Monday, August 31, 2009

Finally Back From Our Vegas Vacation, Without Uncle Eddie

I looked at the last entry that I posted on my blog, and it’s been almost 2 weeks ago. This has been the longest drought in posting since my last big trip, my honeymoon, but at the same time, my travels this time were of similar significance. Girl and I haven’t had a true long vacation where we could relax in quite a bit of time, and since our planned vacation in Mexico in the spring was cancelled, our trip to Vegas was a time to get away from everything. For the next few posts, I want to share the highlights of the trip to the land that never sleeps.


We got back from Spokane Monday afternoon, and things had been a blur since we got back. I left some of my stuff packed from the drive up, simply because I was using some of the same things during our trip. It did provide some adventure in our bedroom, though, having suitcases lying about made maneuvering around that much more difficult.

It was also odd to return to work for just a couple of days before traveling again, but at the same point, it was similar to my wedding, where I got married on a Saturday and we left for our trip on the following Wednesday. I came back on Tuesday, and was leaving for Vegas on the Thursday, so the big concern at work was managing projects and keeping things afloat without having a huge assignment added that would start for a bit, then sit for a few weeks until my return. Thankfully, nothing work related happened, and I was able to go home without it hanging over my head.

However, there were other distractions going on. While at work on Wednesday, I got a call from my sister that my grandmother wasn’t doing well health wise, and depending on what happened when my uncle arrived to be with her, they might take her off oxygen to allow her to die. After dealing with the family issues in Spokane over the weekend, I wasn’t prepared to deal with more issues, but that’s how things work with families. Challenges come up, and you have to learn to deal with them.

Girl and I were locked into going to Vegas, as we couldn’t cancel our plans without incurring some serious penalties. But I think girl made the best point that it would have been different if we knew we could make it out in time to see her before she died for a final visit. Funerals, while important, are mostly for the living to talk about memories, and they are full of sadness, angst and emotions. In thinking about it, I couldn’t think of a way to make it out there without significantly affecting the planned trip we planned, thus impacting our bottom line. It would have been quite a production to get out to Goodland, Kansas in time, and so it was a decision to honor our trip, but honor my grandmother and her life.

I am glad that my grandmother was able to meet girl, and that they had time to get to know each other. I wished my mother would have been alive to do the same thing, but girl learned about my family and where we came from, and she understands how my family works very well. There’s always been tremendous distance between groups of relatives, and I’m not just talking about actual geography. We all grew up very differently in various parts of the world, and it’s been tough at points to bridge that gap. I love them without issues, but at the same point, I have closer relations with girl’s family and friends I have here. It might be sad, but it’s the reality of the situation. What I have done is tried to build on relationships with relatives that always haven’t been good, and because of that, I’m very close with my uncle and dad because we make efforts to remain close. I also email some of my cousins to keep in touch with my mom’s family, and that helps me feel a bit more connected. Technology can be quite amazing at points.

Thursday, August 20th:

We packed up our stuff Wednesday night and were up very late trying to make sure that we put everything we needed into our three bags. We had arranged for first class tickets to fly to Vegas, and so we could take extra luggage and have bigger seats for the flight down, and since I’d never flown first class, I was curious to gage the experience. We packed a lot of nice clothes and casual gear, knowing that our plans included a nice dinner, perhaps some dancing, and lots of pool time. As we feverishly put things in various pockets of the bags, the clocks rang up time until the clock finally hit 2 AM. Well, at least we know we’ll be able to sleep on the flight if we wanted to.

The alarm hit at 8:00 AM for extra time to get some final things arranged, time to say good-bye to our pack of cats, and get a good breakfast before we left. The shuttle was arriving at our place at 10:30 AM, which would allow us a few hours to chill in the first class lounge before our early afternoon flight. Sure enough, the driver was right on time, and we wheeled our gear up for loading. Our driver was very nice, offered some Vegas suggestions, and even liked the design on my bank card, a golf ball trying to find its home. We arrived at PDX at 11 AM, and within moments, were checking in for our flight.

It was amazing to get to advance to the front of the line, as first class check in gets priority. Normally, the queue is one of the worst things about flying in an airport, but first class allowed us to fly through check in and security without issue at all. Girl even was able to purchase a nice laptop bag, which allowed her to keep it safely within the bag but still have security do their thing in checking us out. We got our shoes off easy, answered the right questions, and by 11:10 AM, we were sitting in the first class lounge with a nice comfortable couch and coffee.

Had I known about the lounge, I probably would have tried to do this sooner, because the lounge was simply amazing. There were multiple large televisions, two nice coffee makers, and plenty of tables with magazines and newspaper for reading. And it was really quiet, as most people were busy reading or checking email before their flight. Well, mostly quiet, except for the guy who kept chatting on his cell phone in the lobby instead of the cell phone area as he was supposed to. The time flew by, and the only interruption I had was a text message from my sister. My grandmother was gone, as she left us peacefully in her sleep.

There was nothing I could do at this point, as we were already heading south. I said a few nice things in my mind about my grandmother, while thinking happy thoughts that she was finally at peace after many years of fighting illness. I was still thinking about girl meeting her, and the question of religion came up. My grandmother is a devout Catholic, and wanted to know if girl was coming to the church. Since we had only been dating a short time when they met and religion hadn’t been a hot topic, I told my grandmother she was. This was mostly to appease what I thought might be a difficult conversation, because I knew about girl’s experience with organized religion, and pretty much knew that she wouldn’t be up for any type of church, regardless of the situation. It did foster some discussion later, and now I regret not giving them a chance to talk about it. It might have been a good conversation, but at the same time, it provided me a lesson about relationships that all topics need to be on the table at all times. Secrets just lead to more issues if they aren’t talked about.

