travel

Cooperstown, Take Two (This Time, I Am Ready).

It’s been four years since we last pointed our compasses 2,881 miles to the east, and made our way to baseball’s purported birthplace. The “birthplace” part is a stretch, since the idea that Abner Doubleday invented the sport in Cooperstown has been debunked (a long time ago, to be clear, not in the last four years). A hotel owner conjured up Baseball’s Hall of Fame (and likely played a part in germinating the Doubleday myth) as a much-needed shot in the arm for a local economy reeling from the double whammy of The Great Depression and Prohibition. The rest, as they say, is history. Well, actually there was plenty of history before “the rest,” so perhaps more accurately, “the rest” is a sublime monument to the history that transpired before the Hall’s construction, and to that which has transpired since. And to that which transpires, still. This weekend, in fact, marks the annual rite by which the newly-elected cohort of mostly recently-retired major leaguers are inducted into the Hall with great fanfare.

This weekend also marks my family’s return to an out-of-the-way Airbnb rental house for a climactic youth baseball tournament. We weren’t ready then. 2014 saw my eldest son Max, (The Kraken), trot around on the field with knickers and red socks (not “sox”), and turn 13 when he blew out the candles on a birthday cake my wife had clandestinely carried into the ballpark. I suppose we hadn’t planned ahead with sufficient foresight to avoid some serious rule-breaking (“ABSOLUTELY NO OUTSIDE FOOD ALLOWED!”) with that birthday cake. I believe the statute of limitations on that clear transgression has run. But to be safe, this time around, we are taking our act down the road a bit, to a different ballpark tournament altogether. Because we are better prepared.

Moreover, we have ensured that our youngest son Everett (he of the infrequently brushed teeth), has no expectations regarding any illicit pastries. There are no looming birthdays (nor forgotten birthdays) or other holidays that might otherwise force his mother and I to give in to our baser parenting instincts, Americana baseball field rules be-damned. If Ev sneaks verboten items into his little dormitory (and this is not a very big if), that’s on him. I have deliberately avoided reading through the printed tournament rules carefully, dodging direct confrontation with any prohibitions associated with candy or soda or PlayStations or Fortnite or whatever. I have therefore managed to arrive on the east coast armed with plausible deniability. And I aim to preserve this status. Printed Tournament Rules? What Printed Tournament Printed Rules? Yessir. 2018–Everett’s turn at Cooperstown–will be different. Because this time, I am ready.

This means that I am better prepared for on-the-fly, unexpected developments that might occur away from the environs of the baseball diamond, too. During our last visit, I spied across a restaurant a fraternity brother whom I hadn’t seen in 25 years. This might seem a joyous occasion, but for the rather unfortunate fact that I could not for the life of me recall his actual name. Only his pledge name came to mind. And as is the case with most if not all pledge names, this would not be a pleasant moniker to deliver up at his dinner table as he sat surrounded by his wife and children, no matter how big I forced my smile. I interrupt his reverie out of the blue to remind him of some unflattering physical characteristics rather cruelly called-out a quarter century ago by only slightly older college kids who were themselves still stinging from once being similarly called out and therefore overly eager to pass along this lovely tradition. No, I couldn’t bear to perpetuate this jackassery of my younger self now that I sat at a restaurant as a grown man.

But I still couldn’t remember his name, no matter what sorts of memory tricks I anxiously sprinted through in my mind. No matter how many random first names my wife stage-whispered to me in a generous but totally-unhelpful attempt to come to my rescue (there are a lot of names, you see). I saw my fraternity-brother-without-a-name go through the motions of paying his bill and begin to gather his rental car keys and progeny. I struggle to stifle my increasing panic at the prospect of drawing a blank. An absolute blank on his name when he would pass my table and see my face on his way out to resume his presumably happy life during which no one called attention to any unflattering (or flattering, for that matter) physical characteristics. Reaching under the table cloth, I furtively text another fraternity brother who lives in Reno, whose pledge name and real name I have not forgotten, and who I knew would instantly recall our younger fraternity brother’s given name. “What is Knuckle Dragger’s real name?” I text him this with absolutely no context. There is no time for context. “Phil,” my savior texts me back almost immediately, just as “Knuckle Dragger/Phil” (neither his real name nor his real pledge name) obliviously approaches my table. This last-minute reprieve via an absurd text message exchange allowed me 2 or 3 seconds to compose myself, stand up, and magnanimously greet him (by his real name) as if we were the best of friends.

“Phil” was dumbstruck, literally appearing to be in shock, and maybe just maybe sufficiently flattered that he might forget his “Knuckle Dragger” mistreatment at my hands and those of other slightly-older college kids 25 years ago, each of us overly eager to leave the sting of our own pledge names and unflattering characteristics behind. After a few minutes, we parted ways and I sat back down at my table, emotionally exhausted, having narrowly averted disaster due to a lack of preparation.

This time around, during our trip in Cooperstown, I am better prepared. I will be shouldering a heavy backpack containing every grade school and junior high school and high school and college and law school yearbook I could gather up over the past four years. The pages are taped and flagged and referenced and cross-referenced with classmates long-forgotten but who may pop up with their own baseball-playing son, having made their own pilgrimage to this Mecca of baseball. This time around, for Cooperstown Take Two, I am ready. Wish me luck.

Fly the Friendly Skies (Part II)

Good morning, fine fine people.  I’m going to break from years and years of tradition with this morning’s post.  OK, maybe it’s really just ten blog entries’ worth of tradition.  But tradition is tradition, and rules are made to be broken.  In this case, my and Everett’s epic trip yesterday from San Francisco to Syracuse merits a “Part II.”  And so this is it, and may the Airline Gods spare us from a “Part III.”

