The Fever

Most of the world has it, and it now appears I do as well. Bird flu? Bubonic? Nope, I’m talking about World Cup fever, of course.

Watching in style...I’ve been following the matches online until today when I finally found time to watch a few matches on the tele. Being an American, of course, “football” means something entirely different to me than to the fans of this most engaging spectacle. And the World Cup fans are one reason why watching the matches is a lot of fun.

Part of why I think this competition captivates most of the world, excluding most Americans, is that it’s about country and honor. Yes, these barely protected field soldiers are in the same class of multi-millionaires as our American football heroes, yet when one’s country’s pride is on the line, they seem to play with the passion and enthusiasm of pure sport. Soccer, or football for you non-Yanks, at this level does have a purity that is not often seen in professional sport, and usually something reserved for Olympian endeavors. Of course, national pride is only part of the equation: players performances in the World Cup can mean a huge increase in fat contracts offered by professional teams not to mention lucrative endorsements. But, I still want to think that the World Cup is about country first, individual second.

screen shotI captured these shots while watching the start of the Germany-Sweden match this morning. What energy these players have! It made me tired just watching, and no doubt contributed to an extra slink-down or two on the sofa. I planned to watch the second game today between Mexico and Argentina, and tried to time my dashing out for a bite of lunch and some Scrubbing Bubbles (it’s housecleaning day…odd contrast to the fancy footwork of football, but in my world quite necessary) so that I’d be back in time for the start. Unfortunately, a detour at the library made me about 10 minutes late, during which of course each side scored a goal. Sigh. But it’s a high-energy game so far, so I’m sure I’ll see more scoring action. With this football you have to pay attention and enjoy when they do score, since they do so less frequently than American football.

America doesn’t appreciate world football like it should, but it’s only a matter of time before that happens I think. Years ago the success of our women soccer team should been enough to make this sport a mainstay, and for while we too had the fever nation-wide. The game does have a strong youth following in this country, but seems to dwindle after that. A talented athlete in this country’s college system can do so well economically playing baseball, basketball, or football that you can’t blame them for choosing those paths. Hopefully, that will change.

Watching these World Cup matches has definitely made me a fan of this fluid, pure game. Lots of green grass, mano y mano, and a lot of running. A LOT of running. And my prediction for this year’s World Cup final? Germany and Brazil, and Brazil winning 4-2. Now if I can find my bookie’s phone number, maybe I can profit by this clairvoyant moment…

The Pavement Ballet

On a typical commuter morning last week at yet another stoplight, I thought about the complexity of movement and orderly behavior as people in cars and buses move independently from house to places of work on any given morning.

This particular day wasn’t anything special, consistently as bland as most workdays are at 8 a.m. The difference that day was a sudden awareness of how organized and harmonious we can be at times in our world, giving us an ever so slight, daily dose, of civilized behavior. As in most towns, there is a choreography of motored steps that happens each workday, not unlike the practiced movements of dancers on a stage. With quiet purpose, we each leave our homes in response to an unseen force that propels us from house to car, then car to work, unknowingly orchestrated with staggering departures to ensure a reasonable melding of uni-directional metal machines. What might happen if we all left at precisely the same moment? Chaos.

Imagine you’re a bird, floating on gentle currents high above such a scene. You might well be fooled that you were watching trained ants foraging through a striated forest, moving with obvious purpose and aligned randomness, while seeming to obey common laws that prevent inefficiency, yet induce progress. You might even become mesmerized by the hypnotic effect this orchestrated pavement ballet provides. Yet if you knew us well, you’d also sigh and shake your feathered head in dismay at the continued short-sightedness of creatures so obviously over-relying on machines that burn limited fossil fuels. Had evolution bypassed these creatures and not given them a natural form of movement? And if you knew of the wars and economic chaos caused by the addiction to this unnatural pursuit of fossil fuels, you’d likely bless your maker who saw fit to evolve you with a natural form of movement and exempt you from such silliness.

Yet still, you’d stay curious about the repetitive nature of these beings who endure the same orchestrated movements day in, day out. If you were an uncommonly intelligent bird who enjoyed delving into the mysteries of these other being’s behaviors, you’d probably question their reluctance to evolve to a more renewable, natural form of transportation. But by then, the bigger bird behind you would probably honk loudly, interrupting your daydreaming while less-than-gently encouraging you to continue on your way. Such are the dangers of thinking too much too early, when one should really be glissading.

Spectacular

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It’s difficult to get a good picture of violent weather, partly because the wind whipping and doom-like clouds tend to give the impression that world as we know it is about to end, and one doesn’t necessarily think first of framing a nice photo:  usually seeking shelter is a little more important. I took the shot above last fall of a violent, quick thunderstorm that rolled into Northwest Ohio, bringing some havoc, high winds, and a great weather watching opportunity.

Last evening we had some classic summer-like thunderstorms roll through our little corner of Ohio:  waves of black walls of violence and light, hard rain and merciless hail. A tornado watch added to the mystique (gratefullly with none appearing), as did the warning of large hail and 70+ mph damaging winds. It appears this morning, however, that all we got was really wet with a good shaking of trees and anything else people forgot to tie down.

