Friday, July 28, 2006

Mad connections

Do you have one of those friends who seems to have so many connections that you can't possibly imagine knowing that many people?

I do. I don't know that I'd call him a friend, but more like an acquaintance. He's a baseball guy, but saying that feels extremely limiting. It's like buying a keg of beer and proclaiming you've got a drink. And his connections are with, well, baseball folks.

His name is David Vincent. Back in the pre-Nationals days, he was the scorekeeper for the High-A Potomac Cannons. He's a damn good scorekeeper at that, good enough that he became the primary guy when the Nationals landed in town. (He and another guy - who I would call a friend - alternate between Washington and Potomac nowadays.)

He was a longtime member of SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research. Perhaps you've heard of him or read some of his work; he is baseball's home run guru. And I mean guru. He's frequently cited by ESPN analyst Jayson Stark (like in this article from May; scroll down to "Useless Cylicality Info," three-quarters of the way down the page). When Scott Rolen was dealt from Philly to St. Louis, Dave called Jayson Stark - a former Philadelphia Inquirer baseball columnist - to get the scoop.

On the laptop he brings to the ballpark every day, there's a home-run database. I asked him once if he knew who was the oldest player to hit his first home run. I was doing a feature on a Phillies catcher who finally broke into the big leagues at age 33. I thought, if he hits a homer, he might be the oldest player ever to get his first. (A few clicks, and he found out the answer was no. Strangely, the answer to the question is Yankees pitcher Randy Johnson, who homered in 2003 at the age of 41.)

His story was intriguing enough that early last season, he told us there was going to be a little story on him in Parade magazine. I waited and waited to see the story, and it finally appeared a few weeks after he mentioned it. I asked him why it got delayed, and he said when the Parade editors found out about his database, they decided it was worth more than the short story they were planning; so he got a two-page spread instead. (The story, in the Aug. 21, 2005 edition, can be found at Parade's website.)

But this entry is supposed to be more about his connections, which are pretty amazing.

One afternoon, while whiling away time on the field waiting for the first pitch of a Nationals-Braves contest, I was chatting away with him.

"Listen," he said, "I gotta run. I have a present here for Don Sutton that I think he's going to like."

Don Sutton is in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Well, then. Far be it from me to hold him up from greeting a Hall of Famer.

Furthermore, one generally doesn't present a gift to someone that he or she doesn't know. And one doesn't know whether said gift will be appreciated or not - unless one knows the other fairly well.

This occured to me at Thursday's Nats-Giants game. While heading out of press dining after a pre-game snack, I saw Dave chatting with Giants announcer Jon Miller (if you don't know him, he also does ESPN's Sunday night games) like you or I would chat with our neighborhood bartender.

Jon Miller's not in the Hall of Fame, but he probably should be.

It also says a lot about Dave's character that he'll still stop and chat with us, even though we're among the lowest on the food chain in the Nationals' press box. He knows us, of course, and he hasn't forgotten us.

Perhaps that's the coolest thing about him.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Top five work moments

Tomorrow afternoon, I'll be taking a break from Redskins training camp preparations to go cover the Nationals-Giants series opener at RFK. It will likely be my first and only chance to ever see Barry Bonds play, for better or worse. No matter what you think of the guy, he is among the very best of baseball's all-time hitters. He's also a man that, for better or worse, defines baseball's steroid era. (The thrust of stories of tainted summers of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa would have died down a long time ago, until suspicions of Bonds raised the questions again.) I'll be going on Thursday as well, but Bonds rarely plays a day game after a night game, and Thursday's a day game.

So no matter what happens, this will be one of the days I can tell my grandkids about: I got to cover Barry Bonds. And that's always a cool feeling, knowing that you'll remember a day for years and years to come.

With that in mind, here are the top five coolest events I have ever covered:

1. Men's Final Four, Indianapolis, 2006. A no-brainer. Firsts on a number of fronts: first time I've ever flown to an assignment, first time I've ever been at an event that completely held the gaze of the sporting nation.

Two colleagues - former Pot News writer Kipp Hanley and photographer Ana Pimsler - were on the George Mason train. Kipp and Ana had driver to Dayton to cover their first- and second-round wins over North Carolina and Michigan State. I parachuted into the coverage during the Sweet 16 regional in Washington, covering their wins over Wichita State and Connecticut, one of the greatest upsets in the history of the NCAA Tournament. Watching the Patriots cut down the nets was as surreal a scene as one could imagine; the little team from Fairfax had just beaten a team with four NBA draft picks, two of whom were in the top 12.

Every day and every night was a blast. Whether we were working or out on the town, we made the most of it. While it was sad to see Mason lose in the national semifinals to eventual champ Florida, it was as good a time as one can have and still be working.

2. Presidents Cup, Gainesville, Va., 2005. Though this was perhaps the most strenuous event I'd covered, it was well worth it. The Presidents Cup is similar to the Ryder Cup, except the United States plays a team of non-European stars like Vijay Singh.

Earlier in 2005, I got a chance to play the Robert Trent Jones course where the event was held. I remember hacking around thinking it was the hardest course I'd ever played. Then, to watch some of the best golfers in the world slay the course was amazing. On one early hole, a medium-length par-3 over water with an intimidating bunker to the right, Tiger Woods hit a shot that landed 15 feet from the hole and looked as if he'd just stepped on an ant.

