Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Why The Phoenix Coyotes? Why NOT?

Tonight is the beginning of professional sports' BEST playoff series - The Stanley Cup Playoffs. Why do I call it the best? If you are a hockey fan, you know exactly why...and if not, let me say that this is the longest, hardest-hitting, most grueling test of skill, toughness and perseverance in competition that there is anywhere - bar none. I'd say that you don't "win" the Stanly Cup so much as 'survive' it. Whatever you saw during the regular season goes out the window - as teams play harder, faster and grittier when the post season begins. So, for all 16 teams that make it - I am excited for every round and every game...but one pack of dogs is close to my heart. Let me introduce you to The Phoenix Coyotes.

When I moved to Arizona over 2 1/2 years ago, I was already a hockey fan, but my allegiance was to Canada's Vancouver Canucks. Even with the Coyotes here, I planned to attend games when MY team came to town (a trend, as it turns out, is very common amongst all of the transplant
s and Snow Birds who reside here during hockey season). So, Year One featured me attending games with the intent to see the visiting team. On the flip side, this was a season of great difficulty and declining effort for the Coyotes. The team had seen years of bringing in overpaid veterans beyond their prime and forcing young kids into the lineup long before they were mature enough to handle the responsibility. Hockey legend Wayne "The Great One" Gretzky was head coach and handled team operations and things were looking the point that the team's sale and relocation was becoming front-and-center talk. As the season closed and the team missed the playoffs for a 6th straight season, the chaos began.

The story of the bankruptcy / sale / relocation / courtroom drama is long and deep and would take me seven days to completely detail. Sufficed to say that a dumb owner left this team for dead and no one else came to breathe life into the organization or the small and ever decreasing fan base. The team was clouded with negativity and burdened by a grim future. But, the National Hockey League remained convinced this team could survive here so they took over control of the team, left the management with a meager budget and began the quest to find a new owner and keep the Yotes in the desert. So, thus began the story of THE Phoenix Coyotes...this collection of players and coaches that is the core definition of "underdogs." The General Manager was saddled with the burden of assembling a team that stayed well below budget, so a cast of mid-level talent for an economy price was brought together - shepherded by a coach who was hired to take over a mere 7 days before the season actually began. A group with a foundation of a 15-year veteran, the last of the original team that moved here from Winnipeg. A Russian goalie claimed off waivers from a team that won a Cup with a different net-minder and felt he was no longer needed. A well-traveled defenseman on the backside of his best years...and bits and pieces of talent and heart cobbled together to form a "team." The coach was well known for being a 'team first' leader who stressed hard work, defense, and the core fundamentals of the game. To achieve any level of success under this type of structure would require a 100% commitment from every player from one end of the bench to other, at the expense of each individual's personal achievements. Last season, this cast of players under the dark cloud of team ownership collapse rallied behind the coach and the principals of team play and battled...and battled...and somehow, beyond the expectations of ALL of the great hockey minds, made it into the playoffs! A recipe of hard work, tough defense, stellar goal tending and a "pack mentality" combined to take this hodge-podge of players into the post-season for the first time in years. Better still, they posted the best record in the team's history and finished 4th in the Conference...just a BIT better than the 14th or 15th they were projected to finish.

As a fan, I watched how this team, against such long odds, refused to get beaten down, refused to give up, and never, EVER stopped trying. It was an easy story to get attached to, and it wasn't long before I hung up my Canucks sweaters in lieu of the Coyotes jersey. I will admit, the next time the Canucks came to town, I was torn...but the night of that first game, I pulled out my Coyotes garb and have never looked back. In the midst of the team's turmoil, I know they needed every fan they could get...but, in hindsight, they EARNED my fandom - I didn't just hand it over. And, as hard as they fought, they were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs - taking one of the NHL's most storied teams to the brink in seven games, all without the heart and soul of their team - Captain Shane Doan - who went down in Game 3 with a separated shoulder. And, in Game 7, when our team was blown out and booted from the post season, I saw something that gave me chills and still does to this day. EVERY fan at the game stayed until the end - even though the game was over long before. They stayed, and they CHEERED for this team that never showed an ounce of quit. yep, this town that has fair weather fans who show no support stayed and cheered their beloved Coyotes. Funny too, the game before - IN Detroit - was a Coyotes blowout...and when THAT game was out of reach, the Red Wings fans were already headed out the door.

Following this miracle season, things started to look up! The NHL had some perspective owners in line to buy the team and keep them in town, the City of Glendale was ready with a 30-year lease that guaranteed we'd have our team here for many, many more years. The fruits of this team's hard work were coming to bear. Yet, suddenly, the test was about to begin again...
Another round of ownership issues, lease debacles, and pending lawsuits from an independent "watchdog" group put the Coyotes back against the wall again. Once again the team was placed upon the tightrope of uncertainty about their future. Once again they would have to operate with little to nothing for money. Once again fans would be scared away at the thought of this team leaving town on us. Once again...we would need a miracle. This time, however - we were not going to sneak up on anyone. On top of this, the entire nation of Canada prayed for our doom, smelling blood in the water and waiting with open arms to bring another team our expense. A daunting task got even more overwhelming.

Yet, through it all, MY Coyotes have made it to the playoffs again - and the next chapter is being written now! There is SO much more to the story, but I have already written too much prologue to make this whole thing make sense. But, I guess the point to my posting is that - if you claim to be 'for the underdog' - this is your team. I love this team and how they play and who they are and what they do and where they play. But everything outside the bubble of each game simply wears me out. I get tired of hearing the weak excuses, pathetic knocks and uneducated assumptions that people have about the Phoenix Coyotes and hockey in Arizona - both here and around the sporting world.

Let's be clear - these players aren't on the food line at the local soup kitchen...they're getting some decent coin to play a game. But, some take much less than they are worth to play here...some were castoffs from other teams just looking for a place to play...some were told they couldn't make it and hit the ice to prove people wrong...and some know that no matter how many people sit in the seats at the arena, they ARE fans and they deserve the best effort. No Crosbys or Ovechkins here - just some hard working, "no-named" guys who stick together and bought into the 'team first' system.

Just a few thoughts:

1) Yes, you can play "hockey in the desert" because, believe it or not, we actually play indoors IN AN ARENA
...just like the other 29 teams - not out on a sand dune with saguaro cactus as goal posts. The difference here is, when you drive to a game in January in your town, you are usually battling snow, ice, freezing rain and sub zero temps. You can wear shorts and a t-shirt to our January games.

2) Canada needs to stop acting like a flock of vultures
, waiting to pick the carcass of a team that is doing everything they can to succeed under such duress. If Canada is the mecca of hockey and does this game right, why is it that Lord Stanley's Cup hasn't been north of the border in 18 years? Why is it with all of your country's hockey love channeled into just 6 teams, only 2 of them got into this years' playoffs? I get that you want a team and surely deserve another team...but back off! We are still here and working hard to make it a success and keep it in town. It would be one thing if the team was failing and no one - from the owner to the city to the arena to the home state - was trying to make it work. But we ARE! We are trying to succeed and your constant stream of negativity just comes off as desperate and annoying.

3) The haves and have-nots
- Just think about today's world, the rich are richer than ever and the poor are poorer - and the middle class is vanishing. After a while, don't you just grow weary of the entitled constantly taking away from the hard-working? Well, this playoff series features the "haves" in Detroit and the "have-nots" in Phoenix. I mean, who really makes history - the underdog you never saw coming, or the same team doing the same thing over and over again. Listen, as a life-long hockey fan I appreciate the success Detroit has amassed over the years and I would never dispute that they are, indeed, "Hockeytown." But, at some point, there must be a changing of the guard. I know it is up to the team to do it themselves, but having a few extra, spirited fans in their corner while on this mission surely wouldn't hurt!
4) Professional sports' stepchild
- I wonder when it happened that hockey fell so far out of the public's favor that they went from being one of the "four major sports" to an afterthought that only gets discussed when someone gets a concussion or wields a hockey stick like a samurai sword. What did this modest, hard-working game do to become such a throw-away? I have been around the game of hockey, on a smaller level, for a LONG time - I know who the people are that play, I know the sacrifices they have to make. These are dedicated, focused, disciplined people who invest so much financially and emotionally to be part of the game. And, anyone who has ever been a 'hockey parent' can attest to the early ice teams, long road trips, smelly gear and hot coffees in cold arenas that it takes, day in and day out!!

