Exports

December 27, 2009

According to this article, New York lost the second-most residents in the United States in 2009, and was only 620 defections from California in earning the dubious distinction of being America’s most deserted state.

However, for the aughts, New York lost more residents than any other state.  Over the course of the decade, New York lost 1,686,583 residents.

We tend to have a provincial view of our lives in New York City.  We constantly hear of young desires to move here as the city has been glamorized in recent years in movies and film, as it has in every decade before this one.

But though I’m no native or lifelong New Yorker, I think this city (which for the purposes of this entry, I’ll use as an extension of the state – because, let’s be serious, it is) will undergo massive transformation in the next few years.  As the tax base continues to whittle, as the government abrogates financial bonuses, and as the fabricated wealth developed over the decade fails to return (because it was never real to begin with), if ten people move to this city, only a small number of them will be contributors to our tax base and our quality of life.  Only a small number of them will help lower the cost of a subway ride, eliminate sundry taxes on our goods (brown sodas, rolling papers, imported beer, pizzas with paper plates).

More and more artists will arrive and starve; more entrepreneurs will attempt and struggle; more college graduates will depart with frustration when nobody will hire them.  And the city will continue to be expensive – its temptations unrelenting.

I’m home for Christmas and every time I come back to Massachusetts, I face the same battery of questions that I did last Christmas.  Everyone wants to know why I live in a closet, why I live up six flights of stairs, why I choose to live in the filthiest city in the world.

I tell them that, comparatively, my game’s not that bad because I don’t have to wash my dishes in the shower.

My sister commented that three of her closest group of friends from college – a couple and a single male – both live in the city and never see each other, because one lives in Fort Greene and the couple lives on the Upper East Side and that’s probably an eighty minute door-to-door visit.  Everyone wants to know why I put up with it.

I can dip into my arsenal of stock answers to parry off these questions, but often enough I’m left unfulfilled at my own answer.

It seems, over this decade, over a million people have given in.  I’d given thought to moving in a few years, but a good part of me thinks I’ll stay in this city for a long time.  But the city’s response the new economy – brilliantly (and I rarely say this about the good writer) summed up by David Brooks last week – will be a major decision influencer.

Brooks writes:

What really matters, Edmund S. Phelps of Columbia argues, is economic culture — attitudes toward uncertainty, the willingness to exert leadership, the willingness to follow orders. A strong economy needs daring consumers

It’s interesting stuff, and the article requires a few worthy reads.

But a better way to think of it is that the economy, our society, and New York City, will continue its evolution into a malleable organism that we’re responsible to shape.

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The Corner (Part II)

December 27, 2009

If you read around, you’ll find dozens of David Simon interviews online. Vice just published a new one this week, and he’ll surely line more up as his new show prepares to launch in 2010. In that interview, he remarked that after writing this book, he wrote an editorial for the Sun about an addict who wakes up every day and has to harvest metal to pick up his $10 so that he can chase a blast. The Sun didn’t want to run it, instead pushing that “Dickensian” theme that Simon lambastes in Season 5 of The Wire. He identifies that as one of the moments when he knew he had to leave print journalism. Let’s be thankful that he did and admire what Simon has done to present inner-city issues for public view.

Inner city Baltimore is its own economy and Simon makes that clear. He emphasizes it more in the book than the miniseries, but it’s evident in two instances. Consider DeAndre’s pursuit of a job scrubbing tables at Wendy’s. For a manchild that can earn more money slinging heroin and coke to support his child, he sees no self-growth or actualization in such a path. Is it any wonder why DeAndre slings spider bags when he has no education, needs more money every day, and can’t find a real job because (by the way) nobody manufactures anything anymore? There’s no need for unskilled or even semiskilled labor in this country, what’s the boy to do?

And then Fran’s struggle to cope with sobriety and readjust to an unknown life. She’s gotten high every day for 4+ years. Her body and mind have been controlled by drugs. Drop it all for some algebra classes and a job two hours away stocking makeup kits? What we consider normal human life, they think alien. Gary says it once (and Bubbles says it in The Wire): “I don’t know how ya’ll can do what ya’ll do every day and not want to get high.”

