Monday, June 29, 2009

DC is More European than I Realized

I can't remember whether I'd yet been to Europe the last time I was in DC, which, to my memory, was in 1999. But what I didn't realize until I took a walk around the city tonight was that DC has a distinctly European--dare I say even Parisian--flavor.

Yes, we went through some of the less palatable parts of town. No, I'm not talking about those areas. And I know that a lot of DC is made up of those places, sadly. But the cafes on Dupont Circle, with their al fresco dining and eclectic menus, wouldn't look at all out of place in Paris. (The prices at many of them would be appropriate, too.)

There's a fair amount of Euro-style architecture here, too, with the Eisenhower office building strongly resembling the Hotel de Ville in Paris and a small gallery nearby (I forget the name, unfortunately) looking like a tiny version of the Louvre. The whole monument area, with Washington's obelisk, Lincoln's chair and Jefferson's Pantheon, feels a bit like an enormous, more grassy Place de la Concorde and Tuileries; there's one particular bridge in the District that looks very much like the bridge (again, I forget the name) that crosses the Seine and leads down toward Invalides.

Obviously, DC was a planned city largely laid out by folks with a very Euro-centric world view, so it makes sense to some extent that parts of the city resemble parts of the City of Lights. But New York and Boston are older, arguably more Euro-influenced cities, and despite the fact that Boston is often called the most European of American cities, DC bears for me a more striking resemblance to Paris or possibly even London in some spots than does Boston.

We've gotten to see a pretty broad swath of Washington, DC, in the last few days, including some areas that aren't for tourists. On the whole, I've loved the place, the people and the atmosphere. Walking toward the Washington Monument tonight from the White House, I had a brief flashback of strolling though some of the bigger, more grandiose "places" of Paris. It kind of felt like home.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Just One More Thing about Nationals Park

I wanted this to stand out, so it's getting its own post. The staff at Nationals Park is the friendliest, most spirited and most helpful I've ever encountered at a sporting event anywhere. These people were exceptional down to the last person--the stewards even got the fans pumped up to cheer for the team and managed to pay attention to the game while watching the stands at the same time. I saw a couple of them high-five each other after the Nats' win, which was kind of nice. The staff was incredibly gracious as tens of thousands of disappointed Sox fans filed out of the park.

One steward I spoke to before the game told me that he actually enjoys getting up and going to work every day. I believe it. It's clear that these folks are proud of their park, their club and their well they should be. They've got a great thing going.

OK, that's enough gushing for now. Later this summer, I'm planning to visit the new parks in St. Louis and Kansas City. They'll have a lot to live up to...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Baseball for the 21st Century

Back in the nightmarish '80s, when the Redskins always beat the Cowboys at the dreadful RFK stadium, somebody would always hang a big banner along the lower stadium wall, close to the field and well within the range of CBS's cameras. On it was one simple phrase: Baseball in DC.

Of course, there was no Major League Baseball in DC in those days, although the Orioles did play--as they still do, of course--in nearby Baltimore. Baseball had been in DC before--a couple of times, actually, with teams called the Senators--but it had always gone elsewhere, leaving some Redskins fan with great seats at RFK wanting. In fact, the 1960s iteration of the Washington Senators became...the Texas Rangers, of course, and have gone mostly nowhere in almost four decades since moving to the Southwest.

When baseball returned to DC in 2005 with the Nationals, it was at the expense of Montreal, a hockey city that never really, truly embraced the Expos, despite the team having fantastic hats in the '70s and some very good players during its run in Quebec. But anybody who still mourns the loss of the 'Spos--and I kind of did until now, honestly--should go to a game in DC.

Right here, a caveat: The Nats game sold out tonight. In fact, tonight's crowd was the largest in the history of Nationals Park...which opened in 2008. The reason, of course, for the throng was that the Red Sox were in town, and Red Sox Nation, irritating marketing concept that it is, is not an inaccurate description of the New England franchise's fan base. There's no doubt that the crowd tonight was comprised of 75 percent Red Sox fans...minimum. So, I'm not saying that the Nats have the best fan base in the country. I don't know what kind of fan base they have. It was hard to find any of their fans tonight--although they were the only ones who left happy.

Fan-base issues aside, if you take one thing away from this post, let it be this: Washington puts on a tremendous baseball experience. Nationals Park isn't a palace. It's better--it's an amusement park, a (fun, and not annoying) mall, a series of pretty good restaurants, a video arcade and...oh yeah, a ballpark.

In the interest of keeping this post to fewer than 5000 words, I'll limit my gushing about Nationals Park. But let's just say this--the Red Sox lost 9-3 to the worst team in baseball and were never in the game tonight, and I still had a great time. I might even go so far as to say a GREAT time, with the rare all-caps affectation. The pre-game at Nationals Park is tremendous, with music--both the real kind and the less palatable DJ kind--filling the facility, and (this is going to sound like a commercial) tons of activities for the whole family.

Oh, you can watch batting practice and pre-game warm-ups, and during that time you can walk almost wherever you want. That's common to a lot of ballparks. But at Nationals Park, there's also a huge barbecue restaurant with live blues music, a DJ spinning annoying tracks for the hipsters, a full (and fully equipped) Playstation video arcade, a McDonald's Playland-style (without the rust and sharp edges) area for the kids, a Build-a-Bear Workshop for the little kids, pretty darn good video entertainment on the massive outfield Jumbotron as well as on the (what seems like) hundreds of hi-def TVs all over the park...and enough bars and food areas (both restaurants and stands) to keep 35-year-old guys like me occupied for hours. Oh, and there's a nice view of the Washington Monument and the DC skyline from the upper-deck seats, as well as a few decent looks at the Anacostia River from various parts of the facility.

I'm really just scratching the surface here. Nationals Park has a party atmosphere going hours before the game--the game itself, in fact, is almost a let-down...especially for Nats fans, I suppose, given that their team is currently just about the worst in baseball. (The old joke about the Senators of the mid-20th century was that Washington was first in war, first in peace...and last in the American League. Given that the Nats play in the National League, a real trouble maker could make the argument that none of the three components of that joke is true anymore...but I digress, and I disagree, for what it's worth.)

Now, I know what some of you are thinking. You baseball purists decry the party atmosphere at what should be some sort of shrine to your sacred game. Or maybe you say that the Nats wouldn't need all the flash in other parts of the park if they were better on the field. Fair enough. But you know what? I don't care. I left Nationals Park in a good mood despite the fact that my favorite AL team (I'm still a Mets guy in the NL) and my now-hometown team had just been shellacked. I actually left happy.

