Take Me Out to the Bar Game

“The Dodgers suck!”

He’s all the way across the room, and he says it in a voice loud enough to quiet O’Tooles for a moment. This is a Chicago sports bar. It is Game One of the National League Championship Series. The Los Angeles Dodgers are in the middle of teaching the defending champion Chicago Cubs a lesson in humility. The bar – indeed, the whole city – is wound so tight the air thrums as you walk.

And I am a die-hard Dodger fan with just enough IPA in me to stop caring who knows it.

“The Dodgers SUCK,” he repeats. This time he’s louder, and he is supported by a broken chorus of interjections expressing everything from full-throated support to mild “chill out dude” disapproval.

This is one of those moments when I ask myself what the right thing would be to do. As a guy. As a dude. I think about the thin veneer of civilization. I tell myself that sports is an opiate, and that I have been manipulated into this by a cynical media establishment that thrives on stoking sports rivalries.

And I don’t care. This guy hasn’t just insulted a bunch of grown men throwing a ball at each other. He has transgressed against something both more personal and far larger.

I think about the games I watched growing up. The time we went with Dr. Bing, our baseball coach, sitting so close that my heroes came to life in front of me.

I think about the times my dad took me to watch the guys play, and what it meant for he and I to listen to the post-game show as we drove the old VW van home down Sunset late at night.

I think about the giddy joy of the 1981 World Series, when we showed the most powerful Yankees squad in five decades that grit and determination beats glitz and polish when it counts.

I think about fifty years of admiring a team that prided itself on being the anti-Yankees, the Boys from Brooklyn, Dem Bums.

I think about Sandy Koufax, who refused to pitch in a critical World Series game because it landed on Yom Kippur, and in so doing showed the world what it meant to be a Jew.

I think about Jackie Robinson, who with the backing of Dodger management silently suffered innumerable hurts as he forged the path for African-Americans into the major leagues, and in so doing showed the world what it meant to be a man.

I think about Ray Campanella, upside down in his car on a Harlem Street after hitting black ice on a winter night, his back broken, his career over, then spending the rest of his life working in the Dodger front office and showing the world that there was no such thing as “handicapped.”

And I turn to look at the gone-to-seed neck-bearded fuck whose alcoholic partisanship has turned him into a drooling, knuckle-dragging neanderthal.

I think, “‘The Dodgers suck?’ You miserable, illegitimate, Epsilon-minus thick-skulled cretin!”

And I realize that I am about a pubic-hair’s width away from getting into my first bar fight, alone, deep in enemy territory. And I wonder if Blue Shield will cover my heartfelt yet doomed defense of our team, or whether the adjuster will boil the whole thing down to idiocy and refuse to pay on the grounds that the cause of my broken bones, lost teeth, and contusions were the direct result of an uninsured pre-existing condition.

This is the last place I want to be, but the testosterone and adrenaline are pouring into my system, and I start to get up.

The waitress is smarter than all of us. She comes over, looks me in the eye, smiles, and sets down another pint of IPA.

“I didn’t order that!”

“On the house,” she says. “And I’ve got some fresh tater tots on the way.”

I look over at Neckbeard. The bartender just put an order of hot wings in front of him and the boys. I’m betting these were free, too.

I look back at the waitress. She smiles.

“Enjoy the game,” she says. “And welcome to Chicago.”

Free beer and tots?

Manhood satisfied, I sit down again, the anger gone, replaced with a sympathetic good will toward old Neckbeard.

The Dodgers don’t suck, I tell myself. But for the moment, I am happy to let them prove it themselves.

The tots arrive, the Dodgers are winning, and I am left alone to contemplate the madness we – I – have yet to outgrow.

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Ode to a California Airline

Twenty years from now, when my grandchildren ask me what it was like to fly on Virgin America, I will show them this video.

Virgin America will join PSA, AirCal, and Western Airlines as a piece of California aviation history when they are absorbed into Alaska Airlines.

Goodbye, all, and thank you for some of the best economy class experiences I have had in a lifetime of flying.

