Sunday, January 27, 2008

It's that damned old rodeo

I went to a rodeo for the first time on Saturday night. My wife was out of town - staff retreat for her and the other Enzi staffers on the Eastern Shore - so I had to find a way to piss away a Saturday night.

She's gotten me in the habit of watching PBR on Sunday nights; we watch in hi-def until the hour gets too late and we're forced to retreat to the bedroom. After weeks of watching this, it begins to pique my interest.

So I'm in the office late on Friday - that's what we do, after all - and one of the photographers begins talking about this rodeo event the next day. I figure it's too late to get media credentials, so I go ahead and just buy a ticket.

It would be a stretch to say it's the best $30 I've spent. But certainly among the best $30 I've spent in the past year.

The run-up to the event itself was, pound for pound, better than NASCAR. I happened to sit next to four independent rotating lights that supplied the atmosphere for the pre-game show (so to speak). After they stopped, we were treated to an invocation and the National Anthem; too often, the former in NASCAR seems rushed and drivers are vaguely aware of it. On Saturday, it felt natural, far more so than anything I had felt at a NASCAR race.

Then various people were introduced by the emcee: the bullfighters (who, by the way, earn every freaking bit of their pay), the cowboys, the rodeo clown - a largely cermonial role that banters with the arena announcers - and the in-house color guy, a former PBR champion.

All under the cover of darkness, save for a lone spotlight pointing on these guys.

The event itself was very, very cool. The riders went off in sections, as they called them, and each was fascinating to watch. Often enough, TV doesn't do justice to what you see in person; in this case, TV had done an adequate job preparing me. It's a violent sport, to be sure.

Eight seconds goes by in a flash. I've learned that six minutes really isn't a long time unless you're on a wrestling mat; then it takes forever. The eight seconds in PBR - the difference between a scoring ride and a non-scoring one - is an eternity when you're on the back of a pissed off bull.

In one round, we saw a competitor injured when he was thrown for a loop (figuartively and literally); in an early round, we saw the bullfighters have to get in and push a bull away from a cowboy laying prone on the ground.

Watching these guys go out, time after time, was amazing. In wrestling (the non-professional kind), you have a limited chance of getting hurt; most moves are conducted low to the ground and throws aren't usually seen, even in the college ranks. But these cowboys, damn...

Imagine getting tossed off a 1,200-pound bull when you're five feet in the air.

No, thank you.

In all, it was a great night. I only wish my wife would have been there with me... oh well, she'll be home tomorrow.

At which time I'll relegate her with all my tales of a night at the rodeo.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Valium for Hank?

Hank's my buddy. I'm certain that's been made quite clear over the posts here.

We have a nightly ritual now. I tuck my wife in bed and head onto the computer.

Hank accompanies me.


He comes in here and, if I'm lucky, gets distracted by his food and realizes he's perennially hungry. Like this very moment, actually.

But more likely, he wanders around wondering where his attention is. Tonight, it's more understandable; I spent the evening in the office doing what we do. So I wasn't home. Even when I am home (most nights), I'll be sitting on the recliner. At least half the time, Hank is sitting on one armrest or the other.

Just earlier tonight - while updating the wine blog with a tangential observation - Hank meandered around the computer room, calling attention to himself.

"Meow. Meow. Meow. Meeoww? Meow. Meow. Meow. Meowwwww."

When he gets desperate - which is quite often - he leans on the chair to stand tall and uses his free front paw to tap me on the shoulder. He's done this with Lindsay as well.

I keep asking if it's time for bed and all I get back is a blank stare.

So he's in here raising hell and Grace - usually sound asleep by now - is up and about as well. When I got home, she was sitting in a corner in the bathroom, a place I've never seen her. While taking out my contacts, she decided it would be cool to grab a drink from the recently-used tub.

This despite the fact that her water bowl is nearly overflowing.

I guess I just don't get cats.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

More photos

Before you read this, read the post below or simply click this link.

More photos from Thursday:

The six Honor Guard members that carried the casket to its burial place.

The iconic rows of headstones that comprise Arlington National Cemetery.

Looking back to D one last time.

A D.C. event I would have preferred not to attend

As I've pointed out here, being in Washington and having a wife that works in the Senate affords me some interesting opportunities.

Thursday was not one of them.

One of Lindsay's former co-workers - D'Arcy Grisier, Colonel "D" as many knew him - was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. D had spent most of his life as a member of the United States Marine Corps; he was diagnosed with cancer and beat it, only to have it return and force his retirement. He joined the office of Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), where he worked with my wife.

I had met D a few times; what a cool, cool guy. He was unafraid to help a small-fry sportswriter who had the grandiose dream of writing about the biggest passenger plane on the planet. He's not credited in the story, but it was contact with him that brought about the reaction from one of Ensign's staff members, John Lopez, and made the story what it was.

