Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What Were You Doing at Age 14?

What were you doing at age 14? After reading this piece, it made me think of what I was doing at that age. I was trying to find my voice in the midst of dealing with family issues because of divorce, growing up in southern Idaho in the early 1980's. Cable TV was still fairly a new development, computers had just entered the classroom, and I was scared to death about talking to a girl. Of those things, only the last thing still provides some mystery to me, but I can't imagine dealing with another life at 14, much less the decisions that kids have to make at that point.

Kids today try so hard to become adult, wanting to take on more responsibility for the choices they make and the situations they put themselves into, yet most of them have no clue about the potential ramifications of their decisions. There is a wonderful feeling you get at that age when you start to run things in your life a bit more, choosing your friends and clothes, and it makes you feel more independent, more responsible, more adult. But yet you can still have moments of being a kid, not worrying about where your next meal is coming from, where your stuff is at, what pressures and realities are going on in the world. It's a odd combination of having responsibility with having the world's best safety net there when things fall apart, parents and other adults.

Yet we live in a world of adults have millions of people that make one wrong choice, and their lives are suddenly turned inside out. The demands of the world are suddenly your concern, and consequences that were first ignored or not considered are staring you right in the face in the form of another person, an addiction, or some other entity, and unlike other things, they don't exactly go away if you wish really hard.

As much as I love living in our world of instant communication and wondrous technology, I wonder whether we've traded these gifts for a bit of the innocence or insulation that previous generations treasure. And I realize that I'm in the generation that bridges the younger group of "i want it now, why can't I have it" with the older generation of "back in our days, we didn't have this". I can see the wonders we all have right now, but I can also see the lure of simpler times and issues.

Which is why it's more important that ever to share stories like this one, and we as human beings continue to interact and learn more about each other all the time. With computers and technology, it's easy to become insular and uncaring, thinking that it's awesome to have 1,000 Facebook friends. But of such a large group, could you really count on those people if you were really in a jam, needing money, help or support? I may have a large group of friends in the FB reality, but I know all of them personally, even if the interactions have been short or it's been years since I've seen some of them. It's about fostering relationships, and investing time in people by sharing of yourself, and it's a lesson I'm glad I learned at that age. Now if I could have only mastered algebra, I'd really be on my game...

EDIT - Congrats to Mandjou Keita, Ryan Pore, Steve Cronin, David Hayes and Cameron Knowles from the Portland Timbers on their all league honors from the USL. Keita, Pore, Cronin and Hayes were all names to the USL First Division First Team (called the USL-1 All League Team), while Knowles was selected to the USL First Division Second Team. The Timbers head north to Vancouver for game 1 of their two game series with the Vancouver Whitecaps tomorrow night, and I'll be heading up there with girl. Should be a fun game, despite our historical troubles up there. I'll have a report at my other blog home.

And if you really wanted to learn more about the Timbers Army and what we are all about, read my good friend Shawn Levy's take on soccer fans and hooligans. It's one of the best pieces I've read about this subject in quite a while.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Principle vs. Moments in Time - Who Wins?

I've always hated the term "It's the principle!!" when it comes to people being right about things. Often times if it's the principle, it thinly veils the need for someone to be right at all costs, even if the situation doesn't immediately warrant being right. The whole principle concept really becomes apparent in two arenas, the courtroom and on the sports field. There's dozens of lawsuits over the most trivial things out there, but because people feel they need to prove their point at any cost, so the cases live on and cost everyone time, energy, and money.

Whether it's a need to feed the ego or the desire to be proven right, I've never understood the need to fight something on principle. Life doesn't always operate that fairly, especially in sports, where much of the situation depends upon human involvement, and last time I checked, we aren't perfect creatures. Officials and umpires make calls based on what they see, and more often than not, they're spot on in making the right call. It's the times where they miss something when the arguments about principle come out of the woodwork.

I learned really early that officials aren't always right when during my 7th grade track career, my relay team was disqualified because I ran out of the lane. Or at least that's what I was told when we finished in the top 3 spots and I thought we were due a long earned ribbon for a job well done. My excitement came crashing down when the officials disqualified my team because I had stepped over the lane marker in a 4 by 100 meter mixed relay (2 guys and 2 girls). The principle argument came up later in the meet when the same official found me, and admitted they had flagged the wrong team, as he mistakenly thought I was the guilty party, but it was the guy in the next lane. Principle would have dictated the race should have been rerun, and we get another chance to run the race for the elusive ribbon, but by the time the mistake was found out, the meet was almost done and so the mistake stood. I had to live with the fact that my team was one of the top 3 teams that day, but didn't have the award to show for my work.

It's hard not to find many of these instances for anyone that has participated in sports at any level for any period of time. We all expect integrity and honesty from the people calling our games, but yet everything breaks loose if they miss a call or call something that doesn't appear to be there. We have trust in the guys and gals calling the games when things are right, but let them miss something and it's a crime that must be punished. And so you have stories about officials being punished for making mistakes, sometimes extremely severely.

I get that we need to hold people accountable for their performance, and part of the reason we have such punishments now is because of some grievous mistakes or officials with personal issues affecting their judgment. Ok, gambling problems is really an extreme description for a personal issue, but when officials have integrity questions, it causes havoc for everyone else as actions get scrutinized more significantly, even if the official doesn't have a history of issues.

The Internet has been showing a lot of angles about a baseball game on Sunday between the Colorado Rockies and St. Louis Cardinals. The Rockies are fighting for their playoff lives, and got the benefit of a call to end the game on Sunday, where it appears that infielder Clint Barmes may or may not have caught the ball to end the game. The umpires made the call that the catch was made, and the game ended, but that hasn't stopped the web from running the subject into the ground, saying the Rockies got away with another one.

The video seems to support people who use principle as their prime argument: the catch was missed and therefore the game should be replayed at that point. It's a simple solution that makes so much sense, but yet what do we gain if we follow that course. You'd have to pull together both teams to pick up the game in the heat of a pennant race, and restart things from that point. This doesn't account for the fact that Colorado still had an at bat left, and could have won the game in the bottom of the ninth. You don't know what might have happened if the game was called correctly, but now we can stand on principle of knowing the truth.

Even if that truth doesn't change anything. The Rockies still get the win to help their cause for the wild card race, the Cardinals are in the playoffs already so the result doesn't hurt them, and the schedule moves on. It's not fair, but at the same time, it's exactly what life is and what sports needs to be at certain points. The better team doesn't always win, the officials don't always get the call right, the scheduling isn't always fair, it's how things work. It would be nice if there was a way to impartially decide things like this, but even in sports that have computers help with calls like tennis, you still have disputes about calls.

I'm not stupid enough to advocate we all go Pollyanna with sports and that arguments like this need to be squashed. I'm just asking that sports fans take a moment of perspective and realize that in the grand scheme of things, calls help teams and calls hurt teams, and if you really look at the situation, nobody benefits anymore or less than anyone else. If you need to be proven right after every bad call that is put up there on the board to make you feel better about your team, I'd expect your sanity to be tested a lot over the years. There's more money in sports, and more attention about results and playoffs, and we'll see this happen more and more. Part of the character of sports is dealing with adversity, and showing class and sportsmanship in victory or defeat.

If you need any lessons in dealing with sports and integrity, just look closely at the West Ham United – Manchester City match on Monday. Carlos Tevez, an Argentinean player, had joined City during the offseason, but was an instrumental player in keeping West Ham out of relegation back in the 2006 – 2007 season. We've since learned about the other legal issues behind Tevez since then, but the simple reality is that West Ham owes Tevez a great deal, as he scored 8 goals to keep the Hammers in the Premiership. As Tevez notched a goal in the 5th minute of the match, he turned to the Hammers supporters and gave them a sheepishly apologetic wave of acknowledgement before his teammates joined him in celebration.

Tevez could have rubbed the moment into Hammers fans, but instead turned the situation into a wonderfully thoughtful, apologetic moment. It's not fair that Tevez left the Hammers, much less left the squad in a legal quagmire about his status that they are still paying for to this day, but the reality is that he moved on. For one magical moment, Tevez acknowledged his former fans and his former club in his triumph, but he did it in a rather classy way. Mistakes were made, sure, but the transcendent moment shared gave everyone a moment to forget the troubles and just be in the moment. And as far as sports are concerned, we should all remember that important lesson. Principle might be nice, but momentous moments are more inspiring.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Apparently, You Have to Have Smarts to Use Pom-Poms

I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it and read it in print. The Dallas Cowboys give their prospective cheerleading candidates a written quiz that helps in the selection process each year. You could be an amazing dancer with incredible energy, but show the intelligence of a house plant, and there’s a good chance you won’t be picked as a Cowboys cheerleaders. Never mind the instant hypocrisy of having this quiz given to the women on the team but none of the football staff, it just strikes me as having a complete different standard for some employees than others.

