Camptathalon 2018

Since I already “spoiled” the Camptathalon big picture, I figure I might as well post the Official Camptathalon Log sooner than usual. Usually this works as a wonderful retrospective of the fun and frivolity of a weekend-long competition. This year, it’s a half-completed afterthought. There are very few things more awe-inspiring than my drunken wit, but I suppose bears and fires are two of them. Damn you, Nature!

By the way, “Chris” is the noob this time around. His first Camptathalon. Regular readers will note there has also been a “Chris” in previous years. That Chris couldn’t make it this year, so we replaced him with another Chris. Like when soap operas change the actor for a character and hope nobody will notice. We like consistency. If I ever miss Camptathalon, they’ll have to find some other marsupial to take my place.

Friday:
5:45 So much for this being the only place in California that isn’t on fire.
drive in3
6:05 Tony, Chris, and Rick arrive.
6:40 Swisher Sweets, cause we be fancy
6:42 Wisconsin Lunch Box and Official Camptathalon Flag are present, but cannot be unfurled yet. Backstage, waiting for the Opening Ceremonies.
7:10 Sparky arrives.
7:23 Chris: “Who brought that 49ers cooler? I might have to piss on that.”
7:24 Chris’s first official timestamp. Camptathalon Cherry broken.
7:41 Pink axe, cause we be fancy.
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7:50 Trophy presented.
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7:55 Flag is up.
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7:57 Chris: “I’m a Clamper. Can I take a picture of that? Some people don’t like their picture taken.”
8:00 Camptathalon 2018 opens with Official Toast.

8:03 Chili is served. But no beans, so it’s not real chili.
8:04 Chili Cook: “Fuck you, asshole!”
8:20 Shit, they don’t take checks here. Do we have enough cash?
8:26 Pissed about cash. Write “Praise Allah” on the envelope.
8:28 Nothing says Manly Camping Trip like “Friday I’m in Love,” by the Cure.
8:29 Never mind. Richard Marx came on next.
8:30 This is Don Henley, you Dumbass.
8:31 Rick busts out the spelunking lamp.
8:32 Chris: “I usually don’t go to touristy camping spots like this.”
8:36 Upper Deck 1990 Baseball Cards opened. Fortunately the toilet is a vault, so we can’t have a celebratory upper decker.
8:37 “I hope I find the 1990s Rockies Hologram.” “Keep looking, Rick.” (Editor’s Note: The Rockies did not exist until 1993.)
8:43 Poker. Whiskey. Which will be finished first?
9:30 Rick confirms that the Loser Libation is in the category of: Beer.
9:37 “Can you hand me the Pube?”
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9:45 Turning in all the white (25-cent) chips. “Somewhere, Al Sharpton is having a wet dream.”
9:54 Rick and Tony in dead heat for Loser Libation.
10:16 Tony “wins” the Loser Libation, which is… A 40 oz. Bud Ice.
10:20 Instead of whiskey with a beer chaser, it’s beer with a whiskey chaser.
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10:34 “On the way up, I came up with a great idea for when we’re around the campfire… And I’ll tell you later. When we’re around the campfire.”
10:38 “I am the Ape.”
10:57 Rick and Sparky go all in. Chris wins. How do we score that? Rick and Sparky go five cards, all up, for Camptathalon points.
10:58 Camptathalon standings: Chris – 4, Sparky – 2, Rick – 1, Tony – 0
10:59 What Chris doesn’t realize is he has to buy breakfast on Sunday. Fucking newbie.
11:03 Sparky: “How many points does Tony have?”
11:08 Loser Libation is finished.
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11:09 Rick: “How many points does Tony have?”
11:21 “This is the last time I played horseshoes, mind you.”
11:23 Sparky’s shoes catch fire.
11:38 Chris is brought into the eternal “Was Guns n’ Roses a hair band?” debate. He answers correctly. Yes.
11:44 “If you say Nirvana was a great band, I will kick you in the balls.”
11:58 “What was the end of the innocence?”
11:59 Fucking Richard Marx
12:05 Goddam pussies (Sparky & Rick) go to bed.
1:00 Nose to nose w/ bear. Chris scared him away. On second thought, maybe we shouldn’t have left the beef jerky out on the table.