And isn't there something to be said for that? Losing wasn't fun, but the experience was. And that's OK with me. Say what you will, but baseball games can be expensive these days (don't get me started on how I got my ticket to this one or how much I paid...), and folks should be able to at least relax and have a good time regardless of the score. Yes, I'm a wimp about this, and I'm not ashamed to be one.

Think about it--if you're one of those guys whose wife or girlfriend doesn't like sports (and, yes, I know that many women do like sports...OK?), you and your buddy can still take your wife and his wife to the game, and they can sit in the sunshine, drink cocktails, eat a decent meal and generally do what non-sports women enjoy doing while you take in a baseball game. No cramped seats, no ends of rows only accessible by climbing over 500 other people, no bathrooms would make a rat cringe they're so dirty...and, for you parents, no watching the kids squirm in their seats and generally pay no attention to the game.

Nationals Park is baseball for the 21st century. In fact, it's sports for the 21st century--entertaining, all-encompassing, clever, family-oriented but not, really. And, no, it's not Fenway Park. I love Fenway; it has charm, history and real fans who care about the game. There's a euphoria to leaving Fenway after a win that I can't imagine Nationals Park having, but there's also a cramp in the side and a stench that I know Nationals Park doesn't have. Hey, I don't want to rag on Fenway--I really do cherish it. But it's old school to say the least. And if you go and see the Sox lose, it's kind of a lame experience all around. Not so Nationals Park. That's all I'm saying.

Cities take great pride in their sports teams even though the overwhelming majority of players on those teams don't come from the cities they represent. If a city really wants to be proud of something in sports, it should be proud of its facilities--they say more about the city itself than any team could. New England has some fine places to watch games--Gillette Stadium is marvelous, and the TD Banknorth Garden is still very fresh and modern. But Fenway is, in many ways, a microcosm of Boston--charming, historic, capable of producing immense pleasure...but also crowded, expensive, a little bit nasty in parts and generally a big pain in the you-know-what.

I'm not a big ballpark tourist (or even that big of a baseball fan, really)--among Major League parks, I've been to both Texas Rangers parks (the lovely but stale Ballpark, or whatever it's called now, and the dearly missed Arlington Stadium), as well as to Jacobs Field in Cleveland, the old Shea Stadium in Queens and Minute Maid Park in Houston (although not for a game at Minute Maid). I might have been to a couple others that I'm forgetting... Regardless, I'm not saying that Nationals Park is unique, although it would be hard for me to believe that there are many other parks like it. I'm just saying that if Nationals Park is the future of sports entertainment--and it is--give me the future. It's just more fun than the past.

Mid-Atlantic Hospitality

I just got back from Nationals Park in Washington, DC, where John Smoltz's debut with the Red Sox didn't exactly go as planned. What I want to get across in this brief (well, somewhat brief) post is that aside from the woman who shafted me by promising to sell me tickets to the game via Craigslist and then selling them on eBay behind my back (I waited for 45 minutes at L'Enfant Plaza, but I'm not bitter...), everybody in this part of the country has been exceptionally friendly and kind.

Seriously, my DC experience, lived largely solo thus far due to my wife's current participation at a hen party for a friend of hers who is getting married this weekend (which is why we're down here), has been exceptional. I'll get to the (excellent) Nationals experience in another post, but let me sum up the friendliness of the locals thusly:

On the train back to Springfield, Va., from DC, a woman struck up a conversation with me because she liked my Portland Sea Dogs baseball cap. She and her husband had visited Portland at some point, had gone to a Sea Dogs game and had loved the experience. (Well, what's not to love?)

Anyway, it turns out that the lady is a native of northern Virginia, and the gentleman is from no place other than Wichita Falls, Texas (and, of course, Texas is my home state). Well, to make a medium-length story somewhat shorter, I wasn't sure how I was going to get back to my hotel from the train station. Without me ever asking--I had inquired honestly and innocently about whether there would be any cabs at the station when we arrived--these nice folks offered to drive me back to my hotel. And drive me back they did.

Granted, it was a fairly short trip, maybe a mile or two, but they had also been at the game and were facing an hour-long drive home from the train station. These were just good, friendly folks who did a favor for a total stranger, and it was heartening (not to mention incredibly handy) for me to have that experience. I'm not saying that it wouldn't have happened in Boston--but I'm not saying that it would have, either.

What I'm saying is that it happened in DC (and Northern Virginia, I suppose), and it capped off an evening that will leave me with fantastic memories despite the Red Sox' considerable misfortune. (They lost 9-3, for those who don't watch SportsCenter.) My impressions of this city and this area have long been mixed, but they're very positive right now, not even 24 hours after we left Boston for the banks of the Potomac. Mark me down as a fan of DC and the folks here. Just one thing, though--I still hate the Redskins. That will never change.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Beer and Sincerity

I had the pleasure recently--I won't tell you when, in case anybody from work is reading--to watch some old North American Soccer League games on DVD. Most of these games were from the late-'70s; two of the DVDs were ABC Sports season previews for the 1979 and 1980 campaigns, starring the legendary Jim McKay, some extremely simplistic graphics and a fair amount of modified instrumental disco music.

It would be easy and entertaining enough to prattle on for a while about the soccer (sorry, Euro friends) itself...or about the season previews, both of which included long and fairly detailed explanations of exactly what the rules of soccer--which happens to be the world's simplest team sport--are. But what really left an impression on me was--what else?--the commercials. Is it any wonder advertising works so well?

There was all kinds of fun stuff: old ads from WFAA-TV, Dallas-Fort Worth, featuring racing legend Johnny Rutherford squinting into the sun and selling mufflers or something; the old Aamco "double-a, m-c-o" ads for whatever Aamco is or was; Kenny Cooper (the original--the long-time Dallas Tornado goalkeeper) hocking a soccer ball for only $8.95 and six Dr. Pepper bottle caps; the cheesy old "Coke adds life" Coca-Cola spots.

But what really left an impression on me was the beer ads. Pearl's "First in the heart of Texas" campaign had a fairly modern flavor, with the requisite chicks in tight shirts and young people having good times on display. But the other beer ads--for Budweiser and Miller High Life, because there were really not that many other beers for sale in the US back then--were different. They were...surprisingly sincere.