I get that it’s important for prospective football players to have talent and a rudimentary knowledge of football terms and plays, but these guys also get interviewed in public all the time. So why not test them to show some smarts, or at least the ability to carry on a simple conversation when needed as part of the draft process? The Wunderlich test does some of this, but it’s also determined that this test doesn’t measure football performance, which is still the benchmark for making personnel decisions. Character and poise, while important characteristics, don’t matter as much for some teams if you have talent and speed. Well, unless you want to shake pom-poms apparently.

Congratulations are due to Mandjou Keita of the Portland Timbers, who won the 2009 scoring title with his 11 goal, 7 assist performance this year. It has been a very special year for the lads in green and white, and it’s great to see Keita get some recognition for his work this season. I haven’t covered the team as much lately here because of my other work on the Interwebs, but you are always welcome to check out my work there. We still have a playoff season to cover, and I plan to post some regular entries over the winter about player news, team news, and anything Timbers related on my blog home there. I’m happy to be doing it, and still keep things going over here writing about whatever things I like. I just like writing, and hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy putting it together.

Finally, the Oregon football team continues to make news this year, and not just because of their recovery from the Boise State debacle and the aftermath.
News recently surfaced that a Duck alumnus who was frustrated at the team’s performance in Boise wrote football coach Chip Kelly, and asked for a refund of his travel expenses. Kelly contacted the letter writer to confirm his address, and then sent him a check to reimburse him for his travel expenses.

The alum, Tony Seminary, didn’t know what to expect when he got a response to his letter asking for his address. When he received the check, he made a copy of it for display, and then sent it back to Kelly with a note of thanks. It takes quite a bit of guts to not only read your hate mail, but to put up your own money to back your program shows some confidence in what’s going on, too. But then again, we’ve already heard about what Kelly is as a coach and person. Even with the craziness of losing to the Broncos to start the season and dealing with the end of game drama, Kelly showed remarkable courage and fortitude to pick up his players after the result, and make his point that one game doesn’t make a season.
Having a nationally syndicated columnist follow you during your first game as a head football coach in the Pac 10 would be stressful enough, but then add in the other factors, and you see how extraordinary Kelly is. He’s showing me an incredible fortitude and belief in his program and players, and I think Oregon will be just fine once the dust settles. Winning starts with having a leader to believe in, and I have no doubt the Ducks football team has that person running the show. It’s going to be a fun ride watching this group take flight.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Fall Weather Is Coming!! And With It, The Boo-Birds are out!!

I have a great deal of respect for the folks at SI. They've been covering sports for years, and being relevant for this much time, especially after the explosion of the Internet and other competitors, is pretty impressive. However, in the zeal to be on their game, they really missed the boat about the MLS effort in Portland. With things changing so much this summer with stadium plans, financing, the state of the Beavers, and other things, I know there's a lot of things to cover about the topic, but you can't do better than talking about events that happened months ago as if it was today? All I can say about this is wow.

In the same thread of talking about sportsmanship and integrity, I've heard a lot of talk lately about sports fans booing at games, and there's been a lot of talk about the conduct of fans at high school, college and youth sports. There's been a movement of sorts to try and keep the boos away from the young kids and unpaid amateurs, because in most cases, they are giving their all out there.

It's a tough dilemma for sure, because some fans think buying a ticket gives them the right to do anything they want, and for my viewing of Timbers matches, I sit in the middle of the section of fans that sing, chant, and cheer the entire match. I know there are fans that don't like what we do, and as much as I try to be a good fan, I'll admit I've booed the team at times because of performance. I don't feel badly about booing professionals, especially since they are paid for their efforts. Ok, some players aren't played as well as others, but I think that being a professional means taking the good with the bad, and you get adoring and angry fans.

I wished that some fans would behave with some decorum, but booing isn't nearly as bad as other things fans could do to show their voice about what's going on with the field. Besides, if you really read the disclaimer on any sporting ticket, every team and venue includes a clause that says the venue has complete control over conduct, language of signs and banners, and such. Free speech doesn't immediately give you carte blanche to make a complete jerk of yourself at a sporting event, as you could be ejected at any point if it gets that bad.

Where the line hits for me is conduct at other events, like youth events, high school, and things like that. Kids play games because they want to be part of a team, learn skills, perhaps earn a scholarship for college, or just be with friends, and as such, it's important to keep results and conduct in perspective. If you are throwing profanity at an official or coach of a little league baseball team for a missed call, are you really providing support for your child or just taking the whole thing too seriously?

I get there's a lot of pressure out there now, as parents often times see sports as a way for the kids to pay for their future, and so they push their kids to be the best. While I admire that tenacity, it's important to allow kids to be kids, and play sports because it's fun. It's also important to learn the lessons of sports, like respecting your opponent and officials, working together with your teammates, pushing yourself to do your best, and how to win or lose gracefully. Yes, we do keep score, but the lessons of sports for youths is more important than the score.
The only slippery slope is college, because for me, I can see both sides of the argument. Colleges are full of young people who are trying to learn the same lessons as noted above, and they might be paid a scholarship and other benefits for their efforts on the field, yet colleges are treating some programs as near professional in their program and approach. You might have paid or unpaid kids giving their all out there, and if things don't go right, does that give you the right to boo?

If you use the argument of booing the coaches, that might be worthy of the situation because coaches are well paid for what they do. But do you need to do it when the athletes are out there? And being paid a scholarship to play ball, is that enough to consider college students paid, meaning that it's probably OK to boo. For me, I don't see enough about college to convince me that it's OK to boo while there. The unintended consequences of booing while the game is going on if you are angry with the coach still means that athletes will hear it, and I don't care how strong a person you are, but hearing boos raining down on you would register with most people. Professionals deal with things like this day in and day out, but college athletes shouldn't have to deal with it.

Finally, the Portland Trail Blazers announced a change in ticket policy, as they will now charge slightly different prices for single game tickets, depending on opponent, day of the week, and other factors. This has been part of the ticket standard for many sports for years, as the English Premiership has had a form of tiered pricing for many years, as the more attractive matchups would be more popular for purchasing. However, these standards are usually set before the season. For the Trail Blazers' model, they will adjust pricing each week as the season progresses for any available tickets. They've announced that the price won't fall to less than what a season ticket or multi game ticket holder pays for their package, as they will push static pricing for tickets as an advantage to buying tickets in a bundle like this.

I'm surprised that this hasn't happened before with other sports and teams, although I've seen that the University of Portland does charge a slightly different price for tickets to see Gonzaga at Chiles than they do other WCC games. If you have a game that potentially could be a big deal with top flight competition or billboard type players, I think teams should be able to charge a slightly higher price for more in-demand games. What I hope is that they will practice some restraint so to not gauge fans to make more money just because they can. Teams already have a lot of revenue streams, and it's important to keep this idea from really becoming a huge distraction.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Swiss Cheese Memory, Sports Coverage Issue and Narcissists Unite!!

Ok, so I must be remiss if I didn’t post this, as my wife reads my blog and points out things that I mess up on. She jokes about me being a liar, but I think it’s just my swiss cheese memory because we do so many things and my notes and memories aren’t quite what they used to be.

For the record, we had fresh mozzarella during our craftsteak dinner, and the whole gluten episode and drunkfest started on Tuesday and went into Wednesday. However, all of the events did occur, and it just points out to me that I should get a laptop or just take better notes. I did have time to blog in Vegas with a nice laptop, but I also know that computer time for me leads to more time on the computer surfing, checking out Fark, trying to figure out what’s right or wrong with my various fantasy teams, and checking out the next fad on the Interwebs. Without further ado, we turn our attention to a few things from sports and society.

The Timbers won the USL First Division title last night by virtue of their 2 to 1 win over the Cleveland City Stars. Granted, the team had already clinched mathematically on Saturday when the Puerto Rico Islanders lost to Carolina, and by virtue of schedules and results, no other teams could overtake the Timbers. They could tie the Timbers, but the Timbers had all the tiebreakers in their favor. However, after clinching the title, the lads in green and white proceeded to play some of their worst soccer in losing to Austin and Cleveland over the weekend. They finished the season last night versus Cleveland, and with the win, there’s no technicalities, no debate, the Timbers have 58 points and nobody can catch them. It was what needed to happen, not just for the fans, but for the psyche of the team.

I expected the Oregonian sports page to cover the game, and sure enough, there’s a headline on page one talking about the game. However, the article title says “Timbers head into playoff with win” as the secondary headline, while the signing of Juwan Howard by the Trail Blazers is the main headline. Granted, I’m a Trail Blazer fan and I’m happy about the boys in red and black adding a key cog to their title run, but it just proves to me that the Trail Blazers rule this town, and the rest of the sports in this market are pure afterthoughts.

