Monday, April 27, 2015

And Then, Baltimore Just Blew Up

I was actually going to write about some other stuff today, but the events of the last week have pretty much snuffed that out.

How often is it that you get to see the doors to your place of employment get smashed in on live television?

As you know, the death of Freddie Gray, last week, has been entered into the lengthening list of suspicious (or downright criminal) police-perpetrated deaths.  Since the videos have come to light, citizens of Baltimore have been conducting public protests.

All week long, these protests have been fevered but peaceful pleas for justice. It was like a model of how a community should react to such events.  And then Saturday night, it all went straight to hell.

I was just sitting at home, chillin’… watching TV and switching between the O’s game and a movie on HBO.  Then I got a text from my friend Jenn, wanting to know if I was OK, and wondering if I was at the game.

I responded that I was fine and wondered what was going on.  She let me know…

I switched over to the news, and eventually got to see our building get attacked.

The guy is throwing a cigarette butt disposal pylon through our front door.

Luckily, they didn’t try to enter the premises.  Of course, there is nothing there to loot in a big, empty lobby.

Later, coverage shifted further south, where police were formed in skirmish lines, inching down the street.  Made me glad that I opted not to go see the Orioles game that night.  Finally, my frugal tendencies (in this case, refusal to pay extra to see what the team calls “Premium” games), paid off for me.

At one point, the team was asked to keep all the fans inside the ballpark.  The Orioles made the best of it by blowing a lead in the 9th inning, thus sending the game into extra innings.  By the time they won it in the 10th, the fans were free to go.

But it was weird watching all the chaos taking place right outside the ballpark.  If I had been there, my usual route to the subway would have taken me right into the heart of the conflict.

Sunday passed without incident, but then this afternoon, the “Downtown Partnership” (of local businesses and law enforcement) sent a picture on an email around that chilled everyone’s collective shit.

This was supposedly being send around via high school social media.  So what to do?  Stay put and risk the safety of your employees?  Or send everyone home and risk over-reacting.  I was happy to report that our powers that be opted for the position I favored: Getting the hell out of Dodge!

The unnerving part was that the subway line has a stop right at ground zero for this troublemaking; Mondawmin Mall.  We were concerned that some of these rioters might try to come down into the subway to raise hell.

When we pulled into that station, it didn’t appear that there was anything out of the ordinary going on, on the platform.  But we had to look quick because the train never stopped.  The conductor announced that she had been instructed not to stop there.  That was good for me… but not so good for those poor people who needed to get off there.

So I got to spend the rest of the afternoon watching the riot on TV.  Today’s events were far worse than the incidents Saturday night.  Cars were getting set on fire, people were throwing bricks, rocks and bottles at the cops, and a local CVS got looted and is currently on fire (as of 7:00 PM Monday night).

The police form a barrier allowing fire trucks to fight the fire at the CVS (which is obscured by smoke at the far right).

That second, parallel, line in front of the cops was said to be neighborhood leaders trying to stay between the police and the rioters, to de-escalate the situation.  Meanwhile, they just reported that someone cut one of the  fire hoses being used to fight the fire.

What seems to be clear is that this rioting is only tangentially related to the actual protests.  The family of Mr. Gray, (whose funeral was this afternoon), specifically asked that there not be protests today.  But these are punks and troublemakers using the situation as cover to create havoc, puff up their rep, and steal stuff.  And they’re dumb enough to do it in their own neighborhood.  Hey, breaking shit is fun!

Granted, I don’t think they have much choice.  Judging from the TV coverage, they already have police lines positioned all around the Inner Harbor.  It’s like they’re saying, “Feel free to break up your own neighborhood, but you’re not coming near our showplace.”

The Orioles have postponed tonight’s game against the White Sox.  I’ve been planning to go to a game either tomorrow night or Wednesday… I’m hopeful that all this stuff is over with by then.  I really hate when public unrest interferes with my pursuit of leisure activities.  That’s just crossing the line.

I’m not optimistic though.  The Governor just declared a State of Emergency, which paves the way for the National Guard.  I’ll be surprised if we’re even open for business tomorrow.

