April 22 column

Posted: April 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

Once again didn’t go online, so here’s the full text. 

The economy’s still tight. That’s common knowledge and I don’t think you’ll find anybody willing to argue with you on that point. We’re still seeing the effects in many places, including sports. Namely, NASCAR. For a sport that involves watching a bunch of cars drive fast, many people are becoming less willing to drive themselves in order to see a race. The act of getting out to a race is quite different than say going to a baseball game. For the most part, sports like baseball and football are relegated for the most part to fans that live in the immediate area of the city in which the team is known for. Races, on the other hand, aren’t about a particular city’s sport as much as they are about a weekend (or two) per year that brings in over 100,000 people from all over the country to root for no less than 43 different drivers (or teams).

All that being said, the stands at NASCAR races have been startlingly empty this year. A few weeks ago, when the sport ran the half-mile bullring of Bristol Motor Speedway, a track that is an essential part of NASCAR history and one that has produced some insanely good racing, there were a ton of empty seats. Part of this has to do with changes to the track surface that changed the way competitors race on it, and Bristol officials have since decided to change it back to ensure the fans see the kind of racing they’re used to: one lane, beating and banging action.

So while the quality of the racing is of course a major factor, so is the quality of the facility. If you’ve got less money in your pocket, do you really want to trek out to a race track that may not provide you with the kind of experience you’re looking for? Do you want to get mired in traffic jams, get to the track and find dirty bathrooms, or get to the track and find absolutely nothing to keep you occupied until the racing begins?

Enter Texas Motor Speedway. Last week was the annual Samsung Mobile 500 weekend held each April at the track, and my Dad and I attended, like we have the past two years. This time around, I also happen to be a member of the Texas Motor Speedway Fan Council, a group of racegoers selected to offer input and suggestions on how to improve the track experience for all fans. The fact that the council even exists is a point in favor of the track, but listening to the other members who have been to other tracks was an eye-opening experience. One fan who has also been to Talladega Superspeedway, a very popular track on the circuit, said the racing action was great, but the actual facility was awful, and that he wouldn’t be returning this year because he had to drop a track based on his personal finances, and he chose to drop Talladega. Everybody else on the council had a ton of praise for the track, and “I’ve been to different tracks, and you guys are the best” was said on more than one occasion.

I’m inclined to agree, even though I haven’t been to any other tracks, and the quality of the facility is one of the main reasons the Texas race featured a significantly higher number of filled grandstands than other races thus far this season. The drivers will put on a show no matter what, that’s for sure, but the fans still need to be taken care of and given the experience they deserve.

Not only is Texas Motor Speedway a beautiful and clean facility, track president Eddie Gossage, and all-around genius, also offers fans numerous other activities to keep busy while exploring and waiting for the racing. This year featured a pre-race concert by rock band Foreigner, something that kept the 40-something crowd jazzed, as well as their traditional “No Limits Garage Party” for season ticket holders. This year’s party featured sumo wrestling, mixed martial arts demonstrations, world’s strongest man competitions, a selection of local food trucks, and an entertainment stage featuring driver interviews and music. Not to mention, the party is also held in close proximity to pit road with easy access for fans who have credentials. All in all, it’s a great experience.

I could have spent this column talking about the actual race, which broke records for average race speed (160+ miles per hour), fewest cautions (2) and probably highest wind gusts (I’m guessing over 234 mph), but I was compelled to talk about the facility instead. I’ve been going to Texas Motor Speedway regularly for three years now, and I’ve yet to have a bad experience. Eddie and his team are focused on presenting a total package for fans, one that has “No Limits,” as their marketing slogan claims. Their passion, execution and dedication is something that all track owners on the NASCAR circuit can certainly learn from. And maybe, they’ll start filling up their seats again.

April 15 column

Posted: April 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

Not sure why they go online sometimes and other times not. Here’s the full text for April 15. It went in the physical paper but not the online edition.

My life as a Rangers fan has been a long and winding road. I was raised on baseball and raised on the Rangers, thanks to my mom’s fandom, and have never had interest in any other team. This loyalty means I’ve rarely had any reason to be interested in the MLB playoffs every October, as the majority of the Rangers’ existence has been one of mediocrity, and thanks to sluggers like Juan Gonzalez and Alex Rodriguez, controversy regarding steroids. Needless to say, it’s always been very difficult to be a Texas baseball fan.

