Wednesday, September 20, 2017
Regarding Stadium Cups
Bear with me. There’s a point to all of this. I promise to eventually get to that point, but I’m not in any hurry.
Back in 1975 or 1976, I obtained my very first Hokie Cup. It was a solidly constructed orange cup with three maroon “Fightin’ Gobblers” decorating the side. I still have that cup. It’s valued and treasured, residing on a shelf in my cluttered garage.
Like many of you, I made it through my college Bill Dooley years drinking from repurposed Hokie cups gathered from Lane after drinking the Hokies to another win or loss. Those cups were life-savers, hydrators; mixing companions.
After college, I took a small cup collection with me to my first apartment and used them as my primary beverage holders. In fact, to this day, I rarely use glassware, choosing instead one of my trusted Hokie cups.
I’ve written about the souvenir-sized Hokie cups dispensed at VT games here several times in the past twenty years. As I recall, back in the mid-late 1990’s the large white cups with HOKIES spelled out in block letters on the side were rugged, HUGE, and eminently serviceable.
Enter the post-MV1 era.
In an attempt to milk cash from thirsting spectators, the athletic department ordered smaller, flimsier, candy-assed (my new favorite expression) cups. Holding a full large cup in your hand after a few warm-up parking lot drinks immediately presented the real danger of serious spillage. Gone were the solid cups of the magic years; replaced instead with an inferior product.
Either in 2003 or 2004, the athletic department decided it was time to beef up its souvenir cup. Perhaps this was due to my daily email assault on Jim Weaver’s electronic and paper mailboxes. Who knows? Regardless, a new cup was born. Flexible, yet sturdy. Large, yet functional. “HOKIES RESPECT That’s what it’s all about” is what it said. Jim Weaver’s oft-discussed attempt to tame the rabble. While the campaign fell flat, the cups were fantastic! They used these fabulous cups for a couple of years before moving on to a bigger, glitzier black cup featuring various stars from that year’s team. While I liked those cups, too, they weren’t as auto-friendly. Too big to fit an ordinary cup holder. Fortunately, I had relatives that needed them.
But as a couple of years passed, I grew concerned that my stash of marvelous 2004 Hokies Respect cups was slowly diminishing. The cups were not the problem. They weren’t disintegrating. It was my fault entirely. I’d misplace one or step on another. Let a friend use one without telling them how valuable they were to me. It really was all my fault. At one point, I was down to just two serviceable cups.
The Miracle in Salem.
On June 9, 2012 I found myself attending the Group A, Division 2 state baseball championship at Salem’s Kiwanis field where The Greene Dragons of William Monroe defeated Chilhowie 5-4 in extra innings. At one point, I wandered over to the concession stand to get a Coke. To my utter shock and joy, the attendant served up my drink in an authentic, brand-new 2004 Hokies Respect cup. In fact, situated in a corner of the shack, was the largest collection of Hokies Respect cups I’d ever seen. There must have been hundreds of them. So I bought drinks for all my friends and collected the cups. I went around the bleachers after the game nabbing any left-behind cups. All told, I ended up with about ten mint condition wonder cups.
So for the past five years, I’ve kept the same four cups in rotation, They are showing signs of wear and tear though. The “Hokies Respect” is fading. The cup now says, “That’s… it’s… -out.” Fortunately, I still have four or five 2004 cups in reserve.
Which brings me to the point of this whole story.
When it comes to plastic stadium cups, I know what I’m talking about. I may not know how to diagram a defensive alignment or why a defensive end can’t “gain the edge” on every play; I do understand cups.
At the Delaware game, I purchased my usual souvenir cup just before the opening kick-off. I was looking forward to the new 2017 design. Who would be on the cup? Would it be “Hokies Respect II” or some clever design. Would the cups be durable?
It turns out that the new cup is black like last year’s cup, but it is decidedly taller and thinner, much like the cups at the Bristol game last year. In fact, when I went back and compared the cups this year to last year, I noted that the capacity went from 32 ounces last year to 24 ounces this year. But here’s the real kicker. The price for the souvenir beverage went from $5.00 to $5.50. While the cup design was great, the ruggedness was apparent, and the cup’s potential for fitting in an auto cup holder seemed promising, the change in size and price seemed downright miserly. Last year, the large souvenir cup cost $0.16 an ounce. Now the large beverage is up to $0.23 an ounce. That’s almost a 44% increase in cost! Scandalous! This unconscionable greed-grab harkens back to the euphoric post-national championship daze when ticket prices sky-rocketed and flimsy cups became the norm.
