Musings

An Anniversary… of DOOM!

Anniversaries suck.

I mean, not anniversaries in general. What’s not to love about celebrating the fact that a certain event happened on this specific date in a different year?

No, I mean specifically my own wedding anniversary.

Again, this is not a judgement on my marriage. I love my wife. We have a wonderful marriage the other 364 days of the year.

And it’s not like our anniversary reminds me of some horrible occurrence on our wedding day, wherein Elton John lept upon the alter screaming “I Wanna Kiss the Bride.”

(How’s that for a 1980s deep cut?)

Quite the contrary. Our wedding was one of the most well-regarded shindigs of 2011 and beyond. We picked a great spot and kept the people entertained. Heck, we even had the guests were trading baseball cards with people they had never even met during that awkward post-ceremony/pre-reception time while we were taking pictures and signing the license. Because when you get married in your late-thirties, you’ve been to plenty of those weddings that leave the guests in a time-bending lurch at that time.

Oh, and did I mention the groomsmen got to play “Rock Band 3” in the wedding venue’s “Man Cave” the whole weekend? Fucking awesome! Way better than the time I was a groomsman and we were all holed up in the golf-course bathroom for three hours while the bridal party took their pictures.

So the wedding was great. The marriage is great. The anniversaries… man, Wife and I suck at those.

It’s not usually our fault. Honestly! It’s just that fate has conspired against us to ruin not one, not two, but THREE of our wedding anniversaries. It’s always something different. Sometimes it’s medical science, sometimes it’s the fury of nature, sometimes it’s… whatever the hell just happened last month.

Our first two anniversaries went off without a hitch. A couple of lovely bed-and-breakfasts in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. Similar locale to where we got married and, as a bonus, wineries! On our first trip, we went north toward Sierraville and the Lakes Basin. We picnicked by a lake and opened a bottle of wine that had been given to us as a wedding present. Thus started a tradition where we would purchase a bottle of wine to be consumed on our next anniversary trip.

This vaunted tradition lasted precisely one year. Two if you count the bottle we got at the wedding.

The following year, we traveled up to Jamestown off of Highway 108. They have a railroad museum up there. We got to see the train car that they filmed “Back to the Future 3” on! It was specially-made for Michael J. Fox to hide how short he is. We drank Year One’s wine and bought another bottle for Year Three.

That bottle might still be in our wine rack. Because our third anniversary was the first one that went sideways.

Our daughter was born three months prior to our third anniversary. I wish I could go all high-and-mighty, new-parenty and say we couldn’t POSSIBLY think of leaving behind our newborn treasure. But truthfully, we had grandma lined up for months. Baby was perfectly fine that weekend. Momma, on the other hand, was not.

I wrote a while ago about some of the complications my wife had after the delivery of our daughter. In a nutshell, the pregnancy and the delivery went fine, then my wife spent the next six months in and out of the hospital. So even if she hadn’t needed to be in the hospital that specific weekend, it was going to be a low-key anniversary. We booked a B&B about twenty miles from our house and figured we’d only be gone 36 hours or so, at which point we could get back to our baby and deal with whatever medical issue she might be having at that time. You know it’s a fun year when you can bank on medical drama weeks in advance.

Unfortunately, there was no way we could’ve banked on this particular drama. September of that year brought an inflammation, and the subsequent necessary removal of, her gall bladder. The good news was that this was probably one of the mildest/run-of-the-mill medical issues she had that year. Evidently many pregnant or postpartum women have gall bladder problems. It’s one of those stupid organs we don’t need anymore and it tends to get all riled up when you have the audacity to put a fetus up in its territory.

The bad news was that, when Wife went in to the doctor on the Thursday before our trip, they said she should go to surgery immediately. She told them to, very politely, go fuck themselves because if they aren’t going to cover pre-existing conditions then we ain’t gonna cancel our pre-existing B & B reservation. They looked at her with a very serious furrow of the brow.

Actually, Wife was way more polite than that. And way more polite than I would have been at the midway point of six months of medical incompetence. But she had become a pro at the whole thing by then, and she knew they wouldn’t give her the surgery immediately anyway. Sure enough, we finally admitted her on Saturday, and they didn’t remove her gall bladder until Tuesday. Her blood pressure was too high. So maybe they should’ve just shut the fuck up on the whole “cancel your anniversary” shit.

But we did at least cut our sojourn short. It was originally planned to be a two-night stay, but we cut it to one. It turns out that the two other reservations at the B&B for that night also cancelled. Since we were pretty damned local, the innkeeper asked if we minded if he took his teenager out to see a movie that night. After all, it’s not often they have a Friday night with a shit-ton of guests. We said sure. We went out to dinner and came back to a completely empty house. Kind of weird. I wanted to go kick back in their game room and crack open a beer. But that would be kind of mean with Wife unable to imbibe.

So instead we sat around an empty house that was not our own in a somber mood. We knew we were going to be leaving first thing in the morning to drive her to the hospital, where they would be removing a key portion of her body. Add to that the fact that she had already spent weeks upon weeks at the hospital that summer, and the empty B & B just made it seem a tad too real, a tad too final.

But, damn, the breakfast the next morning was pretty fucking good.

And we were so happy, when Year Four came around, that Wife hadn’t had any parts of her body inflamed or removed for over six months!

But I guess health isn’t the only reason to cancel a weekend away. Year Four just came at an all-around bad time. Child was a little past one-year old. Wife and I were still trying to figure the whole work-and-parent balance. I mean, I guess we still are, and will be for another, oh I don’t know, twenty years? But a one-year old requires different attentiveness, like changing diapers and mashing up food. Whereas a four-year old only has pre-school friend drama. Wait a second. Is there any way I can go back to cleaning up soiled drawers?

One additional wrinkle we had in Year Four was that we had just bought a new house. We signed the paperwork and got the keys the two weeks before our anniversary, so we were still pretty much living amongst, and out of, fifteen hundred square feet of boxes.

It’s been three years since we moved in now and we’re still not entirely out of the boxes. Like I said, we’re still figuring out that whole “working parent” thing. And we’ll ignore the fact that, even before we were parents, we never finished unpacking my crap from when I moved in with her. So maybe we’re still figuring out the whole “Working Adult” thing. But man, when I retire in twenty years, the house is gonna be SWEET! Too bad my aching legs won’t be able to get up the stairs by then.

But after losing the previous anniversary to medical drama, there was no way we were going to let this one fall by the wayside. Who cares if we can’t find our suitcases or that wine bottle from two years ago that we couldn’t drink last year? We booked a B&B near Murphys, California, which is another cute foothills winery town, albeit further south than usual. It wasn’t far from Jamestown, where we spent Year Two, when we had encountered some of the wineries near Murphys and decided we wanted to double back.

As the anniversary approached, we both broached the subject of cancelling. Had Year Three been spent out of the hospital, we probably would’ve canceled earlier than we did. But cancelling two anniversaries in a row kinda feels like a bad thing.

You know what else is kinda a bad thing? When the entire foothill region catches fire! Maybe the universe was telling us to take another year off, although that’s pretty mean of the universe to sacrifice lives and property just to send a message to a couple of numbnuts in the suburbs.

Anyway, I called the B&B to cancel our reservation.

“Oh, were you calling about the message we left you?”

“No. What message?”

“We wanted to see if you were willing to give your room to firefighters for a refund.”

“Oh, sure. We’d love to. Thanks.”

“Wait, you said you didn’t get out message? So you were going to cancel regardless?”

“Was I? No, I think that I…”

“Too late. No refund. But the firefighters thank you for your donation.”

Okay, that might not have been the actual conversation, but it wasn’t far off. I think they refunded us one night, but not the second.

Regardless, we made it to our fourth anniversary with a whopping fifty percent completion rate. We were dead set on raising that bad-boy up to a D- grade by Year Five. One of the wineries we belong to in Amador County rents out the owner’s old house in the middle of the vineyard. Pretty sure the vineyards will be hydrated enough to withstand any wildfires. Wait, what happened in Napa last year?

Actually, we were in Napa Valley last year for Year Six. I know Napa seems to buck a certain trend. It’s not in the foothills, and if I ever get around to writing that “Wine” post, I’ll contend that it isn’t really wine country, either. But it was on Groupon late in the game, so winner, winner! Even better, we managed to be there two whole weeks before it turned into a hellacious moonscape of soot. Anniversary mojo is back, baby!

So going into this, our seventh, anniversary, we had almost forgotten all about our earlier foibles. To quote bastardize “Major League,” we had a successful anniversary in Year Six. We also had one the year before. If we could do it this year, it will be a streak. Oops. The third strike is always the hardest one in getting a turkey.

