Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Ballpark Mini-Tour Review: Nationals Park

I've already gushed about Washington, DC's Nationals Park to the extent that I think it best to keep the text of this post relatively short (as if that's going to happen). In fact, I probably gushed a bit too much and a bit too soon--I actually ended up liking the New K in Kansas City better than Nationals Park, but we'll get to the New K in the next (and last) stop on the Ballpark Mini-Tour Review.

All that's really left to do here is add some photos to the description of the park--and maybe reconsider some of the more hyperbolic gushing I committed back in June. The first and perhaps most important thing to know about Nationals Park is that it's in the middle of nowhere, a space otherwise known as the Washington Navy Yard on the not especially beautiful Anacostia River. Access to the park is easy from the excellent DC Metro system, but there is zero atmosphere outside the stadium. (OK, so there's a parking lot-type thing called "The Bullpen" that seems to have drinks and music, but it looked...well, sort of dodgy, honestly--or, at least, less than exciting.)
Given that there's nothing do to outside the park, all of the entertainment is inside. Fortunately, there's plenty of it, and it starts well before game time. (The place was rocking two hours before the scheduled first pitch on the day I attended.) There are DJs and live bands (yes, live bands), and there's a whole slate of programming that airs on the stadium's awesome Jumbotron (see photo), as well as on the many hi-def, flat-screen TVs conveniently positioned around the park.
The entertainment options range from the relatively sublime, such as a play area for the kids,
a Build-a-Bear Workshop (also for the kids) and a PlayStation video arcade (for the older kids, I guess), to the completely ridiculous. That would be the dunk tank--no, I'm not kidding--in which sits some poor guy wearing the rival's jersey of your choosing. On the day I attended Nationals Park, with easily 30,000 Red Sox fans pouring into the Stadium, the poor fellow was, naturally, clad in a Yankees shirt.
To my memory, Phillies, Mets and maybe Orioles jerseys were also available for wearing by whichever schmuck got stuck in such a lousy job. (Although...it was so hot on the day I was at the park that the dunk tank didn't look uninviting.)

Apparently, somebody had the idea to build Nationals Park so that it would offer a spectacular view of the spectacular DC skyline, Capitol Building and all. Well, that's what somebody did...and then somebody else went and ruined the whole thing by building a parking garage that blocks the view of everything but the top half of the Washington Monument. (That's the garage with the red roof in the photo; the little bits behind it are what I would have seen of the Washington skyline had parking not been such a priority in a place that's probably 100 yards from the nearest Metro station.)
Still, despite some of its more puzzling features, there's a lot to like about Nationals Park. It's exceptionally spacious and open--even with a packed house, the park never felt crowded--and while not beautiful in a traditional sense, it's not unattractive. I was especially pleased with the large, open plaza at the park's main entrance,
and I also liked the park's collection of funky and decidedly non-traditional (which seems appropriate, given that the Nats themselves have almost no history) statues, which seemed to try to illustrate the swings of Frank Howard and Josh Gibson and the pitching motion of Walter Johnson, all three Washington baseball luminaries in one way or another.
Other than the parking garage, probably the most disappointing aspect of Nationals Park is the home team, which is currently slugging out out with Kansas City to avoid being the worst team in baseball--or, perhaps, to finish dead last and get the first pick in next year's draft. Other than a good team, Nationals Park has pretty much everything a fan would want from a new park--tons of clean restrooms, a large number and wide variety of food stands, lots of beer stands (some with half-decent selections), great souvenir shops, the friendliest staff I've ever encountered in sports (seriously)...and an owl.
What more could anybody want? All in all, it's a fun day out--I had a good time despite watching the Red Sox get dismantled by a last-place team. I loved Nationals Park; in fact, I liked it so much that I've kind of become a fan of the Nats. Our nation's capital should have a baseball team (even if it's one stolen from Montreal), and I hope that the third go-round for Major League Baseball in Washington will be the one that sticks. In that sense, I'd like for the team to be good so that the city will support it. That, however, might be a tall order. Apparently, seats aren't hard to come by when a big-name opponent isn't in town.