I am optimistic in the sense that unlike places like Ferguson, there is a level-headed, African-American presence in city government.  The Mayor is black.  The Chief of Police is black, as well as the City Council President and most council members. The Congressional Representative for the downtown district is black.  Their calls for peace will sound less self-serving that if they came from white leaders. Many important voices are appealing for calm, not just in government, but neighborhood elders, church leaders, and whatnot.  Right now, they're conducting a march of elders, asking the rioters to stand down.

So maybe we have a chance.

Still, I’m probably over-thinking it all.  It’s probably just Ravens fans.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Odd Bits - The Lethal Force Edition

I’ve had this post floating around in my head for a while now, but they’ve been post-blocked by my trip to The Burgh.  Three posts from one trip is pretty good use of my time.  Also, it goes to show how little is going on with the rest of my life.

One thing that’s been rattling around in my cranium is wondering what the hell is going on with the nation’s police force.  All over the country, dudes are getting shot, choked out or broken by police officers.

Earlier this month, the Walter Scott case, (police shoot guy who’s running away, 8 times in the back, after being stopped for a broken tail light), was the candidate to become the next Ferguson.  But it didn’t because this time almost the entire incident was caught on video, which showed the shooting and subsequent planting of evidence to bolster the cop’s initial story.

Because of the video, the cop was arrested, which pretty much stemmed any violent public demonstrations.  But without the video, it would have been just one more uncorroborated cop story where the black guy gets killed.

So with yet another such story dominating the news cycles, you would think that police forces would start to get the message, that they can’t use citizens (even our possible criminal citizens) as target practice.

But still, the stories keep rolling out.  Right here in Baltimore, a guy died after having his spine 80% severed at the neck after he was taken into custody.  (The charge: running away upon seeing some cops, and having a knife clipped to his belt.)

Taken all together, this tells me just how deeply ingrained it is with our police forces, to view black men as criminals; judged as sub-human for no other reason than that they’re black.  Even with all the heat; all the publicity going on over these incidents, they keep happening over and over again.

How routine is it to plant, move or adjust evidence to back up a false story?  And here, I thought that was something that just happened in the movies and on cop shows.

I’m really not trying to impugn all cops with this stuff.  I know it’s not universal.  My cousin is a cop, and I don’t think he’s like that.  But I’ll bet you he knows some guys that are

I know it’s a dangerous and often thankless job, and they put their lives on the line for us every day.  But something is seriously wrong, when a cop thinks it’s a good idea to open fire on a guy who’s trying to run away from a traffic ticket.  His life was just that cheap.

In a previous post, I called out for judicious use of cop cams.  That way, as long as the cam is activated, (and I would make it a fireable offense to turn it off during an interaction), citizens have recourse from biased, violent, out-of-control police officers, and the cops have recourse from false accusations of brutality.  (Not to mention capturing evidence of suspect’s demeanor or drunkenness.)

If we think cop-cams are too expensive, how expensive is it to repair a town after a riot?  Or to repair the faith of a community in their police force?

Now on to lighter fare…

O No
I’ve gotten out to see a couple of Orioles games already this year.  You might have seen evidence of such on my Facebook or Twitter accounts.  I know it was probably unsettling to my Twitter followers who know me primarily as a Penguins tweeter, but the O’s are running this thing (#OsBirdNest or #Birdland) where you win things by referencing them on social media.  I mean, I’m still a dedicated Pirates (and all things Pittsburgh) fan, but what the hey?  Why not try to win something by doing stuff I’m likely to do anyway?

It was funny though, as I was riding the subway down to the game on Opening Saturday versus Toronto… I hit the Heinous Subway Rider Jackpot.  How I wished I’d brought my MP3 player and headphones…

Loud girls with screeching laughter: Check.

Guy singing badly with is earphones on: Check.

Loud, oblivious cell phone conversation: Check.

300-pound guy coughing up a sundae: Check.

Fresh gum left on the seat beside me: Check.

By the time I got to the ballpark, I was relieved to only have to deal with the drunks. 

After pounding a few beers at The Bullpen, I went over to the ballpark early, so I could receive their give-away:

A canvas celebrating the Orioles AL East title last year.

I was kind of disappointed.  Was this really the best they could do?  It looked like something whipped up on MS Paint, circa 1999.  I assume they didn’t use a photograph as a base, because the stark 4-color treatment was cheaper.