I suppose I could go on and on about the virtues of hockey and why The Phoenix Coyotes have never really been given a chance to succeed...but however it inevitably plays out over the coming weeks and months is so far out of my hands I need to stop stressing about it
....but I probably won't.

So, until we hoist The Cup (I MUST stay positive), the Coyotes will always have ONE big fan in me. Care to join me? :-D

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Thanks - I NEEDED that!

I believe I just OUT SCREAMO'ed my son's music.... I can sound like Satan too when needed......on a positive note I'm heading out for a run ;)
I have a friend on Facebook that I wanted to write about...and I will leave this person nameless so as to protect their innocence! HA! I must tell you right out of the gate, you should ALL have a friend like this person. For all of the insanity that Facebook breeds, one thing is for sure - it has been an excellent meeting ground for friends lost, moved on or otherwise misplaced over the years. Some people are easily found, some not so much - and some come crashing through the doors like gangbusters. I love that you can catch up and stay in touch with people...see photos, share tall tales, reminisce and just generally interact. And, sometimes, you have a person who's infectious spirit, keen perspective, witty insight and general positive attitude light up every day for you. That is my friend. I am telling you, if you don't already have one, you need a friend like this person!
Just held a door open for a guy at Barnes and Noble and he said "Thanks MAN" ... ahhh I'll keep my shirt on.. (I'M A GIRL!!!!! GIRL GIRL GIRRRRLLL ..... heck I should kick his butt and yell WOMAN WOMAN WOMAN!!)
Let me clarify a few things. First off, a question was posed about "what is a blog." Be damned if I know the most accurate answer, other than it is a personal 'web log' of thoughts and ideas and such. This is mine. And, to be sure, this isn't some attempt to recreate the "S#!t My Dad Says" site, but I wanted to drop in some of this person's status updates to salt up the story a bit. Because it NEVER fails that, no matter what form my day is taking, some comment or response this person posts provides instant sunshine and caffeine. My friend even seems to know just the right day and time to post random thoughts and views of the world. This is a gift.
...just finished writing a lovely thank you note to a past customer on crisp linen GHR letterhead and in cursive.... but as I stop and admire this 'old fashion' manner which I am going about... I'm wondering if I should just put it in a bottle and toss it in the ocean for an added touch of class!
My connection goes back a long way - the
grammar and high school days of yore, as it were. To be honest, I can't pinpoint exactly when and where our paths first crossed - I am not entirely sure it matters. I think it is fair to say we were not 'best friends' but knew each other from the golden oldie days...then life happened and I couldn't say for sure where this person moved on to or what they were doing. Fast forward to the Facebook era and - voila - friends reappear! And, one day, there is my friend again! Just seeing the name brought a smile to my face instantly because I could easily recall the seemingly unending supply of smiles, laughter and positivity. Again, I couldn't list any specific instances or moments in time that we starred in together but I had no trouble remembering the joy this person brought into a room.
WHHHHHHAAAAPIIIISSSSH! ..... the ringmaster has awoken, cracking her whip.. Hahaha it's time to put on THE SHOW!! (also known as MY LIFE) ... ahhh there's a reason this family let's me sleep in ... maybe it isn't a bright light ALL the time! But still...perspective, people.

There's a bit of a side thought herein as well...Facebook will be whatever you choose for it to be. Some think it is the end of civilization as we know it, others use it as the pipeline to staying in touch with people. It has to be a recluse's dream - you can avoid in-person human contact yet still stay connected. In any event, to me, FB bridges the gap and allows for connection on a level I could have never imagined. My best friends and family can tell you - pre FB I was horrible at emails / calls / letters and such to stay in contact. Insanely horrible. Things have become decidedly easier with this wonderful creation. And not just in staying in the know with my closest family and besties...but finding the folks I always assumed were lost for good.
changed my mind .... I'M GLAD IM A GIRL!!!!! YAY!!! (only took 40 minutes and 2 midol capsules)..... because I am a girl .. I could obviously change my mind about this at any given moment for no reason..
The other side bar to this thought is how someone like this friend makes the miserable, woeful folk seem less morose in the grand scheme. You know the 'friends' of which I speak - and you all have them. Those who only seem interested in posting the ills of life, the dark clouds and just spout out daily doses of bummer. It gets tiring at times when folks decide to share those thoughts specifically designed to illicit the "what's wrong" responses from their friends. I do care what's going on in your world - I honestly don't feel very interested in being bated to asking about the cryptic code you jot down. But I find that it is best to subscribe to the notion that we must embrace the bad as much as the good. Every downer thing we see and experience should be appreciated as something that makes the "good" look even better in our lives. That makes sense to me - though it isn't always easy to subscribe to that notion. Much like thanking heavens for stupid people because it makes us feel smarter. Same principal. So, for every proclamation of doom and mention of how "I can't believe they did this to me" (so ask me what that was), there need to be little nuggets of positivity, like:
I'm not pessimistic but REALLY ... my glass is empty .. So I'm gonna go inside the house and refill it. That's all. Easy fix ;)
That's all - an easy fix! And let me also say that the bulk of my friends and family are also very positive and upbeat and share their joy here quite often as well. But, she never falters! So I say - go, get yourself a friend like this or find that friend in your circle. Or, better yet - BE this person to your friends! Look, I get it - life tends to suck from time to time, but who really wants to do the backstroke in a sea of misery? I surely do not. I have it covered myself occasionally and I don't require another person's road map to get down (an I don't mean 'get down' in terms of funky dancing either). I love to know about your family, your friends, your job and home...anything you'd care to share. That is how this should work. And, if you get the hankering to have a GREAT day with an upbeat outlook on things...please, feel free to share this with us. Really.

There is an old quote or school of thought that suggests we are who we surround ourselves with...or some such thing. If that is indeed the case, I must be the greatest person in the world - because the sum of my friends and family is certainly the greatest. I am blessed beyond words. In fact, I am discovering more about people than I have ever known...becoming better friends with people I was only once a casual friend with in the past. Is that even possible? Clearly it is. Better still - my wife has become great friends with people she has never even met through the power of Facebook - my friends and family across the country. But I think that is not simply a function of this medium, but the strength of character of the people I have had the honor of knowing in my lifetime.
I'm at STARBUCKS with my son .. listening to this guy who is shorter than ME... he's blabbing some pretty girl's ear off ..'uhh I have a blog ... Wanna put it on my facebook .. I have a blog..' WHAT IS A BLOG?? Sounds like hog.. Glob?? I can't stop giggling!
So, thank you my friend...and this, by the way - in some form - is a "blog."

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Are You A-Skeert? :-O

(As mentioned in a recently published bit, I had a few little unfinished 'stories' in the vault that I may as well close the books on. This one started in March of 2009. I think the reason I never got back to it was because I was still trying to get back the 90 minutes if cinematic brain hammering that caused me to start this in the first place.)

I recently had the misfortune of watching the 're-imagining' of the horror classic "Prom Night" and the most I can say is...I am distraught I will never get that hour and a half back. Whoever thought remaking a modestly decent piece of scary film eye candy was a good idea should be skewered by the same nasty rubber knife wielded by the lead singer of The Wonders. I wanted to give it a try...and I am so, so, so sorry I did. So, so, so, SO sorry. I am not sure what the cap on "so's" is. I may have surpassed it there.

But, then the thought hit me - does anything 'scare' us anymore?

now make this virtual face....