I’m not mad because of the cost spike. I’m not even mad because the little girl sitting next to me kicked over my drink before I even had a second sip. I’m just not mad at all, really.
Honestly, that’s what it’s all about.
Saturday, January 21, 2017
I discovered the first draft of President Trump's first inaugural address in a location I'm not allowed to disclose. I'm told that his handlers felt the need to tighten it up some and pare it down to keep it more manageable on the teleprompter. Here it is in it's raw form. I've noted in red areas that were stricken in the actual address. (Parody)
The First Inaugural Address
Donald J. Trump
Chief Justice Roberts, fellow Americans and people of Russia and the world, thank you.
Here I am presented with an opportunity of speaking before a huge audience. I am now able to confirm what I had felt, namely, that I have a talent for public speaking. My voice has become- so much better that I could be well understood, at least in all parts of the giant halls where my friends are assembled. No deal could have been more pleasing to me than this one; for now, I am in a position to save to a place which had been very special to my heart: America.
We, the citizens of America, are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country from its desolate ruins and restore its golden glory for all of our people.
Together, we will determine the course of our America and our world for all eternity. We will face challenges, we will confront hardships, but we will get the job done.
Every four years, we gather on these steps to carry out the orderly and peaceful transfer of power, and we are grateful that President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama decided to step aside throughout this transition. Now for the first time I learned to know men and I learned to distinguish between empty appearances or brutal manners and the outward appearance of real inner nature of the insiders.
Today's ceremony, however, has very special meaning because today, we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the people, so you could bestow it upon me. You conferred upon me a huge mandate to scrub and disinfect the walls of Washington.
For too long, a corrupt group of lobbyists and lawmakers in our nation's capital have reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories. Their triumphs have not been your triumphs. Their wealth is not your wealth. And while they celebrated in our nation's capital at parties with balloons and tiny cone-shaped party hats, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.
That all changes starting right here and right now because this moment is your moment, it belongs to you; tens and tens of millions of you.
It belongs to everyone gathered here today on the white way and everyone watching all across America. This is your day. This is your celebration. And this, the United States of America, is my country.
What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people who cede authority to the ultimate savior.
January 20th, 2017 will be remembered as the day the people crowned the new ruler of this nation.
The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.
Everyone is listening to you now. You came here today by the tens of millions, flooding this Mall with cheering, smiling faces; supporting me and to become part of a historic movement, the likes of which the world has never seen before. Idealism does not represent a superfluous expression of emotion, but in truth it has been, is, and will be, the premise for what we designate as human culture...Without his idealistic attitude all, even the most dazzling faculties of the intellect, would remain mere intellect just like
outward appearance without inner value, and never creative force. The purest idealism is unconsciously equivalent to the deepest knowledge.
outward appearance without inner value, and never creative force. The purest idealism is unconsciously equivalent to the deepest knowledge.
At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction, that a nation exists to serve its loyal citizens. Americans want great exclusive schools for their children, safe neighborhoods free of undue distractions for their families, and good, hard-working jobs for themselves. These are just and reasonable demands of righteous people, servants, and a righteous public.
There are certain truths which stand out so openly on the roadsides of life that every passer-by may see them. Yet, because of their obviousness, the general run of people disregard such truths or at least they do not make them the object of any conscious knowledge. People are so blind to some of the simplest facts in everyday life that they are highly surprised when somebody calls attention to what everybody ought to know.
For too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; starving waifs scuttling from filthy corner to filthy corner pan-handling for scraps; rusted out factories scattered like abandoned tombstones across the landscape of our nation; rancid water spewing from toilets across the soiled floors of squalid apartments and homes; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; unrepentant scorching fires consuming whole villages; unwavering quakes engulfing innocent businesses; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized working potential.
This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.
We are one nation and their pain is our pain. Their tragedy is our tragedy. Their dreams are our dreams. Their debts are our debts. And their success will be our success. We share one heart, one lung, one home, and one glorious manifest destiny. The oath of office I take today is an oath of allegiance by all Americans.
