Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Day at the Races

Annual traditions are a way of life. Having something that you look forward to year after year seems to make each day that passes that much more exciting. At times the traditions are passed down through generations; other times they develop from an event first shared with friends that makes it's way into an annual personal holiday. It could be opening day at Yankee Stadium. It could be an annual labor day cookout on the lake where everyone watches Aunt Linda slowly get tanked on wine coolers. It could be waiting for that day every year where "the Miz" goes into a full-blown roid rage on The Gauntlet. Whatever it is, these traditions define where we all came from and what is truly important to our being. For tradition in the Midwest, there is nothing that touches Memorial Day weekend at the hallowed ground of a century-old race track.

I first went to the Indy 500 in 1986. I was 8 years old when Bobby Rahal won by passing Kevin Cogan 2 laps from the finish. Looking back, his victory may have heavily contributed not only to my early exposure to alcohol product placement, but also my lifelong fascination with moustaches - an obsession that endures to this day. In the 20 years since then, my knowledge of the race became encyclopedic. If it happened in May, I memorized it year after year. My allegiance was pledged to the Andrettis over the hated Unsers (a decision which resulted in many unhappy race endings.) I always hoped for somebody other than a Penske driver to win. Emerson Fittipaldi will always be dead to me after he refused to drink milk after winning in 1993 (hope that orange juice tastes good when you're burning in hell, Emmo.) And I quickly learned that the race never truly began until Roberto Guerrero or Stan Fox did something stupid. The ultimate proof of Stan Fox's ineptitude of course was in 1995 - check out Stan's legs dangling free in mid-air below:


But enough about dangling extremities from the past. The 2006 race stood on it's own as everything that people love about Indy. From a storyline standpoint, I was nervous about how things would transpire. Last year's race was a perfect script for putting IndyCars back into the national spotlight, and it guaranteed that more people would be watching this years race than any 500 in a decade. A disappointing race this year would probably just lead to more public malaise over the future of the sport, while the lemmings continue to flock to the joke that is NASCAR. On a more personal level, these drivers had to impress an east coast hotshot known only as "Jerrey McClure" who took his maiden voyage to the Brickyard. He had never been to a race before, and was just coming off a trip to the Preakness where a horse previously hailed as one of the greatest athletes ever broke his leg after 20 yards, so Jerrey would demand nothing short of a spectacular performance from everyone involved.

After enjoying some quality day-before-the-race festivities, such as a pig roast and cornhole games, race day began with a 6:40am wake-up call. Our party of 9 arrived at the parking lot before 8am, with the sun already unrelenting and few clouds in the sky. As the parking lots filled up, the beers started flowing. By 11am we were ready to begin a heated flipcup battle. The Scecina all-star team jumped out to a quick lead, but a back and forth war (and a few unnamed participants vomiting mid-game,) we fell in defeat. At that point, it was nearly race time and after loading up the coolers, we were ready to take our place in turn 3 and burn alive for 3-and-a-half hours.

The nuts and bolts of the race on the track have been told by now. Jerrey got in a solid mid-race pitstop, passing out under the shade outside the track, and by the end of the race I think he actually had a handle on the scoring of racing (pace car position, pit stops under yellow flags, cars getting lapped, etc.) For the 2nd straight year I had goosebumps as the race neared its conclusion. Last year, it was witnessing a 23-year-old girl nearly pull off what would have been the biggest upset in the history of ANY sport. This year, it was watching Michael Andretti - hands down my all-time favorite Indy driver as a kid - 4 laps from winning the one race he's never gotten., only to see him get passed by his 19-year-old son, who in turn got edged out at the checkered flag in the 2nd closest finish in history.

It was a sequence that perfectly encapsulated everything that is simultaneously triumphant and heartbreaking about this racetrack. The ghosts and legends of the brickyard help ensure a history of tradition that is enhanced year after year, far beyond the boundaries of sports.

And the trashy chicks are hot too.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Urinal Cakes

Harking all the way back to grade school and continuing on to current everyday work life, one of the great pleasures is to excuse yourself and hide away in the bathroom to collect your thoughts and take care of business. Domestic visits are worlds apart from these public or work visits because you have to "share" the space with other guys. Some of you out there aren't abiding by the law of the land so we are going to clear the air here (pun intended).



First things first, if your entering the bathroom from 2pm to 3:30 you only have yourself to blame. That’s like walking down Main Street in Baghdad wearing an Eruzione jersey, you’re asking for it. So schedule your visits accordingly and that will save you a world of trouble. Also people have been known to commandeer the handicapped stall to nap for a good 15 plus minutes. Do not attempt this; it throws the balance of the universe into a tail spin. These are the people at the blackjack tables that hit on 18. If you need the boost drink coffee, red bull or talk to a co-worker that is known for bad breath, this will serve as smelling salts and have you refocused and productive again in no time.

