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February 19, 2017

Honeymoon in Thailand and Myanmar (Part I)

Our honeymoon started out with quite the journey. We had a 13-hour flight from Chicago to Tokyo, a 7-hour flight from Tokyo to Bangkok, and what amounted to an 8-hour layover in Bangkok before a 7-hour bus and 3-hour ferry to the island of Koh Phangan.

In Bangkok, while we had booked a hotel room, we spent much of the time eating and drinking before it would be time for the 6 am ferry. We randomly met a group of people, including a 33-year-old man from Vancouver who’s now living in Australia, and a guy seeming to be in his late 50′s or so from Sweden who was living somewhere in Thailand. These two men were quite intoxicated. The former bought us a round of shots before realizing that he had no local currency left, and subsequently bartering an unfavorable conversion trade with the server to pay with Aussie money. The latter kept singing, impromptu, you may be right you be crazy (and he called Billy Joel by the name of Billy Yoel).

Somehow, we didn’t realize that we were drinking at a bar literally next door to where we would be getting on our bus. A lot of aggravation stemming from failure to read maps, and the lack of street signs in Asia, would have been saved if we had just seen that damn sign. We wound up paying a cab to take us what would have been a 10-minute walk from the hotel back to right where we had just been.

In any event, we found the bus, then took the ferry, and got to our hotel at 5pm that day. The hotel, Haad Son, which was booked by my old friend from high school Scott Trimble, was great. It was on a relatively secluded beach, had a gorgeous view and a reasonably priced restaurant and bar, and only cost about $50 a night. We met a few of Scott’s other friends who are teaching with him in Thailand and had a nice, relaxing evening.

Everything on Koh Phangan was going splendidly until the next day when we decided to rent motorbikes to go see a waterfall on the island. I wasn’t too excited about this idea because I have always seen those things as death traps, and I did not have a high degree of confidence in my ability to ride them without maiming myself or someone else. Nevertheless, I got convinced. There wasn’t a place to really practice using them at our hotel. It was get on them and go.

Except I didn’t go much of anywhere. Within literally 10 feet of accelerating, I drove straight into Karla, fell off the bike, and was lucky to emerge merely with two scrapes on my leg, a bruise below my hip, and a bruise on my other foot. $120 later, I returned the scratched bike to the lady who’d rented it to me 20 minutes before, and I was in a damn foul mood. But, this probably ended up being for the best, because it was not long after that the heavens opened up and it started raining horses and donkeys. I can count on one hand the times I’ve seen it rain harder than this in my life, and if we were on the road when that happened I probably would’ve crashed the demon bike into a truck or something. Crisis semi-averted?

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On Koh Phangan, we had kind of stumbled into the weekend where the island hosts a full moon party, which is a pretty famous shindig that attracts reveling tourists from all over the planet. I thought we had booked a hotel to encompass those two days, but I had done so with a credit card that I hadn’t told I was going overseas. The room got canceled, and we had to hop over to the island of Koh Tao, which was about an hour away. This was probably also for the best because Karla and I are both getting too old to binge drink buckets of sugary death alcohol on the beach until sunrise.

Our ferry ride to Koh Phangan had been pretty smooth sailing, but this was not the case from there to Koh Tao. The gulf was quite choppy and the boat was rocking back and forth. It felt like being on an hour-long roller coaster. On this ferry, and the subsequent one two days later from the island to the mainland the boat was so rocky that you couldn’t even walk. Sitting on the top deck on our final ferry, we would see people making arduous efforts just to get to the bathroom, involving a series of grabbing onto the bleachers or other passengers’ arms at every step to make it to the stairwell. If you ever take these ferries, make sure you take motion sickness medicine beforehand.

On Koh Tao, we had a relatively relaxing two days. Our one excursion was to a rock island about 15 minutes away called Koh Nang Yuan. We had a 20-minute hike up, but the perch was way too crowded to enjoy the view, and after us there were only more and more tourists trying to catch a glimpse. It seemed very unsafe, and it would not be surprising to read about a tragedy happening there down the road. We hiked back down and waited about 90 minutes for our water taxi to return.

The coolest thing we saw on Koh Tao were a group of young men twirling fire stick batons at night. They were totally fearless with those things. One random thing about Thailand is that there are 7-11′s on literally every block. It’s like McDonald’s and Starbucks put together. A few people told us about these “Toastie” sandwiches they all had, and had raved about them. In Koh Tao, I tried a ham and cheese one, and unfortunately was underwhelmed. They have nothing on our taquitos.

From Koh Tao, we headed back to Bangkok for two days. The first night, we met a cool Canadian couple at dinner. The man makes his living building oil rigs. I feel like I could have lived my life from birth a million times, and never would have wound up in that profession.

Karla went to bed early, and I wandered around the bustling Khao San Road for an hour or two. This street featured mostly EDM music, which is not my cup of tea, but I did find a rock bar where a fun cover band played “By the Way” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers into “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana into “Enter Sandman” by Metallica. I love stumbling into things like that overseas.

