Friday, July 2, 2010

The Last Exile

Well, this is it. The last My Life in Exile post. As I sit here I really don't know what to say. But as is frequent with me that won't stop me.

Is it possible to be completely excited to get someplace yet not at all want to leave the place you are currently standing? I know that it is possible, because that is how I feel right now. Frankly it is kind of maddening.

It is sort of like graduating. At least that is what it feels like to me. When you start school the end seems so far away. Along the way to nothing turns out exactly the way you wanted it to, you know what you would do different if you had to do it all over again, but you treasure every step along the way. At the end, when it is finally time to take the walk you are surrounded by the friends you made along the way.

When I graduated I looked around at all my friends and was a little sad. Sad not because I was loosing them as friends, I knew that a lot of these folks would be friends I would have for the rest of my life. I also knew, however, that nothing would ever again be the same between us. The very nature of our friendships had to change with the changing of our surroundings and not every friendship would make it. I consider myself so very fortunate, however, that I have been able to keep so many of those friends throughout my life. Those very friends, and naturally family, are the very ones I am returning too.

Knowing that I have been able to remain friends with those people for so long, with some of them being so far away, gives me the confidence to know that I will be able to stay friends with my West Coast friends despite my change of surroundings. When I arrived here with my two ridiculously well packed suitcases (sans can opener) good fortune has smiled upon me nearly from the start. The friendships I have made started to form nearly the day I arrived, and I have continued to make new friends even up to the day that my stuff was removed from my apartment.

There was a moment where I was really upset about my time out here in Exile. Things weren't going exactly the way I wanted and I was feeling a little homesick. I was talking to Brian about some events that happened to me that day, and he said to me one sentence that brought my whole time here into focus. He said “Ya know, Greg... Everything happens for a reason. Maybe there is a reason that you are out in California. But maybe that reason isn't for you, it is for you to be there for someone else.” I never felt so humbled.

It was soon after hat, and I am not really sure when, Exile stopped being an exile. One aborted blog entry (believe it or not I have some type of standard for the drivel I publish) was about the day I first called my San Jose apartment 'Home'. (I know I should have changed the blog name at that point, but who wants to read “My every stuff in the place formerly known as Exile?') Such is the root of my paradox. I am leaving a place that I considered 'home' for at least a little while, but I am leaving it to go back Home.

So it is with equal parts sadness and joy that I leave Exile. It has been a wild ride, at times, between the everyday stuff. One of the things you can here me say nearly everyday to people out here is “I am not dying.” Indeed I will still be back here on occasion for business or vacation, and at some point may actually get sent back for another tour of duty. While I may be leaving Exile I am taking a part of it with me. And if living in Exile has taught me one thing, it is to always be open to new people and adventures, and where ever those adventures take you have a towel and can opener.

I won't miss the horrible drivers here, or idiotic pedestrians, and cramped parking lots. I am looking forward to seeing more of old friends, getting reacquainted with my own house, and working a new but groove into the couch in front of my absurdly large TV. I can't wait for the next 'First Friday' in town and 'Blob Fest' is literally and figuratively right around the corner. So my adventures will continue in some form or another.

To anybody still reading to this point, or to anyone that has read any of my crap in the past year, you truly have left me flattered. I can't believe how many people over the course of the year have told me that they have enjoyed reading this stuff. Not wanting to believe that they were all secretly making fun of me, thank you to every last person. I have enjoyed writing and I hope I didn't embarrass myself to much. At least unintentionally embarrass myself!

I am not sure if I am going to keep doing this once I return. It truly surprise me that people even would want me to. People used to tell me to speed up or, or worse, shut up, when I launched into a story. Having someone want to read something I wrote, or even be a guest star, is something that I truly have trouble comprehending. It is a weird thing to write only about stuff that happens to you. I never wanted to be narcissistic. Believe it or not I just tried to be entertaining. You should see the list of half written, or even fully written posts, that I just never thought were good enough to publish. Regardless, if I keep writing it won't be called the same thing.

So there you have it. The last 'My Life in Exile'. At least until I get sent back here again. I hope you liked reading these as much as I have like writing them.

One Year Later

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Last Weekend: Part 2 - The Rock

Part 2: The Rock.

So I was told that the best time to go see Alcatraz was on the evening tour that they only hold on the weekend. I don't know who told me this but who am I to argue with whoever they were. I really never asked why it was supposed to be the best way to see the island I just took them at face value. So booking tickets with my favorite tourist companion, Steph, we set out for The Rock.

Just so you know I am not about to give you a detailed account of Alcatraz. You really have to see it yourself. I will, however, give you an overview in case you have been living in a hole and have no idea what they hell I am talking about.

Sitting out in the middle of the inlet to San Francisco Bay is a small island. It is just off the northern tip of SF and slightly off to the side from The Golden Gate Bridge. At some point it was a military base and then later a prison for prisoners that were considered to rowdy for other prisons. It was the first Super maximum security prison.

As we approached the island on shuttle I was struck by two thoughts: “Boy, this place is a lot smaller then it looks from land.”, and “Why the hell didn't I bring a jacket?” Seriously!? I have been living in this place for a year. I know SF is always cold, and now I am on a boat, at night, with no jacket. Seriously I am to stupid to live sometimes. Of course because I am supposed to be used to crappy weather on the East Coast I needed to save face and act like it didn't bother me. But just note, take a jacket when you go.

As my time on the Rock started it really became clear why the night time tour is the best. You have a timed ticket to get to the island, but you can leave on any boat heading back. The crowds really start to thin out as the night goes on and you can really explore without the crowds jostling you around. Plus, with less people give you more access to some parts of the prison that they can't normally open up due to staffing restrictions.

The hospital ward at the prison is one of those places that are only open for a limited time each night. If you get easily creped out by hospitals then you want to avoid this part of the prison. It is like when they closed the place in the 60's they just walled off this section and reopened it for you that morning. The lights don't work so there are little battery powered lanterns around. Operating tables and rusty surgical implements are scattered around. The look made you think that what used to be considered practicing medicine would now be considered barbarism. Down to the few padded rooms this place was stunning.

Another benefit is that the staff have more time to talk to you. Instead of needing to tend to every grubby kid they could spend more time chit chatting and locking you in isolation cells. They opened up a whole cell block for us that is typically not on the tour. And you could really see the decay that has taken hold over the years.

The last boat off the island is at 9:00. When we were boarding I was thankful for the mystery advice sa to when to go to visit but I was left a little wanting. I was happy to see what I did but wondered why I was told to go at night with such imperative. As the shuttle slipped from behind the island the real reason why the night tour is recommended finally set in for me. The Golden Gate bridge was lit up for the night and the view from the middle of the inlet offered a rare perspective to the majestic span. Then as the boat turned towards the dock the view of the city at night is unparalleled. No place else could you get a view of the whole city and all its major landmarks in one glance.

So to whoever it was that nearly a year ago insisted I see Alcatraz at night, Thank you. And to any future visitors, you now know what to do.

The Last Weekend: Part 1 - The Coast

If it weren't for the last minute, most things wouldn't get done. So don't judge me that I waited until the very last weekend to do some of the California Activities that are right in my back yard. I never wanted to play tourist for a year even though I am one. As a result I missed doing the touristy stuff that I probably should have gotten off the list a lot earlier. So I was off to Monterey and lastly Alcatraz.

So I was told Monterey is beautiful. I was told that I had to go at least once, but wait until the weather was nice. So I waited. And waited. And waited some more. Finally after six months of rain, there was finally a weekend when I was in town and the rain was not. I know that statement will mean nothing to any of my east coast friends who had to suffer through multiple blizzards this winter. Around here, however, the non summer came to an end and summer was back.