Sorry, mixed my sports metaphors there. The latter “strike” was a bowling strike, being referenced in a paragraph about a baseball movie. Bad Wombat!

This year, we decided to go back to the Amador region. This was a little bit of a late plan, but Year Six hadn’t really taken shape until a few weeks prior, so why plan ahead? Actually, seeing as how we already went to New York and Denver and San Diego in the past few months, we weren’t entirely sure we should take another weekend away. Even though it was a month earlier, we were kinda treating Denver as our anniversary weekend.

But then we realized that all of the wineries in the Amador region were doing a festival. We’ve always talked about going to one of those, and if it falls on our anniversary weekend, we can’t really NOT go, can we? Once we confirmed there were still rooms available (not an automatic in a town of less than a thousand inhabitants on a weekend that draws members from fifty different wineries), we decided to head up.

No fire this time! Yay! In fact, the weather was absolutely sublime. Partly cloudy, low eighties. STRIKE 1. I guess after getting evacuated from Camptathalon in August, nature decided to take it easy on me. And the wine festival was wonderful. I wasn’t sure how it would work, but you get a glass and you go from booth to booth getting a half-ounce of wine each time. Delightful! Why haven’t we done this before?

STRIKE 2.

The plan was to head into town to check in at our B&B and then walk to the brewery across the street.

“Oh, I don’t have your reservation.”

GUTTER BALL.

The innkeeper says this as soon as she answers the door, before we even tell her our names.

Wife starts to pull up the Travelocity reservation on her phone, which is not that easy in a town where they consider 3G to be the GOOD kinda cell service.

“Oh, well I’ve had pneumonia all week, so I moved all of my reservations to the hotel in town.”

Okay, that’s fine. We don’t mind staying there. In fact, we tried to book that first, but they were all full as of three weeks ago. If you could just point us in the right…

“But I’m feeling better now. So you can stay here if you want.”

Um, okay. Even though you don’t have our reservation? What’s the catch?

“It’s not the room you booked. It’s this one that’s on the outside, not in the actual B&B. But hey, it’s an upgrade because it’s a king-sized bed instead of a queen-sized bed. It’s our most popular room. But the people that had booked it are now staying at the nice hotel in town. I can show it to you.”

Umm… okay?

So she escorts us around the side to the “Carousel Room.” What a day to leave the clown porn at home!

Well, okay, maybe we could make this work. I mean, the brewery’s closing hour ain’t getting any younger. Even if it is kinda weird that she “doesn’t have” our reservation and everybody else has been sent packing. No horror movies start by being the only customers in an abandoned hotel, right?

Should I be concerned that the innkeeper’s talking to the corpse of her mother?

Still, while we don’t have specific plans for the next day, we kinda wanted to hit another winery or two on the way home, maybe have lunch at the restaurant we had our first date in, and grandma’s already booked to babysit through the afternoon tomorrow. Plus, did I mention the brewery’s open until 8:00 within stumbling difference? So why the hell not? Sure. We’ll take the room.

“Oh great, I’ll run your card.”

You mean the card we used on the website to make the reservation that you never received?

“What is your name?”

Umm… Has this not come up yet?

“Oh, by the way, there’s no breakfast tomorrow. Because, you know, I once had pneumonia.”

Blink. Blink.

So Wife and I return to our car with things to discuss our plan of attack outside of Typhoid Mary’s earshot. Both of us are a little bit skeeved out. Too many oddities. We couldn’t really tell if she was trying to get rid of us or not. Or if we were going to wake up in our mortal shells the following day.

Finally, despite the call of the brewery, we decided to cut our losses and head home. We walked back up to the front door to return the key.

“Oh, do you need to get back home to your child?”

I don’t specifically recall mentioning we had a child. Maybe it’s mentioned in our missing reservation. Or else she’s already analyzed some DNA we dropped on our “tour” five minutes earlier.

“No,” we respond, “it’s just that the room we reserved is… um, I mean the breakfast that was supposed to… um, yeah, you know what? We want to go home and see our daughter.”

“Well, okay,” the innkeeper says. “But the website is going to charge you for the night, anyway.”

Oh, you mean the website that didn’t have our reservation? That one?

Turns out that, yep, as soon as we were back in cell range, the charge had already gone through. And get this, it was the rate for the “upgraded” carousel room. I didn’t check to see if they had added the clown porn surcharge.

So let’s see, that’s two good anniversaries, two bad ones, two good ones, then one bad.

My daughter would look at that and say, “Look, Daddy, it’s a pattern!”

And I would say, “Good, honey. And what can you predict about the next one?”

And then my daughter will be grounded until after Year Eight.

A Coffee by any Other Name

If my last post was about beer, then I this one needs to be about coffee, right?  That’s more or less my daily routine. Some coffee in the morning, a beer with lunch, iced coffee in the afternoon and beer all night long. At least that’s my routine during the summer. Obviously I don’t drink beer at lunch during the school year. At those lunches, it’s only  191-proof grain alcohol.

Maybe one of these days, I’ll bust out with a wine post. But for now, it’s coffee.

I’ve written before about my newfound appreciation for quality coffee and my newfound aversion to sub-par coffee. In my twenties, I could down any sort of swill, but now I’m willing to pay a little extra for product that wasn’t grown out of a toilet and roasted in a microwave. I’ve grown up from Miller Genuine Draft, too. See? The two always go hand-in-hand.

Recently, I was duped into buying a subpar coffee. In my defense, it wasn’t Lavazza this time. Fool me once, Lavazza, shame on you. But sometime around the eighth or ninth time, I might remember that an Italian name doesn’t mean good coffee.

No, this was a new product at my local grocery store. And from afar, it looked like quality:

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I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover. But with a new coffee, I don’t really know how else to judge it. I can’t see inside the bag, so I might as well look at the bag. And usually it works. Pictures of green mountains or rugged individualists or, I don’t know, blue bottles usually signify that the company takes the coffee seriously enough to put a picture of a green mountain or a rugged individualist or a blue bottle on it. And if they have the time to google an image, well, they MUST roast only the finest beans.

The name matters too. You need something robust. Like Starbucks’ Veranda. Nothing says “robust” like sipping with one’s pinkie up on the veranda. But Veranda works because it’s a light roast. Peet’s, which I greatly prefer to Starbucks, uses names like “Big Bang,” which I assume is endorsed by Jim Parsons. And “Major Dickason’s Blend,” whoever the hell that is. But at least he was promoted all the way to major. And “Sierra Dos Yosemites,” which if you live in multi-lingual California you will know means “Sierra Two Yosemites.” Although, as far as I know, there’s only one Yosemite. Weird.

So I kinda, sorta, thought this new coffee had promise. After all, it’s named 1850. I assume that relates to the year, and there were lots of rugged individuals back then. From a California perspective, 1850 was the age of the gold rush. Grisly old dudes brewing their coffee out on the banks of mighty, untamed rivers. There’s gold in them thar hills. And that gold is in the form of coffee! Right?

I mean, I guess they could’ve been going for some other events of 1850. There was an abysmal compromise on slavery that year, which led to Bloody Kansas where a whole bunch of abolitionists and slaveholders moved to Kansas and had clashes wherein they killed each other. That’s a pretty solid historical time period, but I don’t know how that plays into coffee.

I assume the Mormons were also doing something in 1850. Maybe they needed coffee for the road as they were being kicked out of somewhere. Oh, but they don’t drink caffeine, so I don’t think it’s named after them. Maybe the 1850 coffee was lamenting the failed promise of the Louis Napoleon reign in France. Or… let me check Wikipedia… The Taiping Rebellion? The Scarlet Letter? Oh hey, cool, there was something called the Danish Stag Holocaust! Wherein, I assume, we get the nomenclature for “Stag Party,” which is European for Bachelor Party.

But no, I’m going with my original belief. The makers of 1850 are going for the Gold Rush. Hence the prospector on the front of the package.

But in retrospect, I don’t know if it’s the best idea to go the Gold Rush route. Sure, those dudes were rugged. But I doubt they were drinking stellar coffee. I imagine that in 1850, they weren’t plugging in their fancy bean grinders and pouring properly-steeped water over a brown #2 Melitta filter. I mean, the dude on the front of the bag appears to be using a percolator over a fire. Hell, it’s 2018 and I can’t seem to use a campfire percolator without the coffee being half grounds.

I imagine gold miners threw some sludge into the bottom of a carafe of water, then burned the shit out of it. And they probably used that same sludge many, many days in a row, making the coffee more and more watery. After all, if they went into town to buy fresh coffee, they might lose their claim.

Oh, and the “fresh” coffee in town might only be delivered twice a year.