For many decades, we've enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry; subsidized the armies of other countries, while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military. We've defended other nations' borders while refusing to defend our own. The former president increasingly used his influence to create conflicts, intensify existing conflicts, and, above all, keep conflicts from being resolved peacefully. For eight years this man looked for a dispute anywhere in the world that he could use to create political entanglements with American economic obligations to one of the contending sides, which would then steadily involve America in the conflict and thus divert attention from his own confused domestic economic policies.
And he spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas while America's infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay. We've made the wealthy wealthier, other countries rich, while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon like the setting sun at the approaching night in a dimming world.
One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions and millions of American workers that were left behind. The wealth of our business class has been impeded by inconvenient and irksome taxes and regulations. The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed all across the world.
But that is the past. And now, we are looking only to the future. For the future is the past plus the present one day more at a time.
We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land,
that all men are created equal. From this
day forward, it's going to be only America first, America first. From this
day forward, all will bow to the ultimate authority.
Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit those who employ American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our clothing, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.
Protection will lead to a great wall of prosperity and strength. I will fight for you with every breath in my body and I will never ever let you down easily.
America will start winning again, winning like never before. We’ll make deals, winning deals. Deals that no one could ever believe possible.
We will bring back our jobs, good hard-working jobs. We will bring back our borders and take back our country from the illegals and squatters. We will bring back our wealth from those who take from the hands of the job creators. And we will bring back our dreams, dreams of a time of purity and righteous morality.
We will build new roads and highways and bridges and airports and tunnels and railways and golf courses all across our wonderful nation. We will get our people off of welfare and back to work, rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor and serving the job creators in every way.
We will follow two simple rules; buy American and hire American. We’ll eat our corn from the windswept plains of Nebraska and our orange juice from Florida and our apples from New York. We’ll buy our cars from Ford and our gas from Exxon.
We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world, but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example. We will shine for everyone to follow.
We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate from the face of the Earth. Truly, this earth is a trophy cup for the industrious man. And this rightly so, in the service of natural selection. He who does not possess the force to secure his Lebensraum in this world, and, if necessary, to enlarge it, does not deserve to possess the necessities of life. He must step aside and allow stronger peoples to pass him by.
At the bedrock of our politics will be a blind allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other. When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.
The Bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity. Secular schools can never be tolerated because such a school has no religious instruction and a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air; consequently, all character training and religion must be derived from faith . . . We need believing people. When America is united, America is totally unstoppable.
There should be no fear. We are protected and we will always be protected. We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement. The application of force alone, without support based on a spiritual concept, can never bring about the destruction of an idea or arrest the propagation of it, unless one is ready and able to ruthlessly to exterminate the last upholders of that idea even to a man, and also wipe out any tradition which it may tend to leave behind.
Finally, we must think big and dream even bigger. In America, we understand that a nation is only living as long as it is still starving. We will no longer accept politicians who are all talk and no action, constantly complaining, but never doing anything about it. Instead, we demand huge, transforming ideas implemented without wasteful debate or idol [sic] conversations.
The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action, and my first action will make you forget the failures of the past eight years. Uncertainty cripples any serious and firm resolve and results in opinions swaying from one side to the other, leaving any decision that is made weak and half done, even when it comes to the most essential measures of self-preservation.
Do not allow anyone to tell you that it cannot be done. All great movements are popular movements. They are the volcanic eruptions of human passions and emotions, stirred into activity by the ruthless Goddess of Distress or by the torch of the spoken word cast into the midst of the people. No challenge can match the heart and fight and spirit of America. We will not fail. Our country will thrive and prosper again. We will demand unity.
We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to unlock the mysteries of space, to free the earth from the miseries of disease, to embrace the golden host, and to harness the energies, industries and technologies of tomorrow. To the Christian doctrine of the infinite significance of the individual human soul and of personal responsibility, I oppose with icy clarity the saving doctrine of the nothingness and insignificance of the individual human being, and of his continued existence in the visible immortality of the nation.
A new national pride will stir ourselves, lift our sights and heal our divisions. Unity only comes when minds are turned to the power of the nation.
It's time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget, that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots.
We all enjoy the same glorious freedoms and we all salute the same great American flag. We know that the more we work, the more we get. Those who have no understanding of the world around them have no right to criticize or complain.
And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl and squalor of Detroit or the wind-swept, barren plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same flaming night sky, they will their hearts with the same dreams, and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty creator.
So to all Americans in every city near and far, small and large, from mountain to mountain, from ocean to ocean, hear these words: You will never be ignored again.