Right next to Monterrey is this little private community with collection of sub par golf courses called Pebble Beach. The weekend I was visiting was right before some little golf tournament called the U.S. Open. Deciding to first see what the big deal is about before hitting Monterey itself we hit the 17 mile drive around the 8 golf courses that pepper the whole Pebble Beach area.

The 17 Mile Drive brings you through the whole Pebble Beach community showing off fantastic coastal scenery and a slew of houses that have garages that cost as much as my house. Actually that might not be true, because some had garages that my house could fit inside, and I am pretty sure that real estate is more expensive around those parts then where my house is located. So those garages cost more then my house. Some sat dangerously close to some of the 8 golf courses that make up the area. Either they have golf ball proof glass or the golfers that play there can afford to fix whatever they break.

Halfway through the 17 Mile Drive you hit the coast. Believe it or not, in the near year that I have been living in CA and in the countless times I had visited in the past I had yet to actually touch the Pacific Ocean. Deciding that this was the time to correct that I can tell you this, unequivocally: The Pacific is god damn cold! Stepping in my knees instantly went numb and it took about 5 minutes before I even felt my toes again. It is distinctly possible that some shrinkage happened. CA may have the better weather then the east, but why the hell anybody would think of going into that water is beyond me. Note: At this point I was reminded of a standard rule of travel I had violated ... always keep a towel handy.

After continuing along the coastal drive another few miles you finally come to the crown jewel of the drive. Pebble Beach is not only one of the premier golf courses in then world it frequently fights for the top spot. As luck would have it we had arrived there mere days before they were set to host the U.S. Open. Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh were bumming around the place taking practice rounds and you could tell the staff was in full gear getting themselves and the place properly primped. I was dressed in a tee shirt, cargo shorts wet with salt water and a baseball cap. Yep... time for a drink in the club house.

Settling into the Club House Grill I knew Steph and I made the right choice of locations to get lunch. The staff didn't care I was dressed like a vagrant, several regulars were peppered around seated at the oak tables, and two spots at the bar were already waiting for us! Now in the past year I have been afforded the opportunity to live it up quite a bit. Lunch at “The Club” would be no exception. I did want something special for the occasion however. So instead of ordering my standard G&T I decided to get a Dark and Stormy. To this I had the distinct pleasure of stumping the bartender, Tomas, as to what is in one. Explaining the simple concoction of ginger beer and dark rum got the conversation ball rolling and soon my new friend was planted with Steph and I in conversation down our end of the bar.

Needless to say everything was superb. After taking a look around for a little bit we continued onto our next destination, Monterey. The main tourist trap in Monterey is Cannery Row and the Aquarium. So... the aquarium... let me say this about the aquarium. It is nice Not thrilling... but nice. It offers a great view of Monterey bay, and has some really cute sea lions. But, other then that, I felt that it is sort of showcased stuff that washed up in or is only found in the bay. Even the sea lions can be seen for free just a few miles away at Fisherman's wharf. The jellyfish were cool, but you can only watch invertebrates slump along for about 15 minutes. I will say that I may be spoiled by the National Aquarium in Baltimore, but I was underwhelmed.

I had burned enough daylight that it was now time for dinner. My new bartender buddy Tomas had fortunately directed us to a hole in the wall that after a little searching proved to be a fantastic treasure. The Fish House couldn't have been any more different then my lunch location nor named any more appropriately. The place looked like a standard 1970s split level house that had a seafood restaurant crammed inside. It was clearly a place that locals frequented more then tourists. After a brief wait, two seats opened up at the bar. Ordering a glass of wine got you a bottle that was upended until your glass was full, the fish were caught just that morning, and the oak grilled garlic oysters were amazing.

Now, by this point in my travels I like to think that I have finely honed my ability to talk to anyone anywhere and make friends. The bartender Sal was awesome and was aways quick with a joke and a drink for Steph and I. I never anticipated, however, there to be a downside to my new craft. I couldn't turn it off. As two very loud and rude ladies jumped the wait list for the bar and nabbed two seats next to me, all I wanted was for them to shut up and keep to themselves. Instead I became their new best friend. Nothing I did to put up the “Don't talk to me” flag worked. Such are the pitfalls of a year spent trying to make myself open and non threatening in conversation.

The Show

So this is not a post about the Tom Petty concert. Seriously. The show was awesome, but I had a tough time walking around with both my feet stuck in my mouth. Warning, parts of the following blog are unsuitable for children. And please note I was really buzzed for all of these events.

The show was at the Oracle Arena up in Oakland. This is where the Golden State Warriors play and is located next to the crap hole that is the Oakland Coliseum, where the Raiders and Athletics play. Oracle Arena is a much nicer place, however. As a much nicer venue it has some very nice stadium amenities. Some of which are good beer and flat screen TVs. So while waiting in line with my buddy Ian to buy some beer I happened to look up and the gorgeous flat screen was showing promos for upcoming arena events. The first ad I saw put me into a trance which produced a string of obscenities.

Me: “God, I hate Justin Bieber. Look at that little jack ass. It is an insult to real musicians that he is f@#$ing popular. I'd like to shave his hair off and feed it to him. The worst part is that he thinks he is the shit. The little crap nugget stands there talking about love? What the f@#$ does he know about love? The only chick he has loved is his mom. I can't wait for that kid to go the way of Lindsey Lohan and get hooked on smack so I can laugh at the irony. The little bastard.”

Ian: “Wow. I have never heard you say anything like that before.”

At this point I broke out of my trance and realized that not only was I talking out loud, but people were listening to me.

Me: “What?! Oh shit. I am sorry! I forgot I was talking out loud My apologies to any Bieber fans here.”

At this point some young pop tart in front of us in line sheepishly smiled and made the following admission: “Actually I have Bieber Fever. I think he is so cute. But I can understand he isn't for everybody.”

Me: “Wow, I seriously don't know what to say! You just stunned me that there is a name for the condition. Bieber Fever? Is there a name for the shakes he is going to have when he detoxes off of heroin? Shit... I am sorry. I didn't mean that. OK I did, but I just can't help myself. I should shut up. You helped catch me up to pop culture. But seriously I hate him.”

By this time were finally at the front of the beer line so I had something to put into my pie hole other then my foot. Of course the beer gave me another problem later.

When Ian and I finally reached out seats where Katie and Steph were waiting for us apparently parched from all the not standing in line they had been doing. So they started doing the natural thing which is giving Ian and I crap for not somehow making the beer line go faster. At some point during the verbal tennis match I turned to the kid next to me anxious to find a new conversation. The kid looked about 16 and was sitting next to a cute little blond that was clearly either his sister or his girlfriend. Remember... 'Clearly,!

“Ya know kid, sometimes I am not sure that women are worth this crap. Ya know?” He didn't know, but he said “Yeah” anyway. I should have stopped there, but I didn't. “So are you here with your girlfriend?” The kid looked at me and then helped me inert my free foot into my mouth.

“Dude, that's my mom!”

At this point I really had nothing that I could say. That didn't stop me from talking. “Really. Shit. Umm... Wow!”

Kid: “It's OK it happens all the time.” So of course at this point the kids mom decides to chime in.
Mom: “Really it is OK. It does happen all the time. I think it is a compliment.”
Me: “I am glad that you feel that way, because I feel like a schmuck.” Of course in the back of my head a new drunken plan starts to form. Mom is cute, not 16, and I am an optimist.
Mom: “Yeah, my husband gets a kick out of every time this happens.” So much for optimism. Oh yeah, at this point the husband decided to chime in.
Husband: “Yeah she really does look great.”

