View From the Head of the Charles

Unfortunately, I have not been posting with the frequency I would like lately. I have been working on a new layout for the site so that has been the thing primarily impacting the installments. This was brought to my attention by the proxy of a Tennessee resident (you know who you are). So, I am dedicating this weeks posts, all three, in honor of her. Thanks for the feedback though. I hope you enjoy.

Photo: Head of the Charles

This past weekend Cambridge/Boston held the annual Head of the Charles. Not being a native I was keenly interested in the spectacle of this rowing regatta. Around here and in the world of crew, this is a big deal. For the uninitiated, Head of the Charles is the world’s largest regatta. It is indeed a world class affair with over 7000 participants from around the globe, competing in 24 different race categories. This year was the 40 anniversary.

Photo: Eight Woman Crew Competing in the Head of the Charles

I have to admit I knew nothing about the event prior, although I have always been mildly interested in the sport. It definitely has a quality jargon. Head races are races against the clock, so there are few duels on the water. The boats are released at intervals. However, there can be some passing. This is particularly exciting in the team events with the competing coxswains barking at their respective crews to pull faster. Although with the river bends and arch bridges you don’t see a whole lot of this on the Charles.

Photo: Eight Man Crew competing in the Head of the Charles

Most fascinating is the turnout. Something in the neighborhood of 300,000 people will walk along the banks of the Charles River to have a peek at the scullers driving their vessels with a clockwork cadence. It is a serious two-day festival with food and activities aplenty all along the riverbank. I could never have imagined so many people would attend a rowing race. As fascinated as I might be by the whole thing, it was surprising to see the size of the crowds. I have a suspicion that most of them are involved in the sport in some capacity. With all the club and university crew jackets on display it was hard to no think that this is the pinnacle crew-cult event, outside of the Olympics. Plus, race down three miles of river is not the most conducive aspect to being a spectator sport.

Photo: Single Rower Competing in the Head of the Charles

Anyway, the event was intriguing. I have always been kind of fascinated by a sport that finds a small group of dedicated individuals awake at the crack of dawn careening down steaming bodies of water. There is something exquisitely graceful about the smooth metronomic motion of the shell surging forward with one or more rowers sliding and swinging the blades beneath the water’s surface. From a slight distance, with the proper backdrop, it can be absolutely picturesque and mesmerizing.

New Jersey Fall

Photo: High Point Monumnent, NJ

Recently, Ali and I headed down to New Jersey to spend one last weekend at her family cabin. It was a cool, wet weekend, but the sun broke out here and there on Saturday and we were able to get some quality pictures of High Point Monument. Despite being south of the peak leaf color changes, I thought these images of a rural New Jersey Fall were really rather beautiful. Hopefully, I will get some autumnal imagery from New England, considering its tall reputation. Regardless, all props to Ali since she is the one who took the photos.

Photo: High Point Monumnent, NJ

While there, we did get to visit with Ali’s Uncle Johnny and Sue. It is always fun to see the owners of the Flying Pig Gallery of Sussex, NJ. I encourage everyone to have a look at their offerings. In fact, I highly encourage people to buy something from the gallery, provided you have the means and inclination. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the camera to procure incriminating photos of our dinner together, but check the gallery site and the sister company Flying Pig Virtual Construction to identify the usual suspects.

Photo: High Point Monumnent, NJ

To our good fortune we go to take in a little theatre while there. Thanks to the well-connected Uncle Johnny, we got to see the Passion of Dracula. The show was the brainchild of writer and director Bob Hall. Even more interesting is the fact that Hall has two lives, maybe more. In addition to working for some time as a theatre artist, he was an accomplished comic book artist and writer. He worked for both Marvel and DC on a host of major titles. In fact, I haven’t checked but I might even have a book or two with his name on the inside. The show itself had just opened and the production was still finding its legs. Nevertheless, it was really great to see some live theatre. Definite thanks to Johnny for the idea and the complimentary evening.

Red Sox Nation Rejoices – Yankees Still Suck

Well the Red Sox did it. What a difference a week makes. Last week, the question was whether the Fenway side would complete the historic defeat of their hated rivals from the Bronx. No team had ever come back from a 3-0 deficit. Yet, Boston completed the most unlikely of victories. Three Mariano Rivera outs from elimination and the boys from Yawkey Way began a surge that would not stop until they crushed the Cardinals in four straight.