So you can only imagine my utter euphoria the past couple of years as the team has implemented an extremely successful plan of discovering and cultivating young talent, bringing them through the farm system with the end goal of putting them on the team and watching them run wild. You can imagine my joy as the team has won back to back American League Championships and been the AL representative in the World Series. And of course, you can imagine my utter sorrow at losing the World Series two years in a row.

But this year, we’re going to take care of business. I can feel it. Those two sentences right there showcase the change in my fan experience. For most of my life, I would never express such optimism about the Rangers. I would talk here and there about individual players and their capabilities and talents, but never about the postseason, because it just wasn’t something that seemed to be very attainable. That’s all changed in a few short years. Now, I’m talking about players as well as the playoffs. I’m talking about the teams that look good and which ones might present problems if we head to the postseason. For once, I’m actually willing and interested in being a part of the larger baseball discussion.

A lot of the baseball discussion this year has centered around Yu Darvish, a Japanese pitcher that caused a massive bidding war among MLB teams clamoring to claim him and add him to their roster. The Rangers were able to win that bidding war and Darvish is now the fourth man in the starting rotation. And he’s caused quite a buzz, especially considering he was quite the stud in Japan: the girls love him.

Darvish made his first start in a Rangers uniform last Monday night in Arlington. The hype was through the roof, with fans in both the United States and Japan crowded around their television sets to watch the game. And it didn’t go well, at least at first. Darvish walked the first batter he faced on four straight pitches, then proceeded to walk another, and by the time the first inning was over, he’d thrown over forty pitches and given up four runs. In the second inning, he didn’t throw as many pitches, but he gave up another run, and most people figured he’d be out of the game soon. But he was able to calm down, get his head straight, and eventually made it through five and two-thirds innings, giving up five runs. For many pitchers, this would be impossible to come back from, but when you pitch for the Rangers, it’s not a big deal. The offense came alive and won 11-5, letting Darvish still get counted for the win.

In that first inning, I was getting texts left and right expressing disappointment, concern, and downright anger over Darvish’s performance. Some folks said we spent too much money and it obviously wasn’t worth it, others said they were sad at the poor start, but most of the texts were negative. I actually found myself telling people to calm down, that it was only Yu’s first start, and that he’d settle down in the game, which, thankfully, he did. Once again, this is a complete one eighty from the way I used to be. Here we were, in a position that Rangers fans got used to a lot in the early years of the franchise, and rather than accepting defeat and planning for a loss, I was confident, fully prepared to watch a comeback and a win.

It all goes to show that baseball is a great metaphor for life. I mentioned in my review of The Hunger Games about the ups and downs of life, and baseball can present a perfect microcosm of that. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but you stay loyal to your team and to your beliefs, and you press on, because one of these days, you’ll get that championship, no matter how long it takes you.

And for the record, I still believe in Yu.

March 24 column

Posted: April 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

Talkin’ about that cruise, yo. Read it below.

I’ve come to the conclusion that whenever you take a vacation from work, you should be given a bereavement day before coming back to mourn the end of the trip. I sure as heck could have used one this past Monday. The week before, I took a seven day cruise from Galveston to Key West and the Bahamas with my girlfriend, my roommate and his girlfriend. It was my first time cruising, and I absolutely loved it. There’s just something about being on a boat in the middle of the ocean, with absolutely nothing but water visible all around you that gives you a bit of levity. Rather than give you a play-by-play of what happened and turn this into a novel-sized column, I thought I’d share a few of the things I learned during my trip.

1. I don’t get seasick. Since I’d never in the open ocean before, this was a legitimate concern, and one that I probably over-prepared for by pretty much buying up Tom Thumb’s entire stock of Dramamine. It was all unfounded though, and I discovered that I’m quite the fan of the back and forth rocking of the boat in the water. So, if anybody’s looking to start hoarding Dramamine, you know who to call…

2. I will never learn to wear flip-flops on hot surfaces. The last couple of days of the trip were both at sea with no ports of call, so we took advantage of the time to lay out and get some sun. Think about it: a wooden ship deck, sitting directly in the sun for the entire day, and yet when I got up to go inside and get a glass of water, I didn’t feel it necessary to slip on my flip-flops first. Hopefully the third degree burns on my feet were traumatizing enough to help me remember from now on.