Simon drives home this point that dope fiends define themselves as dope fiends. The waking up broke, scraping or running capers for money, copping, firing blasts – this becomes their identity. They resent fiends that have cleaned up and gotten sober. Witness Bunchie always offering Fran dope, Fran insisting that Scoogie is getting high even when he claims he’s been six years clean. You’ve probably seen this self-identity to a lesser extent with people who smoke a lot of weed. They talk about weed, they reminisce about bong rips and quality strains, they surround themselves with other potheads. Weed is a big part of their lives. Or you see it with people who drink a lot, how they brag about how many 30-racks they can knock down in a weekend or how much vodka they slurped off the ice luge at that party on Saturday. Now write this ten times larger and make the drugs leagues more destructive.

Not even the miniseries supporting the book does enough to put readers or viewers in Gary McCullough’s place. Every day, the man wakes up and scampers through West Baltimore like a rat, picking apart houses for scraps of metal, surviving off the bowels of a city that is becoming ever more barren because everyone is turning away from it. Without sounding heavy-handed, can you believe this happens in America? Can you believe that right down the street the Orioles offer $160 million to Mark Teixeira but Gary McCullough has to pick apart row houses or strip apart renovated construction just to survive? There are limited detox beds because there’s limited city money put toward drug treatment (but millions put toward New Westport). Simon keeps calling Baltimore “the world that America left behind” and it’s purple but it’s true.

I would lose interest in Ella Thompson’s sections of the book, but found her portrayal in the series much more engaging. I’m guilty of saying, “why doesn’t she just move out of Baltimore?” but she can’t. And Simon can’t either, because that would concede everything to dope and remove even the smallest crumbs of humanity from Baltimore’s table.

I could have done without the theatrical device of Charles S. Dutton questioning characters at the beginning and end of each episode. However, his interview with the real Fran, Blue, Tyreeka and DeAndre at the end of the miniseries was unexpected but helped close the circle. DeAndre had that glassy look in his eyes, and Fran equivocates about his chances for survival. As Simon did with this book when it was complete, and as Fletch does with his biography on Bubbles at the end of The Wire, prescreening it with the subjects it shows compassion and commitment to truthful reporting. I think Simon wavers before calling the sum of his products “journalism.” His media agnosticism has done more for inner-city issues than anything else produced in this country over the last ten years.

I think you can include The Corner in a larger discussion with with The Wire and Homicide and evaluate Simon’s message. Obviously The Wire is Jupiter in his pantheon, and its large theme is how individuals operate within institutions. The Corner is a granular depiction of one of those system actors, and it’s the most harrowing portrayal he delivers.

The Corner

December 7, 2009

I finished David Simon’s The Corner it last night and found it more gripping than his Homicide. The nature and surrounding of his embedded reporting among the country’s lowest class, most addicted and hopeless populous made for engrossing journalism, and I thought that this was his best character study, outdoing of some of The Wire’s portrayals.

I ordered the DVD’s and will probably watch them later this week, but The Corner painted a picture of drug addicted Baltimore that was even more bleak and hopeless than The Wire could imagine to do. This is because The Corner didn’t have to spend 1/3 or 1/2 of its time addressing policing or government or the systems of drug dealers. Instead, it was 500 pages of what we knew as Bubbles, Michael, some Namond, some Cutty, etc.

After reading his work and watching The Wire twice, then consuming some of David Simon’s interviews and editorials, I’ve come to hold Simon in even higher regard than I did after closing The Wire and saying that it was the best television show of all time. Simon’s writing is so real and vivid, his grasp of street language is so precise and his ear is so attuned to nuance and realism. Then you get to think about the undertaking for this book – years spent with drug addicts, embedded journalism in what he so trenchantly defines as the world America left behind – and realize that it goes beyond authorship and into sociological and ethnographic research, taking form as a character study from one of our best contemporary writers.

Irony in XKCD Explained

November 18, 2009

I’ve started reading XKCD. I’m late to the party. I appreciate its subversive wit and brilliance, though I admit to missing a lot of it as many of the jokes are rooted in mathematics and computer programming.

Toby, Dave & Ian Explain XKCD is a helpful accompanying reader for people who sometimes miss the humor. Lately, I’ve tried to identify unwarranted intellectual conceit and admit when I don’t fully understand something (which is very often). When XKCD publishes a one-panel comic with an Ohm’s Law punchline, I could pretend that I know what they’re talking about, but I don’t, so why not learn from others that do.