Beating the Bombers was so monumental that winning the World Series was almost an afterthought, if you can believe that. So hated are the Yankees here, that ending an 86 year drought from the baseball’s ultimate crown was not celebrated with near as much vigor as winning the ALCS. Things got so out of hand last week that a young woman was accidentally killed by the police trying to control things. Last night the crowds were swarming but things just didn’t have the same release of tension. Both celebrations marked triumphs away from the home park, but that didn’t stop the hoards from gathering at the shrine. The last series was sweet deliverance, while this series seemed more like sweet relief. Finally, the ghosts were sent packing and all the players past were given a glimpse of the greatness that always resided just out of their reach.

The Red Sox won the World Series and a nation celebrated last night, but all the rejoicing this lacked the drama. Outside of game one the Cardinals never even threatened. For all the runs that the Redbirds tallied, the middle of their line-up went missing, for the most part. Sure Pujols hit, there was just no one on base. Who could believe that Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen would go a combined 1-28. The only time it was close was when the Red Sox weren’t ripping of runs. If it weren’t for all the superstitions of sports fans, New Englanders should have realized that it was over when the series headed for St. Louis. I actually thought that the Sox had so much momentum that they’d cinch it in five. That proved to be a bit generous.

Perhaps the almost anti-climactic result can be attributed to shock and disbelief. It is almost as if no one quite believes it, yet. Although, I did hear a lot of comments like, “I am just happy we beat the Yankees,” and “Nothing is better than beating the Yankees.” To which my response was generally, “I’m from Chicago, I’ll take winning the Series.”

However, all the large contingent Yankee Haters in Red Sox Nation can rest assured that when the their beloved team hoists the championship flag and receive their rings next year the team on the other side of the chalk will be none other than the Yankees themselves. I think it is at that moment when the sweetness of the victory will finally be felt.

Now the two teams with the longest streak of stymied Series wins both reside in the Second City.

Red Sox Nation’s New Citizen

So, it has come to this, game seven of the ALCS. I recently wrote something about the Cubs, but didn’t post it in time for it to be worth posting at all. The point of it was now that I am in the new digs of New England I readily root for the Red Sox and that it is a lot more fun pulling for a team that actually makes the playoffs. The Sox are not just the local team, but one that I have followed since I was a kid. Aside from the Cubs, they have been my next favorite club. I am not sure what that says about my taste in baseball teams, other than I seem to like the losers. Nevertheless, living here has only firmed my conviction for the Fenway-side. As I have mentioned before, it is impossible to live here and not be effected by Red Sox Nation.

The collective gasps the city experienced with each loss to the Yankees is tangible. It is evident in New York, as well. I spent the weekend in New Jersey and heard a lot of WFAN, the Big Apple’s sports mouthpiece. All Sunday morning the host was describing the fanaticism of Boston. Having had to attend a wedding the night of the Yankees double-digit drubbing of the boys on Yawkey Way, he had spent time walking around the city before the night game. His description echoed my previous thoughts about the local supporters. It is simply crazy.

The Red Sox lead the first ten minutes of the local news coverage, regardless of channel. They are on the front page of every newspaper. And the entire metro area is awash in caps, jerseys, and other paraphernalia. WFAN’s Mike Francesa, like me, didn’t really know what to compare it to. He then went on to describe his utter shock at how the Yankees were so easily dispatching the Sox.

Before the Yankees had knocked off the Twins, the Boston Herald’s headline read beckoned the Bronx Bombers for the Championship Series. By Sunday, the old adage “Be careful what you wish for…” couldn’t have smarted so sharply. The Bay State’s Beloved were an evening from being bounced and the famous Curse was getting new life. Yet, something happened and three games, sixteen-plus hours of marathon innings, and more “Believe” sightings than can be counted later the final showdown has come. One game between the bitterest of rivals is all that separates one of them from a trip to World Series. Being from Chicago, I was certain that it was over sometime last Thursday. Yet, this team seems bound to defy history. Game seven’s have never been kind to the Red Sox, but no club has ever forced the issue like this one. I am not sure what is going to happen but for sheer drama this cannot be beat in all of sports.