Another pressing issue are illegal aliens and border patrol. By this we are not talking about Mexicans, we speak of those that are too embarrassed to use their own floor's facilities on a regular basis. We all know who these violators are because you see Hank from accounts payable when he has no reason to be on your turf. It doesn't take long for others on the floor to figure this scam out and they will make a mental note of your habits. This will also be a topic at happy hour, so save your family name the shame and play in your own ballpark. For those that do stay in their own territory, it is important to note that everyone entering is created equal. If you are a temp, intern or utility man, you have just as much right to the stall of your choice as the CEO or Chairman. Do not try to score points with the higher-ups by passing up your rights; they will respect you more for standing up for your convictions.

Once you are in the hot zone, everyone knows the three basic rules starting with don't let your eyes wander. We all know the stereo types for the black guys, Chinese folk and the Irish curse, do not try to confirm them in the bathroom… search the internet. Second is, never take the middle stall when all three are open (very similar to the empty seat in-between guys at movie theaters rule). Third is, always flush with an elbow or a foot. This should be known and if you were previously unaware of these, now you know and at least keep these in constant practice. Some other rules that need to be expanded on involve entertainment and excessiveness. Everyone brings something in with them to pass the time. Be that printed internet articles, a phone to text/pic message friends or the stellar newspaper. Food on the other hand is off limits by miles for obvious reasons but also for the fact that because you need your Funyuns fix doesn't mean that I need to hear the crunching while I am taking a smush. You are invading other's sanctuary and ruining their time. Alcohol on the other hand is only acceptable at home, in a drinking establishment or at a summer house. The excessiveness gripe is for those that either blow up the bathroom or those that are as loud as Monica Seles serving at Wimbledon. We know your bubbling up like Vesuvius and your about to cover the bowl like its Pompeii but please try to control this. And for the record it is acceptable for others on their way out to use a fake voice and say "....if your sick, go to the hospital", so do not take offence. A loud bathroom mate is the equivalent of someone saying "God bless you" before you sneeze. Nothing comes out right and you’re highly dissatisfied.



These are some simple suggestions that if people comply with, this will make it a bit easier for every customer. When you think about it, the crap house can be an enjoyable place for all if we all do our part and think of others. One hand washes the other... and I hope you are using soap because everyone knows you've been pumping out the Babbyruth's for the past 20 minutes.


helpful websites:

http://www.pedagonet.com/fun/flashgame9.html

Monday, May 22, 2006

SNL vs IRL

Not only was the field set for the 90th Indy 500 this weekend, but it was also the season finale of Saturday Night Live. Unsuprisingly, the SNL finale was terrible, but in keeping with the May madness theme, lets examine the SNL cast members with their IRL counterparts.


Darrell Hammond is Al Unser Jr.
Shouldn’t each just give it up already? Darrell Hammond is arguably the best pure impersonator in the history of the show, and little Al is one of the best to ever get into an Indy Car, but who are they fooling any more? Hammond has been on the show 10 SEASONS! (longer than anyone in SNL history) and much like little Al, the only reason he still hangs out is because he has nowhere else to go. From now on, you can call each of these guys Wooderson, because they both are clearly the creepy old guy still hanging with high schoolers at the moon tower.

Seth Meyers is Dan Wheldon
This season Seth Meyers became one of 3 head writers for SNL (not that you would know, because for some reason it’s cooler to think that Tina Fey does everything herself.) Wheldon and Meyers both seem to have all the tools to excel on the job. Meyers has the build and mannerisms to play any type of sketch character, and Wheldon has the skill set to excel on ovals or roads in any car. And yet, neither gets you really excited about anything they do. Nobody’s ever quoting any brilliant delivery from Seth Meyers, and his John Kerry impression was so boring that it actually made the real John Kerry look animated by comparison (which I think is a bad sign for a “comedy” show.) Likewise, nobody cares that Wheldon won Indy and the IRL title last year – they’re both just boring.

Horatio Sanz is Tomas Scheckter
Both are great for driving any sketch/car full-speed into a wall. If you want professionalism, look elsewhere. They’re both out of control disasters.

Andy Samberg is Marco Andretti
Both are the golden child of the moment. One is starting 9th on Sunday, the other is treated as the 2nd coming of Sandler thanks to “Lazy Sunday”. Lost in all of hype is the fact that both owe a heavy debt of gratitude to the support team. Watch Marco in any interview – the kid is a mess, and his mistakes the first 3 races of the season cost him big time. Still, he’s on the best team in the league and they have been able to save him from his own ineptitude. We’ll see what he does Sunday, but I predict another sub-par finish. Likewise, when Samberg arrived at SNL, he brought 2 of his friends/writing partners with him, and while he has been overhyped as a star, it’s Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone who deserve much of the credit for not only “Lazy Sunday,” but for actually brought a slight bit of freshness to the SNL writing style.

Amy Poehler is Danica Patrick.
Yeah, they’re the two hot chicks, but beyond that, they both have the skills to excel despite subpar equipment. The panoz chassis has made it tough for Danica, and it will most likely keep her out of contention on Sunday. Still, she qualified 10th with a car much worse than she had last year, and a chassis that is inferior to every other major team at Indy. Likewise, Amy Poehler is constantly overused and forced to try and brighten up dialogue that is clearly inferior to what she herself wrote during her Upright Citizens Brigade era. The smart move would be to add Poehler to the writing staff, which is why it won’t happen. Both seem to be slightly over hyped as well, but they have the good to deliver when it counts.