Today, XKCD posted this comic.

On Toby, Dave & Ian Explain XKCD, they remarked with snark (re-snarked):

Academia: the intelligent female professor excitedly proclaims that this particular piece of code will yield them publishable academic papers, multiple theses and acclaim amongst their peers. This is a common response to anything done by students within a professor’s group. Whatever it is, no matter how trivial or specific, try and make a paper out of it and get funding. This is an effect of the constant cycle of publication and funding that forms a majority of the post-graduate academic ecosystem. I would draw a diagram of this cycle, but that is not my medium.

Business: in this case, an ignorant male boss responds to the man’s code without care or congratulations. He merely comments that the man has fixed a technical problem but more exist, such as the classic IT bug: outlook syncing. These two problems, while wildly different to the engineer, are seen as equivalents to the businessman.

The statement being made is this: in academia, solved problems and new algorithms themselves are important, whereas in business they are seen as things to be used.

Note: this is not new information to anyone.

I wanted to comment on their analysis, but their Tumblr blog appears to restrict comments to Tumblr users. I refuse to sign up for another blogging service or register another account to post my opinion. There’s no contact email for the authors. Also, they proudly link their Twitter account at the top of the page, but they don’t seem to converse with anyone over Twitter, instead autolinking it to their Tumblr so that every time they analyze a comic, Twitter broadcasts the new post.

I think their explanation of today’s comic is incorrect. I’m not too familiar with the canon of XKCD as I only recently became a regular reader. I think the strip illustrates the different perspectives that academics and business types take to certain problems, and I take issue with Toby, Dave & Ian calling the programmer’s boss ignorant.

The implication is that the professor is intelligent and the businessperson is not. I think, reasonably, both characters can be assumed intelligent; just because the businessperson doesn’t work in academia doesn’t mean that he’s not smart. Hopefully he rose through the business ranks on the basis of performance. But there are many unworthy leaders in academia as in business; tenure can bring with it lethargy that reduces a smart professor into an immovable academic object. Summary judgment that academics are smarter than businesspeople is pointless.

A businessperson might, instead, look at the academic’s response and think that it is the more contemptible response, a revolving door of publishing and grant money that they might consider a zero sum game. The programmer’s manager should be gracious, appreciate the programmer’s work, and reward him appropriately. He fails to do so and is worthy of that criticism. But the bloggers’ sardonic sign-off abates their credibility, proving the writers no better than the obtuse business executive: just as he disregards this impressive personal achievement, the bloggers dismiss businesspeople as incapable of appreciating good work.

It seems that Toby, Dave & Ian want the protagonist to exist in a commercial and intellectual utopia that simultaneously balances nuanced thinking with industrious efficiency. If they can transport me to that world, I’d like to live there for a few weeks so that I can tell my friends and colleagues what a continuous orgasm feels like.

As an aside, this is illustrated at the end of Season 4 of The Wire when Bunny Colvin chides Dr. David Parenti.  He says, “oh, they’re going to study your study?” in response Parenti’s assertion that even though Colvin’s education socialization program was abolished and won’t reach any more kids, it will become helpful research so that it may go through the same blender again.

Ironically, Toby, Dave & Ian’s walled-in blog exemplifies the internet’s failing as a medium for substantive debate, illustrated in an XKCD comic last week.

Game 1

October 29, 2009

There was no pressure on the Phillies going into the World Series.  The Fightin’s won the World Series last year and Philadelphia is still enjoying that orgasm.  Repeating as champions would be like morning sex for a city that doesn’t expect to win every year and is happy when they do.

No, all the pressure was on the Yankees even before Game 1 started.  They’re married to a cranky elementary schoolteacher that hasn’t put out since 2000.  New York spends every morning like Kevin Spacey in the shower in American Beauty, closing their eyes and imaging what it will be like when they finally get a little postseason nookie.

This year, it even seems like the pressure is off Alex Rodriguez’s shoulders.  Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira both had MVP years and Yankees fans talk about them as much as A-Rod.  The third baseman’s heroics in the Division and League Championship Series also seem to have placated Yankees fans for at least this October.