Mercifully at this moment the concert started so I could stop talking. As a public service announcement we were taking public transportation to and from the show. So in my intoxication I was only hurting my own pride and not anyone else.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Ballgame

It started suddenly one Saturday with a phone call: “Hey, It’s Katie. I just got stood up and I have an extra ticket to a baseball game up in the city tonight. If you want to go I need to know right now because we leave in an hour. ” Over the next 14 hours there would be drinking, fighting, flirting, embarrassment, redemption, ridiculousness, and trains.

Me: “You had me at Hello!”
Katie: “What does that mean?”
Me: “It means 'Yes, I’ll see you in an hour.'”
Katie: “Why didn’t you just say that?”
Me: “Never mind. What do I need to bring?"
Katie: “Beer.”

As we all know there are a few questions that you should always say “yes” to in life and certainly tickets to a baseball game are among them. I didn’t know who the hell “we” consisted of, how much anything cost, or how ‘we’ were getting there. But I didn’t have to in this case. Someone had a plan and all I had to do, much like the groom at a wedding, was show up in the right outfit.

When I got Katie’s I got the rest of the plan and the story. Katie, aside from being my friend, is the assistant manager of the leasing office at my apartment community. She and her boss, Hope, were given four tickets to see the Giants play as a reward from AT&T for being damn good at their job of getting their tenants to watch TV. Hope was taking her husband, Danny.

Gathering together at Katie’s took a little longer than we anticipated. Now I am not going to point any fingers but it wasn’t the fault of anyone with a ‘Y’ chromosome for the delay but there was some uncomfortable public feuding over why 'we' were late. This minor setback in timetable was the worst thing that happened all day. Any day to which that can be said is a fantastic day in my book. After finally getting the crew in gear we were off to catch a train.

Taking CalTrain anywhere can be a very entertaining experience. Drinking is legal on Cal Train. Legal to the point that it is almost encouraged. When there is a baseball game up in SF the train almost turns into a party. The atmosphere stops just short of that train ride at the end of “Trading Places”, except without the costumes and the beef jerky. I felt like a rookie just having beer because people were breaking out portable bars and mixing up screwdrivers just beside us. The beer we had, however, took care of us just fine on the ride to the city.

The CalTrain stop in SF is only about 2 blocks from the ball park. As you leave the train cops are there to make sure that you are not brining any booze or beer outside of the station. This has always struck me as odd because just about anything else is legal in SF. I have personally seen people spark up some “medical” marijuana outside a bar in front of police. If you try to take your beer off of the train, however, the authorities get up in your face pretty quickly. Good thing we finished all our beer on the train.

For an early spring ball game in SF the weather was about as good as you could wish. It was sunny, cloudless, and not terribly breezy. SF can change on you in an instant however so you have to be prepared with your layers and as it was I still had to donate my jacket to Katie during the game. As we were walking to the stadium Danny starts handing out the tickets to the game. Now I would never dare complain about the location of a free ticket, but expressing pleasant surprise is a different story.

They were for Row A.

Saying out loud to know one in particular “Holy #$%^! Do you know where these tickets are located?!” Danny quickly responded “Of course I do, now you know why I wanted to get here early!” Still amazed my mouth kept running. “How did you get these tickets.” Hope and Danny wanted to say “Duh” but instead Hope reminded me “They are comps from AT&T, and this is AT&T park.” There were far too polite to me because “Duh” would have been a proper response.

As we walked into the stadium, the gate attendant looked at my ticket then to me and my clearly oblivious friends and said “Do you know where to go?” I don’t know how most people are used to going to a baseball game, but I am fairly unused to walking ‘down’ to my seats and the crew was already wandering towards the up escalator. Thinking that I probably shouldn’t be doing that in the case of row ‘A’ I accepted the help. The gate attendant pointed me to a set of doors about 30 feet away.

As we entered the “Club Lounge” I swear I could faintly hear the choirs of angels singing! No longer was I among the unwashed that could only beg for scraps and buy Super Dogs and garlic fries after standing in cramped lines only to have the choice of Coors light of Bud to wash down their feed. Instead a vast hall of granite held gourmet food and bars with banks of imported beer on tap. Naturally, since this is California, there was also a wine bar set up for the people that like to pretend they like to watch baseball. In case you actually watch the games “The Club” doesn’t have to stop serving in the 7th inning either!

Grabbing a Guiness and heading to our seats we were directed down to within feet of the field. To my pleasure we were directly behind the visitors on deck circle. Close enough to where the guys warming up could hear me heckle them! As Danny and I were discussing good jabs to throw at the Braves players our concierge, Ramon, introduced himself and inquired if we had any food or drink needs. I really didn’t have a need for anything at the time but ordered some nachos and beer just because I had a concierge and I never had one of those before.

There are several keys to successful heckling. You can’t be obnoxious because the other people around you paid for their seats too and simply saying “Hey… you suck!” to every dude warming up with some lumber really makes you just seem dumb. Plus these guys are pros, they have all been heckled before. Using a tip given to me ages ago by my friend Tim, I like to try to use the first name of the player that is my target to get their attention. Soon some skinny little kid called Jason somethingorother comes to bat with a .222 batting average. I loudly, yet politely, consul young Jason that if he doesn’t pick up his game he will quickly find himself back in the minor leagues. Little did I know that I was heckling Jason Heyward, the best new prospect in the Bigs for this season. Apparently my quick consultation had a positive effect for the youngster as his first wave of the bat planted a 400ft home run that left in a hurry over the left field wall. Woops! Thus ended my heckling for the day. I called Ramon over for another round to drown away my shame.

Leaving the park we were unwilling to give up our good mood and made our way to the local Irish bar around the corner. In the bar were just us four and most of the bleacher section from the ballpark. We decided to increase our odds of getting beer by sending the cute women of our group to the bar while Danny and I attempted to scout out a place to stand. With a good drunk fading to a great buzz I saw a spot that would be perfectly suitable for the four of us. My decision that this was the proper place to stand may or may not have been effected by the two young ladies that were already there.

Introducing myself as their new personal bouncer broke the ice Amanda and Kaecle (K-cull) made fast friends with the crew. Within minutes Kaecle was helping Katie scout the bar in an attempt to find Katie a dude that is not a looser (they failed.... Katie found a looser!) Amanda works for Google and recruited us to go to her next sporting event which she called “Kick Sloshball.” The game was described to us as Kickball, but the outfield had to hold a beer at all times, you had to finish a beer between 1st and 3rd base, and the base path between 3rd and home is a slip-n-slide. Other then the health hazard of jumping head first down a slip-n-slide after chugging a beer I wondered why this sport missed the Summer Olympics? These two meet the criteria of cute, geeky, and fun.

Unfortunately, the night had to end eventually. Heading back to the train with a brand new buzz and newly updated cell phone directory we jumped onto the homeward bound train moments before the doors of the last train south closed behind us. Exhausted, we all laughed the whole ride home. I wish I had a moral to this story to pass on from this story. The best I have is you should really know who you are heckling and always wear sunscreen. I'll let you know how the game of Kick Sloshball goes.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Park (Part 2)

Part 2:
Among all of the grandeur that is Yosemite someone decided to plop a hotel smack dab in the middle. Really there are a few but there is one that is worth talking about The Alawanhe was created to be the high class destination for the movers and shakers of a time long past. If you ever have seen “The Shining” you can get an idea of what this place looks like. Giant halls with cathedral ceilings are seemingly placed about at random. Large fire basins are present inside to keep the guest cozy in the winter and stained glass is tossed about with near reckless abandon just because they can.

Getting a room at the Alawanhne requires reservations at least a year in advance for even the most basic room and some suites with a view can cost up to $1500 a night. And since I travel with reckless abandon and don't have $1500 to throw around I wish I could tell you that I got a room to sleep there. That didn’t stop me from trying however.