Saturday
7:23 “I usually don’t say this, but I’m glad I vomitted last night.”
7:26 “I like Jameson. But I don’t think it likes me.”
7:34 Storm Davis. Hey, isn’t that who Trump was banging?
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7:52 “This is not the worst I’ve ever felt at Camptathalon, but it isn’t the best.”
7:53 “I need a sausage.”
8:37 Chris busts out the bloody marys. maries?
9:34 “I don’t like fishing, but I do like sitting by a river, drinking beer.”
9:45 Cribbage. Teaching Sparky for, like, the seventh time.
10:55 1-4-24 begins.
11:18 Rick to Sparky: “You Asshole.”
11:42 Let’s double the stakes.
11:44 One tie, all tie. $16 in the pot.
11:50 Home Run Derby
12:00 Tony hits the longest HR in Derby History (estimated 240′) but doesn’t hit any more.
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12:27 Tony is the Trent Dilfer of Home Run Derby: 1 homer in round one, 1 homer in round 2, 6 homers in final round.
12:28 Camptathalon standings after two events: Chris – 4, Tony – 4, Mark – 4, Rick – 2
12:29 Chris busts out a fruit tray. “What the hell is that?” “Vitamin C.” “Couldn’t we just take pills for that?”
12:44 The eternal butter toss debate: soft or firm?
1:12 The less time tossing butter, the better.
1:34 The butter toss is coming.
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1:42 We all hate butter toss. If we could vote, we’d all vote to take it out. That’s why we can’t vote.
1:48 Fine. Let’s get this over with.

(Editor’s Note: To be Equal Opportunity, Obama has also been the target in the past, albeit not in tennis Depends)
1:58 Rick wins butter toss, complaining the entire time.
1:59 Camptathalon standings after three events: Mark – 6, Rick – 6, Tony – 5, Chris – 4
2:18 Let’s go to the resort. Let’s go to the mall… today.
2:39 Resort was evacuated while we were waiting for a beer. What the fuck?
2:40 I’m going to something a little more official than the bartender at a cabin before I start packing up.
2:43 Should we get another event in really quick so it doesn’t end in a tie?
2:55 “Gentlemen, you are under a mandatory evacuation order.”
3:00 Camptathalon called on account of fire evacuation. Fuck you, Bud Selig.
evacuation

Can’t Stand the Heat

The 2018 version of Camptathalon was scheduled to take place last weekend. It lasted less than 24 hours, but might be one of the most eventful camping trips in, I don’t know, ever?

For those unfamiliar, Camptathalon is an annual extravaganza amongst me and my friends. We sequester ourselves from civilized society and engage in something approximating a competition of athleticism and wit. Well, it is definitely a competition. The approximation refers to the athleticism and the wit.

Three years ago we had the brilliant idea to keep track of the frivolity and posting the log here. The result is usually pages and pages of inside jokes, “that’s what she said”-level humor, and comments that would get me kicked off a “Guardians of the Galaxy” franchise, ad infinitum, ad nauseaum.

And yeah, the truncated log of this year’s frivolities does exist. It will appear around here in the near future. But the adventure of Camptathalon 2018 was not the stuff that happened between the metaphorical foul lines. To properly explain what happened, we must go beyond the “7:03 PM Can cunt-bubble be a verb?”

We had a noob this year. He’s not a camping noob; this guy probably camps circles around the rest of us. The spot we picked, which the rest of us call “remote,” he refers to as “touristy camping.” So he knows how to camp, he’s just never done it with a Wisconsin lunchbox, a SC Gamecocks flag, and an eternally-present notebook to keep track of things for posterity.

He also sucks at whiffle ball homerun derby, which I’m thankful for, because it allowed yours truly to advance into the second round with a mighty score of one. Another guy flamed out in round two and I made it to the third round with a grand total of two homers, at which point I launched six and won the whole thing, the whiffle ball equivalent of Nick Foles.

Sorry, this isn’t supposed to be about the actual Camptathalon. I just couldn’t resist. Did I mention one of my homers went an estimated 240 feet?

Fine, fine, I’ll talk about the bear.

Oh yeah, did I mention there was a bear? Seriously. The Noob went nose-to-nose with a motherfucking bear.

It happened Friday night, which ended up being the only night of camping. The rest of us had gone to sleep. The first two went down around midnight. I know because I timestamped it in the log. I don’t know when I went down, but I’m guessing it was around 12:30. Noob “stayed up,” meaning he passed out in a sitting position at the campsite table while waiting for the fire to die down.

What happened next is a bit of hearsay, but it’s the hearsay of a drunk person roused from being passed out, and if we can’t trust a barely cognizant guy after 10+ beers, who can we trust?

Noob claims he felt some breathing on him, so he woke up to a bear about three feet from his face. He claims he startled himself awake, making enough noise to make the bear turn and run. This may seem unrealistic, but California grizzlies are notoriously skittish. Had it been a Montana Black Bear, Noob and the rest of us might not have fared so well. And he assures us it was out of shock and surprise, not a wily survival instinct.