So it was on Thursday that we came to celebrate D's life one final time.

He actually passed away on Nov. 2, 2007; his viewing was shortly thereafter, though his burial took more than two months. Not that it made it any easier.

Just as Thursday's snow was starting, I made the drive from our apartment to Arlington. As instructed, I informed the parking guide that I was there for a funeral; he directed me to the correct road.

Simply driving around was a surreal experience. My car has been some cool places - the infield at Richmond International Raceway, for example - but never any place like this. I have been, and I can't help but come away in awe each time.

I arrived at the Old Post Chapel well within the range that we had been told to arrive. I waited for my wife out front; yet when we walked in, nearly every pew was at capacity. We were two of many to stand throughout the service.

Upon walking in, a young Honor Guard member named Hamilton handed us a business card, or so it seemed. It was a caricature of D, his birthday and the day he died.

But what dominated the card was one of his favorite sayings, one that was frequently visible at the viewing as well: My, my, how the time flies...

I cannot look at the phrase now without choking up, a reminder of how D's 53 years did not seem nearly enough.

There were three eulogies. The first was a retired general who had worked with D; the second was his best friend since college; the final was D's father, whose voice raised and lowered with seemingly every phrase.

"You honor D with your presence," he said, and I like to think that we did. Nearly all of my adopted friends from the Ensign office were there: Scott, the former chief of staff; Jack, the former PR guy now in Vegas; Aaron, now a good cigar buddy; and Valerie, who remains good friends. Sen. Ensign was there as well; he got to sit with the family in the front.

At the end of the eulogies, two Marines entered from the back and pushed the casket out to the caisson not differently than how they brought the casket in from the hearse.
We filed out of the chapel, row by row. We were among the last.

Outside we were greeted by the sight of a Marine honor guard; my sudden realization - that I had never seen so many soldiers in one place at one time in my life - seemed absurd. They stood at attention, ignoring the now-heavy snow, even as it piled up on the brims of their hats.

We briefly discussed taking a car; Jack, Scott and Lindsay were to ride with me. Then we discovered a bus, replete with a representative from the Marine Corps, was ready to take Ensign's staff to the graveside service. Well, we were once staff, so that was close enough. We hopped on the bus.

Our driver tried to take a back road, but wound up waiting for the procession that we were actually a part of. We were the last to arrive.

Lindsay and I were near the back of the bus, so it wasn't surprising that we were among the last people to the graveside service. We were still several hundred feet away when we heard the traditional gun salute and the playing of Taps.

The snow was still heavy as we walked - past all of the parked cars clogging the narrow roads, underneath an archway that had an inspirational saying for all of armed forces. Then it was a right-hand turn through an opening between the rows of buried heroes.

We made it just in time to see the honor guard and band leaving. Their precision struck me; I compared it to seeing a NASCAR race - no matter how many times you've seen it on TV, seeing it in person brings it to a different level. The guard commander ordered his unit out through a choreographed movement to the front of the group.

The guard walked parallel to the path we had taken after the right turn (to the right of the photo at the top). Trailing the group was a barrel-chested officer who walked alone, several feet behind the band, which marched to a "left, left, left-right-left" beat on the old-style snare drum. At each drumstrike, the group's march was perfectly in alignment.

We stood around, unsure if the service had been completed; we knew for sure when several people began turning around and heading the way we had just come from.

The snow cast an eerie pall on the cemetery. Small trees were barely visible in the distance; the clouds were low and, despite the short distance to Reagan National Airport, commercial aircraft was occasionally heard but never seen. The snow provided a blanket, giving the whole cemetery a sense of calmness and serenity.

We milled around to say hello to people from the office. I got to say hello to John Lopez and other folks I hadn't seen. Sen. Ensign came through as well, and I was able to say hello to him too.

From there, we made our way back to the bus, which had moved strategically closer than it had been when it dropped us off. We were left to make sense of what had happened, thinking that our co-worker and friend was now one for the ages; that D was now one of the thousands of heroes that Arlington pays tribute to.

Me? I couldn't help but once again pray for the sacrifice that all there, living and dead, had given.

I discovered my one hope was this: that long after you and I had left this earth, that Arlington - now with D - would stand as a reminder of the courage and heroism of our country's bravest.

Friday, January 11, 2008

It's official: Sony, you suck

If you've read this blog for any length of time, you know my feelings on PlayStation3. A quick recap if you haven't been paying attention: hopeful, then disappointed, then downright angry.

Our TV, a Sony Bravia, has also worked out fine so far, so that tempered my anger a bit.

Now, I'm back to full-on rage.

Several Woot-offs ago, I bought myself a handy little Sony MP3 player. I downloaded basically every song I liked off of every CD I have; I bought a few more as well. I won't list them here, because the embarrassment factor is quite high, particularly in one case. (And no, it's not "Justify My Love," which I raved about on a long-ago video wall.)