Needing a place to stay and felling like a lucky punk I decided to ask if there were any cancellations. The staff all wears tuxedos and treat even the average slug like me with politeness that doesn't come across as saccharine. The hotel receptionist seemed genuinely sad that I couldn't sleep there that night. What I did get out of this exchange is the list of all the properties in the park and the single phone number that you can call to book any one of them.

By some miracle of technology my AT&T got cell phone reception in the middle of the valley at Yosemite National Park where everyone else’s phones were reduced to fancy paperweights. In the parlance of sports this is like throwing a perfect game. It just isn't supposed to happen (suck on that Verizon!) Suddenly I was talking to Chad and making reservations. Wanting to keep the conversation quick lest my cell phone start paying attention to the laws of physics I kept things moving.

“Yes, any room will do... A lodge... south entrance... sure sounds cozy, they have TV right?... Great...Well since I saved $20 getting into the park today sure I'll take the scenic view for $20 more... yeah... I think $190 is reasonable... no I don't need cancellation insurance for my room I am checking into in 2 hours...Just book it!”

So with a 3 minute conversation we had a room. Only having a general idea where this place was I then put the car in drive, pointed it south, and hit the gas.

The Tanaya Lodge is just outside the south entrance to the park in the tiny town of Fish Head. Yes, “Fish Head”. The official population of this town is 200, which is roughly the size of an average college dormitory. Fish head still has a 'general store' and I am sure that if I looked hard enough would have a black smith and a livery tucked away someplace.

Being from the east I am used to the word 'Lodge' being preceded by the words “old” or “motor”. The Tanaya Lodge, however, was more resort then lodge. I had to be in the wrong place! This place made the Alawaneh look like someplace that charges by the hour and has a sheet deposit. As the valet took our car we could see racks of complimentary snow shoes that flanked the entrance. The main hall of the Tanaya was decorated like a hunting lodge, only enormous and comfortable. And there was no way that a staff at a place that costs this little could be this damn polite.

“Hello Mr. Spoto. Here are our three restaurants, they all have full bars but this one has the outdoor fire pit... here is our in house convenience store, and your room is just past the spa, pool, and hot tub... Would you care for a massage this evening?” Oh, I so don't belong here. But yeah... I could get used to this!

Waiting for the other shoe to drop we went up to see our room. The valet was kind enough to fetch our bags from the car and we followed him past the pool, past the fire pit, past the massage concierge, past the pool, hot tub, and sauna, and then up to our room. There were complimentary robes in the closet, the room was large enough for 5, and the place was impeccably clean. It was then that I finally met disappointment with the Tanaya Lodge. The TV wasn't HD. I mean how do these people call themselves a “resort lodge” without HD!? The nerve!

After freshening up in the room it was clear that we all needed to get some dinner. None of us had a full meal since breakfast and granola bars and trail mix only get you so far. Ready to go coyote on my own arm I finally got the girls moving towards food. Why you need to put on makeup to walk downstairs will likely always confuse me but I have learned in my time to not ask questions like this. We naturally decided to go to the restaurant with the outdoor fire pit!

Bellying up to the bar we ordered drinks and went out to the fire pit. The patio that enclosed the pit looked over the forest and mountain and gave a spectacular view of the spring sky. We had lucked into premium weather the whole trip but outside the park in the high Sierras things get cold at night in April. The air temp did it's best to slow the rapid intoxication that we were heading towards, but little in life can reverse the effects of gin on an empty stomach.

When we finally got our table we lucked into the best server that the Tanaya had to offer. Sabrina had served us our first round at the bar and had a lot going on. Aside from being a competitive snowboarder she owned her own bikini company and had enough personality to say all that while looking completely chill about being that impressive. She easily kept the banter with three thoroughly snockered individuals at her table.

There is, of course, only one way to finish the night at the Tanaya. The hot tub. Donning the complimentary robes that come with the room we trekked out to the spa. Ordinarily I would have felt weird wandering around a hotel in a robe, but this was a “lodge”, and everyone else was doing it! Let me tell you, if you are in place, that gives you robes to wear and hot tub spas to soak in, you are a fool for not going. (I’m looking your way Steph!)

As I soaked in the tub I ran through the checklist of things I didn’t expect to do just 24 hours previously. Road trip with friends: check. Explore a natural wonder of the world: check. Find a resort to stay at: check. Get loaded on gin: check. Talk to a bikini model/snowboarder: check. Soak in a hot tub: check.

Not bad for not having a plan.

The Park (Part 1)

So I am at dinner with my friend Steph and whatever David Berkowitz wanna be was hitting on her this week. Seriously, she attracts serial killers. David suddenly asks “So what are we doing this weekend?” Needing to save her from becoming his next victim I quickly said “Sorry Berkawitz, I think Steph and I are heading to Yosemite this weekend.” “My name is David.” “Yeah, that is what I said. Anyway, sorry!” So that is how I decided it is time to go visit Yosemite.

As most of you know I don't have a problem rolling without a plan. If I am heading to Europe or something I understand needing to do some planning. But for anything not requiring airfare I am just fine winging it. Keeping things spontaneous and without pretense can make your adventure either a fantastic accomplishment or a spectacular failure. Either way you get a great story. I think that this one turned out pretty well.

As Steph and I escaped certain death from young Gacey we quickly called her roommate, Gail, to give her the simple plan: Pack for an overnight, leave early, point the GPS towards Yosemite, find a room when we get there. Everything else will work its way out.

As any guy readers of this blog will know, men and women have vastly different ideas of packing light. I actually felt that I was packing heavy by having an extra pair of boxers and socks. Steph's toiletries bag was actually larger then her clothes bag. When I started to poke fun at her for it she told me “Hey, we only decided to go last night, so I just threw everything in bag.” and for the first time I can think of Steph had shut me up. Toiletries into the car and we are off!

After enough trips through California I have learned a few generalities that have held for every trip. The coast of California has some very interesting and beautiful sites. The eastern side of CA is interesting with some beautiful sites that are completely different then the coast. Everything in the middle: flat and boring. After two hours in the car the landscape finally started to change from orange groves and grape vines to nice rolling hills which soon break into the Sierra National Forest.

The Sierras are far different then The El Dorado Forest I passed through on the way to Reno. I just wish I could tell you why it is different. In the end they both have lots of trees set on steep faces of rock. Yet, somehow the Sierras are an entirely different set of trees and rock. The trees are a little smaller, but are just as majestic, and the mountains all have deep 'V' shaped valleys carved by ancient rivers. Traveling along these mountains is as fun as it is challenging. Just make sure you keep those that get motion sick in the front seat. I almost learned that the hard way.

The highways that lead to Yosemite are 'highways' in name only. It is all two lane roads with an occasional dotted yellow line to let regular traffic past the farm equipment. As we got into the high Sierra's there are many scenic vistas that are available just off the side of the road. Stopping at one along highway 120 as the road was climbing above 3000 feet I turned to see an RV pulling over into the vista point so that the tour bus could slowly crawl past it. Awe.... Crap.

At this point my choice was to follow slow and slower or to hit “detour” on the GPS. Undaunted by my request the GPS suggested a quick side rout that took me off the highway along the other side of the valley we were traveling around. Well, if the road I was on could be considered a highway I can't tell you what could describe the road I was detoured onto. ‘Old Priest Grade’ is technically a two lane road but there were plenty of spots where there was only space for one car. Locals later said to me “You went UP that?!” My answer is “Sure, I drive a rental car!” I could see the bus on the other side of the valley and the place where the roads meet together... I had my challenge and by hook or crook I would get ahead of that beast. Good thing I didn't care to much about my rental car.

