Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Century Mark

I hope you guys all had a good holiday. And I hope you didn't mind me taking a little holiday break. Like I've always said, this thing has been a chance for me to write about something that I don't normally get the chance to.

Sometimes things stick in my head, and they come out here in an entry.

But mostly the past few weeks have spent furiously clicking towards online retailers, melting the credit card, wrapping as best I can (which, frankly, would not qualify as 'best' in any circumstance), unwrapping as fast as I can, entertaining my visiting parents and taking in church services.

And I even squeezed in a work shift on Sunday afternoon, too.

So there's not been much time to write up anything lately. And I do apologize for that.

But the reflective opening serves a further point: We've hit the century mark - one hundred posts. At least I think we have. Because of the aforementioned business, I haven't had time to scroll back through the archives and subtract out the short posts that really don't count. Like you'll remember the ones about me waiting for the power to go out - which it never did. The first one counted, but the subsequent updates did not.

So we've turned the dial over. And if we haven't, we will soon - like in a post or two.

You've probably all figured out that this thing serves its purpose for me. This is my creative outlet. There's so much stuff bouncing through my head at any one time, it's like there's a game of Breakout on speed up there. A missive careens off one side of the cranium and bounces around for a while.

Sportswriting, generally, is so formulaic. You watch a game, you find an angle, you complete the assignment. Layout is much the same; it's 98 percent tedium and two percent - maybe - artistry.

This blog gives me a chance to do what I like to do best: Look at the world around me and try to put it into words. I remember a few years back, all of us were supposed to chip in to news coverage of Hurricane Isabel, as it came ashore in Virginia Beach and made its way northwards toward us.

My job would have been to go roam around one corner of the county and come back with a story. As it turned out - don't know why my editors didn't think of this earlier - my corner was nothing but swamps. So they scrapped my story.

How awesome would that have been? Someone says to me, go find a story. That's where the artistry of reporting is.

One of my favorite newspaper pieces of all time was in the Washington Post magazine a few years back. It was a story by Gene Weingarten, the resident humor writer. He thought it would be a hoot to go visit one of the coldest, most remote places in the country in the dead of winter.

Instead, he came back with a different story altogether. After traversing to an outpost in Alaska that's far closer to mainland Russia than to the lower 48, Weingarten wrote a story about what the place has to deal with. Alcoholism and drug use are big problems; suicide, particularly among young people, occurs with alarming frequency. Those that try to move away often find themselves ill-adjusted to mainstream life in the lower 48.

It was a wonderful story, well reported and well written. It ranks a solid No. 3 all-time for me, behind a Gary Smith feature in Sports Illustrated and a Rocky Mountain News story on the military officer in charge of helping families after a soldier has been killed. (The story won a Pulitzer, and if ever a story was deserving, it was this. I read it in the office and cried almost non-stop; I had to fight like hell to keep from making a scene in front of co-workers. The photos were breathtaking.)

But I digress (shocker). What a wonderful challenge it must be to go find something like that and be able to use all your senses in your reporting. And I have the benefit of throwing opinion in, too. Screw you, objectivity!

Weingarten made reference to a journalist's conceit - that there's a story no matter where you are, it's your job to find it.

This blog allows me to do that. And I thank you guys for playing along.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Misconceptions about my job

Last week, my wife and several of her friends planned a girls-only night out. Some of the boys responded likewise with a night out of our own.

I met up with one hell of a guy, Aaron Cohen. He was the planner, since his wife was among those in the group with my wife. He and I were the only ones in that situation; however, he invited several others along.

One of them was a friendly guy from Texas, who, if I recall correctly, works for Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). He sat next to me and we chatted over a beer and a cigar.

Of course, we talked about my job too.

"Man, if I could do that," he said, "I'd love to - watch sports all day long."

If it were only that simple, of course. I espoused a theory that came to me a few weeks ago, one that (I think) bridges the gap between what people think of my job and what my job actually is.

He had said earlier that he was originally from Texas, but was a huge N.Y. Giants fan and had an incredible dislike for the Dallas Cowboys. Later, he said he was planning on attending the Redskins' season finale on Dec. 30 against the Giants.

My theory to him was this: He's going to the game, presumably with a few friends, drink a few beers, have a good time and enjoy the game. Most people tend to think that's what we as sportswriters do too.

We have the first item in common, and that's about all.

It's an 8 p.m. kickoff, so I'll probably plan on being there by 6. (It's a Saturday, so normal rush-hour traffic is not as much of a concern.) I'll kill time by playing games on my cell phone; it's the only non-Sunday game in Week 17, so watching other games won't be an option.

When the game starts, I'll be taking notes after each play. Perhaps a theme will develop early, perhaps it won't. (I didn't have the lede for my last column until well after the game, and I thought that was one of the best pieces I've written in a long time.) I'll take bathroom and snack breaks during the action at my own peril.

And not writing something isn't an option. Since it's a night game, I'm not sure if I'll have to hustle to get something in before the end of the game or wait and do a second-day story. Either way, I'll have to find something.

Then I'll have to leave, wait in the ridiculously long line to get a bus back to our parking area (I may just shell out the $200 next year and buy a pass closer to the stadium) and then head home to see my wife, who will probably be asleep by then.

And that's what people don't get. I'm a homebody, and I'd love nothing better than to relax at home with my wife. When I'm working - even when it was at the Final Four - I miss out on that.

That's why I'm not sure if this is the right field for me. It's a job I like, certainly, but at what cost? (And I should say that there are many folks in this business with a lot tougher schedule than mine.) I like my time at home.

I've got two high school basketball games this week, and I'd rather be at home. I like my home life, after all.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Ish ickd frizz

I just heard the funniest thing on XM: Dr. Dre's 1992 classic, "Fuck Wit Dre Day."

It came on the 90s channel, not one of the edgy rap channels. As such, the 90s channel is considered appropriate for all ages - unlike some of the rap and metal channels, which are marked that some material may be for the older set.

(The 90s, especially, features some crazy song sets. Dre was followed, in order, by Hootie and the Blowfish and Amy Grant. It was at that point I hit up Boneyard.)

Anyway, listening to this song became nearly incomprehensible. Dre and Snoop didn't hold back on the rhyming beatdown of the late Eazy-E; as such, there are 20 uses of the F-word. Though none of them were beeped, they were remixed to render the word unhearable (though you'd have to be pretty dim-witted to not figure out what they're talking about).

In fact, take a run through the lyrics over at Dre's webpage. Try to mentally remaster the voice in your head each time a curse word (or a questionable word) comes up. Pretty damn unintelligible, huh?

It makes for some interesting listening. Worth a chuckle at the very least, you know?

One reference to shit clearly came out as "ish". Other words weren't nearly as defineable. And when a few of those remixes were strung together, it made the song all but listenable. At the very end, there's some stock audio from a guy who's mostly not understandable. But the last line is clearly "fuckin' wit me", and that line echoes as that audio (and soon, the track itself) fades out. In that span of four seconds or so, there are three 're-mixes'.

What's the point, really? If you've got to edit a song that much, why not just save it for the saucier channels?

-- SPEAKING OF SONGS, I'm catching a little Coldplay before I go to bed - "Clocks," to be exact. It's on XM Hitlist now.

This song will always hold a special place in my heart. I remember it being a perfect background as Lindsay and I sat down to have our first meal as husband and wife. It was on our dinner music list for our reception, and really, it's the only song I remember from dinner.

Though I do remember some other music that was played. Our first dance was to Harry Connick Jr.'s "It Had To Be You." I danced my ass off to "Yeah" from Usher, Lil Jon and Ludacris. And I sure as hell remember the song we walked into the reception hall to.

"Gonna Fly Now" - the Rocky theme.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Back when the Subway kicked ass

Feeling hungry, I threw on my coat and walked to the Subway in the strip mall next door. (Because if you know anything about the county where my place of employment is, strip malls outnumber regular malls by at least a 10-to-1 margin, and probably more. But I digress.)

It's a trip I've made hundreds of times; it's the only place within walking distance where I can get a decent meal. The Dairy Queen is closer, but I'm fat enough already.

When I walked in today, there was one person eating inside the restaurant. Granted, it was like 2 p.m. - not exactly lunch hour or dinnertime. But I walked in and was waited on immediately - and was taken by a sudden feeling of sadness.

This very same Subway, once upon a time, kicked ass. If you can imagine a sandwich shop being cool, this place was.

At the time, it was owned by a Filippino dude that was our age or not much older. He was always working behind the counter along with a high-school aged kid. Random other workers were there too, but those were the guys that I remember.