OK, so the Bud ads were somewhat macho, featuring racing cars...well, racing. But there was no humor to Bud's commercials; there were no frat guys carousing or hot girls lathering themselves up. There were no double-entendres, no over-acted high fives, no fist bumps...and no warnings of any kind about drinking and driving or enjoying alcohol responsibly. There was just racing-car footage and then the hard sell.

More striking, though, were the "Miller time" ads offered up by Miller High Life. "Miller time," of course, became something of a catch phrase in the '70s and well beyond, trotted out when a day of hard work was done and it was time to relax and kick back with a not-even-mediocre domestic brew. (But, then again, who knew back then that American beer was lousy? There weren't many imports, and the ones that were available weren't exactly great; and the micro-brew movement was just about two decades away from taking off in any serious way.)

The funny thing about the Miller ads was that they weren't funny. While Bud went for fast cars and no storyline, Miller opted for macho men doing macho things--with no sense of irony or humor whatsoever. One ad featured cowboys riding the range all day and then relaxing in the evening with a cold can of Miller High Life--evidently, the West hadn't entirely been conquered by 1979.

Another ad, the most memorable by some distance, opened with a shot of a guy who was supposed to be some sort of longshoreman, although he frankly looked more like a forgotten '70s pop star (and maybe he was)--not the glamorous kind, but the "singer-songwriter" kind with a fluffy perm and rather wonky looks. Anyway, this (white, for reference) dude was clearly agitated and was yelling at somebody. We quickly came to find out that he was bossing around his (multi-racial--that is to say, there was one black guy) co-workers while loading cargo onto a ship.

The voice-over, like something from a Saturday Night Live skit (now some of that show's early commercial parodies make a lot more sense to me) came on with a manly tone and, without a hint of irony, blasted something along these lines:

"You work on the docks. The work is too hard. The day is too hot. The weight is too heavy. But when you've got that cargo loaded into the belly of that ship and the whistle blows at the end of your shift, it's..." (cue primitive graphic covering most of the screen) "Miller time!"

Cut to a bar scene featuring our pop-star longshoreman and his integrated crew laughing it up at a wonderfully '70s, rather darkly lit, wood-paneled bar. They're horsing around and having a ball when the pop star hears the whistle of the ship he had been loading that day as the mighty vessel heads out to see. In that moment, he feels (we guess) a swell of pride, and a look of accomplishment and satisfaction comes over his face that can only signify his pride in a job well done. The music swells...and scene.

OK, so maybe it's not funny all spelled out like that, but it's hilarious to watch in the context of what beer commercials--and our culture--have become. A few things about this ad in particular stood out to me:

1. It was entirely sincere. The dock workers were real dock workers (or portrayed as such), not too-cool-for-school slackers trying to put one over on the boss or play some sort of trick. They weren't hitting on chicks or screwing around on lunch break; they were breaking their backs. What that tells me is that the target market for beer ads has changed. It used to be the middle-aged, blue-collar, Red Forman-from-That '70s Show kind of guy. Now, it's the frat daddy or 20-something hipster who can't get enough of himself and his impossibly hip buddies.

2. The reason the market has changed is because Red Forman has mostly disappeared from this country. The factory worker, the dock worker, the construction worker--basically the Village People minus the policeman and maybe the cowboy--these guys are still around, but they're a disappearing breed (quickly disappearing these days), and the ones who are left don't have the disposable income that white-collar 20-somethings have. Blue-collar, salt-of-the-earth guys used to rule this country, at least in terms of being the guys advertisers wanted to reach; now, they're jokes, portrayed as rednecks or washed-up old men or neglectful fathers. That's a shame, really. It's unfair, and it's a symptom of the greater problem of hipsterism that plagues this country. But I'm digressing here...

3. It's hard to find any commercial on TV now that's not ironic or silly or that doesn't at least try to be funny. OK, so maybe some of the prescription-drug ads are pretty dry, but even lame household products like the Swiffer get pitched with singing mops and dancing brooms. Sincerity is seriously uncool in our culture right now.

We embrace idiots, malcontents and flippant jokesters as our fictional (and often real-life) heroes. We're addicted to irony and goofiness--and that's not all bad. After all, the bland straight-and-narrowness of old cop shows and '80s sitcoms (think Cosby and Family Ties) did get tiresome pretty quickly and way outlive their entertainment value.

But we seem over the last decade-and-a-half or so to have lost the bravery to really like or believe in something--even a fictional character--in our culture. And when someone genuine does come along (I hate to say it, but I'm going with Susan Boyle here), the backlash against that thing or person from super-cool bloggers and know-it-all social commentators is swift and strong. Even Susan lost the competition that made her a YouTube star worldwide, and while she probably still has a lot of adoring fans, the culture-controlling set seems to have deemed her too real to be accepted into the, ahem, culture club.

Even Susan Boyle only became momentarily popular because we could laugh at her as soon as we looked at her. She was old, fat, pathetic, a virgin--a joke or parody of some sort in our culture, surely the kind of person who didn't really exist in real life. But she quickly became genuine, not only with her voice but also with her lifestyle, her looks and her background. She was real, and she seemed to like herself that way, and we couldn't really handle that.

American Idol and all the other lousy no-talent shows that have taken over the mainstream airwaves have tried to force sincerity, but they're mostly just a lineup of freaks and hipsters trying to out-cool each other with a panel of judges that mostly serves to reinforce unfortunate stereotypes (the business-like white guy, the cool black guy, the emotional woman.) Any sincerity there is forced and staged--and it's easy to tell that it's not real. That's why Susan Boyle was such a shocker and why now, only a few weeks after she made the world look, she's not much more relevant than a '70s beer commercial featuring an earnest dock worker.

There are times when I get really nostalgic for the '70s, even though I was a little kid back then. I miss television that mattered and characters that made us think. Would All in the Family or M*A*S*H even get a pilot produced in 2009? Doubtful. Hey, I love Family Guy and Reno 911 and a lot of funny commercials. But I wouldn't mind seeing that '70s dock worker from the Miller ad come back in the form of a factory worker or waitress or construction worker in 2009--a genuine person, honest, hard-working, somebody trying to hang on and support a family in tough times.