We have one major professional team playing in the NBA, one professional soccer team that is moving to MLS, a triple AAA baseball team, a junior hockey league team, two major colleges that reside around 2 hours away, many other college teams, and a smattering of other fan groups and interests. If the NBA sneezes, the sports world here catches a cold because of its status. In some respects, that is good because we get unbridled attention about the team and its inner workings. But because it has little to no competition, the spotlight is put squarely on them.

But the disjointed coverage gets worse. Sports radio is obsessed with college football all weekend, wondering if the Ducks or Beavers will win their games against decent opponents, while talking a bit about the Trail Blazers. The Timbers are an afterthought, even though we have only won a regular season title just once in our history. Being a soccer fan, I’m used to being ignored and having people look past my sport, but at the same point, the media perpetuates it at points. Even the Duck and Utah game got a colored headline that draws attention to the game, and I agree it’s a big game. There’s part of me that just wished that for one day in the world of sports, the sports world would appreciate my team as much as I do. I guess I should take comfort in the fact that it’s still a personal experience, and something that only a handful of people can really say they can enjoy. Maybe there is something to being one of the best-kept secrets in Portland.

What’s not a secret is talk of sportsmanship, as I talked about last time. I surf CNN from time to time, and I read a rather interesting commentary about this new talk of rudeness, and what might be causing this issue. The commentator pointed out that many people within the last two generations have become extremely narcissistic, only being involved with things that benefit them directly. It starts with being told you are special, and then thinking you are more important that you might actually be, trying to keep discomfort and anxiety down to the point of some young people have never dealt with their own issues.

I’ve never heard the term “buy-in” so much until I spent time in the workplace, and it’s phrased in a way to talk about the benefits of changes so people understand what’s going on. While I agree with this approach, as it helps folks deal with change by better understanding it, it does perpetuate the belief that changes have to benefit in order to be accepted. There’s some things that happen in life that aren’t good or provide benefit, but the reality is that life isn’t always fair, and the sooner people learn that, the better things will be.

We have too many people trying to protect the younger generation from reality so much that they can’t deal with things the way they are, and you wonder why there is so stress associated with things that should fun. And in order to deal with things, it’s all about selling things by spinning the benefits, making things sound better than they are, whatever it takes to gain acceptance.

I’ve had to learn some rather tough lessons in life, and there’s some issues in my own psyche that I’m trying to deal with, but I’d like to think that I’m fairly well grounded in the sense that I understand how life works. We don’t always win the big game, we don’t always date the cheerleader, we don’t always get straight A’s, and life doesn’t wrap problems up in 23 minutes, just in time for a compact simple lesson to be displayed followed by a touching family moment or fun dessert.

And honestly, I’m completely OK with that reality, because a life where everything is always good or always about you isn’t really worth living. I’ve learned more from my adversity than I ever have from winning, but yet I understand on some level why some parents do it, “I don’t want my kids to face what I did, so I’m going to make it all better no matter what.” While that’s an admirable sentiment, what it’s done is create the situation we have now.

That isn’t to say that every young person is like this, but I see and deal with more and more younger people with this attitude. While I appreciate the efforts to work on sportsmanship and being more civil to each other, I’d like to see us really make a move to show the younger generations the reality of life, which isn’t on a television set or on the Internet. It’s not always fair, and you will get hurt at some point, even if you play by all the rules. But when things really come together, you will have achieved something that should be treasured and appreciated. And in my book, that’s better than being famous any day.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Playing A Bit of Catchup

With talking about my Vegas trip the subject of the past few of my blogs, I haven’t had much time to talk about other things going on with the sports world, including the big game in my former back yard. Well, I mentioned it a few entries ago, but the whole Boise State – Oregon game just left a bad taste in my mouth, but probably not for all the reasons you might expect.

It was stupid for Oregon to walk into that stadium cocky as anything, expecting to win because they showed up and they’re from the Pacific 10 Conference. Oregon lost simply because their offense melted down for most of the game, as they couldn’t get anything going on the ground or in the air. Their defense played amazingly, and kept a rather potent Bronco offense at bay for most of the day, but in the end, they just didn’t score enough points. But then, the aftermath turned the entire affair into a cartoonish, frightening moment that won’t soon be forgotten.

Oregon got past it by acting quickly with discipline and getting a win against Purdue this past weekend. They didn’t kick LaGarette Blount out of the program, they just pushed him aside in an attempt to show authority. Whether you agree with his suspension for the entire year, I do applaud them for making a quick decision and not letting it linger for too long. It was an embarrassing display, and it was important to try and distance things as much as you can.

However, the other side of the ball has some culpability here, and I’m not happy that they’ve just been allowed to skate along without answering some of the tough questions. I’m not going to excuse a player throwing a sucker punch at another, but when the program’s response to their guy tapping Blount on the shoulder pad and saying something to incite him is “a punishment handled internally”, that strikes me of a program that doesn’t get it. When your response to the scoreboard operator who repeatedly showed the brawl on the big screen is “we’re handling it internally”, you show how small time your football program is.

I grew up in Boise, and I’ve seen the rise from a small time program that dominated I-AA football during the 1980’s to WAC powerhouse, and I can say I’ve seen Bronco Stadium with green turf, and I’m actually OK with them using blue turf. It’s a statement they make to remind people of where you at, but it’s a statement along the same lines as a middle aged guy who gets new hair, a fast car and a new “hovering around college age” girlfriend. You want people to notice, and Boise State has been trying to get people to notice them for years. It’s always been about an inferiority complex, wanting fans outside the Gem State to realize there is a lot going on here.

Fine, it’s great you want to have colored turf and play with the big boys. Then, act like a big boy program and show that you mean business. If one of your players does something wrong, it’s not OK to just try and shuffle it under the carpet or try and handle it in house. Big time programs face incredible scrutiny, and the sooner that lesson is learned, the sooner you realize that you have to communicate and play the press game. Boise State could have gained a lot of credibility by not only winning the game, but handling their affairs above board in the open. Instead, the result here is that the Broncos seem paranoid and small time, not wanting to address their part of this whole affair, even if it was a small portion of the issue.

Meanwhile, the Memorial Coliseum gets a new nametag as a historical landmark, as the building was put on the National Register of Historic Places. Pardon me if I can’t contain my excitement here at having a historical building in my backyard, but this entire mess doesn’t change the fact that the Memorial Coliseum is a heavily used arena, but it is also largely ignored in terms of upkeep and maintenance. We now have a historical building, but what are the long term plans of this site, and who’s going to pay for it to be maintained. The Trail Blazers had been given the task of booking events there and keeping up the old barn, but instead, it’s fallen into a moribund state.

And putting an exhibition game in the old arena isn’t going to help things, except to have a nice night of nostalgia. Not that I don’t have sentimentality about things at all, but this event will simply prove how small and antiquated this facility has become, and how much a new plan needs to be there to address its state. The Coliseum’s fate was sealed when the Rose Garden was built, but instead of finding a new use and doing something long term to help the city, we’ve seen nothing but inactivity and putting plans in place to then ignore.

The Coliseum was supposed to be an amateur sports complex, then a retail complex, then the home to the WinterHawks, then the site of a baseball stadium, now the site of a velodrome, but what it stands for is the land that wonderful ideas have come to die. I get the significance of the building, but then find a way to make it usable for the future instead of just treading water. It’s historical, great, so then bring it to its former glory instead of just pining for memories gone by. Besides, even with this designation, I still feel the Trail Blazers have other ideas for the complex, and the Memorial Coliseum isn’t part of that plan. And if anyone thinks that any long term plans to address this isn’t going to come with some significant costs, they are really kidding themselves.

In other news, the team that Portland forgot - the Portland Beavers baseball team, had some news about their long term quest to find a new home. The City of Beaverton and Beavers owner Merritt Paulson have put out some extremely preliminary figures about stadium costs, which include a large up-front contribution of money and guaranteed rent from Paulson. The plan doesn’t address which site would be chosen, and there’s plenty of talk about the former Westgate theatre site right now. Owners of adjacent property aren’t happy about the prospect of losing their property if the city needs more land, and have been fighting against this site, while other proposed sites have been shrouded in mystery so far. The above plan also doesn’t address the land costs associated with the site, either, but at the very least, it provide a framework to start from.

The timeframe might seemed compressed for some, but the home of the Beavers has been a topic around town since the end of the 2008 baseball season, when the plans to bring MLS to Portland started taking shape. The realization that baseball and soccer couldn’t share a site meant somebody had to move, and it was determined that baseball would have a better chance of survival elsewhere. The city and the region deserve to have baseball here, and I think a plan will be figured out to keep everyone happy, as long as everyone is above board about the ultimate goal here.