We left the lounge about a half an hour before our scheduled departure, and it was then our next issue popped up. They needed to move gates, and we didn’t have a plane when we were schedule to leave, because the flight up from Vegas was late. This did allow us some time to chill at the gate, and deface a certain copy of USA Today with a particular member of FC Puke Green that was on the front page of the sports section. Girl has some great art skills, and by the time our masterpiece was done, the plane had arrived and we were boarding about an hour late.

We got to board first, and settled into the first class area, and as we found our seats, we heard the song “Brighter Than Sunshine” by Aqualung on the plane sound system. Since this was our wedding song, it seemed rather appropriate to hear this as we were settling in. For me, it was a sign that we were making the right choice. Already, I could see this first class thing was worth it. The seats were a lot bigger, there was much more leg room, and there was bottled water available. I could really get used to this way of traveling, and as soon as the doors shut, the flight attendant was asking for our drink order.

We took off, and as soon as we were leveled in the air, there was a gin and tonic sitting next to me. For the next two hours, gin and tonics showed up about every 20 minutes or so, and we both managed to get 4 down rather easily, along with a good amount of snack food and salad. I did feel pretty happy as our plane landed about 2 hours later, and we were soon off to collect our luggage. Thank you, Alaska Airlines!!!

While I went after our bags, girl went to check into the MGM Grand, the hotel we were staying at. We were able to check in at the airport, and got our room assignment and keys quickly. Since we were checking in a bit after the 3 PM check in time, we were worried about having our room type available, but apparently, we got what we wanted according to the employee. We headed for the taxi line, and were off to our destination.

The cabbie was quiet initially, until he asked where we were from, and once we said Portland, the conversation flowed. He asked about the weather, the city, the beer, and we were happy to oblige with answers about the Rose City. The ride took about 10 minutes, but it seemed to take no time at all, as we pulled into MGM Grand. The meter read 11 dollars, but we handed over a 20 and said to keep the change. The cabbie beamed, and made sure our bags got out of the trunk quickly, and we were in the lobby.

MGM Grand is like a little city, taking up a huge chunk of space at the corner of Tropicana and the Strip. It just goes forever and ever, but since we’d been there last December, we still had a good idea of the layout. We headed to the West Tower, and soon enough, we found our home for the next 8 days. And it was as advertised, the celebrity spa suite. It was a very large room, having a separate section with a computer desk, couch and bar/fridge set up, with the bed on the other side of the dresser/TV cabinet. The TV sat on a rotatable platform, and could be moved to be seen from the couch or bed, and the bathroom had a huge spa tub in the back. We had joked about the Hooters casino, which seems to be out of place for Vegas, and sure enough, it was right outside our window. The joke is that simply why would you want to go to a place with scantily clad women when you can go to any other casino and see nakedness?

We unpacked, and decided to explore our surroundings and find some things we missed in our last trip. We checked out the pool area, which was not open on the last trip, and would be a destination for us. Our package gave us access to the pool, gym, and clubs for free, and other specials, like reduced drink costs, so we wanted to take advantage of everything we could. After the exploration, we headed to the MGM Buffet for a rather huge meal, which you can get at these places. Acres and acres of foods, but we did learn a few things. First, I thought I was on the account to charge things, but apparently I wasn’t, so girl had to sign. Secondly, there’s a reason why you leave the safe unlocked after you leave the room. We tried to get into our room safe after before dinner, and the folks that stayed before us failed to leave the safe open so it could be reset. Nice, but as with everything, the MGM staff took care of everything. Once we left the buffet, we headed to Walgreen’s on the strip to get a few necessary supplies, and then back to the room for a relatively early night’s sleep. Our plan was to venture out Friday to a grocery store near the Rio for more substantial food, but the weather reports indicated that it was supposed to hit 108 degrees on Friday. Nice and warm, which is good, but you don’t want to walk far in this stuff, so we needed to be up early for our next adventure.

Next time – Google Maps Strikes Again, Mode Up Close and Personal, and Do You Want Some Mimosa to Go?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Playing a Bit of Catch-Up