One hole later provided the signature moment for me. Woods, playing against two-time U.S. Open champ Retief Goosen, took on a par-5 dogleg right on the next hole. Both golfers were on the green in two. Goosen drained a 45-foot putt for eagle; Woods missed a 15-footer for eagle as the ball grazed by the hole. (Well, there was one other signature moment. The victorious U.S. team had downed a few celebratory beers before their final press conference. As they filed out of the room, I got a slap on the back. I turned around to hear, "Hey man, good to see you!" from Phil Mickelson.)

A final sad note: While taking the media/VIP bus to the course one day, we were on the same ride as Scott Verplank's parents as well as Chris DiMarco's parents. I was saddened to hear DiMarco's mom, Norma, passed away on July 4.

3. Cleveland at Baltimore, ALDS, 1996. This was my first welcome-to-the-big-leagues moment.

Our sports editor had somehow gotten credentials for the game. Being young and single with nothing better to do, I told him I would make the trip.

At one point, I stood on the field listening to a lecture on MLB salary structures with former Indians and Rangers general manager John Hart. I was part of a small pack of reporters. Among them was someone from the Sporting News, Pedro Gomez (now of ESPN, then of the Arizona Republic) and Jayson Stark (now of ESPN, then of the Philadelphia Inquirer).

The singular welcome-to-the-big-leagues moment was standing four feet from Stark while the JumboTron was playing a taped interview of Stark.

4. Pocono 500, Long Pond, Pa., 2000. Race-winner Jeremy Mayfield used a last-lap bump of NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt to win at Pocono. Earnhardt had been known for bumping people out of the way to earn a win, and Mayfield returned the favor on Pennsylvania's 2.5-mile tri-oval.

That was also one of the final times I saw Earnhardt race. I left my hometown paper in the fall of 2000, moving to Northern Virginia. I was unable to make it to the fall race at Richmond that year, and Earnhardt was killed on the final lap of the Daytona 500 the following February.

5. Green Bay at Washington, 2004. Like tomorrow's game, I knew this would be my one chance to see Brett Favre play. I had the date circled ever since the schedule was announced.

For me, Favre's most memorable moment was an incomplete pass. From near his own 20, he rolled out to his left - not the best throwing position for a right-handed quarterback. Halfway between the hash and the sideline, Favre stopped, wound up and heaved a pass downfield. The ball traveled about 80 yards in the air - a distance that few people could reach if they had a running start.

The ball fell innocently to the turf, but the buzz in the press box was unmistakable.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Paramour, 4

My wife and I are back in Lehighton, the night before the Bauer family reunion - my mom's side. Some relatives have arrived already, like my uncle Dave and aunt Kathy from Richmond. My cousin Sarah and her husband, Allen, in from Cleveland, have also arrived.

So, along with my parents, the eight of us trekked off to the west for dinner at local fave Leiby's - a place I've been to countless times through the years.

We sat in the dining room and witnessed one of the most innocently hilarious incidents I can remember.

We were seated nearest to the queue, where folks waited for a seat of their own. We were in the corner of the dining area, boxed in by a pair of families.

To my right was an extended family of about six. Grandparents, parents and a young boy of about 4 who wore a No. 48 Jimmie Johnson Shamu T-shirt. (Shamu was on the hood of Johnson's car at the recent Pepsi 400 at Daytona.) The shirt looked well worn, replete with stains from an earlier day and from the just-completed dinner.

Closer to my direct line of sight was another family of about the same size, with a few more kids and no grandparents. Among them was an adorable girl of about 4, wearing a cute sun dress.

Somehow - before I really started paying attention - the young boy and young girl got to talking in a manner consistent with how 4-year olds talk. Still, it was pretty clear the lad was smitten.

He displayed more manners than one could reasonably expect from someone four times his age. He spoke and always held his hands behind his back, perhaps thinking it was a more dignified look. Perhaps it wasn't so dignified, but at the very least, it displayed an enormous amount of courteousness.

He stood there chatting, when suddenly she was up and away to the other side of the table to talk with other family members. But he did not budge. He stood there, waiting for her return, hands still firmly behind his back.

His only movement was a slight upturn in the corner of his mouth; for an adult, picture the brief moment between thinking of a solution and finding the right way to say it.

His solution may have only been to stand there and wait for her return.

I believe - though I'm uncertain - that he did eventually venture after her to talk to her again. But by then, both parties were ready to leave.

The girls' family was up first and started heading for the exit past our table. The boys' family was just then starting to rise from their chairs, but the boy was long gone, chasing after the girl.

The boys' mother called his name - which now escapes me - and realized he was a lost cause. She started walking toward the exit and noticed we had been watching her son's love adventure.

"He's gonna try for a phone number," she said as she hurried past. We all chuckled knowingly.

The rest of the family soon followed. Grandpa walked by too.

"Heck," he said, "I think he's going for a ring size."

There's a smitten boy in dreamland somewhere around here. (I mentioned to my wife that I'd bet when he sees his boys on Monday, he'll be like, "Girls!? Ewwwwww! They're icky!" It's tough to lose face with your buddies, but deep inside we know he knows better.)

Childhood innocence is a theme for many a novel, to the point that one can say it and not bat an eye. But to see it so openly and so plainly was a real joy - something that could have only come from a young paramour.

Hey little buddy: Hope you land a play date with her real soon.