Both of them were great. Often, a group of us from the sports department would walk over and they'd always remember us and what we wanted. We shared a great deal of chit-chat with them too.

Sometimes it was hard to hear them, though - they had the radio cranked up with one of DC's better stations. It was top-40, not the adult contemporary that can often be sleep-inducing.

And the place, especially around lunch time, was packed. Like no seats available packed - and this has a bit more seating than many of the Subways I've seen.

All of that added up to a certain ambience about the place. It felt like a real gathering place for a lot of people, something that's quite rare among chain restaurants (particularly a place like Subway). But it was awesome to see, and we became regulars because of it.

Then, one day, the owner told us he was moving back to the Phillipines and selling the Subway. We held out hope that the cool-ass Subway wouldn't change its ways, but it didn't happen. Some Middle Eastern folks took over the place and while I've not had a bad experience with them, it's not the same.

They've gotten better. At first, they played Muzak, but at least they have different music now (adult contemporary, of course). And though I can't ever really know, I can't imagine that business is anywhere near what it once was.

As evidenced by the two customers I saw today.

Back when, I would have had to wait in line. And I would have been happy to do so.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The best coaching job I've ever seen

It's rare that I talk about work issues on here, and that's probably not surprising. First, I'd rather not think about work when I'm not actually at work; secondly, some folks have lost their jobs over things they wrote about work on personal blogs.

But this is an exception, since it really doesn't deal with our company per se. Instead, it's about perhaps the best long-term coaching job I've ever witnessed.

Osbourn High School, the lone high school in the independent city of Manassas, Va., will play Chantilly H.S. tomorrow for Virginia's Group AAA, Division 6 state title. Basically, it's the biggest of the big schools (and whether you need to give out six state titles is another question entirely).

When I first moved to Virginia in late 2000, Osbourn's football team was in a sad state. Actually, that's probably not putting it bluntly enough - they were awful. One of my early assignments here was to cover one of their games in Loudoun County. Osbourn (remember, they're Group AAA) lost to a first-year, Group AA school. (In fairness, that school, Stone Bridge, has turned into a solid Group AAA program.)

Coaches, literally, came and went on a yearly basis. They brought in one guy who had made a career out of turning around programs; he resigned in frustration after one season.

And needless to say, he didn't turn around the program.

The coaching parade continued, when the school made the most curious choice of all. They hired a guy named Steve Schultze, an Osbourn grad who had never played football in high school or college. But he had experience coaching football in the aforementioned Loudoun County, where he worked before he was hired at Osbourn.

So a guy with no playing experience comes in and takes over a program mired in losses? Yeah, that'll work out.

And, well, it did. During Schultze's first year, he and his team ended their 32-game losing streak.

Yes, 32 games. More than three consecutive seasons without a win.

And Osbourn kept getting a little better and a little better. They'd have more and more kids who deserved postseason honors - more and more kids who were real players.

Suddenly last year, the Eagles made their move. I can't remember for certain, but they had a one-loss or an undefeated regular season, I'm not sure which. What I do know is that they advanced to the regional finals, where they lost to resident powerhouse C.D. Hylton.

This year, Hylton missed the postseason by thismuch. Osbourn went undefeated and won the regional title. In the state semifinals, they pulled out a late-game win over Salem-Va. Beach, and the turnaround was complete.

But let's be honest, state title runs don't happen without at least one stud. And Osbourn has that in QB Brandon Hogan. He's a dual-threat quarterback who has committed to West Virginia; this season, he's got 2,235 yards passing and 29 passing touchdowns to go along with 1,582 yards rushing and 23 rushing TDs. (Think about those numbers for a moment. They are mind-boggling. Peyton Manning and Carson Palmer lead the NFL with 22 passing TDs; LaDainian Tomlinson leads the league with 23 rushing TDs, and he's having a monster season.)

Now they're a game away from a state title. Unreal.

If you'd have told me that five years ago, I would have laughed in your face. Lots of other folks would have too.

It's a turnaround for the ages.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Hey! Look at us! Over here, south of the river!!

You might think from my last post that I might have something against Maryland.

And you'd be right. Though I have family there, and two kick-ass cousins that grew up there, my dislike for Maryland has been growing over the past six years - ever since I moved here from Pennsylvania.

I can't be certain, but Maryland seems to be the most self-important state in the union. The world is centered there - perhaps you weren't aware of that - and its unofficial motto is 'If you can dream it, we can tax it.'

I'm not the only one. Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell wrote such a column in Sunday's paper; readers had written her enough times complaining about the news they read from Maryland - even in the Northern Virginia edition.

One quote she used:

"[A]s a Virginia resident, I find the Post's coverage of Virginia news inadequate and given from a distant perspective. I perceive a somewhat snobby and distant attitude toward us Virginians in many things Washingtonian."

This is from a guy named David Dadisman - the Washington Post's vice president for circulation.

But at least the Post isn't as bad as television news.

I've taken notes on the past two 10 p.m. broadcasts from our local Fox affiliate, WTTG.

Last night, with my wife at book club, I watched the first 30 minutes until she arrived. There was not anything about Virginia whatsoever mentioned until eight minutes into the broadcast - during the first weather segment. And that's out of pure necessity, because both of DC's major airport are technically located in Virginia. (No, BWI does not count, no matter what its name wants to tell you.)

The first actual Virginia story came at 19 minutes after the hour, when they had a 30-second reader (i.e., no video) about scam artists in Manassas. Prior to that, we were treated to stories from such nearby locations as Towson, Md.; Sharpsburg, Md.; Ft. Myers, Fla.; Decatur, Ill.; and Merlin, Ore.

Tonight was even worse. My wife and I were out for dinner, so I didn't tune into the broadcast until three minutes into the news. So perhaps a Virginia story led the newscast, which would be damned amazing.

Instead, we were relegated to the same thing we were the night prior - a mention in the early weather segment, and nothing else. I watched the first 30 minutes, and never heard Virginia or anyplace therein uttered outside of the weather segment.

According to Yahoo maps, our apartment is just under 14 miles from the WTTG offices. We're part of a larger region, Northern Virginia, that encompasses around two million people spread over five jurisdictions. Surely there's something newsworthy here - something, certainly, more newsworthy than the Maryland Eastern Shore firefighters who posed next-to-nude for a fundraising calendar.

We deserve better than the shitty service we receive from Fox-5. Other outlets - print, broadcast and radio - are better - moderately so - but Fox-5 is the worst.

Supposedly, we're in their coverage area. But you'd never know it by what they put on the air.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Crappy driver assessment

If you watch the news at all, you've probably heard about a federal government program which has recently come to light. If you've crossed the U.S. border via flight any time in the past four years, chances are you have a terrorist rating, depending on various factors.

Some folks, as you can imagine, aren't pleased with this. And, when you get down to it, it's a high-brow form of profiling.

I thought of this while rolling through Maryland and seeing the normal assortment of shitty drivers that The Free State has to offer. And I put two and two together. What if, based on a whole host of factors, you could determine the greatest chance of crappy driving based on socioeconomic factors?

It's worth a shot, right? The higher your score, the better chance you're a crappy driver. (And let me get this out of the way: I certainly understand why folks don't like profiling of any kind, and this exercise is completely tongue-in-cheek. But some truth lies in every joke, so you decide where the line is.)

Beat-up junker: +2
Car with bare minimum tricked-out-edness: +3
Sports car: +3.5
High-end car (BMW, Benz, Jag): +3.5
Combo of the two previous: +8 total
Taxi: +7
Sportbike: +9

North Carolina: +2
California: +4
Virginia: +4.5
Maryland: +6
Diplomat: +7.5
New York: +8
New Jersey: +8

60 and up: +4
25-30: +5
16-20: +6

Wing (or other parts) that look like they were made in shop class: +5
Cell phone in use: +8
Non-driving related activities (make-up, taking notes, etc.): +5
Don't know how to drive in a given weather condition (i.e., snow): +7
Tourist: +4

That's about all I can think of for now. But give it a few days, and someone will piss me off - and they probably won't fit into a category I've got here.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Moravian > UConn, Notre Dame, UW, OSU

You can always count on friends: Keith e-mailed a link to the College Football Victory Chain Linker. By using some programming gobbledygook that I don't understand at all, it provides a chain of victories that "proves" one team is better than another. For instance, the old 'well, team A beat team B who beat team C who beat team D, so team A must be the best' deal.

Obviously this isn't infallible logic, but it still gives me a chance to skewer all of your favorite teams. (C'mon, smile with me.)