The next day, we went to the Grand Palace, which is one of those types of places that no amount of words or pictures will do justice. It was gorgeous. I’ve already forgotten most of the narrative behind the buildings and ornate artwork that were told to us on the audio guide, but that’s kind of the way things go for me on these trips.

I had been craving Mexican food throughout the trip. This always happens to me when I travel to Asia — I miss certain types of foods and the craving consumes me. By Googling, I found a restaurant in an upscale, freestanding food court called The Commons, which had a chef from Mexico City and a really good chorizo queso fundido dish. Craving satisfied! We rode there in a motorbike coach taxi called a Tuk Tuk, and it was fascinating to see this thing bob and weave in and out of traffic. The roads can be one big game of chicken. Our driver never flinched.

Crossing the streets in Thailand and Myanmar is kinda problematic. There aren’t very many crosswalk signals, and you just have to wait for a momentary pocket to develop and then hustle. A lot of times you will wind up standing in the middle of the street praying for a window to make it to the other side.

On our way to The Commons, another couple was having the same issue, and at one point followed us across on the assumption that we were a human shield. They wound up being from less than two miles away from us in Chicago! We spent the rest of the night with them, which included dinner, an hour or so watching the acoustic cover artist at the food court, and then a fun time at a hipster bar in the Thung Lor neighborhood called Studio Lam. Here, a DJ played vinyl world music tracks, none of which had much thematically to do with one another, but all were awesome. Then there was a progressive jam band led by some instrument I’ve never seen that was both blown into and had strings.

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We made tentative plans to hang out with the couple again the next night at a Muay Thai fighting event. However, those plans never materialized, because when we woke up the next day I had a calendar alert for our hotel in Yangon. We quickly realized that although we thought our flight to Myanmar was the next day, it was actually in three hours! We booked it to the airport and made our flight.

In Yangon, our first meal was in Chinatown. We got a meatball appetizer. Karla got chicken wings. I had a beef noodle dish (I ordered chicken, but am pretty sure that’s not what arrived). Between us we had four beers. We get the check. $6!

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The next day was our busy tourist day in Yangon. We went to see the reclining Buddha — which was basically the size of a football field — and the massive Shwedagon Pagoda. We also took a walk through People’s Park, which was gorgeous, but is surrounded by a massive fence and only has two entrances, nominally because they charge a fee to get in that is the equivalent to a dime. It’s a strange dichotomy.

Outside the Shwedagon Pagoda, I got scammed. In Bangkok, I had my head on a swivel for this sorta thing, because it’s crowded, there are signs everywhere advising you to beware of pickpockets, and there are a million people coming up to you trying to sell you trinkets. In Yangon, we hadn’t come across many tourists the first night, and I just didn’t have my guard up.

It started when a young boy, ~10 years old, came up to me and gave me a plastic bag to carry my shoes in. As it turned out, this was not an altruistic act on his part. Then, a second boy, about 15, came up to me and helped me tie my Longyi — a long skirt that males in Myanmar wear, and I had put on because the temples and pagodas forbid shorts. This was actually a valuable service, as I’m, uh, wider than the average male here and my Longyi kept coming untied and falling off. This kid did the best job of anyone at tying it so far, so I took out my wallet to give him 1,000 KYS (about 65 cents, which as evidenced by our dinner the night before, goes a longer way here).

This was a big mistake. Then, the kid who gave me the little bag also demanded compensation. Even though I could have carried my sandals without a bag, I gave him a 1,000 KYS note in an attempt to get him to go away. This was where the real trouble happened. A third kid, who had done me no service, grabbed my sandal bag out of my hand while I was paying the other kids and held it hostage. I was now out of small bills, so I had to give this little jerk a 5000 KYS note (like $3.50) to get my damn sandals back. This enraged the other two kids, who, at varying levels, had done something for me to deserve money as opposed to transparently swindling me. I evaded their begging. (Karla, who is much smarter than I, had managed to escape the sandal-stealing scammer by just grabbing them back from him and refusing to pay.)

At night, we met up with my brother Dale’s old college roommate, Eli, who until last week had been working as a journalist in Yangon. He took us to a restaurant that he suspects is run by a Chinese drug cartel (the food was phenomenal) and then a reggae bar owned by a Jamaican expat. We met a group of great people from Colorado while a non-reggae cover band played in the background.

Then, it was off to Bagan. Bagan is the type of place that seems like it took several hundred years off, but regained relevance when Myanmar recently reopened its borders to tourism. There are thousands of pagodas, some of them a thousand years old or more, and it’s miraculous that they are still standing in the condition they’re in. We spent much of yesterday going to the temples, including this one where we saw the sunrise (and a bunch of hot air balloons rise with it):

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I actually missed the great view of this moment because our vantage point was crowded and giving me some anxiety, but I did catch a great view of the break of dawn, and had a serviceable view of the sun and balloons from the side of the pagoda.