Paulson wants a home for his team, that’s obvious. The city of Beaverton wants to improve its image and provide additional entertainment for their residents without bankrupting the city, and that makes sense to me as well. I don’t get the motivation of the business owners around the Westgate theatre, because I’d think they would want people visiting their area and providing customers to those establishments. On one respect, they seem to want to preserve the surrounding area, but in other comments, they seem to just be wanting more money. What I will say is that it’s nice to see talks continuing on this because it’s important that the Beavers stay. I just wished that the city of Portland had enough insight to realize that.

Finally, the topic of sportsmanship has come up quite a bit lately with the Oregon – BSU game, the tirade at the U.S. Open by Serena Williams and Roger Federer and the acceptance speech given by Michael Jordan after being accepted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. I read the transcript of Jordan’s speech and it read more like a roast of everyone that has wronged him over the years, which isn’t what I would expect from an acceptance speech. Has sportsmanship really suffered over the years, or are we just more aware of the fact that a lot of athletes are perceived now as whiny, overpaid divas who demand everything.

When I play soccer, I always shake the hands of my opponents at the end of the match, regardless of result. I respect my opponents enough to look them in the eye and say “Nice game” in the spirit of competition. I personally feel that athletes should some common courtesy to their opponents after the game, and it’s not necessary to fan the flames of competition by opening their mouth. The game should be enough, but for many world-class athletes, it appears that it’s not enough.

It’s not enough to win, but you have to humiliate and dominate the other side, and let the world know of your prowess. It’s also important to be vocal about anything that you perceive to be wrong, even if that requires yelling and demonstrations to prove a point. Never mind that you might not be right, never mind that an official might have seen something slightly different, never mind that the rules state this is how things should be done, it’s more important to be right and look passionate otherwise.

Competitive juices cause people to do some very strange things, including trying to bend the rules just to gain the glory of a title, or some form of recognition. I think in our adoration of athletes, we’ve all enabled this group by worshiping winning and titles above all else, and glorifying winning or doing something memorable above the spirit of competition. Athletes want to win badly, but many of them have forgotten that it’s simply a game and that having fun and pushing yourself should be what it’s all about. Instead, it’s about the money, influence, and prestige, which then clouds the decision making process into thinking it’s all about you. And showing sportsmanship is a sign of weakness, showing some humility about things.

But before we point the finger at athletes, I think we can all learn a lesson from this in our own lives. We all tend to think it’s about us, when drivers move aggressively in lanes trying to shave seconds from their drive time, or they cut off people in lines at stores, or text while driving or walking instead of paying attention to the task at hand. Those actions all reinforce the belief that’s it’s all about me. I love it when my sports teams win, but I value being classy and having integrity much more, and I’d rather have a team of character guys that are floating in the mid table than a whole team of spoiled winners. It didn’t work very well for the late 90’s/ early 00’s Trail Blazers, who had a supremely talented, but volatile team, and the franchise has just now recovered. But I also want to do my part in the human race by being more aware of my surroundings and paying attention to what I’m doing to my fellow humans. It might not get me many wins on the pitch, but it will get me points in the kharma domain, and I think that’s the best scoreboard to pay attention to. Until next time…

Monday, September 14, 2009

It's Fun and Games Until You Are Stalked At the Slot Machine

I've been remiss at blogging much lately, but at the same time, it's been a bit of a whirlwind. My soccer season started up, so I'm now playing a game a week in addition to watching at least a couple of matches, while the gridball season also started, which means fantasy football. Some people may not understand the appeal of setting up a pretend football side, but in my case, I've been running a league now for just over 17 seasons. We'll hit our 20 year anniversary in 2012, and I still get a kick out of seeing everyone in the league, even if it's just once a year.

I've worked with everyone in the league at the financial institution I work for, and so we all could commiserate about the trouble we saw daily for a day outside of work, and then have something else to talk about during the football season. Owners have come and gone, but the core group has remained for these past few years, and I consider many of these guys true friends. They've seen me during fun times and not so fun times as my team implodes, but it's always been a blast. Granted, the prize money is always a nice touch, but at the same point, I'd do this every year with them even if it was for free.

My draft was held on Saturday, August 29th at Buffalo Wild Wings, so I had to make it back from Vegas in order to run things. That's the responsibility of the commissioner, and for me, a role that I take very seriously. Outside of my friend Obi who ran the league in the first season, I've been the only guy in charge of the league through its growth, and we've managed through owners moving, an owners mutiny, countless rules changes, and the annual joke of trying to draft Fred Lane. It's a joke that only our group would find all that funny, and at the core, it's kind of demented. But then again, that's what we are.

But before I can talk about the draft, I need to finish up the business of our Vegas trip, for as we last left our journey to the land of cheap buffets and slot machines, we were dealing with the aftermath of girl's adventures in gluten.

Thursday, August 27th

We again got up a bit late, but it was understandable after the stress from the preceding evening. I awoke with plans to head to the gym for a second straight day, which I did pretty much right after noon. It was a relatively nice workout, but I felt badly that in the eight days we'd been here, we had only made it to the gym twice in that time. However, I know that rest and relaxation were the bigger part of the plans, and we'd done a pretty good job there.

After I had returned from the gym and gotten in a shower, we decided to get things organized and packed in the room, and then head out for some dinner. We had also discussed trying to see if we could check out later in the day to get one last morning at the pool before our flight on Friday, but when I checked with the desk, they said I'd have to arrange that on the morning of our departure. So, we got everything packed as best as we could, and then headed to the Luxor for another round of buffet.

The Luxor food just has it all, representing the food groups well and providing girl lots of great gluten free options for her consumption. We ate rather well, and I even got some much needed water and other food groups covered, and so after eating, it was time to go back and finish up the packing so we could then decide on plans for later that evening. While we were gone, the hotel had left us a message letting us know we could stay an extra night for a reduced rate. When I called the front desk about this message, I said we couldn't stay the whole day but could we check out late for a reduced cost, and they said sure. I arranged to get us checked out by 2 pm, so that would give us plenty of time to get to the airport for our flight at 4:30 PM.

As we were packing, we had noticed that of the liquor bottles we had brought down, only the vermouth and whiskey were remaining. The vodka, rum, and countreau were all gone or close to being gone, and I was determined to make sure the whiskey was gone before we left. Ok, it was just over half full, but I made it my mission to get this consumed. While girl was getting a few things done by email, I went on a mission to get our large drink glasses filled with liquor for one more night of gambling. Because the main drink place was closed, I ended up heading to Fat Tuesday to see if they would refill our drink container. Since it was at MGM Grand, they would for $9, and I got girl her favorite, the 190 Octane. She was happy we could get it refilled, and soon the packing became drink time. Plus, while I was down there, I heard a gal yelling about hating Shittle, and I got a chance to share my hate for the city, soccer style. Nothing sounded better than doing a "fuck Shittle" at a bar in Vegas between people who hate that place.

I was pretty happy at the point that we decided to head out again to the Luxor and Excalibur for some last night gambling, and wandering about. I probably wasn't going to drink much more than I had, but girl wanted to drink a slight bit more so we headed out for more. The Luxor gambling was actually rather quiet, so we ended up going back to Excalibur to hang out. A usual tradition of our was to head to the game arcade downstairs, which we hadn't done, and so that was our destination when we first got there.

We are masters of the claw machine, as our house is full of various toys we've won over the years. Our last wins were talked about in our trips to Shittle and Spokane, and so when I found a machine that had Simpsons dolls, I had to go for a claw win. Girl, meanwhile, found one of her favorite machines, the coin pusher. Essentially, you take coins and slide them down a ramp to fall onto a pile of coins. A pusher goes back and forth to push the dropped coins against this pile to make other coins drop, which will either win you more coins or tickets, or you win nothing. This game is all about timing, and girl is one of the best I've seen at this. At this arcade, you didn't win coins, but instead tickets, and so she had dropped a lot of money into this to win a boatload of tickets.

It got to the point that the arcade staff was watching her dominate the coin pusher. She's good, and this wasn't the only attention for the night. One of the employees noticed my Oregon Live shirt, and asked about us being from Oregon, as apparently she was from Albany. While my claw adventure turned out to be fruitless, girl had won a massive pile of tickets, which then allowed me to choose some prizes for our trip home. Girl had no interest in the prizes, she just loves playing the machine. I ended up choosing a calculator and DVD game for the tickets, and I was happy to see girl more spirited, as she dominated the coin pusher.