So, in my senior season of 1996, let's take a look at all of the regulars' favorite teams and see just how Moravian is better than all of them:

Moravian beat
FDU-Madison who beat
Johns Hopkins who beat
Bridgewater VA who beat
Hampden-Sydney who beat
Methodist who beat
Maryville who beat
Ky Wesleyan who beat
Bethel TN who beat
Cumberland KY who beat
Georgetown KY who beat
Kentucky St who beat
Albany GA who beat
North Alabama who beat
TAMU-Kingsville who beat
Sam Houston St who beat
SW Texas St who beat
Hofstra who beat

Suck it, East Coast Huskies.

Notre Dame
Moravian beat
FDU-Madison who beat
Johns Hopkins who beat
Bridgewater VA who beat
Hampden-Sydney who beat
Methodist who beat
Maryville who beat
Ky Wesleyan who beat
Bethel TN who beat
Cumberland KY who beat
Georgetown KY who beat
Kentucky St who beat
Albany GA who beat
North Alabama who beat
TAMU-Kingsville who beat
Sam Houston St who beat
SW Texas St who beat
Idaho who beat
Nevada who beat
UNLV who beat
San Diego State who beat
Air Force who beat
Notre Dame

Suck it, Irish.

Ohio State
Moravian beat
FDU-Madison who beat
Johns Hopkins who beat
Bridgewater VA who beat
Hampden-Sydney who beat
Methodist who beat
Maryville who beat
Rhodes who beat
Austin Col who beat
Howard Payne who beat
Mississippi Col who beat
Henderson St who beat
West Georgia who beat
Jacksonville St who beat
W Kentucky who beat
Murray St who beat
W Illinois who beat
N Illinois who beat
Arkansas State who beat
Louisiana Tech who beat
Mississippi St who beat
Alabama who beat
Michigan who beat
Ohio State

Suck it, Buckeyes. (Wow, that felt really good. Sorry Mandy.)

Holy crap, it's a good thing we beat FDU-Madison that year. Otherwise, we'd be worse than all of these schools!

(For what it's worth, Keith tried to brag about his alma mater, Randolph-Macon. Said they were better than Moravian, and provided a chain with like 10 links. I looked it up the other way, and we needed four links to prove we were better than Randy Mac. So suck it, Jackets.)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Did I just see what I just saw?

In a moment in life, a story is begging to be told. I had one of those moments this morning, but only wished I could discover the backstory.

Some backstory of my own to tell you how I got to that point: Since I don't usually carry cash, I had to stop at the local 7-11 this morning in Seminary Towers in Alexandria, a large apartment complex just off of I-395. I bought some OJ and got $5 in change; three in singles and two in quarters.

This was necessary because, once a week for 16 weeks in the fall and winter (you can guess why), I drive out the Dulles Toll Road, which costs $1.25 a trip. Take away the 25-cent can of Coke I'm drinking, and the quarters came in handy.

While I was waiting in line, there was a woman in front of me. Late 40s, early 50s I guess. She bought two things: a pack of Marlboro Lights and a six-pack - cans - of Natty Light.

At 8:45 a.m.

There are a lot of whys here, and none of them have to do with the Marlboro Lights.

Why is someone buying a cold six-pack so early in the morning? Why is does it need to be cold that early in the morning?

Perhaps most importantly, why is someone buying Natural Light?

My mind pondered the possibilities as I waited for her to clear out. Obviously, it would not have been wise to inquire about those possibilities - or at least not very neighborly.

I came up with a few scenarios, but all have their flaws. And I'll leave you guys to come up with your own conclusions.

But when you see something so seemingly out of place, your mind can't help but wonder. Perhaps if I knew this woman better, maybe it wouldn't be a surprise at all.

-- I SHOULD BE BETTER ABOUT POSTING, I KNOW, but we've had some internet trouble at home this week. I'm writing from Redskins Park, where we're in the middle of a two-hour, 45-minute break between a conference call and open locker room.

The connection was so spotty that I was prepared to take the cable modem to the local Comcast office and trade it in for a new one. So you can imagine what my outrage level would have been if I'd done that - only to find out that wasn't the problem.

As it turned out, a Comcast technician showed up early Wednesday morning. (Because of the 10 a.m. conference call, I had to leave early, and couldn't be around for the full 7-11 a.m. window that the service reps told me. So I called last night to cancel the appointment and re-book for Friday. I thought I had done that, but whatever.)

He found out that the connection between the cable and the splitter was a little loose - something I'd not at all considered. The TV in our bedroom, further down the line than the net connection, was working perfectly. But he got everything up and running, so kudos to him.

-- VIRTUAL PILOT HUSS has a late-night departure out of Austin, Texas, bound for Monterrey, Mexico. While I was offline, I was working on my landings (because Lord knows, they need work) and used a quick flight from BWI to Dulles.

While looking at the aeronautical charts for Dulles, there's a waypoint or intersection just south of the airport called 'SKINS'. (You can see in this instrument approach chart for Runway 1L, a PDF hosted by

I'll have to ask some of the guys who have been around here a long time, but my guess is that it has something to do with Old Redskins Park. The current Redskins Park sits north of the airport in the middle of the approach paths to runways 19R and 19L. I've been to Old Redskins Park a few times, and it sits south of the airport; if it is where I think it is, it would be right along the path for inbound northerly flights.

Still, it was pretty interesting to see that pop up on a flight chart.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Really, why bother?

I can't imagine what kind of money Best Buy pulled down today. The one above (thanks to Reuters via Yahoo) is in Fairfax, one I used to visit frequently.

Furthermore, I can't imagine what a zoo the local Best Buys were. The one closest to us is in Baileys Crossroads, which happens to be the intersection of Rt. 7 and Columbia Pike. It's situated in a strip mall with limited parking. Zoom in and click on the tab that says "Aerial View"; see that white building to the left of the star? That's Best Buy. Now look at the parking (considering there are shops all around it, too).

And that's not even my worst Best Buy experience.

Back when I was in Pennsylvania, the nearest Best Buy was in Whitehall, a suburb of Allentown. Heading back to Mapquest, you can see the store here. Zoom in again, and again, the white building to the left of the star is Best Buy. Here's what made it such a mess:

The road in front of Best Buy is Macarthur Road, a pretty big thoroughfare into Allentown and Center City. If you study the parking lot closely, you'll see there's one way in and one way out. You can't turn left onto Macarthur; and as you can see, less than a quarter mile down the road is an exit ramp onto Rt. 22 west. Well, most folks don't want 22 west.

Perhaps the situation has changed, but I recall spending 45 minutes waiting to get out of there once.

And to think, this is being repeated all across the country? Why bother?

There's this awesome thing called the internet nowadays. Provided that the place you want to buy from has reliable servers (and that's not always a given, is it Wal-Mart?), you can accomplish damn near all your shopping in one sitting.

Sit and shop for Christmas presents in your underwear with a beer in your hand. Technology is a wonderful thing.

I'll let those folks fight over their spot in line at Best Buy.

-- WHERE IN THE WORLD IS HUSS? As you'll remember, I've taken a keen interest in my virtual job with UPS. Though I wasn't flying the big birds back then, I've graduated to them in the weeks since. Just today, I took a couple of long-haul flights: First from my hub, Philadelphia, to the main UPS hub in Louisville. Then, looking for a slice of adventure, I went west.

So, to answer the question, Virtual Huss is in Albuquerque, N.M. after 2.5 hours aloft from L-ville. That means I've got takeoffs and landing in eight states since joining UPSVAC: Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, Florida, Massachusetts, Kentucky and New Mexico.

Hopefully I'll remember to include this when I post, so you can keep up with where the heck I am now. Next stop is LAX, but I'm unsure where to go after that, so I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Would it just freaking snow already?

My little Weatherbug display tells me it's 41 degrees, with winds out of the ENE at around 9 mph. They deduce the wind chill at 33 at my local reporting station, John Adams Elementary School, one block over.

Typically, my body does not do very well with these transitional seasons. Today, I'm all sniffly and really need a tissue nearby at any given moment. But this isn't much of a surprise; it's the day before Thanksgiving. After a lifetime spent in the Mid-Atlantic, I've learned what happens at this time of year: We never know what will happen this time of year.

Last year, it was comfortable enough to wear shorts to work. Folks were in flip-flops and we were enjoying the warmth's swan song.

This year, well...the wind chill just dropped to 32.

But that's the thing that bugs me most about the transitional seasons. They never seem to end. Look, we know winter's coming - it's already hit parts of the country like Buffalo and Denver. Let's get some snow and kickoff winter and be done with it. Let's get winter started, so we can get closer to spring.