Your voice, your hopes, and your dreams will define our American destiny. And your courage and goodness and love will forever guide us along the way. You can fight only for something you love. You can love only what you respect. You can respect only what you know.
Together, we will make America strong again. We will make America wealthy again. We will make America proud again. We will make America safe again. We will make America the most feared nation in the world again. And yes, together we will make America great again. We sing with the clarity of proud voice the words of that modern country spiritual, “There ain’t no doubt I love this land. God bless the U.S.A.”
Thank you. God bless you. God bless me. And God bless America.
Note to KellyAnne: Want to sneak in this quote from AH but can’t firgue out where to stick it.
Few teachers realize that the purpose of teaching history is not the memorizing of some dates and facts, that the student is not interested in knowing the exact date of a battle or the birthday of some marshal or other, and not at all—or at least only very insignificantly—interested in knowing when the crown of his fathers was placed on the brow of some monarch. These are certainly not looked upon as important matters. To study history means to search for and discover the forces that are the causes of those results which appear before our eyes as historical events.
Thursday, December 08, 2016
Make it Stop Blinking!
Forced into a one day exile from substituting, I found myself with a whole day to fill. In case you don’t know, I retired a year and a half ago. As part of a special retirement deal that purges “The Big Salary People” from the school system payroll, I promised to work one fifth of a school year for five years as a substitute teacher with one year of pay thus apportioned. One caveat is that no retiree substitute shall work more than four days in any one week or the county feels that I shall be regarded as a full time employee and, thus, eligible for benefits like insurance and a full time job.
So I awoke today on my mandatory day of exile with only the barest sketch of a plan on how to fill my time. First up. Read the newspaper. Check. Have a pepperoni and cheese bagel, Check. Read my email. Check. Respond to email. Check. Find some silly You Tube videos to send to friends (Trolololo Song). Check.
At this point, I realized that it was time to get busy. I knew that I wanted to pick lettuce from my raised beds before the Siberian Express descended on our fair city tonight. I also knew that I wanted to begin decorating the house for Christmas and that meant that I needed batteries for my fake window candles. In fact, I was even contemplating buying some more candles to put in more than just the front facing windows.
My trip to Heritage Family Market in Fincastle was reflexive and relaxing. Cruise down I-81 to Daleville and get onto that road that goes there. Only the blind mergers and oblivious trucks kept me from truly experiencing requiescence.
“There are jewels inside yourself. Precious, profound and ready to be discovered.”
Heritage was hopping today, but I lucked out by getting there when Dwayne (I’m on a first-name basis with all the clerks) had a break in slicing deli meats and cheeses. So I put in my usual order for sharp yellow cheddar, pepper-jack, havarti, and beef bologna-a half pound of each all sliced on setting one. Dwayne knows that part, and I never have to tell him. Sometimes I get low-sodium turkey breast, pepperoni, or hard salami just to mix things up a bit.
I hustled off to shop while Dwayne filled my order. I picked up my bag of corn chips and two tubs of assorted flavor gummy bears. Heritage has been open for a couple of years now. Its owners and workers are members of a Pennsylvania Dutch community from Mission Home, VA near Charlottesville. They sell all sorts of food essentials, especially baking goods and candy. Their place in Fincastle is quaint and draws a rich collection of professional and common folk. Today, a little boy and his hunting overall-attired father were checking out when the boy pleaded with his father to let him give the money to Tim at the register. It was so sweet that I found myself smiling with a tear as did the old German Baptist lady in front of me in line. Requiescence attained.
I wished Matt, the checker, a good day and headed off to Roanoke to visit Big Lots for my batteries and fake candles. Traffic was pretty intense, but I couldn’t be shaken from my sense of peace. Honestly, I swear this is true. Very few people work these days. Seriously. They may be “working”: but they aren’t working. They’re out driving around. Today’s not the first time I’ve noticed this phenomenon. I’m sure that my teacher friends can’t possibly understand how this would be possible.
After dodging blind mergers and oblivious trucks and very nearly dying at the Peters Creek Road (my normal) exit when I was nearly rear-ended by a merger and a truck, I made it to my Big Lots at the old Hill’s department store on Hershberger Road. It’s a dingy place, but often filled with surprises and treasures. Today, I got a little of both.