As we arrived at the north entrance to the park the good fortune of our trip continued to grow. The weather was perfect, the traffic was minimal, and the $20 entrance to the park was free in honor of earth day. I almost felt bad that I wasn't supporting the preservation of the park. I got over that pretty quick, however.

For every person that even is tacitly familiar with me, the next statement that I will make may be the most shocking thing I have ever said. I lack the words to describe the sites of Yosemite. If natural wonder of the world is something that doesn't thrill you then you should probably never visit (and probably you need to talk to someone and get perspective on life). But if you have ever just sat back, even for a moment, and looked at the wonder of it all, then visiting Yosemite is simply awesome in the way that 'awesome' is supposed to be used. From this point on the word of the day was 'Wow!”

There are seven major waterfalls inside of Yosemite. It is simply the largest concentration of high falls on earth. That means that they didn't bother naming all the little ones that show up during the spring runoff which was in full effect. Every mile it seemed there is a scenic stopping point to view an ephemeral falls or just view the forest. At some point we had to stop visiting each vista because it is 40 miles from the edge of the park to the park basin.

The largest of the park's falls is the aptly named Yosemite falls, which is split into an upper and lower falls. The upper falls emerge from a deep channel that is the end of a hanging valley at the top of the main valley. The upper falls bursts from the top and collects together to feed the lower falls. Miles away you can hear the falls as a background rumble. At the base of the falls it simply like standing behind a jet engine.

Along the road to the main falls is the Bridevale Falls. Any other place on earth this falls would be a main attraction. The falls come over the mountain and then drift wider and wider as until the water simply turns into a mist. The effect makes it look much like a bridal veil (hence the name). The bottom of the falls is less forceful then the main falls, but that doesn't keep it from being powerful.

We spent the better part of the day hiking around and getting views of the falls and their surroundings. Giant sequoia trees dominate the landscape and even the locations scarred by recent wildfires are breathtaking. Enormousness slabs of granite lie where the glaciers deposited them a million years ago and rock slides are still a problem. However as the day waned on the next problem became where the hell are we sleeping! (End part 1)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Gambler

I suck at gambling. Really I do. To gamble successfully, no matter how smart you are, you need a little bit of luck. I really consider myself a lucky person. Just not with gambling. And I am OK with that. But I suck. My most recent trip to Reno demonstrated that quite succinctly.

Let me say this first. I don't really want to be a good gambler. For one, I never want to be that guy with a nickname like “Vegas Dan” or “Little Reno”. I already have a nickname. It might not be exciting but it works for me. I don’t want to have thousands of dollars on the line. I work damn hard for that cash. I also don’t want a 12 step program unless it is the one Tiger is at. However, it would be nice to have a good story about that one time that I got really lucky at the casino. A lot of people have that story of the day all the cards came way or all the dice rolled seven and eleven. I don't have that story. What I have is this story:

During a recent visit out west by my friend Brian we decided to go to Reno. For those that have never been to Reno, you’re not missing much. It may be the 'biggest little city in the world' but it really comes off as a little version of Atlantic City. Little bastions of nice surround vast expanses of what can politely be described as 'other'. There is also what I would consider an inordinate amount of people in Reno that have full out conversations with themselves or the imaginary person next to them. However, during this particular visit we found a great yet affordable hotel and happened onto a plan that it would be cool to have a place to go bet on the NCAA tournament. So that is what we did.

The first sign that I probably shouldn't have been gambling this particular weekend came when I stopped by the sports book and picked up the odds sheets for the games. I had no idea what the hell I was looking at. OK... I had some idea. I know a point spread when I see one and an over under line. But there were a ton of numbers on this sheet that made no sense what so ever. It was sort of like looking at a game of Sudoku. Undeterred, I soldiered on.

I decided to stick with something I understood. I'd make a simple parlay bet. For those you that aren't down with the lingo, a parlay bet is when you bet a series of games all at once. The odds are really high that you will win... so a small bet can give you a big payout. Since I am small stakes gambler that sounded like a good idea to me. I put in two parlays. The only game the two had in common was a game setting off in just a few minutes, Clemson vs. Missouri. I decided to settle into a nice patient game of craps while I waited for Clemson to take over a game they should easily win.

For those of you that have never played craps before, it’s a good thing when someone is taking a long time with their turn of the dice. This was not one of those times. Seven shooters in 20 minutes came and went along with a good portion of my chips. Licking my quickly inflicted wounds I decided to check in on my nest egg at the sports book, where Clemson had just lost. Let me tell you, the only thing that sucks worse than losing a parlay is losing one after the first game. You have zero sense of excitement the rest of the games. The only thing worse than losing a parlay in the first game is losing two. Add that to my craps looses and I had the trifecta.

Deciding that I was done gambling for the day, Brian and I trekked out to see some other casinos. It was at this point we found the ugliest casino in the world. There are a few lessons about casinos that you learn after a few trips to different venues. Like, casinos attached to hotels are generally higher class then those that stand alone. There are also lessons that you shouldn't have to learn, like if the casino has the word 'terrible' in its name, it likely is just that. Well, as I walked into “Terrible's Rail City Casino” all of these rules were all reinforced.

This is the kind of place where people come after they cash their social security checks. I know I am subject to hyperbole, but in this particular case I am serious. There were far to many people that rolled around Terrible's dragging their oxygen tanks behind their wheel chairs, walkers, or hover chairs. When the two teenage fans of the insane clown posse passed by in full makeup I knew that it was best time to find other pastures.

Now the only thing worse than loosing at gambling, is losing when people you know are winning. The next day Brian and I went to pick up HIS winnings at a much better casino then 'Terribles'. This is the time in a lot of stories where the downtrodden gambler makes his triumphant return and takes a run at breaking the house. Not this story.

In this story I decide to start my incredible comeback with a pair of new parlay bets. I will play it safe with one and then go for the really long odds with the other. High odds, big payout.... little bet. Since someone reminded me of the odds (never do that), I decided to go with a couple of sure things. One of which was for the best team in the county to beat up on some poor sacrificial lamb called Corniversity of Northern Nowhere. In case you haven't been following the news (or are reading this at some point in the future) someone forgot to tell the grain fed hayseeds that they were supposed to lose. Sigh.

“Well at least I wasn't alone in loosing” is something that I wish I could say at this point. But instead I have to say “I am very happy good buddy that you won your SECOND long odds parlay of the weekend. Of course I will drive you over to the casino to pick up your cash.” Thus ended the long weekend of losing.

Now, I don't write these things to gain sympathy. Because as I said at the beginning of this entry that I am OK with sucking at gambling. I have lots of good luck with other things. If gambling is the thing that I have bud luck in, that is really not a problem for me. I look at it as paying into the karma wheel. I'd rather have bad luck there and good luck traveling by airplane or remaining employed? Bad luck gambling, awesome family. Bad luck gambling, good luck that I have lots of friends that read my stupid blog. See how it works?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


So let me get this straight: There are 24 contestants from all over the world and they are given 24 hours notice that conditions will be ready for them to surf 50 waves in what is arguably the most deadly breaks in the world. And this is happening tomorrow? And I get to watch? I am so there!

The story of the Mavericks is both short and long. Hit up the link at the bottom for the long story. They short story is that for years surfers local to Half Moon Bay knew about a spot where 50 foot waves typically seen only in Hawaii were known to hit. This point was named after a feisty dog who tried to follow his owner out in the deadly surf. Eventually word got out and reached a legendary big wave rider from Hawaii. In 1994 he came to Half Moon Bay, paddled out into the Pacific, and promptly wiped out and was never seen again. Sounds like the start of a contest to me!

So I heard of this contest only the day before it was supposed to happen. Some quick phone calls to the West Coast Crew got some comments like “I gotta get up how early?” or “How far are we going to walk?” But the advertisement “Yeah…but we might get to watch some surfer die”, got a few interested parties! The following, however, is my side of a routine phone call to mom.