Since the Mode show last week, things have been a blur since we got back, as once girl and I returned, we had plenty to do before heading to Spokane to hang with my family for the weekend. I try to get up there every once in a while to see my aunt and uncle, and my dad will usually come up as well. There is a classic car show during mid-August, and since my uncle and dad are huge car guys, it's a great time to meet up with them, spend some quality time as a family, and appreciate some really nice classic cars.
The only regret for the weekend was the fact my sister and her husband had to cancel coming up at the last minute due to some health related concerns. I do understand why they couldn't come, but at the same time, it is disappointing not to have everyone there. That didn't change the trip being a load of fun, though, as we ate lots of food, drank a bit, I played a bit of soccer to prepare for the upcoming TAFC season we watched some Timbers, and caught up on some movies. It was exactly the weekend that I wanted, pretty low key, but great to see people I don't get to see much. I hadn't seen them since my wedding, so it was great to play catchup.
I also got to run around Spokane and check out some old haunts of mine, around Gonzaga U and the downtown part of Spokane, and things have changed quite a bit since my days of attending college up there. The athletic facilities have completely changed the complexion of the campus, and it's impressive to see what they've been able to do for a relatively small college in the Northwest. I have a lot of great memories around there, and while I didn't get to see everyone up there as I wanted, it was still worth it. Plus, the classic car show on Saturday was impressive, as there was more cars than in previous years, and it's amazing to see how much effort people put into making these look so good. It's also great to have something that my dad loves and I can relate to, because my passion of soccer is something that admittedly a lot of folks don't understand as much.
We also got to watch the Timbers - Rochester game on Saturday night, and for one game to match with some novice fans, it was an impressive show to watch. The Timbers won for the first time ever in Rochester, and really played well in netting 4 goals in a rather impressive show of skill. My dad was very impressed, and we enjoyed some barbeque while the second half was going on. I think he was happy to see something that I love quite a bit up close, and we could teach him a few things about the team, league, and other things. Can't beat good sports with good food, and the Timbers get number 22 in their unbeaten streak. Plus, we got the picture up on the big screen from girl's laptop, which I was impressed that we remembered how to do it.
While all of this was going on, there was plenty of things happening in the world of sports. I've been concerned about the long term health of the United Soccer League, and apparently I'm not the only one. The league is for sale, as Umbro has put their share up for bids, after their parent company, Nike, wasn't interested in owning a sports league. MLS has at least kicked the tires a bit, and why not? Seattle and Toronto were former USL First Division cities that had moderate success at the gate, while Miami joined the USL after their MLS team folded, and Tampa joins USL in 2010 after their MLS team was also contracted. Salt Lake did have a lower division USL team, and San Francisco had a USL First Division team before they folded once San Jose returned to MLS. The leagues intersect quite a bit, and it would make sense to set up a relationship between the leagues, be it a major - minor league affiliation setup like baseball or more of a higher - lower level allowing players to progress within the system.
Grass should be the surface at the new PGE Park, according to the Oregon Economics Blog. I've played on both surfaces myself, and they are a vast difference in how they react. Turf has a bit more bounce, and it's more forgiving with touch passes for players like myself with a questionable touch, but players hate to slide on it. Grass is definitely softer and easier to slide on, but it does make stadium sharing and teams that play slightly different sports a tougher thing to deal with. But it is easier to have a touch on grass, although weather wise, grass certainly has more issues with the elements, like strong rain or snow, unlike turf. I think this is an important decision to make, but let's be honest, Oregon is the turf capital of the world. If we can't make natural grass work here, we're just not trying hard enough.
And finally, the big push to bring triple AAA baseball to Beaverton is picking up a lot of speed. They've created a web site for the effort, talking about the plan and the way that baseball can come there. It's good to see a lot of groups, like little league baseball, the Oregon Sports Authority, and others step up and provide support to the baseball effort, something that had been lacking with previous efforts to keep the team in Portland proper. The Oregon Sports Authority has been involved with initial efforts to bring MLB to Portland, and were involved with the MLS efforts, and so to see them throw their hand into the plan is a good sign. They had a rally in Beaverton today, and OSA's chief executive, Drew Mahalic, wrote an editorial today saying Beaverton was the right choice for the Beavers for their future. As much as I love having baseball in Portland, I believe that this is the next best thing, keeping the team local and in a location that is easy to get to for those of us that don't live out that way.
I can't believe a city this big couldn't figure out a way to keep the baseball team in town, but the power brokers in town have really pushed baseball off their radar, and after the change of plans to remove the Memorial Coliseum from the baseball plan, all momentum to keep the Beavers in town was lost. I didn't think Lents was a bad second choice, but the residents felt different, and they balked at the financial plan, which quite frankly, I don't blame them too much. Granted, I don't think most of them truly understood what baseball could have done for the area, and they are probably still going to be waiting for years to see what they will end up using their urban renewal dollars on. But for a city this large, it's frustrating to see Portland roll over and just let this happen without a fight. Then again, the city that works only works if you can get the powers that be working for you, and that wasn't going to happen anytime soon. I hope that this plan works in Beaverton, because the city and this region deserve professional baseball to remain.
Our summer finishes with a nice vacation, as girl and I will be heading to Vegas on Thursday for our last summer hurrah. It will be nice to get some sun, take in a show or two, spend some time by the pool, and just relax from the summer. I'll have to remember to bet red to get ahead, or is it black, that won't set you back?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

My First Depeche Mode Show

So, I'm back in Portland after a day up north in the land of the big pointy thing, and all things lime green. I always have good adventures up there, but I rarely go north lately except for watching soccer, so it was a different feeling to be getting ready for a trip that didn't involve getting soccer gear ready to go. Oh, yes, and it was full of highlights..

9:00 AM - I thoroughly love to sleep in, especially on days where I know that I'm not going to work. However, I couldn't sleep in too late, because there were things to do before heading up north. Girl and I had worked on cleaning out part of our garage and attic all day Sunday, so I hadn't had much time to check email or write my blog for my other job. So, I woke up early to get my entry done in time so it was relevant, and not too terrible. I must say, it all came together after finding some nice pictures from Saturday, and the rest wrote itself. I was able to eat some breakfast hurriedly, shower up, read my emails, and then head upstairs to dress.

11:30 AM - I was finally shaved and getting ready to dress when I walked into our bedroom, and girl asked me if I was running late. I said just a touch, but nothing that is a big issue. I know she's a huge proponent for being on time to places, and I'm getting so much better after years of being the late one to my friends. I was constantly late, an annoying habit that I learned from my mother, and only broke after many years of being embarrassed by it. It usually came down to not properly judging how much time it would take to get somewhere, and knowing that we had an appointment at noon, I felt we had plenty of time to be there. I grabbed a dress shirt, which girl vetoed, mostly because it was hot outside. I just wanted to look nice for the show, and so I found a nice t-shirt and pressed shorts, and we were ready to go.