So 1850 shouldn’t exactly bring up images of quality coffee. But hell, I bought it. And only partially because it was on sale. I had noticed it before it went on sale, and who knows, I might’ve bought it anyway. Because I was so blown away by the gold miner and the rustic blue coloring and, I mean, just LOOK at that font! I mean, you can’t just MAKE that font on a computer or something. There are rules about marketing! You have to go through a proper apprenticeship at Ye Olde Tyme Fonte Guilde, right?

I was so dazzled by the packaging that I didn’t read the fine print until I got home.

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Did you read that little bit under the title? The Folger Coffee Co. Hmm…

Boy, somebody ought to tell these 1850 people that, long after they were dead, there came another Folger’s Coffee Company, and they probably don’t want to be associated with the latter. Sure, it’s not a precise correlation. One has an apostrophe, after all. It is showing possession. Folger and Folger’s. Two entirely different companies.

I bought this 1850 amongst the Starbucks and the Peets and the Death Wish coffees. The part of the aisle that sports Kona blends with a whole TEN percent Kona beans. That company, the Folger’s, is NOT allowed at this end of the coffee aisle. They just throw coffee-dust shavings into a giant red plastic vat.

1850, you look like a good kid. You come in whole bean variety. You are conveniently placed in a bag that will probably be impossible to open without ripping, with a fancy little white cardboard strip for re-clasping yourself closed that will probably fall off after one use. You really gotta check yourself before you wreck yourself, associating with that shit down at the Yuban and Sanka end of the aisle.

Unless… Why, they wouldn’t, would they? They couldn’t, could they? Is Folger’s trying to move on up like the Jeffersons? Are they staking a claim a claim amongst the boutiques? Is this going to be another Killian’s or Molson, glorified Coors for double the price? Only one way to find out.

First, the beans. And yeah, Folger’s, it ain’t looking good for you. Take a look:

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What’s with the gristle? When I buy whole bean, I want whole beans. Not some whole beans mixed in with some specks and some grounds and whatever other schmeg is in there. And is it just me or are the beans roasted to different colors? Okay, maybe this is the real Folger’s, cause this is clearly just a big ol’ vat of beans that’s thrown together in a mish-mash faction.

Oh hey, as an aside, the plantation I went to in Hawaii had a “black and white” blend. Half the beans are light roasted, half are dark. So you get the flavor of the latter with the caffeine of the former, but way more complex than a medium roast. Yummy. Unfortunately, the “throw a bunch of whatever beans fell through the cistern” model employed by Folger’s ain’t being done for combination and nuance.

When I put these 1850… no, you know what? I’m going to call them by their proper name. They’re Folgers, through and through. So when I put these FOLGER’S beans through the automatic grinder in my coffee machine, the result was the exact kind of clusterfuck you’d expect. Most of the mist didn’t make it through the tunnel into the filter. To be fair, this happens over time with good coffee. A little bit more gets piled up each day until I come down one morning and get something the consistency of tea. The main difference between the Folger’s and even run-of-the-mill, replacement-level beans was the amount of time it took for the residue to accumulate. I usually have to clean the tube out once a week or so. The Folger’s clogged that shit up every other day. Even when the conduit had just been scraped clean, only about sixty percent of the grounds made it through.

If only I had known how fortunate I was to be sipping a twenty percent solution on that first day. Because when I finally put in enough beans to actually taste the flavor… blech. I asked my wife if she had a similar reaction, as she puts a fair amount of creamer in her coffee. She agreed she wasn’t a fan. It tasted simultaneously watered-down and sludgy. A bitter aftertaste followed the primary taste of bland. Creamer didn’t seem to do much good.

I tweaked it a little that night, only to find the tube had clogged. So even more watered down than usual. On day four, I went big. Clean out the conduit, put an extra scoop of beans and whatever that residual stuff is, and let’s see what we get.

“I think we need to put the 1850 aside until my mom visits,” I texted my wife from work.

“Agreed,” she responded.

Hopefully I’ve learned my lesson. A Folger’s by any other name is still a Folger’s.

Maybe I should try some of that Italian-named stuff, instead.

BEER! (Part III)

Okay, so I’ve just spent two posts about the beers I don’t like. So what, you may ask, DO I like in my beer? Well, I’m glad ya asked.

Truthfully, my flavor profile has changed a few times in my life, and are in a bit of a flux right now, too. Perhaps this is why I don’t understand the continuance of the decades-old trends discussed in the previous posts. Then again, I’ve always tended to be along a somewhat tight variance. Browns and reds and pales. Somewhere in the middle of the hoppy vs. malty spectrum. I love me some balance.

Of course, in a begrudging nod to the IPA-philes, over the past few years, my preferred beer has gone farther up the bitterness scale. For a while, I was all about the Amber and Scotch Ales. Alaskan Amber, Kilt Lifter, Nutty Brewnette, Old Chub. Even Newcastle was an occasional go-to in a pinch. The benefit of Newcastle is its ubiquity. Even a bar that only carried the standards is likely to have Newcastle.

Fat Tire was my favorite beer for five years or more. And clearly I wasn’t the only one, because it’s the beer that put New Belgium on the map. The brand barely existed at the turn of the century, but as of now, it’s ranked #11 by volume, just behind powerhouse no-longer-microbreweries Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada. And yeah, I know they’re really pushing their Voodoo Daddy IPA these days, but all of that is on the strength of their flagship.

I’ll still drink Fat Tire. Sometimes I have no choice. When I’m visiting family, it’s the only one they can remember that I drink, as they try desperately to avoid saying “Flat Tire.” I don’t know why it’s such a difficult pronunciation. I know a flat tire is a thing, but it’s not like Fat is some obscure word. Yet every baby boomer I encounter asks me if I want one of those “Fla.. uh.. Fe-ua… Feat Tires?”

But Fat Tire tastes a bit too sweet for me these days. The nutty and caramely and malty beers that I drank for the majority of my thirties just aren’t doing it for me these days. I never liked stouts and porters, because they’re too sweet, and something clicked in me in the past year, making most browns exhibit the same syrupy consistency. Maybe it’s just a hundred degrees in summer kind of thing, or maybe my brain is subconsciously telling my tongue that hops are here to stay, so I’d better get used to it. Now a Fat Tire tastes like a Frappuccino to me. Or an iced coffee when they put all that syrupy crap into it. No, Starbucks barista, I don’t want fucking “room” in my iced coffee. Just black coffee and ice. Someone ordering an actual coffee at your coffee business shouldn’t make you so damned twitchy. 

One fun brew I found many moons ago was Innis and Gunn. On my second trip to Scotland, we asked for a local beer. The waiter described something that we couldn’t understand, because he was speaking Scottish, which bears absolutely no resemblance to English. We nodded our approval and received one of the most wonderful concoctions ever invented. It’s aged in Scotch barrels. But there’s more to it than that, because after tasting Innis and Gunn, I tried a number of other beers that claim such a distinction and none of them have the smooth toffee flavor of Innis and Gunn. I’ve even, since then, tried some other Innis and Gunn flavors, including their rum-aged and Irish whickey-aged. None of them have that je ne sais pas of the original.

When we got back to America, we looked everywhere for Innis and Gunn. At the time, New York was the only place in the United States that carried it, and that seemed a bit far of a drive. But who said we had to purchase it in the United States? Vancouver’s only a fifteen-hour drive! My friend hit the Great North the following summer and brought back a case. Two summers later, I made the trek. The employee at the state-owned liquor store looked at me strangely when I wanted 30 bottles of something they usually sell by the single. But when I flashed the real-live, legitimate, international-standard American dollars, they were willing to do just what I said.

Just kidding. I think I paid with credit card. And I probably insulted the guy when I asked what it cost in “real money.” The guy selling joints in Nelson Park, however, was happy enough to take American cash.

We continued to check the Innis and Gunn website, plotting their progress on a map like they were the Allied army advancing against the Kaiser. First they were spotted in Washington, then Oregon. We went to the city walls waiting to cheer the liberating army as it came within sight. When my wife texted me a picture from the local Total Wine, I knew that life would never be the same.

Then again, at $14 for a 4-pack, the I&G is still going to be reserved for special occasions.

My IBU preference has been creeping up recently. The forties taste fine to me now. Although I suppose that’s where I started. The first beer I was actually able to get through being a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Then I avoided it fro a while, but it’s back in my favored wheelhouse. I can even tolerate beers into the sixties. When I was in Denver recently, I drank quite a few Dale’s Pale Ales, with an IBU of 65. It was fine. But I might’ve been suffering from altitude sickness.

