasn't sure what was going on in a match Paramatta won 22-12 (I really needed Rick Schoenfelder with me to fill me in on the action!). Still, it was a blast to watch--and violent! As I mentioned after watching the Wests-Melbourne match back in April, our NFL players are a bunch of pussies compared to these guys.

Paramatta moves on to meet Melbourne (and Rick is no doubt delighted!) for the Grand Finals to be played October 4. I've already got the DVR set--10am Sunday morning.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Digging for Victory!

Jerry Picks a Winner!

I didn't watch all of Sunday night's gala opening of the $1.2 BILLION Cowboys Stadium game against the New York Giants, as M. and I were switching channels between the Emmys, the Cowboy game, the Cubs-Cardinals game, and Mad Men. That's where a DVR that would record four shows at once would come in handy.

But we did get to see the highlights: the last three minutes of the game, where Eli Manning drove the Giants the length of the field to set up the last-second game-winning field goal, and a lingering view of Cowboy Owner Jerry Jones picking his nose in his ultra-expensive owner's box. I guess I was surprised that he didn't have some boy-servant do that for him.

Anyway, all is right with the world. Cowboys lose. Record-sized crowd goes home disappointed. The only thing missing from making it a perfect night would've been the giant Godzilla-Tron HD TV screens dropping onto the assembled Cowboy team below, or maybe an Al-Qaeda attack. But the season is early, yet.

Mad Men Season 3

Hey, how about that Sterling-Cooper? The AMC series Mad Men picked up another Best Dramatic Series Emmy last night. About the same time, the season's fifth episode of the year aired, and I think this might be the episode that those so inclined to decide these things would say the show "Jumped the Shark." A visiting young executive from the Home Office in London happened to get on the wrong side of a John Deere riding lawnmower careening through the office during a going-away celebration for the buxomy Joan, losing his foot in a rather Peckinpah-esque scene with spraying blood and shattering glass. A bit far-fetched, if you ask me.

September: Football season in Texas.

Rangers: That's All, Folks!

Kiss the Rangers' chances for post-season play goodbye, barring simultaneous meteorite strikes on Fenway Park and Angels Ballpark. At a time when home wins were most important, the Rangeritos dropped seven of nine in the just-concluded home-stand. We were at the Saturday night game, a 3-2 thriller over the Angels, but it was too-little, too-late, and the feel-good didn't extend to Sunday's series finale, where Rangers pitching was bombarded and the team fell, 5-10. The rest of the season is off little consequence now, however, one question remains. . . .

Thanks, Millie--hope we see you next year.

Is Millie Done as Well?

Tonights game in Oakland will answer whether the Rangers are willing to pay pitcher Kevin Millwood $12 million next year, or just let him go into free-agency. Millwood's contract stipulates that if he pitches 180 innings this year, he'll automatically be awarded a one-year extension worth $12 million. He's currently sitting at 175 2/3 inning. . .meaning that with 4 1/2 innings tonight, he's be into Tom Hicks' pockets next year DEEP. His record this season certainly hasn't been that of a 12 Million Dollar Man. . .he started off strong, but has faded badly. True, his veteran leadership has been a great example for the young pitchers, but he's been eclipsed as a top starter by Jim Hunter and Scooter Feldman.

Rumors have had team ownership "shut down" Millie for the rest of the year, denying him the innings that would fulfill his contract clause. Sneaky? Low-rent? Sure. But the Rangers are essentially broke, and certainly can't afford a $12 million pitcher with Milwood's statistics. On the other hand, shutting down a healthy pitcher just to save the franchise money is uncharted territory in major league baseball; doing so will likely result in some sort of protest through the Players' Union. Not to mention taint any future negotiations to bring free agents to Arlington, as incentives in contracts are the norm rather than the exception, and failing to live up to them in good faith certainly makes the franchise look less than honorable.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Neighbor

I noticed the next-door neighbor's house went up for sale last week. Not too unusual--there's plenty of foreclosures in our subdivision. I just guessed that he decided to either give up his home to the bank or downsize to a smaller place. He didn't seem to be living there anymore. Maybe he just up and moved?