3. I love magic. The ship we sailed on was the Carnival Magic, so they of course played up that name with various illusionists onboard. While the major stage magic show was just as cheesy as you’d expect from something of the sort, we befriended one of the resident sleight-of-hand magicians – named Axe – and even sat down with him after one of his shows to give feedback and tell him where he could improve. Making helicopters disappear, while impressive to see, is usually nothing more than a mirror trick, but the kinds of illusions Axe performed were truly awe-inspiring: up-close, cards disappearing and reappearing in the hands of guests, items starting as something and becoming something else (he turned my $5 bill into a $100, but unfortunately changed it back before handing it over), it was all…magical.

4. I’m addicted to umbrella drinks. And Blue Curacao. Believe it or not, though, those tiny umbrellas don’t serve very well to keep out the rain.

5. The water in the Bahamas is amazing. I’m used to the ever-murky look of Galveston bay, so our experience in Freeport was life-changing. Snorkeling at Peterson Cay was like being in a swimming pool. The water was crystal clear, visibility was endless, and the wildlife was second to none. Needless to say, I don’t think I’ll be trying to snorkel in Galveston anytime soon.

6. Fish love vomit. We also snorkeled in Key West, and for the most part, visibility was low, the water was choppy, and you’d only see one fish every few minutes. At one point, though, we were engulfed by a giant school. We thought it was awesome, until we found out afterward that someone had gotten sick in the water and the fish swarmed to it thinking it was a source of food.

7. I seem to be becoming a crotchety old man. I’ve only been out of school two years, but I’m developing personality traits you’d expect from a stereotypical grandpa. There were an estimated 1,500 children on the boat with us, and while some were adorable, many of them irked me, including one overly confident eleven-year-old whose obnoxious dancing and bullying tendencies led me to dub him as my nemesis.

8. I love young adult novels. Despite the old man tendencies mentioned above, I still fall prey to the hype of the YA hits. First it was Harry Potter, and now my girlfriend has me addicted to The Hunger Games. I sped through the first book during the cruise, probably will have the second and part of the third finished by the time you read this, and went to see the movie in IMAX yesterday. Sometimes, it’s just nice to forget about the complexities of the world and view things in the black and white, life and death perspective of kids.

9. Always spring for the balcony room. We did, and it was awesome. We weren’t cramped into a tiny room only a window to look out of, we actually had a balcony we could go out onto and view the water. And when you’re in the middle of the ocean and the water is as blue as you’ve ever seen, you definitely want the balcony.

10. I didn’t really miss my phone. This shocked me, too, because I’m usually attached to the thing. But save for Key West, when I turned it back on since we were technically in the US, I didn’t miss my constant stream of work emails and Facebook updates. The 245 messages that greeted me upon return were definitely annoying, but for that week when I didn’t have to think about them, it was glorious.

11. Dolphins are the coolest thing ever. We participated in a shallow water interaction in Nassau at the Atlantis resort, and it’s something I’ll never forget. I was shocked to discover that dolphins actually feel exactly like vinyl, rather than the slippery wetness I was expecting, but I wasn’t shocked to discover they are brilliant animals and love to play. I kissed, high-fived and belly rubbed Jonah and Sasha (the dolphins we played with) and it was a bucket list activity that I really want to do again.

12. Tip well. We all know this anyway, but do it. During our snorkeling in Freeport, after about 30 minutes my lack of physical fitness caught up with me and I got exhausted, leaving our tour guide to basically drag me back the rest of the way to the beach with the float he carried around. He did well, I made it, and gave him a healthy tip for it. But seriously, tips are pretty much how these folks make their living, and it’s karma to recognize that.

I learned many other things during the trip, but those are the highlights. Now, I’m back in the routine at work and already planning my next cruise. Who’s coming with me?

Shall I go on?

Posted: August 6, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

Folks, I’m trying to write again. I have a spectacularly disastrous, illustrious in the worst way possible career when it comes to writing fiction, but dammit, I can’t stop trying. If I can just get something, anything produced that is halfway decent, be it a short story, novella, full blown novel, hell, even a Chinese parable, I’ll probably feel satisfied and move on. But, until then, here we are.

What follows is the very beginning of my attempt to once again write something that is not akin to a five-year-old’s homework assignment “write a story. use complete sentences.” Wish me luck.