You never know, though. DC is a big market, and with some player development, solid drafts and a little luck, Nats games could have crowds like this
every night before too long.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Ballpark Mini-Tour Review: Busch Stadium

I'll just come out and say it: I didn't like Busch Stadium all that much. It's a great park for baseball traditionalists, which I'm not. So, for those of you who love Fenway, Camden Yards (I guess--I've never been there) or Wrigley (nope, haven't been there, either), you might not like this post. But here it comes, anyway.

First off, St. Louis is a baseball town all over. The scene around Busch Stadium in downtown St. Louis is Fenway-esque, except without the charm of the Fenway area. Cardinals fans deck themselves out in team gear and show up in droves in the restaurants and bars in St. Louis's somewhat depressing downtown area. (OK, so the photo's a little dark--the lighting in the pizza place where we had dinner before the game was pretty bad for taking pictures.)
There's no questioning their passion, even if they do kind of come off as the Yankee fans of the National League--somewhat arrogant, always expecting to win, generally just a bit obnoxious. (Then again, with 10 World Series championships [the last in 2006], the Cardinals are the most successful team in NL history and the second-most successful--behind the Yankees--in baseball. So, at least their team can back up their bravado.)

OK, so maybe the comparison to Yankee fans is unfair. There probably isn't another set of fans in sports that's that obnoxious and generally hard to take as the Bronx faithful. Cardinals fans might actually be more like (forgive me, but I have to say it)...post-2004 Red Sox fans. In fact, that's pretty much exactly what they're like. But you get the point. Yeah, they care about their team--which is cool. But the atmosphere they create is more intense than fun, and while that sort of thing is great for (either kind of) football or for hockey, it must be hard to take for 81 home baseball games a year. Lighten up, folks--sure, every game counts, but there are 162 of them before the playoffs even begin. Save your energy. Dial it down from 11 to, say, 9.

Anyway, back to the park itself. It's not much to look at from the outside, given that it's mostly built down into a hole. The lights are nearly at street level, and there's certainly no grandiose facade.
But...the whole built-in-a-hole thing does yield absolutely the best feature of the park, which is this:
...and this...
Yes, the skyline views are absolutely spectacular (and, yes, somebody mowed an arch into the outfield for the All-Star game, which had taken place just a few days before the game I attended). So, give Busch Stadium that--it's beautifully sunken into the city. Plus, it has some other cool visual features, such as a pretty nifty, stat-packed scoreboard-Jumbotron combo
and a lineup of banners that's tough to dispute, unless you're a *spit* Yankee fan.
The sight lines and so forth seemed fine, too, although we were sitting pretty high up, as the pictures of the park indicate. Still, we could see on the field what we needed to see. As far as comfort, the seats seemed a little smaller than they should have been in a new park, but they weren't uncomfortable. And there were drink holders for Bud, Bud Light, Budweiser American Ale or whatever other "local" product was on offer for swilling.

But, for me, what Busch Stadium lacked was non-game stuff to do. This is where the traditionalists might want to stop reading. Yes, sure, I go to the ballpark to watch a baseball game. But I also like the extras--the little activities and creature comforts that add to the atmosphere and experience of a game, the things you can do if you get to a game early or the places where you can send your wife or girlfriend or kids if she or they just aren't into the game. Busch Stadium is pretty straight-up baseball; the only area I can remember that had a leisure-time feel was this one
and I honestly wasn't sure of the point of it. It had a great view, as the whole park does, but it was fairly stark and didn't even seem to have that many food stands. It certainly didn't have--from what I could tell--any sort of kids' activities or places where the ladies could comfortably chat over drinks while the gents take in the game. (Yes, I realize that there are a lot of female baseball fans, and I realize that a lot of women who don't like baseball do actually watch the games when they go to them. I get that. But all I'm saying is that I've had the bored-female experience at sporting events [although not recently, to be fair], and it would have been great for me to have been able to say, "Why don't you go hang out in that restaurant area or play a round of miniature golf?" By the way, there will be more on miniature golf when we get to Kansas City...)