Unfortunately, the slot machines weren't being too nice, and we lost a bit more at the Big Ben machines before heading back to our room. They weren't being very nice, and apparently even girl's luck was running out a bit. Plus during her last play at Big Ben, she noticed someone watching her play that seemed to be very close to her. She felt rather uncomfortable at how close this person was, and even saw the reflection on the machine of somebody, but she turned and there was nobody there. I didn't see anyone that close to her at all, and when she asked me about it before we got up and left, we both realized that someone was indeed watching her from the great beyond. We then made it back to MGM for a bit more gambling into the wee hours.

We finally got back to the room later, and made our plan set for Friday to get up early, grab some breakfast and morning pool time, be back in the room by noon to finish up things, then get downstairs by 1:30ish to check out and then catch a taxi or shuttle to the airport. It was our last night in Vegas, and we were leaving with some prizes anyway.

Friday, August 28th

I was amazed that I woke up on time and was ready to go. I did ask for a wake up call at 9 AM, and sure enough, the call was done on time. We got up, dressed quickly, and were on the go to the pool within a few minutes. Since we were checking out late, we had to stop by the front desk to get new keys for the day, and then it was off to the pool. There were still plenty of spots available next to the main pool, so we set up camp there while I then walked to the cabana to order breakfast.

And it was freaking huge, as there was a huge meat omelet for girl and a breakfast sandwich for me. It was great to eat this much food after a night of drinking, and the extra water also helped hydrate me again. We soon were sunning and swimming in our last day in Vegas, and instead of hurrying around to get things packed before check out, we were relaxing and getting in some last rays and pool. I have to admit this was a nice move, and I'm glad we did it.

We left the pool area right at noon, and then it was time to pack up the suits, make the final check of the room to ensure we had everything, and then clean up the room before housekeeping came. Trust me, we left it in good shape, but they would have a massive amount of trash to dispose of with liquor bottles, chip containers, and paper. It was a rather impressive pile, but we tipped well, so we weren't feeling too guilty.

We then headed to check out where girl got a short list of the charges that I had made, and then we went to wait in line for the taxis. Because the line was fairly full, the taxi guy directed us to an available shuttle, which we hopped on for $7 a person, and soon we were off to McCarren for our flight home. We were both rather exhausted from our time there, and were looking forward to being back in Portland. The trip to the airport didn't take long, and soon enough, we were checking in for our flight.

Alaska doesn't have a nice first class lounge for us to enter, but we did get to use the shorter check in and security line. Well, the security line got us just ahead of the long line to get through security, but we breezed through things rather quickly. Girl had her massively cool laptop bag that allowed her to get through just fine, while I only packed essentials in my pack and packed sensible footwear. The only issue was me trying to direct us to the C terminal instead of the D terminal like we needed, but soon enough, we caught the tram to the D terminal.

First stop was Starbucks to get some much needed coffee, and then we settled in for a bit to wait for our flight. Girl pulled out her laptop and proceeded to do a little bit of work, while I read a bit in my magazine. I had gotten a text message that our flight was leaving slightly late from Vegas, so we were prepared to sit it out for a bit. This was the same terminal that we'd spent a good part of two days in around Christmas because of weather and plane mechanical issues, so we were familiar with where everything was, but honestly, I didn't want to stay here any later than we needed to.

The plane finally did arrive about an hour late, and through some good fortune, we made a quick turnaround in getting people on the plane to leave. This was different that the plane to Shittle that was leaving our gate before us, which was held up because one of the passengers had ordered food at the Starbucks and didn't want to leave without it. Ok, she ordered it rather late and had heard numerous calls to get on her plane so they could leave, but it didn't matter. She even yelled at flight staff about being rushed to the gate, and she didn't want to fly without getting food cause she was hungry. It was a rather impressive display of selfishness, only compounded by the fact that a drink was forgotten and an Alaska employee had to retrieve it and bring it on the plane before they could go. I wouldn't want to be on that flight, which was also very light, trying to explain that we were late because somebody needed food and ordered late.

We were soon loaded and up in the air in what seemed like moments. I loved the first class leg room again, and having all you could drink diet pop helped me stay awake. We got a very nice vegetable plate and some snacks, and I felt pretty comfortable during the flight. Unlike our flight down which involved food and drinking like crazy, this was a lot more mellow. Because of the flight crew's amazing work, we had made up a lot of time in the air, and we actually landed in Portland on time. Not bad for a flight that had left an hour behind.

As we were deplaning, I ran into an old colleague that I used to work with at the bank, and we talked about old shop for a bit. It was good to see him, especially since I don't quite look like I did when I worked at the bank back then. My waist line is a bit more trim, although my hair line isn't what it used to be, and I'm clean shaven, apparently I'm still recognizable. We soon retrieved our luggage and were off to catch our shuttle van home.

The instructions on where to pick up the van were slightly confusing as we headed to the wrong island at first, but soon enough, we were at the right place, and the driver had noticed we were there. The driver was actually the same gal that drove us home in December, and she was still as chatty as she was back then, sharing her life story over and over. We talked about our trip, the fact the island instructions were confusing, but soon enough, we were off and running. Within an hour of touching down, we were back home and in our drive way. And to keep with our theme, the gal got another good tip.

We were finally home, surrounded by cats who were upset at us being gone so long, but fascinated at the smells of our luggage. I was happy to be back, but was soon dealing with an issue with my fantasy draft. Apparently, the relaxation was now replaced with the reality of life. One of my owners couldn't make the draft, and so I had to figure out plan B to get this working. Just what I wanted to deal with on my return home, but instead, I focused on getting relaxed and unpacked.

We filled in girl's mom on our adventures, I went for pizza at Bellagio's for the house, and within a few hours, I was partially unpacked and falling asleep before my draft. It was a great trip, and while I was sad to see it end, I was happy to be back to reality.


The draft on Saturday went off with only a few hitches. The wayward owner communicated by email so we could pick for him, and we were done in record time, as Buffalo Wild Wings took care of the site and food. It's actually a great place for pretend gridball drafts, and I was happy they agreed to take care of us. Plus, my draft strategery fell into place, as I got Peyton Manning in the third round. Not bad.

We then went to a Timbers party on Saturday night, and saw many of our friends, who wanted to hear about our trip. I didn't drink much, as I had a soccer game on Sunday, but girl tied on a few. We also got to see the public unveiling of our friends Firestarter and Green Sailor, who are now a couple. It was great to see these guys hook up, and I hope they'll be very happy together. We also told our friends that we needed to do a Vegas road trip next year, so we'll do that for one of our trips next year.

Sunday's match was fun, although we had to move locations because of field conflict, but I didn't play that terribly and it was great to get some exercise. Then, finally, our friend Dick Danger was having a going away party, as he was moving to Charlotte, NC. I'm upset to think about him moving, but he wanted to move up in his job, and this was the best way to do it. He's a great guy, and he keeps Firestarter in line, but I think that somebody really sweet just enlisted for that job. We ate a little bit, drank a little, but by about 7:30 PM, girl and I were tired and it was time to head home. We'd been through enough adventure, and it was time to relax.

I don't remember what time we fell asleep, but the thoughts of the vacation and memories of our trip and arrival were still buzzing in my head. I'm glad that I have such great friends and great people to experience things like this with, especially girl. She's great for me, and I'm looking forward to the next set of adventures whenever that may be. And I'll be bringing you all along for snippets of the trip. But for right now, it's time to turn out the lights, because the Vegas party is really over...until next year!!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Boobs, Booze and Gluten, Oh My!

I'm Chip Kelly, recently anointed coach of the Oregon Ducks football team, and I just watched my team have their asses handed to them by a supposedly lower level squad from Boise, and my star running back just melted down after the game and sucker punched someone. You couldn't ask for a more disastrous start for the Ducks, who were humiliated in most statistical lines, but then you wanted one of your foundation players lose his composure after the game. Yes, taunting is bad, and I'm not that happy the Boise State player that said something to LeGarette Blount isn't being disciplined that we know of, but you still have to keep your head about you. At least the school isn't throwing him on the street, but rather providing some structure and help for a kid that made a really unfortunately timed mistake, but he's still part of the program.

Meanwhile, the Portland Beavers are getting more attention from another municipality, as Clackamas County threw their hat into the ring to see about bringing the triple AAA baseball team to their area. I figured this would be what would happen once Portland's deadline fell by the wayside, as cities scramble to find a way to bring money and development to their area, but I expect Portland to make a late dramatic play to get back into the game, provided that they can find the political forethought to do it. Well, one of the commissioners isn't interested at all, even if a really good idea suddenly just fell out of nowhere for a stadium.

But hey, if Bill Simmons can finish his story about Vegas, well, I need to finish mine, although I've got another entry after this one, because the early part of our week had a lot going on. So, back to the recap of Vegas.