Peek inside the apartment

Because you can learn a lot from what people read.

Books on the secondary bookshelf in the computer/boys' room, in the order that they appear (x- denotes my books):
The Quiet American, Graham Greene
Living on the Couch, Irvin D. Yalom
Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt
All the Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
Bridget Jones's Diary, Helen Fielding
x-Les Miserables, Victor Hugo
Grand Expectations, James T. Patterson
Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents of the United States of America 1789-1989
The Magician's Assistant, Ann Patchett
Goodnight, Nebraska, Tom McNeal
x-Baseball for Brain Surgeons and Other Fans, Tim McCarver
Butter Midnight's Cafe, Sandra Dallas
The Shipping News, Annie Proulx
Ten Things I Wish I'd Known Before I Went Out into The Real World, Maria Shriver
Then She Found Me, Elinor Lipman
Jitterbug Perfume, Tom Robbins
Timeline, Michael Crichton
Jitterbug Perfume, Tom Robbins (again)
x-The Universal Journalist, David Randall
Moby-Dick, Herman Melville
x-For Whom The Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway
Philadelphia: Fodor's 12th Edition
x-Who's Your Caddy?, Rick Reilly
Suzanne's Diary for Nicholas, James Patterson
x-The Plot Against America, Philip Roth
Atonement, Ian McEwen
Girl With a Pearl Earring, Tracy Chevalier
Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
Alias Grace, Margaret Atwood
x-NASCAR Rematch at Richmond (children's book; freebie from RIR)

Second row:
x-ESPN, The Uncensored History, Mike Freeman
x-Pennsylvania Breweries, 2nd Edition, Lew Bryson
x-Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
x-The Numbers Game, Alan Schwarz
x-Killing Yourself to Live, Chuck Klosterman
Diplomacy, Henry Kissinger
Personal History, Katherine Graham
Enduring Love, Ian McEwen
Songs in Ordinary Time, Mary McGarry Morris
The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
Hearse of a Different Color, Tim Cockey
Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold
Dublin (travel guide)
Before Women had Wings, Connie May Fowler
x-The Elephants of Style, Bill Walsh
x-Strunk and White's Elements of Style
x-The American Tradition in Literature (multiple eds.)
x-Seven Barrel Brewery Brewer's Handbook, Noonan, Redman, Russell
AAA Mid-Atlantic (travel guide)
The Widow Killer, Pavel Kohout
The Debt to Pleasure, John Lanchester
x- Home of the Game, The Story of Camden Yards, Thom Loverro
x- Coaching Football, Tom Flores
x- The Junction Boys, Jim Dent
x- A Family History (The Sopranos), Allen Rucker
x- U.S. Special Forces, Southworth and Tanner

Third Row:
Forced Exit, Wesley J. Smith
x- October 1964, David Halberstam
x- Style, Joseph M. Williams
x- The Compact History of the Civil War, R. Earnest Dupuy and Trevor Nevitt Dupuy
Richer By Far, Elizabeth C. Main
The Honk and Holler Opening Soon, Billie Letts
x-Sports Illustrated: Fifty Years of Great Writing (multiple eds.)
The Crimson Pedal and The White, Michael Faber
Still Life with Woodpecker, Tom Robbins
The Inn at Lake Devine, Elinor Lipman
The Reader, Bernhard Schlink
Chocolat, Joanne Harris
Barrel Fever, David Sedaris
A Year In Provence, Peter Mayle
The Protest State, Ethan Hawke
x- The Jungle, Upton Sinclair
Like Water in Chocolate, Laura Esquirel
Yellow Jack, Josh Russell
Another Roadside Attraction, Tom Robbins
Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier

There's more back there, but they're buried behind a small speaker. Though I had enough motivation to type out damn near every book on the shelf, I'm not that motivated.

And perhaps that tells you more than what's on the bookshelf.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Cool jobs, huh?

Those who know me - or those who cared to look the very first entry on here - know that I'm a sports writer. Since this doesn't really travel beyond friends and family, most know that my wife works on Capitol Hill for Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.).

Sounds like a couple of decent gigs, right? Get paid to watch games. Play a central role in the power base of the United States.

If only it were so easy.

The problem with being a sportswriter is that your job is a hobby for everyone else. When the rest of the world wants to get away from their job, many watch a game; when I want to get away from my job ...

Well, that's where I run into problems. I'm constantly in search of another place to spend my time when I'm not at the office (besides spending it with my wonderful wife, of course).

It's to the point that save for a few things - the Super Bowl, the NCAA men's basketball title game and perhaps the Daytona 500 - I can't watch a sporting event from start to finish. I just don't care that much. That's why you're just as likely to see me watching the History Channel, Discovery or the Science Channel as ESPNews.

At softball today, I was talking with one of our newer members who didn't know what I did for a living. After explaining it to him, he said, "Wow, that's not too bad of a job."

And he's right. It's far, far, far away from the worst job. But as I told him, it gets old quicker than one might think.

Everyone associates going to a game with relaxation. To us, it's work. I obviously can't have a beer during the game; I certainly can't cheer; and I head to the bathroom during the game at my own peril (what if the game-deciding play happens while I'm taking a whiz?). I can't really be bullshitting with friends, you know?

Again, I do realize I have a job that makes others envious. And I can't possibly say it's a miserable job; but - like any other - it's just a job.

For my wife, working on the Hill seems less like a job and more like a lifestyle choice.