For Christmas, my lovely wife bought me a new MP3 player with a considerably larger capacity. I haven't had a whole lot of time to get it all set up, but made a point to do so tonight.

Except there's one little problem. The new Sandisk plays MP3s.

The old Sony never did.

Instead, all the music was saved as an .oma file, which Sony refers to as ATRAC.

A little Googling turns up that ATRAC and the related .oma files are Sony proprietary. Direct conversions to MP3 - hell, even .wav files - are well nigh impossible.

I'm all about building a better mousetrap. But taking a now commonplace activity - ripping and burning MP3s for personal use - and making it so that you're stuck with one brand of devices is utter bullshit. Just like the still exorbitant price for a PS3.

Perhaps their own special format makes Sony money; good for them. But to engender anger among potential consumers seems like a rather unsafe business practice.

Sony's arrogance and stupidity will do that company in.

I, for one, am happy to participate in the process.

If I can possibly help it, Sony will not see another dime from me.

Monday, January 07, 2008

One-stop shopping

After a few failed attempts to meet up with my parents over the holiday, my wife and I finally made it earlier today - just in time to celebrate Mom's birthday.

As usual, we met in Gettysburg, Pa., a 90-minute drive for us. We head north on I-395 - almost into D.C. - but exit at the last minute onto the George Washington Parkway. We take the GW north to the Beltway, then onto I-270 north, then US-15 north from Frederick, Md. into Gettysburg. I explain the routing to get to the main point of the story.

We always pass a most unusual building on 15, not far from Thurmont, Md.

It sits just off the highway in a largely agricultural area. The building is very simple, not different from any sort of produce-for-sale shacks you'd see in a similar farming area.

What's inside the building makes it unique.

There are three signs on the outside. At the far left, it says "Wine, Beer & Liquor" - not surprising in Maryland, which has far more liberal alcohol laws than either Pennsylvania or Virginia. In the middle part of the building, the sign reads, "Gateway Market"; in smaller letters underneath, it says "Candyland."

On the right side of the building there's a third sign. Bet you didn't see this one coming. The sign reads:

"Church of Christ"

One stop for either spiritual liberation or spiritual libation.

Maybe both.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Paging Nelson Muntz; Nelson Muntz to the white courtesy phone, please

My lovely wife and I were completing some Saturday morning errand running, which included breakfast at IHOP (hey, I wasn't turning down the all-you-can-eat pancake deal) and a trip to the store. See, Safeway failed to deliver 12 or so items that we requested, forcing us to go to the store to pick up said items, which kind of defeats the whole purpose of having groceries delivered.

But I digress...

On the way from IHOP to Harris Teeter - hell no, we weren't going to Safeway! - we happened upon a normal-looking van, save for all of the lettering on the back window.

"Look honey," my good conservative wife said. "It's one of the Ron Paul crazies!"

"Should we make them feel good?" I asked.

"Sure," came the reply. So I tooted a few times as we whizzed by in the passing lane.

A few seconds later, I yelled, "Ha ha! I'm voting for Romney!" The retort wasn't all it could've been, however; it was cold and we had our windows up, meaning the comment sort of lost its effectiveness outside of the Explorer.

Still, it amused us. And we like to laugh, so the moment became an instant classic.

And for the record, I am not committed to any candidate.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Winter desolation

Happy New Year!

Barely an hour old in these parts, 2008 has arrived. We had originally planned on welcoming the new year with friends; but two bouts with the flu over the past few days eliminated that possibility.

My wife had a miserable day yesterday; just as I had on Friday. She thought she might rally for an early dinner at Clyde's, but that didn't happen. Instead, I was dispatched to pick up a movie or two and bring dinner home, which I was happy to do.

After stopping at Blockbuster, I drove the rest of the two blocks to Clyde's so we could have our dinner and eat it too, so to speak. Clyde's still has its elegant Christmas lights up, simple white strands that drop off the main wire like icicles.

Inside, everyone was in a joyous mood. The new year was nearly upon us. As I walked out, I was happy to hold the door for an older woman, who wished me a happy new year. Walking to my car, I caught a final glimpse of the beautiful lights, never noticing that I was probably underdressed for how chilly it was.

Then a thought popped into my head: How much longer would the lights be up?

Certainly not much longer. At the time, there were about 30 hours left in the holiday season; as I write this, it's less than 23.

What then?

Two and a half more months of winter, with the accompanying lower temperatures and higher snow amounts. All without the festiveness of the holiday season.

The drudgery of winter, a sort of desolation. That's how it feels now, anyway, when spring seems so far off.

It'll get better. The wrestling season will move on; before long, it'll be February and I'll be tied up for four straight Saturdays, culminating in trips to Chesapeake and Salem. Once that's over, baseball begins and spring will be at hand.


How far away it all seems.