If we overdosed on sincerity in the '80s, surely the pendulum has swung well the other way. We could stand to "keep it real" a little more often in our culture--really real, uncool, modest...sincere. The ship's pulling away, and the dock worker is swelling with pride. I'm not going to laugh at him, personally. I'm going to buy him a beer--and probably something better than a Miller High Life.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Formula 1, Don't Go All Indy on Us

Just when I was ready to relax and enjoy summer, the season when it rains every day...wait, what? Hang on... Oh, right. Summer, the season when my sports obsession becomes less intense in the absence of any significant hockey, soccer (sorry, Euro friends), rugby and football; the season when I can actually wake up in the morning without feelings of disappointment or false euphoria and go to bed without feelings of dread; the season when only the occasional live baseball game makes my sports radar blip in any serious way, this happens.

"This," of course, is most of the teams in Formula 1 threatening to leave the sport's governing body and form their own championship. Apparently there's a spat over a budget cap; the BBC link above explains everything for the curious or out-of-the-know. (By the way, in case you were wondering, yes, Max Mosley, the Nazi orgy guy, is prominently involved in this. See? It's really not boring.)

Now, Formula 1 might not be a big deal here in the US, but it's massive all over the rest of the world. Naturally, then, I like Formula 1. (What, exactly, draws me to sports like this? Maybe we'll explore that at some point. But I digress...again...) I watch a lot of Grand Prix races live on the excellent Speed network (just get it to us in HD, please), and when I don't catch a race live, I always check the results in detail.

It's not an "obsession" sport for me, but I do enjoy it. It's a summer sport as well (mostly, anyway), which means that it doesn't get shoved to the back burner in a busy time of year. Quite the contrary, in fact. Given that I only really get into baseball in April and October and/or if I'm actually at a game, Formula 1 has the summer mostly to itself, sharing the dog days for only a few weeks here and there with the likes of the Tour de France and Wimbledon. Le Formule, as the French call it, is just a fast, fun, glamorous summer diversion. It's something the Most Interesting Man in the World from those Dos Equis ads (who, incidentally, would almost assuredly not drink Dos Equis) would watch. For now, at least.

I say "for now" because this split talk is genuinely scary. Remember Indy? The 500 and all that? It used to rule the American racing scene, and it was pretty big worldwide, too. Well, where is Indy now? In Indiana...OK, sure, I get that. But where is Indy racing and the organization that brought us the Indy 500 every Memorial Day weekend during the golden years of the Brickyard? Well, it's nowhere now, pimping out Danica Patrick to try to stay just above professional lacrosse (or rugby) on the relevance scale in this country.

There are a lot of reasons for Indy's demise--the rise and vastly superior marketing of NASCAR among them--but one of them is a schism that split Indy racing's governing body for a few years and created two separate and mostly warring organizations. Indy's popularity was already on the wane at that point, and the split was the empty-netter that sealed Indy's fate. There's a single Indy racing organization again now--the two sides having perhaps bled so much from cutting off their noses to spite their faces that they decided to stitch things up--but Danica aside, Indy racing and the 500 both are pretty close to being dead. Let's put it this way: Indy's TV network is Versus. (And, yes, I know that the NHL is on Versus, too, but you won't find me arguing that the NHL is popular. I just like it.)

Now, Formula 1 isn't suffering a popularity problem at the moment, although the Ferrari-Michael Schumacher axis that dominated the sport for much of this decade did get tedious. But a split just seems like a really bad idea. Granted, pretty much all of the relevant teams have pledged themselves to the rebels and sworn to fight the sport's governing body, so it could be that if a split does happen in 2010, the proposed date, nothing much will actually change.

Or it could be a that a Formula 1 breakaway organization would serve only to confuse and frustrate fans and would end up being poorly organized (something tells me that these breakaway teams don't fully grasp the complexities of running a whole sports league). And while Force India doesn't score many points, the smaller teams do at least make up the numbers and make the drive more interesting and challenging for the brighter lights of the circuit. (Yes, I can understand the contrary argument--that the races would be safer and more exciting without the lesser drivers and cars on the track--but I don't buy it. Having to pass that Force India car again and again is just part of racing, even for Jenson Button.)

Oddly enough, I'm kind of with the big teams on the whole budget-cap issue; I really don't care about parity in Formula 1, and if Ferrari and Renault and Richard Branson's new all-conquering team want to spend insane amounts of money to innovate and improve automotive performance and safety (which is what they do in the long run), I say let them. And, hey, maybe they really could break away from Formula 1 successfully and go their own way. After all, the English Premiership did OK after breaking away from the football league.

But structure--and a fairly rigid one, at that--is usually a good thing in sports leagues (example: the NFL), and I can see the rebel breakaway group dissolving into infighting and sniping in relatively short order. These are, after all, rich people with a lot of money to spend on fun stuff, and somebody generally needs to keep them under control. Besides, all the rebels need to do is look at Indy to realize that overconfidence and an identity crisis can bring down even the most established of sporting entities.

Maybe this is all a bargaining tactic and the rebel teams would never dream of breaking away from Formula 1. But they sound pretty serious at this point, and I've even caught a headline or two here and there suggesting that some of the drivers would stick with their teams (and their money) if the teams did break away and form their own circuit. Let's hope it doesn't come to that. I don't want to look back on the Grand Prix of Monaco with a sense of detached nostalgia and hint of sadness. I want to look forward to it every year--they way I used to look forward to the Indy 500.

So, thanks a lot, Formula 1 rebels, for introducing stress into my soaking-wet but mostly peaceful summer. I suppose a few months off without worrying too much about something sports-related was just too much to ask.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Football Withdrawal

It happens pretty much every year at this time. Hockey ends, soccer ends, and baseball moves into a stretch that only the hardest of hard-core fans can really appreciate (and I'm not one of those fans.) Last year, the Celtics' championship held it off a bit, but this year it has come on as strong as ever: football withdrawal.

There's just something about good ol' American football that's ingrained in me. I love soccer (and, to my European friends, please forgive the "s"-word; it's just easier to differentiate between the two footballs if one of them is called soccer). West Ham might be my favorite professional sports organization, and, oddly enough, the forlorn Boston Bruins are probably a close second, loathe as I am to admit that. I do love hockey, more and more all the time now that the NHL has brought back critical elements of the game like fighting and scoring. And fighting. I even love the fight-free college game.

Rugby is great, too--the game I've played best of all the games I've actually played. Everything considered, it might be more fun to watch than football. It's certainly more fun to play. But while the spring tests and the Lions tour certainly have my attention (allez les Bleus), nothing that's out there now can tug at my heartstrings quite the way football does.