(And I should note that when I say transitional seasons, I don't mean fall and spring generically; I mean that time of year when summer and winter are on the doorstep, on the cusp of breaking through. It's not a months-long process, it's a few weeks.)

Yet, we're supposed to get rain this afternoon. Is there anything more miserable than a cold, windy rain?

Indeed, there is: A cold, windy rain that, a few weeks later, would be a blizzard.

At least then we'd know winter had started.

Friday, November 17, 2006

That Screech you hear...

is the sound of women and children in pain; and the sound of people putting on the brakes as they reach the porcelain god.

I myself feel physically ill. Literally.

See that guy to the right? Yeah, Screech - Dustin Diamond. He did former Saved by The Bell castmate Elizabeth Berkley one better.

He's starring in his own porno.

Quick, click here. You'll feel better.

The fine folks at industry rag Adult Video News have the news. (Link probably SFW, but why risk it? Wait 'til you get home.)

Look, I don't begrudge the guy. If every guy that reads this is honest with himself, he'd hop at the chance to earn a paycheck by jumping in the sack with a couple of porno starlets. Some of us would have to ask permission, of course, but you're damn right we'd want to do it.

It's a way to try to jumpstart a career or stay in the public eye a little longer. Exhibit A: Paris Hilton. Exhibit B: Manassas' finest, John Wayne Bobbitt.

(A funny aside to Mr. Bobbitt: Floating around our office somewhere is a signed copy of his divorce agreement - it's like a treasure passed down from generation to generation, and I saw it exchange hands when uber cop reporter Patrick Wilson bolted for Winston-Salem, N.C. At the end of his signature, he drew a bloody knife.)

At the same time, I know that the general public doesn't want to see me in, uh, intimate moments. That's fine. I ain't Fabio, and that's OK.

I guess I'm just really curious as to how this deal went down. His agent calls and says, 'Look, I got this great opportunity... but it's a little unusual.' And, for the reasons outlined above, he went along with it.

But the fact is that he's just not the best-looking guy on earth. He's pornstar material as much as I am. And that ain't much.

Really, I don't begrudge the guy. But at the same time, you've got to recognize your limits, you know?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Update on Hank -- and me

It's been a full six days since Hank came home. And since then, I've been reminded of a line from a certain Chappelle Show sketch. In it, through circumstances better left discovered by watching the YouTube clip, Chappelle says with a hearty laugh, "Oh Lord! This racism is killing me inside."

Obviously, this isn't racism, unless feline-human relations have deteorated without my knowledge.

But laughing in the midst of a hurricane swirling around you? That I know.

It's now early Thursday morning. I think the last time I slept more than six hours at one time was Tuesday; before that, it was probably last Thursday. One thing or another has kept me up, though it usually relates to Hank, here-to-fore resident cat Grace, or the potential interaction between the two when they finally meet face to face.

Or maybe it's that I am tired and ready for bed, and have to struggle with Hank to get off my side of the bed. I was nice and tired and ready for bed; now, suddenly, I have to think and do some work to get Hank to move - since he's not really willing to give up a warm spot on the soft bed. As I think about that and the other stuff, it takes time to once again find that happy place of pre-sleep bliss.

And since I never know just what's going to happen between the two - since it's merely a door that separates them - I don't sleep particularly well when I do dose off.

Then when morning comes, Hank's all ready to start his day. Except our hours don't jive. So he's making his presence known around the bedroom, when all I want to do is sleep. Two straight days I've been forced up before 7 a.m. - that's fine for lots of people, but not when you usually go to bed around 2-3 a.m.

At this very moment, I sit here to type this are relieve some of the stress that's built up. Yet I hear Hank's near-constant whining and an occasional thump from the bedroom. And I wonder to myself, what next? Though I'm almost afraid to ask.

So I'll go check and see what's going on and try to salvage some sleep from another morning gone awry.'s killing me inside.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Cereal killer

I don't know if I could live off of cereal - but I'd make a damn good go of it.

What other meal takes less than a minute to prepare? You can get a good chunk of the vitamins and minerals you need every day. And you can find an incredible variety across this one genre of food. (Genre?)

With that in mind, I'll try something a little different here: cereal reviews, categorized by manufacturer. To keep this list somewhere north of bearable, I'll only include products from the big four companies - Kellogg's, General Mills, Post and Quaker. Bolded are my favorites.

-- All Bran: I want to say I had this once. Once.
-- Apple Jacks: Nothing tastes better than the milk after a bowl of Apple Jacks. Getting to that point, however, is less satisfying.
-- Cocoa Krispies: See above, but with a much better beginning.
-- Corn Flakes: Even with sugar, they're bland. But I guess that's what they're designed to be.
-- Corn Pops: I like this one a lot, but the pops are too airy. As a result, it's not very filling.
-- Crispix: My tastes trend towards sugary, not Crispix-y.
-- Crunch: I'll take my Raisin Bran without the extras, thanks.
-- Froot Loops: Come on - not liking Froot Loops is un-American.
-- Frosted Flakes: I'm hit or miss with this. But it's usually a solid choice.
-- Frosted Mini-Wheats: Underrated cereal. The fact that they're 'mini' helps a lot too; I never cared for the logs that popped out of the un-minis.
-- Honey Smacks: I can get into these, but burn out on them just as quickly.
-- Mini Swirlz: Never had 'em. If I want cinnamon buns for breakfast, I'll make them myself.
-- Raisin Bran: I am a complete and total brand snob when it comes to Raisin Bran. Another highly underrated cereal.
-- Rice Krispies: A good all-around choice, and a dash of sugar isn't necessary either. Makes a super dessert treat, too.
-- Scooby Doo Berry Bones: Must've been one of Shaggy's well-I-was-high-when-I-thought-of-it creations.
-- Smart Start: Call me a dumbass.
-- Special K: The cereal designed for hot women in bathing suits. Of which I am neither.

General Mills
-- Apple Cinnamon Cheerios: A good choice. Good taste and, as Cheerios are, good for me too.
-- Basic 4: It's like the Fantastic Four, except they're not really fantastic.
-- Berry Berry Kix: Kix-ed to the curb.
-- Berry Burst Cheerios: The "O"-shaped Cheerios try to contain the overwhelming flavor, but alas, they simply cannot.
-- Berry Lucky Charms: You know, maybe General Mills isn't paying their marketing department enough. Come up with a new brand already!
-- Boo Berry: Clearly, they've made a major play for the berry-flavored cereals market.
-- Cheerios: Sure better than the Berry option. Makes for a perfect morning with a bowl of Cheerios and the right amount of sugar.
-- Chex (and its six sisters, like Chex Frosted and Chex Honey Nut): Back in the day, I remember buying Graham Chex. That brand didn't last long, and I didn't stick around with Chex long either.
-- Chocolate Lucky Charms: As if regular Lucky Charms weren't sugary enough.
-- Cinnamon Toast Crunch: I remember the cartoon chef getting on my nerves in CTC commercials when I was young. But I remember it all these years later, so it must be a victory for the marketing folks - even though I've bought less than five boxes in my lifetime.
-- Cocoa Puffs: Good choice, though also a little airy and unfilling. Advertising efforts at a standstill after Sonny finally got to taste them - where does the story go from here? Hmm.
-- Cookie Crisp (and its three sisters): A children's cereal predicated on robbery. Wonderful. Though in fairness, it looks like they've got a new mascot these days.
-- Count Chocula: Best in limited quantities. Marshmallows don't taste as good to me as Lucky Charms; still the best of the monster cereal gang.
-- Dora the Explorer: Uh, no.
-- Fiber One (and its two sisters): I'm regular enough, thanks.
-- Franken Berry: Because Berry Berry Kix, Berry Burst Cheerios, Berry Lucky Charms and Boo Berry just weren't enough.
-- Golden Grahams: Among my very favorite cereals, and has been for a long time.
-- Honey Nut Cheerios: This can get me by in a pinch, but not for more than a day or two.
-- Honey Nut Clusters: Ditto.
-- Kaboom: Imagine my excitement when I imagined a cereal based off the Atari game. Sadly, that's not the case.
-- Kix: Underrated choice, though one we don't get often.
-- Milk 'n Cereal Bars (three options): This is supposed to be a cereal?
-- Oatmeal Crisp (three options): Anything touting its grain probably won't make the cut for me.
-- Raisin Nut Bran: I'd probably like it, but I'm a brand snob, remember?
-- Reese's Puffs: Too early in the day to enjoy chocolate and peanut butter.
-- Total (and its four sisters): An OK choice if you're looking for a healthy breakfast. But who wants that?
-- Trix: Too sweet for me. I can't stand it anymore.
-- Wheaties: The best non-sweetened cereal on the planet. And it's not close.
-- Yogurt Burst Cheerios (two options): The "O"-shaped Cheerios try to contain the overwhelming yogurt, but alas, they simply cannot.