Our neighbor was a single guy about my age; divorced, father of three. We didn't know much about him, only this: One of his sons lived with him off and on until he joined his sibings enlisting in the military. Our neighbor's father occasionally called the place home as well, and he'd often be seen doing yard work or piddling around in the garage. I guess our neighbor took in his neice as a boarder for a while; she'd had some drug and alcohol problems back home in another state, and he offered her a place in Texas to start her life over. It didn't work--she'd gone back to the booze and he kicked her out.

Our neighbor had been under-employed for quite awhile. When he first moved in a few years ago (replacing a family from Lousiana going through a divorce), he made a low-ball offer on the house and ended up with it--a place far too big for a man and his son. He'd worked in the freight-forwarding business for several years and had been "downsized;" he started up his own business doing the same thing working out of his home, but that went nowhere. He'd finally gotten a job at Wal-Mart--at least they were hiring.

He didn't have any insurance. He'd had a few small heart attacks--he was a smoker, but not obese--and we were amazed to see that he'd be back to work or mowing the lawn a few days later. He said he couldn't afford to be sick--and he had to pay the doctor's bills.

It was strange that our neighbor just left. It's not that we knew him that well, but still, most folks at least stop by to say so-long. We didn't even see a moving truck.

Why his home up for sale was a mystery to us until this afternoon, when another couple from a few doors down stopped by to catch up on things. That's when we'd heard what happened to our neighbor.

He'd died. Apparently from a heart attack. Nearly three weeks ago.

That was a pretty sobering bit of news on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Sobering in that it well could have been me. And a bit sobering, as well, that we know so little about our neighbors that it took nearly three weeks to hear that a man who lived fifteen feet from us had died.

I can't help but think that the economy helped doom him. Without a good job. Without health-care or even sick leave. The stress must've added to his already damaged heart.

I used to always find him standing in his open garage on days with thunderstorms, watching the show. Nice enough guy. We'd exchange pleasantries, polite banalities. Not anymore I guess. Thunderstorms won't seem the same.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

My Back Pages

LONG GONE: The Kingdome, the F-units, even the mainline isn't here anymore; Everett Turn, southbound at Lander Street, July, 1981.

"Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now."

Back thirty-three years ago, my family had just moved to Seattle from Salt Lake City. Being awkward and not well socially adjusted, I spent much of whatever weekend time I didn't devote to work or school driving around area rail yards, listening to Bob Dylan or Little Feat or the Byrds on the Eight Track, railroad radio plugged into the cigarette lighter plug on my dad's silver 1975 Monte Carlo.

As a teenager, anything new and exciting was worth paying attention to, doubly so for a railfan who'd gotten a small taste of Seattle railroading a few years earlier when I joined classmates for a bus trip to the DECCA (distributive education club--an attempt to turn us all into Young Capitalists) national convention. Along with throwing apples out the hotel window onto the passing monorail down below and having a makeout session with a girl from who knows where in the Seattle Arena one night, I will remember the trip for two things:

  • glimpsing the Milwaukee Road's amazing cliff-hugging descent of the Cascade Mountains out the bus window on a rainy, foggy afternoon;
  • a tattered old BN F7A, still in faded Big Sky Blue paint, emerging from the King Street tunnel.

So, when we moved to Seattle, there was no doubt what I'd be doing with my camera: photographing the Milwaukee Road, of course, and tracking down those F-units. I ended up doing pretty good, and looking at the prints and slides from those high school years makes me feel at least I accomplished some good photography, even if it did prolonge my finally getting laid.

I've been reacquainting myself--from afar, anyway--with Seattle and its railroad scene as I learn to dispatch the terminal rail operations of the city for my employer. It'd been nearly 13 years, anyway, since I worked the Seattle Terminal desk, and to say things have changed a bit is a crazy understatment. Today, the railroad has been completely rebuilt, and handles 42 passenger and commuter trains a day! Quite a change from when I snooped around in the Grey Monte. . .if anyone had said then that the railroad would someday be a busy commuter railroad, they'd have though you were mad.