What I'm saying is that Busch Stadium is a baseball park for baseball fans, and most baseball fans will love that. But for the rest of us--the casual fans who don't mind missing an inning or two to stretch our legs a bit and entertain ourselves in some other way--there isn't much there except the opportunity to stare at the Arch. That's why I didn't like Busch Stadium that much. It goes for an old-fashioned feel and achieves it, mostly, but I'm really more of a fan of the newfangled ballpark.

Plus, Busch is incredibly crowded. Granted, the Cardinals like it that way--the games sell out or come close, which helps keep the team competitive despite its relatively small TV market. But for a stadium that opened in 2006, Busch's corridors, food areas, bathrooms and shops are ridiculously crowded--almost Fenway-style packed. There's just no excuse for that. A new stadium should have plenty of space to roam--as Nationals Park did despite a sellout crowd with the Red Sox in town.

So, while Busch Stadium boasts a successful club, rabid fans and a lot of pretty views, it isn't, for me, the palace that I had heard it was. It's visually interesting--even arresting--but there's less (and less space) on the inside than there should be. Would I take it over Fenway? Actually, yeah, but I'd take almost any park over Fenway. That, though, is another post for another time.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Scenes from a Recession

We all know how the recession feels--it hurts. But what does a recession look like? There are probably lots of images of busy unemployment offices (if people even have to go to the offices anymore--I hope not to have to find out), families who have lost their homes and maybe even swelling homeless shelters. But the images I've seen of the recession have been less dramatic than all that. Still, they've struck me. I've noticed that the economic downturn has left visible marks on the building where I (fortunately still) work. Here are a few examples. (I took these pictures with my decidedly non-fancy camera phone in bad lighting, so they're a bit fuzzy...)
Let's just say that we don't have quite as many folks in the office as we used to. Empty offices and vacant cubes provide only the echoes of a workplace that used to buzz with activity. A friend who left the company before the worst of the recession hit used to sit at the desk in this photo. He's working elsewhere, thankfully, but his old office space remains dormant and vacant, just a shell with a desk and a window.
I'm not sure what happened to the lawyer who had a practice next door to our office, but he and his receptionist are obviously gone now. This space has been vacant for months; the words "law offices" on the front window are the only reminder that there used to be a workplace jammed with files, books and computer equipment. I'm sure that the proprietor of the building has been trying to rent this space for a while now...but it sits empty. It might for a while yet to come.

The candy machine in the hallway used to be our savior from hunger around 3pm every day. It stayed well-stocked and did a brisk business in better times. It's mostly empty now--not because there's so much demand for the candy but because nobody has bothered to come refill the machine with so few potential customers working on our floor. What's in there now has been in there for a while and will likely stay there for a while. Nobody wants to spend 85 cents on a Butterfinger anymore or fork over a buck for microwave popcorn. And there aren't many people left to fork over the buck, anyway.
About 6:30 on a Thursday afternoon in August--a bit late to leave the office, sure, especially in the summertime. But I've been working in this building since February 2006, and many have been the times over the years that I've left work on a summer evening at 6:30 or later (sometimes much later) and found other people's cars still waiting in the parking lot for their owners. Not tonight. And not lately--not for a while. The silver car in the photo is mine, the last in the front lot waiting to be driven home. While there were a few stragglers still parked around back of the building, the front lot was a ghost town.