“Hey Mom…Yeah, I have plans for the weekend. There is this legendary surf contest out here that is going on this weekend … No, I know that I didn’t tell you about this before... The contestants only get 24 hours notice so I wouldn’t think I would get more… Because there are supposed to be huge waves but that only happens under the right conditions. So they wait for those conditions… Yes mom. I am going surfing. You caught me. Secretly over the last 25 years I have been sneaking away to practice and completely unknown to you have become one of the top 24 surfers in the world… I’m sorry. Yes of course I will be careful. But there is really nothing to worry about.”
Little did I know that for once my mom provided serious foreshadowing.

So the great thing about Half Moon Bay is that it is a tiny little coastal town. The bad thing is that tiny little coastal towns really aren't set up to handle big events. It is sort of like move in day at college. Way to many people in way to small a space but not enough reason to ever make that space bigger for one day a year. It wasn't long into the glacier paced line that the first signs of trouble started in the form of numerous emergency vehicles rolling down the road. From where we had to park we could easily see all the spectators on the cliffs overlooking the bay. What we couldn't easily see was the end of the damn airfield that we had to walk around to get to those cliffs!

Strapping on our backpacks and coolers we joined the stream of people walking the same trail of tears to the Mavericks. Every mile brought some new piece of information that painted the scene unfolding on the other side of the cliffs.
Only 30 minutes before our arrival a rogue wave had swept across the jetty, beach, and sea wall that overlooked Maverick point. The 50 foot swell pushed aside tents, grandstands, and camera scaffolding. By the end of the day 7 people remained hospitalized but the chaos around the early reports was dramatic. With not all spectators yet accounted for rescue teams tended to the over 40 injuries and while search and rescue teams looked for those that are could have been swept into the bay or out to sea. Well... poop. Looks like I owe mom an apology! Maybe she won't here about this!?

Some officials along the way told us that the competition had been called off because of the surf, and some told us that some of the surfers refused to compete because of the treacherous conditions. But for some reason we just didn't believe them. In the end we all decided that since we could still see spectators up on the cliffs and no one was actually stopping us from going anywhere we would travel up and see the happenings for ourselves.

Once we got to the cliffs it was clear that the competition was still going on. But I can tell you that I can see why the cops wanted us to stay away. To say that the sea was impressive is a bit of an understatement. Enormous breaks were crashing at what was unmistakably Maverick point. The beach was closed because the waves had washed away pretty much everything there. It wasn't until you see a very tiny man on a board slide down the face of a 50 foot wall of water that you comprehend that every minute a 5 story building is crashing down in the sea
The vibe on the cliffs was extremely mellow. The tunes of Dick Dale blasted from somewhere behind me as we traded beer and binoculars with our neighbors. A few people had radios to listen to the competition. But most people there had zero clue who's who or why we would care. All we knew is that they were giving a good show and were absolutely crazy.

So the next day I get the phone call I had been dreading...
“Hey Mom. Yes I am fine! Well if you talked to Armand [my brother] then you know I wasn't there when the wave hit. Well... I wasn't ON the beach when the the wave hit. And they wouldn't let us back out there later... Really I was perfectly safe on the cliffs. If a wave got me up there all of San Francisco would have been wrecked... Yes I know you told me to be careful. Next time I'll call you immediately after nothing happens to me.... I'm sorry. You were right. I'll be careful.”

Friday, January 15, 2010


I got locked inside my office. For those of you with any phobias, I challenge you to face a night locked inside your place of work! It is the place from which you try all day to get away. The worst part was the idea that I suddenly was that guy, forgotten about, tucked in some office, doing my part to save the world and taken for granted enough that you get left behind. But I am way to loud to be forgotten about… so what dope do I now have to kill?!

So, to start with, I had my suspects. For those of you that have never worked inside a secure facility, everything we do will sound very foreign. I can’t bring cell phones in the office. Some stuff I can’t talk about without getting into trouble. We have to put stuff away at night. We are responsible for our own stuff. We check at the end of the day to make sure everyone took care of his or her stuff. We have log books about all our stuff. We have lots of stuff around to make sure that stuff stays where it is supposed to stay.

So on my way into work after the incident I checked the log of who signed that they closed up the room after checking all the stuff. I see the name of my Associate Chief Architect (ACA). Pretty much this guy is the third smartest guy I have ever met. When last I saw my ACA I was helping him and my Chief Engineer (CE) with some stuff. My CE is the second smartest guy I have ever met. These are the two that locked me inside a double redundant room with a triple redundant checklist.

I see my CE as he is walking down the hall as I walk into the office. This is how the rest of the conversation went:

CE: “Greg, thank you so much. That you gave me last night is just what we needed. You are a god!” (Yes, he really said those words.)
Greg : “Really?! So I guess you are in the habit of locking up your gods inside office buildings for the night? I’d hate to see how you treat your kids.”
CE: “What?”
Greg: “You… locked… me… in here… last night!”
CE: “You were still here?”
Greg: “Normally I would say ‘Clearly’ but apparently that would just be ironic in this case.”

At this point the ACA poked his head out of his office.

ACA: “Wait! You were still here?”
ACA: “Oh crap! But you weren’t in your office!”
Greg: “A guy can’t go to the bathroom and make a phone call for five minutes?!
ACA: "How was I to know."
Greg: "Ok, I admit, I didn't put my name on the big white board of 'I'm still here' people. But considering your powers of observation I don't think it would have mattered. My computer was still here…”
CE: “But…”
Greg: “… My coat was still draped over my chair…"
ACA: “Well…”
Greg: “... My car keys were still on my desk! I think it was pretty clear I was still here!”
CE: “Well we didn’t look. Someone poked their head in while we were working and told us we were the last ones here.”
Greg: “Ok… even if you were SUPPOSED to just trust them… my office is four doors down the hall! The motion sensor on the lights hadn’t even timed out yet!”
ACA: “Ya know… I did think that was a little odd as I walked by…”
Greg: “YOU WALKED BY! I thought you didn’t look?!”
ACA: “We’ll you weren’t there…”
Greg: “My screen saver didn’t even have time to kick on!!”
ACA: “Well…”
Greg: “And even IF… you flaked out on my lights, my computer, my coat, my car keys… when you locked the room my cell phone was right next to yours on the shelf! Didn’t that give you pause!?”
ACA: “I guess it should have.”
Greg: “Ya think!”
CE: “So… what happened?”
Greg: “Before or after I set the alarm off? Before I set the alarm off I was sort of amused and hoping I could unsecure the room from the inside. After I set off the alarm I realized that I can’t unlock the doors from the inside! I had to unsecure the room, call our crack SWAT security team who had yet to notice that the alarms had gone off so they could shut them the hell up. They unsecured a door for me, which was on the other side of the building from the alarm panel so I had to run the hell from one side of the room to get out the door before the room secured again for this to start all over! Thanks for a fun night guys.”
CE: “Really we didn’t know you were here!”
Greg: “Let’s talk about that for a second… what walked past my open door, lights on, keys on the desk, jacket on the chair, office to tell you that you were alone? I need to find my next victim after I kill you two.”
ACA: “I don’t know, I was too busy working to look up.”
Greg: “Bull$&¡t. Stop protecting the stupid. You’re not helping them. I can find them without you. This delaying tactic will only give you time to warn them and thus make your own demise more painful!”
CE: “How long is it really gonna take you to get over this?”
Greg: “A while.”
CE: “I bought you dinner last week.”
Greg: “Ok… less time for you. ACA… you’re screwed.”
The CE has since suddenly remembered the name of the mental reject that is next on my list. I’ll keep you all informed.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Groove

So I just realized that it has been about a month since I put up a blog entry. Truthfully I have sort of put off putting up a new entry. It has been less writer’s block and more lack of writer’s inspiration and motivation. Recently I guess I just started getting into a groove and nothing has seemed truly worth writing about. But when I look back I think that finding a groove might be worth writing about.