So, here's a few of my "moldy oldies," Kodachromes from Seattle, circa 1977-1981.

Northbound Crew 3, North Portal, September 1980: warehouses replaced by a wall of condos.

Amtrak Empire Builder departs southbound, December 1976. At the time, those Amtrak locomotives were less than 2 years old; they wouldn't survive another two years.

July 1980: Brand new BN 8100's approach North Portal. These locomotives are now in storage, awaiting eventual retirement.

Yours-truly, posing at Auburn in May, 1980 for his Tiger-Beat magazine cover. Hey, if it worked for David Cassidy. . .dig the frameless glasses and attempt to grow muttonchops. And when did I ever have a (relatively) flat stomach?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Warning: Another story that makes Texans look like close-minded, potentially-racist, idiots

I'm not surprised by anything anymore, but this one, well, my Incred-O-Meter just about pegged out. So, the school district in Arlington wouldn't allow students to watch President Obama's speech to students because it was. . . .well, politically motivated?

Now, it turns out, the district already was planning on busing--at district expense, at a time when schools are in the financial crapper--500 fifth-graders to the new Cowboys Stadium (built at a cost of $1.2 BILLION, a good chunk of which is carried on the backs of Arlington tax-payers) to hear a speech by former President George "What? Me Worry?" Bush about the importance of volunteerism for the 2011 Super Bowl, which the city will host.

Said the district superintendent: "In retrospect, I can see how the district's decisions concerning these two events could be seen as favoring one event over another."

Uh, ya think?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Beisbol Pt. X: Saarinen's masterpiece

To me, the most beautiful of structures: Gateway Arch.
Thursday, August 13: Though the theme of this vacation was baseball, we began and ended it, interestingly enough, celebrating two of America's greatest journeys of discovery. We started a week before at a museum dedicated to the exploration of space and now closed it out in St. Louis, where the Parks Service honored explorer Lewis & Clarks's two-year "Corps of Discovery" documenting the territory America acquired from France in 1803's Louisiana Purchase.

Since its completion in 1965, the centerpiece of the "Jefferson National Expansion Monument" has been the Gateway Arch, a graceful monument of stainless steel towering 630 feet above the Mississippi River and downtown St. Louis. The arch immediately became the symbol of St. Louis; the development of the monument along the waterfront led to revitalization of the near downtown as well.

I'd been intrigued about the arch since I was but a wee kid, when my dad returned from a business convention with a small plastic model of the arch for me. It was mind-boggling to me that it was taller than a 60-story building, let alone that it could stand without falling over. And just how did people ride elevators up its curving legs?

To me, the Arch is one of man's most beautiful structures. Exceedingly simple in concept, it was a bitch to construct. Finnish Architect Eero Saarinen, known for his flowing mid-century commissions such as the terminal at D.C.'s Dulles International Airport and TWA's flight center at Kennedy Airport in New York, won the competition for the centerpiece monument for the new park in 1957; it wasn't completed until 1963. Saarinen never lived to see the finished product, having died in 1961.

Several aircraft have flown through the arch; one person, supposedly, has climbed it using suction cups. One unfortunate bastard parachuted onto the top of it in 1980; his plan was to remove his first parachute and then BASE jump using a second chute, but a gust of wind knocked him over after landing up top, and he slid down the side of the arch, splatting on the ground below.

The Arch, from the entry way to the Millenium hotel.
The Arch was a short 10 minute walk from our hotel. It gleamed in the morning sunlight, casting a long shadow across the parkway. We'd been cautioned to make early reservations for the elevator ride to the top; we arrived well before our 9:30 time to a nearly-empty entry visitor's center, located underground between the arch's two legs. The center hosts two gift shops (still selling the same plastic model of the arch my father brought me 40 years earlier); a movie theater, and a museum offering interpretative and animatronic displays about the settling of the west. A separate exhibition on the history of baseball in St. Louis was also underway--imagine that! St. Louis was the western frontier of Major League baseball until the mid-1950s, and over the years had hosted a half-dozen professional teams. The baseball exhibit was quite informative; I couldn't say the same with the display of artifacts with little written elaboration about western expansion.