I recall the first horror film I watched was "Halloween" with my Mom, on the couch - probably on a Halloween night - hiding my eyes for about 3/4 of the movie. I could barely peek out for a moment knowing that man in the white mask, with the empty black eyes, was stalking...oh so slowly...his next victim. Mom shared my fear and we spent most of the evening hidden under the blanket for protection. I was creeped out for weeks! Other movies that burned an irreparable hole in my calm were "When A Stranger Calls," "Friday the 13th," and "Salem's Lot."

Oddly enough, all of these films have been're-imagined' recently. So, it seems, we are forced to recall old fears to elicit a new set of scares? I wonder...

And don't get me started on the new and insanely moronic concept of "re-imagining" movies...

Can we really be scared anymore? Heart-racing, jumping-out-of-the-seat, eye-popping, sweaty-palms scared? I know when I saw these films, I was younger and the horror genre was hitting its most creative strides. Many of the monsters and killers and settings were new, and every plot twist seemed intense because we'd never really seen it before. And after the brief late 70's to early 80's window, things started to fall off quickly. The monsters that scared us then simply became retread tires coming back year after year to bring us new forms of death and dismemberment. I guess once we see the bogeyman, put a face to a name as it were, he's not so scary after that. There were even some attempts to turn these ghouls into comedians with one-liners, wise cracks and inventive kills. What the...?

In recent years, there have been some successful attempts at 'horror' but I don't think the core reaction - the BIG scare - is there anymore. The "Scream" films, while fun and original, played on the campiness of the genre as a whole. The 'torture porn' films had a shocking impact out of the gate, but the gluttony of...well, gluttony...reduced the shine very quickly. "Saw" was original yet gory - "Saw 28" was...well...I have no idea because I can't watch them as fast as the movie studio is making them! And somewhere in between, the decision makers continue to sprinkle about more new takes on old greats - even some remakes of obscure films. I recently watched the horrible spin on "Last House On The Left" and while the original was canned cheese at best, it still made an indelible mark on the brain and reminded us that sometimes the boogeyman could be just another stranger down the street.

Mostly, I weep for the children today - one of the great thrills of my teenage years was bringing a date to a horror flick, banking on the likelihood that, as soon as the scares started popping up, she'd be squeezing my hand, hiding her head in my shoulder or essentially climbing on me in fear. This was significantly high-level touchy-feely for our adolescent I worry it may be going the way of old school terror! Grope quotients are dropping faster than Jason's re-imagined axe!

I guess I am not sure what scares us anymore. I mean, it seems as though people today seem most scared of unemployment, bankruptcy, foreclosure, lost retirement, The IRS...looks like the boogeyman has dropped down on the list of genuine frights. Maybe we have something here - the next franchise monster is a terror tag-team of an investment banker and tax collector.

As for kids, I think there is a short attention span issue today that it makes it impossible to get them to stay tuned long enough to buy into the frights. Comparing the films of my day versus the 're-imagined' droll that hits the screens now, I see many differences. The back story and building suspense is replaced with quick and elaborate yet pointless carnage - cut to the chase! Our monsters pondered, gazed and stalked you - now they run faster than Usain Bolt, making the corpse per second ratio exponentially higher. And...well...BOOBS! Get the freakin' boobs thing right - our movies had gratuitous, unnecessary-to-the-story nudity, and that was another part of the hook...and, now? Well, let me just say the afore mentioned "Prom Night" rehash was rated PG-13. WHAT? A horror film that was so tender and weak, it got a PG-13 rating? So, so sad.

Now, here is the part where I defer to you. Have you seen anything recently that scared you? Can you even be scared anymore? What was the first film you saw that did scare you and why?

** And, as a public service announcement - do yourself a favor and avoid the more recent version of "Prom Night" at all costs. Not only is it an awful bit of poo for a movie...there are no boobs!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

I Haven't A Clue Why

With my second entry in just over a week, you would think I have suddenly reached my peak of knowledge and now feel poised - nay, entitled - to share this wealth of intellect. Alas, I am just in the mood to let a little more brain goo release, drip-dry and be gone. I am no writer, philosopher or thinker - but there are so many tools available on this 'internet thingy,' I may as well utilize them. Otherwise, I'd probably end up attempting to build suspense and intrigue at 140 characters or less, or posting some cryptic FB message imploring the requisite "What's wrong, is everything okay?" Puh-leez!! So...once again, brain valve - open!

Let me open with a tip of the cap to my friend Kristi who is a self-described "average-ordinary irreverent gypsy princess." She has a particular wit, steel-trap memory and an incredibly keen sense of imagery in her storytelling. She has been writing in her blog "Flibbertigibbet" for some time, and each time I enjoy one of her entries, I receive a little lift - be it joy, laughter, reflection, understanding. I suspect part of the reason I gravitate to her passages is because we have been friends a long time, and we have shared experiences and upbringing - so many of the things she fondly recalls are very similar to the memories of my life. Yet still, her sharp eye and interpretation give each nugget a life of their own. It is such a pleasure to check in occasionally to see if another snapshot has been posted. To that end, I have been inspired and feel like jotting down some thoughts and ideas and emotions as well. So, I guess the bottom line is - blame Kristi for these mindless ramblings. That gets me off the hook.

Another little thing about jotting down these random musings is...well...I often times wonder why it is necessary! Do I WANT people to see and read this? I guess so - otherwise, I'd get myself a finely bedazzled diary with a Jonas Brothers cover, giggle while I wrote and hide it in my unmentionables drawer. I suspect that blogging and such is the digital diary of our times, but what do most people care what I think anyway? As I look in the vault of this blog site, I have 4 other unfinished entries I have posted in the past 6 months. I think I may try to finish my thoughts on them - so hold your breath for the coming thoughts on Haiti relief, hockey in Arizona, the passing of my Mother (which my recent "Duke" entry touched on briefly), and...scary movies. I am often times fascinated by how my brain works. Maybe 'frightening' is a better description of how my brain works. a matter of an update - as per usual, I left this blog entry unfinished last week and had to return to try and pick up where I left off. Perhaps I have one of those 'short attention span' issues. Could be. Maybe. I'm sorry, what were we talking about again....

Okay, so - back to the rambling at hand.

I have decided another reason I rarely jot things down for public consumption is the glaring light of judgement. Everyone is a critic. And that is okay. But, I don't write to pay the bills or change the world, everything here is just 'something' to me. So, I coddle it a bit more and usually step back long enough to think, "Why are you writing this, dolt? And who really cares? And what would they say?" There are smarter people with better stories and stronger writing skills that should be handling this assignment. And trying to harken back to simpler times, it is likely I'd have to get my facts checked first. Anyone who knows me well knows my memory is suspect at best. I wouldn't be changing the names to protect the innocent...chances are I'd be changing the names because I can't remember them or thought that is what they actually were. So, I fear retribution from a 'source' who comes back with the standard - "um, that never happened like that, dolt." It seems I feel that I am a dolt.

I suspect, inevitably, to me everything has to be FOR something. Is it worth the effort? What is the end game? One reason I hate fitness walking is because I would prefer to use that effort to get somewhere or achieve something. Wandering about for the sake of fitness seems a little pointless to me - one of those "I'll never get that time back" kind of moments. Though the eventual presence of fitness I suspect would be the end result. STILL, my point is - why exert the effort if I can't place my chunky thumb on the pulse of something tangible as the result?

Now that this brain goo has been laid out there - what in the world is my point? I am unsure really. I get into situations where something occurs or some random idea pops into my brain and I feel like I have no educated opinion on the significance. Things happen in this world that I just don't get, but I have such a wide pool of people who could provide input - I mean very intelligent observations - that I'd prefer to provide some description, my own personal insight, wrap it with a bow and pitch it out to the masses for some point-counterpoint. Yes, things irk me, confound me, trouble me, excite me...but I am often curious what those of my ilk may believe. It is my hope to expand my horizons. And I can blame you for it.

So, you know - there's that.