Besides, when Cliff Lee pitches as he did last night, it’s unjust to blame anyone.

This Yankees team has excited fans like none has since 2004 and people are calling it their favorite since the Gang of 25 finished up in 2000.  The 2005-2008 Yankees teams grew stale as Joe Torre wore out his welcome, all the while suffering from Carl Pavano syndrome.  But with Joe Girardi getting his sea legs in his sophomore voyage and Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett making courageous debuts in pinstripes, the team that threw pies at one another after walkoffs suddenly became the city’s darlings.  Unexpected.

For some reason, it feels like there’s some magic with this year’s team, a joie de vivre that they’ve never exhibited.  Even a bit of irreverence.  But now they’re in a hole, having lost the first game at home but worse, losing one of Sabathia’s starts that they’d booked as two, maybe three guaranteed wins in the series.  Now, AJ Burnett, who gave up six runs in his ALCS start in Anaheim, takes the mound with the new Yankee Stadium breathing down his neck and the Legends Club staring indifferently into their Blue Label.  “God help us if we lose both at home.”  “Is this a blended or a single malt?”

The Phillies, meanwhile, cruised.  They put pressure on Sabathia, making him throw 113 pitches and loading the bases in the first inning.  Chase Utley, who has received zero attention in the buildup with Lee and Ryan Howard stealing the spotlight, hit two solo home runs.  He got a little of that short-porch love in the third inning and hit a no-doubter in the sixth.  Lee, insolent, Hollywooded a fly ball and no-look-snagged a chopper behind his back while slicing through the Yankees with LASIK-precision.

Jimmy Rollins told Jay Leno that the Phillies would win it in five games, six if they were being friendly.  Not the words of a player afraid to lose . . . because he won last year.

The Yankees still have an immense lineup.  But just as the Bombers needed to win every one of Sabathia’s starts, the Phillies needed to win every one of Lee’s starts.  They just happened to get the first one.

Things get uncertain when Pedro Martinez takes the mound to an inevitable chorus of jeers and pressure on Thursday; Cole Hamels has not been his postseason-MVP self this year.  The Yankees are a very good team.  But people might be ignoring just how good the Phillies are.  Only two of ESPN’s 23 expert analysts picked the Phillies, despite Philadelphia arguably having advantages at every lineup position but shortstop and third base.

And they’re playing with no pressure.  Philadelphia is still going to throw a warm arm around the Phillies even if they lose.  New York is going to steal the covers and send the Yankees to the couch if they come home empty handed.

But then you realize there are no losers in this World Series, because there are Mets fans.

October Rodriguez

October 11, 2009

I was having trouble putting any thoughts on paper about the baseball playoffs, but Alex Rodriguez wrote the words for me.

It’s October and though I’ve taken interest in English football, it only takes one sniff of postseason baseball to bring me back to where I should be. The world’s game, for all its merits, concludes inconclusively every season as leagues determine champions by the number of points you accrue over a season. It all ends anticlimactically with one team higher on the table than the rest. Give ’em the Barclays trophy, tie some Carlsberg ribbons around the handles, fire off some streamers, and that’s after a 1-1 tie.

Not baseball. In October the air gets crisp, crowds layer up, and every high-five stings a little longer as autumn greets the playoffs. October baseball is a tunnel, with eight teams sprinting for light until ultimately only one survives the attrition.

Cities put pressure on its players in the postseason, and no city has put more pressure on any player this decade than New York has Alex Rodriguez. The Yankees, with their three new mercenaries (Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and AJ Burnett) razed the toughest division in baseball to enter October as favorites, and in 2009 boast a camaraderie that the team hasn’t oozed in years.

Alex Rodriguez finally cured his media-and-fan diagnosed postseason anemia, driving in two runs in the first game and hitting an heroic two-run, game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth inning of game two – the kind of hit that instantly bronzes itself in the hippocampus of millions. “He’s great when you’re up by eight, but garbage in the playoffs,” said petulant Yankees fans, who vilified the game’s best player for years but now slap him on the back and buy him a beer after just hitting one ball 400 feet.

No other sport decides its champion in a playoffs sized so proportionally small as baseball’s, where you need to win 11 after playing 162. The game’s objective pragmatists bellow at the arbitrary results that come from a “small sample size” of playoffs games, and indeed this should render the criticism of players like Rodriguez moot. He’d only had 94 playoff at-bats with the Yankees coming into this season.