11:45 AM - Girl and I got into our car, Sergio, and headed up to Enterprise Rent A Car to pick up our rental. This might seem like an odd thing, especially since Sergio is a very roomy car, gets great gas mileage, and is extremely comfortable for long trips. He's also covered in Timbers gear and stickers, and going into the land of the flounder, we felt he would be a very easy target for vandalism. We read a story about a friend of green sailor's, a gal we know from the TA, who had her car vandalized up there when she was there for 3 hours. We decided not to risk it, and left for Enterprise, who had given us a great rental deal with a coupon.

11:53 AM - It helps if you remember the damn coupon, which needed to be presented at the time of rental. I had a sneaking suspicion I'd forgot something, and I was right. I remembered the confirmation email, licenses, credit card, but the coupon escaped me. We hurried back to the house to grab it, and then head to the rental car place.

12:05 PM - We pulled into Enterprise, and they had a couple of silver cars in the parking lot, so we knew that we would have a choice between non-descript and non-descript. No bright colors, no big cars, just something to blend in, which is what we were looking for. The Enterprise clerk greeted us nicely, and we briefly chatted about our information, rental details, and then he asked what we were doing with the car. Girl mentioned we were heading to the Depeche Mode show up north, but that since our car was covered in soccer stuff, we needed to rent a car that wasn't a moving target for vandals. His exact words were, "Timbers Army?", and we both nodded. We didn't even mention the Timbers, or the whole MLS thing, he just knew and understood. The fact we didn't have to pay an extra damage deposit was awesome. We checked out the car, then headed back home for some final details, and then planned our trip northward.

1:00 PM - Google maps made our expected destination seem easy to find, with very detailed directions, so I felt confident that we could find where we were going. Ok, Key Arena is a big freaking building next to a big pointy thing, so how hard can it be to find? Girl attended to some last minute details, gathered up her discology of Depeche Mode discs, and we headed out to Freddy's for some quick snacks and the ATM before leaving.

1:20 PM - I pull into Freddy's with a small, but important list of things needed for the trip. I tend to sneeze while driving, and having tissues about is very important, and we also wanted to get some munchies for the road, and some cash for parking, concert stuff, and foods. As I left U-Scan, I saw a group of elderly folks getting off their shuttle bus to go shopping at Freddy's. I was about to miss the old folks shopping, and I was happy. Look, I love older folks, but when you are in a hurry to get somewhere, you don't want to get stuck behind someone who might be moving at a slower pace.

1:43 PM - We only have a quarter tank of gas, and so girl reminds me we should fill up before we go. She had mentioned it before, and the rental guy talked about it, but apparently, my mind was elsewhere at that point, and so we headed to Chevron for some gas. I had to pull over to find out what side of the car the gas tank was on, and once I pulled up to the pump, I realized that I was still sitting on my wallet. I pulled everything out of my pockets, realizing that I had indeed remembered the tickets, and girl put the things in cup holders and slots in the car to help with organization. Our rental only has a 12 gallon tank, so fuel economy will be important here. But it's a small Yaris, so I'm not worried too much.

1:55 PM - We leave Portland proper on I-205 North, and immediately encounter traffic. It could be an accident, or something, uh, no it's the cars piled up to get onto the Airport Way exit east. I was wrong in identifying the cause, but it didn't hold us up too much, and we were off.

2:02 PM - The first Depeche Mode disc is put into the CD player, and we are now listening to one of girl's favorite bands ever. She even taught in the town in England where most of the band is from, and has seen them 5 times already plus a few solo shows for their lead singer, Dave Gahan. I know that when you date someone, you learn more about their interests and want to know more about the things they love, so I was happy to hear more about the story of Mode. They've been around since 1980, and gone through different stages of musical development, drug issues, two near death experiences for Gahan, losing one of the original members, Vince Clarke, and the general history of a band over the years. What I'm impressed about as we motor along the freeway is the different musical styles and approaches this band takes. They take very unique influences, and arrange them in beautiful, haunting, rocking songs, and I can say that I've never fully appreciated their musical talent until now. Granted, I wasn't much into goth or dance music growing up, so I didn't run out and listen to them way back when. But, they do impress me with their musical talent.

3:30 PM - We pull into Scatter Creek rest stop in Washington, making great time, and I'm listening to more Mode, including the disastrous first album, which is really not good. OK, they had one hit song from the album, but the rest of it is pure crap. And listening to what they put out after it, I could see why they wanted Clarke to leave. The music seems to have more weight and substance to it, and the remaining guys seem to have more of a personal investment in the outcome. The rest stop is full of Mariners fans, heading up north for baseball. I felt like girl and I were the only people in the rest stop not wearing Mariners gear.

3:58 PM - Phantom traffic jam in Tacoma. Traffic always stops there, usually right near the Tacoma Dome. Not sure why, it's a rather ugly building from the outside, but maybe it's because it looks like a boob.

4:10 PM - The clouds had been picking up as we continued to head north. We left Portland in a sunny, hot state, and the clouds picked up more the further we headed north. I felt a few raindrops on the windscreen, and so I went to operate the windshield wipers. Trouble was, I wasn't 100 percent how to make them run, and the raindrops soon became an absolute downpour, and I'm in the fast lane going about 75. I try to not panic, and get over to the right to slow down and figure out things, and proceed to put my hand over the handle, so girl can't see what is going on. I finally pull down on the handle, and they start working, but it was a rather tense moment. I'm realizing that I should always do a car check to ensure I know how to run things before leaving, but that fact doesn't help me in the middle of I-5 going really fast. The crisis is averted, and we continue northward, passing Fife and the creepy water park.