At the end of the day I just feel like, at times, I have to let things out of my brain. It is a well-known fact there is little workable and functional room in there to begin with, and I seem to waste copious amounts of said space with the endless cycle of some thoughts that weigh on me. There are things I cannot process and I need an education or, at the very least, an outlet to put it all to bed and free up some brain bandwidth. Too many thoughts that just churn away endlessly. The responsibility of expected eventual balance of my sanity lies squarely in your hands, so how is that for pressure?

By the way - this is my fourth time coming to contribute to this single post, I have now read it over two dozen times. Why did I write this? I haven't a clue why...

Monday, April 5, 2010

Duke Blue Devils and Mom

In the wake of The Duke Blue Devils playing for a national basketball championship, I have been asked a few times what is my connection to this college team based in Durham, North Carolina. Anyone who knows me knows I have followed the team faithfully for the better part of 20 years and I am not even sure I can put my thumb on my Devil-loving epiphany back then. Sufficed to say, our relationship has grown over the years. Plus, they provide me some fond recollections of my Mom.

Let's clear some easy ones out of the way first. No, I did not attend nor was I accepted as a student at Duke University..though I am sure I could have heard the laughter clear as day if they ever saw my high school grades in the Admissions Office. I had no family or friends (at the time) who attended the school. I had never been and knew no one affiliated. One little character quirk about me is that I don't tend to follow the rest of the kids when it comes to sports team, when it comes to college hoops fandom in northern New York, your job is to be a fan of Syracuse, UVM, Cornell, Ithaca, Albany or some other random NY or northeastern school. So, I am a supporter of these teams - but I am Duke Blue, through and through.

When Duke hoops went mainstream in '91 and '92 with their two titles, I saw something there that I gravitated to. Talented players who were still intelligent enough to be students at a very prestigious university, coached by a man who seemed to embody strong character, poise and professionalism. Plus, Blue has always been my favorite color - and I mean a STRONG, pronounced blue...not some 'baby' blue you'd see 12 miles south of Duke! I just liked this small school in NC and started to keep tabs on them. It seems though that this run of titles began to polarize this school on a national level as well.

My first true 'tie' to the college came along in the mid-90's when a local athlete was recruited to attend. Malone star Missy West was chosen and decided to attend Duke as a member of the Women's Blue Devils squad...and she was very much a part of the significant improvement of the program. She was also a very popular player and stayed at the school for five years having spent time there injured and unable to play. When I got word that she was attending, I squealed with joy...I finally had someone I could attach myself onto to justify my fandom. Poor Missy!

Now, here's where the story gets most personal - and guarantees my life-time allegiance. For those who may not know, Duke's basketball home is called Cameron Indoor Stadium and is almost 70 years old...meaning it is 'small' compared to the giant arenas other schools play in. Because of the building's charm, history and the unique home court advantage it provides, the school has chosen not to replace it with a new, enormous building. So, due to the limited number of seats available for casual fans (1/3 of the over 9,000 seats are reserved for students only - part of the advantage!) and the fact that Duke Alums are pazillionaires and give loads of scratch back to the school and get seats in return, the average fan can not and will never get to see a game at Cameron Indoor. You would have to also have a pazillion dollars or know someone who knows someone who knows someone who MIGHT not be using their tickets one particular game. Or, it MIGHT help to know God, too! One day, as it turns out, I discovered I did in fact know someone who knows someone...

It was my Mom that fielded the phone call in the winter of 2000...

"Hello Ceil, This Is 'God!'"

A family friend, Jay Halprin, had been living in North Carolina for many years and had developed some great friendships there. Having been an athlete and sports buff his entire life (and a Syracuse alum), he met some movers and shakers on the Carolina sports scene. Turns out, he found out that one of his new friends was a season ticket holder for Duke Blue Devils basketball as he proceeded to share the story of this kid up north who 'loved the Blue Devils.' Jay left the bug in his friend's ear that, if the situation ever presented itself that the seats were available, he'd gladly fill them! Well, it turns out those seats did free up in January of 2000. And the call was made!

Here's the rub - when it comes to season ticket holders, they don't generally miss a game except for emergencies and unchangeable events - so there's a small window of advanced knowledge of open seats. So, when "God" called to alert us to the pair of tickets that were available, the call was made on Thursday night for a game that was to be played on the following Tuesday. Whoa! Mom, knowing there was NO WAY I would turn them down, said "Yes" without even asking me. Once Mom did tell me about the tickets Jay had, I woke up from passing out and decided I had to make a plan to get there...with very little advance notice. I hadn't any time to save extra bucks, so this would have to be a road trip - and a quick one at that!

So, the plan in infancy was - drive down, watch the game, visit with The Halprin family and head back. Oh, ANOTHER IDEA - let's see if we can watch Missy play too. So, we put in a call to Missy's folks who then called her, and she left some tickets for us to watch her game two nights later. This was a solid road trip! Also, let it be noted that most of my immediate family and friends are Duke fans, mostly because I have spent my entire life leaning on them and programming their brains to be. And Mom, being Mom, loved the Blue Devils because...well...I did. So she was all giddy too! And you had to know there wasn't anyone else I had planned to take along except Mom. It all made sense.

So, at the crack of dawn on Monday morning (shortly after 6AM), I picked up Mom in the legendary Geo Metro, and we headed south to Durham, North Carolina. Let us also note for the record that my Mom was one of the best passengers ever - never barked about needing to use the bathroom or being hungry or stretching her legs...she was along for the ride, to see the sites, and get to the destination with no intent to impede on my travel plans! She was a great companion to chat with and keep me awake on this marathon trip. It is important to note that my 'hick' card was about to be throw out the window on this took me until my late 20's to realize that there was more to the world than Northern New York. That North Carolina, six states south of us, was just a simple day trip away.

Well, at 16 hours - not so 'simple!' Needless to say, without much incident other than being caught in Washington, DC Beltway traffic at precisely 5PM, we made it to Durham. Of course, being the blazing Duke Dork that I am I couldn't stop and find a room and rest...I HAD to find the campus! MUST. FIND. DUKE! So, we stopped, asked directions, and pulled up along side Cameron Indoor Stadium just before 11PM. WHOA!

Mom remained patient the entire time, and we found a hotel close by the college where we could stay. Phew! Mom slept comfortably, I was a little too nervous/excited to get much sleep...for tomorrow was GAME DAY!

Tuesday we arose, headed to campus to wander about and take my first tour of the hallowed halls of Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Home of Duke Basketball - this is a hoops cathedral! As I entered, I walked cautiously so as not to disturb the Duke magic within. Wide-eyed and pensive, I approached a Security Guard to ask if it might be possible to peek inside the gym. I feared that an entire team of law enforcement type would descend upon me at the mere mention of stepping onto Coach K Court. Please, Sir - may I see the Holy Haven of Hoops? PLEASE?!?!

"Um, yeah - go long as no one's practicing. It's just a gym."

Don't crap on my Cameron fantasies Mr. Rent-A-Cop!

So, I opened the door to see the gleaming, shining home of Blue Devil Basketball. Cameron Indoor. I did take photos (I will scan and post when I can find them). I did touch the floor. I inspected the retired numbers on the ceiling. I did NOT see Coach K, but I felt his aura! Okay, I am going off the deep end here. Sufficed to say, it was a pretty special moment - and Mom was right there to witness the whole thing with the widest smile on her face. Game time was coming.

That evening, we made our way into the arena for the game. As mentioned, the arena is pretty small compared to most and there was simply not a bad seat in the house. Better still, ours were exactly at center court just a few rows into the main seating area. All general seating overlooks the 3,000 seat bleachers of the student section...home of the renowned "Cameron Crazies." The reason Duke has such a home court advantage is that 3,000 students surround the floor, always on their feet, chanting from beginning to end some of the most intelligent and original cheers and taunts that have ever been uttered. Very true - these students do research ahead of time on the opposing teams and players so they know exactly the types of things to taunt them about! Cameron Crazies are so original, they are the fans who originated the "air ball" chant in the 70's. Just to watch the Crazies work for the entire night would be entertainment enough. But there was a game!!!