But my favorites of late seem to be reds. Reds tend to add a bit of hoppiness to the typical maltiness of a brown. You know, like what hops were originally meant to do. There’s one here in Northern California called Heretic Evil Twin. The “evil twin” comes from the combination of the two flavors. If you’re a malt fan, the hop is the evil twin; if you’re a hop fan, it’s the malt. And they’re both in there. It’s a solid brew, with an IBU of 45, right in “the middle,” so to speak. But I think it’s ainly available in Northern California, so sorry if I got your hopes up. If you read on, you’ll see I’m right there with you on the torture. .

Let’s talk about Karl Strauss Red Trolley. It’s available everywhere, right? Its crispy nuance makes it my current favorite beer. It’s not that you can taste all the flavors, like in Heretic, but it’s also not all one flavor. Somehow it has an IBU below Fat Tire, which I consider bullshit because it’s definitely not as sweet. Of course now, after a decade of indoctrinating us that IBU is the be-all and end-all of a beer flavorness quotient, they’re saying it’s an incomplete measure. Now they try to distinguish between hazy and juicy and, I don’t know, fluffy IPAs? And New England IPAs, which are basically the same as West Coast Pale Ales. There are also Northwest Pales. It gets really confusing when you need an eight-directional compass just to figure out what the hell you’re drinking.

Or grapefruit. Don’t get me started on grapefruit. How very fitting that Ballast Point would be bought out by Coors.

Although the Grapefruit Sculpin works as a good transition into my most recent beer find. While in San Diego, my hotel bar had a local beer called Coconut Contender. This intrigued me, because I like coconut. Have I mentioned that I like coconut before? And that I worry they are on the cusp of jumping the palm tree shark? I think I have.

Coconut in beer isn’t a new thing. Coconut porters have existed for a while. I’ve had a few of them, and they’re okay in extremely limited quantities. Porters are sweet, coconut is sweet, so what you’re left with is the equivalent of adding caramel syrup to a white chocolate mocha, which is something I’m surprised Starbucks hasn’t done yet. Hell, I had some sort of Iced Vanilla Bean drink there a couple weeks ago, and I can still feel the granules of sugar coursing through my body. Dammit, Barista, I ordered a coffee frappuccino, not a caramel frappuccino. Repeat after me, barista!  Coffee! What the fuck is wrong with just serving me the goddamn product you’re supposed to be known for! Y

Sorry, where was I? Ah yes, the Coconut Contender. What intrigued me about this particular beer was that it was not listed as a coconut porter, but a coconut IPA. So instead of using the sweetness of the coconut to augment the sweetness of a porter, they’re going to counteract the bitterness of the… hmmm…. Why, that sounds brilliant!

Of course, they’ve done this with other flavors. That grapefruit crap is the most famous, but I’ve seen orange and tangerine and raspberry IPAs. But most of those others are tart more than sweet. Plus, did I mention that I like coconut? So I asked for a pint. The bartender asked if I wanted a taste of it first. Maybe he’s had customers that were hoping for a coconut porter and were disappointed by a beer with nuance. I was ninety percent sure I didn’t need a taster of it, that I would drink the whole damn thing. But if I’m about to order sixteen ounces and I can get the seventeenth ounce for free, I’m taking that bargain.

Even better when I discovered it was 21 ounces for the price of 20.

Verdict? It was as sublime as I expected. The coconut was in the background, as was the hoppiness. I didn’t wince from the sweet or chew the bitter. No need to drink five gulps of water to remoisten my palate. (Remoisten my palatte sounds like a dirty book that might be written by the OTHER Tony Kelly, the one who forces Amazon searches for my book to a second page. Go ahead and check, I won’t hold it against you).

I could definitely see myself drinking more of those Coconut Contenders. For instance, I saw myself drinking it again the next night. And the night after that. After all, I was at the hotel for a week-long conference. Unfortunately, the rat bastard behind the bar must have recognized me the rest of the week, because he never gave me that free taster again. Then again, he did “accidentally” pour the wrong drink once, and then gave me the correct pour in a take-home cup. Tip your waitstaff, people!

So of course, the first thing I did when i got home was to hit the local liquor stores to get me some Coconut Contender at home.

BevMo? Nope. Total Wine? Nada.

Dammit, this Coconut IPA is not to be found anywhere in the Sacramento area. Or at least anywhere in the whopping TWO liquor stores I looked in. So I decided to google Coconut IPA. I found that the one I had in San Diego wasn’t the only one. There are at least three  currently being brewed. And Total Wine stocked precisely zero of them. Didn’t double-check back at BevMo for the other two, but I’m not holding my breath.

According to one beer review, it’s the “New taste of summer.” I totally, totally agree. But at participating locations, only.

Oh Life, why must you mock me so?

BEER! (Part II)

Welcome back to Part Two. In Part One, I talked about Coors Light and the rest of its ilk, remnants of an older time that somehow persist in a world of much better options.

Today, I’ll talk about one of those better options that I don’t necessarily feel is a better option. Watch out, hipsters.

If you’ll recall what started this retrospective, I was visiting a new person’s house and he offered me a Coors Light. I declined. Except that Coors Light wasn’t the only thing he had available. He also offered me an IPA. Ugh.

And hey, hipsters? The fact that someone would have only two options of beer, one of which is an IPA and the other of which is Coors Light, should tell you all you need to know about how fancy your brillo-pad of a beer really is.

Now here’s where I know I part from true beer snobs. At their best, India Pale Ales are tolerable. At their worst? Pass me the Coors Light. Or better yet, I’ll just take some water.

Fortunately, in this particular case, it was Lagunitas, which is one of the most tolerable IPAs. In fact, their original IPA wouldn’t even be considered an IPA by today’s standards. It would be like Ronald Reagan in the modern GOP, or JFK trying to make it past two primaries in the 2020 Democratic party. It only has an IBU in the mid-40s. Nowadays if your IPA doesn’t have an IBU above 60, you might as well call it a lager.

For those who don’t know, IBU stands for International Bittering Unit. It measures the amount of hops in the flavor. Hops are those things that smell like really nasty marijuana. When they’re put in the beer, they help offset the sweet, caramelly flavor that comes from the malted barley. So a stout, which has the same bitterness as a bold chocolate milk, will have an IBU below 10. Ambers and browns usually range in the 20s, although some of the “nuttier” ones will be as low as ten. Twenty years ago, when Lagunitas was one of the few IPAs out there, a red or a pale ale was in the thirties and above forty was reserved for an India Pale. These days, if you’re not flirting with triple-digits, the millennials will only roll their pierced eyebrow at you.

India Pale Ales are supposed to have more bitterness because, historically, hops were used as a preservative, so the extra hops would keep the beer from spoiling on those long cruises from England to India. Note it was for preservation, not taste. Because, and me out here, hops taste like crap. They do. I know you there in the back, currently scraping a filmy layer of skin off the top of your arid mouth can’t admit it without worrying you’d have to shave your beard as penance, but it is not at all refreshing. It tastes like you’re drinking cotton. It’s dry, it’s scratchy. And last time I checked, you’re not supposed to consume cotton. Especially cotton that smells like dank weed that’s been left in the bong for a fortnight.

Hey, I think that might be the first combination of “bong” and “fortnight” in the same sentence in the history of the English language. Unless you’re talking about the video game.

On the West Coast, Lagunitas was one of the forebears of the IPA craze. As if on a dare, they started proudicing Double and Triple and Imperial IPAs, pushing that IBU up into the triple digits, just waiting for someone to have the balls to say it tasted crappy, but groupthink’s a hell of a drug. Just ask the Nazis. It’s ironic that Labunitas once had the balssiest IPA, and now their IPA is so tame. It barely even registers as a straight Pale these days. For comparison, Dale’s Pale Ale from Oskar Blues (a fun Colorado brewery that comes up with names like Old Chub and Mama’s Yellow Pilsner) has an IBU of 65. Their IPA has a bittering factor of 70, almost double that of Lagunitas.

New Belgium’s IPAs range from 50 to 70. They also have Hemp IPAs. Did I mention dank weed?

And IPAs are just the start. Now breweries have Imperial IPAs, Double IPAs, Triple IPAs, and, I don’t know, a-vine-of-hops-shoved-directly-up-your-ass ale. IBUs of 80 or 90, even triple digits, are starting to become the norm. Colorado and California breweries are now coming out with hemp IPAs. Hell, if it’s gonna taste like headache-inspiring weed, they might as well go to the source. I can only imagine that straight-up marijuana IPAs are on the horizon out here.

And I know I’m in the minority here. The reason I know this is because every brewery or taphouse I go to has a shit-ton of IPAs and their ilk. You’ll have maybe one red or one amber, but not both, one pilsner, and then seventeen beers with IBUs ranging from 65 to 120. Hey, this one has notes of citrus and that one has a whiffs of cotton-swabbed asshole. Oh, and Coors Light is tap #20.