That was never the case until about February or March of this year; before the economy tanked, there were always cars parked out front when I left work unless I left extremely late--say after 9 or 10pm. For some reason, this is the most disconcerting photo of the set for me. It's stark and empty, and that's kind of how the whole building feels now. I never thought I'd be wistful for a half-full parking lot, or a lot with four or five cars left in it at 6:30 on a summer afternoon. But when I think of the drivers of those cars that aren't there, I wonder what those people are doing and how they're getting by. And I'm thankful that my car is still in the lot.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Radio Radio

If you live anywhere near Boston or have come in contact with any form of the Boston Globe within the last two weeks or so, you know that WBCN, for 41 years "The Rock of Boston," is off the mainstream broadcast airwaves. (I qualify the word "airwaves" because 'BCN is apparently still on the Internet and on HD radio, whatever that is. But you won't be able to get it in your car in Greater Boston anymore, and that's the point here.)

The Globe has gone nostalgia crazy over the death of BCN, which was the sacrificial lamb in a CBS radio shakeup that will introduce a new all-sports station to what is arguably America's most sports-obsessed city. And although the Globe's coverage has seemed unceasing and overdone to say the least, readers seem to be eating it up. A blog post on 'BCN's sad final hours has generated 90 comments (thus far), most of them from nostalgic over-40 types who remember when the station was a rock-and-roll ground-breaker, whatever that's supposed to mean. (I do suppose that 'BCN, having signed on in 1968, was a very early FM station. FM radio didn't really hit D-FW in a serious way until a decade or so later--more on that in a minute.)

I moved to Boston for the first time in 1997, long after WBCN had succumbed to corporate radio and had lost whatever revolutionary, indy cred it once had. Apparently, though, the former classical station (the call letters stood for "Boston Concert Network," which would make a fine name for a local band today) was one of the first true rock stations in the US, cranking out Zeppelin, Cream and the Stones back in the '60s when that stuff was new and edgy, as well as discovering local acts (the Cars and J Geils Band, among other, from what I've read) and introducing DJs (back when DJs were people who spun records on the radio, not in clubs) who became local legends. In fact, Peter Wolf of J Geils fame was once a 'BCN DJ himself.

There's lots more about 'BCN at this blog about Boston radio...and while we're at it, let's take a moment to note the passing of George Taylor Morris, who, while never a 'BCN DJ, was heavily involved in Boston radio for some years. I remember Morris as the host of "Reelin' in the Years," a syndicated oldies-slash-reminiscence show in the '80s that managed a rare combination: nostalgia with dignity. RIP, GTM.

Anyway, all of this 'BCN nostalgia takes me back to my own youth in the Dallas-Fort Worth radio market and makes me remember how important plain ol' over-the-air rock radio used to be. (Of course, that's back when rock existed, but that's another post altogether. The kids are all into hip-hop now, and I think I know why--but I won't elongate this post any more than I already have.)

I don't know that D-FW had a "revolutionary" rock station, but it did have a few that managed to stick around through my youth. Back when records (yes, I'm old enough to have had records of my own) and tapes were the only real mass media for recorded music, radio was important. Records were kind of a pain--singles only lasted one song, and then you had to switch them out for something else. Albums were better, but you had to physically move the needle past the filler tunes to get to the songs you actually wanted to hear. And cassettes--well, they were just a general pain in the butt, and they had terrible sound quality. (In case you're wondering, eight tracks are a fleeting memory for me; I never had an eight-track player, although my parents did.)

So, radio was a big deal, and radio personalities mattered. There were three stations in D-FW that managed to survive format changes, corporate takeovers and the "hot station of the moment"--the new pop station that got all the kids' attention for about six months and then faded--to become institutions...for a while. They're all gone now, but they were huge while they lasted.

My earliest radio memories are of AM radio, which was still the standard for everything in D-FW until some time in the late '70s. (KVIL, a massively popular FM soft-pop station, really cemented FM radio's popularity in D-FW. It was a ratings monster for decades and might still be--I haven't checked recently.) My parents used to listen to WBAP-AM (which is very old and still going strong, with a signal that reaches as far as Montana) back when it was a country station. It's news-talk now, as you might imagine.