I finally got to watch MY Duke Blue Devils, in person, LIVE, at Cameron Indoor Stadium. I got to see my favorite player, Shane Battier. Got to experience another quirk of Cameron - it's lack of air conditioning or while it was 50 outside, it was 100 in the gym! We struck up a nice conversation with all of the richie-rich folk around us as they were curious to know how we were affiliated with the actual ticket holder, It was a blast. Truth be told, I am not even sure about the details of who they played, what the score doesn't matter. I was there!

The experience was all I had hoped it would be and so much more. As an interesting side bar, after the game we were standing outside and I had a chance, albeit briefly, to speak with the Women's coach, Gail Goestenkors. We mentioned how we were from Missy's home town and came to watch her play...and I am convinced that this conversation led to Coach making Missy a starter in the game Thursday night! Missy had been injured and replaced by another player as a started, so she usually came into the game later as a substitute. But, not the night we saw her.

As a bit of bonus joy, we attended Missy's game the following Thursday. Sure enough, Missy was inserted into the starting line up - and we got goose bumps when her name was called.

"At Guard, from Malone, New York - Number 25, Missy West!!"

Missy played one of her best games that night, tying a school record for most three-pointers made in a single game. Her teammates kept feeding her the ball to see if she could break the record, but the last one just wouldn't fall! She played an outstanding game and we couldn't have been prouder! We got a chance to thank her after the game for leaving tickets for us...and the fans just swarmed around her because she was such a popular player and person at Duke. It made us even prouder still.

In between it all, Mom and I had a chance to catch up with the Halprin family, visit Charlotte Motor Speedway and Hendrick Motorsports, have some great meals and full laughs with our friends and get a look at the North Carolina landscapes. I grew an attachment to the area from this trip, and there were times I threatened to move there. This trip, inside of it's small window, was one of the best I've ever had.

Then it was time to come home. Once again, we made the 16-hour trek, this time back home. We had amassed such great memories of the trip and the sights and experiences. We could not have asked for a better time and this trip solidified my Blue Devil loyalties. Mom's too! In fact, if a Christmas went by when she didn't get a Duke gift of some kind, I was in SERIOUS trouble. After she passed, I made sure to keep the Duke shirts I had gotten for her over the years. She wore them with pride, and spoke often of that trip.

Post script to this story - we actually went back one year later to see another game. Unfortunately, this second trip was riddled with mayhem and insanity from the get-go. That's a story for another day. The second time we went was in January 2001...and though our trip was one serious mess, the Blue Devil season ended just right. I watched that Championship Game at Doc Roc's Z-Bar in Malone with a few other friend Rocco Pepin was dressed head to toe in Arizona garb, and I was covered with my Duke uniform. When the game was over, Duke won another Title.

And the first person I called was Mom.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Release The Brain Valve Please

Howdy! I have this darn blog thing and never use it...probably one of many online social networking tools I have signed up for but rarely used. Which reminds me, who in my age bracket is still using MySpace? Every time I got back to my account and try to clean out the closet, it just looks stranger and stranger to me. I am old, I am coping with that fact.

So, between the Twitters and Facebooks and all the rest, it is time to poop or get off the pot! (I disabled the 'adult' setting, so let's keep it clean people!) The thing is, most days I have all of these random, pointless thoughts that bubble in my noggin and I should utilize these sites to unload some of it. Not that I expect anyone is hanging on my every word, but a nice little outlet to release some mental pressure is a necessity sometimes. So, don't waste your time visiting my MySpace - I won't be there.

On to my mindless ramblings...cohesive thoughts not required herein.
I am still struggling with the fact that, when living in the frigid North, I played golf quite often during the 5 day summer window we actually had annually. At least twice a week, and usually a third for tournaments or such. In the year that I have lived in a place where you can golf pretty much year-round...I have played MAYBE 10 times total. What the...?
Michael Jackson is please let him be gone. His music was great, we will surely miss his musical mastery and the legacy he left. Let's let him go already...only Elvis is still walking around after his death, and that has something to do with aliens, or chemicals, or peanut butter and banana sandwiches...or something.
People in Arizona are, for the most part, horrible drivers...and I am learning to adjust. I am quite convinced that no one comprehends the "fast lane" concept and so few people actually signal a turn or lane change, I am starting to believe it is against the law to actually USE your signal light here!
Further to that, I think it is also state law that you MUST be on your phone or texting while driving. It makes it easier to swerve into oncoming traffic when you aren't burdened by the responsibility of paying attention to the road.
You know, come to think of it - now I know why no one is signaling! No free hands! You see, one hand is on the wheel, one is on the phone or texting, one is working the Ipod (who listens to the radio anymore?), one is pumping fast food down the gullet, one is applying makeup, one is gesturing at another vehicle on the road for 'swerving into their way,' one is....
The whole Phoenix Coyotes Drama is wearing me the season is just about a week away. There are so many things that everyone involved has and continues to screw up and crap on that this team and it's fans are left floating in the water and drowning. Don't you hate feeling the results of clearly inept people making decisions above your head? You can't make the smart choices for people who simply don't get it - you just sit on the sidelines and deal with the collateral damage.
No matter what, we'll get one more season out of this team...then we wait and see...again. Mark these words, if Trina would hurry up and win the lottery, we would buy the Coyotes!
What's your drama...and can you please dial it down? I know I can be a moody little brat sometimes, but I think it is fair to say I lead a charmed, low-key, drama-free life. So, when unnecessary and overblown drama unfolds before me - I am baffled. Do people seem to like to have a horrible life? Is it fun to consume force-fed, self-induced suckage every day? Other than the apocalypse, major calamities, festering boils and maybe an oddly placed rash, most 'bad' things that happen are pretty small, can be handled rationally, and thrown to the side. Picking old wounds, pushing people's buttons, antagonizing and essentially refusing to let things go is a recipe for disaster and the people around you don't need it or want it. As ELO so eloquently put it...don't bring me down!
The Susan Boyle story still gives me pause. I don't get the 'why' - is it because she is not what people perceive as "attractive?" Or because she is an older lady? What was it? Why wouldn't people believe she could be talented? Everyone is celebrating so hard, I think they're trying to cloud their own pretentious beliefs in what a 'celebrity' is supposed to look or sound like. Sadly, we will never know what would have happened had she not appeared on TV.
I suspect people would have taken one look at her....

I suppose that is plenty for now...I do feel a wee bit better!

I actually had a couple of things I was pondering as possible long-term projects here, to keep me jotting notes down and attempting to see if I can illicit some responses. First and foremost, I think there is a groundswell of support for a new and improved, 2009 Edition of the FB Biggest Losers. I think I am down with that, as soon as I get my brain wrapped around it. If you followed my last attempt at this, I was pretty anal about covering my daily stories and weekly weight changes. If I choose to try again, it is likely I will follow this same scenario on the new go 'round.

The second thing I am pondering is picking your brain on some of the things that I don't understand. Here's the back story...being from a small town, being just a bit different makes you weird. Period! We've all been different - by something we did, or said, or wore, or believed. Because in a small town, if you aren't marching in order, you're just plain different.
Well, here in the big city - EVERYONE is different!! Better yet, no one really notices your quirks, or really cares either. I do love that. So, the diversity swells and it makes for people-watching and general interaction that much better. I promise, this change in perception is greatly appreciated!

That being said, I want your feedback on things of all sorts. I have no preconceived notions on what would be 'right' or 'wrong' and I would not presume to force my own beliefs upon anyone else. That being said, I want to just post questions and comments on things I don't get or can't fathom, and hope to get responses from you - points or support or assistance to make me understand. Again, I don't think for a moment everything I believe is right - so I want to get some additional insight and looks from every angle.

I have been thinking about doing this for a long time - I already have a laundry list of things baffling and perplexing that I could use some perspective on. So, that may be coming too.

There, now I feel like I have accomplished something!

The brain valve is closed...