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Fly the Friendly Skies, the day started off before morning’s first light full of promise.  I had managed to coast along feeding on Everett’s enthusiasm for the early wake up and a cup of SFO’s Dogpatch Bakehouse & Caffe.  I stocked up on a number of key bribery items, chief of which was an entire pack of tropical fruit-flavored Dentyne gum.  Things were still looking good at “wheels up” from SFO, as can be seen in this pic (featuring Ev clutching said Dentyne gum, with every intention of devouring all 357 pieces in that pack, whether I liked it or not) —

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Things got dicey after we touched down in Chicago.  Our planned 50-minute layover dragged on for nearly 4 extra hours, and came within a terrifying mlimeter of stretching into 24 hours.  And Cleveland.  Airline gate agents apparently have a name for this phenomenon.  They called it “Delay Creep.”  I was so relieved five seconds after I heard that nice gate agent woman utter this phrase the first time.  In the midst of my interrogation of her (again, the litigation stuff comes in handy), I thought she said, “delay, creep.”  I felt my face flush hot, then glanced over at Everett across the waiting area to confirm he wasn’t watching me as I feared I was about to turn into Bill Bixby’s alter ego.  You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.  As I was forming my lips to make the “w” of an angry “What did you just call me?,” the gate agent saved me.  “Gate Creep. That’s what we call it.”  What a relief.  (And what a difference a comma makes, by the way.)  That could have been disastrous, Everett looking up from his iPod to see me carted off in ziptied cuffs by some aggravated Air Marshals in crisp blue blazers and moustaches.

Disaster averted.

The weather started to worsen outside our United terminal at O’Hare, and the gate agents began to spin a narrative about “mechanical trouble with equipment involved with de-icing.”  Now as anyone who has grown up on the east coast or midwest, or otherwise suffered through icy winter flying, don’t nobody mess around with the “de-icing.”  So this was a brilliant stroke on the part of the gate agents to quell the murmuring, imminent passenger uprising.  It’s like invoking “He whose name shall not be spoken.”  Queued up grandmas in handknit sweaters and hoodie-wearing college students, all of us, immediately “de-queued” at the gate counter, casting our eyes downward as the only appropriate response to the “de-icing” invocation.  Don’t nobody mess with “de-icing.”  And it was pretty outside, what with fat snowflakes falling on the tarmac, unlike anything Ev had seen for at least a couple years.  His “Oh, Wow!” exuberance responding to the scene captured below bought me roughly, oh, 112 seconds of calm.

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That’s OK, I figured at this point I could placate my 8 year-old with some really high-quality father-son time.  In other words, I sheepishly handed over his iPod so he could play an hour of anti-brain development video games while I took to the Twittersphere.  Fortunately, I was able to document how our O’Hare visit devolved from “My Three Sons” to something dangerously close to “Dexter.”

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At this point, I’d like to think that I was still being pretty sweet, a good passenger, a good citizen.  Look at me, I’m so cute and stuff.  What an amazing Dad.

Welp, I got a little antsy since we had to find an open electrical outlet to charge Everett’s iPod and my iPhone.  The “Delay Creep” tethered us to our Gate, and we were told not to wander far.  With Everett’s attention fully-charged for at least awhile going forward now, my thoughts wandered to how far behind I had fallen on my Fitbit Leaderboard.  People I had grown accustomed to “taunting” for their weaksauce “step counts” (including my wife), had managed to wrack up ten thousand steps more than I, and counting.  I could just picture them all, cranking out steps like boot camp soldiers, while I stagnated at our gate.  My fragile ego strained under the weight of having to see them look down on me from the top of the Fitbit “Totem Pole.”  I got itchy, but couldn’t manufacture any steps in this predicament, stuck as I was right next to my plugged-in son.  My frustration began to bubble over a bit —

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Still, at this point, I was managing to keep up a good front.  Right? Witty, learned, and still a model father, by any reasonable measure.  Nothing too terribly shameful, or beyond the bounds of Grandma’s Lemonade, right? Right?

Then lunch at the terminal’s Chili’s mini-restaurant.

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It is possible that the libation in the foreground played a causative role in my worsening mood and the degraded tweeting that followed….

By this point, that “extra large sounds like a great idea, thanks!” Sam Adams had worn me down, and Everett graciously allowed me to conserve my energy a bit.

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What looked like cute father-son horseplay was really me manufacturing a 30-minute power nap.  But in my increasingly frustrated state, I couldn’t resist the urge to lash out once more at United.  Besides, no one would ever even see these tweets, right?

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And…there we have it.  Any semblance of “good dad,” observing social mores, being a good role model and an upstanding digital citizen went completely. Out. The. Window.  I had only a small little asterisk to cover myself, naked and profane, from being revealed as a stark raving madman.  Cue the mustached, blue-blazered Marshals, reaching for their service revolvers.

But just as all was nearly lost; when overnighting at a Holiday Inn Express and huffing on Greyhound exhaust fumes seemed the logical conclusion of our predicament; just as I started to warm — “it’s not that bad” — to the notion of flying from ORD to Cleveland in the morning, finally landing in Syracuse a full day later; the United social media marketing manager entrusted with the United Twitter keys came to my rescue. At precisely the same time as the United maintenance workers pulled a miraculous fix on the, gulp, “de-icing” equipment.

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Mercifully, Everett and I buckled up once more, endured a wind-buffeted flying sideways landing in Syracuse, and arrived at our final destination.  All’s well that ends well.  Except for the fact that my mother, the woman who carried me in her womb for 9 months and raised me to be a “good man,” and how to raise my own “good men,” well, she took full advantage of my vulnerable, sleep-deprived state.  I walked into her home–sanctuary after our 14-hour ordeal–and was slapped in the face by this sign.  But more on that in tomorrow’s blog post.

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Thanks for reading.