I took my basket by the friendly Salvation Army bell ringer and entered the store. I scoped out the batteries and found that I could get 30 Ray-O-Vac Al Kaline [sic] batteries for $12 (40 cents a battery) or 24 Ray-O-Vac Al Kaline [sic] batteries for $10 (41.6 cents). I opted for the 30-pack. Then I made my way to the Christmas candles.
My path, however, was blocked by an older mother and her adult daughter who were loudly screaming at each other in normal conversation about what decorations to buy to “GO OUTSIDE THE HOUSE!”
“MAMA. THESE LIGHT WOULD GO GOOD OUTSIDE THE HOUSE. DON’T YOU LIKE THESE LIGHTS? HOW ABOUT THESE LIGHTS? WE COULD USE SOME OF THESE LIGHTS AND THEM LIGHTS, etc.” Still in my state of requiescence, I decided to leave them to the space and go shop elsewhere until they finished their task.
I strolled over to the foreign canned foods. Big Lots always has cool foreign canned goods. I found some unusual pouches of Indian cuisine. Just heat up the pouch, toss the bag in water for a minute then pour over rice. As I was reading labels all alone in MY aisle, a young man with a red vest, dark glasses, and neatly trimmed beard and goatee turned down the aisle and stopped right behind me. Right behind me-Within an inch of touching my shoulders and rear end. He marked my move every time I stepped to the side to increase my personal space bubble. My creep meter was on red alert. I felt like he was staring at me in some sort of seductive way. So I rather quickly moved on to the tea aisle before doubling back to the Christmas decorations.
The two ladies were still going at it on the lights aisle, but they had at least moved away from the fake single candles. I found that I had two choices for single LED plastic candles with base: a three pack of GE candles for $12 or a single pack of no-name candles for $4 a piece. No difference in price and no difference in looks. Both seemingly matched the candles I already have. So decided on the GE candles.
Earlier while I was futilely waiting for the two loud ladies to exit the area, I pulled up a Big Lots coupon on my phone: $5 off a $15 purchase or $15 off a $50 purchase. I loaded it onto my phone for the checkout. So as I stood there by the candles I decided to get three 3-packs of GE lights at $12 a pack in addition to the pack of 30 batteries also for $12. 12x4 =$48. To take me over the top, I settled on a cheap stocking stuffer for my wife. It didn’t have a price, but I figured that it would certainly take me over the top.
I beat the two loud ladies and the strange man to the checker and proceeded to watch my stuff ring up. Then I handed my phone to the clerk, and she entered my coupon. My total: $47.38 cents. My $15 dollar discount? Where was it I asked politely. She didn’t know, but the coupon didn’t seem to register. I asked her to try again. Same result. By now the line of strange people was stacking up and they were all glaring at me. I was THAT guy who was slowing down the process and making them late for missing more work while driving around on roads. I wasn’t mad. How could I be? I was still retired, still in exile for a day, and still immersed in my requiescence.
But the $15 gnawed at me. Instead of exiting the store, I hung out by the service desk reading the fine print on my phone coupon. I couldn’t find anything that would preclude me in using it for the booty that I bought. So I interrupted the checker and the glaring customers and asked her if I could talk to her manager.
Mindy came right away. She’s a great manager. When she took over the store a couple of years ago, she set to redesigning the lay-out, clearing out the junk and improving the customer service. She’s the best. I explained my issue calmly in my most relaxed cadence. She checked my ticket, added all the stuff up, and immediately figured out the problem. My total before taxes was $49.97. It seems that the stocking stuffer had cost exactly $1.97 bringing me three cents away from qualifying for the $15 discount. The register had, indeed, given me a $5 discount which brought my total to $47.38 after taxes. So I asked Mindy if I could just go back and get something else to bring me to the magic level, and she agreed. So I got another 30-pack of batteries and got my $15 discount. So I ended up paying just over $49.
While all of this was happening, another guy came up to the customer service register with some batteries and was waiting patiently for me to finish. We began some general chit-chat he made some quip about how he’d never worked so hard at being retired. When I asked him what he retired from, he proudly told me that he was the very first African American who ever served in the Roanoke County Sheriff’s Department. That absolutely made my day. I felt honored to meet him.
When I made it home a little later, it was already almost 1:00 and my day of big plans was slipping away from me. So I went out and picked my lettuce and came back in to load my new candles up with batteries. Job completed, I put the candles in their widows and left to process the lettuce.