We’ve got about a week left in our honeymoon, which will involve another afternoon observing pagodas in Bagan, a three-day hike around Inle Lake, and two more nights in Yangon before the long journey home.


November 11, 2013

Red Meat and Cheese: A Wonderful Wisconsin Football Weekend With My Dad

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The above picture shows a white brat/ribeye combo sandwich and a basket of cheese curds at State Street Brats, which were on my table with a pitcher of Spotted Cow within 15 minutes of getting off the bus in Madison, WI on Friday. These things happen immediately.

Despite what would happen to the Packers at the end, it was an incredible weekend in God’s country. I have a lot to be thankful for.

Friday

3:00 – The journey begins as all my journeys do: Hastily stuffing my belongings into a suitcase as I’m running out the door, praying that I don’t forget something important. The day where I leave myself ample time, or God forbid pack everything in an organized manner the night before, is the one where I’ll know I’m actually a legitimate adult.

Hustling to get to O’Hare for my 4pm bus, I get on the CTA and realize that my Ventra pass is out of money. I have no cash on me and beg the bus driver to take pity on me. He obliges, motioning for me to take my seat. This is a good omen.

At the blue line stop, the person in front of me is struggling trying to figure out how to use a credit card to add money to her Ventra account. The voice inside my head is cursing her for being so daft when I have a tight schedule to keep. She gives up trying. I fumble my first attempt at the Ventra machine as the people behind me in line give disapproving glares. My second attempt is successful and I make the first el towards O’Hare.

4:00 – I make the bus to Madison with about six minutes to spare. A missed connection in either of my two CTA stops would’ve cost me 90 minutes and untold emotional distress.

7:05 – Arrive in Madison.

7:20 – See up-top.

9:00 – Head to Ivory Room, a dueling piano bar near Madison’s capitol for a couple hours. There were three rotating pianists — two were OK, and one was incredible. The latter was pounding Red Bull, water, and a mystery third beverage inside a coffee mug (coffee, perhaps?) and belting along every song request put in front of him.

Dueling piano bars >>>>> karaoke, especially when the performers are good ones.

Saturday

12:00 - Because of the road trips I do with my friends, it feels a little weird to spend the time before the game doing anything other than outright raging, but I gotta admit it is pretty enjoyable to be taking it slowly. We’re at Jordan’s Big 10 Pub on Regent Street for a little bit before I break off with my friend Max for lunch.

You meet the most interesting people on football trips. I asked a guy where he got his sewn JJ Watt jersey from (from a bootleg Chinese site because of course he did) and he ended up being with a crew of people from Quebec City who came to Madison, and later Green Bay, just for an awesome football trip. This was basically what my Dad and I did last year when we went to Baton Rouge for Alabama-LSU.

1:00 – Found a little tent right behind Camp Randall on Regent Street that was selling grilled brats, ribs, hot dogs, burgers, and BBQ pulled pork sandwiches. Here’s what their grill looked like:

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Had a brat and split a pulled pork sandwich. So exquisite. Wisconsin is the greatest.

2:30 - I am sitting with Max inside the Wisconsin student section, which still feels like home. I think I’ve got at least five more years of preferring that over regular seats. Even though I have my issues with many students’ late arrivals and early exits, it is a substantially more active cheering environment, which is ideal for me.

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(#ViewFromYourSeats not in chronological order)

4:00 - It’s not fair that the Ohio State band does Michael Jackson moonwalks and incredible Jurassic Park choreographies while Wisconsin’s half-time shows are always 1920′s swing music medleys or show tunes. Today’s offering is a series of songs from the Phantom of the Opera because nothing riles up football fans quite like a somber musical. Half-time feels like a funeral. This is egregious.

4:15 - Overheard in the bathroom: Dude, my friend passed out in the bathroom, but I don’t know which one it was so I have to look through all of them and hope I find him before he gets an underage ticket. College.

4:25 - Third brat in 18 hours. I swear I’ve read a study that says you should only eat two per year if you don’t want to degrade your health, but I can’t find it in 30 seconds and you wouldn’t have bothered clicking through anyway.

5:30 – Wisconsin is completely controlling the tempo of the game. For some reason, BYU decides to punt twice down 17 points in the fourth quarter. You guys know that you need three scores, right? I mean, I’m cool with their surrendering, but it means the last 12 minutes of the game are just a formality.