Monday, August 24th

Girl and I woke up a bit late that day, but it was for a good reason, as we'd been out gambling and drinking the previous night. Although, our bar was still somewhat full, so we were determined to polish off as many of the bottles here as we could. The pool was calling our name, and so we ventured down for a late lunch and some pool time after taking our time getting up.

This process usually involved checking email, watching really bad daytime TV in Vegas, while snacking a bit. We found that commercials in Vegas are all for culinary institutions, lawyers, or tax guys, and the catch phrases are just hysterical. "I'll get your money back, because that's what I do!", "Bring in the big guys if you've been in an accident!", "I'm a former insurance company lawyer, so I know how they work!" These guys make Roni Deutsch seem tame by comparison, even if she's a man.

Since it was a a Monday, most of the pools weren't that full, so we had our choice of places to hang at, but we wanted something with a good location, and some decent sun, so after eating, we lounged about for a bit, and moved around to different seats to get closer to the pool. Knowing we had dinner reservations rather early that night, we didn't hang around there that long, opting to head to the room about 4:30 PM to get ready for dinner. While girl was talking to her mom, I went into the bathroom to do my business, and I had forgotten the first rule of the courtesy flush. Yes, folks, I ended up plugging the toilet with extra paper, and it also happened to be the night where we both needed to get ready quickly, so I called maintenance to have them look at it, and he was quickly in, fixed it and was gone. Not what we needed as far as stress, but girl had been talking family stuff with her mom, and so we'd both had some stress to deal with.

We showered and got dressed up, and make our reservation at craftsteak right on time. Girl was dressed in heels and a smashing black dress, while I was in shirt and tie, as we read the dress code for the restaurant. As we were ushered back to our seats, we soon realized that not everyone had followed the dress code, and there were t-shirts and shorts everywhere. But we wanted to dress up, so there you go. And from the front greeters to our waiter, we were treated very well. It's amazing what happens when you dress nicely, especially at a place like this. We soon had our pictures taken, and placed our order for the summer tasting menu, which we thought was a grazing meal of various things with a wine course each time. However, we got all the courses with wine, so we were at dinner for a bit.

The first course was salads, and the fennel salad was awesome, as it was crisp and had a lot of flavor. There was also quail, which girl and I hadn't had before, but it was very succulent and tasty, and the fried mozzarella was also filling. We had a nice Riesling paired with this course, which only accentuated the flavors. Our main course was scallops, flat iron steak, and Angus skirt steak in tasting portions, but it was a lot of food. We also had a full bodied red that went with this course that just added to the experience. I know we're not seafood fans, but the scallops were well cooked and not soggy, and so we ate them and enjoyed. There were also plenty of corn, mushrooms and potatoes to eat, and so we consumed major quantities of food.

Many people kept coming by to ask how we were doing, and so the dress gained us some rather nice attention, as we had the head waiter, our guy, the main busboy, another manager, and someone else checking on us. Our dessert course had some scrumptious brownie thing, and some other chocolatey thing paired with a muscat, which is one of our favorite wines. The whole meal took about 2 1/2 hours, but it was well worth the price, as we ate and drank extremely well, and the cost wasn't that much. We left a big tip, and left the restaurant. Girl was heading to gamble a bit, while I dropped off some prints of the pictures that they'd taken of us that we decided to purchase. Not bad to get some nice shots of us.

We gambled until about 10 pm, then headed in for the Crazy Horse Paris show. We got a couple of drinks in commemorative glasses, and watched people from all walks of like walk in. Older couples, young guys in packs, married couples, the crowd was very diverse, and our seats were at stage level just a bit back so we could see everything. And at 10:30 AM, things got rolling. It was a very well done show, and yes, most of it was very naked. But with the lighting and stage effects, your perspective was pushed all over the stage so you noticed the nudity only slightly. All the girls were very fit, and they seemed to enjoy themselves, as they danced different numbers, all in scantly clad garb. I was very entertained, and they performed magnificently, I barely noticed how long the show was. Anyone can go see a naked show, but one done with some class and good music, well, it can be more enjoyable.

We gambled for a bit more after the show, getting a few drinks afterwards, and ended up in bed around 2 AM. Yeah, the night owls are out big time.

Tuesday, August 25th

We did wake up slightly earlier than the preceding day, but it was still about noon when we got out of bed. Since we'd been drinking top shelf liquor, I didn't feel hung over, but very thirsty, so it was time to consume as much water as I could stomach. We showered and checked out the email, and decided that we wanted to venture out of our comfort zone, and so we were going to check out the casinos on the north end of the Strip. We left our hotel room mid-day, and started walking past the familiar spots of Planet Hollywood, Bally's, the Paris, and Caesar's, and soon, we we were staring at the Flamingo.

Ok, Bill's Gambling Saloon was our first stop, and it was very old school Vegas: dated, full of smoke, cheap buffets, and people plugging pennies into various machines. The Flamingo wasn't that much different, just a bit cleaner inside, but still relatively cheap. I didn't know about a casino called Casino Royale on the Strip, but we walked by it, as we did O'Hara's. We finally ducked into the Venetian, and wandered around inside for a bit, checking out the shops and sights, before deciding to head over to Treasure Island for dinner.

The buffet at Treasure Island had been voted as one of the favorites, and I could see why. It had all sorts of different food choices, from sushi to soul food to Italian, and desserts galore, so we ate a bit and just relaxed after our long afternoon walk. It was nice to see the other parts of the Strip, but it just reaffirmed our decision that we were staying on the right side of the Strip. After eating, we gambled a bit at Treasure Island before heading back to MGM. We were going to stop by CVS for more supplies, but due to sidewalk construction, we were diverted to the other part of the sidewalk, and so we popped into Walgreen's for more supplies, and then headed back to the room.

The decision for Tuesday night was to get our large drink glasses filled up at MGM Grand, then head out to Luxor and Mandalay Bay for gambling and more drinking. The decision to add more shots at our room was an easy one, and so off we went. The Hexbreaker machines were our game of choice tonight, because the cat mascot on the machine looked like our cat Moya, and we figured it would give us good luck. And it did for parts of the evening, but not as much as we were hoping.

Mandalay Bay was a pretty mellow place in December when we first visited, but tonight, it was hopping, and girl was winning early, although I started catching up later. We also liked the fact that Mandalay Bay was ready to give us free drinks even with our big cups still somewhat full, but we wanted to keep the drinking in perspective a bit, so we slowed down and tried to keep focus. Luxor was also busy again, and we got a free drink there after some looking about, but we finally ended up at Excalibur for some final gambling. We did wander around New York, New York early in our venture, but for a casino, it just didn't have much life in it outside of Coyote Ugly. We finally wandered back to our room late again, and passed out about 2 AM. Vegas lifestyle, baby.

Wednesday, August 26th

It was again around noon when we woke up, and I had decided to try and use the gym that we'd paid for to get some exercise. Girl was still a bit tired, and so she stayed at the room while I had eaten a small breakfast, and went to work out. I had also been tasked to grab some extra funds from the ATM, not because we were losing a lot of monies, but because we'd been paying cash for lots of food and drink so we didn't have a lot of gambling money left for the remaining nights here.

MGM Grand has a nice gym setup, located with the spa on the far side of the building. The machines were all brand new, there were TV screens everywhere, and all the bottled water and granola bars you could eat and drink were available. I stuck to the elliptical machines for the most part, just trying to get a little bit of resistance training and sweating in, while drinking as much water as I could. The workout only took about an hour, and as I returned to the room, girl had awaken and was working on the Internet. We decided that we would try and hit the dance club, Studio 54, this night, but before hand, we would go to the pool and stay until near closing while getting some late lunch.

I love the fact you can order all sorts of foods there, and they give you a buzz pager to let you know when the food is ready. We secured some nice seats just off the lazy river, and I ate a very big burger while girl had some chili cheese tots. It was a good sized meal since she's missed breakfast, and I'd been snacking for most of the day, and it would tide us over until later. The temperature was comfortable, just up in the higher 90 degrees, so it was warm but not overwhelmingly hot. The lazy river closed at 6 PM, so we moved to the Academy Pool for more sun, and an attempt to get more drink, too. However, the pool bars close at 6 PM, too, so we weren't able to drink much during the afternoon. Considering how much we'd consumed, it's probably best we didn't get anymore.