Friday, January 9, 2009

Holiday Traveler Part 1-C: Gettin' To The 'Gettin' There

I guess I'd better close the book on this holiday traveling misadventure before it torments me into a whimpering puddle of goop!  I keep looking back at the first two stages of this fiasco and I shudder knowing the complete story has not been told.  Funny, I was quite sure I could share the fun in just one entry, and the backstory alone killed that hope!  How could I possible know, holed up in the middle of nowhere my whole life, that travel of this scope during this time would be such an enormous undertaking.  Three blog entries later, I think it is coming to me now!

And mind you, this is only the trip THERE...we still have the trip back to recap, too!  Grrr....  And, you will find as we soldier on that karma will play a key roll in some of the goings-on throughout this trek. 

So, when last we left our adventurers, they were ensconced in a motel in Charlotte, fearlessly marching on toward the final destination of 'home' for the holidays.  We had succumb to the weather, the airline, pets and kids, surcharges and a goegraphy-challenged cabbie.  Sounds like a banner day to me!

Well, we hung in at the hotel as long as allowed, knowing that our plane wasn't going to be leaving until mid afternoon at the earliest.  Thankfully the hotel provided an airport shuttle, and we felt confident - since it was called an "airport shuttle" - that the driver would know his way to the airport.  He did!  Okay, we are off to a good start.

Once at the airport, we knew we'd have several hours to kill, at best we'd get a seat on the 'stand-by' flight at 4:45 and get out a little earlier, but that still left time to waste.  So we wandered a bit, did some airport mall shopping (no, not overpriced AT ALL), crept through the inspection line once or twice for 'fresh air' and sat down for a lunchtime snack.  In the sports bar where we dined, I noticed the NFL game between my beloved Cardinals and the Patriots.  The game was being played in New England, and my eyes grew to the size of plates when I got my first glimpse of the game.  You see, if you watched that game, you know it was played in a blizzard!  As I watched, I thought to myself..."what the f*** are we flying into?!?!"  If we fly at all.

Much to my surprise, the 'stand-by' actually paid off.  At the last moment, we were granted two seats on the earlier flight...which had been delayed by weather until after 5PM.  I immediately phoned home to my Dad who was in stand-by to pick us up.  We're on our way - and, at only a 2-hour flight, we'd get there long before he could arrive.  No matter, we were in the home stretch!!!

Our flight to Syracuse concluded without incident.  The travel time was well short enough that another damn dog and another wailing child did not dampen my spirits.  As a bonus, even our baggage arrived!  This day was going much better!

Here's where the karma kicks in.  Now, we knew - very well knew - that we were going back North in the dog days of winter...when any assortment of Mother Nature's wrath could descend.  So, after assembling our bags and finding a bench to wait for Pop, we took our first step outside for a, fresh hit us - IT WAS FREAKIN' COLD!  Like, insanely cold!  And windy!  I believe the thermometer said 20 below human.  Brrrr AND Grrrr....

Anyone who has ever travelled around the Syracuse / Watertown areas knows all too well of the anomaly known as 'lake effect snow' and how insane amounts of snow and chaos can show up here, only here, and nowhere else, for extended period of time - for no good meteorological reason.  I think there have even been blizzards through here in August.  Well, what we couldn't see from our curled up selves on the bench inside the terminal was this weather event is exactly what was unloading outside at this moment - in fact, all day.  And poor Dad was trying to drive through it to get us!

Oh yeah, 'karma.'  So, it is no secret that - since we have been in Arizona, I have made it my mission to mock and taunt everyone back in the north when it is snowy, cold and miserable there and sunny and warm in AZ.  Never miss a chance!  I suspect the thousand or so times I chided the weather discrepancies, it was all adding up.  And Mother Nature copped a karma squat on our unsuspecting heads.  I guess I'd better take the blame for this.

Having left Malone at around 5PM, poor Pop finally wheeled into Syracuse International Snowport after 10PM.  That's right - 5 hours to make a near 3 hour trip.  It was that bad.  And it wasn't getting any better.

We did our hugs and 'missed you' and set out to get home.  Um, did I mention it didn't get any better out there?  I regained my finely tuned wingman skills and let Dad take the wheel while I watched the road and other various wintery calamities that may be lurking around the next bend.  Funny, as we rolled on...there were times when, that road I was watching for him, just sort of - um - DISAPPEARED!  Yeah, what the...?  So much snowing and blowing, even an action film wouldn't go to this extreme to prove a point that it is freakin winter out here!  And, God Bless the man, Pop pushed on!  

At one point, there were no roads, reflectors, lights, humanity...nothing!  We slowed to a crawl for most of the trip, stopping once as my wife had become so petrified of traveling in this gobbledy-gook she looked like a statue and needed to stretch her atrophied muscles.  We were Northerners by stock and trade, we should still have the patience and resolve to get through this, right?  I knew from the moment we stepped out the door at the Syracuse airport exactly why we moved down south...and boy, was I missing it now!

Many cups of coffee and 5 more hours later (the trip to Hogansburg is usually only 2 1/2 hours, so it had gotten worse than when they came down) we pulled into our resting place for the week - my Mommy's place.  It was now 3AM eastern time!  Mom, being Mom, was still wide awake and waiting for us...and poor Dad still had to drive home in this slop to Malone.  Thanks a million Dad!!!  Poor guy...

So, there we were - a trip that had started almost two days earlier, finally - FINALLY - we made it 'home!'  It's the most wonderful time of the year!

Lest this string of three posts be misconstrued, I had A GREAT TIME at home for the holidays and it was so great to see everyone and spend time with everyone!  The joys and experiences will be posted in a separate blog at a later date.  I just wanted to share some travel tips and haunting images, lest ye be scared to make a voyage sometime to someplace....Because we all know it isn't about where you are going, it's all about the GETTIN THERE!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Holiday Traveler Part 1-B: Goin' To The 'Gettin' There

You were riveted, I know! When last we left, I had great fears about my airline and the trip North for the holidays. I spent the days leading up attempting to harness my chi and prep for the adventures ahead. Lest all my preparation was for not, most of what was ahead...I just never saw it coming.

So came the day it was time to leave. We were armed with our baggage and prepped for the trip. We pulled into an economy parking garage and made our way to the terminal on a shuttle with relative ease...and the terminal was relatively empty and ticket counters seemed quiet but moving quickly. Hey, we're off to a good start. So it seemed.

I knew going into this a few things were non-negotiable - the airports along the way would be busier than normal due to the holidays, people would be traveling with children more so than usual, and it was US Airways so a hiccup would appear at some point. Armed with a higher than usual sense of tolerance, we got our tickets, checked our bags and prepped for the flight North. Except - our first flight from Phoenix to Charlotte, NC...well, it was delayed - AND we didn't have a seat number on our ticket! We were on 'stand-by!' What the...? A delayed flight in the sunny southwest, and the ticket we paid for didn't come complete with a seat? Here we go!

Oh, and - by the by - lest we forget the ticket price that also does not necessarily guarantee a seat also does NOT cover the baggage...or a small morsel or food to much on...or a simple sip or water...or even a clean, clear tray table to rest upon. Yes, you see - in the guise of 'increased fuel prices,' airlines found a new means to add rates to your flight. To cover increased petrol prices, they began charging for baggage - more bags, more cost. Fair enough...but, um, er...the f***ing prices went down - WAY down! But those charges didn't go away. Oh, yeah - that mini bag of 2 gotta pay for that. That cup of water or shot glass of burnt coffee? Yeah, you're paying for that too! And, because 'fuel is expensive,' US Airways is even selling ad space on the fold down tray tables attached to the seatback in front of you. Either that or they picked up a surplus of "Leverage" TV show tables from an auction somewhere. So, our value ticket turned into a pretty expensive ticket after all...and that still didn't eliminate the words 'stand' and 'by' from the conversation. What a raquet!