4:35 PM - We finally have to stop just south of the Emerald City for traffic, and we can see Qwirst Field and Insurance Land to our left. Cars are darting from lane to lane, just to inch up closer to the car in front of them, but we are in no hurry. Our exit is Mercer, which is north of the downtown core, and so we just have to wait things out. But it appears that things are moving along slowly, then things magically free up just before the Seneca exit, and we are in the clear, as we take our exit and head east.

4:38 PM - This city sucks for signage. Thankfully, we ended up taking the right turn, but even Google maps couldn't point out how dumb it is to turn from a road to another road, but they are the same name. Whatever, we get past it, and move along Broad to get to Mercer, and soon, we are within sight of the Needle and Key Arena up close. I pull onto 1st Avenue, as we are looking for a specific parking garage to park, and I miss the entrance and have to loop back around. Apparently, girl did the same thing the last time she drove up here, so I don't feel bad, but we loop around, get into the right entrance, pay our money and we are parked at 4:49 PM. Not bad time considering.

4:50 PM - We decide to wander around the Center area, with the Needle, expo area, and other stuff to see around. The arena doesn't open until 7 PM, and we are hungry, so we wander about to find some food and get exercise. We walk around the park area, and see a few people laying on the grass, playing in the fountain, eating food, doing a lot of activities we see in Portland. We finally wander into the Center House, the food court area next to the Monorail. We scour the food option, and decide that a visit to the loo is in order. Once done, we examine the rest of the options, and realize that we are in the darkest, most scary food court ever. Over half the tables are empty, and the only people eating here seem to all have tourist maps and cameras about. We decide to wander around a bit more for exercise, and see if there are other food options around.

5:25 PM - We walked around the perimeter of the park, seeing the Needle up close, and both remembering when you didn't have to pay to get up there. It's now a good charge to catch the elevator up there, and so we wander amongst the rides and carnival games. For a city this large, I'm surprised about how bad of shape some of these rides are in, but people seem to be riding them. Well, except for the log ride, because nobody wants to get wet. We soon wander into one of the auditoriums where the bumper cars are at, and we find one of the claw games. For those of you that know us, we have quite a history of winning prizes in the claw games, and one of girl's favorite toys was won in a claw machine on this very site. She plunks a quarter into the machine, and soon realizes there is no joystick, it's just two buttons to press to go back and forth and right to left. She notes there is an whale that is on top of the pile, and jokes about getting him. After pressing the back and forth, she tries to go back more but the button gives out. In frustration, she pressed the right to left, and it goes down, grabs the whale, retrieves it to the top, and drops it in the prize slot. We're not sure what forces are going on here, but we're struck by the absolute hilarity of our situation. The whale is the mascot of our most hated rivals, and now we have a small representation of one. But, after considering it, we realize that it must have been karma at work. The whale didn't want to be there anymore, and wanted to come home with us. He was put into girl's purse, and we tried to determine a name for our new mascot, perhaps something spy like.

5:50 PM - We find a brew pub, and drink a few and eat some good happy hour food at a place not too far from Key Arena. The first round was 8 bucks, and we both got big drinks. We also saw the first group of Mode groupies gathering, as they were comparing backstage passes and concert shirts with each other. It was almost like watching people try to one up each other in a display of who loves them most, and what's funny is that I'm sitting next to probably the biggest Mode fan around, and she's doing her casual best here. She's seen their hometown, been to the school they went to, knows all their songs, but doesn't flaunt it.

7:15 PM - We hit the loo one more time, and then head to Key Arena to get in. I get my ticket, and we enter the security area, where girl needs to empty part of her purse before we can enter. She mentions her tissues, the whale she just won, the security gals says the whale is really cute, and just waives her in. The mascot is paying off big time, as we move inside the arena to find our seats. The first bit of confusion is that they don't use sections up here, they use aisles to show different areas of the arena. I end up heading in the wrong direction, but we're reoriented, and soon heading to Aisle 1. We find our seats, and sit down for a sec.

7:22 PM - Key Arena actually looks in great shape for something the NBA called the worst arena around. It certainly looks a lot better than the Memorial Coliseum, as the seats all look very clean, and the scaffolds are shiny. I see the stage to our left, and it's a huge jumbotron of video screens and lights. Right now, we are 2 of about 2,000 early arrivals. I decide to wander off to get a concert t-shirt for my sister and girl, and go upstairs.

7:25 PM - Concert shirts are bloody expensive, and they've got a lot of different versions of them, but the whole souvenir line is moving along quickly. Apparently, fans know what they want, even if the line is super long all over. I plunk down $80 in cash for 2 shirts, and I'm back to my seat within 15 minutes. The crowd is still filing in, but the arena is only 1/8 full as I return.

8:00 PM - Peter, Bjorn and John take the stage as the opening act, and they absolutely go nuts in their first couple of songs. Ok, they sound like the scandenavian part of Metalocalypse or the Swedish Chef, but they can play. One of the singers during a song jumps into the crowd on the floor, and lies down on about 5 empty seats and just starts singing on his back. He jumps around, hand slapping with some fans, and gets a present from security as he returns to stage. Apparently, he left his percussion instrument on the seats during his tour, and the crowd made sure to pass it back to him. 25 minutes after they started, they were done, and the stadium lights went back up. According to some reports, the union people that work at various union arenas have been protesting about hours and not getting breaks and lunches, so they are talking breaks during the show, which delays some of the set up and tear down. It happened in Madison Square Garden, and apparently, Key Arena has the same thing happen.