I think they should have used something like this…

They’d just need to move those dudes on the left out of the way.

Anyway, as I was cruising around the club level, I wandered into their Collectibles shop, that featured various signed or game-used equipment.  One thing they offered was a broken Chris Davis bat, for $1500.  I’d have taken a picture but I was too busy spit-taking.

For $1500, I’d expect Chris Davis to come to my house to give me batting lessons.  And move some furniture.
"Hey Chris, can you give me a hand with this sofa?"

I also went by the case that has the last two Orioles World Series trophies.
Funny how I don’t see any from 1971 or 1979.  [Boo-yah!]

Anyway, the O’s won this game, which featured a grand slam home run, by 2nd year guy, Jonathan Schoop.  (Pronounced “Scope,” unfortunately.  He probably says that just to avoid the inevitable Salt N Pepa walk-up music.)

The following Wednesday, I went back for another game.  The Yankees were in town, and because it was mid-week, it wasn’t designated as a “Premier” or “Price Gouging” game.  So it was a good opportunity to go and boo Alex Rodriquez for being an obnoxious steroid monkey.  Of course, he got even with my ass by smacking a home run.

A-Rod, jackin’ one. (Yes, that’s the actual HR I shot.)

This time, I sat in the first row of the upper deck, right behind home plate.  When you’re only looking for a single ticket, sometime there are some orphaned seats available in prime locations. 

I was hoping to get a panoramic shot that was worthy of putting on canvas.  Best case scenario would be a nice, sunlit shot with creeping shadows, but alas, it was a cloudy day.  But night shots aren’t bad either.  You think this would make a good frame-able shot, or should I come back on a sunny day?

The O’s won this game too, which features homers by Manny Machado and another one from Schoop.  But the best part might have been our big reward.

Someone in my row won pizza for the entire row.  I was in the bathroom at the time when I heard them announce the row, and I was like, “Hey, that’s my row!”  I had been considering trolling around for something to eat, so instead, I beat feet back to my seat, to take advantage of this cheesy bounty.  Out of the 120 or so games I’ve been to, this was the first time I ever was a part of a winning row or section.

Now I just have to figure out what that lady did to win the pizza.  I would love to be Pizza Provider for my row. 

None for Yankee fans though.  They have enough dough as it is.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Pen Pals

I originally planned to include this story in the last post, but cut it for length considerations.

It kind of started at dinner with my blogging friends.  Cassie was telling stories about all the famous Pittsburgh athletes she met back when she was waiting tables.  My favorite was when Penguins’ goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was a rookie, he came into the place where she was working.  She had no idea who he was… in fact she went back to the kitchen and started to tell her friends about the really cute Canadian guy at her station, with nice teeth.

Maybe if she had played her cards right, she could have been Mrs. Flower by now.

So the next night, I forget how it came up, but my cousin Greg told us about his brush with fame.  (Greg, I hope it’s OK for me to pass it on here, because it’s too freakin’ cool to not tell.)

We both have another cousin, Jeff, who a number of years ago, dated a woman who was best friends with the wife of Penguins player/owner/savior/legend, Mario Lemieux.  Every so often, he’d go along when his girlfriend went to visit the Lemieux family.  The women would talk and he’d hang out with Mario, drinking wine and smoking cigars.

Sometimes, when I’d be staying with my aunt and uncle (Jeff’s parents), he’d come home late and we’d stay up and talk, after everyone else was in bed.  He told me a lot about what it’s like to hang out with Mario.  I mean, my head was practically exploding from the vicarious thrills.

So, Greg tells us that one night, he gets a call from Jeff, inviting him to a party.  He didn’t say where; he just sent him the address.  Greg went “as is,” in a tee shirt and jeans.

He knew something was up when the address he was directed to was a freakin’ mansion. 

Yes, this is the one.

I’m not sure how he got in, but he met up with Jeff and found himself among a small clutch of dudes hanging out in a wine cellar with Mario himself.

Director’s DVD Commentary: I don’t know how the destination came as a surprise… I’m sure the address had to be something like 66 Le Magnifique Way.

Greg sort of stayed off to himself, watching the scene from the sidelines.  I mean, it was like being in one of those Bud Lite “Are you up for anything?” commercials, but with better drinks and a much better celebrity.