I experience football on a primal level. Football used to be my favorite sport by a long shot, I'm not so sure about that now. Rationally, objectively, I probably do like hockey, rugby and maybe even soccer better as sports. I follow West Ham, the Bruins and Stade Francais easily as closely as I follow the Dallas Cowboys or New England Patriots.

But no other sport stirs my emotions the way football does, and it's not just about wins and losses. It's about the beauty of the game, the terrifying violence of it and the memories it stirs up in me. I understood football before I knew how to understand things. At no point in my memory did I not know the rules--and even some of the strategy--of the game. Football was as much a part of my life growing up as sizzling summer heat, endless sitcom reruns and the daily newspaper--even though I never played the game at any official level. (Well, that's not actually true, but my brief experience as a would-be football star in France is worth another long post one of these days.)

Just thinking about the highs and lows of TCU football can nearly bring me to tears at completely random times. Rifling back through memories of the Dallas Cowboys (and even the New England Patriots of the last 16 years or so), bitter and sweet, can sweep me away for hours. Even recreating the pleasure of watching a random college or NFL game in my childhood is pleasant--it feels safe, like home. That might be a baseball reference for most, but for me it's all about the gridiron.

There are some emotions that we experience before we're able to speak and express how they make us feel. They manifest themselves physically in early childhood and keep producing the same effects throughout our lives--a nervous stomach, goose bumps, a certain tingle all over. That's what football does for me. It's a drug, an addiction I can't shake. And when it's in full swing in the the fall, I can actually OD on it and need to back away for a while. That's the strange thing; I might actually like football least during football season, at least these days.

But when it's not around, when it's a distant memory from the depths of winter or a glimmer of hope in mini-camp, that's when I really want it, when I really jones for it. That's when I can't stop watching old NFL Films specials and reruns of old games on NFL Network. That's when I can't stop thinking about the triumphs and crushing defeats of the fall in Fort Worth or even in my hometown of Midlothian. That's right now.

When I was growing up in Texas, football season brewed like a storm gathering on the horizon--a big storm, huge, the kind that tore roofs off of houses, shattered windows and ripped up streets, leaving carnage in its wake. There's nothing quite like watching a storm roll in--the nervousness, the anticipation, the little nagging thoughts that this could be the one that gets me, the one that sends me spiraling into the air. The first game of the high school season was the beginning of a five-month thrill ride with no equal anywhere in the world. It (almost) literally brought my small Texas town out of its summer slumber and back into a state of constant excitement and electricity.

The arrival of football season--like football season itself--isn't like that for me anymore, but I always want it to be, and somehow in May and June every year I think that it will be. By the time August rolls around, the electric storm has turned into a heavy rain--still fun to watch, still a nice change from the heat of summer, but not quite what I remember it being.

It's a little like Christmas (or whichever gift-giving holiday you choose to celebrate--a birthday, even). As a kid, it's the most exciting time of the year, and the anticipation of it is almost suffocating. Then, you turn, say, 14 or 15, and all of a sudden Christmas loses that childish magic and becomes...well, something else entirely. Something not unpleasant but also not as ridiculously exciting as it used to be.

That's football for me these days. By the time the season starts, I'll be that 14-year-old at Christmas, realizing that an era in my life has passed forever. But right now, in the middle of June, I'm still that 8-year-old counting the days between Thanksgiving and December 20 (my birthday, in case you were wondering) and then ultimately December 25. I've got it wicked bad for football right now--worse than I'll have it in September. Not that I won't be in front of my TV on opening weekend...because I absolutely will. Just not with the same raw enthusiasm I had in years gone by. And, I think, that's OK...maybe even healthy.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Six Flags: An Appreciation

I have often joked that I'm the angel of death--shortly after I leave a company, chaos follows. Just as I was getting ready to ditch CMP and Computer Reseller News for Ziff-Davis and PCWeek, CMP had layoffs for (maybe...I think) the first time ever.

Then, just as I was preparing to leave Ziff in my rear-view mirror and move to CIO magazine and IDG, Softbank, the Japanese company that owned Ziff at the time, decided to cut its 600-year plan for Ziff (seriously) about 594 years short and sell the company. I don't remember whether layoffs ensued, but ownership chaos definitely did...and I'm not actually sure that it has ever ceased.

And then (yes, there's more), CIO, which had never had layoffs in more than a decade of existence, cut jobs only a few months after I left the publication to move to France. Some say that the Sept. 11 attacks and the infamous bursting of the dot-com bubble might have been the culprit there, but I'm pretty sure that it was my fault.

Alas, my spectre of doom now haunts yet another company, albeit a robust 19 years after my departure. Six Flags, my first real employer, is bankrupt. I am sad about this, actually, even though I realize that bankruptcy for Six Flags won't (or shouldn't) actually close any of the company's parks--at least for the time being.

In 1990, I was a 16-year-old hunting for my first job. I donned a suit and tie and went all over my then-dinky (and still not exactly massive) hometown of Midlothian, Texas. I was a clean-cut, well-disciplined, altogether goody two-shoes Southern Baptist kid...but it didn't matter. The economy in 1990 was lousy, and all the jobs I was applying for--sales clerk and the like--were taken by real people with real families.

So, I went where all the kids in Dallas-Fort Worth went when they needed summer money and had nowhere else to go: Six Flags Over Texas (or SFOT for short because I don't want to type the whole name 15 more times). The original Six Flags park, SFOT was named for the actual six flags that have flown over the state (and republic, for that matter) of Texas. (By the way, the history section of the official Six Flags site, linked earlier in this paragraph, is really funny. It talks about how SFOT introduced people to--quoting loosely here--cowboy culture, Spanish and French culture, and even Southern belles. Um, yeah, Southern belles--that's a nice way of saying that one of the flags that flew over Texas was that of the Confederacy, as in the Civil War Confederacy. I guess a reference to Southern belles sounded better than, say, cotton-pickin' culture or slaveholder culture. Ahem...)

Anyway, given that I had a pulse, I got a job at Six Flags. Well, sort of. I got a job working in the parking lot at SFOT: directing traffic, driving the trams that took people from the parking lot to the park entrance, sitting on the backs of the trams and blabbering into a microphone about the park to said travelers (while also--not entirely successfully--making sure the tram driver didn't hit a parked car as the tram snaked around a corner), and even riding a bike around the lot in some sort of so-called "security" role.