Darkness descended. Life was still chill for me. Then I saw my new candles…they were blinking. I don’t like blinking lights. Somehow, I’d chosen blinking candles. Candles that sit in my windows and blink all night like a lighthouse beacon. They won’t settle down. They just blink a orange-ish fire. Incessantly. No discernible pattern. BLINK-BLINK. BLINK. BLINK-BLINK-BLINK-BLINK. BLINK-BLINK… I just wish the damn things would STOP BLINKING!
These jewels are just like flowers.
Monday, September 12, 2016
September 10, 2016
On September 10, 2016, Virginia Tech and Tennessee matched up in a football game in a modified stock car race track in Bristol, Virginia. 156,990 fans attended the game which was a new record for American football game attendance. Such a number of fans at a NASCAR event is nothing new. Charlotte, Talladega, Daytona, LeMans, Indianapolis, and Bristol have all hosted larger parties for auto racing. International soccer (football) and horse racing have venues that hold anywhere from 150,000 to near 300,000. Some estimate that over 300,000 have attended the Indianapolis 500 in the olden days, but since the venue allowed people to hang out in the infield, it’s hard to know for sure. Back in the early 1927, an estimated 123,000 saw Notre Dame crush USC 7-6 at Chicago’s Soldier Field. However, only 99,000 or so paid. The following year, an estimated 123,000 watched Notre Dame beat Army at the same venue. Again however, only 105,000 or so paid. In 2013, Notre Dame played Michigan at “The Big House” in front of 115,000 or so people officially making it the largest crowd to watch an American football game live until the Tennessee and Virginia Tech game in 2016.
Getting to the remote coliseum was quite the challenge that required a year of preparation for my family and me. My extended family and I pooled resources and bought blocks of tickets and charter bus passes. Tickets in hand, we loaded our Rally bus at Gateway Plaza in Christiansburg and embarked on a party roll to Bristol at 2:15 pm.
Traffic was light. In fact, we cruised to the state line in about two hours. Then we crawled inside our bus for another hour and a half as we inched toward the epicenter of the football world.
Our Rally bus arrived and parked in the tour bus parking area only about ½ mile from the gate at about 6:30. All around us were blaze orange Tennessee fans. Thousands upon thousands of them. A little maroon sprinkled in.
We grabbed a sandwich and a water and began our trek to the gate. Our late arrival meant that there wasn’t time for proper tailgating. We followed the stream of sojourners, eventually crossing the red bridge security perimeter. The crowd thickness intensified. Our stature as individuals morphed into the collective like maroon pimples on an orange body. At one point, we found ourselves in a crush of parking lot humanity as the crowd ahead was given a choice of splitting off, left or right, on a narrow path to ascend to the gates. We wanted to go right. This meant positioning our bodies in such a way that we could make a 180 degree turn onto the switchback.
As we considered our position, turmoil broke out immediately behind us as some jungle beaters pushed forward from behind to try to clear a path for a small bus to move through the throng of humanity. “Move out of the way! Clear the way! Got to get this bus through” Slowly, the sea parted, but only a little. I ended up stalled with the bus, my ear to its side-view mirror, uncomfortably, for longer than time existed. Fumes. Sweat. Smokers. Germs. Drunks. Secret flatulent gassers. Bodies pressed against anonymous bodies.
We moved slowly in unison, floating along some invisible treadmill. The point of decision came upon us suddenly. I had managed to stay beside my sister, who was dealing with a painful knee and moving slowly, but I lost contact with my wife and son. I made the turn onto the narrow switchback and a helpful Volunteer assisted my sister up over the curb onto the proper track. We ascended at a more steady pace up and beyond the insanity. Within a few minutes we were at our gate and passed through efficiently without any fuss.
As I’ve recently grown older, I've begun to run further and further away from alcohol. I’ve always known from the first time I got drunk at age 13, that alcohol was a dangerous genie for me. I felt under her spell for most of my life, in the end becoming trapped in her cage. While I wanted to escape from the bottle, I was firmly in the genie’s grip. Only complete embarrassment saved me from destruction and allowed me to free myself from her chains.