On Monday night, she got home at 10 p.m. - after starting her day at 7 a.m. By her count, she's already got 51 hours in this week - with a full workday left. I asked her how she would characterize the week, compared to others.

"Bad," she said in a measured tone, adding to the emphasis.

Off-the-charts bad?

"No," she said, "because there were two nights I simply had to leave [because of other commitments]."

The novelty of where she works wears off quickly (sound familiar?). Visiting colleagues on the House side requires a trip through the Capitol. The building that so many visitors come to see is, for her, a thoroughfare and some office space.

In a few of those 51 hours, she spent time in a meeting with other staff, her boss and five other Senators, including Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.). During one late night, she and others were the beneficiaries of a dinner bought by Pennsylvania's Rick Santorum in the Senate cafeteria.

That's the cool part of it - going to the game, so to speak. But there's a tricky balance too: She must do what's best for Nevadans in policy terms, while understanding there is a certain political nuance to her entire job. What other Senators will want the same policy as her boss? Who won't? etc.

And the long hours of it all should be pretty plain, too.

But these are the jobs we've chosen. It's hard to be particularly bitter about them; at the same time, it's sometimes hard to convince others that they're nowhere as glamorous as they may seem.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

NCAA '07: Not in my possession

For the first time in a long time, I came home empty-handed tonight.

Today was the day EA Sports' annual NCAA Football '07 hit the stores, and in the recent past, I've made it a point to have the game in my hand on the day it was released.

But today, obviously, I don't.

I don't know what's wrong. In previous years, I'd have known what the new features were and what was new and different about this year's edition. And I'd have known that long before the game actually came out.

This year, it just didn't occur to me. I hadn't even really thought much of it until I saw a thread on Even then, I did some preliminary review reading, and didn't come away wholly impressed.

There are some root causes, I suppose. First, part of it stems from my lingering bitterness towards Sony for the B.S. they're trying to pull with PlayStation3 (I have a full entry on it here). Secondly, I'm a bit soured on EA Sports for their last offering, NFL Head Coach, which fell short of the lofty expectations I had for it. That was supposed to be my dream game, where I could make like mad scientist and outthink the football world; instead, it's a game that anyone could play.

But I don't know if that fully explains everything. It's weird that suddenly I am so apathetic towards something that, not long ago, was a big, big deal.

I suppose I'll get it at some point.

And to think I would have ever said that about a NCAA football game.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Wanted to pass this along...

Oregon State baseball player Rob Summers, my wife's cousin, remains in serious condition after an apparent hit and run.

The story from OSU's website.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Him? Wrong Shill

I've got to know: Who in North Korea decided it would be a good idea to let this guy run the place?

Parade Magazine ranks Kim Jong-il No. 2 among the world's worst dictators. American comedians likely rank him No. 1 among the world's easiest-to-mock bad guys.

Obviously, there's a lot not to like about him. The lack of press freedom, along with the absolute lack of personal freedom and the enduring hardships the North Korean people must endure - all items cited in the Parade ranking.

Since people in his own country can't tweak the guy, I'm happy to do the honor.

First off, find some clothes that fit. That jacket looks to be in the same shape as a medium shirt on my fat ass. (Though perhaps the zipper knows that if it should break, causing great public embarrassment to the mighty dictator, they could be subject to one of his re-education camps. "You will learn, insolent zipper!!")

In fact, find some clothes, period. YOU RUN THE DAMN COUNTRY. Can't you tell someone to pick you up some worthwhile threads?

At least Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - though equally shady - has a bit of fashion sense about him. Kim, next time you're complaining to him about that crappy missile test, ask him if he knows a good taylor in Uzbekistan.

One last note about fashion: Ditch those dopey sunglasses. Perhaps you think they give you an air of badass. They don't. You're 63; get the flip-down kind.

Secondly, do something with the hair. I know you think all of us Americans are stupid, but we're smart enough to know that on a head, skin + sudden, full hair = sure sign of a rug. Instead, that thing atop your head looks like sat on a top hat and declared it fit to wear.

Perhaps you think it does something to distinguish you. Again, you run the damn country. People should know who you are. (People who can't stand President Bush could surely pick him out in a crowd.)

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, loosen up. I saw a TV clip of you recently; you were applauding as your troops marched in front of you. And the way they were walking - not the standard lockstep formation of the U.S., but a step-kick, step-kick - you had better applaud them for making them walk in public in such a silly fashion.

Look, most of the world is split on the tensions in the Middle East. Some say Israel is the aggressor, while others believe it's the fault of Hamas, Hezbollah and the countries that support them. Fair enough. But everyone else in the world thinks you need a tall, frosty glass of STFU.

The leaders at the G8 summit can't agree on the four seasons, but they think you're silly. Yet you persist on flexing your muscles; in your funhouse mirror, you look like this guy. The rest of the world sees you as you are - this guy.

Give it up already.

(Photo from Yahoo via AFP, sorry for not putting that earlier)

Saturday, July 15, 2006

How about this heat?

OK, I don't want to sound like the asshole in Denis Leary's wonderful song. But the current summertime weather is worth writing about.

It's a sort of misery-loves-company thing for my east coast pals, and an explanation-that-falls-well-short thing for my west coast folks.