Yeah it seems like a silly thing… writing about doing stuff that pretty much everyone does all the time. The important thing is that I finally found that groove. Weird thing is that for the longest time I knew I was missing it, but when I found one it took me some time to notice it.

Partially what has helped me find a groove is that it has been a while since I have been home. Last time I was back east was for my nephew’s birthday at the beginning of October. I had some intentions of coming back in early November but I delayed making solid plans because I had hopes of scheduling my trip around a World Series victory and a then a parade. Well… that clearly didn’t work out! Once that happened it seemed too much for me (and for my taxi service… thanks again Brian) to squeeze in a trip before my planned long stay home for Thanksgiving.

So inadvertently I have set my record for consecutive days here in NorCal. And somehow I have found ways to fill that time with just “stuff”! Why is that amazing? We all have “stuff”. “Stuff” fills up most of our time. “Stuff” with your friends, kids, spouse, coworkers, or just personal “stuff.” For a while I didn’t have “stuff”. And I missed “stuff”. But how do you find “stuff?” Can anyone really quantify their stuff so that if it gets lost they could know how to replace it?

It doesn’t take a tree surgeon to know that the most important part of “stuff” is that stuff is by and large a shared activity. One thing that has really frustrated me about this area is that I have had a very difficult time making friends. Something that normally isn’t that difficult for me. Some have heard me postulate that while everyone here is very nice, ‘nice’ is as deep as it gets. It’s a world of many acquaintances and few relationships. I sort have held off publishing that idea as I don’t want to insult any natives and I really wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just me being mental or homesick.

After enough conversations with friends and random transplants like me I feel confident enough to say that is true. For as “stand offish” as we easterners are accused of being by the left coasters once you earn trust of someone you are likely to keep it. Here it seems that while everyone is so nice there are fewer trusted relationships. One friend ascribes it to the fact that since the weather is so nice out here that people don’t need to band together to survive! An idea I need to explore more I think.

Another thing is that it is really tough for guys to meet other guys to hang out. Think about it, when is the last time you heard a guy say to another guy “Hey, can I call you some time to get a beer?” That’s a weird thing to say anywhere… But consider that I am near San Francisco! That question can be interpreted far to many ways!

Anyway… it took a while, but I have found some reliable people. It started with work friends, which I guess isn’t surprising. What was a little more surprising was that these guys were encouraging me to friend their son’s on Xbox Live. Then over time, suddenly there is a person or two that just calls up and says “Hey, I’m hungry, want to get dinner?” Or “Hey, I need to get Tequila tonight!” or “Hey I am watching a DVD with my roommate and eating M&Ms if you want to come over.” In turn I can say “Can I borrow your vacuum because I lost mine when I graduated college?”

So what does this mean? Am I getting assimilated? Not yet. I am still a little homesick. Some visits from my mom and Watson helped for a good while as did some Phillies Phever. But even that and a new groove isn’t the same as what gets left behind. As I write this I am only a few days away from 10 days back east! I am looking forward to Thanksgiving (both of them!), seeing my friends and family, and getting a tan from watching my stupid large TV. But it is sort of cool to have a groove whichever coast I decide to sleep on.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


One of the things that I have started to miss most out here in Exile is accessibility to watching my favorite sports teams. Most times you have to search out a way to watch your teams and occasionally a team comes to you. It is only on rare days, however, you get to see two of your teams play on the same day. This past Sunday was one of those days.

This weekend the Philadelphia Eagles were visiting Oakland Coliseum, home of the “Raider Nation”. For those of you unfamiliar with Raider fans they are rabid and loyal. What they are not, apparently, is plentiful. Well, the overall quality of the team hasn't helped this year and as of the morning of the game vs. the Eagles there were still seats available. After a little bit of arm twisting I convinced my buddy Jim to head up to see the game with me.

Arriving at the Coliseum I came to realize why the Oakland fans are so surly. Getting in and around the stadium is a absolute nightmare. When asking an attendant for some advice on where to park the best he could come up with was to point deeper into Oakland and say “You could park over there, but I wouldn't!” Of course the whole situation wasn't helped by the fact that “Disney Princesses on Ice” was letting out at the Oracle Arena right next door. This did lead to some interesting scenes in the parking lot as dozens of little girls dressed as Disney princesses traversed the asphalt surrounded by tailgaters that dressed like they gave fashion advice to Rob Zombie.

Once I finally got inside the stadium The Raiders fans really did live up to their reputation for creativity. The place was how I would imagine a circus on acid. The best I can do to describe the average fashion motif for the Nation is Rastafarian Voodoo Pirates. It is sort of expected to see some people in various types of getup at a football stadium. Here, however, there are people that looked like they stole their wardrobe from Gwar and the set of The Road Warrior. Even your average fan is decked in black and has some type of skull imprint on their clothes. The only people in the place not dressed as members of the Nation were the cheer leaders who are surprisingly attractive. I guess you don't have to live Oakland to be a cheerleader there!

So anyone that even casually follows sports knows that the Eagles blew the game. However, deep in Raider Nation, even when the opposite team is loosing, those not wearing black are targets. Keeping undercover is easy enough, just don't say anything. Easy enough that is until your wingman starts getting animated over some bad calls for the away team. Keeping Jim's protests under wraps was becoming more and more difficult but led to some comical moments where he had to turn some boos into mock cheers. Deciding to cut our losses before captain emotion blew our cover we split at the two minute warning. Good thing we did to, because as we were leaving Disney on Ice part two was getting set to start up. This time the little princesses in the parking lot would get to see the “Nation” extra drunk!

Hoping for better things on the next event in the day I tracked down a bar that was recommended to me as being Philly sports friendly. Rolling into 'Keysar' in SF was night and day from the cold Raider nation. Phillies tees and pinstripes were everywhere and “Beat LA” chants were prevalent. The only thing the place lacked was a seat for Jim and me. Lesser men might have seem this as a limitation. We saw this as an opportunity.

Scouting a table that only had one occupant I introduced myself to the friendly and attractive Christine and ordered a round for the table. That table quickly grew to include her sister and some other friends who coincidently were at the Raider game also. It was nice to sit with some fellow Philly expatriates because you don't have to worry about dumbing down the geography section of the get to know you quiz. Also while sitting 3000 miles away anybody from even remotely close to home is practically a neighbor.

Now for as bad as Jim was as a wingman at the Raiders game he was like Maverick during Phillies game time! As if flying by instinct Jim did all the hard work for me. In the course of three innings he managed to inform Christine that he was married, I was single, gainfully employed, that I wasn't gay (something important to establish in SF), yet still capable of being in a long term relationship. Not bad for a guy that has been out of the game for like 8 years!

So as the game progressed and the beer,wings and nachos progressed also. The Phillies march towards a game three win helped the damage done by the Raider nation to quickly faded. In the end the high fives of the Phillies Phans with some new friends at the end of the day was all it took to mix a slice of home with a slice of Northern California.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The King of LA

I must admit that there are perks to life in Exile. You get a little extra cash on hand to fund some frivolity and some slightly better proximity to friends you don’t get to see nearly often enough. On occasion it gives you access to a little bit of whisky and fair dose of redemption.

At the moment I am writing this I am on ground delay at SFO airport while the Blue Angels are monopolizing the airspace. This is the first time I have ever thought that the Blue Angels have pissed me off. So I took advantage of the extra time to prep for an Exile post.