Designing California: Paul Williams

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A true California original, first African-American member of the American Institute of Architects. The number of his buildings that still stand remain the best testament to his greatness.

I grew up in one of the homes he designed, and as a result his aesthetic was a major influence on my own.

A Hard Rain

I am a longtime fan of noir pulps, and reading this is like a hardcore sci-fi fan picking up Hitchhikers Guide: a complete pisstake on the genre, but fun because of that.

Not to mention it was written by Dean Wesley Smith, who was kind enough to spend an hour last Spring in Boise coaching me on the finer points of the writing life.

Living in the Age of Airplanes

Living in the Age of Airplanes.

In the new National Geographic film “Living in the Age of Airplanes,” narrator Harrison Ford says that aviation has changed our world permanently.

With respect to the creators of this wonderful film, may I offer some moderation: perhaps aviation has not changed our world. It has, however, changed our species and the way we relate to our world.

More than perhaps any other single factor, the perspective afforded by aviation and its offspring, space exploration, have made us aware of how tiny, how fragile, how isolated, and how precious this planet is for all of us.

Like no other place in the world – whether Kitty Hawk, Seattle, or Toulouse – California is the cradle of aviation and aerospace. True, most of the great, cavernous airplane factories and their satellite subcontractors no longer punctuate the California landscape the way they used to. But flight runs deep in the bones of this state, and if you know where to look, you can still see how aviation formed California, how California formed aviation, and how the quest for the sky and the stars is a core part of our future.

To understand how, though, we must begin by exploring the past. In the coming weeks, we will be posting a series of pieces examining California and aerospace.

We welcome your thoughts.

Enjoy.

The Range of Light

Looking eastward from the summit of Pacheco Pass one shining morning, a landscape was displayed that after all my wanderings still appears as the most beautiful I have ever beheld. At my feet lay the Great Central Valley of California, level and flowery, like a lake of pure sunshine, forty or fifty miles wide, five hundred miles long, one rich furred garden of yellow Compositae. And from the eastern boundary of this vast golden flower-bed rose the mighty Sierra, miles in height, and so gloriously colored and so radiant, it seemed not clothed with light but wholly composed of it, like the wall of some celestial city…. Then it seemed to me that the Sierra should be called, not the Nevada or Snowy Range, but the Range of Light. And after ten years of wandering and wondering in the heart of it, rejoicing in its glorious floods of light, the white beams of the morning streaming through the passes, the noonday radiance on the crystal rocks, the flush of the alpenglow, and the irised spray of countless waterfalls, it still seems above all others the Range of Light.
– John Muir, The Yosemite (1912) chapter 1.

Over the past year I have had the great good fortune to drive the length of this state – or at least the bits between Ventura and San Francisco – no less than seven times. That each trip was made for business hardly mattered. Having been back home a year after two decades abroad, I have yet to tire of the vistas – even those afforded by Interstate 5, which is admittedly less picturesque than State Highway 1, US 101, or even State Highway 99.

A Californian Hero Passes

 
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As you have probably heard by now, we lost a great Californian this week. USC graduate, Olympian, airman, POW, and inspirational speaker Louis Zamperini passed away, aged 97.

Zamperini spent his life serving others. He represented the United States on the track in the 1936 Olympics, delivering a performance that even impressed Hitler. In the air as a naval aviator in the Pacific in World War II, he put himself into sufficient peril that his bomber was shot down, and he survived nearly two months on an open boat in the Pacific, only to be taken prisoner by the Japanese when reaching land. As a POW he worked to sustain the spirits of his fellow prisoners – including Major Gregory “Pappy” Boyington – by devising elaborate italian recipes. And on his return home, despite a lifelong battle with post traumatic stress, he spent his life as speaker who inspired others to master the adversity in their lives.

Zamperini was scheduled to be the Grand Marshal of the Rose Parade this year.

A list of great Californians would be long indeed, but the passing of this particular Californian has been something of an inspiration. He will be the first in our list of Heroes of the Golden West.

Rest in Peace, Louis. May you and your story continue to inspire us all.