8:52 PM - The crowd is still filtering in and is only about half full. A couple on the floor look like they belong in the Matrix trilogy, as she has the white coat and long hair of one of the characters, and the guy is decked out in a nice three piece suit. Some of the Mode cliches are present in the crowd, as one gal asks Dave to reach out and touch her with a sign, which happens at every show. There's also a lot of school girl outfits, and a few folks in bondage wear running about. While I understand there are some freaky people about, apparently some felt the need to advertise it. Much like the woman who sat in front of girl with her camera, showing her pictures to her friend during the entire first set. Her display was so bright, it was distracting.

9:00 PM - Mode hits the stage, and Dave's presence is immediately felt. I've only seen a few artists with the ability and energy to command a room, and Dave has that gift. The best I've seen is the late Michael Hutchence of INXS fame, who absolutely ruled the night at the old Spokane Coliseum, but Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand is very close to having that gift. The crowd absolutely was in Dave's hand, and he didn't disappoint with his twirling, nervous energy. His voice also boomed in that arena, and you felt his passion in the words. While Dave is the front man, Martin Gore is the artist and engine, as he plays various instruments, and even sings a few solo songs later in the set. He is more known for the more mellow, elegant songs, and he displays a vocal range that is as impressive as Dave. The fact this band has two accomplished singers is amazing. I also got to see the act that is Fletch, or Andy Fletcher, who is their band manager and keyboard guy. He may be a musician, but he's the whitest guy I've seen, as he has no rhythm whatsoever. He plays his boards, points at the crowd, wanders off to smoke, then comes back to press some buttons, raise his hands, and then wander off. Must be a great gig if you can get it.

11:00 PM - Two encores later, Mode had played most of their more famous songs, with some old gems and a few from their new album to start. It didn't seem like anyone was disappointed, although some in the 200 level didn't even move during the show. The gal sitting to the left of me never took off her coat, but I have to say that I enjoyed the show and the people spectacle on the floor. I even missed the poly couple behind us, as one guy and three gals spent the entire show fondling each other. Apparently, they are a threesome or couple, or whatever, but the guy would snuggle with one while the other two fondled each other, and then they would switch. Interesting stuff, and what I learned from the experience is that just like in soccer, the craziest fans are also the ones that tend to go casual.

12:00 AM Tuesday- We finally left the city after playing in traffic from the garage and trying to find our way on I-5, and it's time to head south. I'm doing the driving on the trip, so my biggest worry is staying awake. A few of the cars in the garage were playing Mode songs that they didn't hear during the show really loud, while on one of the streets, a truck was playing some crappy industrial music really loud for all to hear. Why is it that people with the worst musical tastes insist on playing their music so others can hear it?

1:00 AM Tuesday - We pull off in Tacoma at the Freedom Bridge to top off the gas tank a bit, and get some food for the road. The town here is so dead, the stoplights are all flashing 4 way stops. I rather enjoyed pumping my own gas, even if the nozzle kept sticking so my original 10 dollars turned into 12.50 in gas. The 7-11 next door was hopping, apparently being the only place open this late. We got some coffee, jerkey, and chips, and we were soon off.

3:00 AM Tuesday - We finally pulled into our house at exactly 3 hours. The drive back wasn't eventful at all, except for every 10 miles seeing another lane closure sign. The right lane is closed here, now the left lane is closed up here. The entire stretch of road between Fife and just north of Vancouver has some type of construction, either repaving or adding a new median. It kept me on my toes to pay attention to the signs, and girl played a lot of music while singing to some of the tunes. She has a great voice, and showed it off at points last night. I can't wait for more karaoke time when she really lets loose, but for now, it's time to pass out and get some rest.

We returned the car this morning, and I spend the day catching up on emails, checking into work, listening to Talk Timbers later in the night, and then working on the blog. Not a bad day indeed, but I'm impressed with the show, and the wonderful adventures we had on our trip. The city up north may be a rival of ours, but it can be a fun place to visit every now and then, especially if you escort a defector whale home.

Monday, August 10, 2009

I'm Not the Only One Who Noticed

There is a great discussion about soccer in the Pacific Northwest and the soccer culture in the blog Pitch Invasion, and it very much captures what is going on with the Timbers and FC Puke Green. Granted, it's a rousing success up north, and they are getting tons of new fans, but it's not quite the experience that I would prefer in watching soccer. That being said, I do have a small concern that some things will change for the Timbers when they reach MLS in 2011, and there might be some long time fans upset by it. Reaching the fans is something that all teams must do, and you need to do it in the right way, and I'm confident Merritt and his team will find a package that doesn't alientate the ardent supporters yet attracts new fans.

We are top of the the league, yea, we are top of the league. 20 game unbeaten streak and counting!!! I'll have some of my thoughts about it in my other blog home, but now I need to get ready to head to a Mode show!! Should be an interesting time, and I'm actually looking forward to it!!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Don't You Forget About Me