My favorite part of this story (other than the fact that none of us were mauled by a bear, of course) is that, after chasing a bear off, Noob had the sense of mind to turn around and timestamp the encounter in the Official Log. Otherwise none of us might have known, because he needed to be reminded when he woke up the next morning. That’s the point of the Log, of course!

Again, the story might sound like bullshit, which was our first reaction when we saw the 1:00 AM timestamp. But then we looked in the dirt. Paw prints more or less corroborated his story. Distinctive steps coming forward, pausing a few feet away from the table, then a dusty splotch, and paws going back the other direction, farther apart from each other, implying the bear was trotting faster in that direction.

Shit, based on the physical evidence, Noob coulda said he wrestled the fucking bear and we woulda had to believe him. Especially if that was written in the Log, because if it’s written in the Log, it’s true. Just like Wikipedia.

After the bear left, Noob decided to clean up a little bit. On the table, right behind where he had been passed-out sitting was a bunch of beef jerky we had left out. It was that jerky, I presume, and not the empty bottle of Jameson’s nor my sleeping friend, that the bear was sniffing.

I know, I know. Probably not the best idea to leave fresh jerky out on the table with bears around. We mentioned this thought earlier. But, in our defense, we figured that if it was bear country, there would be bear lockers.

Also, in our defense, we intended to clean up anyway, but we were pretty inebriated. That’s usually an acceptable defense, right? I’d be a wonderful public defender, right? “Your honor, my client drove under the influence, but in his defense, he was fucking wasted.”

Noob put the jerky away, wrote the timestamp in the Official Log, double-checked the fire, then went to pass out. Again.

And, had Saturday gone according to plan, that bear might’ve been the story of the weekend. But within fourteen hours, the bear was a footnote. And no, not just because of my HR Derby win.

What happened Saturday? Well, I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but the entire state of California is pretty much en fuego right now. And I don’t mean that we’re in a good groove. I mean the entire state is ablaze. I think at last count there were 175 fires, each burning over a half-million acres with approximately twelve percent containment.

In the time it took you to read the last sentence, we’re up to 178 fires.

The two fires that are getting the most attention right now are the stupidly-named Carr Fire and the Mendocino Complex. I don’t know if that one has a catchy title, but I do know that it was two or more fires that combined forces a la The Avengers or Voltron to become the largest fire in California history. How’s that for some teamwork, gentlemen?

Southern California is even getting in on the fun this year. Usually they sit fire-season out, but decided to add one this year in a show of either camaraderie or competition. See? The Supreme Court knew what they were doing when they threw that ballot measure to split the state in three off the ballot. Who needs democracy when you’ve got sibling rivalry? GROUP HUG!

The Southern California fire is called the Holy Fire. That’s a pretty fucking cool name right there. I want my next job to be fire namer. Pretty sure it would be a full-time job in this state.

Of course, we were good, conscientious campers and picked one of the few places in the state that wasn’t on fire. Okay, not really. More like we had picked this place three months ago and it happened to still be standing. But fortune favors the bold, and we were super excited to get out of the Valley and see blue skies for the first time in a month. One of the guys sent out an e-mail to that effect on Wednesday, proudly proclaiming that we were going to one of the few places in California not on fire.

And no, he isn’t allowed to put anything in writing anymore.

Turns out a fire DID start sometime on Thursday. It was just a tiny speck by Friday morning, and really, even after it had grown past 15,000 acres by Monday, it still barely warranted a mention on the local news. So even if we had googled it after my friend’s ill-advised e-mail provoked Vulcan, we probably wouldn’t have known about it.

But as we drove up Highway 108 toward Sonora Pass, we saw a distant plume on the horizon. Then it turned into a curtain of smoke that we appeared to be driving directly into. Before before long it turned into HOLY CRAP WHEN DID THIS HIGHWAY TAKE A DETOUR THROUGH MARS? I’m pretty sure we could see flames, although that seems unlikely as the fire should’ve been about a thousand feet lower in elevation. So maybe it was just the smoldering asscrack of Beelzebub, because something was lighting the underlayer of the smoke hanging over the canyon to our left.

(The Road In)

Then again, I’ve recently learned that silly things like giant granite cliffs and lakes and land that was burned just last year don’t do shit to slow down California fires these days. They’ve evolved. Adapt or die, motherfucker. You’re in the FIRE’S house now!

“Should we… should we…,” the conversation went inside my car. Turn around? might have been spoken aloud once or twice, but we usually tried to keep that line of reasoning on the down-low. Because if nobody says it, then we don’t have to acknowledge it. Manly man logic! And if that fire wants to fuck with my weekend plans, I will fucking jam a two-by-four up its ass and take a straight shot of testosterone chaser.