I’ve always enjoyed watching violent weather, a practice that sits on the edge of insanity at times, but is often rewarding in terms of witnessing the shock and awe that Mother Nature can provide. One memorable moment was riding in a car with my brother along a barren stretch of highway in Big Bend National Park while watching an advancing black-wall storm. As we drove and watched, a lightning bolt darted quickly down, not 300 yards from us, splitting a tree and car-sized boulder in half on a ridge just off the road. Amazing. Another time I was driving along a West Texas highway outside Valentine, Texas in far West Texas, watching a lightning-spitting, black wall of weather advancing across an open range, the black clouds contrasting nicely with the yellow range grass. That spectacular show proved to be expensive, however, as I was distractedly exceeding the speed limit by a good 15 mph. The local Sheriff, who was following me for miles before I noticed him, was unfortunately more interested in writing me a ticket than similarly enjoying Mother Nature’s matinee.

Who needs techology and special effects? Give me a good summer thunderstorm anytime for one of the best light and dazzle shows around…all from the inside safety of my house, of course.

A Rare Treat

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One of the downsides of my time up here in Findlay is an absence of Houston Astro news coverage, games on TV, or the holy grail, seeing them live at Minute Maid Park. True, within two hours of Findlay are the Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers, and Toledo Mud Hens, and within four hours the Cincinnati Reds (which happen to be hosting the Astros this weekend…hmmm…road trip?).

foulpole.jpgThe Internet does give me doses of daily baseball news and if I want to fork over the $15/month to MLB.TV I can watch their games via streaming video over my RoadRunner connection, but it’s not the same as being able to see them live. Plus, I subscribe to MLB.TV last season and it took an act of Congress to cancel the subscription. Seems like they expect you to join for life, their auto renewal program being nearly impossible to get out of, short of canceling your credit card so they can’t auto renew your account.

On a recent trip to Houston, my bosses treated me to a trip to Minute Maid Park and a night game to see this year’s version of last year’s National League Champs. Having lived in Houston for close to 20 years, it was ironic that I was out of town on this assignment last year when they finally made the big show, the World Series. I caught most of the playoff games on Internet audio, but I was in New England during some of the series games, a place where if it’s not the Red Sox or the Yankees, no one is interested in watching baseball on TV. And so my search for a place to watch the ‘Stros during the Series while vacationing in the belly of the Red Sox Nation was fruitless. Even the sports bars failed to turn at least one TV to the proper channel, instead feeding the locals with everything from basketball to football reruns. No respect.

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Fortunately, one of my bosses is as rabid a baseball fan as I and also likes to get to the ballpark as soon as it opens. I love to walk around and take in the atmosphere, sights, and sounds of baseball fans and the pre-game warm ups. During the game it’s hard to break-away from watching the action to enjoy the ballpark itself, so the pre-game time is perfect for people watching and appreciating the park architecture, not to mention previewing the eats! Plus, it’s the only time you can wander into different seating sections to see what those views are like.

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Sadly, today’s big-league business is all about money and sponsorship, and every time I go to the park it seems the ads are getting bigger, bolder, and filling up nearly every available space. The shot above of the infamous Crawford boxes is noticeably more ad-crowded than I remember when I went to a game during the park’s inaugural year. Since the park opened about four years ago, ticket prices have just about doubled. You have to wonder how much tickets would cost without the ads-everywhere philosophy. Going to a major league game is not an inexpensive outing.

After my requisite stroll completely around the park, stopping to enjoy the sights and sounds at various vantage points, I settled in with a traditional dog and suds, and eventually “play ball” started the real show. Although the Astros pitching more resembled batting practice than a serious game, in the end they outlasted the Milwaukee Brewers and sent fans home happy with their 13-12 win. That score tells you there was a lot of bat-power and less-than-sterling glove work in the field, but at least there was a lot of action to follow, which made leaving my seat for the traditional peanuts and later ice cream, a tough choice, since every half-inning something excited happened.

In the end, to me, it’s about the baseball and not so much who wins or loses. And since I’m in withdrawal from being able to attend Astro games, that night it was all about the rare treat to see the boys play live. We got to the World Series last year, and this year we’ll finish the business and bring the prize home. It’s a long season, but I’m predicting it will be an Astros/White Sox October rematch: just remember you heard it here first.

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Everywhere is Everywhere

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Borders blur, cultures intertwine, so it should be no surprise to see signs of internationalism even in Northwest Ohio. I can remember a time when I would travel to smaller towns and the local stores would be behind the times as far as carrying the latest in retail goods, be it music, clothes, or whatever. That unstoppable monster, Wal-Mart, changed that uniqueness for good.

tshirt.jpgIn the same vein, the advent of the Internet broke down awareness barriers and infused an “anything anywhere” attitude and availability. Yes, America has always been a land of mongrels, of mixed-heritage citizens upon which our country was initially founded. This isn’t news, but I have been noticing a growing pride in celebrating ethic heritage and in connecting here to there, regardless of where “here” is. I happened along this t-shirt in a local store daring to put little Findlay, Ohio, along side a few great cities of Europe, as though there was come reason for this proud connection. I can attest that I’ve seen none in my eight months living up here, but I suppose if you’re a local you can connect your home town easily to anywhere you wish.

irish.jpgEven the proud Fitzgerald Law Firm, LLC practices a little racial profiling now and then, although obviously it’s more a little Irish humor than anything else (on the opposite side of the storefront window they have a lovely shamrock painted). In this town, as is typically with most medium-sized cities in America, most ethnic food restaurants are represented at least once: Mexican, Italian, Korean, Japanese, Thai, Texan (uh…okay), etc. Unfortunately Indian, one of my favorites, is not on the list, but is a quick 45-minute drive up in Toledo. And if you’ve been following the news on our struggles with what to do with the immigration issues and illegal workers, it’s clear that America is a sum of its parts, the boiling pot it always has been. I see a lot of positive things in acknowledging and celebrating cultures of all types; I just hope we eventually learn to live together a little better.