But it doesn’t, and baseball’s playoffs are better for it. The playoffs bring pressure. They bring blown calls, walkoffs and errors that linger for years and most of all, the playoffs bring transformative moments.

Alex Rodriguez knew how baseless the cries of his playoff inability were from critics and fans who demanded even more courage.

More than anyone, Rodriguez would always be the one to silence his critics with a storybook moment of his own.

An American Watching Football

September 4, 2009

At Anomaly, I continue to spend a lot of my time thinking about English football while working alongside Umbro on their branding efforts. This has caused the game to seep into my sporting commitments (of which, as you know, are many, even if they are mostly critical and observational in nature, not physical).

I won’t attempt to explain why Americans react differently to football. Though it is a sentiment that is slowly changing, our country still maintains majority indifference toward the game. The answer is rooted in manifold cultural reasons: religion, class, race, even politics are the stories of European Football. It is scripted like our sports are not: the former President of Italy owns AC Milan; Real Madrid buys players with government loans that carry absurdly low interest rates; the Old Firm is a centuries-old religious conflict between Catholics and Protestants.

Yankees-Red Sox, this is not.

I’ve noticed that, while I can check baseball news five or six times per day, I check football news less often. Baseball, with its litany of measureable statistics, always has a story: a slump, a bounceback season, how two players in a trade have performed.

Football, on the other hand, in many ways lacks that. Because football has so many fewer statistics, stories draw more from the romantic side of the game, with more heroic and tragic story arcs and quotations that drip with emotion.

A baseball news story can be supported with statements like:

“Obama, 6-2 with a 3.61 ERA over his last ten starts since coming over from the White Sox, has led the Nationals to wins in three straight starts. He has been excellent, striking out eight at home against Pittsburgh and going seven strong innings in a 4-2 win versus Colorado. Moreover, he’s only allowed four home runs in that span and maintained a 60% groundball ratio.”

I can read that sentence and form a fairly clear picture of what just happened and how that player performed. Contrast this with football journalism, which, absent of so many statistics, reads more like:

“Kennedy, the midfielder, displayed terrific form in United’s cup tie away to City. His presence disrupted the opposition’s defense and made up for his ineffectiveness in a 1-1 tie last week at home to Rovers.

‘I thought the player looked good,’ said the boss Benitez. ‘I did not think he played well two weeks ago, but he has been very fit in practice and he demonstrated that tenacity today.’

Kennedy, the Northern Ireland international, has generally disappointed since arriving on loan, but has pledged his commitment to the club and insisted his play will improve. “I have been training hard, I want to succeed with United.”

Coaches – the undeniable focus of every team that lacks a marquee player – often level trenchant postgame comments, criticizing referees, questioning motives, complaining, insulting other coaches. “‘City don’t even come into the equation. They are a small club with a small mentality. All they can talk about is us,” said Sir Alex Ferguson, the most famous coach in football, boss at Manchester United.

It is a color that American sports lack – it feels more like literature or a motion picture than the games we watch, which are a series of logistic chunks that we absorb, analyze, and digest to understand the next.

It explains why so many people watch football in bars – because it has to be watched. Matches can’t be understood if you don’t watch them, because you can’t repaint them like you can with football.

So I guess that explains why I look forward to Saturday mornings even more now.

The 2010 (and beyond) Mets

August 25, 2009

News reports today say that Johan Santana is going to need elbow surgery.

I have no doubt about it: now I’m really going to become a Mets fan.

I wanted to be a Mets fan when I moved to New York, and certainly carried an affinity for them as one of my close friends is among their most zealous devotees.

But it was no fun rooting for this team when they had a bunch of overpaid, aging but still talented veterans; a profligate general manager who blew his boss’s money; an owner who lost hundreds of millions in Bernie Madoff’s fraud; the game’s best pitcher; a $900 million spit-shined clean stadium in Queens; and they did it all on the world’s biggest stage every night.

Going into next season, the Mets will be classed in the weaker half of the National League. The Mets have one of the best star cores in baseball: Johan Santana, Carlos Beltran, David Wright, Jose Reyes. That group of four players, absent of twenty-one others on a Major League roster, should make the Mets automatic playoff contenders in any division.  Each player was arguably the best in baseball at his position … two years ago.