Besides, we weren’t all in the same car, and there’s no way we can communicate with the other cars, because we’re out of cell range. Sure, one’s right in front of us, but HE isn’t slowing down, so it’s go, go, go. I know how to play chicken. Passive aggressive indecision is the true mark of modern man.

Plus, I was pretty sure that we still had another ten miles or so to go to get to our campsite. Plus another 1,000 feet in elevation gain. Two thousand feet up and ten miles away? Please. This fire’s got nothing on us. I’ll eat its children for dinner.

Or at least, I’ll eat something that its much smaller brethren cooked for me. Mmm… sausages.

(This was the fire in the distance shortly after setting up camp)

When we made it to the campsite, we could see the distant plume once again, rising in the western sky like a signal flare. But it was distant. And it was going straight up. And, pshaw, we could see blue sky above it. And above us. We’ll be fine. It’s not like there’s anything capable of burning around here.

Hey, can you grab all of those pine cones for kindling, please?

When we woke up Saturday morning, the smoke was gone. Huzzah! They must have jumped on that fire early and squashed it in its infancy. Such a capital idea. Perhaps we should try putting other fires out before they can spread.

I’m a fucking fire whisperer, man. I can name them, and I can tell people the proper time to fight them. I offer my services to the State of California. Out, and I’m still waiting for a call from Arte Moreno, because i posted in December, 2012, that the Josh Hamilton signing was a bad idea. Don’t sign a baseball player who has admitted to quitting on his team before and stop the fires before they spread. How am I not a millionaire?

By the way, I still don’t know where the smoke went overnight, but it was gone until about 10:00 Saturday morning. Does smoke go to sleep at night? I know winds can shift, but the plume should’ve been visible even if it was travelling away from us.

Maybe the Noob wrestled it away along with the Montana Black Bear. And the Alligator.

Then the wind shifted and the smoke started coming our direction.

Of course, the wind shifting had nothing to do with that 240′ whiffle home run I hit. That was all muscle and technique, baby! Oh, and the whiffle balls have been so beat up over time that they’re about ninety percent duct tape by now, which may or may not be more aerodynamic that a swiss-cheesed bit o’ plastic.

Regardless, when the air around us started to get a little hazy, we thought it might be a good idea to stop drinking. It’s a tough choice, because if we decide to pack up and leave, it’s advisable to be somewhat sober. But what happens if we DO end up staying? We might be upsetting the camping gods, who live by the mantra of “Camping without beer is just sleeping outside.”

Around 2:00 in the afternoon, we walked across to the resort, which is really just a couple of cabins, a grocery store, and a bar. In theory, we were going as a sort-of All-Star Break, having reached the midpoint of the Camptathalon competition. Plus we were going to see if we could get some inside information on if we were going to die if we could start drinking.

The Forest Service had a map of the fire up, which was very nice of them. Evidently it had grown from 500 acres Friday morning to 1,000 acres Saturday morning. It was defined as “zero percent contained,” which feels like an odd phrasing. Does “nothing” really deserve a percentage designation? Are you TRYING to contain it? Or is this like me saying I’ve got about five hundred books that are zero percent written. If you count every random idea that’s ever entered my mind, Stephen King’s got nothing on me!

Still, we all felt pretty comfortable with the location of the fire. It was going east. We were south. There was a river and a number of roads between it and us. Plus that whole granite cliff. It would have to get into a very specific canyon to head up Highway 108.

We’re fine. Let’s grab a beer.

“Um…,” the bartender starts. “I’m not sure if we’re staying open. Let me see if I can serve you.”

She checks, then comes out. Wow, this might be the earliest I’ve ever been cut off in a bar.

“Yeah, we’re closed,” she continued after checking with her manager. “And we’re evacuating.”

Cut off before I’ve had a beer and kicked out of the bar when the sun’s still up. Both personal records to put in my Baby Book. But unlike most of my other water-hole evictions, this one was not accompanied by a round of applause.

Well, shit. What should we do now? One of the guys decided to buy a t-shirt on the way out. The cashier looked at him like he was nuts, but rang him up anyway. Huzzah, commerce!

By the time we got to the parking lot, everyone had the thousand-yard stare. The other would-be customers were standing in front of their cars, shrugging their shoulders as if that might help load up their trunks. The people we had talked to on our way in are still looking at the map, scratching their head. The map hasn’t changed. How can the fire be close if the map hasn’t changed? Everybody’s moving in slow motion. Although nobody’s really saying as much, everybody’s standing around as if the evacuation’s going to be reversed. Do evacuations get reversed? Doubtful. Then again, we’re not really sure if this evacuation is official or just an overzealous manager. Who knows? Maybe they’ll get the owner on the phone and be told to get the fuck back to work right this goddamn minute.