As people began to move off, Mario took note of Greg, standing there with a look of stress and amazement on his face.  He went over to him and said, “Let’s get this out of the way.  Is there something you’d like to say to me?

I’m telling you, I’m getting shivers as I type this, because as cool as I think Mario is, it’s even cooler that he realizes the effect he has on people, especially lifelong Penguins fans.  He has the kind of presence make grown-ass men become dumbstruck.  But he was like, “I get this all the time.”

Even dogs know Mario is cool. Source

Greg went silent for a bit, collected his thoughts, and then said, “Thank you for saving the only hockey team I ever cared about.”

And with that, they moved to rejoin the rest of the party.

It’s more or less exactly what I would have said, if I were in his place.  Just, “Thank you for everything you’ve done for Pittsburgh, hockey, sick children, and hockey fans everywhere.” (And I had considerably more time to put that together.)

So… Stanley Cup Playoff hockey commences this week.  I guess that means I’d better figure out what I’m wearing.

As usual, I tracked my game jersey mojo throughout the hockey season, to find out which ones were most effective.  Unlike past year, there’s no clear favorite.  Perhaps the magic is wearing off, and it’s time to start going with t-shirts.  But here’s how it shook out:

The jersey with the best winning percentage was the “Snoop Dogg 66.”

3 wins 1 loss .750 winning percentage

It’s hard to really count that one because I only wore it four times. Before crowning a #1 Seed, I like to have a little bigger sample size.  So with that, I see this as my front runner:

6-4, .600

It’s still not great, but like I said, no single jersey really had an effect, unlike in years past.

6-7, .461

The Penguins used this one as their “3rd jersey this year, in a break from their previous blue ones.  Everyone really seems to like the way they look on the ice.  All I can say is that I wore the jersey every time the Pens wore it, and they didn’t break .500.  Not good mojo.

3-4, .428

Geno seemed to be hurt for a lot of the season, so I didn’t wear his jersey on nights he didn’t play.  But when he did play, he was definitely “score.”

Moving on to the away jerseys, this year I again used my white Sidney Crosby jersey as the workhorse.

9-8, .529

Not a lot of magic there, but then the Pens were pretty bad on the road.  That can’t be all my doing.  As a switch-off, I used the first Winter Classic jersey for away games.

3-3, .500

Might be an option if we need a big win as visitors.

Also in the running:
Black Brooks Orpik #44: 2-3, .400  Didn’t wear it often, because Brooksie’s gone. But it’s a quality jersey.

White James Neal #18: 2-3, .400  Neal’s gone too, but I don’t have many white jersey options.

White Mario Lemieux #66, with the triangle penguin logo: 1-3, .333

Blue Pensblog jersey:  0-1, .000

Blue Penguins hoodie: (worn mostly over Christmas when I had a cold and felt like shit), 6-2, .750.  Good record, but it may be too warm for a hoodie, come playoff time.  I may pull it out if nothing else works.

And lastly, while wearing no Pens mojo at all, (like Saturday night when I was at the Orioles game), 2-1, .666

Let’s go Pens!

Director’s DVD Commentary: For an outstanding article and a look at why Mario Lemieux is such a big freakin’ deal, on the occasion of his being named Pittsburgher of the Year for 2012, access this link to Pittsburgh Magazine.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Trippin' the Burgh, Part 2

We finished up at Sharp Edge around 9:30, then the Sitcom Sisters and I hit the Doubletree bar, for a night cap.  But as full as we were, we didn’t stay long, and we adjourned to our rooms for the night.

We met up the next morning at 10:45, and headed over to a restaurant/bar over by the arena, the Blue Line Grille.  Honey Google led the way.

There were plenty open tables, so we grabbed one where I could keep my eye on the door.  We needed to meet up w/ my cousin Greg, not only for “old times sake,” but because he had my ticket!

He rolled in shortly after we did, so we set out to do a little eating and power drinking on the cheap, before going in and submitting to arena prices.

Our family runs black and gold.

My bacon cheeseburger was awesome.  The fries… well, the fries certainly had “body”…

“The Giant Lump’O Fries.”