-- Honey Bunches of Oats (and its four sisters): I used to like a variation they had, but none of the current combinations sound very appealing to me.
-- Grape Nuts: Don't think about the name too long, or your head might explode.
-- Raisin Bran: Brand snob.
-- Shredded Wheat (and its two sisters): Actually not as bad as its bland name might imply.
-- Toasties: Corn Flakes rip off. If I don't eat the original, why would I eat a knock-off?
-- 100% Bran/Bran Flakes/Fruit & Bran: Take a guess.
-- Honeycomb (and its sister): Haven't had in years, but I recall it being slightly above average.
-- Golden Crisp: When I'm in the right mood, there are few better picks. I'm just not in that mood very often.
-- Oreo O's: Oreos are for dessert, not breakfast.
-- Waffle Crisp: Strange quirk about me - I like my waffles gooey on the inside, barely cooked. Unless Post is willing to go that far with Waffle Crisp, I'm not prepared to partake.
-- Cocoa/Fruity Pebbles: I like both, but neither are substantial enough to make a filling meal.

Quaker Oats
-- Cap'n Crunch: I like the taste a lot, but the fact that it never gets soggy bothers me. Sometimes, it feels like I'm swallowing loose screws.
-- Life (and its two sisters): With the addition of Honey Graham Life, I can offically call this my No. 1 favorite. I've loved Life, well, all of my life. Just like Mikey.
-- Quisp: Dear marketers, a crudely-drawn mascot and a name that makes me sound like I have a lisp are not a good combination.
-- Oatmeal Squares: Can't say I've ever had them. They get enough of my money with all the Life we buy.

So there you have it. Long live Life!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Welcome, Hank

We now have a fourth member of the family: Hank.

And the third member of the family is none too pleased.

We thought it would be best if the Hellion had a friend to gallavant around the house with on otherwise lonely afternoons; I also like to think a second, calmer cat would lead by example and show Grace you don't have to be over the top to get what you want.

We decided that Friday would be the day we made the trip. So we went and visited the Animal Welfare League of Arlington, a visit that was heartwarming and heartbreaking, all at the same time.

We made our way through the cat section, and there were cats of all kinds. Some were more memorable than others: the 15-year old male who seemed unfazed by anything; the kitten who climbed damn near to the top of the screen door that enclosed the kitten pen; the feisty 3-year old female, who gave us shivers when we tried to imagine her cohabitating with Grace.

Hank - who's given name was Sublime - was about 3/4 of the way through our first trip around the cat section. He was laying down, taking in the scene when we approached, but got up and moved to the front of his cage when we got close.

Each time we went back, he would do the same thing.

So we had one of the workers put us in a room with him. He seemed very content to have both of us hold him and give him lots of love.

The decision, for me anyway, was pretty clear. We found a cat who was pretty much like me - willing to sit around and relax and take what the day brought. (Except you'd have to throw in a beer for me.)

After filling out all the paperwork and getting some good instruction on how to introduce Hank and Grace, the three of us headed off.

We went home, though I dropped Linds and Hank off. They were going to the pet store to get everything Hank would need - and to get a few presents for Grace, to show that we weren't forgetting about her either. I had to run to work, since it was almost 3:00 - the witching hour for Friday rush-hour traffic in DC. (As it turned out, it took me nearly two hours to get to work anyway.)

Linds e-mailed halfway through my shift, telling me that things were OK, but not great. Grace was super-mega-ultra pissed off, standing outside of the door where Hank was and growling and hissing. (After living with Grace for three and a half years, I've not once heard her hiss. Though she's crazy and definitely a diva, she's pretty even-keeled.)

According to the e-mails, things would ebb and flow. Grace would forget about it, and go back to wanting love. Then she'd be pissed again, and on it went.

By the time I got home, Grace seemed pretty normal. She greeted me at the door and acted like nothing new was happening.

But when I made it into the bedroom, Hank was safely locked away in our bathroom. Grace stood outside and hissed and growled, and frankly, I found that pretty depressing. I knew it would be difficult, particularly that first day, but I didn't expect that.

Grace has been better today. No hissing or anything like that.

And I have to cut this short, because someone's locked in the bedroom and demanding attention.

I've known Hank for less than 24 hours, and I know one thing already: He's a bigger attention whore than Grace. So off I go.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Ed Bradley, 1941-2006

Ed Bradley lived the good journalistic life.

Think about all of the roles he held during his life, which, sadly, ended on Thursday after a battle with leukemia: Foreign correspondent in Paris and Saigon. War correspondent. White House correspondent. Fill-in network anchor. Long-form journalist.

Each of those titles, of its own accord, could make for a wonderful career for any journalist. Yet we know one person can do all of that, because Ed Bradley did.

In the sportswriting world, it would be like taking the current roles of Sports Illustrated writers Peter King, Tom Verducci, Jack McCallum, Rick Reilly and Gary Smith and doing each over the course of a career.

But Bradley's reportage dealt with far more weighty issues than games and contracts and firings, and that's why the journalism world sheds a tear for his passing.

I never watched much 60 Minutes. But in the few instances I did, he had a presence that overshadowed his piece. Usually that's a bad thing, but in Bradley's case, it lent a significance to the story. It felt like wow, they didn't leave this piece to Steve Kroft or Lesley Stahl - they got the big dog out there. (No disrespect to them, of course.) There was a certain palpable gravity he brought to the show and to his reporting.

His numerous obituaries will tell you he was a savvy interviewer. His trademark earring gave him a bit of street cred too, and he even earned a mention on The Chappelle Show. That sort of thing doesn't happen to Lara Logan, David Gregory or Christiane Amanpour.

This all serves to point out that Bradley was not your average journalist. He wasn't even your average Washington-based network journalist.

He was someone special. Lifetime achievement awards, like the one he received from the National Association of Black Journalists, aren't reserved for the average.

His success in many different areas made him special, and his reporting made a difference - something that, as journalists, is our ultimate goal.

And that's why we shed a tear for his passing.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Climb and maintain interest

As many of you know, I've been looking for a hobby for some time - one I could really get into and enjoy. I think I may have found it.

You may remember from previous posts that I'm a pretty big transportation geek generally, and more specifically, an aviation dork. I find air travel to be fascinating, including the miniutiae of it all.

So what does any of this have to do with the pic above? I'm getting to that.

This started about three weeks ago when I hopping around YouTube looking at this and that. There are fabulous videos on there about flying, but my favorite tend to be the ones of shots into and out of Princess Juliana airport in St. Martin. (There's also this more famous video of folks literally being blown into the water as a KLM 747 departs.) There are other interesting videos too - my favorites are this 747 barely having enough runway to get off the ground and this superb landing in really windy conditions.

But I digress, of course.

For as many real-world videos as you can find, there are almost as many videos of virtual flights. Those videos all come Microsoft Flight Simulator, as dominant in its genre as any other piece of software out there.

I had FS several years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. But I had no idea where that software was, so I thought it might be time for an upgrade. As it turned out, the latest version had just come out, Flight Simulator X. But I opted for Flight Simulator 2004 for two primary reasons: it's a good bit cheaper and I figured it would work better on my computer, which was built with budget - not high-end performance - in mind.

So I bought it, messed around with it and again thoroughly enjoyed it. While trying to look up some training hints - no one wants to pilot a Cessna forever, at least not virtually - I stumbled onto a reference to an online pilots association. While that site is dead, I did some more investigating and found there's a whole world of virtual airlines out there. Literally.

Wikipedia led me to a list of virtual airlines approved to fly on one of the most popular networks, VATSIM (Virtual Air Traffic Simulation Network). Many airlines are fictional, though several others are tied to real-world operations, both current and past. Just a sampling of virtual counterparts you may have heard of: Alaska, America West, American, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Continental, Eastern, FedEx, Frontier, Hooters, JetBlue, KLM, PanAm, Qantas, Southwest, TWA, United, and USAir.

In the end, I found a nice philosophical match with UPS Virtual Air Cargo. So, now my callsign is UPS1006, based out of Philadelphia (one of 14 hubs; among the others are Atlanta, Cologne, DFW, Miami, Newark/JFK and Louisville - the latter just like the real UPS). At the moment, I've got 2.6 hours of flight with UPS. And since I'm a newbie to the virtual flight and virtual airlines, I'm not flying anything like the nice Boeing 737 you see above. Instead, for the moment, I'm in a deHavilland Twin Otter that makes a loop between Philadelphia International with stops in Carlisle, Pa.; Wildwood, N.J.; Reading, Pa.; and Petersburg, Va.