—–

Donnie was almost asleep when felt it. He had drifted into that hazy state of semi-consciousness that was as precarious as standing on the edge of the cliff, not quite snoozing but not quite aware of his surroundings either. The state wherein an intrusive pseudo-nightmare could jolt you back to reality: an imagined fall, a charging animal, a gunshot even. But this was none of those things. What Donnie felt was even realer than those terrors.

As was always the case, his left arm had fallen off the side of the bed when he started to drift off. No matter where he started, he’d always travel to the left side of the bed, roll onto his stomach, and the arm would slide right off. He often woke up unable to move the thing for a few minutes because all the circulation had been sealed off. It felt like a lead weight, and several times had made him think he was having a heart attack, or had gotten the thing amputated and not realized it.

At this point in his slumber, though, he had not yet lost feeling. Which is why he felt it. At the tip of his fingers, a soft rush of air, no more than a whisper of a breeze, but concentrated enough to have only come from a mouth. Someone was blowing on his fingers. That, or the can of air he kept in his study and used to blow the dust out of his keyboard had wandered down the hallway, into his room, and begun to operate itself.

The breath he barely registered. When you fall into that state of semi-consciousness, it takes more than a soft tickle of air to bring you back to the real world. But when a hand emerged from the same place as the breath, grabbed Donnie by the wrist and yanked, that was certainly enough to wake him up.

I attended the third game of the Lone Star Series between the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros last week in Arlington, and all was well until the ninth inning. The Rangers weren’t necessarily dominating the game offensively by any stretch of the imagination, but heading into the top of the ninth, they held a 3-1 lead. They put in closer Neftali Feliz, hero of last year’s American League Championship series, and he promptly proceeded to give the game away, with the final blow being a three-run home run that put the Astros up by two. I was sitting in left field, and that’s exactly where that final home run ball went as well, albeit a little bit to my right into the next section of fans.

This bad boy will run you about $310

After the typical hustle and bustle that accompanies a home run and people trying to secure the ball for themselves, things started getting pretty heated. Since this was a home run that gave the lead to the opposing team, fans started the typical chant of “Throw it back! Throw it back!” that usually happens if the ball happens to be snatched up by a fan of the home team. This chant went on for a while, and eventually transitioned into an absolute chorus of boos. As people began to sit down, I could clearly see why. The fan who had landed the ball was in fact a Rangers fan, and was decked out in one of the more expensive Josh Hamilton jerseys, meaning he was a die-hard fan or, unfortunately, a recent bandwagoner who also happens to have some money in his pocket. Read the rest of this entry »

Today is a special day. Happy Father’s Day to the man who took me to dirt tracks as a kid and introduced me to motorsports. Happy Father’s Day to the man who colored my appreciation of classic rock and showed me the greatness of Pink Floyd and The Beatles. Happy Father’s Day to the man who led by example throughout my childhood and showed the true value of hard work. Happy Father’s Day to the man who hasn’t seen a film in the theater in quite some time because he just falls asleep. Happy Father’s Day to the man who knows his way around a grill and whose idea of a perfect day involves cooking a couple of steaks, turning some music on, and sitting on his front porch, drinking a glass of tea and relaxing.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Have a great one.

Check out a brief photographic snapshot after the jump.
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I’m not the biggest basketball fan. Never have been, and in all likelihood, I never will be. It probably has a lot to do with the fact that I suck at it. I played Little Dribblers for one single year when I was young, and I was absolutely god-awful. I was always a soccer and baseball kid, and didn’t pay much attention to basketball, outside of Space Jam and NBA Jam on the N64 – both of which I love, mind you.

I do, however, like sports in general. To put it in even more specific terms, I like Dallas sports. I’ve been a Texas Rangers fan my entire life, and when I subscribed to Sports Illustrated for Kids when I was younger, I listed the Dallas Mavericks as my favorite basketball team. So, there’s always been a small corner of my heart reserved for the Mavs. At the very least, I’m not completely a bandwagon fan.

This year, the Dallas Mavericks gave me a reason to care about basketball. They gave me a reason to pay attention to more DFW sports than just the Rangers and Texas Motor Speedway. They put together a campaign so inspirational, so damn genuine, that only the most heartless of individuals couldn’t help but feel something for those guys. And by God, they played it out like a movie.
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