My earliest rock-radio memories are of 92 1/2 (not 92.5, for some reason) KAFM-FM. But that one didn't last long. The one I liked best in my childhood and miss the most was 98 KZEW, the Zoo. The "Home of Rock & Roll" landed more bumper stickers on Camaros, Firebirds and even pickup trucks than any other station in D-FW radio history--and for good reason. The Zoo rocked, and I mean it rocked in a way that no radio station has since the early '80s.

The Zoo had some great personalities, but it was really all about the music. It was a hard-rock station that didn't mess with ballads or pop crossovers. You knew what you were getting when you tuned in to it--Boston, Rush, Zeppelin, the Who, the Stones, AC/DC, Sabbath...the list goes on. (Keep in mind that most of those bands were still releasing albums in the late '70s and early '80s.) Late in its life, sometime in the late-'80s, the Zoo went a little bit soft and started toying with Elton John-type stuff. It didn't last much longer. But in its heyday, it was the best rock station in town.

Then there was 97.1 KEGL, the Eagle, home to Kidd Kraddick (who apparently has a nationally syndicated show now) in the morning and the station that, in the early '90s, advertised itself as the only rock station with "no rap and no disco." That, we liked, because while some rap was interesting, it was slowly taking over the airwaves and crowding out the hair bands and hard rockers my friends and I loved. The Eagle, at some point, was one of our last refuges for real music--Guns & Roses, AC/DC (always a favorite), even some older classics. It was a massive disappointment, as you might imagine, when the Eagle caved to mainstream teen preferences and played Tone Loc's "Wild Thing." You can imagine the backlash--and I'm not kidding about this. People were angry. I was one of them.

The Eagle rocked progressively more softly, unfortunately, as the years went on, and I believe it disappeared from the D-FW dial just a few years ago after what must have been a 30-year run. (I really don't want to take the time to look this stuff up--sorry.) It was fun while it lasted, although it was probably the most corporate and least genuine of my three rock-radio staples.

On the other hand, the most venerable and honest station--also now gone, which is still a shock to me--was KTXQ, or Q102, as it was much better known. Q102, "Texas' Best Rock," at least seemed genuinely local, although I have no idea who owned it. It was by far the best in D-FW about playing local music. Stevie Ray Vaughn (RIP--I still miss you) was a staple even before the rest of the country caught on to him, and a regular feature called Texas Tapes offered the best undiscovered bands from around the state. Whether any of the Texas Tapes bands ever really made it, I don't remember--but the show was a great way to hear local music that nobody else was playing. Had I been old enough back then (I was mainly a listener in junior high and high school), I would have gone to some clubs to check out those bands. Alas...

Anyway, Q102, for me, had by far the best personalities on the local airwaves. Bo and Jim in the morning were tremendous. (I still remember the famous "It's Bo or Nothing" billboards from the mid-'80s or so that caused a genuine stir in D-FW. They featured an outline of sorts of an otherwise-naked man wearing nothing but a bow over his, well, central region. The supposedly risque billboards sparked a real controversy--as in one with fairly extensive coverage on local TV and in the papers [gotta love the Bible Belt]--and ended up not lasting all that long. But, as the old saying goes, there was no such thing as bad publicity. In that sense, they worked.)

Beyond Bo and Jim, there was Redbeard, a genuine rock journalist who surely must still be around somewhere. The afternoon guy who also did lost of special segments, Redbeard got all the big rock acts of the day into the Q102 studios and actually conducted serious, thought-provoking, non-fawning interviews with them. It was like rock NPR or something--meaningful and memorable in a way rock radio rarely was then and definitely isn't anymore.

Q102 also was home to a show--whether it was locally produced or not, I don't know, but I think it was--called "Flashback," which was a sort of mystical-sounding rock-oldies program. It's hard for me to describe Flashback--if you've heard it, you know what I mean. But it was cool. Just trust me on that.