I’m not writing this to preach. Rather, I just want to point out how sad I find it to see so many ensnared by her spell. As we entered the Gate 2, a young man was just ahead of us who was having difficulty navigating in a forward direction. He asked my son where he was and stumbled forward to the metal detector. The attendants were patient with him. They made him empty his pockets and told him that he would either have to take his back-pack back to his vehicle OR throw it away. He chose to throw it away. I’m guessing that his wallet and mobile phone were in there. After he went through, the attendant had to chase him down to return his pocket contents.
Just prior to kick-off, a young man and his friend made their way down the stairs from the portal above us. The man in front was fighting gravity to remain erect. He was leaning heavily and sliding down the rail as he descended in a warped wobble. At one point a few rows below me, he stopped and his body began listing dangerously downhill. He clutched the rail harder in a vain attempt to stem the massive downward force. In slow motion he began launching himself down and into turn1. Just in time, his buddy grabbed him by the collar and arrested his demise. They both navigated the remaining steps and disappeared deep into their section. My thoughts went to the poor souls who drew the $131.60 short straw of sitting next to them.
As I’ve grown up and escaped my own shackles, I feel sorry for those who feel that getting sloshed at a football game is something for which to aspire.
The Last Great Coliseum
Bristol Motor Speedway is a massive structure tucked in a tidy valley just outside of Bristol, Tennessee. There’s no obvious reason for its being in that place. It’s rather an aberration; something unexpected in the landscape. Like a castle, it sits atop a small knoll with a moat of cars and pavement surrounding it. Across the street is Thunder Valley Drag Strip, which, true to its name, stretches through a small, narrow valley.
The speedway is surrounded by a massive metal stand structure, or rather, a collection of patchwork stands seemingly assembled like a child’s erector set creation. Inside, tiny human ants moved around the ½ mile oval and spectator ants milled about. I felt remarkably, comfortably small inside.
The field, situated in the track’s infield was green with lines on it. From our seats low in Turn 1 (Pearson), the field looked like some artistic perspective study. Far from us, the lines all merged into a blob. Closer to us, their separation was apparent.
Going into the game, we were aware of how our view would be compromised by distance and were counting on watching much of the game through the giant video screen named “Colossus”.
Without a doubt, Colossus is huge. It’s a four-sided video cube suspended above the fifty yard-line. That being said, one can really only see one side at a time. So in essence, it was simply a really big television.
As a television, however, Colossus was a failure for me. Considering the distance from the action for most fans, especially fans at the corners and apex of the turns, one might have thought that more consideration would have been given to the Colossus program production. Many of us needed Colossus to follow the game, but we were disappointed. The production couldn’t settle on a consistent camera view. Sometimes we’d have extreme close-ups of one player or another and miss the snap. Other times the camera would be at extreme distance like an old high school football video. Rarely, they would allow us a true television angle, set tight to the line of scrimmage showing the lines and all but the deepest backs on defense. It would have been best to stay with this one consistent view instead of toggling between the three. In the end, I gave up on Colossus and did my best managing the game view for myself based on limited visual input, crowd reactions, and the screaming field announcer.
WHAT? Without a doubt, BMS was the loudest place I’ve ever been. Apparently, the BMS game producers felt the need to entertain us with blaring mindless fan entertainment during stoppages. The volume levels, however, were set to an extreme sound level which must have been designed to pierce the cacophony of speedway cars. The bones inside of my ears still hurt. My wife had to escape to the concourse to get out of the direct line of sound.
I loved the National Anthem tribute. I was holding a blue card under a star to the right of the "A" in USA. The rendition of the anthem was not over-done, and I especially enjoyed singing with the crowd. The only quibble I had was that I wasn't able to place my hand over my heart because I was holding a sign. My son, the Marine, was with us and pointed out that he will not render a salute when he's not in uniform, despite the popularity of the practice at stadium venues.
In contrast to the opening, the halftime show was patriotic pandering at its worst, in my opinion. The VT MV's performed a solid, shortened show which was followed by a most over-produced "love- the-military" piece that bizarrely and tragically morphed into a Food City commercial. They were reaching for tears and true to form, I saw the lady Volunteer in front of me wiping tears after seeing the young uniformed soldier greet his wrinkled, uniformed soldier grandfather in front of the long front walk of their rustic country farm-mansion after a long deployment protecting our freedom. I just rolled my eyes. Romanticizing war. Shrouding the sacrifice in the flag of blind patriotic nationalism. The tear-jerking scene faded to the president of Food City who, inexplicably, began talking about Food City's support for our troops and low prices, which brought us to trotting out Lee Greenwood for, perhaps, the worst rendition of his hit song, “Proud to be an American”. Lee was the victim of a horrific sound situation. He was amplified to NASCAR race levels while the accompanying “Pride of The Southland Band”, which had previously been amplified in their first few numbers on the field, was turned off. Thus, Greenwood was all alone, seemingly, singing what to me has become a trite, empty, commercialized song; one that sticks in my craw for featuring the word "ain't" so prominently. I simply can't stand that song. Hearing it so poorly done was even more cringe-worthy. Give me "God Bless America" or "America the Beautiful" any day.