But that’s not likely to happen, and the people staying at the resort have to get going. The place they had booked was closing up shop, kicking them out. You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.

But the four of us aren’t staying at the resort. We’re camping across the street. I’m going to need something a little more official than a jittery bartender before I pack up my shit. After all, we have full-weekend hall passes from the wives. And I’m not even halfway through my beer. The two-liter I filled with margaritas hasn’t even been opened yet.

Camptathalon is tied, for gods’ sake! We still have three events to go. We can’t be turning this into the 2002 All-Star Game.

Still, maybe we should hold off on the drinking.

What follows is an awkward half-hour. The four of us sit around the campsite, engaging in chit-chat, as the air grows hazier between us. The campground’s too quiet. Too still.

We throw out a few passing mentions of pushing on with the Camptathalon. But engaging in Camptathalon events without alcohol violates the spirit, and quite possibly the law, of the event. I haven’t looked at the non-existent bylaws recently, but if there isn’t a clause about sobriety invalidating any and all event results, there ought to be.

So we sit and stare. An even hushier hush comes over us as we see the forest ranger in her olive pants and canary shirt walking from campsite to campsite. And then she’s coming straight for us. Is this going to be a “be prepared” speech? Or is it going to be…

“Gentlemen, you’re under a mandatory evacuation order.”

What, we don’t even get a jovial greeting first? And just as I’m about to rouse my inner libertarian and ask her to define “mandatory,” after all this is federal or state land and dammit, it belongs to the people and remember when Harry R. Truman held his ground against Mount St. Helens? Viva la Revolucion! To the Bastille! Who’s with me?, she goes on…

“Do those tents belong to you? Yes? Nobody’s missing? Anybody down at the river?”

Wow, Sister Party Pooper. What’s crawled up your butt? You act like you have a whole fucking civilization to evict.

“Okay,” is what we actually answer. And while I really wanted to ask if DUI laws are suspended for the duraton, I think it’s best to just let it go.

Fifteen minutes later, we’re more or less ready to go. It was odd to pack up while not hungover, but somehow I managed. Because, to quote “Footloose,” sometimes we’re holding out for a hero.

evacuation

(This was the state of the sky when we were evacuated)
The only other decision we needed to make was whether we would turn west, toward the fire and our wives and our lives, or if we would go east. Tough decision. We had assumed those instructions would come with evacuation. We had also assumed the evacuation would be a little more, I don’t know, exciting? Air-raid sirens and martial law, like in the movies, not some random bureaucrat walking around sotto voce.

So east or west? On the one hand, we could probably get some cool visuals by driving into the fire. Sure, our lives might be at stake, but we do live in the society of miles-long back-ups on the highway just to lookie-loo at a minor fender bender. So that idea definitely had merits. The pictures I got on the way up didn’t do the fire justice.

On the other hand, our wives weren’t expecting us home until Sunday. And every movie about husbands returning home early ends poorly. So for the sakes of our wives and our marriages, we definitely should go east.

Oh, and did I mention that Nevada is to the east?

So a couple hours later, the four of us are inquiring about rooms at the Carson Valley Inn in Minden, NV. It’s not quite as rugged as was planned, but it’s not exactly a Vegas four-star. Although they’re not low-class enough to like our idea of sudden-death bocce on the casino floor in order to determine a Camptathalon champion. However, it being a casino, we were still able to inundate our clothes with the same amount of smoke as if we were sitting in front of a campfire.

Then again, I don’t think we would’ve won $50 on the Toronto Blue Jays at the Dardanelles resort.

And oh hey, check out what passed us, heading back the direction we came, while we were heading down the mountain:

That’s just a sampling. I didn’t start snapping pics till after the Humvees had gone by. There were about 12 to 15 military trucks in total. And that barbed wire looks well on its way to closing off a major thoroughfare. So it turned out that, even without considering casinos and sanchos, it was a wise decision to turn away from the fire. I wonder if there’s a correlation between not drinking and making wise decisions. I doubt it. No use t engage in any further experiments on this topic.

Once we were back in cell phone range, we could do a bit of research on what we now learned was being called the Donnell Fire. The information we had from Saturday morning, that it had grown from 500 to 1000 acres on Friday, was accurate but obsolete. On Saturday, the day we evacuated, the fire grew from 1000 acres to almost 6000 acres. Yeah, that’s quite a jump. It was still zero percent contained. Probably because every firefighter west of Montana was already fighting the other fires across the state.

Hell, I’m surprised they didn’t try to deputize us to fight the fire ourselves. After all, it’s recently been revealed that they’re using prison labor, at a price of $2 an hour, to fight the Carr Fire up north. I might need prevailing wage, though. Or they can just pay me in beer. It worked so well for the Rolling Stones at Altamont.