It was...well, awful, actually. The too-cool-for-school (or Six Flags) Arlington and Grand Prairie kids were far too hip for a Midlothian bumpkin, and each day (including, and especially, Saturdays and Sundays) brought another eight-hour shift in 100-degree-plus temperatures, heat that had the magnificent effect of radiating off of the pavement in the parking lot and being even hotter than it would have been in most places inside the park itself. Oh, OK, it wasn't as bad as roofing, or plowing fields by hand, or whatever other menial work our parents and grandparents did, but it did give me a strong appreciation for indoor work and air conditioning. Not that I really needed any of that.

Still, Six Flags, the teen-job refugee camp, kept me in paychecks and allowed me not only to pay off the repair costs of some of the damages I had caused to my car a few months earlier (I'm still a terrible driver) but also to hang out with my friends a bit and not be constantly skint. At $3.80 per hour and with a 52-mile round-trip drive, the job didn't exactly have me running in high cotton, but it was steady...and a start. For that, I'll always be thankful to Six Flags.

SFOT, though, was more than just the place where I had my first job. When I was a kid, younger than 16 and not yet able to legally drive on my own, it was nirvana--a place where a parent could take a group of friends and me and drop us off, thereby letting us pretend that we were going to pick up girls, which, of course, never happened. But we saw a lot of hot chicks, and back then that counted for something. I guess.

I saw an embarrassing litany of concerts at SFOT--well, two, actually, but they were Tiffany and the Bangles...and New Kids on the Block opened for Tiffany. (As God is my witness, I had no idea who they were. I didn't like them, but a male friend who was with me at the show and will remain unidentified ran out the next day and bought their debut album on cassette. As far as I know, he's married [to a woman] and has kids, so there you go...for whatever that's worth.)

Six Flags had everything--chicks (however distant), the opportunity for a little independence, fantastic rides, plenty of stunningly fatty food, rock-band t-shirts... It really was just about as good as life got in the summertime in Texas.

And now it's bankrupt, probably not in danger of going away altogether but certainly struggling. Personally, I blame the fact that the company's corporate headquarters are somehow now in New York City. (Seriously, how did that happen?) But it very well could be that, 19 years after my departure, I caused the bankruptcy at Six Flags. I am, after all, the angel of death. Beware! (But, if you're reading this, don't be afraid to consider hiring me...remember, things only go wrong when I leave.)

Cocorico! A Good Weekend for French Sports

Here's a warning right off the bat: if you're not into Euro-type sports at all, just stop reading now. There won't be much "soccer" talk in this post, but there will be rugby and non-NASCAR auto racing.

OK, with that established, let's move on. Back in the late-'90s, France had a pretty good sporting run. The football team won the World Cup at home in 1998 and then backed up that victory by winning Euro 2000. The rugby team, my personal favorite, won back-to-back Grand Slams in the old 5 Nations in 1997 and 1998 and then stunned overwhelming favorite New Zealand in the semi-final of the 1999 Rugby World Cup before falling with honor to Australia in the final.

After that, though, sports success became more evasive for the Euro version of the red, white and blue. The football team bombed at the 2002 World Cup and then broke the nation's heart by losing on penalties to Italy in the 2006 final. The rugby team managed excellent Grand Slams, by then in the 6 Nations, in 2002 and 2004 but disappointed by going out to arch-rival England in the semi-final of both the 2003 and 2007 World Cups. Fernando Alonso (Spanish, actually) and Renault (definitely French) provided some excitement with Formula 1 titles a few years back, but the French football side in Euro 2008 was shocking drab and the rugby team fell off a cliff in 2008 and 2009.

So, this weekend just passed, it might not have been much compared to years past, but two victories will surely lift Gallic spirits. First, Peugeot managed to dominate the 24 Heures du Mans, or, as we call it, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. This race, so deeply embedded in the French sporting ethos, had been property of the Germans at Audi for almost a decade. This past weekend, however, Peugeot managed to win the first and second spots in the main competition and restore French racing to at least one of its past thrones. (It seemed to make little difference that the drivers of the winning car included no Frenchmen, and--gasp!--even an English bloke.) French pride was evident on Sunday afternoon.

Then, out of nowhere, a French rugby side expected to be a sacrificial lamb at the sword of the mighty All Blacks of New Zealand managed to pull off a(nother) shocking victory--on Kiwi soil. Many observers in New Zealand had criticized the French for picking a weakened side for their tour of the islands, but a spirited defensive performance saw France take home a test match victory in one of the world's most remote areas for the first time in 15 years. There's another test match in NZ this coming weekend, followed by a tilt in Australia, so les Bleus could very well still end up on the negative side of the victory ledger.

But any victory in NZ is precious, and this one, following some very nasty sentiments from the world's preeminent rugby nation, must taste as sweet as...well, as sweet at France's quarter-final win over the All Blacks in the 2007 World Cup. But given that French rugby seemed in disarray after a disastrous Heineken Cup season and a shameful 6 Nations in 2009, last Saturday's win on NZ dirt might very well be the sweetest Bleu triumph in years. Hopefully it's the start of something French rugby can build on--but for now, it's a point of light in what has been a relatively dark few years for French sports.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Who Feels Worse?

So, who do you think feels worse right now: Marian Hossa or Michel Therrien? Hossa moved from Pittsburgh to Detroit at the end of last season so that he could win a Stanley Cup, having lost in the finals to the Red Wings in 2008. Therrien coached the Penguins to the finals last season, only to be fired when the team slumped in Feburary of 2009. Dan Bylsma, an AHL coach only a few months ago, lifted the Cup with the Pens Friday night.

We know who's not feeling too bad right now: the relatively unheralded Maxime Talbot, who scored both goals on Friday night in a 2-1 win and became an instant Pittsburgh sports legend. No doubt he'll never pay for an Iron City beer in Pittsburgh again...although whether that's a good thing or not is hard to say.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Another Swine Flu Reference

This one was in an episode of King of the episode from 2004, long before the current Swine Flu officially became a pandemic (the first in 41 years! Yeah!). So, somebody remembered the Swine Flu from the '70s, after all. I am strangely gratified by this. Mike Judge, I remain in awe of your genius. You make all Texans proud.