The hearts of a Red Sox Nation are pumping with hopes never higher. As the t-shirts the team has been wearing say, “Why Not Us?” Now every fan north of Hartford is asking that same question. Regardless of what happens this series has been one for the ages, but sans a victory it is just another Boston heartbreak in a history older than anywhere but the Second City.

Go Sox!

Columbus Day Combined with Pilgrims

Photo: Willie and Nik-Nik on an Anchor

Last week, I had the good fortune of trekking off to Plymouth, Massachusetts, with Ali’s dad and little brothers. That’s right, the home of “The Rock.” Nearly four-hundred years ago a handful of pilgrims headed west from Europe in search of religious freedom. Soon after the surviving pilgrims befriended the Natives and had a great Thanksgiving. At least this is the story, most of us learned.

The reality is slightly different and Plimouth Plantation explores those differences in a fascinating way. It is a living history museum, in the mold of the popular Colonial Williamsburg. So, there are recreators walking around ready to interact with anachronistic visitors. Although I had been informed that the historical role players had a tendency to be a bit aggressive, this bunch was pleasant.

Photo: Mayflower II

We set out first to see the Mayflower II. A reproduction of the 16th century vessel, it sits seaside a few miles from the plantation. I always find it fascinating to experience actual spaces. Although it seems pretty large at first, the ship has remarkably little room when you consider the number of people that would travel on it. Just being on the ship with other visitors was crowded. I can’t imagine what a voyage across the Atlantic with full crew, cargo, and passengers would have been pleasant.

Photo: Mayflower Rope

Anyone that has watched the recent PBS Colonial House has gotten a glimpse of the kind of life that greeted arrivals to the New World. In fact, that show was hosted by Plimouth Plantation. It is very akin to the pilgrim village. Again, the scale of space is remarkable. The houses that the pilgrims built were pretty little and rustic. It had to have been a definite step backwards for the Europeans. No windows, dirt floors, and thatched roofs were the order of the day. Considering that the pilgrims landed in November, it is not surprising that only half of them made it through the first winter.

Unfortunately, we only had time to explore the pilgrim village. However, one of the more unique aspects of the museum is that it also contains a native (Wampanoag) homesite. It is a real testament that Native voices are preserved and included in the museum. Based on my interest with Native America, there is no question I will be heading back to explore that aspect more. More than anything, it is a more expansive point-of-view which reveals a vastly more interesting and compelling story.

Photo: Plimouth Plantation Fort

Of course there is the romanticized story and the one a bit closer to reality. For instance not every individual that made the voyage was a religious Separatist. Nevertheless, those non-Separatists were required to attend religious services with everyone else. So much for religious freedom! Then there is the entrenched concept of Thanksgiving. It is no surprise that our national holiday has been manufactured and commercialized beyond any recognition of what occurred in 1621. Let’s just say that relations between the Wampanoag and the pilgrims were not as congenial as we were lead to believe. No surprise there; and George Washington didn’t actually chop down a cherry tree. I am truly puzzled as to why so many historical myths are continually perpetuated. We short change history and ourselves when we oversimplify the stories of our past.

Happy Anniversary, Ali

Photo: Fred and Ali

Tuesday brought the clearest demarcation of an anniversary for Ali and me. It was one year ago that love lost was found anew. Who would have believed that I would be reunited with my high school sweet-heart after nearly fifteen years? What’s more, who could have imagined that our romance would have grown and blossomed so much that it would compel me to move to the Right Coast so we could be together? I don’t think either of us could have imagined it. Although, it is precisely where I find myself and the year’s literal and figurative journey has been greater than any concoction either of us could have conceived. Now, I am living in Massachusetts with an amazing woman and I am that much better for it. So far, it has been a grand adventure. With Ali, life is simply sweeter.

So Happy Anniversary, Love! I am live from new england thanks to you and wouldn’t have it any other way. You are the greatest!

Chowderfest: Marlborough, MA

Photo: Horatio Alger Street Fair entrance

This weekend Ali and I headed off for to Marlborough, the town in which her father lives, for some fall festivities. That’s right autumn is upon us and chill is in the air. The leaves here are beginning to change color, but we haven’t reached the level of leaves like embers on the tree that looks aflame. A few more weeks and the whole area will be alive with “leaf peepers,” at least that is what they call them here. Everything was in place for a beautiful experience of Marlborough’s Horatio Alger Street Fair.