As fun as Minden was, though, I still felt the reservations may have been a little overzealous. I know, better safe than sorry and all that, but it seemed the fires was still going east, not south. We were still well outside the danger zone and the…

I’m sorry, what now? The owner of the resort tweeted something out on Sunday? Let me check it out…

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So, umm…. yeah. That’s the place we were staying across from, the bar that wouldn’t serve us, the store that my buddy bought a T-shirt at. So maybe the evacuation was a LITTLE bit warranted, even is we still had hours to spare. I stand a little bit corrected. So much for rivers and California highways and large granite faces in between. Fire has a mind of its own. Who knew?

It’s kinda sad that the Dardanelles is gone. The resort had been there in one incarnation or another since the 1920s. It was sold only a year or two ago. I hope the new owners didn’t decide to wait until it was profitable before shelling out for insurance.

I’ve only been there twice. Well, one-and-a-half times, now. The other regular camper and I went up there about a decade ago and we liked it. They had a fiddle concert there Saturday night. For the last decade, we kept saying we wanted to return there. I’m glad we actually decided go there this year. It won’t be an option next year, or for quite a few years after that.

And it’s kinda cool to be one of the last humans, or at least the last civilians, to walk through a place that was destroyed. It’ll be like my grandpa telling stories about Route 66. And the T-shirt my friend bought is a collector’s item now. I wonder if he had the sense to pay with credit card, because that might not have gone through.

And while Saturday night featured no fiddle playing this time, there was a cover band at the casino playing John Fogerty, which might as well be fiddle.

We might re-convene the competition in the Autumn, but of now, Fire is the official winner of Camptathalon 2018. Not as exciting as a Wombat victory, but more memorable. As shitty as the 2002 All-Star Game was, it’s the only one that I can remember what happened in. Bud Selig, meet Donnel Fire. Fire, this is Bud. You are equally destructive forces of chaos and nature.

At least we got the Butter Toss in.

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Bandwagon Season

There’s a strange hue hanging over Northern California recently. And no, it’s not the ubiquitous smoky sky from approximately seventeen thousand wildfires going on simultaneously. It’s August, so we’re pretty accustomed to that visage.

Although did we really need to name one of them the Carr Fire? You know “car fire” has a different connotation, right, media?

“Hey, did you hear the latest on the car fire?”

“No, I took a different route to work today. Is that why you were late?”

But the current strange vision is  a color combination that I’m not used to encountering in the summer. Or really, at any time since the Bush administration. It’s a distinctive shade of green. Bright, unnatural. Maybe it’s called Kelly green? I don’t know. It seems to me that Forest Green is very deep green color, and everything else is Kelly Green. Or turquoise.

But these shirts and hats I’m seeing definitely aren’t turquoise. Turquoise only shows up in this region in April or May of years when the Sharks are both in line for a top playoff seed AND didn’t underperform in the playoffs the season before. So, basically never.

“Never” is also when I assumed I’d see this garish green-and-yellow again, but it’s the summer of 2018, and it’s back. When I first moved to Northern California, in the early 1990s, it was everywhere, the unofficial color of spring and summer, after which it became garnet-and-gold season. Then it disappeared, only to have a brief resurgence in the early aughts, coming up for breath once per decade like the Nessie above the surface of her Scottish loch. I’m wracking my brain for what that precise confluence of events, which stars and constellations have aligned, to bring out the blinding combination once more.

Wait. Could it be… Let me double check the standings just to be sure and… Yep, the Oakland A’s are holding the wild card. If the season ended today, they’d be in the playoffs.

At least the Giants aren’t in contention, so we don’t have to worry about the green-and-yellow clashing with the black-and-orange that is usually seen around these parts this time of year. Of course, you could never have both teams being represented at the same time. Because the people wearing the green this year are the exact same people that were wearing the orange two years ago.

You see, Northern Californians are horrible sports fans. When a team is losing, they are either afraid to represent it, or more likely, they simply stop rooting for that team. Ignore it like Janet Jackson asking, “what have you don for me lately?” And then, when that team starts to win, they all of a sudden come up with these wonderful stories of how they’ve been lifelong fans, busting out clothes that looks either twenty years old, or freshly purchased this week.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not just NorCals. ALL Californians are horrible bandwagoners. Northern Californians are just much more obvious about it. The SoCals’ fandom expands or contracts based on the viability of the team at the moment. A decade ago, Dodger blue was only noticeable in the Valley and LA proper. Now it’s the unofficial color of the Southland. At least it was until LeBron signed with the Lakers, and then my Facebook feed looked like it was 2010 all over again.