Clearly the market has decided something that is not my cup of Indian tea. A friend of a friend started a brewery. He has a similar taste profile to mine, and was tired of seeing the same varietals at every brewery. He wanted to show what could be done with some of the forgotten flavors. A nutty brown versus a hoppy brown. A light or a dark lager.

But the substantial majority of the customers who came in had one request: more varieties of IPA. So now when I go in there, I’m relegated to my one option, but at least I can commiserate with the brewer.

And I cancross my fingers and hope that more brewers are like he and I. We’re all just waiting for this trend to end. Putting a whole bunch of recipes on the shelf, ready for the moment when hipsters and millennials grow enough balls to admit that the IPA trend has gone too far. Every culinary movement has a backlash at the end, right?

But dammit, I’ve been waiting for this particular pendulum to swing back for a decade now. And my liver ain’t getting any younger.

I know, I know. I don’t like mass-produced beers and I don’t like IPAs. What the hell do I like? Check back on Monday to find out.

BEER! (Part I)

AKA The stuff that doesn’t require fruit added to it.

I’m looking at you, Shock Top and Hefeweizen and Corona.

AKA Just because it’s from Europe doesn’t make it fancier than Budweiser

I’m looking at you, Stella Artois and Heineken.

AKA Don’t even get me started on that piss water that is…

No, you know what? Get me started on that. I’m starting right the fuck there.

A few weeks ago, wife and I were playing nice with the parents of one of my daughter’s “friends,”AKA the only one at her daycare that she seems to remember doing anything with on any given day, even though her teacher (AKA babysitter) swears she is a veritable roamer.

So we take child over to friend’s house for a playdate (AKA running around screaming at the top of their longs), and of course because child is four and we are the helicopter generation, we stay to engage with the parents. It is my firm belief that this did not happen when I was growing up. If my mother and/or father (let’s be honest, mother) took me to a friend’s house to play, I have to imagine she then high-tailed it to… I don’t know, a bar? The Club? Did Bunko exist in the mid-1970s? She probably just went back home to clean, which is probably what wife and I should have done, because I swear there used to be a floor at my house before we had a four-year old whirling dirvish.

Anyway, we showed up and released the kraken that was our two daughters. The other father turned to me and asked if I wanted a beer.

Of course I want a beer. What the hell kind of question is that? Without thinking, I started to respond.

“Yeeeeee-uhhhhh.”

But at this point, halfway through my affirmative response, I saw what was in his hand, which froze my answer in it tracks. Beads of sweat dripping down a dull grey label across a distinctive brown bottle. I’m sure the holder of said bottle considered the label to be bright silver, but it was a dull grey. Screaming red cursive script across a recessed image of the Rocky Mountains. It’s a Coors Light. A C-minus. The Silver Mother-fucking Bullet.

And no, I didn’t here any Jerry Reed music playing. Even worse, Burt Reynolds was nowhere to be seen.

“Yeeeee-ah, no thanks,” I finished my answer. “I’m driving.”

“Aren’t you guys staying?”

“Right. I meant I’m going to be driving. Not tonight. Maybe some time in the future. Better not let any of that one-percent Alcohol-By-Volume elixer touch my lips.”

Before you ask, I didn’t bother to check if the mountains were blue or mauve or fuchsia or chartreuse or whatever-the-fuck color it’s supposed to be to denote that the beer is ready to be consumed. I don’t think it’s a color that occurs in nature, because Coors Light is never drinkable. Note that the label is only supposed to change color when it gets cold. Coors Light really pushes the whole “cold” thing. I mean, I guess if you can’t really talk about the flavor, you might as well extoll the virtues of modern refrigeration technology.

But some people swear by the C-minus. And surprisingly, not all of them live in trailer parks. I know people that fit the description. Each of the last two years at Camptathalon, both of the new attendees prefer it to other beers. One of them has no desire to drink anything else. The rest of us show up to camp with a variety of lagers and ales of all variety. Pale, red, amber, black, India. You name it. John rolled up with 30 cans of Silver Bullet. The rest of us mix and match what we brought with what others brought. Communism at its finest. But John wanted none of the ten other varieties, which was fine because none of us wanted to partake of his.

This year, the new Camptathalon attendee brought the real stuff. Coors “Banquet” Beer. The… um, tan bullet? At least this year’s attendee was capable of drinking non-Golden-based beers. Although maybe that’s not the best for the rest of us. Communism at its worst. The root cause of the 1991 Soviet coup was people bringing Coors but drinking your Karl Strauss was the root cause of the 1991 coup.

Speaking of non-light Coors, they’re really pushing that whole “banquet” moniker these days. Check out this sign from a show at Red Rocks:

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Then again, if you’re only a quarter less than a well-known IPA, you better pull out that “banquet” bullshit.

My cousin also swears by the stuff. As does, clearly, the father of my daughter’s friend. And Burt Reynolds, obvs.

But the Bandit had an excuse. It was the 1970s. Back then, there weren’t a lot of options for beer. We’re talking about a time period where Budweiser and Miller were the good stuff, because they were being compared to the likes of Milwaukee’s Best and Schlitz. I’ve never actually had Schlitz, but I have had the Beast, and I suppose if my only options were variances of that swill, then maybe I’d be willing to smuggle some of that “beer from Texarkana.”

But it’s the 21st Century now, all of those laws that forced beers to stay in one region have been long rescinded. So if they’re thirsty in Atlanta, not only can they have Coors, but they can have Sierra Nevada and Yuengling and Leinenkugil. To say nothing of Stella and Newcastle and Bass and Smithwicks. Which means they’d have to be pretty fucking thirsty in Atlanta to want to drink Coors. Actually, maybe that’s the point. Since Coors is pretty much water, maybe it quenches your thirst more.

In Sacramento, we recently had one of our original microbrews close down. Some people were surprised. Rubicon Brewing Company had its restaurant and brewery open since the late 1980s. At one point in the mid-to-late nineties, it was a solid business, almost a Sacramento institution. Even as late as 2010, their Monkey Knife Fight was readily available at most regional restaurants and stores.

But I wasn’t too surprised. Because Monkey Knife Fight wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t really all that good either. In the mid-1990s, it was a solid drinking option. But back then, most places only had a few beers on tap. And who the hell knew what a red ale was, anyway? But by 2017,Rubicon really didn’t have anything that could compete with the quantity and quality of beer you can get pretty much anywhere. Sacramento now has four or five other breweries just in the downtown area, to say nothing of those taphouses where you can get twenty different flavors from twenty different breweries, with a rotating list that’ll give you twenty brand new options when you come in a fortnight later. In that sort of crowded market, a Rubicon couldn’t do anything to distinguish themselves, and if you can’t compete with quality or quantity, you aren’t going to last.

Which makes me wonder how the Big Three are still in business. Hopefully it’s not for long.

Want to know what else I don’t like? Follow me to Part II.

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…

safe_image

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.

0804181347625609802.jpg

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:

20180810_074941

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.

New York, Addendum

One more day about my New York trip. Here’s some of the various musings that didn’t necessarily fit into one of the other posts. Some residue, if you will.

And of course, because everybody loves some more giraffe adventures, I’ve put some more of his pictures at the end. Daughter will be so happy!

Staten Island Ferry

Staten

We did the Staten Island Ferry. We didn’t do anything on Staten Island, but we did the ferry. It’s free.

We  planned on doing something on Staten Island. The Staten Island Yankees, a short-season low-A minor league team, is changing to the Staten Island Pizza Rats on Saturdays this year. And you can walk to the station from the ferry. So I can go to a minor league game when they’re NOT named the Yankees? And the view from the ballpark actually looks pretty nice. Hell’s yeah!

But then Saturday night rolled around and it was threatening to rain and we had just dealt with the 9/11 Museum and an annoying Hop-On/Hop-Off narrator, so we decided to just take the night bus instead. It ended up not raining, but it might have, and that’s enough reason to stay away from the minors. Trust me, I live in Sacramento, and if the high isn’t between eighty and ninety on any particular day, nobody goes to the ballpark. And we’re AAA!

We knew we weren’t going to do the Statue of Liberty, but I figured wife might want some photos of it. Actually, let’s be honest, Giraffe wanted pictures with Lady Liberty. And we had an hour or so to kill between the Tenement Museum and the Mets game, so we figured the Staten Island Ferry was a good, free way to fill that time.

Oh, by the way, I did the tenement museum. It isn’t catered to history teachers.

The Staten Island Ferry was easy as hell to board and ride. I don’t understand why it’s free. I could see it being an extension of the subway, where the same swipe that’ll take you from Flushing to the north Bronx can get you to Staten Island. But I don’t understand how its free. The terminal has turnstiles, so at one point it wasn’t free, but now it is. I feel like things usually flow in the opposite direction.