A Real Belter, Mexican Style

Given that I'm cheering, of course, for the US to qualify for the World Cup (that's soccer for us Yanks and football for most of the rest of the world), I probably shouldn't be enjoying great goals scored by our rivals, the Mexicans. But Oscar Rojas's goal in Wednesday night's World Cup qualifier vs. Trinidad and Tobago (neither of which could beat Mexico, which won 2-1 on the Rojas goal) was a real belter. Watch and enjoy.

A few other notes about the game: I fired it up on the netbook live on the fantastic site, which offers all kinds of live sports programming from all over the world (probably of questionable legality--but who cares?). I turned the sound down because I wasn't in the mood for the babble of Spanish commentary, although sometimes I quite enjoy it.

Anyway, the Mexican TV coverage was actually very good and included some scenes rarely seen on US or European TV. There were crowd shots, but not the typical cheering-and-scarf-waving stuff; some of the images seemed to show a scrap or two taking place between rival fans. Nothing serious--mainly handbags, as the Brits would say, but interesting to see nonetheless. But better than that was a fairly gratuitous shot, during play in the second half, of a not unattractive (ahem) young lady wearing some sort of fairy wings (I have no idea) and prancing around in pants that we might call form-fitting. Now that's some superb camera work.

Doubtless all of this will show up on YouTube at some point, but I'm too tired to look for it tonight. You have the goal; that'll have to be good enough for now. Muchos kudos to Mexican TV, though, for interrupting the action for a mild cheesecake shot and a few minor crowd-fight scenes. That sort of thing just gives the viewer a sense of, you know, the atmosphere in the stadium and all...especially the fairy girl. She had a lot of atmosphere. But I digress.

Speaking of the World Cup, I can rest easy on one front, as the European nation I support, the Netherlands (better known as Holland in football circles, although Holland is, of course, only part of the Netherlands) has already qualified for South Africa 2010. Now, if the Oranje can just recreate their performances in the opening rounds of Euro 2008 and avoid dropping another floater like the one they dropped vs. Russia in the Euro, World Cup 2010 could become very interesting indeed. It's exactly a year away...well, today, now that it's Thursday morning. I can't wait. Oranje boven! Oh, and, uh...go USA!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Swine Flu

You might be thinking that this topic is a few weeks old and kind of stale by now, and you wouldn't be wrong...but it's actually much older than that. I remember reading somewhere (please don't ask for a link; I don't have one, and I'm not going to look for one) that there was a Swine Flu outbreak in the mid-'70s that caused a mild panic and then faded away (sound familiar?).

Well, sure enough, as I was checking my e-mail this morning and looking for stories to comment on for my work blog, I turned on, as I often do on weekday mornings, an old episode of the spectacular '70s game show Match Game on Game Show Network. (If you don't know Match Game, don't worry; there's likely to be an entire post about it at some later date.) While trying to forget that many of the people on this particular episode of the show, which ran circa 1975, are now dead, I heard host Gene Rayburn (dead for years now) make a reference to the Swine Flu.

"We all know about the Swine Flu," he said, opening one of his madcap fill-in-the-blank questions, and everybody on the celebrity panel nodded knowingly with no sense of confusion or bewilderment. Seriously, who knew? When Swine Flu hit about a month ago, there was the requisite panic--primarily in the press, to be fair--with school closures, Joe Biden freak-outs and the like. There were, and still are in some corners, lots of comparisons to the horrible flu epidemic of the 19-teens (around 1918, if memory serves) that killed millions, but almost nobody talked about the fact that the Swine Flu itself had come and gone back in the mid-'70s, during my lifetime.

That wasn't that long ago--easily tens of millions of people in this country alone, maybe more, remember 1975 in some way--and yet almost everybody old enough to remember the '70s clearly seems to have forgotten an outbreak that the Match Game contestants and panel were very familiar with circa 35 years ago. I'll leave you to speculate as to why folks who were adults and teens in the '70s might not remember much about that era...but I digress.

It's just one of those footnotes in history, I suppose, that everybody forgets about until it comes up again somehow or until VH1 reminds us all of it in an "I love the (fill in the decade)" special, which will inevitably feature a bunch of comics nobody has ever heard of along with Sebastian Bach, the guy from Skid Row who, to his credit, seems to be making a decent living Kathy Griffin-style by prostituting his former minor-celebrity status on basic cable.

There are some candidates today for future Swine Flu status--that is to say, people or things that folks will eventually forget they ever knew about. Joe the Plumber springs to mind (he might already be in Swine Flu territory less than a year after his star turn), as does Susan Boyle, who just entered her 14th minute of fame and didn't even win the competition that made her a YouTube "celebrity." Hopefully the netbook (I'm typing on one right now) won't get there, but it's a candidate, too.

Pop culture and collective memory are funny, fickle things, and this is just another example 0f that being true. As for the Swine Flu, if and when it comes back again in 35 years and everybody freaks out about it, I'm determined that (if I'm still alive) I'll just shake my head and say that I've seen it all before. But chances are I probably will have forgotten about it, too.

Monday, June 8, 2009

European Television

Outside of the UK, where the world's greatest broadcaster, the BBC, beams its magic from the Hebrides to Southampton (and throughout much of the rest of the world), television in Europe pretty much sucks.

I've watched a LOT of French TV, more than I'd like to admit. (I did live there for almost five years, though.) I've spent a fair amount of time in front of the tube in Holland, too, where at least the large number of American and British programs broadcast are subtitled in Dutch and not dubbed (into French, obviously) as they are in France. I've traveled enough to have been a pomme de terre ("potato" in French, although I don't think they use that expression) in a decent collection of European countries. And wherever I have gone, European TV has been mostly lousy.

I say mostly because it's not all bad. A couple of French comedies ("Les Guignols de l'Info," which parodied the news every weekday with puppets--seriously; and "GrolandSAT," which was presented as a fake satellite network from a fake French-speaking country), were pretty darn good. And some of the cultural programming was excellent--the kind of thing PBS or maybe A&E would be running here if either network had anything left in the tank intellectually. (OK, that's a little unfair to PBS, but I'll stick with it. Geez, that makes me sound like such a snob, but I'm really not. Seriously! I have beer in cans in my fridge even as I type.)

One Sunday-night French program, "CulturePub," explored the impact of advertising and marketing on French culture at large. It was fascinating viewing, which was surprising given that it aired on M6, which was kind of a French version of Spike TV married to the late '80s Fox Network. In other words, "CulturePub" was a diamond in the...well, let's just say rough, although more crass words come quickly to mind.