Outside of NPR, broadcast radio, of course, is mostly dead now, full of stations that play mindless teen-hop and talk radio stations that mostly let idiots air their grievances in front of a bunch of other idiots. I don't actually own a radio tuner now other than the one in my car. In my younger days, I listened to the radio in the evenings, sometimes (and this is a big thing for me to say) as a substitute for watching TV. Not anymore. Satellite radio has never appealed to me--I have an iPod, thanks. Internet radio is better, but I almost never listen to it, honestly. In the car, it's NPR or the iPod for the most part.

But radio used to be a huge part of my life--I still remember my friend, Paul, calling me one Saturday in our high school years to tell me that the Eagle had played six cool songs in a row--and I don't know whether I grew out of that or whether radio just lost me. I suppose it's a little of both. I wouldn't want a fellow 35-year-old frantically ringing me to tell me that (whatever rock station is left in Boston, if there is one) just played six cool songs in a row...but I also wouldn't mind having a radio station around here that played good (non-corporate) new music, pushed local bands and offered some decent personalities.

WFNX is OK for that, I guess, and the college radio stations here (WERS from Emerson in particular) probably do more for broadcast radio than almost any other station in the country does these days. But they don't really matter--'FNX is a major station (if there is still such a thing in radio), but 'ERS and the other college outlets are also-rans down at the far ends of the FM dial. (WBUR, from BU, is actually the local NPR affiliate.) Nobody comes into work talking about the great new band that 'ERS (or even 'FNX) is playing or the funny bit or good non-NPR interview that was on the radio the other day. I do miss that, but that's probably because I'm just nostalgic...kind of like those people who are missing 'BCN today.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Ballpark Mini-Tour Review: Overview

Let's face it: baseball is pretty boring. Oh, it has its moments and all, but for the most part, 30 teams each playing 162 games per season generate about as much excitement for me as one period of regular-season hockey...AHL hockey.

OK, that's a bit harsh, but the point is that I'm not a baseball purist by any stretch. There are a few players I've loved over the years: George Brett, Reggie Jackson, Buddy Bell, Gary Carter, David Ortiz (yes, still). And there have been some games and some seasons and some teams I've very much enjoyed. But I rarely watch games on TV, and while I kind of enjoy "following" teams, I don't often take time to pour over stats or check out who's on a hot streak. I don't watch Baseball Tonight. I don't even have MLB Network (for now).

However, there are a couple of things I like about baseball because they're unique to the sport, at least among the four big US sports and soccer. First off, baseball has no clock. A team can be down 12-0 with two outs in the bottom of the 9th inning and still come back to win. Oh, sure it's unlikely, but it's possible. Only hockey among our American sports comes close to having this quality--it only takes a second to score a goal--but the fact is that a 6-0 hockey game has usually devolved into a massively entertaining fight-fest by the middle of the third period.

Beyond that, a football team that's ahead 42-0 in the third quarter is going to win--and it's usually going to find some dull way to run out the clock and kill the game. But, with baseball, it takes (at least) 27 outs to get the victory. There's some appeal to that, even if the process of getting 27 outs isn't the most exciting thing in sports.

Also--and I'm getting to the point here--baseball parks have atmosphere that other sports stadiums don't have. Hockey and basketball arenas, despite some having more raucous crowds than others, are pretty cookie-cutter for the most part, especially in the modern-arena era. College football stadiums can have lots of atmosphere, especially in their parking lots, but a football field is a football field is a football field--they're all 120 yards long (don't forget the end zones) and look pretty much the same. European football stadiums gush atmosphere--sometimes too much--but, again, a pitch is a pitch for the most part. Same goes for rugby.

Baseball parks, though, have all sorts of funny quirks. Aside from the regulation base paths and the distance from the pitcher's mound to home plate, baseball parks can ramble around pretty much all they want. There are funny little outfield corners, weird angles, tall walls, short "home-run" porches--you name it. Ever since Camden Yards brought much of baseball out of the multipurpose-stadium era, ballpark designers have been finding new ways to keep a boring game interesting and to make a large-scale sports facility as pleasing to the eye as possible.