The pic above was taken Saturday morning. When I walked out of the bedroom into the living room - the whole place maintaining a comfortable 70 degrees or so - that's what I saw. When we finally turned on the Weather Channel, we finally saw the temperature was in the low 70s with a dewpoint at 76. (A dewpoint at 70 is considered oppressive humidity; at 76, our relative humidity worked out to 80 percent.)

So, naturally, with the disparity between outside and inside, condensation forms outside. (I think it's why your beer mug sweats, but I'm no scientist so don't quote me on that.)

What a contrast from the west coast. It may have hit 90 a few times, but generally it was in the 80s with negligible humidity. Walking around was comfortable, and golfing was picture perfect.

At our softball game on Thursday, the humidity wasn't quite so bad, but pretty close. I wound up walking a pretty good distance along the Mall to get to our field (needlessly, but that was no one's fault). By the time I got to our spot, I had a sweat ring in my old, beat-up Arsenal hat.

Our next softball game is going to be miserable, as is most of next week. Here's the forecast, thanks to DC's ABC 7:

Monday: Hot, humid. High: 98. Low: 75.
Tuesday: Hot, humid. High: 98. Low: 76.
Wednesday: Hot, humid. High: 96. Low: 76.
Thursday: Hot, humid. High: 95. Low: 77.
Friday: Hot, humid. High: 95. Low: 75.

That ain't gonna be pretty. I might actually have to forego some beer in sake of water.

Perish the thought.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Beer goggles, kinda

This was too good not to write about.

Softball captain - and occasional commenter on here (where have you gone?) - Donna "The One In Charge" Russell shows off her new eyewear.

It should be pretty obvious they're martini glasses. She's not some fashion outcast, you know.

While on vacation, my wife and I stumbled into a sunglasses place in downtown Bend. After deciding that I really couldn't afford a $300 pair of Oakleys, we happened upon these bad boys. Immediately we thought of our good friend Donna, who could drink me under the table any day.

And that's saying something. I admire her for that.

They were a little easier on the wallet, too.

I knew the reaction would be a keeper too, and it was. We had mentioned we were passing through Corvallis and would probably pop by the bookstore. She had requested a shirt that simply said "Beavers" but we were unable to find anything like, despite our search. (We got her a "Beaver Believer" shirt instead. I don't know if it conveys quite the same message, but we tried our best.)

The T-shirt was rolled up. Donna knew of the shirt, but not the secondary surprise gift, the glasses. She unfurled it and her eyes widened.

"OH. MY. GAWD." (Forgive her, she's from upstate New York. And she's a Mets fan. Poor girl. Not that I'm bitter. Of course not. Damn Phillies.)

That's what makes gift-giving better than receiving, the wonderful reaction you get when the present is revealed. I'm glad Donna liked the glasses.

They fit her face pretty well. They fit her fun-loving personality perfectly.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

GT pics

The Ride of My Life, Part I post has been updated with two pics from my phone.

They should be pretty self-explanatory.

Back in the saddle again

I should admit that I wrote the previous post about Mt. Bachelor was written entirely from home. Yup, we're back, vacation is over, and in a few hours I'll be back at the grindstone.

My poor wife is already at the grindstone. She's one of those people who needs a set amount of sleep each night, so I can only imagine how she's feeling after five hours of sleep.

Me? My average is six, and I do pretty well with that. But I'm working on five, after getting to bed at a still-normal time for me (just after 3 a.m.) but finding myself unable to fall asleep despite the fact that I was freaking tired. So here I am.

And I'm still freaking tired.

Oh well, early to bed tonight. We'll make up for it somehow.

The ride of my life, Part II

Though nowhere near as fast as Part I, Part II - on the same day - was equally as breathtaking.

While touring with my wife and my parents through Deschutes County's mountainous regions, we took a drive into Mt. Bachelor to look around. We had been tipped off earlier in the day that sightseeing expeditions were available.

With three of the four of us in favor of seeing what the mountain had to offer - my mom abstained, as she's even more afraid of heights than I am - we stopped to see what was happening.

For a $15 ticket, we received two chairlift rides that led straight to the summit - 9,065 feet above sea level.

The first chair was rather tame and took us halfway up the mountain. To get to the second chair, we walked down a short hill past a bank of remaining snow that was a foot deep.

The second chair was far more dramatic, climbing steeper than the first. After a 10-minute ride on the second chair, we reached the top.

The top of the mountain was mostly flat, though there was a trail to the peak. Hell, it was hard enough getting used to my in-laws' house at 4,100 feet, so that was out of the question. (Plus, I remembered an experience from a summer trip to the top of the Heavenly ski resort at Lake Tahoe last year. The top there was very near 10,000 feet, and walking up a short flight of stairs felt like I was running a marathon. Granted, I'm fat and out of shape, but not that fat and out of shape.)

Viewing conditions were perfect. Out in the distance from our southerly viewpoint, we could see Mt. Shasta - in California, some 225 miles away according to Mapquest. Several other peaks were visible as well, but Shasta caused the most stir. Multiple employees remarked if we could see that far, it was a damn good day.

When we had taken all of the pictures we could, we made our way back to the chairlift for the ride down. And that's when my fear of heights kicked in.

We boarded near where we had exited earlier. The chairlift slowly made its way through the housing. Suddenly, as we came out of the building, we looked straight out and began a 45-degree drop. Gulp. It was like we jumped off the side of the mountain.