I heard this Simple Minds song this morning as a tribute to John Hughes, the influential director of many of the great movies of the 1980s and 1990s. Hughes passed away yesterday from a heart attack, and there was a lot of reaction to his passing. Granted, most of Hughes' films weren't the most intellectual or featured the best special effects around, but the movies always had a way of being extremely relatable. You could understand the characters and their motivations, and it was easy to put yourself in their shoes for a moment. From the kids in detention in the Breakfast Club to the crazy family vacation in National Lampoon's Vacation to the changing friend dynamics of St. Elmo's Fire to the family drama of Uncle Buck, John Hughes influenced a lot of movie fans like myself, and made stars of a lot of people.
Hughes had a way of getting the best performances from his actors, as I could relate to the problems of the kids in the Breakfast Club, even if I wasn't exactly like one of the major characters. I was a jock in the sense that I ran cross country and track, so as an athlete, I was part of the sports teams that "real athletes" made fun of. I wasn't a brain, but worked really hard to keep my grades up because I had dreams of doing something more after high school. I wasn't a delinquent because I just didn't see the reason to cause problems to get what I wanted, but I did find enough trouble to keep things interesting. I wasn't a princess or prince because I wasn't part of a rich family, but we certainly had enough money to get by. I wasn't a basketcase, although there were certainly points where I wondered about my sanity in trying to keep up with an active school and activity schedule. But Hughes was able to make these people interesting and you could relate to their issues, which made the stories more compelling. He also used current music to accentuate the background, thus making things just that cooler.
At least for me, it's always tough to hear about famous people like this and not be slightly affected by it. Unlike the recent passing of Michael Jackson, I was a fan of Hughes' movies and remember seeing them with great regularity. And now hearing of his death, it makes me nostalgic for those days. I listened to some of Jackson's songs, but the fact that he was a shell of his former glory, I wasn't affected by his passing as much. Mind you, death is a tough topic but it's something we all deal with at one point or another, and we all have different ways to process our thoughts. Because I remember Hughes as the guy who brought us great characters like Ferris Bueller, Long Duck Dong, Chet, Lisa and Buzz, it hits a bit more to think that he's no longer here. Granted, Hughes hadn't directed a movie since Curly Sue, and only wrote on occasion during the last few years, but his way of creating an atmosphere of great music, fun movies and wonderful characters has been a fabric of my earlier days. I won't forget about you, John, your movies really speak for themselves.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Game Day with the Craps!!

I walked to catch a bus that would take me the rest of the way into work this morning. I usually enjoy the brisk walk in the morning, as I get a chance to collect my thoughts before work or listen to the radio and get caught up on the events of last night or hear a favorite song when one of the stations here actually plays music. The music thing is a topic for another day, but I had practiced last night with members of my outdoor team and other guys from the North End United squad, and it was a blast. This morning, I was reminded of my practice as it took a slight bit to get going, but the walk and knowing it's game day helped.
There's plenty to buzz about, starting with an interview with MLS Commissioner Don Garber about the status of the league, expansion and other topics. I realize that MLS is very much in love with the success up north, and that's great that MLS is getting some attention because of it. However, the roof caved in just a bit last night off the lime green luster, as Barca came in and throttled FC Puke Green 4 to 0, which led to some early departures and lots of boos cascading from the stands. What, you all seriously thought that everything was going to go your way all the time? Yeah, that's the part about soccer that is most interesting is that sometimes, the soccer gods are just angry and things happen because of it. I don't know why sometimes, but after watching the Timbers of 2006 and 2008, trust me, it's important to keep everything in perspective as to not anger them.
There have been some match previews and articles about today's match, sprinkled with talk of the upcoming MLS change in 2011, which ironically will involve both teams playing tonight. A good article talks about the upcoming staffing and player changes for 2011 by Geoffrey Arnold, while Helen Jung talks about the long term plans to upgrade PGE Park for soccer and some of the things that will occur in the new park. There are plenty of challenges in having a team play in 2010 in the USL with an eye for moving up to MLS in 2011, but the Whitecraps and Timbers will be completing this challenge, and I think it will only help fuel the competitive edge and player development. Both cities also have dealt with some stadium issues, as while Portland has been dealing with getting PGE Park upgraded while finding a home for the Beavers, Vancouver has been trying to build a waterfront stadium that has been stalled, and they finally linked up with revisions to BC Place that are being done for the 2010 Winter Olympics, and so it will become the home of the MLS Whitecraps for a while.
I also liked a lot of the talk about what PGE Park will look like, and some of the considerations being made for the fans. I think it is important to have fans on both sides of the pitch, and have amenities and facilities that are accessible to all parts of the park. I would also agree that away seating will become an important consideration, as the Timbers will now have fans visiting from other west coast teams, and it's vital to not only take care of the home fans, but give away fans a pleasurable experience that will make them want to visit again as long as the Timbers win!! Some of the comments are the usual detractors, who either want baseball to stay in PGE Park or just hate soccer to the point of irrationality. I get that it might not be your cup of tea, but trying to destroy the idea with crass and thoughtless comments in a troglodytic fashion just shows how clueless you really are.
I also completed my match preview for the weekend, and found that I actually did get some nice pictures up in Vancouver. Things have changed quite a bit for the teams since their last meeting, as Marlon James apparently can't miss the goal, and the Timbers have found themselves sputtering a bit late in matches. But anytime old Cascadia rivals meet up, you can throw records and trends out the window, as both teams want to show off for their fans and get a win. But after this match, Vancouver travels quickly up to their place to face Charleston on Friday night in a quick back to back, while the Battery then travel to Portland to face the Timbers Saturday night. Needless to say, substitutions and fitness will be key in a long weekend of matches like this, especially with first place in the USL First Division table on the line.
I'm also looking forward to trying out my new and improved camera at the match tonight. It's still a point and shoot digital camera, but it's got improved zoom and other bells and whistles that should make picture taking a lot easier and the results better. Plus, it's a slightly smaller camera, so transporting it will be a lot easier. Granted, I feel a little dorky being on the pitch with my camera when the pros have big camera sets and massive lenses ready and waiting, but if you get the shot you are looking for, all the better.
Things in my blog will kind of slow down a bit after this weekend, as I move into another busy vacation time. Girl and I are heading north for the Depeche Mode show on Monday, then up to Spokane next weekend to see my family. I haven't seen my dad, aunt and uncle since my wedding last year, while I haven't seen my sister since we traveled back east to visit my grandmother back in 2006. I also get to meet my niece, which is very cool, and a long time coming. I'm hoping she thinks I'm fun enough to hang out with, or at least she's not completely screaming the entire time I'm around. We then get back in time for me to work a few days, then we head to Vegas for a week for some much needed rest and relaxation. It's going to be a blast, and while I'll check in from time to time, it probably won't be the same frequency as I have been. That just means more crazy stories upon my return.
Until next time, stay cool and enjoy the remaining weeks of summer. Get outside, take in a Timbers match, go hiking, do something. You'll kick yourself for not doing anything once the rains hit later in the fall.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Baseball Updates