The airline aims to run an operation as close as possible to its real-world counterpart. As a result, we're responsible for signing up for flights and filling out a pilot report (PIREP) after our run is completed. If I really wanted to go apeshit, I could sign up for a run between Calcutta and Boeing Field near Seattle (14 hours), Honolulu to Sydney (10 hours) or Anchorage to Hong Kong (just under 10 hours aloft).

There's even a virtual flight tracker which lets you check the progress of any UPSVAC currently in the air.

But don't look for me over the Pacific Ocean. I don't think the Twin Otter has the muscle to make it that far.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Fold it like a man?

Perhaps you've seen Domino's new commercial for its Brooklyn Style Pizza. It shows a handful of stereotypical New Yorkers - Italian mama's boy, Italian mama's boy's mom, cabbie, rude passenger.

The cabbie looks out his window and testifies that to eat the Brooklyn Style Pizza properly, apparently, one must fold the slice in half. He proceeds to do just that, though it's still mostly flat.

The rude passenger in the back, a female, looks out her window, conveniently on the same side.

"You call that a fold?" she asks. "Fold it like a man!"

Let's think about this for just a second: She's worried about how her cabbie is folding his pizza. Seems to me there could be more pressing things to be concerned with: traffic jams - you know how it is in the Apple - or getting to appointment on time.

Or maybe she should be more worried about a more fundamental problem: Just why in the hell her cabbie is peddling pizza and not driving. I can't imagine he was kind enough to shut down the meter, you know?

Am I reading too much into it? Of course. But it's one of a series of ads lately that annoy me. I can't get that damn woman out of my head. Fold it like a man! Perhaps she ought to pass that advice onto the clown who's living out of his Sentra for a week. I bet laundry's a bitch in a sedan.

The ad agencies must consider this a success. After all, I'm writing about their ads - more importantly, I'm remembering them. That's supposedly the goal, to get you to remember a certain product.

But why should that be the goal?

What if certain commercials annoy me? Has the ad agency really accomplished what it set out to do?

I can assure you that my business relationship with a certain other pizza delivery place will continue, due in part to the fact that the Domino's commercial bugs the hell out of me.

As for that idiot in the Sentra: If I were in the market for a car (I'm not), I'd want an SUV. And if for some reason I'd want a smaller car, I can assure you I'd steer clear of Nissan because that time of annoying advertising does not deserve to be rewarded.

It's gotten to the point that as soon as I hear "Hey, it's Mark again..." I flip the damn channel. Even if it means I have to watch those grating Empire Today ads.

We have 128 channels and by God, one of them won't have a commercial on.

If you're listening, ad folks, remember: people can just as easily be turned off to your product as they can be turned on. I realize that makes you walk a fine line, but hey, I'm the consumer. I've got the power, no matter how limited it may be.

Now get to tiptoeing.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Come on down

I think we're all a little bit saddened by Bob Barker's announcement that he'll be leaving The Price Is Right this summer. It's hard to argue with a guy - 35 years at the same place and half a century in the biz? He's earned it, surely.

I've watched the show on and off for the better part of my life (and I realize that there are people out there who have been longer or more hardcore fans - or maybe both - than me). As a kid, it was a special treat when we had a weekday off from school. Later on, it was something to tune into if I was tired of listening to CNN.

But after my sophomore year of college, the show meant more to me. I was fortunate enough to attend a taping. Their schedule happened to coincide with my cousin's wedding in Ventura, Calif., and I knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance. My parents were cool with it, so we ventured south to Burbank early one day to CBS' Television City.

I can't remember why or when, but I took a quick walk around the neighborhood. I was struck by the fairly normal apartment buildings, which weren't too large - four stories maybe - and had architecture and colors that I would have expected to find in Miami. I wondered what it was like to live so close to Television City, but then I figured those people were like the folks who live within a few blocks of the Capitol or near old Boston or within spitting distance of the St. Louis Arch.

This is over a decade ago, so bear with me - my memory of the more important details is far better.

We arrived around 8 or so, if I remember right, and the line to get in was already quite long. The lines were in two long columns, with seats on one side. We got in line and waited and waited and waited – the first taping wasn’t until 1 p.m.

In the meantime, some network folks asked us to come preview a pilot for them. They promised we would keep our spots in line if we came, so we decided to do just that – anything to make the time pass. We walked into a screening room and were handed a little remote control-type device with a red button and a green button. If we saw or heard something funny, we were told to push the green button; if we didn’t like it, we were to push the red button.

Moreover, the people in charge told us, we shouldn’t worry about offending them or anyone in the room. And that was a good thing – the show pretty much sucked. It was some lame sitcom with a family of one type or another living in a sweaty, blue-collar apartment in New York. Ho-hum. My remote didn’t get much of a workout because there was hardly anything exceptional about the pilot – a few funny lines here and there, but eh. (And I never remembered seeing the show in the lineup, so I guess I wasn’t the only one that thought that way.)

Once the lights came up, we headed back outside and resumed our spots in line. It looked a lot like the queue to a roller coaster, and in a way, it felt like that too.

Around noon, the line finally started moving. There were a lot of people that made it in before us; in fact, we were one of the last groups of people in the door for the first taping. I think the final group was a fairly large group of girls from Cal-Santa Barbara, who stood near us in line and sat right behind us in the studio. And no, that didn’t suck.

We made our way out of the queue, around the building and to the entrance. Just before the entrance, we had a brief interview with one of the producers and – I can only assume – his secretary. They both looked very Hollywood, and I can see the secretary to this day: dark hair, 50-ish, a woman who was once hot and still fancied herself to be hot (and may have taken, uh, unnatural steps to ensure it).

My interview was short and sweet. I’m sure I mumbled my way through it, ensuring I’d never make it out of the audience. (Apparently, we’d heard later, it helps to kiss a LOT of ass. Supposedly one of the UCSB girls said she watched the show since she was little and back in her home country, which was somewhere along the Pacific Rim.) Just before going in, we met with a page who wrote our names on the customary price-tag name tags.

Once inside, we sat pretty close to the back in the rightmost of the three seating sections, with the only two rows behind us occupied by the UCSB co-eds (which still didn’t suck). When the doors closed, again it felt like a roller coaster ride. We were going to see Bob Barker and the beauties and prizes and money – tell me that isn’t a ride. There was a sign near the stage telling us the planned airdate for this show, which was about a month from that day.

She stood on the lip of the stage, which looks huge on TV but in reality is maybe 60 feet wide and 30 feet deep. At least one of the cameras sit right onstage, front and center.

After some time getting settled in, announcer Rod Roddy (RIP, Rod) made his way onto the stage to warm us up. He got us cheering for what seemed like an eternity – so much so my hands started to hurt from clapping for so long. We obeyed the “APPLAUSE” sign and eventually, the opening music began (you know it; if not, click here). We tried to keep clapping and listen to the names being announced; a woman held cue cards at the front with the names on them because it was pretty loud.

Then, it was time for the grand entrance.

Rod: “And here is the star of The Price is Right ... BOB BARKER!”

The left-most stage door opened, and out walked the MC. The cheers got as loud as ever – no surprise there – and went on for another eternity. Even when he tried to start the show, the applause were just too loud and he had to wait another moment, thanking us all the while.

And just like that, we were off and away. The ride had begun.

I don’t remember a whole lot about the show per se. I remember one of the games was Penny Ante, and I remembered seeing it on TV numerous times. I thought the board resembled a ski-ball game, but in truth, it was mostly flat. None of the supergames were played – Golden Road or Plinko.

One of the co-eds from behind us – the one who had made the claim about watching from another country – made it to contestants row and even made it onstage. She was an Asian girl and won her pricing game, but it wasn’t for a car. (Though someone did win a car and used one of the payphones outside to call home and tell them the good news.) Her friends screamed like hell behind us, which isn’t difficult to imagine.

The reason I remember she was Asian was because, honestly, she looked nothing like us. My mom and dad and I are all hearty Germans from the east coast, in no way resembling any person of Asian descent on the west coast.

I make this point for a reason: When the show was broadcast a month later, we re-lived our friend’s success. Then, as she’s celebrating, the camera flashes to our section. Very much to my surprise, the girls are nowhere to be seen. Instead, virtually all you see is me and my mom. So, for a second, we were on network television. (I guess my sweet Moravian football windbreaker was too awesome to pass up.)

Barker was pretty cool. After each segment ended, there was a set amount of time he had off air; I don’t know anything about television, but I’m guessing they taped for a full hour and laid in the commercials when the show actually aired.