This past weekend I took little trip down to Los Angeles to visit my good friend Tim. Hopping onto the most affordable airfare I could find put me on Jet Blue. Not that anyone was asking, but Jet Blue is pretty cool. Every seat was leather and had 36 channels of Direct TV and 3600 channels of XM radio. For the first time in I have no idea how long I was sort of upset that my flight was going to be short. Then I came to my senses as the mother with the two kids sat in front of me.

I guess I have become a snob to the front of the plane because my first inclination was to think “Oh man, is it too much to ask for sedatives for kids on airplanes?!” Next I had a series of emotions which started with upset at myself for being unsympathetic to this mom in a difficult situation. Quickly that emotion passed as the 5 year old spilled his soda all over my feet and I wanted the kids sedated again. In the “justification” phase of my emotions I figured that the mom probably would want some peace and quiet too. Thinking that there is probably some medical danger in drugging the children I hit upon the brilliant idea of given the sedatives to everyone else near the children. Why has no one ever thought of this before?!?!

Landing at Long Beach airport was a new, and very brief, experience for me. It is the first airport I have ever seen where you can see the baggage claim and airplane gates just by turning around and looking the other direction. Half of the gates exist in what is the airport equivalent of a double wide. I almost expected to see a 727 up on cinder blocks off to the side.

Friday evening somehow turned into throwback to college era decision making. Tim invited over one of his friends, Chad, for the evening and as he arrived he produced some really expensive bottle of whiskey that Toby Maguire gave him (yeah, this stuff happens in LA). Normally I am not a whiskey guy but this is Spiderman’s whiskey! Next thing I know it is 5 am, Ally abandoned us long ago, and the Spiderman whiskey is kicked. We have been arguing over who would win the “Forthcoming and inevitable” east vs. west civil war (3-1 votes for the East), who are the best actors in Hollywood, and which stars are “douchebags” (apparently “Russle Crow”).

On Saturday Tim was granted by the misses a “Guy pass” for us to attend the Dodgers game. I used to think that LA fans didn’t care about the team because it takes for the third inning for all the seats to get filled up. I learned going there that this is because getting into the stadium is darn near impossible! Once inside however we had a great time. Scoring some field level seats we got to see LA clinch their division, some guy propose to his girlfriend two rows behind us, and some fan bring his ‘A’ game in a lip sync to “Don’t Stop Believing”.

After the we left the ballpark however, the fun and games were now over and Tim and I had to get down to business. The traditional and obligatory air hockey tournament had to be completed and was held at a bar called Jerseys. When last Tim and I met last he delivered me a crushing loss and claimed the 804 air hockey crown for his own and it was my goal to get it back as my sleep has been restless since I lost. Tim seemed relatively calm for the “head that wears the crown”. As we began to warm up for our game it became apparent that Tim’s whole plan with getting me drunk and tired the night before was just to wear my down for this moment! Would his devious plan work?

The table was crammed between the door and the jukebox. Less than favorable conditions to say the least. But no excuses are accepted in air hockey. If you want to be the champion you have to play like one and rise above the conditions! As play kicked off it was immediately clear that I was not on top of my game. My left side goaltending was practically nonexistent and Tim easily won game one. Game two I again fell behind on the score early. As the score turned 4-2 in favor of Tim I finally decided that I had been playing to tense and loosened up a bit. Shoring up my ‘D’ I finally got a little bit of a groove and eventually battled to win 7-5.

Game 3 it was all on the line. An epic defensive struggle ensued the likes of which had never been seen at Jerseys. No quarter was given and none was asked. As the puck caromed from wall to wall our goaltending kept the flurry of shots off goal long enough for the table to actually time out with the score tied 5-5! Tim and I stared in disbelief. We would have to soldier on to play a full game four of our best of three series.

Now both of us are conditioned only to play three games. Going to game four would require us to dig into that energy reserve that when you get as old as we are you have to keep on board for emergencies only. But this was an emergency. Pride was on the line. As game four started I quickly fell behind again. Fighting back and fending off Tim’s puck control offense I overpowered him and eventually went up 6-5. A sloppy possession by me gave control back to Tim and he capitalized without hesitation, just like a champion should. Now at 6-6 I pulled the puck from the return and placed it on the table knowing it was now or never. Watching my opponent I needed to wait for the right moment, for him to blink! As his lids began to close I had an instant to launch my attack. By the time Tim opened his eyes it was all over. Game over, 7-6! My passionate and worthy opponent and I shook hands at center ice. The crown was back where it belonged!
That night I rested well.

Oh yeah… Ally looks great, they have a nice new place, I got home safe, and it was great to see my friends again!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Opera House Hot Dogs

There is something surreal about watching live opera while eating a hot dog and drinking a beer. But when 25,000 other people are joining you the surreal becomes sublime.

For those uninitiated with San Francisco there is world class opera in that city. For the last three years the SF opera has sponsored a free simulcast of one of their performances onto the big screen in AT&T park. Once I heard about this I decided that I had to go. Besides the obvious "If it's free it's for me!" rule of life this really seemed like a cool thing to do.

I really had no idea what to expect as I approached the gate. The event is was free so there were no tickets needed. With no tickets seating was naturally first come first serve, which at a sporting event could lead to a shanking or two but this is quasi theater crowd was probably a lot more tame. Turned out the crowd was tame enough to not require any frisking but still warranted bag checks. So that seemed reasonable and set the tone for the rest of the evening. Take the beast parts of a ballpark and mix it with opera.

Arriving to at the ball park only 30 minutes before show time my seating choices were limited. The park was very generous and let the early arrivers set up picnic plots in the outfield but I was way to late for that. As I started my way up to the upper level one of the attendants said "Sir, would you like to go to the club house level?". Life lesson I learned from Peter Venkman in 1984 is "You say YES!"

The Club house level of AT&T park is really nice. This is where they put all the good stuff. Not only do they have fantastic garlic fires, but it is here that they hide all the gourmet sandwiches and brick oven pizza. To think that the best that the casual fan can get outside this middle level of culinary excellence is a crazy crab sandwich. Which, contrary to popular belief, is actually more a wacky crab sandwich. With all the choices that I had I decided to keep it simple.

Settling into a seat with my beer and a dog I took a look at my surroundings. About 250,00 people had shown up and were snuggling in to ward off the typical SF evening chill. As the orchestra warmed up blocks away kids were practicing their hook slides down on the field and pretended to pull in home runs as they jumped against the outfield wall. During the first act there was a crazy fan that rushed onto the roped off infield. That fan looked to be about four years old but he proved quite elusive to the security staff that tried to apprehend him.

What surprised me most however was how much the crowd treated this as a real stage performance. People silenced their cell phones, and applauded at the end of each solo as if the performer could hear them. Then at halftime/intermission/3rd act stretch the stadium rolled out their version of “Take Me Out To the Opera”! Yes, very corny, but still unique.

Spoiler Alert: If you don't want to know how Il Travorte ends skip this next paragraph. But really, this is opera we are talking about, there is no happy ending.

The performance itself was really great. They put up Super titles tho help those that are illiterate in Italian understand what is going on. The lead Soprano was superb and you knew the moment she said “His fate and mine are eternally linked that bad things were going to happen to her. The plot after this was pretty quickly telegraphed. She falls in love with the local rebel leader who really is a good guy but is betrothed to the local count who is the bad guy, the good guy and bad guy happen to be brothers separated at birth and the only person that knows this is the crazy gypsy woman. From there on you can pretty much tell who is going to live and die. To cap off the night at curtain calls the cast came out wearing Giants hats, jerseys, and big orange foam fingers.

So this certainly isn't a typical event you might see at a baseball stadium. But if you ever get a chance to try out a hot dog at the opera house I recommend the experience.