Once I got past that, I was afforded a stunning view of nearby Broken Top, from a similar angle to this USGS photo. (And if there's a word that carries more weight and oomph than "stunning," its use is appropriate here.)

Going up at Heavenly was a wonderful experience and a higher trip than the Bachelor summit, but the viewing was limited. Sure, the views of Lake Tahoe were unmatched; but mountains of a similar height existed on the California side of the lake. So it was like looking into a vast valley.

The top of Bachelor was altogether different. It was a trip we all agreed was worth taking, and one we'd do again in a heartbeat.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The ride of my life, Part I

After dropping off my mom and dad at their hotel, I knew what awaited me.

And, in retrospect, I had no idea what awaited me.

We drove over to Robberson Ford to visit my wife's uncle, Jeff Robberson, who owns the dealership. He had promised me a ride in a Ford GT. (I encourage you to follow the link and read about this car.)

A few highlights from there: The engine is a 550-horsepower V-8. Zero to 60 in 3.9 seconds. Base price is $153,345.

So this was some serious stuff.

I managed to climb in, despite the fact that the doors are unusual and the car sits about six inches off the ground. Jeff turns on the car, and it sounded like someone had said, "Gentleman, start your engine!" Imagine a Nextel Cup car with a muffler, and that's about what this beast sounded like.

It drove like it too, and looked even better. Random employees and customers who happened to be outside watched as Jeff and I backed up in this thing. He rolled out of the parking lot and onto a side street.

From there, we pulled onto a main street. Whoosh. The power was incredible, or so it felt. But since the dealership is essentially in the middle of Bend, there was little to showcase.

So we took a few turns and found ourselves in the country. Jeff pulled out onto one road and, literally, it felt like we were on a plane rolling down the runway. Easily the most acceleration I had ever felt in a car.

"And that," Jeff said, "was with the gas pedal halfway."

Getting from the posted speed to a speed legal on the Autobahn took just longer than the snap of a finger. On one road, we were behind another driver going about 40; a clear passing lane lay ahead, as did a straight patch of road.

Whoosh. Within about a second and a half, we were 100 feet past the car. That whistling sound was the supercharger kicking in, and the dashboard even had a gauge for how much power it was providing.

Finally, we came to the Holy Grail: a desolate, smooth road with no traffic. Jeff pulled out and gunned it.

Remember that feeling of being on the runway? Double it. My head hit the back of the seat as he shifted from second to third.

I think we peaked at 130 before jamming on the brakes to take a gentle turn where the suggested speed was 45.

This car will be making an appearance in public in the coming week, as downtown Bend will be the site of a bike race. The GT will lead the bikers around the downtown circuit for a few laps before giving way to a motorcycle.

Not long after the back-country dragstrip, we happened upon one of the teams practicing for the event. The group of 10 or so rode in a pack, and were identifiable by the red shirts they all wore.

Jeff gave them a treat. Pulling onto the road and gunning the racy engine, Jeff and I quickly flew past the team, which was traveling in the opposite direction.

Jeff later said he looked in the mirror and saw half of them looking back, wondering what in the hell just went by.

That was a common theme for the day. People notice when they see a bad-ass car on the road.

I can assure you, that ride was bad ass.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Scratched from my start (excessive alcohol intake)

There was no update last night for a simple reason: I drank. A lot.

Last night was the primary purpose for our trip to Oregon: our west-coast reception for the folks who couldn't make the trip to D.C. in October.

This reception, as one could imagine, was a lot easier and more relaxed than October. There were no worries about actually getting married and little details like that (it's a joke honey, I know you're reading).

So I took advantage. With a full complement of Mirror Pond Pale Ale and Twilight Ale, I indulged in both. A lot. I couldn't keep track, but the bottle count was easily into double digits; and drinking like that can put even the fattest guys away.

I was no exception. Any entry by me would have along the lines of:

"Adsajkdsjda;dsadjsafdasjk party. Euiorewquioprew beer. Ccn.vcxz.m,nznmc friends and family. 67ttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttt"

(That last 67t... would have been my face falling flat on the keyboard.)

But enough of what would have been, and on to what was: The reception was a blast, and it was cool to see some people that I hadn't seen since last year's shower. (A funny note about last year: The wedding shower turned into a real shower when a set of sprinklers accidentally went off beneath one table.)

No zany incidents on Saturday night, just a lot of fun, friends and family.

And a lot of beer, too.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

The vastness of the West

Looking out the window in my in-laws' computer room/office, there's a nice view of downtown Bend, Ore. Where this same topography back home, I'm fairly certain I could see at least two other distinct communities and one political border.

You'll recall an evening at the races a few nights ago. The races were held in Prineville; a 40-minute drive from Bend but, by all accounts, one of Bend's neighboring cities. Drives to other neighboring towns are 23 minutes (a simple city-to-city search on Mapquest from Bend to Redmond) and 29 minutes (ditto for Sisters).

My commute, door to door in normal traffic, takes no more than 25 minutes and goes through three different jurisdictions.

Even growing up, a 20-minute drive in nearly any direction from Lehighton, Pa., would take one through at least two other towns. (The one exception would be west along PA-443, where farmland dominates until one reaches Tamaqua.)

That seems to be prevalent throughout the west. Starting on the Southern California coast, one can drive an hour to the east and still be within the City of Los Angeles. It's a three-hour drive from Portland to Seattle, though Portland nuzzles the Washington border and Seattle is nowhere near the northernmost point in the state. (It's another three hours from Portland to Bend.)