5:40 – They keep showing out-of-town scores — there is particular schadenfreude when Michigan goes down to Nebraska — but they miss a major opportunity by not telling everyone that Piggly Wiggly and his Arkansas Razorbacks just lost their 7th in a row #karma

Sunday

10:00 – Meet at friend Kevin’s tailgate behind Brett Favre’s Steakhouse, whose silent partners must be indescribably anticipatory of a reconciliation. Eat fourth brat of the trip. And a cheeseburger. (No pictures because I’ve already shown you enough red meat.) Drink a 10% ABV beer. At some point, someone comes by and hands us all whiskey-infused pudding shots. I’d say is the Sconniest thing ever except for the fact that this tailgate also had a cornhole set that was adorned with old Brewers baseball cards:

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11:15 – Due to a variety of syndicates and assorted inheritances, our family friend Rob has eight season tickets at Lambeau. This is no small feat for a team with a wait list of over 80,000 people and about 30 years. We are very lucky he is so generous with them, although they are not necessarily an asset for him today. The initial asking price from some scalpers is as low as $50. It would appear as though some people are not profoundly psyched for the Seneca Wallace experience.

Directly related to that, it is pretty agreed upon in our group that we would prefer if Brett Favre were starting today. Like, not even with a week of practice. The sort of situation where some sad soul refreshing FlightAware.com notices a private jet charted from Hattiesburg, MS to Green Bay, Favre hops off, scribbles his name on a 10-day contract, starts 90 minutes later, and Jim Ross goes crazy. Even if he didn’t end up playing well (an overwhelming probability), he Lambeau might break the sound barrier if it happened.

Obviously, this hypothetical scenario is completely implausible. But what if it weren’t?

12:30 - All of a sudden Scott Tolzien is in for Seneca Wallace and nobody can figure out what’s going on. Wallace couldn’t possible be benched already when he didn’t throw any incompletions — when T F did he get hurt? All we’re told by the stadium PA is that Tolzein’s in, nobody’s phone is picking up data to check Twitter, and finally someone behinds us gets a signal and finds out that Wallace injured his groin.

I spoke to the head of stadium technology for the new 49ers stadium about stuff like this a few months ago and it’s pretty necessary for NFL teams to catch up on technology sooner than later. It is not a sustainable business practice for the biggest fans to remain the least informed on game days.

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1:30 - It must be noted that the discussion inside football stadiums is nothing like the ones I read and write in the media. Throughout the weekend, there are no references to Richie Incognito or concussions. People are just super-stoked to be consuming copious amounts of red meat and beer and not be at work. Until another sport can even come close to engendering this mass jolly community, football’s not going anywhere.

1:45 – Is Lambeau the only stadium in the world where the beer vendors also carry 18-inch beef sticks?

2:15 - A punt that was downed inside the Eagles’ 5 is somehow spotted on the 16-yard line with zero explanation from the refs. LeSean McCoy busts a long run and then Nick Foles underthrows a double-covered Riley Cooper, who adjusts to the ball while both defensive backs lose it in the sun, for a touchdown in a sequence that embodies the entire game.

Green Bay would later come within a bobbled Jordy Nelson reception of being down just a touchdown with nine minutes to play, but the breaks just wouldn’t their way. With Detroit and Carolina now surging, the Packers find themselves with a tremendous uphill battle to make the playoffs with their gutted roster.

It’s difficult to put my finger on the reason why, but I’m less stung by this series of events than I would normally be. It might be because I’m a generally happier person than I’ve been in the past, and that I’ve somehow become conditioned to put the relative unimportance of sporting outcomes into perspective, but I don’t think that’s the primary explanation.

I think the biggest reason that I’m comparatively OK with everything is that it’s hard to pinpoint anything the Packers organization should’ve done differently to avoid the dark place they now find themselves in. The roster was well-assembled at opening day, there haven’t been any glaringly erroneous coaching decisions, and the players are discernibly giving it their all.

You could gripe about the lack of an adequate back-up quarterback, but those don’t exactly grow on trees. Some teams don’t even have adequate starters — there’s not this well of men who are physically capable of this immensely challenging job. Furthermore, we don’t know how Seneca Wallace would’ve done if he finished the game after his full week of practice and Scott Tolzien was pretty serviceable considering his lack of preparation in both practice and the offseason.

And, yeah, I’d certainly prefer if the secondary were better but two of the three big plays they gave up yesterday were a fluky ricochet and a ball that got lost in the sun. I’m not quite sure how you can guard against stuff like that from happening.

To a pretty reasonable extent, therefore, the Packers have controlled the things they’re able to. They’ve had some enormously bad luck, and getting devastated about those sorts of things doesn’t seem like a very smart way to go through life.

All in all, it was an outstanding weekend with my Dad and our friends Rob, Max, Kevin, Kevin, Blake, Ryan, Patrick, and Ryan. To the extent that it was in our control, it was perfect.


November 4, 2013

Win, Win, Win No Matter What: A Badger Road Trip to Iowa City

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What a fantastic weekend in Iowa City. We literally could not have asked for a single thing to go differently. These will be the good old days. There’s a lot to unpack so I’ll try to tackle it in mostly-chronological order:

The First Victory

Initially, the five of us planned on taking two separate cars from Chicago for the purposes of space and comfort. 10 minutes into the trip, it just felt a bit off. Noticing the same thing, my friend Matt texted us that we should leave one of the cars somewhere and pile into his old Toyota Camry and leave the other car somewhere along the way. Road trips aren’t as special when you’re not belting along the lyrics to “MMMBop” or “The Bad Touch”.