The angry hop-on, hop-off narrator said the only people who live in or go to Staten Island are mafia. So maybe that’s why it’s free. Maybe now that I’ve ridden it once, someday, and that day may never come, I will be called on to do a service. But for now, the ferry ride is a gift on the day of some daughter’s wedding.

Anyway, with no paying or scanning of cards, the boat arrives, everyone in the terminal boards it, and off we go. Four decks, plenty of room to spread out. Inside, outside, upper deck, lower deck. Doesn’t really matter, it’s a quick trip.

Does come damn near the Statue, though.

Staten Liberty

And when we got to Staten Island, we got right back on the same ferry for the return trip. We weren’t the only ones. Clearly it’s a touristy thing to do. Did I mention it’s free? All the people that were out taking pictures of the Statue were the same ones taking the left turn in the terminal to put us back in the boarding group. The commuters, the ones who stayed inside the ferry because it was fucking hot outside and why the fuck do they care about some goddamn statue they see every goddamn day on the way to and from work, they all walked straight to the parking lot or the blue line or whatever the hell was going to take them home.

The other fifty of us got right back on the same boat. Not sure why they made us get off in the first place. But they made an announcement that acknowledged there’d be plenty of us barnstormers fucking up their ticket count.

Not that they sell tickets.

The ferry ended up being a great diversion. My only real complaint was that they didn’t have…

You know what? This deserves its own sub-heading

Lack of Chargeports

I know I come from the outskirts of Silicon Valley. Okay, maybe not the outskirts, maybe just the general region. But I also travel a lot on this side of the country. Southern California, Seattle, Denver, Portland. And I’m surprised at how much more technological the West Coast is than the East Coast.

I already mentioned a few examples. Hop-on/Hop-off buses requiring extensive line-standing and humongous, awkward tickets. A subway system that only reads cards on the way in, and charges a general fee regardless of how far you’re going. The Broadway tickets still predominantly use willcall or a TKTS system where you have to hoof yourself to a designated area to purchase a paper ticket. At the Mets game, I had to print my internet purchase out at a kiosk instead of using the MLB Ballpark App.

But the most noticeable aversion to technology in New York was the sheer lack of chargeports. Or really, the lack of plugs out in public. If the Staten Island Ferry were, say, ferrying us across the San Francisco Bay instead of Hudson River, I have to assume there’d be outlets at the end of each row of seats. Maybe in between seats, too. On the Staten Island Ferry, however, there wasn’t a damn outlet in sight. Trust me, I looked through at least five rows on all four floors.

Before boarding the Night Bus, my wife and I were trying to get a quick charge on our phones. We already knew the buses had no chargeports, which would be sacrilege in California. What do they expect us to take pictures of all of their fancy touristy things on? Cameras? Which Roosevelt do they think is still president?

So we went to the Starbucks in Times Square. Starbucks always have outlets. Hipsters surfing the web while sipping coffee is pretty much their entire business model. A lot of them even have those cool magnetic wireless chargers. But at this particular Starbucks, there were no plugs in the entire store. Or at least in the customer area.  There WAS one in the bathroom, and there was a guy charging his phone in the bathroom. Because, as we all know, anyone’s allowed in Starbucks bathrooms now. Even phone chargers. It’s just in the REST of the Starbucks where our kind is made to feel unwelcome.

I’m sure this was intentional. If it wasn’t intentional, there would’ve been one or two outliers. I’ve been to those coffee shops before, where all of the customers were huddled around that one particular corner. I’m sure Times Square real estate’s gotta be pretty pricey, and you can’t make those sales if you’ve got a bunch of squatters. But this Starbucks did have round tables, which I presume were for sitting and sipping or meeting friends or having job interviews or whatever the hell else people do at a Starbucks. So the only action they were hoping to avoid was charging of electronic devices. Oh, and maybe they were hoping to avoid some West Coast jackass from blogging about their lack of plugs.

The Sacramento Airport has gone through about five redesigns in the last decade, and each one has added more plugs and charging stations. Often at the cost of seats. But most West Coasters would take a fully-charged electronic device over a comfy seat any day of the week. Because when that battery level hits 0%… Well, life is over, right? You can’t Twitter or Instagram. Or access any of those paperless tickets and plans that you downloaded. You can’t even figure out how to get from where you are to where you’re going without Google Maps these days, can you?

Sacramento Airport also added a stupid monorail in one of its redesigns, but that’s probably a post for another day.

I’m not saying California’s ubiquitous electronic consumption is better, necessarily. Only that I had assumed the rest of the world was on the same page as us. The same lumin-clad e-ink page.

Lack of Sortable Trash

Speaking of New York feeling decades behind San Francisco, what the hell is with the trash-sorting there? Central Park had three, count ’em, THREE, types of trash cans: trash, cans, and magazines.

Magazines? Are those still a thing? Would it have been too difficult to label that last one “paper”? As I just said, there’s a lot more paper produced in New York than I’m used to in the current decade. But I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to throw paper in the magazine bid, so the fifty pages of Hop-on/Hop-off ticket had to go in the garbage. Wouldn’t want to interfere with the, I don’t know, five magazines still in circulation.

And just cans? Maybe they’re hoping by not printing glass bottles, that nobody will bring those to the park. But what about plastic bottles? Every hot dog cart in the Park sells plastic bottles, but we wouldn’t want to update our nomenclature since 1986 or so.

So what am I supposed to do with an apple? No compost? Or how about those cardboard coffee cups from Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts? In most West Coast parks, there’d be a more general “paper” option. But I don’t see myself throwing a coffee cup into the “Magazine” bin. By the way, I tried some Dunkin’ coffee because I’ve heard so much raving about it. My verdict? Meh.I’ll take a Philz or a Temple or a Blue Bottle, thank you very much.

And yes, I know many of our trash bins can be confusing. You see people standing in front of the multi-colored facade for five minutes, staring back and forth between the rubbish in their hand and the fine-hair splitting signs in front of them. I stayed at an airbnb in Seattle where we were informed that we’d be charged extra if the owners or the city had to resort our trash. Eight college grads with at least four advanced degrees, and we spent damn near thirty minutes debating what to do with the cellophane wrapping around the butter.

I only hope that they pay people to sort the trash after it’s been thrown away. If not, I never want to hear a New York politician talking about me not doing my part for the environment.

Denouement (Pronounced “Dyno-MITE!”)

RCMH

Look, kids, it’s Radio City Music Hall. Giraffe’s hitting the big time.

Chess

Nobody was willing to take on the powerhouse that was Giraffe at Chess.

Donuts, donuts, and more donuts. And what better thing to do with donuts than eat them in Central Park? Picture number one was of the fancy donut place that didn’t open until 8:00 AM. The second was Giraffe being singularly unimpressed with this Dunkin’ Donuts coffee he’s heard so much about.

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I don’t quite understand this sign. Plus two points for blocking the intersection? Is there some New York driving RPG where you have to gain experience points by driving poorly?

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And finally, since my very first blog post was about Sharknado 2, I couldn’t resist reenacting one of the most quintessential scenes from the cinematic masterpiece. Unfortunately, no giant inflatable bat. And no Sharknado.

New York, Part V

It’s my last day of point-by-point descriptions of our trip to New York. In fact, on our last day we left the friendly confines of New York and drove to Boston. West Coasters might not realize those are different cities. In our defense, the distance between those two cities and the time it takes to get from one to the other are about equivalent of the greater LA area. Yet somehow it requires driving through four states when you’re in the east. If a Californian moved from Ventura to San Diego, they’d still be able to pronounce Worcester.

But I digress. Because before Boston, I wanted to talk about…

9/11 Museum

I know I said I wasn’t going to delve much more about the 9/11 Museum. I changed my mind. It’s been long enough that I might be able to write a bit more about it.

Overall, we avoided a lot of the overly touristy stuff. Other than the Hop-on/Hop-off, which is more of an geographic introductory course. We didn’t do the Empire State Building. No Statue of Liberty, no Coney Island. We never paid a shit-ton of money to go up a building. We were willing to go to a roof-top bar, but never got around to it. Sure, we did the Natural History Museum and the Tenement Museum. And of course, Times Square, but primarily to see some TKTS-discounted shows.

Some of those things were on our “if we get to it” list, but not long into the trip, we figured we’ll probably bring our daughter when she’s a bit older. So we started to update our “to-do” list with things that would be appropriate for an eight- or ten-year old and what would not. I figure we can do the buildings and the statues and the Disney shows then. Not the Disney Store, mind you, just the Disney shows. Three front-row tickets to “Frozen” probably costs less than a Jack-Jack doll.