After the pool time, it was time to shower up in the room and get ready for some dancing. Granted, I'm not the best dancer, but girl loves to get her move on, and this was important to her. Plus, I had wanted to get better dancing, so this seemed like a great chance to hone some skills. I showered and got dressed, while girl bathed and got ready. The plans for the evening, though, got derailed after girl had determined she had a gluten reaction to Monday night's meal at craftsteak. We knew she had problems with gluten, but we didn't know the severity, and so she chanced it by having two rolls and a brownie, which all told, was about the gluten size of a slice of bread. However, this exposure had left her tired and unable to process food, as her stomach and intestines were irritated. It was such a blow, as she really wanted to dance, but instead, I made a third trip to Walgreen's for water and medicine to help, then I went to get some snack food to get through the night. We wanted to go dancing, but instead were the best dressed couple watching TV.

I felt bad about this, but it also gave us a chance to talk and bond, which I always enjoy. For someone that I've known for over 4 years, I still learn things about her all the time, and I don't get tired of hanging out with her. I just felt badly because I knew dancing was something she wanted to do, and we had just another full day and another half day before heading home, but we were going to make the best of this situation.

Next Time - Carnival Land and Ghostly Encounter, and A Final Checkout Day to Envy.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Google Maps, Extra Mode and Mimosas – The Vacation Weekend in Review

Part Two:

Ok, I’m in the middle of talking about my vacation when all sorts of things in the sports world pop up. I live in Oregon, yet I grew up in Boise, so tonight’s football game between the University of Oregon Ducks and Boise State Broncos has some interest to me. I remember BSU from the pre-smurf turf days, when they won a Division 1-AA title back in the 1980’s, and they’ve come a long way since then. The Ducks meanwhile have put together a solid football program that doubles as a tremendous fashion statement each week, wondering what garish or thoughtful combination they’ll show up in. I’ll just say that this is a game that the scoreboard operator is going to be busy, and I would want to be the team that has the ball last in this one. I’ll call this 49 to 45 Oregon, in a wacky shootout, but I’ll be paying attention to the game while watching the Timbers play Rochester tonight at PGE Park. I’ll predict another Timbers win tonight, peppered with an Andrew Gregor meltdown.

Besides, a columnist who I am beginning to appreciate quite a bit, Bill Simmons, is talking about his Vegas trip just last weekend, and so apparently, it’s a hot topic to talk about.

Friday, August 21:

We had done a ton of research before leaving to Vegas to find an actual grocery store that wasn’t a complete production to get to. Girl and I had talked about going to Trader Joe’s, Albertson’s, or even a Safeway before we located a Von’s that wasn’t too far off the Strip per Google Maps. We confirmed the location on their website, as it should be just behind the Rio. After hearing the temperature would hit 108 on Friday, we made the call to turn in early on Thursday night to get up early to go there Friday first thing.

Sure enough, my cell phone alarm rang at 9 AM, we dressed quickly and gulped down some yogurt and water, and were out the door just before 10 AM. The plan was to go there before it got unbearable, and if needed, catch a cab back to MGM if it was too warm. The Strip wasn’t too full of people this early, and so we made great time heading from MGM to Caesar’s Palace, then cutting over to the Rio. The shadows kept things very cool as well, so we didn’t realize how warm it was until we left the comfort of the shadows, and were on Flamingo Road heading west. I’d only ventured off the Strip a few times, and our path would take us over Highway 15 to the other side. By 10:30 AM, the sun was beating down pretty good, and we were both sweating pretty good as we hit the crosswalk to head over the freeway. At least there was a nice walking path, and so we didn’t have to worry about traffic.

However, as we wandered across, I wasn’t sure if it was heat hallucinations or random illusions, but we weren’t exactly seeing any shopping complex that might house a grocery store. With the temperature getting warmer, we decided to high tail it to the Rio and reassess our situation. We wandered in, found some water and extra sunscreen, and we made the decision to trudge up north to at least get a better visual idea if the store even existed or not.

The Rio reminded me of some very old school casino, full of dark colors, older slot machines, and plenty of card tables. It seems pretty comfortable if you wanted to stay off the Strip, but be close enough to go there if you wanted to. In addition, the Palms and Gold Coast casinos are close by, so it’s not like your are in an island, unlike the Orleans casino, even with taxis all over town. This was also my first chance to throw down some gambling, as we sat at a slot machine where I dropped in a $20 to see if I could win anything. I got lucky with the first few spins, but soon enough, my money was gone, and we were reapplying sunscreen to venture outside. The security people smiled at us, as we got ready to venture out.

We wandered north of the Rio past their convention center, and at the place the map told us the grocery store would be is now a big hole in the ground. We looked about to see if there was anything else remotely close, but the heat drove us back inside without our mission being accomplished. While it was disappointing, we did get to see a different part of Las Vegas, and we also saw the Palms up close, a place that we would see in greater detail Saturday night. We obtained more water, reapplied sunscreen, and about noon, we left the Rio to head back to the Strip. There were a few hearty souls joining us on the walk heading west, and we actually did OK heading over, not getting too heated up. Once we got back on the Strip, the buildings provided some good shade at points. Since we’d hit the Walgreen’s the previous night, we popped into the CVS Pharmacy on the strip. Their food selection and prices were actually a lot better, and so we loaded up on snacks, and headed back to our room to cool off, then head to the pool.

The shower never felt so good to cool off, and we weren’t too burnt, and after a lunch and some bad daytime TV, we headed to the MGM Pool complex to find some chairs and relax. The MGM Grand pool area is at least 3 to 4 Portland city blocks of pools, a lazy river, bars and clubs, and although the temperature had now officially hit the target of 108, it was reasonably nice in the pool area, with a light breeze and water misters keeping things reasonable. After a few passes, we settled into two seats in the BackLot pool, home of the lazy river, and lounged around for a few hours. Girl and I also took a few laps around the lazy river, which was a mess of kids playing bumper tubes, groups hanging on the side drinking causing bottlenecks, or couples trying to get freaky in secret alcoves. It’s still a really nice area, and as the hours passed, the pool became more and more clear.

We also encountered one of the odd things that had changed since we were here in December. We bought a big drink cup at Dick’s Last Resort in December, and had it refilled everywhere we went. We brought our cups back this time, but MGM Grand wouldn’t refill another place’s cup. Well, it was a bit annoying, but at least, we had a nice cup with a permanent straw and nice lid.

Since the Lazy River closes at 6 PM, we moved over to the Academy pool, one of 5 available, and chilled out more. There was a DJ providing some great background music, which started a few impromptu dance contests. The people watching was simply amazing, as I heard a lot of goofy stories about the preceding night’s activities, while also watching an older guy try to hang with his much younger girlfriend and people she met.

We left the pool around 7 PM as it started to get dark, then headed up to dress, get our official Players Cards, eat somewhere at MGM Grand, and then gamble a bit. The Players Club line was always packed when we walked past before, but this time, we choose a good time to go and quickly got our cards so we could accrue points. We then chose the Studio Café for our meal, and ended up being seated in a section with the very best waiter, Russ. He gave us some great meal suggestions, took care of us quite nicely, and was pleasant until a large group of young men looking very frat-like were seated next to us.

Apparently, the boys were here on a bachelor party of about 10 of them, and they were all very much alpha males. They were dismissive to Russ while he tried to get their original drink orders, and then the real fun began. Apparently, the groom in the group had hooked up with a cougar (term for an older woman) the previous night, and he had pictures of the encounter, including a few with lots of uncovered body parts. It was one of the most crass, offensive conversations I’d had the displeasure to overhear, and so we finished our meal, left a huge tip, and a note of consolation for Russ for having to deal with this.

We gambled for a bit, hitting only a couple of big jackpots, and were back in our room just after midnight. Girl and I decided that our Saturday schedule would involve her working for a bit, I would explore booking a show for either Sunday or Monday night and a nice dinner, then we would head to the Palms early for our concert. I had a plan of preferred restaurants, and so we were ready to go for Saturday.

Saturday, August 21st:

This bed is comfortable. I mean really comfortable, and the blackout curtains make the room really dark. We slept in a bit after all the activity for Friday, and around the lunchtime hour, Girl settled in to work, while I visited the concierge for information about a show and dinner. We had decided to check out the Crazy Horse Paris show, because it was reasonably pricey, and rumored to be rather sexy.

The concierge was very nice, and answered all my questions expertly, which is what you would expect. We determined that Monday would work a bit better for dinner reservations, and so I chose craftsteak for our dinner early, then the 10:30 PM performance for Crazy Horse. We had looked at the craftsteak menu, and with girl’s recent issues with gluten, we found the menu options there to work better with her dietary restrictions.

I then headed over to the sports book to place a few bets. Every time I go to Vegas, I always plunk down money on my favorite teams to win titles. I put down my money on West Ham to win the EPL, the Trail Blazers to win the NBA, the US to win the World Cup (yes, the tables were out), and then I chose Manchester City as my EPL dark horse. I had to put money on the Denver Broncos to win the Super Bowl, even though at this point, I’m wondering if they will win three games all year. With my errands complete, I headed back to the room to find Girl working hard. I settled in to watch some baseball, with our goal to dress and be at the Palms by 5 PM.