All four will face serious health questions; neither took the disabled list with rashes, pneumonia, or fractured metatarsals. The list reads grim: David Wright’s post-concussion syndrome, Jose Reyes’ hamstring (remember, he’s a base stealer); Carlos Beltran’s knee (keep in mind, he covers more ground than any center fielder in baseball), and Johan Santana’s elbow (well, I don’t have to explain that one). Wright will probably finish this season with ten or fewer home runs. Santana has posted his highest WHIP since 2002. Reyes and Beltran hardly registered enough time to judge their seasons.

Teams like the Giants, Marlins, even Pirates and Padres have supporting guys that you could guess to take leaps or certainly improve on their performance next year as they gain experience. The Mets surrounded their stars with Tim Redding, Gary Sheffield, Brian Schneider, Fernando Tatis, Luis Castillo, Francisco Rodriguez and Carlos Delgado. Granted, there was hope for Delgado this season…then he, at 37 the oldest of the Mets regulars this year, got hurt.  Shock.

And then there was K-Rod, stranded on an island in Flushing.

Among no young talent and five All-Stars coming back hurt, the Mets also only have two players on Baseball America’s midseason Top 50 prospects list, both in the lumped 25-50 grouping. There’s no player like Andy LaRoche or Dan Bard or Dexter Fowler or Mat Latos who could breakout next year, no Tommy Hanson or Gordon Beckham who scares you with his potential.

To just heap it on: the Mets hosted the season’s most comically surreal press conference when general manager Omar Minaya not only fired assistant general manager Tony Bernazard for removing his shirt and challenging his Double-A team to a fight, but squarely blamed the scandal on a covetous New York Daily News beat writer who wanted a job with the Mets.

This is typically when someone writes, “But the Mets enter 2010 with high hopes for…” but no one can complete that ellipsis.

Still, after living in New York for two years, I was surprised at how much I just didn’t care about the Mets. I could draw some labored allegory about how I was baptized near baseball’s pulpit in Boston, and how these two teams both endured such curious periods of despair, but I think deep down, I just never thought that I’d fall in love with another team. Even Mets fans shared enmity toward the Yankees couldn’t draw me in.

Maybe it felt like I was just picking up a team that was finishing that sob story, and maybe I never thought I’d consider another team given my devotion to the Red Sox.

The Financial Times recently published an excerpt of Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski’s ‘Why England Lose: And Other Curious Football Phenomena Explained’” and in it, they call on scientific research and anecdotal evidence that contends that fan support can change over time for various reasons, illustrated through shifts in English Premier League fandom, which could be considered the most committed sect of sport’s supporters.

And come to think of it, we often hear of our fathers who “started off as New York Giants fans but have rooted for the Mets for the last thirty years” or similar baseball diaspora who believed in a new team after relocation.

Maybe it will take these hopeless Mets to finally draw my interest, because at this point, the Mets are a blank white board and it will be a new story to watch them develop from the ground up.

2009 All-Star Game

July 18, 2009

I had the privilege of going to the All-Star Game last weekend.

As my excitement built for the trip during the week prior, I looked forward to watching some baseball in St. Louis. Over the last two years, as I’ve moved away from Boston, I’ve watched the sport just a little less without the draw of the Red Sox at 7 pm every night. That always provided me with a natural cool-down state coming home from work or class. I’ve also gone to fewer games — maybe three a season versus eight or nine. On that merit alone, for just getting to watch baseball, it was going to be a great weekend.

But I’d forgotten that Cardinals supporters brand themselves as “the best fans in baseball.” Red Sox fans obviously take umbrage with that claim; we think there is no more devout follower in any sport, but that should have sparked something for me. St. Louis is the city that deems itself baseball’s heaven, with Busch Stadium its cathedral, the Cardinals ministers of its faith, and the congregation, thousands, were vocal in the streets this weekend.

Downtown St. Louis is marked by a number of federal buildings, mid-height skyscrapers, and public spaces parks and spaces. There are dozens of old buildings that have been renovated into residential lofts; many had vacancies and some were abandoned construction projects. The chief cultural entity downtown is Busch Stadium, and the city’s nightlife revolves around the park. I’d imagine in the offseason, downtown St. Louis is less attractive.