I suggested the Hollywood Casino in Joliet, purportedly because this would be a safe place to leave a car for two days, but my ulterior motive was that team blackjack would be a good bonding experience. When we got to the garage, I proposed that we pool $20 each together and see if we could pay for our drinks that night. After a bit of a slow start, we went on a heater, were collectively up $55, and miraculously had the willpower to get up from the table before we lost it all back.

The dealer and the one other guy at our table were dumbfounded. The first rule of gambling is that you never leave during a heater. It doesn’t sound like that much money, but we had acquired the funds to re-invest in a case of Bud Lights, four cans of Monster, two bags of beef jerky, and three losing pull-tab tickets. (These would be our only loss of the weekend.)

Continue reading Win, Win, Win No Matter What:…


September 6, 2013

Week 1 NFL Picks

I had written a very depressing introduction to today’s picks premised around Roger Goodell being a bad person, but it ended up growing to almost 2,000 words. I pitched it to The Classical, their editor David Roth made it much better, and it’ll be up there later this afternoon.

(Update: it’s here.)

So instead of using this space to make you feel guilty about liking football and everything else about our convenient lives as American consumers, I’m going to ask you for money.

I have no idea if this solicitation will have a substantial effect, but it is something that I am willing to try in an effort to make this weekly conceit anywhere near worthy of the vast amount of time and energy it takes me to create. This post is something that I hope is informative, but more importantly, as Clay Travis regularly writes, funny and entertaining and helpful in bringing a dull Friday workday to a close.

I tried pitching it elsewhere, and I received little response and less interest. That’s probably for the best — I enjoy having something that is all mine to sink or swim on, and the positive feedback that comes with it is only that much more fulfilling. But I can’t pay rent with feedback. I make some money for my recurring role at SI, I have a seasonal gig as a writing coach at an Ivy League business school, and I can cobble together $100 here and there on freelance assignments, but I am not yet at a level where I feel comfortable that this occupation will be sustainable over the long haul.

Obviously, this is not your problem. Lots (most?) people don’t enjoy their jobs and nobody should shed a tear if my dream of writing about the toy section of life does not come to glorious fruition. But, if my small corner of Internet banter is something that you appreciate the entertainment value of on par with, say, a magazine subscription or television show or going to the movies, then sponsoring my cause will go a long way towards preserving it.

You can also think of it as an investment — based on last year’s picks, it would be quite lucrative to bet the other way.

Currently, I have a very generous sponsor who is contributing $50 per week towards the creation of this column. I don’t know how realistic it is for me to raise any more, but I figured it can’t hurt to ask. I also don’t know exactly where to set the bar. Ideally, I’d hope to raise at least $5,000 during the NFL season for these posts; with the weekly pledge, I am about 20% of the way there. As a bizarre incentive, if I do raise $5,000 I will take video of myself Office Spacing my printer. (See Cardinals-Rams pick.)

Literally, any amount helps. My PayPal is email hidden; JavaScript is required; If you would prefer to mail me a check or transfer through Bank of America, please email me at that address.

So, that was fun. On to the picks! (Asif and I both started off 0-1.)

Continue reading Week 1 NFL Picks


May 1, 2013

World Wide Wednesday

Deep Routes

Spencer Hall remembers Blockbuster:

There is literally nothing you should miss about Blockbuster Video. Its employees were wage slaves chained to white particle board fortresses at the front of the store, wearing the same blue polo with the BLOCKBUSTER logo emblazoned on the front that they wore yesterday, and the day before, and let’s not talk about how long it’s been since this Blockbuster polo had been washed, kid. You wanted to rent the lone copy of Cool Hand Luke in the store for the third week in a row, and the Blockbuster zombie wanted to get to six o’clock, their arthritic I-Mark in the parking lot, and the bag of shake weed they’re going to have to settle for until the band takes off or the military becomes the only option to a better life. Besides, the shirt under it is clean, and that’s what counts.

Blockbuster’s selection made sense only in the sense that there was an alphabetical order, and sections, and then the words on those tapes were arranged in something like alphabetical order. Blockbuster would have one copy of Lawrence of Arabia. They would have 500 fucking copies of The Pelican Brief because Blockbuster either had a sweet deal with the studio on the video release, or because someone seriously overestimated your interest in a middling Grisham thriller.