That's a pretty cool idea, and that's why I like visiting ballparks so much--especially new parks built to accommodate the bottom, slake the thirst, feed the belly and please the eye. I go not so much for the game but for the experience: I like to see how the fans mesh with the park itself and how comfortable and interesting the park is. I go because there's something immensely pleasurable about watching a sporting event on a beautiful summer evening in a place built with the express purpose of being beautiful and interesting. (Actually, I don't go that often--some years, I don't make a game at all, but when I do go, that's why I'm there.)

OK, I'd rather go to a hockey game, but ballparks are cool. That's really what I'm trying to say. This summer, circumstance gave me the opportunity to visit three parks: Nationals Park in Washington, DC (about which I've already gushed considerably); Busch Stadium in St. Louis and Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. The first two of those parks are just about brand new; the "K" in KC underwent a major renovation prior to this season and is now known as the "New K," even though it stands where the old K did and is really just a (significantly) gussied-up version of the old park. Of course, my home park is Fenway Park, the oldest park in baseball (yes, older than Wrigley, I think--I haven't looked it up) and--forgive me, purists--pretty much a dump. I've been to two home Red Sox games this year, so my impressions of Fenway are fresh.

As time permits over the next few nights (weeks? I hope not...), I'll offer reviews (with photos!) of the three "foreign" parks I visited this summer as well as some thoughts on Fenway. Baseball purists, beware--I like gimmicks, kitch and creature comforts. After all, I need to have something to do while a boring old baseball game is going on in the background... Just kidding. Mostly.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Story of the Year: Twitter Silenced

It turns out that the fantastic Twitter outages might be the result of a slap-fight between a bunch of Russians and Georgians (as in the non-college-football-obsessed kind of Georgians, the ones who live in Europe). Or, more specifically, an attempt by some Russians to silence one Georgian in particular--one guy! A bunch of hackers (apparently) brought down Twitter, Facebook and a few other sites in order to get one guy off the Web. Could Ray Bradbury or George Orwell have seen this coming? Oh, I don't think so. By the way, Twitter is down right now as I type on late Sunday night-early Monday morning.

Now, THIS is Web 2.0...or something. Maybe it's Web 0.0 for the poor guy in Georgia (who really does seem like an unfortunate victim here--although he might be suffering for the greater good in this case). Whatever it is, I am enjoying this whole thing far more than I should. Health care? Beer diplomacy? Michael Jackson? The economy? Bailouts and stimulus packages? Nah, forget all of those things. This is the story of the year. The Russian bear is growling, and it's drowning out the sounds of all those Tweets. How wrong would it be for me to cheer for the bear?

Friday, August 7, 2009

John Hughes

I didn't really know who he was when I was a kid (I wasn't hip to much back in Midlothian, Texas), but I sure knew his movies. Aside from inflicting Home Alone upon us, John Hughes wrote and-or directed some of the most important and memorable movies of my childhood and even much of my teenage-hood--even if I didn't see a lot of them until years after they came out.

In so many ways, John Hughes was the '80s, and I'll admit that I've been a tad nostalgic for the '80s lately. Maybe it was going to Kansas City, seeing the Royals live and getting my photo taken next to George Brett's statue, or maybe it was just escapism from a lousy economy and a mostly dreary summer (although today was gorgeous here in Greater Boston), but the '80s had been on my mind even before I read about Hughes's death. Now, I'm in full nostalgia mode.

The funny thing is that some of Hughes's movies--for me, anyway--haven't really stood the test of time. Ferris Bueller's Day Off, which I watched again not long ago, just isn't that funny through adult eyes. In fact, it's pretty lame. The Breakfast Club does remain utterly re-watchable, though, and it probably always will. The same goes for classics like National Lampoon's Vacation...and, if I'm honest, I even liked Uncle Buck. Kind of a lot.