And this trip, we did the “Avenue Q” and the Becco and breweries um, the bar inside the Whole Foods. The one thing we absolutely knew we had to do this time was the 9/11 Museum, because there’s no fucking way we’re taking her there next time.

So yeah, we did the 9/11 Museum and all I can say is wow. I mean, it’s powerful. I wish I could be coy or funny or flippant, but I really can’t. It’s a powerful, draining experience. Not a lot of talking going on. Just a lot of zombies slowly swaying from one exhibit to the next.

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We saw the fire truck that was crushed and burned beneath falling debris. We saw what was left of the steel girders that were at the impact point. Hey, all you 9/11 Truthers who claim that fire shouldn’t be enough to bring a building down. You know that the superstructure had just been pierced by a fucking plane, right? Those girders weren’t exactly at their full load-bearing self. Looking at the frayed girders, I’m surprised the buildings stayed up as long as they did after impact. The fucking plane flew THROUGH the fucking building. And the second tower to be hit fell first because it was hit lower. You’ve played Jenga, yes?

Oh, and Building 7 was damaged by the two fucking skyscrapers raining down on it. Did you bother to look at what happened to Building Five? No? The whole fucking front of it was gashed down the middle. Because 110 stories of steel falling right next door to you are going to cause some pockmarks.

Oh, and Truthers? The Earth is round. And Rebecca Black wasn’t singing about JFK. Sorry to shatter your other conspiracies.

But I am willing to engage you in a discussion about whether the U.S. had the technology to land on the moon in 1969.

Back to the 9/11 Museum, just when we thought we were done, we stumbled upon the actual historical exhibition. Yikes.

So, it’s at the Historical Exhibition, buried deep in the bowels of the footprint of… I’m gonna guess Tower Number One? Fifty percent chance I’m right, right? The North Tower. Again, a fifty-fifty chance, although I’m now down to twenty-five percent chance overall. Hey, look at that! A history teacher doing math!

And there you have it: my joke for this section.

Because the historical exhibition was intense.

Even worse, Fitbit evidently doesn’t count things as “steps” when you are crawling at a snail’s pace, mouth agape, staring and reading intently every thing on every wall and then some. What the hell do you mean, only 200 steps this hour, Fitbit? I think I lost more than 3,000 steps that day. One for every 9/11 victim. Not sure if it’s a fitting sacrifice, but one does what one can.

It’s dubbed a multi-media experience, and I guess that’s true based on the dictionary definition, but don’t go expecting some “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience” 4-D Experience. There’s no cockpit footage taken by the government because they were behind the whole thing. Right, Truthers? Was it Dick Cheney flying the airplanes or Dubya himself? I know he couldn’t complete a sentence in English, but he was certainly capable of masterminding a multi-pronged, simultaneous attack in complete secrecy. Oh, and fly a plane, of course, and maybe teleport out at the last second.

The walls of the historical exhibition was a timeline of the morning, accompanied by videos, pictures, and audio clips. I thought I was well-versed in 9/11. My school’s latest revamp of U.S. History had the intent of getting to 9/11, and dogonnit, I finally succeeded in getting there. But now I feel like I have more to add to the 9/11 story than just the story of my dumb ass sitting on the couch watching the second plane hit because my insomniac father called me at five-something in the morning, and this was in the time before silent voicemail, so my answering machine played his message out loud and woke me up and made me think, “What the fuck does he mean, a missile hit the World Trade Center? I should probably wake up to prove him wrong.”

Does the mention of answering machines make you feel old? Hey, here’s another one: The juniors I taught 9/11 to this year were born in 2001. Most of them were born before 9/11, but some were not. Next year, all of my junior will have never lived in a world that contained the Twin Towers. Or a time when the United States was not at war.

Here’s some other things that surprised me in the historical experience. We have the footage of two of the terrorists walking through airport security in Portland. Kinda creepy, them walking though without a care in the world grabbing their coats off of the X-Ray conveyor belt. Dressed business casual, if you care.

And we have recordings of the flight attendants in contact with air traffic control. They were giving a pretty detailed account of what was happening, especially in the first two planes. I know we focus so much on the “Let’s Roll” in Flight 93, but I found “I see the water. I see buildings.” to be a much more powerful reminder of the day.

Oh, and Truthers? I’m with you on the whole “Flight 93 was shot down.” There’s no way passengers could have bum-rushed the cockpit. Have you ever been in the corridor of an airplane? But I’m also fine with Flight 93 being shot down. It was either going down in a field in Pennsylvania or it was killing even more people in Washington, DC.

There was also a lot of video footage, like the World Trade Center victims jumping from the towers. I found it interesting that there were a couple of spots in the exhibit that were hidden behind walls with warnings that the visuals might be disturbing. Oh, it’s just the people leaping to their deaths that’s disturbing? I’m so glad everything else in here is just a visceral walk in the park. I know we are a visual creature, but I don’t know how “I see the waters, I see buildings” is somehow less abysmal than people leaping to their deaths.
Seriously, if a person ISN’T disturbed by any part of this exhibit, then I think it’s probably the person that is disturbed. You might want to go see somebody about that. “Hey, Doc, I thought the 9/11 Exhibit was kinda ho-hum” should definitely get someone put on the no-fly list.

So there’s my recap, saved for Part V for a reason.

Let’s just focus on the Vesey Street Stairs. Yay, some people survived!

And let’s go on to a spot where the good guys were the terrorists…

Boston

Our last day was in Boston. The timeshare agreement only allowed for five nights in New York and, dammit, we have a week’s worth of grandma babysitting, so we ain’t going back a moment too soon. So let’s hit that other New England city. After all, I used to watch a lot of ESPN, and as far as they’re concerned, they are equal and the only two cities that matter in the entire American landscape.

Speaking of the four-letter, I drove through Bristol, or at least nearby. It’s halfway between New York and Boston, if that helps you understand the focus of the four-letter. I’m sure if it were based in Fresno, the A’s-Angels rivalry would be much more pronounced. Then maybe we wouldn’t have the fucking commissioner of baseball saying that the best player in baseball is bad for baseball.

The reason I was driving near Bristol, and not taking the train like a proper Nor-easter (what? That’s only a storm? I can’t use it to describe a people? Fine.) is because I didn’t book the train early enough. I had checked the prices many times back before the trip, but I didn’t buy because it looked like the price wasn’t changing, and I doubted Amtrak was using any of the nasty economic ploys one might expect. For instance, I just checked the rates for a train ride tomorrow from Sacramento to LA, and it’s $57. That’s comparable to what the prices were from New York to Boston when I was checking back in April and May.

But clearly there’s a time warp on the East Coast. Or maybe it’s they have really fucking good cookies on their website. Because when I went to order train tickets when I was in New York, Holy Crap!

The real reason I hadn’t ordered the tickets ahead of time, aside from confidence in cheap availability, is because there were four train trips, each an hour apart from each other, and I wasn’t sure how much our PDT body clocks would have adjusted to the time zone difference, so I thought I’d wait a few days to see how brutal 8:00 AM EDT is.

It turns out 8:00 AM EDT is brutal, but I’m not sure how many New Yorkers are aware of that. I don’t think our clocks ever adjusted. We really didn’t need to. The coasts play off of each other, so even though we’re three hours apart, we don’t really do things that far apart. For instance, that whole “9 to 5” thing? That actually exists on the East Coast. Like, people don’t actually get up and go to work until 9:00 AM. Out here on the West Coast, it’s pretty common for people to roll into work closer to 7:00. The school I teach at starts at 7:20 AM. But there was a donut shop near our hotel that didn’t open until 8:00. Eight? A donut is a breakfast food, right? I think a West Coast donut store that didn’t open by 5:30 wouldn’t be in business very long.

And unless you’er in San Francisco or Seattle proper, we usually try to eat dinner between 6:00-7:00 here on the West Coast, which was not a problem at all, because 9:00-10:00 seems to be prime time for dining in Manhattan. So in the end, my back-home body clock wakes up in the 5:00 hour and trails off into dreamland between 9:00-10:00. So waking up at 8:00 AM and plugging away past midnight seemed perfectly acceptable in our new environment.

At least until we had to wake up at 5:00 AM to be on our way to the airport by 6:00. On a coast where a place that calls itself a Bed and BREAKFAST can’t be bothered to even have coffee brewed by that point. They make timers on coffee pots on the East Coast, too, right? At least because of my faux pas with the train the day before, we had the benefit of driving to the airport instead of taking the T.

Speaking of which, I never finished my train v. car comparison. By the time I tried to book the train, three days before traveling, the price was up to $250. One way! Per Ticket! I checked airplanes, and that would cost around $100 each. The new Amtrak slogan: “Triple the time for triple the cost!”