With the game in town, there was a palpable vivacity on the streets. Red washed over everything, the most primary of the colors that would illustrate the weekend. I expected the weekend to be exceedingly corporate or filled with out-of-town mercenaries like me, boasting about our team selections (Papelbon, Youkilis, Bay, Wakefield) and sporting the home colors. Instead, Cardinals fans took the weekend as their chance to go on display. They were everywhere, proud of their city hosting the game and had been waiting for months to party. The Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game were at least 75% attended by Cardinals fans.

This means more to some than others, but you could stop anyone on the street and start a conversation about baseball, and your complement in the conversation would gleefully engage you in dialogue, telling stories and listening attentively to yours. Everyone preached the same religion when the All-Stars were in town.

Wearing Red Sox shirts the whole weekend, I was naturally stopped by many Cardinals fans who felt like they needed to have a word with me on a few topics, now. In case you hadn’t heard: fans around baseball aren’t wholly fond of Red Sox fans. Sox fans maintain a heightened combination of brashness and arrogance that plays just fine against similar alpha fans (Yankees), but not around fans in the midwest, who take the game at a slightly slower pace. There were many comments about 2004, though they all just conceded that series to Boston anyway for performance and historical reasons. Throughout the weekend, I was easy fun for a lot of curious midwesterners who only know Sox fans from what they see on ESPN.

Cardinals fans repeatedly called themselves the best “baseball” fans in the country, and here, they might have a case. I heard what sounded like very knowledgeable Cardinals fans talking about other teams and current news, and all of this was coated with far less acrimony than Sox fans, who strike me as more impatient and a little bit more drunk. Just being around these fans made the game better, and every Red Sox fan should see games in St. Louis, because once they know you’re a real fan, they become your best friend.

The game on Tuesday ended up as somewhat like background noise to the conversations we were having with people in our section. Fans ended up buying US beers when we were getting ready to buy a round for them. The crowd was loud when big moments occurred and appreciated the competition on the field. I took business cards of people with whom I’ll share pictures, offered to help a Cardinals fan get tickets when he comes up to Fenway, and kicked my feet up on a beautiful summer night taking in a tradition I’d never before experienced.

The Gateway Arch lords over the St. Louis skyline. Looking anyway to the east places the arch above everything you see, and it’s a steady presence. It was a very American weekend. Ushers gave out American flags and children waved them during the Star Spangled Banner. Anheuser-Busch products were absolutely everywhere; I rarely went without a beer in my hand and all but three pitchers of the stuff were Bud.

The President threw out the first pitch, concluding the weekend’s theme of service, appearing in a video with the four other living Presidents to laud thirty citizens who devote their lives to improving their communities. I wondered whether Major League Baseball thought that up independently, or if Barack Obama called up Bud Selig and said, “hey, I’ll come down there and throw out the first pitch if you run an inspirational campaign about service for five days.” If so, quite a draw: the current President hadn’t thrown out the first pitch since Gerald Ford. Obama came out wearing a White Sox jacket, eliciting boos from the crowd (though probably from many who were reacting more to the President, not his team).

We finished the weekend off by taking a cab a few miles out of downtown and eating at Pappy’s Smokehouse, recently named best barbecue in St. Louis. Pappy’s ribs were probably the best I’ve ever tasted, with what seemed like a crusted pepper glaze on the top. Pappy sat down and chatted with us, said he’d just been in New York and grilled 9,000 rack of ribs in the recent downtown BBQ competition. I asked him if I’d have to wait in the growing order line to purchase a t-shirt. “Not if you’re talking to Pappy.” He brought back my t-shirt and though stuffed, I needed to get myself to stand up up so we could catch our flight. Instead, I enjoyed sitting, sated after one of the best weekends of my life.

Monday’s Weather

April 5, 2009

I’m in Shrewsbury, partially because on Monday I’m going to Opening Day at Fenway Park.

At least, I hope I’m going on Monday.  Storms are looming and threatening the Red Sox and Rays from playing.  The weather, though, has yielded one of the most interesting things I’ve read in a while: the in-depth discussion of Monday’s weather forecast on Sons of Sam Horn.