A three-hour drive north from D.C. would put you near Philadelphia. But you'd have passed through three states (possibly four, if you start in Virginia). A three-hour drive straight south on I-95 should get you into North Carolina - and that seems like a damn long way away.

But that's life in West. It puts a hurting on my border geekiness, but given the dramatic views and wonderful scenery, I could deal with it.

Friday, July 07, 2006


As has become tradition when my wife and I visit Oregon, we ventured out to play a round of golf with my in-laws. The golf usually happens at Awbrey Glen, a nearby golf club that my in-laws belong to.

And as has become tradition with my golf game, there are memorable shots and there are forgettable shots - often more the latter than the former.

But by my horrible standards, today was a good day. I managed to play a string of six holes without losing a ball; of course, that streak ended the shot after I mentioned it to my father-in-law.

I hit my 7-iron particularly well, so much so that I considered hitting it for every shot, regardless of where I was. Teeing off on a par-5? I'll take the seven. No, the seven IRON. Thanks.

The round ended fairly well, I think. On No. 18, a downhill, dogleg-left par-5, I pulled out a driver for the tee shot. That was no small decision, considering every drive I hit sliced well right or, in one case, hooked well left.

But I made a conscious decision to let the club do all of the work, and not put any more effort into the swing than was absolutely necessary. I figured all of the mistakes happen when I try to put some muscle into the swing, so by removing that, the ball might actually go straight.

It did. The drive was short, even by an 11-year-old's standards, but it was straight. I pulled a 5-wood for the second shot, which was made more difficult by a large tree about 15 yards in front of me. Still, there was plenty of leeway around it to the fairway.

With my second minimalist swing, the ball again flew straight. But the club choice was a little bigger than I needed, and the ball caught the right rough. Still a good 190 yards away, I opted to try the 5-wood again.

That is when things took a turn.

The ball left the club beatifully, a nice trajectory headed to the green. But the flight path was interrupted by yet another poorly-placed tree and ricocheted off to the right. The ball, by all practical measures, was out of bounds, even if it technically wasn't.

But hey, this ain't the Masters, so I picked up the ball and tossed it back into the fairway.

I was left with a middle iron to the green. I pulled the appopriate club and shot. The trajectory was again pretty; but somehow, the ball managed to come off the club at a 45-degree angle. So instead of putting, I would again scrounge the woods to the right.

Instead, I sacrificed the ball to the golf gods and called it a day. I watched as the remaining three closed out their rounds.

I remarked to my wife later on that had I kept score, I would have written: S-S-S-S-S-S-S-S-S-S-S-S-S-S-S-S-S-S.

"S," of course, shorthand for suck.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Beaver backer, part II

An interesting, by-chance happening from earlier in the trip:

After our visit to the Oregon coast, we made our way east to my wife's hometown. We found a convienent stopping point to meet one of her old college pals: Corvallis, Ore., home to Oregon State University.

We arrived well in advance of her friend Sandy, so we took a tour of campus. Before heading to the bookstore, we happened upon Reser Stadium, where the Beavers play football. Figuring that I may never be back to Corvallis, my wife stopped the car and I got out to snap a few photos.

As I walked towards one side gate, a burly guy walked just ahead of me.

"You taking some pictures?" he asked. I told him I was.

"Follow me," he said.

So I did, and we walked to a nearby building. It immediately dawned on me that the guy had connections when we walked through a set of double doors that had a sign overhead that read, "TEAM ENTRANCE".

I followed him up three flights of stairs and through a door. Suddenly, I was in Oregon State's locker room.

As one can imagine, the place was immense. I guesstimated to him it was about four times bigger than our weight room back at my little Division III school - a weight room that served the entire college. The amount of machines they had was incredible; squat racks had their own little wooden floorboard, emblazoned with the Oregon State logo.

At the front of the weight room was a series of windows that looked out onto the field. I snapped several photos from there - only because I had trouble finding the right angle so the flash wouldn't bounce off the window and become part of the image.

Various other burly dudes wandered around and, thankfully, didn't seem to mind that I snapped a few shots of their work area too.

I thanked my burly friend from the street. What a cool place to visit.

"I got one more place for you," he said.

We walked down a different set of stairs, through another door and popped out into the Beavers' locker room. Most of the stalls were empty, but a few had black-and-orange shoulder pads with various other locker room paraphernalia - tape, cleats and the like. Every 25 feet or so above the lockers was a flat-screen TV. (Our D-III locker room seemed to be of comparable size, but we only had an FM radio.)

My tour guide, who happened to be an academic advisor, showed me the way out of the building. Outside was one of the players, wide receiver Marcel Love, chatting on his cell phone with his dad. My tour guide asked if I'd want a pic with Love, and I said sure - though I felt bad about interrupting his conversation with his dad.

The photos were snapped, though apparently he didn't hold down the button long enough. So the photo op became a memory only.

But what a cool memory - all of them.

Tayo's Tiger, you suck

While unwinding with the Oregon family, we briefly mentioned this blog and how Wednesday night would make an interesting addition.

"I don't know how," my father-in-law said, "you're going to tell people about horse racing in Prineville, Oregon."

Well, here goes.