The real problem with European television for me is that much--maybe most--of it is the kind of stuff that's very pleasant to watch on Sunday evenings, when you're just trying to think about something other than work and want to take for a stroll the brain cells that go stale during the week. But on a weeknight, when the goal is to come home and zone out in front of, say, "The Office" or "Reno 911," Euro TV is found sadly wanting. It either offers old (and rarely very good--an important point) American programs and movies (dubbed into French in France, and therefore pretty useless), atrocious reality TV or more Sunday-night cultural stuff, the last of which just doesn't go over too well on Tuesday evening after a tiring day at work.

Of course, Euros don't really watch that much TV. The radio is still a very important medium in France, and when you have parks, cafes and bars only a few steps away in most neighborhoods in most cities (and even towns), TV isn't as necessary as a form of entertainment as it is in Suburbia, USA. So, when I was living in France, I was one of the few people who complained about how lame TV was. The natives (and some of the long-term expats) didn't know any better, and those who did didn't care because they had better things to do than sit in front of the tube.

That sounds nice, of course, and it is...but the truth is that I like TV and that I use it as a method for relaxation and recharging. That's pretty American of me, but, hey, I'm an American. (I'm even a native Texan, which I figure makes me some sort of super-American.) And as much as I miss Europe from time to time (particularly on Sunday nights, for some reason, which might explain why I'm watching French-language cultural programming right now), I have come to appreciate American TV, even if I think that it was better 25 or 30 years ago than it is now. But that's another topic for another post...and for another night.

Sunday Night

A beautiful night, ice clinking in my glass of Scotch and live Swiss television on the balcony. Screw the old days. The age of the Internet rules.

Why Swiss television? Because it's good French practice...and just because I can. I was really wondering what the major cultural events in Geneva would be this month, anyway. Now I know. My only regret is that I won't be there for any of them.

This incredible Web site has free live TV from all over the world...and some of the links even work!

Friday, June 5, 2009

So, why blog?

It's not as though this blogging thing is new--or unusual. How many blogs are there? Millions? More? And how many actually matter? Not many.

For a long time, I though that blogging was just about the most arrogant, self-serving activity anybody could undertake (and then came Twitter, but we'll cover that some other time.) Why on earth would anybody want to read, as Homer Simpson once said, "What some nerd thought about Star Trek," or what somebody who might stumble upon once a week to watch a video about celebrity diets but otherwise ignores the news thinks about politics?

After resisting blogging for a long time (on a personal level--I've been doing it professionally for three years now), I started to get it. Or, I started to get why I would and should do it. I'm not blogging because I want to "matter." I'm blogging because I like to write, and here I know what you're thinking: don't you write for a living? Well, yes, I do. But as much as I like writing for a trade publication that covers Microsoft (or a group of them, actually), the subject matter I cover at work is, as you might imagine, a tad limiting.

So, for me, this is a virtual rec room, a fun place where I can come and try out lines and experiment with phrases and goof around with sentences and see how it all looks in print--or in pixels, as the case may be. I would be happy for anybody to read this blog or for nobody to read it.

I'm an only child (bear with me; this goes somewhere). When I was a kid, I used to shoot baskets in the driveway because it was something mildly entertaining that I could do on my on. (Take your best shot at a joke here...I'm trying to keep the blog clean...) Anyway, I ended up being lousy at basketball. But I'm a decent writer, so this is my new driveway, my new basketball court. I'm just messing around here. If you want to come and shoot some written hoops with me, great. If not, no big deal. It's just another blog, after all. It doesn't really matter--and it's not supposed to.

The Bittersweet Arrival of Summer

Anticipation is usually better--or worse--than the actual event being anticipated. The excitement of the buildup to a Super Bowl or FA Cup Final is very often much better than the game itself; it's the pre-game electricity that ends up being really memorable, unless the game turns out to be some sort of blockbuster or your team manages to win a trophy.

And so it goes--for me, anyway--with summer in New England. It's not that I don't love summer. I love it more than I can express, and I do everything I can to drain every last drop out of it. Today, it was a bike ride after work and a nice few minutes spent out on the balcony with the lovely wife. Tomorrow, hopefully, it'll be a cookout and maybe a dinner al fresco. The weekend holds all sorts of ridiculous promise. There is nowhere on earth better to be in summer than New England. There are some places that are as nice, maybe, but nowhere better--not that I've found, anyway.

But (and you knew this was coming) there's always a shade of melancholy even on the most glorious summer beach day. Because here, summer is a fleeting thing. Back home in Texas, summer was almost a constant, with its blast-furnace heat, baking sun and clothes-dryer winds occupying much of the calendar. Here in New England, though, summer is a treasure, a respite from the dark hole of a six-month winter. However, no matter how nice summer is, it's never quite as good as I think it's going to be.

There's no way it could be. In February, June is the Seven Cities of Cibola, Xanadu and...oh, let's go with Valhalla, all bundled into an impossibly dreamy package. And July is even better than that! But once those months actually come around, it turns out that work is still an everyday chore, that the stresses of money and relationships that can seem so overwhelming in the dark of winter don't actually go away in the summer, and that traffic lights don't magically turn green on Route 9 as just I approach them. Summer is beautiful, wonderful, exhilerating--it's a dip in Walden Pond, a stroll around the De Cordova, a dinner out on the balcony, a day in the pool--but it's not Valhalla. It's just really nice...which isn't so bad at all. But it still doesn't live up to the anticipation I feel for it in winter and during perhaps the most torturous time of all, early spring.

It doesn't help, of course, that the really interesting sports (from my perspective) finish in the late spring and that (either kind of) football doesn't really start until the fall. Summer is reserved for baseball, a fine enough sport but one that really only interests me in April, May, September and October (in other words, at the beginning and the end of the season). The months in between, the dog days, are just a slog, a mostly sports-free period that leaves me wondering exactly which inconsequential thing that I can't control I should be worrying about. (It also leaves me jonesing for football season--both of them--big time. NFL Network gets a lot of air time in our house in June and July, as does Fox Soccer Channel. Thank God for a few weeks of the Euro and World Cup every other summer.) Oh, sure, the Tour de France and Wimbledon are fun, but they're hardly obsession-worthy.

Still, nobody should take this entry as a complaint about anything. It is, in fact, an appreciation of summer, and a lament that even after 35 years I haven't really yet learned how to manage my often unrealistic expectations for...well, anything, really. But especially for summer. Still, it beats shoveling snow. By a lot, actually.