Hunter S. Thompson covered the Kentucky Derby for Scanlon’s Monthly in 1970:

The next day was heavy. With only thirty hours until post time I had no press credentials and–according to the sports editor of the  Louisville Courier-Journal–no hope at all of getting any. Worse, I needed two sets: one for myself and another for Ralph Steadman, the English illustrator who was coming from London to do some Derby drawings. All I knew about him was that this was his first visit to
the United States. And the more I pondered the fact, the more it gave me fear. How would he bear up under the heinous culture shock of being lifted out of London and plunged into the drunken mob scene at the Kentucky Derby? There was no way of knowing. Hopefully, he would arrive at least a day or so ahead, and give himself time to get acclimated. Maybe a few hours of peaceful sightseeing in the Bluegrass country around Lexington. My plan was to pick him up at the airport in the huge Pontiac Ballbuster I’d rented from a used-car salesman named Colonel Quick, then whisk him off to some peaceful setting that might remind him of England.

Colonel Quick had solved the car problem, and money (four times the normal rate) had bought two rooms in a scumbox on the outskirts of town. The only other kink was the task of convincing the moguls at Churchill Downs that Scanlan’s was such a prestigious sporting journal that common sense compelled them to give us two sets of the best press tickets. This was not easily done. My first call to the publicity office resulted in total failure. The press handler was shocked at the idea that anyone would be stupid enough to apply for press credentials two days before the Derby. “Hell, you can’t be serious,” he said. “The deadline was two months ago. The press box is full; there’s no more room…and what the hell is Scanlan’s Monthly anyway?”

Continue reading World Wide Wednesday


April 24, 2013

World Wide Wednesday

Deep Routes

At Mashable, Kevin Ashton talks about inventing a fake Internet persona with seemingly high influence:

There’s just one thing about Santiago Swallow that you won’t easily find online: I made him up. Everything above is true. He really does have a Twitter feed with tens of thousands of followers, he really does have a Wikipedia biography, and he really does have an official website. But he has never been to TED or South By South West and is not writing a book. I—or rather he—flat out lied about that. (Editor’s note: Santiago Swallow’s Twitter account was suspended after the publication of this piece.)

[...]

I gave Santiago his “Twitter verified account” check box by putting it onto his cover image right where his name would appear. It will not fool many people, but might give him a little extra credibility with some. By the time I uploaded these images to Twitter, Santiago had developed a large “following,” even though he did not have a profile and had never tweeted anything.

To get him tweeting, I used a trial copy of TweetAdder, which automatically tweets, follows and retweets on Santiago’s behalf. His breezy platitudes come from half a dozen “mad-lib”-like phrases of the “if this, then that” variety, coupled with a list of nouns from the new age TED/SXSW hipster vocabulary: dolphins, phablets, Steve Jobs, mobile, Tom’s shoes, stevia and so on.

Boris Becker has a new sports business column at Forbes:

Carrying the torch through Northala Fields in Ealing on a beautiful sunny day, hundreds of people had turned up to be a part of the celebrations, and no doubt to make the most of the glorious sunshine, waving national flags and cheering, the community was gathered together in anticipation of what was to come just 3 days later, to show their support and solidarity, to get behind the games. I was once again reminded just how powerful sport can be in bringing people together and strengthening communities.

Throughout the course of the games I would be reminded of the profound impact that the collective spirit of celebration can have, it is infectious, and when friends of mine that had not visited London for some years came to England for the games, they were completely blown away by the capital’s vibrancy, the energy of the people and their hospitality. London 2012 raised the benchmark for future games, it showed the UK at it’s best, and will be remembered for it’s diversity, and what can be achieved when differences are put aside, when the dedication and sporting endeavor of each and every individual that took part informs the united support of the spectators; as my friend Lord Seb Coe so eloquently put it in his closing speech, they were “a games for everyone”.

Continue reading World Wide Wednesday


April 17, 2013

Thoughts on Clay Matthews’ Extension With The Packers

Earlier today, Clay Matthews signed a five-year contract extension worth $66 million. Already due to make $3.7 million this year, he’s signed for a total of $69.7 million through 2018. Adam Schefter reports that about $31 million is guaranteed while Darren Rovell tweets that Matthews will make $22 million this season and a total of $27 million over the next 12 months.

Ultimately, the Packers are rewarding Matthews for good behavior by finalizing this deal now. With Charles Woodson gone, the team is paying a premium for Clay to be an outspoken leader. With one year left on his current deal and the franchise tag somewhere near this year’s linebacker total of $9.6 million, the Packers would be on the hook for just over $13 million over two years. (After that, they’d really risk losing him.)

As with all high profile NFL contracts, however, the announced terms aren’t exactly real. We’ll find more about the specific structure of the deal in a couple days, but I’d bet against his actually completing all six years before restructure or release. At this point, we know that the Packers are paying big for the next three seasons. As such, they probably have little risk beyond that. If Matthews stays healthy and performs at an elite level, he’ll be around longer. If not, he won’t. Seems fair. In Ted I trust.

It’s worth reiterating that health is a major factor for how long this deal actually lasts. Matthews missed four games this past year with a hamstring injury. Though he only missed one game in each of the previous two seasons before that, nagging injuries have now had an impact on his late-season for performance for three years in a row. In 2011, he had just six sacks in the entire season. In both 2010 and 2012, he had six sacks total after two games, but finished the years with 13.5 and 13, respectively. (He would, however, rebound in those two seasons’ playoffs with 6.5 sacks in six total games.)