But the SoCals don’t swap allegiances quite as fickly as thee NorCals. Now, maybe that’s because Southern California teams rarely change position. The Clippers, Angels, and UCLA aren’t competitive enough to do a true control experiment. The Angels won one World Series, but usually underperform. The Clippers gave us a little test run, being a better team than the Lakers for most of the past decade. And while I saw more people checking in at Clippers games, and many people saying “Hey, good for the Clippers,” nobody was changing their profile pictures to suddenly claim their lifelong Clipper fandom. If the Clippers and Lakers played in San Francisco instead of Los Angeles, there would be a whole lot of people shuffling past their red-and-blue to find their antiquated purple-and-gold the moment LeBron signed. (See Below: Kings, Sacramento; Warriors, Golden State)

Southern California does have one sport with two different champions. And I give them credit for sticking by their hockey guns. The level of excitement for the two Kings championships was equaled only by the general level of ho-hum, oh-wait-there’s-another-hockey-team-here apathy the two times the Ducks won it all. And most of my friends live in Orange County. However, most of them became hockey fans before the Ducks existed. Oh, and they hate Disney. Still, if Orange County gives more of a shit about the LA team than the one in their own backyard, they’re not bandwagoning.

Back to Northern California and the impending return of “A’s Country.” Northern Californian teams swap places on a more regular basis, and boy howdy, do those fan allegiances give me whiplash. Fifteen years ago, when the Sacramento Kings came within one compromised referee game of winning the NBA championship, everything north of Fresno might as well have been washed over in purple. You couldn’t go anywhere without proudly showing your allegiance to the basketball team-du-jour.

There was another NBA team in Northern California at the time. Not that you’d know it. They were called the Golden State Warriors. I doubt you’ve heard of them. Their colors were… dark blue? Or maybe grey. I seem to remember they had some sort of ninja on their logo. With lightning-bolt lettering?

I’m being serious here. I don’t remember what their colors were in 2002, because NOBODY owned any Warriors gear. Or if they did, they wouldn’t have had the audacity to show it in public.

I know what the color and the logo look like now. It’s blue and yellow, with a picture of the Bay Bridge in a circle in the middle. I know that because the Warriors are good now, so everyone is wearing their gear. And a hell of a lot of these “Lifelong” Warriors fans were so decked out in purple a decade ago that their own children might not recognize them.

Nowadays, if you  wear a Sacramento Kings hat in Sacramento, you will be mocked incessantly. This is Warriors-county, baby!

Does this bleedover happen in other markets?  I imagine that, even when the Dallas Mavericks were very good, the predominant gear worn in Houston would still belong to the Rockets. Am I wrong here?

The good news is these Warriors fans can’t claim they bought their gear twenty years ago, because the Warriors have changed their look so many times. And yeah, their current look is a bit of a throwback, but the Bay Bridge has been torn down and rebuilt since the 1980s logo.

We went through the whole bandwagon with the San Francisco 49ers, too. Again, when I moved here, you could barely go out in public between August and February without sporting a gold Starter jacket. But by the time Y2K rolled around, you couldn’t find Niners gear everywhere. And I know these fans still rooted for their team. They would come into work on Monday morning rehashing every play of the game. Even in shitty Candlestick Park, the team was still selling out games. But there were no hats or jerseys or Starter jackets.

It got to the point that I forgot I lived in Niner Country. Then Jim Harbaugh showed up and they started winning again. All of a sudden, people who I had worked with for ten years started showing up in Niners polos and jerseys every Friday. I even mocked some of my students (“Oh hey, you Niners fans finally found all that gear at the back of your closet”), which was mean and probably a bit errant because the Niners had never been good in their life, so if they had gear, they probably were legitimate fans.

Although, in my defense, last year I taught the younger sister of the girl I mocked. I asked her if her sister still wears a lot of Niner gear. She said no.

Northern California fans feel this is absolutely normal. They simply believe the way the world works is to stop showing support for your team when they are losing. Clearly they’ve never been to Chicago, where people were wearing Cubs and White Sox gear when neither team had won anything in fifty years or more. Or Boston before 2004. Hell, I’ve never been to Cleveland, but I bet there are still a lot of people wearing Browns gear during football season there.

And this says nothing of international destinations, where people still wear shirts for their teams when they drop down to the minor leagues.

At least Niners fans didn’t put on silver and black when the Raiders got good. If there’s one sport where NorCal fans don’t just jump to the currently successful team, it’s football. But when you talk to a Giants fan who thinks it’s perfectly fine becoming an A’s fan overnight, and you ask them if they should do the same thing with the football teams, they will look at you aghast. That’s fucking crazy talk.