Upon an uneventful and relatively swift passage through the al Qaeda, 'inspection area,'...we hustled up to our departure gate. Though I must say, for every trip through the scanners and TSA people, it never ceases to amaze me how - every time - someone has to kick and scream about taking off their shoes, or coats, or belts, or take things out of their bags to get through this security zone. Folks, we have been comfortably tucked under the blank of fear for over 7 years now. This is the result of our spoon-fed paranoia, so it should come as no surprise this government-sanctioned scan of you and your person is now old news and mandatory. Suck it up, take your damn laptop out of your bag, and move along!

Anyway, we arrived to our window and were able to glean from passenger chatter and a lucky 8-ball we had to shake - because you'll never get a 'customer service rep' to actually give you, the customer, actual service - that the delay was due to serious east coast weather and the flight we were to board was coming in from the east off a delay. So, the plane would arrive late and therefore leave late. We were also told that our seats were 'stand-by' because this airline ALWAYS oversells planes in case people don't show or miss their connection, then there will be back up people waiting to fill those empty seats. I was able to glean this from Genghis Kahn at Gate 19 who was still on stand-by from a US Airways flight from the year 1225. He is hopeful!

All the while, we knew we had only about 1 hour of layover in Charlotte between this plane landing and the other plane departing. And the flight we MAY be boarding is delayed 2 hours. Hmmmm....Mine Math Skilz Gud - Telz Mee Wee Bee Missun Connexshun! Yet, the 'customer service reps' make no attempt to prep us for this delayed flight and possible missed connection by hooking us up with a flight that will actually be on time. After all, we are only on 'stand-by' and may as well be lepers.

Frik. Frik. Frik!

Also, in the sea of hostile flight-delayed humanity, I demonstrated a marked calm for me...I was prepped for this likelihood from this airline. But, I noticed a trend I was not prepared for - many MORE and younger children flying than I was ready for...and DOGS! Bags upon ventilated, tiny carry-on bags of dogs! What the...? Are there no kennels in this town? No nice neighbor who'll mind "Pooky" while you're away? Does this dog really need to fly cross country with you to spend Christmas with Grandma? My paranoia was starting to fester, because - deep down inside - I knew that sitting somewhere within a seat of me in any direction, the screaming children and the mangy mutts would be parked right there!

Finally - a glint of hope! There were only two seats open on the outbound plane...and they 'gave' them to us. Bless the sweet charity! The seats that we PAID for - they really, really gave them to us! But, they were in opposite ends of the plane so I would not be sitting next to my wife. Dammit! Guess who I would be sitting next to? The TWO screaming kids, and the doggie bag carrying case complete with some whimpering labradoodle! On the bright side, it would only be a little over 3 hours on the plane - not enough time for my throat to close from pet allergies or become clinically insane from sobbing children. I have magazines, movies...enough to pass the time. At least we're on the plane and moving!

But, what about that connecting flight in Charlotte that is supposed to bring us to Syracuse? Oh, we'll never know until we hit the ground! But, math skills still keenly alert, our flight did leave over two hours late - and there's no way we'd get to Charlotte in time for the flight out to Syracuse! BUT WAIT! This airplane we just boarded came in from the east - where the flights were all, doesn't that mean ALL of the planes in the east are suffering from this same 2-hour delay?! But of course - why wouldn't they? Or, knowing that a plane wasn't full because a connecting flight was delayed and would be late...they'd hold that plane until we got there, right?! Oh -wait - I'll bet that there are people on 'stand-by' in Charlotte for the Syracuse flight....

Frik. Frik. Frik!

Surprisingly enough, we survived the dog-hair, child-spittle infused flight to the east. Low and behold, that Syracuse flight did - in fact - leave without us. A glimmer of hope in my own throbbing mind was that Charlotte's version of Genghis Khan may have finally been able to get his seat on stand-by and arrive in Syracuse to conquer and pillage and whatever else he may have planned for the holidays. I smiled.

We, the poor dopes who's end destination was to be Syracuse (and there were others on our plane) were dealt the cold, hard truth that NO more flights were leaving for Syracuse on this night...and the next flights were later the next day...and we'd likely be on 'stand-by!' Ha ha!

When we got to the 'Customer Service Desk' - we did get some service in Charlotte - we we told that we would be guaranteed a seat on the 8PM flight, but could go stand-by on an earlier flight the next day. Also, because the delays were "weather related, sir" and no fault of the airlines, they would not toss us the perks of the useless free ticket or a free hotel room for the night. Only some flights - not all - were delayed by the weather, so they must have 'rounded up' when they formulated how Mother Nature affected the travel day and not the company itself. They did give us a 50% off voucher at the flee bag of our choosing, but we had to call and make our own reservations - and then get there ourselves. Harrumph!

So, we left with our tickets - a real 8PM flight and a fake 4:35PM flight (yep, 'stand-by')- and made the call for some pillows. A discount broker booked us at the Cheep-N-Sleep somewhere and gave us the address. We proceeded to the exit to hail a cab. Our baggage remained at the airport to be redirected to the next Syracuse flight. No matter what, it would arrive before us. I asked if we could pack ourselves in it, that would assure we'd make it. Alas, the Customer Service lady was not amused at my observation and perhaps would have eaten me had we not shuffled off. So, I did think to pack a spare set of clothes in my carry-on bag (because, this was US Airways after all and odds of us being stuck somewhere were favorable) with miscellaneous smell-good so I could at least be fresh for the next trip - whenever it may be. But Trina did not, so she'd be clean and fresh, but clad in day-old airport-funk-covered clothes. Oh, well...

So, we leaped into the next available cab and told the cabbie where we were headed - the hotel's name and the address we were given by the broker who surely lived somewhere else and never knew Charlotte was an actual city and not just a common female name. Our driver, let's call him "Bob" lest I be tagged a profiler, looked at us with a glint of confusion and just a smattering of self doubt - as if we gave him directions to the Temple of Lost Souls. Dude, this is your city - and you're a cab driver - and we're staying at a hotel know, 'near' the airport. I am speaking English, I know it! But, "Bob" may not be well versed in English as I suspect it isn't Bob's native tongue. Yikes!

So, away we a destination we have never been to and one, we'd find out later, he hadn't either! After bringing us to the hotel section near the airport and seeing that the hotel we had booked was, in fact, NOT here - he mentioned to us that we gave him a wrong address and he was going no further. Oh, did I mention that he had a GPS mounted on his dash that he wasn't using? Whatever - he pulled into an Econo Lodge where Trina scurried in to see if they had rooms available. We asked the driver to stay while we checked on rooms - his limited grasp of the local language left him befuddled, so i decided to pay the man and send him away - hopefully to study the local landscape on Google maps when he gets a little down time from taking vistors on a wild goose chase. Thankfully, there was a room available.

So, we settled in, ordered some fine cuisine and hunkered down for the night. At least the weather was nice in Charlotte! Rest up kiddies - Tomorrow, it is Round II with US Airways and the last portion of the voyage to Syracuse and then back home. Dashed are the dreams of making what is usually a one day trip in one actual day.

I wasn't prepared for this!

TO BE CONTINUED (gee, the first part of this trilogy is really taking long to tell - see what I mean?!)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Holiday Traveler Part 1-A: The 'Gettin' There

I had promised to blog about the adventures to cross-country travel over the holidays, and purposely delayed my initial posts so I could mellow a bit about the whole ordeal. Additionally, as I tried to collect my impressions I decided I might be better served by breaking this out into a thrill-a-minute trilogy. It opens with the gripping tale of the west-to-east adventure, then segues to the enjoyable yet truncated week of holiday merriment, then it concludes with the east-west escape plan. Each is a separate event to its own, and deserves to be treated as such. So, come along with me and share in the adventure that is "going home for the holidays."

Again, it seems, I always have to preface my holiday voyage issues with the caveat that I WAS happy and excited to spend holidays with friends and see everyone as I do miss them...but I did NOT want to go back to the Gulag of the North. The best scenario would be to wedge myself into a tax bracket such that I could bring everyone here during the winter...or see if Santa would be hip to rescheduling his big day to sometime in mid-June. Alas, I fear neither is a reality. So, buckle up for the journey into the center of winter...during the holidays!