Still, more than their quality, it's the impact of the movies Hughes was involved with that really impresses me. In an era when cable TV was well on its way to expanding our entertainment options beyond three networks plus PBS (but before the Internet became a widespread consumer reality), Hughes had the rapt attention of kids, teens, and probably even twenty-somethings as few other writers or directors did. His movies fed us the lines that we would repeat for years--and still do (Bueller...). He could pull off the guy movie and the chick flick with equal flair. More than that, though, Hughes's movies defined my generation--literally told us who we were, what we thought and where we were (or weren't) going. If you weren't there, I can't explain it. But if you were, you might just be nodding your head right now.

I don't know whether anybody is doing that for the current generation of texting, Tweeting teens. I don't know whether or not it was a positive thing that John Hughes had so much influence over my generation. But I do know that, after Michael Jackson, another icon of my youth--or, more accurately, the writer of the script of my youth--has died. I'm starting to feel that mortality thing creeping in now, and I don't like it. I think I'll cheer myself up by watching Mr. Mom. Or maybe I'll just move on and do my best to live in 2009. Yes, that's probably a better idea. But if I see Weird Science on HBO anytime soon, I'm still going to watch it...

Thursday, August 6, 2009


Twitter is back up. Oh, well. Maybe next time...

So, Twitter Is Down...

Apparently, Twitter is suffering a denial-of-service attack as I write. (No, I didn't do it. I don't know how to do that sort of thing.)

Maybe it'll never come back. Could we be so lucky?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Unfortunate Intervention of Real Life

The Ballpark Mini-Tour Review...a long, wistful post on the death of Arena Football...a blistering rant about Twitter (actually, more of a comical take on that ridiculous idea)...

They're all coming, or at least they will be when work, friends, a probably futile attempt to exercise, actual summer weather and other (non-Johnny) pesky distractions stop pulling me away from the call to blog. In the meantime, here's a photo of a Big Papi t-shirt jersey that is NOT on sale at Target in Framingham (or possibly Natick--I can never tell the difference).
Scandal or no scandal, an "Ortiz 34" shirt will cost you $17.99, just as the Jason Bay ones behind it will. Personally, I was kind of hoping for a drug-scandal sale, but no dice. Rats. I'll have to be happy with my favorite new garment, my George Brett Kansas City Royals throwback t-shirt jersey purchased at the New K in KC.

Arena Football Has (or Had) Been Around for 22 Years?

Interesting column here on the sad death of the Arena Football League. I'll post at extreme length at some point about the impending death of the AFL, but here's what I couldn't believe while reading the linked column: Arena Football is (was) 22 years old.

What? How? 22? Of legal drinking age plus a year? Really? Arena Football? Good Lord. It got started when I was 13. Could that be right? I just refuse to believe this. There's just no way.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Victory for Brazil...Finally

The ONE Lowell World Cup ended as most international soccer tournaments do, with a team from Brazil winning. Still, the runners-up from Nigeria/Liberia put out a great effort in a cracking match that finished 3-2 to the side in yellow. Sentimental favorites Somalia succumbed to Brazil in the semi-finals but did manage to finish third.

After losing last year's final on penalties and failing to win the tournament in the first two years of the competition, local favorites Brazil finally took home the ONE Lowell World Cup. But the African nations in the tournament had a great showing, with Nigeria/Liberia reaching the final and Somalia and Ghana each reaching the semi-finals. The African teams also had an impressive turnout of vocal fans who lent a lot of atmosphere to the matches. And, as usual, there was a strong contingent of Brazilian fans in attendance to cheer on their side.

If you missed this fantastic event this year, don't miss it next year. It features high-quality soccer (seriously, the Sunday matches were fantastic), great fellowship and a lot of fun.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Images from the ONE Lowell World Cup

Portugal v Colombia. A Portuguese player breaks free from a Colombian pursuant in a tense 0-0 draw.

Somalia v USA. Somalia scored the winning goal here in a 2-1 comeback win over the US.

Honduras v Ghana. Honduras won 3-0. No. 10 in blue scored twice.

The tournament concludes tomorrow. Check the official Web site for more information.