For the first fifteen minutes of the game, we were treated to a Virginia Tech team of our dreams. The good guys were flying around the field doing laps around hapless Volunteers.
Then there was the rest of the game.
I am a compassionate person by nature, and I believe in charity; helping others whenever possible. But the VT team to that concept to the extreme Saturday night. Our extreme charity bolstered and then handed Tennessee a victory. I have no crystal ball and don’t know how the game might have turned out if we were more protective of what was ours, but I sure would have liked to have watched that game instead of the three generous quarters in which we were treated.
“Loss is nothing else but change, and change is Nature's delight.” ~Marcus Aurelius
Odds and Ends
I always love observing people at events like this. My absolute favorite was a bit understated. I was minding my own business and just staring out at the expanse of humanity before kick-off when a young man dressed as Waldo (Where’s Waldo?) walked up the stairs beside me. It caught me off guard and I just couldn’t help but snicker. He never came back. I wonder where he went.
I’m generally not around smoking much these days. I’m not sure if that’s because I simply don’t associate with people who smoke or if fewer people are actually taking up the filthy habit. Regardless, I’ve never seen more people smoking in one place at one time. I couldn’t escape the stench. It wafted into the coliseum from the concourse and encased me. When I went to seek a bathroom, it followed me. When I went to get a breath or air or to escape the screaming PA system, it was my companion. It was like I was a chain-smoker. I used to smoke back when I was in college, but I’m so glad I escaped its chains.
The production team’s mindless time-out mini productions were hard to watch. In addition to their piercing volume, they were accompanied by piercing stupidity. The weirdest and most stupid was the “Blue Lizard Sunscreen Dance”. A cluster of people were gathered together to dance to some music with a giant, Barney-like blue lizard and one lucky participant would win…a bottle of sunscreen.
As is usual for all fan-bases, I encountered jerks. But by far most of the people I encountered were well-mannered and simply happy to be there. There were so many Tennessee fans all around. I was miffed that so many had gotten tickets in the Hokie sections. As a group though, Tennessee fans weren’t especially loud. Despite out-numbering Hokies at least 60-40, they didn’t seem to get overly engaged in their team’s success. It’s more like they were expecting to be entertained by their team. VT fans, however, have the ingrained notion that we personally affect the game.
I love Frank Beamer. During one of the first time-outs, they brought Frank onto the field and allowed for us to recognize him and show our love. It was the most pure emotional moment of the game for me. By the way, Frank looks great. He looks rested and golf-tanned. I’m very happy for him.
We were better at navigating our way to our bus thanks to our pregame experience and made the trek quickly. Our driver was bold and experienced. He knew the deal and positioned our coach for the first possible escape. We ended up in the wake of the team bus cavalcade which was flanked by a state trooper escort.
Soon we were sliding down the road without interruption; our driver dodging drunks on the road with aplomb.
My bus-mates settled down for the journey. My brother, sitting directly behind me, talked in a low tone the whole way while most quietly dozed. Random thoughts filled his head and he spoke out, “Are you going to get a cat?”
“Are you talking to me?” my niece responded.
“I’m just talking to anyone who wants to listen.”
The young bearded teen in front of me spent the trip coming down from his drunken close encounter with a cop in the concourse when he tried to steal the Bud-Light table near the end of the game.
Cop: “Are you stealing that table?”
Bearded Teen: “No sir, I was just putting it back.”
Then he ran.
The guy diagonally across from me spent his return trip checking TSL, crinkling beer cans, and honking his nose.
Everyone was coming down. Coming back to the status quo of life. Coming back from a most glorious and somewhat unsatisfying or maybe somewhat glorious and most satisfying experience. Within five minutes of our arrival in Christiansburg at 4:30 am, the cars and buses had returned the strip mall to the lonely night.