The song and dance of the Puffer Fish, er, baseball in the suburbs has begun, as negotiations have continued in earnest out in Beaverton. The mayor, Denny Doyle, has made the rounds to sports radio, appearing on 95.5 The Game last week, negotiating in public to say that he wants a deal where both the city and Merritt Paulson contribute funds to the stadium equally, and generally trying to get this idea off the ground. There are 3 sites being considered, but only one is publicly known, the site of the old Westgate Theater. And the owner of nearby property isn't interested in selling or being part of any idea to bring baseball there, especially if the land isn't big enough to put a stadium there and they need adjoining property for other things.
The talk out there hasn't gotten nearly as contentious as negotiations ever got in Portland city proper, as talk around Memorial Coliseum and Lents Park was completely out of control at points. Opponents of the MC deal didn't want an architectural treasure (their words) destroyed, while Lents Park residents aren't sure what they want. Seriously, after all these months, I'm still not convinced they understand what a ballpark would have done for the area, but then again, I don't think Portland as a whole realizes what is going on here if the team heads west. And if the only hurdle in Beaverton is a land owner who is worried about losing some potential profits on his part, I think you can already pack up the bats and gloves and move baseball west.
It's nice to see a community get what is going on here, and is thinking progressively about what they want now and in the future. Sports and cities can work together well, and provide good benefit economically and socially to an area if it's done right, and what you will see with the upgraded PGE Park is evidence of that idea in action. Soccer and football events will flock to the area, and you will have a park that the city can be proud of. That isn't to say that PGE Park isn't an asset now, but it's simply a park that is trying to be too many things to too many sports, and it's time to choose the long term identity. Soccer and football make sense there, and now we can watch it transform into something truly special. I'm interested to see what happens with the changes, the naming rights (PGE is only paid up through 2010 for naming rights), and the plans for MLS in 2011. It's going to be a load of fun, and with that, I'm also looking forward to opening night baseball in 2011 for the Beavers. They deserve a home in a city that wants them, and it appears Beaverton wants them. It's too bad that most of the people in power in Portland don't realize what they are letting get away.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Trail Blazers Schedule Announced, Timbers Weekend Coming

The Trail Blazers announced their 2009 - 2010 schedule earlier today, and it's actually somewhat balanced. A couple of 5 game road trips in the year, two 4 game road trips in December that are tough with two home games between them, and a longer home stand around Christmas through mid-January with just one road game to visit the Clippers. The Trail Blazers also have another Christmas day game versus Denver at the Rose Garden, and for the first time in a while, they actually open up the season at home. They are on national television 18 times between ESPN, TNT and NBA TV, with an actual appearance on ABC later in the year. I feel the schedule has some points to it, but this is also a schedule that if played right, they could gain some momentum at points and put together some nice winning streaks. This team has good depth with Andre Miller coming aboard, which I think will be important for this team, but the reward for their breakout year last year is more attention nationally this year, and that's good. And the team is working very hard to keep their franchise foundation happy and awash with monies.
Meanwhile, the Timbers come back home for two matches this weekend, one versus their Cascadia rivals from Vancouver, BC on Thursday night, and then Saturday night versus the Charleston Battery, a team that is in the thick of the battle for the top of the table with the Timbers. The Timbers were able to keep their unbeaten streak going with another draw in Minnesota Saturday night, but as with some other games, this is one that was very winnable and it will be one they will look back on in that regard. Yes, they didn't play well in some stretches, and last year's team probably would have folded up at points with the repeated draws, but this team has some more mental toughness and they'll need it. Jason McLaughlin will not be eligible for selection after his red card infraction on Saturday, while we hope that Taka Suzuki will be back for the weekend's matches.
While I work on covering the Timbers, I'm also working on getting myself in shape for the upcoming fall GPSD season with the Timbers Army Football Club. I'll be resuming my normal position of defensive wing and trying to keep goals to a minimum for our opponents. I'll be working out twice a week when I can, and trying to balance some upcoming big trips that girl and I have on the schedule. We are heading to the land up north early next week to see one of her favorite bands, Depeche Mode, on Monday night, then we come back and get ready for a trip to Spokane to visit my aunt and uncle. My dad and sister will also be joining up, so it will be the first time in a few years that we will all be at the same place. It will be great to see them, and I'm looking forward to seeing my sister, as it's been over three years since I've seen her. Well, and I get to see my niece, who I haven't seen in person either, so that will be good. We then get back for a few days, and then head to Las Vegas for eight days of gaming, relaxing by the pool, more concerts, and having the vacation that we haven't had a chance to have yet this year. By the time I get back, it will be the home stretch for the Timbers as we fade into fall time. And I'll share highlights of each trip as I can here, because there might be some interesting topics to discuss.