I remember the timing well because it was the week after Greg Norman’s sad collapse at The Masters. Barker, also a golfer, said he felt so bad that Norman wasn’t able to win a title that had (and still has) eluded him: a major on U.S. soil. Barker said all the right things about working with Adam Sandler in Happy Gilmore, though it’s not a secret that and Sandler did not become best buddies after filming it.

You’ll often hear him reference something happening during the break, and that’s pretty accurate. He struck up a conversation with an elderly lady in the audience during the second half of the show; sure enough, she was the next person called to contestants row.

We made it through the entire show without incident and heard the now-famous ‘make sure your pets are spayed or neutered’ line. We left and marveled at what we had seen; that sense of wonder is why, truly, it felt like a roller coaster ride.

On we went with our day, a lifetime of memories in tow.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

In four days, two football games; and two things I've never, ever seen before

On a miserable, rainy Friday night, I trudged out to cover a football game. Schools in our area are notorious for postponing football games in even moderate rainfall, so it was a bit of a surprise that one of the area's biggest games was still going on.

But on it went, and I made the drenching walk from my car to the press box, where I dropped my stuff and made my way to find a program. Because it's helpful to identify those players we write about, and my boss wouldn't much appreciate reading about how punter #26 was tackled in the end zone for a safety.

I struck up a conversation with a guy who had arrived as early as I did - which was early. Said he drove up from King George County, (we're in Prince William County) though I never bothered to ask why he drove up from King George County. He managed to pluck a seat in the front row, and while talking to him, I noticed a strange deal on the field.

I excused myself from the conversation and took a walk onto the field. Sure enough, something I'd never seen before in my life: Black yardlines. It sort of made sense, since the grass on the field was mostly yellow.

The home team's coach told me later that their Bermuda grass goes dormant when it gets cold and turns yellow. It was completely legal, since yardlines aren't required to be white, only contrasting to the field. Plus, this was their way of celebrating Homecoming.

I took a quick photo with my cell phone for posterity, thinking the dude at the Uniwatch blog might be interested in it. Sure enough, he was.

Fast forward a few days later. On Monday night, I'm covering a different game in a different corner of the county. One of our local teams is playing a league opponent from Shenandoah County (wow, I'm helpful with maps today, huh?).

Our local team is up by two touchdowns, and the visiting team's offense is frustrated by a solid performance by the home team's defense, which allowed 102 yards of total offense and forced five three-and-out series.

After one such series, for the second time in four days, I saw (or in this case, heard) something I've never ever seen before at a football game: Cheerleaders talking shit. To their own team.

"We're over here screaming our heads off and you guys aren't doing a thing out there!" one yelled.

A few seconds later after the ball was punted, most of the players on the sideline lingered near the original line of scrimmage.

"Hey guys," another yelled, "the ball's down there!"


And the crazy thing about all this? Just last week - before Friday night - I was thinking how it seems I never see anything different at a football game.

Guess I won't be thinking that this Thursday.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Holy's been a year already?

That's been the reaction when I've told people that today is our one-year anniversary. Come to think of it, that's been my reaction, too.

It went by so quickly. But I couldn't be happier. (Warning: Gooeyness ahead.)

My wife is the yin to my yang, and basically takes care of things for us that I couldn't take care of myself - like having a home-cooked meal each night or making sure our apartment doesn't deteorate into a pigsty. (Don't get me wrong, I help in these areas when I can; but without her, I'd be lost. Like lost in a foreign country on a different continent with no grasp of the language and no map or compass - that kind of lost.)

She's also the more thoughtful, analytical of the two of us, unlike the spur-of-the-moment type that I am. I'm ready to rush into something, and she urges a cautious approach. Or I get pissed off when the Eagles play like crap, and she reminds me of some silver lining I failed to see. She seems to be a lot better at the big-picture stuff than I.

And she's humble. I can guarantee that if I weren't writing this sentence, she'd leave a comment telling everyone that I overexaggerated these claims, that I'm not as helpless as I make it seem.

She'd be wrong.

But most of all, she's the most patient, tolerant person I know. I'm a handful to live with - all the constant farting and burping and harrassing of her cat. And from time to time, I do some dumb, short-sighted things. Like the night when we went out for dinner and I stopped to buy a video game on the way home.

It was her birthday.

What the hell was I thinking? What a complete moron I can be sometimes.

But she brushed it off and seemed only slightly annoyed - which is a lot less than I can say for me, looking back on how idiotic I was.

She puts up with a sportswriter's schedule, meaning that Friday nights and alternating Sundays in the fall are non-existent. And though I try and get home early when I can, there are some nights it can't be helped. And she takes it all in stride. (I think I knew she was a keeper when she accompanied me to a couple of far-away wrestling tournaments only a few weeks after we met.) She also puts up with a sportswriter's pay, and that's not an easy deal.

She's a dream wife, and it's been a dream year.

Here's to many more. Love ya, sweetie.

(And for those of you that came out of the gooeyness a little worse for wear, this should help you out.)

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Video wall: The '90s

Back again, a bank of Brian's favorite songs, courtesy of YouTube. Now with limited commentary!

One of my favorite songs ever. Reminds me of the wintertime, since I think I overplayed it that time of year...

I completely forgot how wonderful this one was. I've been reminded and am having a blast re-discovering it - proves loud doesn't always equal good. (You'll recall I interviewed these guys in DC earlier this year and saw them play a brief set at RIR.)

Another favorite - for its musical quality, not for the story. I like my happy home!

Completely safe for work. Trust me, I previewed it. This is also the first time I ever saw the video.

This is among my very favorite songs of all-time. RIP, Layne.

Very underrated. Might be my No. 1 GNR song. A damn shame Axel lost his mind...

No better song on earth to listen to while driving down the highway.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

My candidate for Virginia's junior Senator is...

I still haven't exactly picked out who I'll vote for in two weeks. Most of our frequent visitors here are from states that aren't the Commonwealth of Virginia, so some quick background:

The incumbent is Sen. George Allen, a Republican, son of the former Redskins coach of the same name. According to, 50 of his colleagues have sponsored as much or more legislation than he has.

Of the bills he has introduced, some look pretty good - like the government providing relief to people taken hostage by terrorists, a bill that prevents Congress from being paid if appropriations acts aren't passed by a certain date - but a lot of them leave me just scratching my head.

Of his 89 pieces of legislation, four are formal congratulations to college teams that won a national championship. I know this is standard procedure - my wife's boss did much the same when Las Vegas native Kurt Busch won the Nextel Cup title a few years back - but four seems like a lot.

Furthermore, there are several bills "to suspend temporarily the duty" on all of the following, word for word from the legislation: handheld electronic can openers, electric knives, toaster ovens with single-slot traditional toaster opening on top of oven, ice shavers, dual-press sandwich makers with floating upper lid and lock, electric drink mixers with tilt mixing heads and two-speed motors, electric juice extractors greater than 300 watts but less than 400 watts, open-top electric indoor grills, electric coffee grinders, electric percolators, automatic drip coffeemakers other than those with clocks, automatic drip coffeemakers with electronic clocks, electronic under-the-cabinet mounting electric can openers and food slicers and shredders with top-mounted motors and replaceable mixing bowls.

What. The. Fuck.

If you have any sort of political inclination, you probably know that Allen was in the middle of the macaca flap, a controversy which has broiled since the temperature was hot. (The U.Va. Center for Politics' Crystal Ball gives good insight into the major moments of the race so far.)

Plus, if you'll recall, you may remember I'm not George Allen's biggest fan in the first place.

So that means I'm voting for Democrat Jim Webb, right?


Webb has made several missteps in the past, long before his Senate candidacy. They are now coming back to haunt him. According to several reports, he was pretty hostile towards women during his time in Annapolis at the U.S. Naval Academy.

If Allen's attack ads are to be believed - and I've seen no Webb counterattack to make me think otherwise - Webb was prepared to say that the late Ronald Reagan would have endorsed his candidacy. Webb served as Secretary of Navy under Reagan, but left after 10 months. He later penned a book and referred to Reagan as a fool, or some other moniker that uh, wasn't exactly glowing.

Webb pressed ahead with wanting to use Reagan's name, even after a letter from Nancy Reagan that asked him not to.

So that means I'm going with Gail Parker, the independent choice, representing the Green Party, right?


Some of her answers to this Connection Newspapers questionnaire are just baffling.

"... [B]uild[ing] rail now, right now, high-speed rail, beginning in Virginia, is an excellent long term strategy for combating terrorism."