Photo: Ali at Horatio Alger Street Fair

Our primary purpose for attending the event was so I could experience a native New England tradition. It was to be my inaugural Chowderfest. For a mere $2.00 Ali and I embarked on a gastronomic treat that delivered the local flavor. This odyssey would mean the consumption of about eight cups of the New England nectar, all in the name of proper adjudication. Judging from the crowd gathered, I discovered it is calling for patriotic pride and this is civic duty welcomed by nearly all citizens. I am happy to say that not one of these samples was a bucket of paste that can sometimes find its way to your palette. It was a close call, but both of us agreed on our “best–of–the–fest.” Tasty Home Cooking/Corner Pub delivered a delectable dollop of a magnificently spiced stew–like soup, complete with large chunks of clams and potatoes. Although a restaurant called Seafood Coral proved a serious contender, they couldn’t edge the previous “People’s Choice” champion. You can not go wrong with either pick. As it turns out, we were on target with our choices. However, the official results proved to have our order reversed. So, if you’re ever in the greater Marlborough area, located in the far western suburbs of Boston, give them a try.

Photo: German Folk Band

After a large lunch of chowder, we then aimed our sites on the Nashoba Valley Winery for another fall annual occurrence, Oktoberfest. Just like everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, we’re all German for October. Beer and Brats were the order of the day and the locale was teeming with revelers, willing to take the challenge. My favorite aspect was the traditional folk band, playing oom-pah-pah classics. There were even a few lederhosen to be spied on this day. I have to say, it’s hard to resist a little hoch-und-spitz tunage. Our bellies were pretty full from the chowder, so consuming more cuisine was approached with caution. We did, however, sample the beer, of course. That was a given. It was a lovely locale and the place was packed. Perhaps, if the lines were not so long, I could have forced myself to knock some wurst down. Although, I think my guts are more grateful for the abstention. Even Ali cast a weary eye on the fest fare, but managed to find room for a caramel apple, which she amazingly shared with me.

Take Da-Bait, Senator!

With the first Presidential debate a thing of the past, I am left overwhelmingly unsatisfied. Thursday’s event is universally thought as the most important face-off of the race. With only a few weeks until ballots are cast, the spotlight was squarely focused on the candidates, providing equal opportunity for each to shine. While I think it can safely be said that John Kerry had the better showing; will it be enough to win an election? Kerry missed a number of opportunities to press the advantage, essentially letting Bush off the hook.

Although journalistic sports metaphors reign aplenty, this event had the build-up of a heavy-weight championship fight. I expected to see the Q-tipped cranium of Don King. I cannot count the number of times I have heard, “This is the most important election of our lifetime.” Expectations were on the brink and it was crucial for the Senator from Massachusetts to snatch a victory to have any hope of November success. Yet like so many King promoted title bouts, this one didn’t quite match the hype.

It was a good but not great debate. To John Kerry’s credit, he handled himself with exceptional poise on a stage grander than any he had performed. He maintained a dignified manner and followed the rules of engagement, which are a sham by the way. The candidates negotiated a thirty-five page contract on the minutiae of how the debate was to be conducted. According to that recipe, there was to be neither addresses nor responses directed from one candidate to the other. No questions could be posed by anyone but the moderator, Jim Lehrer. I’m sorry, but two these men are vying for the most powerful position in the world. If they can’t handle the heat of tough interrogations from one another or the American people, which they espouse to be leading, we have much more serious problems as a nation. That was not a debate. It was not even a dialogue. It was little more than a charade, packaged as though it contained some material difference. At times, they could have been infomercial salesman, reading from cue cards.

Despite being heralded as a strong debater, Kerry’s showing was strong but not a knock-out. As the challenger, he had to strike a decisive blow against the President, not win on points. For all his tailored talk, his rhetoric never truly took sharp aim at Bush. Instead, he settled for platitudes, focusing on abstract messages of global focus. Both men feebly tried to personalize issues with “I was talking to John Patriot last month…” As for the President, he managed to repeat the same “flip-flop” mantra, explicitly, no less than eight times. Beyond that, his patent smug implications of “I am not going to hold it against my opponent that he said…” were also repeated countless times. It amounted to a slightly more sophisticated game of name-calling. While Kerry presented more substantive issues, why he never got after the President I’ll never know.