The rental car cost $63 total, even with us renting it in New York and returning it in Boston. Well, I don’t need to be an AP Economics teacher to know that, of those three options, the train is not the best. But since I am an AP Economics teacher, I might bring up that the variable cost of adding one more train car, and thereby servicing a hundred or more new customers, seems negligible. The benefit of no TSA and not having to drive is not worth paying eight times as much.

So we drove.

Rental

Daughter was very upset that Giraffe wasn’t wearing a seat belt.

Regardless of how we got to Boston, we weren’t going to have much time there. By the time we “checked in to” the B&B (we never saw the owners – they just left a key and some instructions on the front door for us) and took the T down to Boston Commons, it was well past 2:00. And we had Red Sox tickets for 7:00. So after a lunch from the Vietnamese food truck that was a hell of a lot cheaper and a hell of a lot better than the shitty lamb gyro in New York, we did what anybody with only a few hours in Boston should do. We took the Freedom Trail.

At least that’s what I assumed would be a proper American’s first order of business in Boston. Except the first time I was there, I was with some other teachers and we were playing hooky from “further enhancing” an educational conference in Providence. We drove into Boston and went straight to Cheers. That was the one bone the two ladies I was with threw me. But when I found out the Boston Massacre site was only a few blocks away and wanted to go, they wrinkled their noses. They were in a brand new city, filled with wonder and personality and architecture. Why would they want to go to some stupid “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” site? (Actual quote)

So we settled for Harvard. Fine, I figured, we’re teachers, let’s go to Harvard. We did one circle around the campus, or really one “quick glance at the quad,” then went into Harvard Square. Harvard Square has a bunch of shops. And while I found a kinda cool book store, where did my fellow conference attendees go? The Body Shop. You know, the one with the scented soaps and shit? The one that’s in every mall in America? Yeah, they spent a fucking hour in there. Because of course, when you’re in a new city, filled with wonder and personality and architecture, why would you go to a rather specific site where one of the quintessential acts of the American Revolution happened, when you can get lavender-scented soap at a “Buy One, Get One Ten Percent Off” deal?

Just as Benjamin Franklin would’ve wanted it.

I’ve returned to Boston a few times since then and finally did the Freedom Trail properly. Including Lexington, spot of the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” and Concord, the spot of the first official battle (a couple hours after Lexington). Both towns have the battle spots still as they appeared 240 years ago. With visitor’s centers and shit. Pretty fucking awesome if you can get twenty miles out of town. When we transitioned from train to car, I thought about diverting wife there, but the Red Sox weren’t waitin’ for no one that night, so we bypassed the best addendums to the Freedom Trail.

But this was wife’s first Boston foray, and we only had a couple hours, so it’s time to follow the yellow-brick sidewalk.

That was somewhat literal. If you haven’t done the Freedom Trail before, it’s about as dumbshit-proof user-friendly of a tourist attraction as you’re liable to find. There’s a yellow line that goes through a good portion of the town. It’s embedded into the brick sidewalks for most of its path, it crosses the street when it needs to. And there are plaques along the way. Look honey, “One if by Land, and Two if by Sea.” And the act of self defense that was sold as a Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Except last time I did the Freedom Trail, I feel like I got a lot more context. I remember anecdotes about British soldiers quartering themselves in people’s homes, so those colonists had to camp out at Boston Commons. Or maybe the British garrisoned at Boston Commons after the Boston Tea Party. Regardless, that’s where the Third Amendment, America’s second-most forgotten amendment (I’m looking at you, Eleventh) came from. On my last Freedom Trail jaunt, there was also derisive disdain for Paul Revere, who didn’t even deliver his fucking message but still took credit for it because he ran a newspaper, the same newspaper that dubbed the riot a massacre.

Okay, so maybe the fun little anecdotes didn’t really stick with me as much as they ought to have, but I at least remember getting them.

So maybe I was taking a tour? But I don’t think so, because I was visiting a friend who lived in Boston. And I don’t think she told me all of those stories. Maybe Paul Revere, but I don’t think she went into the Third Amendment. So I kinda think I was listening to some pre-recorded thing.

I must have been listening to an audio tour. And this was back before mp3’s and ubiquitous listening devices. So maybe I rented one of those old-timey listening sticks.

And it turns out that there is an audio tour now. Unfortunately, you have to download it before you arrive. The info we saw said it wouldn’t work to download it straight to your phone – you have to go the mp3-to-iTunes-to-phone route. Maybe that info was outdated, because I remember getting books on CD that had to work that way. But most phones produced this decade can bypass that route. But maybe it’s intentional on the Freedom Trail. I assume they’re trying to replicate the difficult technology problems of the Revolution. We all know that the war dragged on for six years because Washington only had 3G technology to text out his battle plans, right?

So instead, wife and I just walked a few blocks and saw some cool brick buildings. And a cemetery with a bunch of faded tombstones. Very historic. One of them housed a Chipotle, which I can only assume is the very same Chipotle that the John and Sam Adams met at before the Boston Tea Party.

And of course we saw the cemetery, because that’s a happy way to start any trail. Seriously, Boston, I know you can’t go all Poltergeist” and “You moved the bodies, but not the souls,” but why the hell do you start the Freedom Trail with a cemetery? I’d be a hell of a lot more impressed if John Hancock had signed his own tombstone.

I also remember something about Crispus Attucks, the first victim of the non-massacre, being buried here. Or maybe he wasn’t buried here because he was African American? I can’t remember. If only I had an audio tour.

We ended at Faneuil Hall, which I remember as a natural stopping spot when walking the Freedom Trail. There’s like ten “stops” within five blocks of each other. Then, I think, it’s a seventy-five mile hike to the next spot. Yeah, I get that the Battle of Bunker Hill wasn’t really fought on Bunker Hill, but I don’t need to hoof it halfway to Maine to verify that.

Plus, I was too pissed to continue. Why? Because at Feneuil Hall, they had a whole bunch of random slightly-patriotic shit for sale. Huzzah, America! And one particular display featured this:

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TEA? In Boston? The Audacity! Don’t they know their history? We dumped all the fucking tea in the harbor so we wouldn’t have to drink that British shit anymore. Sell some goddamn American coffee here, dammit! USA! USA!

So we “finished” the trail, and made sure to do the other properly American thing to do in Boston. Giraffe had to pose in front of Cheers. We didn’t go in, because as I discovered on my first trip to Boston, the inside looks nothing like the TV show and was very disappointing. There is another Cheers in town that was built to look like the TV Show set, but it wasn’t built until the show was off the air. And I didn’t find that out until my third trip to Boston. But the TV-set lookalike was closed the day we were visiting. So sorry, no shots of Giraffe sitting in Norm’s spot.

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In the end, Wife liked Boston. It definitely felt more laid back, and more comfortable for these two California-suburb dwellers, after five days of the hustle and bustle of a city where people spend ninety million dollars and still have to exit their apartment onto a street with a shit-ton of people who haven’t bathed in weeks. Boston Commons feels like you could sit back and read a book. Central Park feels like you better be fucking doing something, or on the way somewhere, or else why the fuck did we build this fucking park for you? And, hey look, there’s the Dakota building!

 

We ended our day in Boston, and our trip to the Northeast, with a trip to Fenway Park. My Angels were in town, and when I bought the tickets, their season and their likelihood of winning this game, or really any game, was not so farcical. By the time the game rolled around, I told my wife that it might get ugly, early. And it did. The Red Sox slapped the Angels around like they were playing a different game. The pitcher, who had only been called up a few starts ago, got as absolutely lit up as one would expect when a AAA pitcher faces a first-place lineup. He didn’t make it out of the second inning.

But the fun didn’t end there. The perfect bookend to our trip happened the next morning. After we got our asses up at oh-dark, left the B&B with very little B and not a sniff of B, who did we see boarding the same United flight to Los Angeles as us? It looks like… well, let me just pull up the apps to check the tattoos and… Why, it was the Angels pitcher from the night before! Well, I’ll be damned. I guess Los Angeles is the transfer point to get ballplayers back to Salt Lake, where the Angels have their AAA affiliate. And all of a sudden, I feel bad for this guy. Twelve hours before, I was cussing him out and saying he better re-think his fucking career because his pitching was a fucking joke. And now I’m thinking, aww, poor guy, he finally got his dream to pitch in the majors and now he’s being sent back down to AAA on the next fucking flight.

Turns out it was neither scenario. He went on the disabled list with an “inflammation of the elbow.” And now I’m back to pissed at him. His elbow seemed fine. Maybe he should have his neck looked at because he had to keep watching all the laser-beam home runs he was serving up. Go back to tha Minors, ya bum!

At least he got to ride first class.