The work didn’t take that long, and soon enough we were dressing up nice for the show. Considering the concert tickets were expensive and we were in a very nice menu, we wanted to dress up, and we didn’t disappoint. I found a dark shirt and slack that worked, while Girl was absolutely gorgeous in a black dress. We did make a few wardrobe adjustments, and also got a bit of our drink on in the room before we left, since we had a full bar in the room. We left the room at 5:30 with the goal to hit the Palms by 6 PM. We got a cab rather quickly, and headed off to the Palms. The cabbie was very nice, asking us about the show we were seeing, and had the stunned look of gratefulness as we gave $20 for an $11 tax bill and let him keep the change.

The Palms is very nice and very new. We walked into the main room, and saw the gambling floor, and the entrance to the concert hall very close. It seemed like the crowd here was very young and hip, and was more into the scene than actually gambling, but at this point, it was about gambling a bit and getting more drink before the show. We found a Star Trek slot machine and dropped some money in, and Girl was the big winner of our early gambling. We also got a few drinks from the cocktail girls, and tipped big, which kept them coming back. By 7:15, we had stopped gambling, and entered the line to get into the show.

The Palms concert hall has only 2,500 seats, with a smaller general admission area on the floor, and then seats in various balconies around the floor. The farthest seat from the stage is about 150 yards, so we weren’t too worried about getting close. The security line was checking IDs for alcohol, and as they delayed some of the people in front of us to check them, the line moved and some folks behind us jumped ahead to get downstairs. I got a little upset with security in delaying us, but they apologized and we were soon walking the stairs to get to the floor. What we found when we got there was about 4 rows of folks next to the stage, and most of them were shorter than us, so Girl and I were soon standing within 15 feet of the stage with prime standing views.

I headed out to get a few drinks before the concert started, and so we were pretty happy as the opening act took the stage. It was the same lineup that we saw in Shittle, Peter, Bjorn and John with the opening act, then Mode later. I was also getting updates from the Timbers match, as we were playing Miami at home, trying to keep their winning streak going. I showed girl the updates as they came in, and exactly at 8 PM, the lights dropped and the show began.

Peter, Bjorn and John showed some huge energy early, and I grew to like their songs, especially being more familiar with their catalog. For a three piece, they have a pretty big sound, and their musical skill is better than average. It was also nice to see some of the fans actually singing along, which only spurred their energy. They were done at 8:30 PM, and it was time to set up for Mode. The crowd was getting more and more full, and just before 9 PM, the place was getting fuller as the lights fell again, and Depeche Mode took the stage.

Within a minute, it was apparent this was a much different show that I saw on August 10 in Shittle. The crowd was loud, and sang along with the first song without being asked, and the guys seemed overwhelmed at the crazy energy in the building. I saw Dave get into the show at points in Shittle, but he was absolutely beaming when he realized this place was ready to erupt. The show pretty much followed the same song list as before, with a few surprises, but to see artists feed off the fan energy, smile like crazy, and just have fun was truly an amazing experience. I can appreciate entertainers who really give everything for a show, and they certainly did. We also got the word about 9:30 PM that Portland had pushed their unbeaten streak to 22 games, and so it was a great night all the way around. There were even a couple of encores, as they hit the highlights of their catalog. By the time they were done, it was a couple of hours later, and we saw an absolutely beaming band, happy to perform in front of appreciative people.

Girl’s feet were starting to bug her a bit, as she was in heels, so we slowly left the hall, headed up stairs, and she sat while I went into the souvenir line to get the DVD of the show. While that wasn’t available, I purchased the CD of the show, which would be fulfilled later on by sending in a card, and the program full of pictures. Girl was happy to see them, although she had been shuttled from the concert hall lounge into the gambling lobby as they were trying to clear the crowd after the show. We decided to gamble a bit more at the Palms to allow the taxi line to settle a bit, and then catch a cab back to our hotel. The machines were being finicky, and so we didn’t too much, although girl did have a couple of smaller wins that she cashed in before we left. The taxi line wasn’t too terrible, and I was even able to get some pictures with my cell phone camera. Ok, I did get some shots during the show, even though the security had said they’d confiscate any cameras they found. I tried to be subtle in taking shots, and I was able to send the nicer ones to girl for posting later.

We got a nice cabbie that jetted us off to MGM Grand, and was happy to hear about us being from Portland. He hadn’t been in our area before, so we answered many questions. He in turn shared some of his thoughts, having lived in Vegas for a while, and was a bit disappointed that some of the older institutions were being torn down in the desire to keep the town fresh and shiny. He gave us a good steak house recommendation, and we dropped another 20 dollars on an 11 dollar bill, so it was another big tip again. As we left the cab, the clock was hitting 1:30 AM, and so we headed up to the room for some down time. The spa tub never felt so good, and as we drifted off to sleep, it was the blueprint of a great day.

Sunday, August 23rd:

We had finally fallen asleep about 4 AM, and our destination for Sunday was the Luxor, and their spectacularly awesome Sunday brunch. I had set my alarm for 10 AM, but we slept through it a bit, although being up as late as we were, it was understandable. Around 11:30 AM, we started moving about, and moved with urgency, as we weren’t sure how late the buffet had breakfast food. Therefore, we dressed quickly, and left for food.

We arrived about noon, and found out the buffet was available until 3 PM, so we would have plenty of time to eat. The breakfast food here is great, and they come with all you can drink mimosas, and so it took the edge off from a night of dancing and drinking. Girl ordered one, and it never reached being half full before it was refilled again. I was never so happy to have acres of filling food to help get my energy level up, and we ate and drank quite a bit. As we were leaving the table, the server even offered to give girl her mimosa to go. I love this city!

We wandered back to our hotel slowly along the walkway, gambling a bit at the Luxor and not winning much, and then stopping by the Excalibur and gambling a bit as well. Nothing much from the winning, but I love the fact that all of the hotels are connected with a nice walkway. From the MGM Grand, you hit New York, New York to Excalibur to the Luxor to Mandalay Bay, all within walking distance. We made it back to our room in time for another day of pool lounging and sun. The weather had cooled off a bit, not hitting triple digits, but it was still really nice outside. We found good seats at the Talent Pool, and set about to relax and swim about. I was never so happy to just sit back, relax and soak up some rays. We lasted at the pool until the early evening, and wasn’t even hungry after our big morning meal, so we went to the room to shower and chill out.

After checking email and cleaning up the room a bit, we decided to wander back to the Luxor for some more food at their 24-hour café, and then gamble a bit more. We ended up getting some wonderful strawberry daiquiris in special cups we could keep, and so the food and drinking continued. I was still in the mood for breakfast, so I had an omelet while girl ordered a burger without bun. We only gambled a bit at some other machines, but the luck wasn’t with us that much until we ended back at Excalibur, as girl got some prize money from the Big Ben machine. Guess the fact that she loves England helped the cause, but Excalibur was certainly noisy.

They have a bar on the second floor, Octane, which was buzzing with a decent cover band, while Dick’s Last Resort was also having a band rock the house. However, the biggest buzz was around the table games with a go-go dancer grinding in the background. Apparently, this is the new thing in Vegas, as casinos are hiring dancers to fill the background while people gamble at the card or other gaming table. The woman wasn’t anything special, but I have to admit, it might be fun to play some Texas Hold Em with a hot chick nearby, although it might provide a distraction that your game or wallet might not recover from.

I’m glad that we decided to have Monday be our nice dinner and show night, because while we were out late, I’m not sure we would have had the energy to make it through a big dinner and show, and this was much more casual, which was nice. I was running about with my Oregon Live keeper’s kit on, and the temperature was very comfortable outside. As we walked back to MGM Grand, girl and I realized that we still had five more days and four more nights to enjoy the sights, and we’d already done so much in a short period of time. We had talked about going to the Fremont Experience, go further north on the Strip, go on roller coasters, see more shows, whatever we wanted, but it was nice to have a general plan, but nothing set in stone. At this point, we were more interested in pool time and relaxation, and we were getting plenty of that so far. I also know that girl and I had also spent some time really talking and spending quality time together, and I felt a lot more close to her. Not that closeness was an issue, but when you spend time with someone and you realize that even in these close quarters, you aren’t tired of being with them, you know you’ve found your soul mate, better half or whatever you want to call it. We settled into bed late again, but that’s what vacation is for.

Next Time – A Truly Great Dinner and Fun Show, Wandering Up the Strip, and Gluten Rears Its Ugly Head.