I am sure each team’s handlers prepped their man with pleas of “Don’t go negative.” Every election presupposes that the American people despise negative attacks by politicians. Yet, experts routinely expose the fact these tactics work. The race is getting down to the wire and there are no points for second. All one has to do is head to Tennessee and ask Al Gore. For Kerry to win the election, the gloves must come off. Now, I am not suggesting that the Senator set out on a path of nothing but malicious muckraking, but how about demanding some real accountability. His debate victory basically preached to the “Anyone-but-Bush” crowd, in which I certainly include myself. He did little to seize the moment, differentiate himself, or convince undecided voters. All the while, Bush continued baiting the hook with his redundancy.

Dear Mister President

I only wish that Kerry would have pressed the advantages he gleaned. Why not go on the attack and take the opportunity to drop a series of open questions and accusations and let them linger?

How about returning Bush’s “flip-flop” accusations back at him? I’ve always been under the impression that changing one’s mind is often a product of deeper knowledge and understanding on a particular issue. Frequently, it is a demonstration of growth and wisdom, not a de facto disclosure of soft values. Apparently, the President only understands entrenched, inflexible dogma, which sounds distinctly Middle Eastern to me. Furthermore, the President stated, “Every American life is precious.” Yet, while Governor of Texas, he endorsed the executions of more people than any other state in the union. So which is it, Mr. President?

He also claimed, “My opponent had the same intelligence I did, when he said Saddam Hussein was a great threat.” The notion that the Senate and the President looked at identical intelligence reports is ludicrous. If the President of the United States is not privy to the most classified intelligence, gathered for his eyes only, then we are not nearly as safe as Bush would suggest. Anyone who believed that rubbish is plain silly. Still, our invasion of Iraq was built on faulty intelligence. Aren’t leaders supposed to take ultimate responsibility for their decisions? Didn’t Tony Blair take it on the chin recently? Nevertheless, Iraq was on the verge of becoming a nuclear threat and supposedly developing weapons of mass destruction. Dealing with this new reality is declared priority for preserving the safety of America. So, why not hammer the fact that stable nations such as North Korea, Pakistan, India, and Iran either have already developed or are currently developing nuclear programs with the potential to produce weapons of mass destruction? Dangerous proliferation of these means was primary motivation for a US invasion. Rather than mentioning this as a sidebar, why not reiterate the point until a remotely adequate response is even attempted?

The whole “War on Terror” coupling with Iraq is a farce that has alienated most of our strongest allies. Instead Kerry focused on this. The only retort is that the world is better off with Hussein in prison. No one is going to argue the global benefits of some murderous despot ruling with tyranny. All the same, now that the jig is up what justification does the President have for billions of dollars, thousands of lives, and the incalculable strategic and intelligence miscalculations that precipitated a pre-emptive attack? Exactly what were we preventing? Or what kind of prevention are we engaged in now that we are there, with seemingly no exit strategy. Take your pick answering! There was no shortage of people across the globe that hated this country before, now what reason do they have to feel differently?

Finally, Kerry wins no favor harping about Bin Laden. Osama has become little more than a figurehead. For the walls of terrorist’s hovels, his image is the equivalent of a David Beckham poster adorning a teenager’s bedroom. However, the Al-Quiada leader was supposedly in Afghanistan, which we also invaded. Yet, Bin Laden and most of the men involved in the 9/11 attacks hailed from Saudi Arabia. Interestingly, the administration was in no rush to send bombers to that patch of oil and sand. Why is that? Along that line of thinking, Mr. President could you explain a little bit about the personal and professional relationship the Bush family has with the House of Saud? I think the American people have a right to know a few more details about that.

Had the esteemed Senator from Massachusetts firmly stated any of these questions, the debate would have proved to be vastly more interesting and potentially yielded dramatically different results. I can only hope that Kerry will muster more genuine courage, before it is too late. Leaving the spotlight with your song still in you is surely the path to defeat. Furthermore, demanding answers to tough questions and presenting plausible alternatives is a greater demonstration leadership and steadfast convictions than the Kerry has yet to openly express.