Bug's eye view of the welded-edge of the arch. . .

The Boys outside the arch. . .
We needn't have worried about the "big lines." There wasn't one, not at 9:30. We headed into the queue for the elevator, and soon climbed into the cramped, tiny egg-shaped "pods." They had five seats, but would be hard-pressed to hold five adults. The white paint and indirect lighting gave a distinctly space-age-yet-retro feeling: it felt like something out of the transport pods from the movie 2001. The doors closed and we clanked and jerked our way to the top in the four-minute trip, the elevators using the same principle of a Ferris wheel with a gimbled car to keep us properly oriented.

Inside the elevator pod. . .

Amazingly similar: the transport pod from 2001. . .

thankfully, the Hal 9000 didn't control our elevator. . .
The observation are is narrow, as you'd expect, maybe 8 feet wide. You can look out through narrow "gunslot" windows on a spectacular view of St. Louis, down below and to the west, and the river and whatever remains of bombed-out East St. Louis to the east. After about 15 minutes, you've seen what you need to see and you're ready to leave. When we exited the elevator, around 10:15, the lines had grown all the way out the front door of the visitor's center.

The boys check out the view from above. . .

View of the old Courthouse from the Arch. . .

Old wool uniforms on display at the Jefferson Expansion visitor's center. Probably uncomfortable as hell in the summer!

Boys checking out actual seats from old Sportsman's Park, home of the Cardinals until 1965. . .
We hit the road for the six-hour trip to Tulsa, stopping only for fuel and Steak & Shake. The kids were kept occupied by DVD's and their Nintendo DS consoles--the perfect narcotic for a long car trip. I detoured off the freeway near Joplin, taking the back roads through the ghost town of Picher, Oklahoma. A few miles away was Commerce, hometown of Mickey Mantle. The high school's ballpark is named for the Mick, and a sign on the outskirts of town promises a future Mickey Mantle Museum. Mantle died in 1995; the sign looks at least that old, and with each passing year, I'd guess the chances of the building ever becoming a reality fades a bit more.

I. in the backseat, absorbed in "The Magnificent Starfy". . .

and E. playing baseball on the DS. . .

Commerce, Oklahoma: hometown of Mickey Mantle. .
We overnighted in Tulsa, and the next monring, as we approached the Red River, we started pulling in Dallas radio stations; the number of clueless drivers started increasing expotentially as well, so we knew it wouldn't be long until we were back in Texas. I know we call it "home," but it sure doesn't feel that way, even after 15 years.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Beisbol Pt. IX: THE Baseball City--St. Louis

Magical: St. Louis sunset from the upper deck at Busch. . .

Wednesday, August 12: By Texas standards, St. Louis is just a short skip down the interstate from Chicago, so we clicked off the 300-some miles after a morning departure with more than enough time to check into our hotel room at the Millennuim in downtown St. Louis. We stayed in the older wing of the place, and paid but $79 a night to stay just a block away from new (2005) Busch stadium. We had an hour or so before heading out to a game against the Cincinatti Reds.

Here's where we stayed; there's Busch stadium. Gateway arch is a 10 minute walk away.

I'd been a Cards fan since i was a little kid, some of my earliest baseball memories being the 1967 and '68 World Series where the Cards took on the Red Sox (and beat em) and Detroit Tigers (and lost). The Cards won 101 games in 1967, and had an all-star team with Orlando Cepeda, Lou Brock, Tim McCarver, and bad-ass pitcher Bob Gibson (who had an filthy ERA of 1.12 in 1968).
That's all nostalgia, of course--something the new Busch delivers to you, beats you over the head with, and never lets you forget. Did you know that the Cards have won 10 world series titles--second only to the Yankees (who are a bit out in front with 26)? You will after visiting Busch, right after you walk amid the statuary at the main entrance of Cardinal great, done up in 3/4 scale (or, referencing the dimunitive St. Louis broadcaster, "Bob Costas size"). The greatest Cardinal, Stan "The Man" Musial gets his own larger-than-life statue. The sidewalk around the stadium is inlaid with paver stones etched with great moments in Cardinal history; broadcaster Jack Buck is honored with his own statue and a hidden speaker playing some of his trademark radio calls. Old Busch (1966-2004) is remembered with the old foul line and outfield wall locations marked on the sidewalk along the new park's north side. The majority of Old Busch's location is today a parking lot and sandlot baseball field.