The 2006 IronHorse Races (named because of sponsorship, not because of any trait the horses shared) are being held at the Crook County Fairgrounds in Prineville. They're a once-a-year deal there, a four-night card with horses from around the Northwest.

Wednesday night was the first night of racing, and happened to be sponsored by Robberson Ford, a dealer with locations in Prineville and Bend, 40 minutes away and the place where my in-laws reside. This is important because my wife's grandfather, Gordon Robberson, was the dealership's owner until his death last fall. Now her uncle, Jeff Robberson, runs the dealership. (I asked Jeff about the chance of buying a sweet Ford GT40 and how much it would cost. "Well, about $170,000," he replied. "Any chance I could get it for, oh, $25,000?" I asked. "I'll give it to you for 169. Nine. Ninety," he said.)

So it is with this backdrop I found myself laying money on horses I'd never heard of from places I'd never heard of.

The track was dirt and framed by a mountain range in the background. The place was pure country - meant in a good way - as cowboy hats far outnumbered NASCAR hats. There was no permanent camera installed for photo finishes; instead, a older man shot the winning horse as it crossed the finish line.

Pimlico, it wasn't.

But my recent poor performance of betting on horses - whether in Charles Town, W.Va. or Dover, Del. or Prineville, Ore. - continued. After betting wins and places for the first two races, I went bigger for the fourth race, the Gordy Robberson Memorial. I had a trifecta box for the 1, 2, and 5 horses - Zee Chalupa, Flying Cisvo and Meadow Slew.

Of course, the No. 3, Tayo's Tiger, went and screwed everything up, taking second.

My money bleeding continued through the fifth race and seemed destined for the sixth, as well. Gamely, I made a final trip to the betting window for a last chance at a trifecta. For some reason, I told the woman the wrong amount; the computer wouldn't allow her to put in a $1 trifecta (I meant $1 on each horse for a $3 total bet). She asked a colleague for help, and the colleague boxed the trifecta - precisely what I didn't want.

My wife insisted I buy another ticket with the trifecta only, so I did.

I ate my words as the screw-up paid off. The box worked to perfection, and allowed me to recoup $19. Had the first and second horses finished in the reverse order, I would have hit the trifecta ticket too, for the princely sum of $57.

An interesting night all around. A week ago, I didn't think I'd be betting on horses in Prineville, but I suppose there's a first time for everything.

Explained well enough for you?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Another drink? Why yes, I think I will

I love coming to Oregon, because that means I spend time with my new, extended family. And our time here is a celebration, something to be enjoyed.

So the typical day here goes like this: Wake up, small breakfast, get dressed, have lunch, various afternoon activities, visit someone for dinner, enjoy a nightcap. Or several.

Most late nights are spent on my in-laws' back deck, which affords a beautiful view of downtown Bend, Ore. We sit around and tell stories and shoot the breeze, all while enjoying some high-quality Oregon wine or, in my case, a bottle of an offering from local favorite Deschutes Brewery (

Tonight was especially cool, as one can imagine, with the Independence Day fireworks visible just over the left edge of the deck.

It followed a dinner - for quite a few families - at the house of one of my father-in-law's colleagues. We set off some smaller fireworks in the nearby street while waving around the sparse, incoming traffic. One driver was even courteous enough to stop and turn off his headlights (imagine that in D.C.).

At the dinner, I liked to tell folks that I enjoyed Oregon a lot because if I were here, that meant I wasn't at work.

Truth be told, I enjoy being here because my new, extended family is a blast to hang out with.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Crickets? Hello?

Shame on me for not having entered anything in here for a while ... so much so that I wonder if even the crickets have left.

Not to worry, though, as I'm on back on track and will be sharing anecdotes and stories about our vacation.

We're currently in Oregon visiting the in-laws and absolutely enjoying our time here. My wife has quickly adjusted to the Pacific time zone; she's still in bed while I am up, typing at 7:13 a.m. (10:13 back home).

Getting to Portland was an interesting experience. We flew out of BWI - which is really nowhere near our house in No.Va., but offered us the best flight options - at 7 a.m. on Saturday. We didn't actually leave the gate until nearly an hour later; the pilot explained to us there were conflicting readings on a guage in the cockpit.

The guage that manages the, uh, waste aboard.

So, rather than fly across the country with tanks full of crap - literally - we waited for a technician to make sure we really were free and clear. Once we were, off we went.

We had a smooth and easy flight and got a wonderful view of Hoover Dam off in the distance, headed for our layover point in Las Vegas.

Our layover was scheduled to be a long one - three hours - but became 2.5 hours because of the delay in Baltimore. Still, given the lack of lines at the security area and the lack of lines at the taxi stand, we were able to flag a cab and do a mini-tour of Vegas.

Now I understand why it's such a destination. The spectacle of Las Vegas Boulevard - the Strip - is truly unrivaled. The gardens in front of Caesar's were amazing; unfortunately, there was no water show in front. I can only imagine what that must be like.

We motored past random places like New York, New York; Paris; and the Hard Rock. The scene-stealer was Wynn, Steve Wynn's brand-new megacasino. Our cab driver told us it was built at a cost of $2.2 billion. And out back is Wynn's 18-hole golf course; it's a sweet comp if you can pull it off. For the rest of us, it'll cost $500 a round.

Putting that in perspective, a round at Pebble Beach costs between $250-300.

But it's Vegas, and everything is oversized in Vegas. I guess golf isn't any different.