It had been a plan - nay, a non-negotiable truth - that we would be heading back to the North Woods for the holidays. At issue in the early stages was the length of said trip, which - as it turns out - was also predetermined and not a bargaining concept. It would be a flight out on the Saturday before the holidays and a flight home on the Saturday after Christmas. This would give us ample time to meet up with as many folks as possible, do some light shopping for gifts we couldn't ship or pack, and 'acclimate' us with the December weather. Hmmm...okay!

So, we haven't even left yet and we had flight issues. I don't know if you were in the loop, but when we flew here to move here, we booked a one-way flight on US Airways from Ottawa to Phoenix. Here is a name that will be recurring throughout these many posts - US Airways. For those of you who travel, you may have had good luck with this company...I on the other hand have had 100% dissatisfaction with them, but have always been encouraged that they could find new ways to manhandle my travel plans.

Anyway, on our flight to Phoenix for our big move and life-altering journey to begin...our plane(s) were delayed, we got bumped out of an oversold flight and left stranded in Washington, DC for a night...or perhaps longer on "stand-by" which is more widely known as "stranded for days on end in a skank covered terminal with the blind and pointless hope of ever getting a seat on an outgoing plane." I guess "stand-by" reads better.

As a way to appease this misguided attempt to effort us away to the southwest, US Airways attempted to appease our anger and disillusionment with two FREE round-trip tickets to anywhere in the continental US. YIPPEE! On one hand, we got some free tickets which we could use to travel home for Christmas and save some money...but, on the other hand, that ensured that we would once again park our fannies inside my least favorite airline. Turns out I was more right than I wanted to be on only one of these points.

As you may expect, "free" is a loose and abject term with lots of holes and far too slippery to capably grabbed onto. Attempting to use these 'free' tickets was akin to getting God, the Easter Bunny and the Jolie-Pitts over for dinner - a little too tricky for mere mortals. In order to use these 'free' tickets in or around Christmas, we would have had to leave in 1948 from Kabul, have 23 layovers and not get a return flight until sometime in 2099...maybe...and it would be on an oversold flight. Hmmm....that seems decidedly inconvenient. Thanks for the 'free' tickets US Airways...I wish I had a parakeet cage to line with these.

So, we abandoned the idea of using these tickets and Trina began the quest for finding tickets on-line. I was concerned that it would be diffifcult to find a holiday flight plan as so many people travel about the states to be home or run away from home. The busiest flying time of the year, I knew finding a flight would be equal parts difficult and pricey. Turns out I was more right than I wanted to be on only one of these points.

Supply and demand means that everyone wants to travel, so planes must now be VERY expensive means of transportation during holidays...and they are. Doing the standard Orbitz / Priceline / CheapAssFlights search, my wife found the 'cheapest' flight to and from 'home' during the time line she had decided, and the schedule looked good. Leaving midday, only one short layover, destination Syracuse and my Dad offered to come and pick us up at the airport as he is now in the Land of the Retired (meaning he's bored out of his gourd and ready for the chance to do ANYTHING!). The arrival and departure dates were spot-on, layovers were short and things were looking good! And the airline? Why, US Airways, of course!

Mind you, this is not a knock on my wife in any way for booking them. They were the least expensive, they offered the best flight plans both ways (we all know how those 'best laid plans' go) and had seats available when others did not. So, with finances tight, we signed on.

Now that we have a flight booked, I was preparing myself for what I knew would be a traveling nightmare - heading home (wherever home is) for Christmas. There is an unending stream of films and TV shows that make light of the trials and travails of going cross-country to get 'home' for the holidays. In a manner similar to that of a prize fighter prepping himself for the title fight, I spent the weeks leading up to our departure as a means to psych myself up for this trip. All the while, in the back of my mind, I knew that we were going to experience a week of the North's most horrible cold and snow and wintry nonsense...which, by now it has been well documented, I don't miss and rather loathe. Always focused on the end game which was spending the holidays with the family and friends back home, I got myself geared up in the best way I knew how. Patience, dear boy - patience!

For all the pre-fight work I did leading up to the trip and the departure date, I wasn't ready for this!


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Who Are "They?"

If you have not yet had a chance to see the movie "Role Models," give it a look-see. It may not be for everyone and may be pigeon-holed as just another simple humor buddy comedy, but there is some heart in there that I am certain is getting lost in translation. Specifically the character of "Augie" played smartly and convincingly by Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Again, I am sure the party line is that he's back with another take on his "McLovin" character, but that is wrong. In fact, I almost cried once or twice in this movie that is all about the laughs. Back to Augie in a bit...

It is commonplace for people, as they get older, to become more set in their ways, curmudgeonly and stubborn. Things that may have been bendable issues are now no longer up for discussion. I have always had an ingrained sense of stubbornness courtesy of my genetic make-up from both parents, and I have honed my skills of refusing to waiver over the years. I fancy myself liberal and open to a variety of ideas, but some things - we just won't go there!

I can lay out some of my unending quirks even at this very moment - I am watching Arizona...while wearing my Canucks jersey which I MUST wear while watching any game! So concerned with supporting my team, I will wear the jersey that corresponds with what the team is wearing on the night I am watching - the home or away, or even "Third" jersey. And being a Vancouver fan from Ottawa/Montreal/Boston territory?!?! Blasphemy! But, this is my team, my favorite sport and how I choose to watch. This is just one little nuance of me.

The thing is, I don't ever want to be TOLD what to think or feel, or buy, or wear, or watch, or do, or say, or think...most people say they don't either...but dig deep and see how true that really is. Ever find yourself marching in line with the lemmings? I don't mean following rules and laws and playing it straight - I mean the things in life you succumb to because that's what "they" say it should be. As my friend Alison would say, "Who are THEY, anyway?" Styles, trends, news, foods, you do it because that's what "they say" you should do? Think about that...and we'll come back and revisit the notion.

And, beyond this thought, it isn't even about wrapping some love around your inner chi or whatever you embrace as "your own." It is about doing or not doing because that's what YOU choose and not what the prevailing winds say. Lately, my biggest correlation to this ideology is the phenomenon of "Twilight" or even "Harry Potter." Never seen, heard, read or watched either of these things. I am certain they are both great fun (especially Harry Potter) but when they came to the forefront, I felt like the masses flocked to these because that's what the populous said to do. There is something inherently pride swelling in "discovering" things and making them their own, and not falling into line. We all have those little things that we found on our own, and if they do hit the mainstream, we suddenly feel like we lost our connection. I can't wait to one day meet Harry Potter...on my own terms.

I know the biggest reason we don't always trust our own instincts and gravitate to what we want is because of popular opinion. There are times when we are made to feel small or strange because of the things we hold dear to our hearts. How can you wear that or do that or eat that or watch that? And I am not innocent of this either...I have mocked people for their little beliefs - never mindful of the weirdness that is me! That being said, this is clearly a 'do as I say, not as I do' rant more than anything. Or better yet, a reminder to show understanding or tolerance for someone's beliefs that don't line up with yours. In fact, appreciate the character it takes to do something unique and different and embrace it in the face of opposition.

Back to Augie.

This was the flash card that reminded me of my quirks and people reacting to those things that aren't perceived as the popular opinion. Without being Mister Spoiler, Augie is a fan of "Dungeons and Dragons"-style reenactments and battles. He wears capes and choreographs battle sequences. Because of this little quirk he is ridiculed, made fun of and laughed at - even by his own family. Why? Because it is different and not the thing everyone does. Forget that is brings him joy, gives him an escape from the world, and is something he is good at. "They" say it isn't right, so "they" feel the need to make him feel small because of it. Why can't he just do what makes him happy? Why can't we all?

Do you have something that you do that doesn't align with popular opinion? Is there some new 'fad' or trend that seems to be sweeping the pop landscape that, in your heart, you know just isn't 'you?' I challenge you to take pause whenever a decision is pending based on something 'they' say.

And then go ahead and tell "they" to go straight to Hell!