I was pretty excited to get out and get into the arena… Greg’s tickets, (courtesy of his mom’s company) were stellar.  We were sitting two rows behind the Penguins’ bench, right beside the corridor leading to and from the locker room.  I don’t think I’ve ever had better seats than that, for anything.

We got there just as warm-ups were wrapping up, so I just began snapping pictures of anyone who came by, with special attention to Kris Letang, so I could send the shots to Sitcom Kelly to use for wallpaper.  (Not on her desktop, on her actual walls.)

Kristopher Letang, wondering why he feels an eerie chill.

Shortly after this, the only thing Letang will be feeling is woozy.

The Pens’ starting lineup.

We had to pay attention though… I couldn’t get too wrapped up in taking pictures that I miss a puck come flying at me.  I was perfectly situated to take a puck to the melon, right through that gap in the glass.

This was a big game; the Pens had been on a losing streak so they needed this win.  Part of the problem was that Evgeni Malkin hadn’t been playing, resulting in a scoring drought.  He even called out his team for their lack of goals.

*Not his actual words.

During the game, the second goalie sat right in the tunnel.  The Pens’ primary goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury had started the night before, so he was the backup on this day.  I was so close to him, I could have handed him a drink.

Sitcom Kelly telescoped in on us from their perch in the upper deck. We’re on the far right, and I’m playing with my camera. Or the phone.

I’m sorry, if you put me right behind the bench, I’m going to have to spend time looking into my camera.  So sue me.

It was a tough game, as hockey games are prone to be.  In the second period, Kris Letang got slammed into the boards, bashing the back of his head.  I didn’t see the hit, but I could tell as he was helped to the locker room, that it was no leg or shoulder injury. I could actually see the birds flying around his head.  I'm sure Sitcom Kelly will take real good care of him, once he gets back into her basement pit.

During one of the period breaks, Greg and I headed up for refreshments: a couple of 24-oz Iron City Lights.  As I stood back at me seat, I realized that I couldn’t be any more “Pittsburgh” than I was at that moment.

“Ich bin eine Yinzer.”

I also stuck my hand through the railing to come up with some shots of the Penguins’ sticks, lined up alongside of me.

I’ll probably make this into some wall art, at some point.

The Pens won the game, 3-2, and Sidney Crosby was selected as one of the stars of the game.

Captain Sid, just about to hand his stick to the kid in front of me.

When the game was through, we rejoined the Sitcom Sisters and went back to the Doubletree to plot our next move.  Greg graciously agreed to chaperone us through the city to our next eating establishment, August Henry.

You know how I always go on about Pittsburgh fish sandwiches?  Seriously, I had the longest fish sandwich I have ever seen.

The picture doesn’t do it justice… that plate is about the diameter of a basketball. The bun was at least a foot long, and the fish hung out an inch on either side.

I don’t know how I even finished it. Pure determination, I guess.  Only problem was that when we went to the next bar, I had very little room left for beer.  (Although I did manage a few.)

I don’t know what time we called it a night… around 11 maybe?  The temps were in the teens by the time Greg headed home and we scurried back to the room.  The man did yeoman’s work, shepherding us around town for 12 hours.  I’ll have to thank his wife for letting him come out to play with us all day.

Before we could leave on Sunday, I had a little errand I had to run.  I told the Sitcom Sisters to sleep in and I’d meet up with them around 11, after I ran out to the west side to visit my Grandpa.

He just turned 99 in February, so I couldn’t pass up a chance to see him.  Not many people my age have a grandparent that’s still around.

While I was in town, I also had to stop by the local market, to pick up some Pittsburgh delicacies to take back home: fresh-baked Mancini’s Italian bread, and Isaly’s chip-chopped ham.

I scored enough for 2 weeks’ worth of ham sandwich dinners. 
Whoo Hoo!

I got back to the hotel right around when I’d planned, met up with the Sisters, and we were on the road by 11:00.  We made it home uneventfully, which was nice. 

Later that night, I checked out the game via DVR, (after downloading about 200 pictures), just to see if Greg and I made it on camera.

Yep, there we are, larger than life.  I mean really large. Am I smuggling pillows in there, or what?

So, all in all… great trip.  Lovely company, good friends, good food, good drink, lots of sports action, and no one got lost.

Can’t wait to do it again next year!