It should be for baseball, too. Browns fans are still Browns fans, even after years of being horrible. They wouldn’t jump ship to the Bengals just to save face. Nets and Knicks fans don’t have to look at the standings to know which team they like that day. I have a White Sox friend who says, “I’d rather my sister be a whore than my brother be a Cubs fan.”

Of course, I always told him those weren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.

And I guaran-fucking-tee there is no New York equivalent of this monstrosity:

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I’m not saying you can’t root for a team other than yours. On any given day, there are usually 14 games that do not feature your favorite team. It’s not a bad thing to prefer one team over the other. In 1986, when the Mets were playing the Red Sox in the World Series, I assume that Yankees fans wanted the Mets to win. But I doubt they started spouting off about how long they had loved the Mets and started wearing Mets gear instead of Yankees gear.

That’s what puts California fans apart. They are proud of switching their allegiance on a dime. Again, look at that atrocious hat. People are PROUD to own that hat.

But when two teams share one media market, dammit, those are supposed to be rivals. I grew up an Angels fan and I absolutely hated the Dodgers. The typical sports news in Southern California was eighty percent Dodgers and twenty percent Angels. We were the red-headed stepchild of SoCal.

Then the Angels won the World Series and the whole Southland was smothered in halos. Not only did the Orange County Register remember there was a team in Orange County, but the Los Angeles Times did, as well. It was unnatural. I felt uncomfortable. I actually felt a little sorry for the Dodgers fans who stayed true, because I knew how they felt rooting for the forgotten team in the market. Just like those Golden State Warriors fans.

Even worse, the Angels started selling out their games. I was like the fan of the indie band that hits it big. For two or three years, I couldn’t get tickets.

Of course, the Angels only won once and within a few years, the Dodgers were back on top in SoCal. Now I can get any ticket I want in a stadium that’s only forty-percent full. All is right with the world. Until we lose Mike Trout…

Which brings me back to the Bay Area. I thought we had finally gotten to an equilibrium a la SoCal, with the A’s as the permanent underclass. They haven’t been competitive in over a decade, and they usually have to trade away their entire team every year. Even worse for them, their decade of crap was also a decade when the Giants won the World Series three times.

And some of the A’s fans that switched to the Giants actually acknowledged it. They say it’s tough to root for a team that will never sign good players and will always trade away their stars. The irony, of course, is that it’s the Giants fault. Back in the early nineties, when NOBODY went to, or watched, Giants games, they threatened to move to Florida. To entice them to stay, the commissioner made it so that the A’s would never be able to move out of very-heavily congested Alameda County. So then the Giants built their brand new stadium and everybody started going to their games. The A’s tried to follow suit and the Giants blocked them. The Giants are literally the only team in all of sports that can control the ability of a rival to make money.

And that power was given to them because the A’s were too popular in their market.

Now, or at least up until this year, the Giants have the fancy new ballpark and the world championships and all of the fans. Fans who say, “I just love the black-and-orange color scheme. That rustic, intertwined SF Logo. I mean, the A’s logo is just so gauche and doesn’t really match with anything.”

Until 2018.

In Sacramento, our AAA team switched affiliates from the A’s to the Giants, thinking this would bring in more fans. Not only did they switch, but they went Giants all the way. When they were the A’s franchise, they marketed themselves as “Sacramento’s team.” Since the switch, they reference Sacramento as little as possible. All of their giveaways are Giants players who never played in Sacramento. The bobbleheads all wear Giants, not River Cats, uniforms. They even put the fucking Golden Gate Bridge on our hats and uniforms.

It’s sucked for attendance though, because they forgot that Northern California fans are fickle. The year after the World Series? Yeah, gangbusters in Sacramento. But since then, it’s been dismal. Plus the team has tanked. The A’s usually have really good minor league teams, a result of that whole “trading their entire team every other year” thing. But the Giants don’t really build through the minors.

So now the River Cats are horrible and the stands are empty. The only time fans show up is if a major leaguer is rehabbing, and then they only pay attention when that particular minor leaguer is at bat. Then they talk over the rest of the action and check their phones and just generally don’t give a shit about anybody else on the team.

When Madison Bumgarner was rehabbing, tickets were being sold on eBay for over $100. Fifteen-thousand fans showed up. MadBum  pitched into the third inning. By the fifth inning, there were only about four-thousand fans left. The following week, MadBum was back up in San Francisco. The stands were half-full. Those Sacramento fans probably could have seen him for substantially less than $100, even after paying for gas and bridge toll.

Hey, at least playing in Sacramento is preparing those AAA guys for what it’ll be like to be a real San Francisco Giants, where nobody will come to their games or bother knowing who they are unless they’re winning a World Series or are named Barry Bonds.