Voters in Virginia have express [sic] dissatisfaction to me with No Child Left Behind. I strongly support education. Rail can provide rapid transit to choices in education."

Huh? Are you joking?

In that same questionnaire, she did not answer yes/no questions about same-sex marriage, net neutrality, and a guest worker program. At least Allen and Webb answered the questions, though Webb did not answer whether he believed in evolution.

So the point of it all is this:

-- I'm not voting to send someone to the Senate to be a middle-of-the-road member in terms of legislation and influence.

-- I'm not voting to send someone to the Senate who has such a persistent past of intolerance.

-- I'm not voting to send someone to the Senate who has one platform, doesn't conjugate verbs correctly and won't answer tough questions.

As a result, I'll be writing in a candidate: Santa Claus. Or maybe Lewis Black.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Why is it about me?

Matt made reference to a game review in one of his comments, and I'm happy to oblige. My two latest pickups were both from the sports genre, NASCAR 07 and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07, both from EA Sports.

Both are OK, but neither is exciting enough for me to be really pumped about them.

I'll start with Tiger, since that's the one I've played most recently - and the one that leads me to the title of this post.

Why does it have to be about me?

I've played several rounds in the PGA Tour season mode, and there are a few things that I don't get - things that don't jive with what happens over the course of a weekend of golf on the Tour.

First, regardless of my score, I always tee off last. This just doesn't happen; on Thursdays and Fridays, there's a draw to see who tees off when. And if I'm not in the lead after Friday's round, then I sure shouldn't be teeing off last.

I'd prefer a little more realism here. If I don't play well enough in the first two rounds, then I should have to sweat a little after the final round. Give me a screen that says, "Waiting for all rounds to be completed..." and let me know how I finished up.

Second, it seems as though the field tends to keep pace with however I'm playing. I played one course well, but it wasn't well enough to beat the final score - 38 under. A week later, on a harder course, I played horribly, yet the leaders hung right around even par.

Again, realism is needed. If I suck on one course, that doesn't mean the rest of the field will. If I don't play well enough, I don't make the cut. That's always how it's been, yet that's not how it is in the game.

Then, of course, there are the myriad problems that this game seems to have every year, particularly with the audio. No matter how you've played, Gary McCord likes to tell you you're tied atop the leaderboard after you hole out on 18 - even if you're not in the same ZIP code as the leaderboard. And, around the third hole of each Tour event I've played, McCord tells me it was a great/poor finish to my tournament.

This game had the same problem in the last version I bought - 2005. Surely two versions later the problem would be corrected, right? Hardly.

I keep looking for other, non-sports games that will hold my attention, but those games are pretty rare. I need something to keep me from buying another half-ass product from EA Sports.

NASCAR 07 isn't as bad on the inside, but the game's release date is. It comes near the end of the season. As a result, Elliott Sadler is on the cover. Not a problem, except Sadler changed teams in the middle of the season. So there we see him, proudly displaying that M&M's uniform when he was driving a Robert Yates Racing Ford.

Except now he's in an Evernham Motorsports Dodge. Oops.

The game included a new tryout mini-game that was supposed to help you advance to the top series, Nextel Cup, more quickly than before. Fair enough...I drove well enough that I earned a ride in the Busch series, the AAA cousin to the major-league Nextel Cup.

Except that I dominated Busch - around 15 wins, 20+ top 10s in 34 races. (Truth be told, I did as well as I did because all of the driving aids were turned on - only becuse I couldn't figure out how to turn them off. That is the absolute truth, I swear.) Cup teams would be lining up to get me in their stable, right?

Nope. I got a bunch of offers from second-tier teams. (Really, about fourth-tier teams, since they were all fictional.)

And the rival system has gotten out of hand. If I accidentally tag someone on the track, they understandably get pissed off at me. But then, if I happen to see them again, they ram into the side of my car.

If a scenario like this were to ever happen in real life, there would at least be a fine involved and many questions to answer later. Think about Tony Stewart's run-in with Clint Bowyer (and, eventually, Carl Edwards) at the July Pocono race this year.

Like Tiger, it's not a whole lot different than the game I purchased two years ago.

So, Matt, to answer your question: Ho-hum.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Google echo

It's OK to admit it - we're all friends here. We know you've done it. We know you've Googled yourself.

I do it from time to time to see, on the off chance, if any random newspaper has picked up one of my stories. I don't generally make it a habit to distribute them, but one never knows.

But I haven't done it in a while. So let's go visit a search a couple different places and see what comes up. First off, from our friends at Google. Brian Hunsicker comes up with...

-- A pretty decent high school running back in Alaska.

-- Vice President/Convention of the Underground Utility Contractors of Florida.

-- A member of the 2002 Dordt College men's tennis team. (Someday, I will have my revenge, Shane Tukker.)

-- Hey, that football player wrestles, too.

-- Ninety-third place finisher in the 27th Annual ISL Boys Cross Country championships. (How in the hell did I finish that high?!)

-- A member of the board of directors of the Florida Concrete Pipe Institute. (I'm all about construction in Florida.)

-- A letterman in 1979 for the Central Florida football team.

-- A somewhat accomplished fisherman.

-- A bassist/vocalist for the band Bodega.

Damn. I've done some stuff.

I was going to list Blogger search results, but there were only four of them - three of which were actually about me. Metasearch engine Dogpile came up with much the same thing as Google.

So there you go. And you thought you knew me...

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

One of THOSE days

Hey, golf's fun no matter when you do it, right? Why let a little rain dampen the party?

Well, golf in the rain isn't as much fun as golf in the sunshine. And covering golf in the rain sure as hell ain't as much fun as covering golf in the sunshine. Trust me. I know this now.

I was tasked with covering the Virginia State Girls Golf Open at nearby Forest Greens Golf Course. Covering yesterday would've been all right - it was sunny, after all. But covering today? Not so much.

Temps around 60. Steady rain - sometimes light, sometimes heavier, but always rain.

The tournament director is a sweet woman who will talk your ear off, and she was determined to get two days of the tournament in, come hell or high water. At times, it felt like the latter might actually be applicable. (I'm certain the raindrops on the windshield are the most notable aspect of the pic above; at the lower right, however, you'll also notice a stream of water running down the water channel er, cart path.

So off I went, driving around, trying to stay dry (and generally failing) in the trusty cart that was lent to me. Obviously, this situation wasn't as bad as for the golfers and their parents, who were walking and soaked to the core.

But I stayed 'til the bitter end and wrote down every single score, even though I knew I probably wouldn't need them all. But one of our local girls was in one of the final groups, so I didn't have much choice.

After spending nearly nine hours outside in the miserable weather, I rejoiced at the thought of heading back to the office. Bang out a story, get a little warmer, head home.

But you know better. That's not how the story goes. Otherwise it wouldn't be one of those days.

While in the office, one of our former colleagues calls to let us know he was watching ESPN and an Atlanta Falcons offensive lineman was suspended for four games for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. That might seem irrelevant, but considering he grew up and went to high school in our county...

Balls. So much for getting home in time to see The Simpsons.

I try to patch together a story on what we know, which isn't much. Per the Falcons' Web site, this was the sum total of the NFL announcement:

"Matt Lehr of the Atlanta Falcons has been suspended without pay for the team's next four games for violating the NFL Policy on Anabolic Steroids and Related Substances. The suspension begins immediately. Lehr will be eligible to return to the Falcons' active roster on Monday, November 13."

So there's that. And that ain't much. So we get some background - three-year starter at Virginia Tech, drafted by Dallas, signed as a UFA with Atlanta in '04 - and make it sound pretty. Give some notice about the timing (he's back in time for a game with Baltimore, two weeks before Atlanta comes to DC), make the obligatory call to his agent.

But it's something, and I was able to whip it together in 30 minutes.

I figure when I leave the office, I'll be able to whip something together at home to eat - since by now, it's been about seven hours since I had any sustenance. But then I come to my senses and I realize I'm a piss-poor cook when I'm not standing in front of a grill. So I opt for Subway instead.

I walk in and am really looking forward to my meatball sub. So I place my order and...

wait. And wait a little more, while my sandwich-maker disappears.

She comes back and says she's making more meatballs, and it'll take 5-10 minutes.


Fine, just give me a ham and cheese. She does and proceeds to go awfully light on the accompanying mustard and pickles. Perhaps there was something in my worn-our, exasperated expression that told her, "Damn, this dude really wants his pickles." I asked for more mustard while we were at it, too.

But the positive part of the day is that it's over. I'm here in comfy clothing, in a quiet room, just relaxing.

I gotta be honest: It's a hell of a lot better than listening to the rain go splat on the roof of a cart.