Admittedly, part of the issue the past two years has been double, and sometimes triple, teams. The Packers have still not yet found a consistent pass rush threat to replace Cullen Jenkins. This has enabled opposing offenses to key in on stopping Matthews. Hopefully, Nick Perry or someone(s) from this upcoming draft class will step up to provide help.

More than anything, I’m happy for Matthews. He’s truly been a model citizen. He gives 110% on every play; you’re never cheated by his effort. When he makes big plays, it energizes the entire team–they’re infectious.

It’s not going to be September for a little while, but I want it to be. Go Pack Go.


World Wide Wednesday

Deep Routes

In the Boston Herald, Gerry Callahan reflects on the Marathon bombing:

Now we will stick out our chests and vow to remain strong and vigilant. We will promise to show up next year in full force, but we know the truth. Patriots Day will never been the same. Our Marathon will never be the same. Some sick, evil bastards blew a hole in it. They literally knocked some poor runner off his feet a few steps from the finish line and prevented thousands more from reaching a goal they’ve been working toward for months if not years.

Late yesterday afternoon, a place where we normally celebrate the best of the human spirit was splattered with blood and body parts. Oh, there was still plenty of heart and courage on display, but there was no one crossing the line now. The race was halted, the day destroyed.

We’ll vow not to let the terrorists win, but the truth is, this time they didn’t let us win. They didn’t let anyone win. Damn them, all of them. Straight to hell.

At Grantland, Charlie Pierce does the same:

Nobody loves the Boston Marathon as much as the people who make fun of it year after year. This was the race that previously offered as a prize a not particularly expensive medal, a laurel wreath, and a bowl of beef stew. This was the race that, on one memorable occasion, nobody knew who actually won. I don’t know anyone who loved the race that didn’t mock it for its monumental inconvenience, its occasionally towering self-regard, and the annual attempts by Boston-area television stations to use it to win another shelf full of local Emmys. This includes me, and I’ve been around 25 or 30 of them, more or less, in one way or another, watching from the press truck, from the firehouse in Newton, from somebody’s roof, and very often from just barely inside the front door of the late, lamented Eliot Lounge. The Marathon was the old, drunk uncle of Boston sports, the last of the true festival events. Every other one of our major sporting rodeos is locked down, and tightened up, and Fail-Safed until the Super Bowl now is little more than NORAD with bad rock music and offensive tackles. You can’t do that to the Marathon. There was no way to do it. There was no way to lock down, or tighten up, or Fail-Safe into Security Theater a race that covers 26.2 miles, a race that travels from town to town, a race that travels past people’s houses. There was no way to garrison the Boston Marathon. Now there will be. Someone will find a way to do it. And I do not know what the race will be now. I literally haven’t the vaguest clue.

Quick Reads

- A mesmerizing gif perfect game of snake [Business Insider]

- Will the IRS start taxing the free lunches at Google and Facebook? [Tax Prof]

- Woman got physically stuck to boyfriend’s toilet seat and didn’t move for TWO YEARS [NBC News]

- Sports balls replaced with cats is even better than you think it will be [Tumblr]

- The quintessential guide to fast food/wine pairings [Food Beast]

- Did bankers’ cocaine use play a role in the global financial crisis? [Guardian]

Food Porn

Chicken dip sandwich w/ au jus @ Crosby’s Kitchen

Bacon cheeseburger beef sausage w/ Coca Cola BBQ sauce, caramelized onions, and maple cheddar cheese + Mozzarella and peppers chicken sausage with pesto aioli, slow roasted tomatoes and burrata cheese @ Hot Doug’s


April 10, 2013

World Wide Wednesday

Deep Routes

Spencer Hall takes issue with the “religious” sticker in Serena Roberts’ Auburn reporting:

We live in the most religious portion of the country, a place where a lot of people who self-identify as “spiritual” routinely have irresponsible sex with disastrous consequences, shoot each other over absolutely nothing, cheat on their spouses, stump for openly fraudulent businesses, write medieval gibberish into the legal code, and demand it be granted some kind of face value on the basis that someone goes to church. The best people we have ever known go to church. The worst people we have ever known went to church. Pardon us if the term has an ambiguous value at best with a data set showing little correlation between practice and theory.

We’re fine if you’re openly religious, or if you’re not, but for anyone writing accurately about a situation this is a descriptor that contains no demonstrable value. She simply wants you to take it for granted that being religious means something, just as half the sportswriters in the world took Ray Lewis’ religiosity as a given unit of virtue without pointing out that Ray Lewis doesn’t give a dime to charity. It is the same press that hasn’t ever asked a single question about the Tebow family’s work in the Philippines, and instead just assumes missionary work is a net good. (This is far from accurate: there’s great missionary work, and disastrous missionary work, and a lot that falls in between. In Tebow’s case, no one has ever bothered to look, or even ask. It’s just taken prima facie.) This is the same press that bought the greased sainthood of Manti Te’o in some part due to his Mormon faith and Notre Dame’s god-haunted mystique.

