Wednesday, July 29, 2009
10 20 Thoughts: The Truncated HOF Travel Diary
I really wanted to put together some sort of grand travel diary to capture last weekend's cross-country excursion to Cooperstown – I took notes and everything! Unfortunately, my current workload with the Unnamed Defense Contractor is ruining my usual lunchtime writing sessions. So, in an effort to keep from becoming one of those bloggers who sometimes goes a week between posts, we'll use this format. I'll even attempt to NOT regurgitate any of my updates from Facebook and Twitter. I make no promises.
I finally upgraded my cell phone for this trip, trading up to the Verizon enV Touch. I hate going to any cell phone retailer, though. I fall for every up-sell in the book (although the Body Glove-brand phone casing I bought is pretty bad-ass). Oh, and as the sales guy scrolled through my old phone's pictures to see if they could be transferred without a memory stick, I'm pretty sure he came across a shot of Mrs. Bootleg. My wife sent me that pic before "sexting" entered America's lexicon. Consequently – as I told my wife – her bare breasts are grandfathered in as "art".
On my Friday morning flight out of San Diego, I sat next to an older couple – the wife had the window seat, her husband was in the middle and I'm on the aisle. We were airborne for all of eight minutes when the husband fell asleep. I relied on my iPod to cancel out his wild boar snoring, I looked the other way as his drool pooled into his lap, but – for the life of me – I could not escape his hairy leg. It didn't matter that I moved as far away from him as I could in coach seating (approximately three inches to the left) this corpse's calf consistently came in contact with mine. This isn't about macho posturing. It's just gross. A female friend of mine from New York once told me that her and her friends often go weeks in the winter without shaving their legs. I threw up for two days when I heard this.
After we'd landed in Atlanta, the couple next to me asked where I was headed. I mentioned Cooperstown and the whole Hall of Fame thing to which the woman replied, "Wait, are YOU getting inducted?"
I hadn't even reached baggage claim in Albany when I passed two separate Mets fans within a few feet of each other. The first was wearing Mets Crocs(!) with black socks and a black Mets t-shirt. The second guy was an obvious XXL in a medium-size shirt, mustache and the thickest rope chain I've ever seen. It reached his stomach! On a white guy! And, neither one answered to my call of "Tom?"
My cab driver from the hotel to Bombers Burrito Bar was a guy named Frankie. I'd estimate that the ride was no more than 10 minutes and less than five miles. In that time, Frankie clued me in on Albany's inferiority complex ("[Everyone in NYC] thinks we're all 'citybillies' up here, but f*ck 'em…that's what I say."); the difference between women on the west and east coasts ("Guys like me can be fat out here cuz, when they get to their 30s, east coast women stop taking care of themselves and don't care what you look like, either."); and umm… ("I can take you to where the p***y-to-d**k ratio is like 4-to-1.")
M'man Daniels recommended Bombers' jerk burrito and, God almighty, it was glorious. It's a total two-man lift swollen with spicy shredded pork that's marinated in Red Stripe beer. I know! But, it's STILL good! It's rare that I get this excited about a single meal, but it must've shown as the server actually asked if I wanted another one.
I got back to my room just before 4:00 AM. At least, I think that's when I got back. I remember paying the fare for my cab ride and checking the time on my phone. No lie, kids…the next thing I remember is waking up completely naked in my room on the bathroom floor. Five days later, I still don't know what the hell happened.
After several days of internal debate, I'm not ready to put Albany's bar scene into my personal top three (you're safe for now: San Francisco, Austin and Washington DC), but it's close enough to make it into the class picture. Good music, great crowds without being claustrophobic, approachable patrons who initiated idle conversation with whoever was in the vicinity and my first whiskey with a pickle juice backshot! All weekend long, in every bar I went to, someone I'd never met before bought me at least one drink. Where else on planet earth does this happen?
On Saturday, Cooperstown's main drag was crawling with ballplayers. In an endless array of 1989 baseball card show scenes, most were set up at autograph tables and charging up to $200 (kiss my Black ass, Willie Mays) for a signature. For the second time this year, I crossed paths with erstwhile reliever Lee Smith. As he limped by, I blurted out, "We gotta get you in the Hall." He laughed and replied, "Keep fighting the fight, youngblood." Gosh, Mr. Smith, I sure will!