Approaching Busch from the east. That's the Tums factory on the right. . .

One of the greatest fans among the greatest fans in Baseball. Albert Puljos' mother autographed his hat. . .

E. amid the statues of Cardinal greats. . .
It'd be tough to top new Busch as an ideal place to watch a ballgame. It's distinctly nostalgic in its exterior design, but completely up-to-date inside. It's got plenty of places to wander before the game and hang out (a band was playing in the outfield plaza--I was amazed to hear them cover a Toadies song), and one of the largest Pro Shops you could imagine (yep, I plopped down the case for a $40 retro 1966 All-Star game t-shirt).

The place is a ticket marketer's dream: there are literally dozens of amenities and sections and price points for tickets, so much so that checking out their seating and ticketing diagram on the team website can induce a headache. I waited until two days before the game to get tickets. By then, the Cardinals had sold out--sold out a mid-week game against one of the worst teams in the National League!-- and I had to resort to the ticket-scalping bastards at Stub Hub for our seats, but I ended up paying around 60% of face value for our upper-deck seats right behind home plate.

Flying Cardinals inside the warehouse-sized Pro Shop. . .
Though high up, we had a great view of the field, and a spectacular view of downtown St. Louis, the old courthouse, and the Gateway arch glowing in the early evening light. It was magical. I just sat back while Mary took I. and E. to grab food and drink and just took it all in. It really is the nicest place I've ever seen a ballgame at, even with the belligerant asshole who sat in front of me. This guy was the spitting image of the John Goodman character Walter Schobak from The Big Lebowski. He didn't seem to be having much of a good time. He didn't cheer or clap. Just sat there with his date. Apparently E.'s inadvertant tapping of his seat proved to be too much, for at one point he turned to me and said "Look, Buddy, I'd really appreciate it if you'd stock kicking my seat with your foot. You've done it fifteen times!" That put a damper on the festivities for a bit, as I began to spend more time policing E.'s foot movement than I did watching the game. Eventually, Asshole Fan decided to leave around the 6th inning, much to my relief.
St. Louis prides itself on having "the greatest fans in baseball," but I knocked them down a couple notches when "The Wave" reared its unwelcome head in the middle of the game. I've long been annoyed by The Wave popping up at Rangers games, but then again, Rangers fans are not always known for their deep appreciation of the game. The Wave should be confined to football games, in my way of thinking (my credentials: I'm from Seattle, where it originated. 'Nuff said).

Panoramic montage: click photo for larger view. . .
The Cardinals won the game before it really began. The first three batters--Schumaker, Ryan and the Amazing Puljos--reached base off Reds' starter Homer Bailey. Puljos' hit caromed off Bailey's foot, knocking him out of the game, but not before he made a wild throw to first, allowing two to score and Puljos to reach third. Puljos hit a solo homer in the third, and the Cardinals won, 5-2.


Albert The Great sends another home run flying. . .
We agreed that while this wasn't the best game of the four we saw (that would've been the 12-inning Cubs loss), it was the most impressive of the four ballparks we visited (ranked: St. Louis, Wrigley--strictly on nostalgia--Kansas City and The Cell). It was a short walk back to the hotel, past the giant Stan The Man statue, past saxophone-playing street huskers, and past the empty lot where old Busch Stadium once stood.

Crowd streams out past Stan The Man, frozen in 12-foot repose. . .

Saxman plays blusey "Take Me Out to the Ballgame". . .