Denver Westword medical marijuana critic William Breathes does a Q&A with The Daily Beast:

In that context, what do you feel like the value is of a column like yours is?

Someone asked me that recently and I hate—I mean, I don’t want to sound like some arrogant asshole. To be really honest with you, it’s still really strange and … I’m still like, “It’s really fucking cool that I have this job!” But what I think the biggest role of my job or of anyone who has this position is that having a column that deals with marijuana in it every week normalizes it and puts it out there for everyone. They can go to westword.com to get news about the state legislature, or about education, about the prison system—and about marijuana. It’s not the old-school media approach to marijuana, where it’s like, “Let’s see how many pot puns we can cram into the lede and how many jokes we can make at the expense of marijuana smokers.” We definitely make jokes at the expense of marijuana smokers, but we also take news very seriously.

We’ve seen other news outlets come around on that. The Denver Post—and I’m not trying to pick on another news media outlet—but for the longest time, their pot coverage was shit. It just was. Every time it was just them making fun of the pot smokers. But in the last year, they’ve realized that it’s important, and it’s not just 20-something stoners tuning in to figure out what’s going on. People wanna know because it’s a viable, million-dollar industry. In the sense of the media, that’s been an important role for my job.

Continue reading World Wide Wednesday


April 3, 2013

World Wide Wednesday

Jim Ross discusses his personal connection with Ric Flair’s son Reid, who died at the age of 25 this past week:

I was around Reid to see him grow up to a normal kid, with a very famous father, who had big, athletic dreams at a young age especially in amateur wrestling at which he excelled. Ric spared no expense in providing Reid with every opportunity to improve through expert coaching and training. Ric was as committed to making Reid’s dreams come true as Reid was. They were on this particular journey together. Father and son.

A few years ago Reid began having some personal issues that have been documented elsewhere. No family is immune to the temptations of life that exist today and that are challenges that face every family in some way. Either with their own child, a friend of a child, a friend’s or relative’s child, etc. None of us are immune to the ‘demons’ that like to prey upon those that let their guard down if even for only a moment because a moment, at times, is all it takes.

Over the past few years while some of those issues were on going I was, at the bequest of Naitch, engaging Reid in a series of telephone calls to discuss his situation, where he had been and where he wanted to go. At times, these conversations lasted for hours. They were candid, honest and, at times, they seemed to help me address these matters perhaps more than they helped Reid. I loved taking to him and will cherish the opportunities that we had to converse over the years.

For Medium, Felix Salmon talks about the bitcoin bubble:

A few days ago, the value of all the bitcoins in the world blew past $1 billion for the first time ever. That’s an impressive achievement, for a purely virtual currency backed by no central bank or other authority. It’s also temporary: we’re in the middle of a bitcoin bubble right now, and it’s only a matter of time before the bubble bursts.

There are a couple of reasons why the bubble is sure to burst. The first is just that it’s a bubble, and any chart which looks like the one at the top of this post is bound to end in tears at some point. But there’s a deeper reason, too — which is that bitcoins are an uncomfortable combination of commodity and currency. The commodity value of bitcoins is rooted in their currency value, but the more of a commodity they become, the less useful they are as a currency.

At Prospect, Monica Potts writes a long, harrowing story on suburban Denver families who had their homes foreclosed and are now living week-to-week in a Ramada:

The hotel was bought in 2004 by a businessman who goes by the name of Bruce Rahmani. His legal name is Gholemreza Rahmani–Azar, and he now owns 46 properties—mostly hotels—along the Front Range corridor under one corporate name, Colorado Hospitality Services. Its corporate office is in another Ramada in a northern suburb called Northglenn, off a different interstate. On a hill, with a bright view of the snowy mountains, this Ramada is many shades nicer than the one in Wheat Ridge. It has a restaurant and a flora-filled sunken lobby. An office just off the entryway books weddings and other big events. Across the hall is Rahmani’s office. He declined to be interviewed and claimed he had little to do with the property where the weeklies live. He referred me to a property manager named Melissa, who did not respond to requests for comment.

The hotel’s residents know who Bruce is, though. They’ve seen him come by on Sundays to collect money from the washers and dryers, and they know he issues commands that affect their daily lives. From the perspective of the Ramada families, he has one rule that he wants observed above all others: no children in the lobby or hallways. If he drives up and one of the nice clerks is on duty, she’ll yell, “Bruce!” and whoever is in the lobby runs back to their room. Once, he told a clerk that she should tell Andy to shave his scraggly gray beard. Drew is so terrified of him he rarely ventures out. “These people have rooms,” a guest once heard Bruce say.

Continue reading World Wide Wednesday


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