Pete Rose was signing autographs in a Cooperstown memorabilia shop, as he always is during Induction Weekend. His appearance was sponsored by a…"mature" production company that brought two scantily-clad "actresses" along to stand out front and drum up foot traffic. These women were bookended by two bodyguards who discouraged – physically discouraged – anyone who attempted to take a picture of the ladies.
What's the biggest difference between east coast/west coast sports fans? Women. I saw ladies of all ages wearing Yankees/Red Sox jerseys, t-shirts and caps. Mothers, daughters, teens, seniors…all of 'em. Here in California, you'll get a decent demographic cross-section representing at the games, but you'll NEVER see women wearing team gear of any kind away from the ballpark. Out here, the best a guy can hope for is landing a woman that'll tolerate sports.
Still feeling the events of the previous night, I grab a greasy slice from Cooperstown's Sal's Pizzeria. I enter as Sal is getting into it with two customers who can't decide if they're paying together or separately. Pfft…I'm an elitist from California and even I can hold my own in a New York pizzeria. I order a slice of spinach and a Coke. "A Coke? So, are you gonna tell what size you want?!", snaps Sal. "Is a medium OK? Is that what you want? Cuz 'a Coke' doesn't mean nuthin' to me." I didn't mean to upset you, Sal.
Late in the day, I'm sitting on the steps outside of the Hall of Fame museum and fumbling with my new cell phone. An elderly lady walks right up to me, stares for a few moments and asks, "Are you somebody important?" In hindsight, I wish I'd answered her in a million different ways other than the response I chose ("Uh, no.") She continued to look over her shoulder towards me as she walked away.
The touring group ended up at Jillian's of Albany for dinner on Saturday night. We were only there for about 90 minutes, so I sat at the bar and watched the A's/Yankees replay. The aspiring actress/bartender in booty shorts and a bustier comped me a beer and before long another half-dozen guys from the bus had waddled over. The only thing better than their bad pick-up lines ("Who's your favorite football team?!") was the intentionally loud assessment of the scene by a woman sitting next to me ("I think she's just working those guys for tips.")
While waiting for the shuttle to the induction site on Sunday, I chatted up one of the women working crowd control who just so happened to be white. "You remind me of my son", she said. "Same height, same complexion…except he's got a lot more hair." Since my mother is biracial, this whole scene shouldn't have been so jarring, but…yeah.
I came all the way out to Cooperstown to hear Rickey Henderson's induction speech in person and – inexplicably – it exceeded my expectations. The Reggie Jackson anecdote drew uproarious laughter from the crowd, the swerve at the end as Rickey sucked us all into believing we'd see an "I am the greatest…" encore was brilliantly delivered and his "my journey as a ballplayer is complete" line actually brought tears to my…wait, you know what? This deserves its own post.
Cheers: After being delayed at JFK for over an hour on Monday morning – 45 minutes of which were spent sitting on the plane as it never moved from the gate – Delta turned on their new(?) in-seat televisions for everyone. Jeers: For quite awhile, the only channel I could receive was ESPN2, which airs the unwatchable First Take program. Monday's show featured Woody Paige debating…2 Live Stews of "urban" sports-talk radio infamy.
My flight arrived in San Diego around lunchtime, but for some reason we were forced to sit a few hundred feet from our gate for an additional 15 minutes. As the captain attempted to explain the situation to the passengers, one belligerent slob with a Bronx accent loudly voiced his displeasure to anyone within earshot. He then steamrolled his way up the aisle – pushing and shoving – the moment the doors opened. I'll miss New York.
I can't wrap this up without saying a few words about Sports Travel and Tours – the outfit that hosted the Hall of Fame weekend for me. I had some fun at their expense last week, but the transportation was top-notch, the relaxed come-and-go-as-you-please itinerary was terrific and our travel coordinator was a hoot. He's a former employee of a certain Major League team and shared several behind-the-curtain tales, even naming names for the benefit of his rapt bus-ridin' audience. And, when I challenged him to name seven players from the Kansas City Royals, he replied "Johnny Damon". Just precious.
And, finally, much love to m'man Jon for showing me a great time all weekend. He's a longtime reader whom I'd never met before, but he took me around Albany's best bars on Friday night and then had me over for dinner at his sister's apartment on Sunday night. I've been doing this online writing thing for nearly seven years and I haven't been maimed or murdered by any of the readers I've met along the way. Thanks for keeping the streak alive, Jon.