Tina Fey is Sam Hornish Jr.
Have you heard that Tina Fey is the head writer? Probably not – they like to keep that under wraps. Every mention of Fey seems to state that her writing has “made the show fresh again,” and this past Saturday’s Weekend Update was a perfect illustration of her “cutting edge” humor. The segment featured stinging impersonations of not only Taylor Hicks, but also Whitney Houston. Whitney Houston! Way to go for the jugular there! Who’s next on the chopping block, Nick Lachey and Debbie Gibson? Under Fey’s watch the show has become as fresh as Neil Young protest songs (another “scathing satire” that was in Saturday’s show) but she’s still piling up the accolades. I believe Saturday may have been her last show, but that wasn't completely clear. Likewise, Hornish has been “the next Rick Mears” since he came onto the IRL scene 7 seasons ago. But under the watch of Penske racing, it’s been all expectation and no real results of note (he’s only finished Indy 2 times in 6 starts). He’s starting from the pole Sunday, yet wrecked his car in practice yesterday, and I’ll be very surprised if he finishes in contention Sunday. It’s now or never for Hornish to produce.

Chris Parnell is Buddy Rice
Both came onto the scene and bombed initially. Parnell was fired from SNL, and Rice lost his ride after spending his rookie year looking like a complete tool on and off the track. Parnell got his job back and has developed into the most reliable member of the cast, and after Rice went back to basics and decided to shut up and drive, he lucked into a ride with Rahal Letterman, and won Indy in 2004. Both are content to stay in the shadows (Parnell let Samberg get the accolades from the “Lazy Sunday” whirlwind, and Rice has no problem with his teammate Danica’s never ending hype.) These are the guys everyone should root for.

As for Sunday, it’s Helio Castroneves’ race to lose. He’s the best driver on the track with one of the top 3 cars. If he stays out of trouble, I don’t see anybody defeating him. And if SNL wants to become anything other than a stale boring shadow of what it once was, it has to happen through writing. Let Fey go work on her sitcom, and develop sketches around the writing sensibilities of Amy Poehler, Fred Armisen, and Samberg’s cohorts. And knock it off with the impressions of American Idol contestants – that’s just sad.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Raising the Bar: A Guide to Proper Bar Etiquette


Q: Where is the only place you can go where 1 guy can be celebrating a big day, another can be drowning his sorrows? In the same place a crack of a bat results in roars that drowns out music blaring from speakers? A place where you'll have just as much of a chance to catch up with old friends as make new ones?
A: A Bar!

The Bar is an universal spot in which magic can happen at any moment. Im not talking about clubs or trendy wine spots where drinks take a backseat to trendiness. Im talking about the bar/pub that combines courtesy and good humor with a hard wood bar and cleanly steamed pint glasses.

There is of course an etiquette to bars that many people overlook. In an attempt to carlify any erroneous information that is lurking out there, i have listed below the offical rules of Bar Etiquette.

1) Always say hello to your bartender. No matter how bad a day you've had - they are offically your server for the duration of your stay and they should be respected and acknowledged in a proper manner.

2) Always tip. Sure you're paying for your drink - but that price goes to the management. You barkeep is the middle man between you and the owner - and he should be rewarded with some type of payout. If the wise men could travel through the dessert for 3 days and brings gifts, you can leave a dollar a round.

3) At the same time, the bartender should buy you a drink back every 3rd round. Its just tradition. In irish bars they will usally knock on the bar to let you know its on them or if you are mid drink, but an upside down shot glass in front of you for your next round. If a bartender does not buy back after 3 rounds, you can discontinue tipping for the rest of your stay.

4) If you are meeting someone at a bar and are there first - you MUST make it clear in a loud voice..."Im meeting my friend ___ here and im a little early" before you order your first drink. That will allow other patrons to know you are neither crazy nor a real bad drunk who drinks by himself for fun.

5) Do not eat the bar peanuts if you are only staying for one drink.

6) Do play a few songs on the jukebox if you are staying for awhile, but under no circumstances are you to play a bunch of crappy songs as you leave to annoy the other patrons.

7) Encourage either a kitty or the round system. A kitty in a collection of money from everyone in your group (usually $20 each) that sits on the bar and is never touched. When the kitty gets low you either tip out and leave or put in another round of kitty money. The round system is universally known and anyone who leaves or cheapskates his turn (meaning he has been drinking top shelf liquor for every other round and now orders a Pabst can since he's up) in the round is automatically labled a bad bar buddy.

8) When economically feasible - send a drink down to the old man in the corner of the bar. He will appreciate the gesture, thus restoring his faith in the youth of america. He also might come over and tell you some great stories.

9) Refrain from counting how many beers you've had - that's JV.

10) Always shake the bartenders hand or give a yell to say thank you on your way out. Its a nice tip of the cap to a job well done and it makes you have regular status.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Ponce de Leon

Why live longer? We are constantly bombarded with products and procedures that are better for us and help in some facet of our lives. Now untraditional antioxidants are creeping into desserts with little or no resistance. Conversely, we are seeing a decrease in bacon related dishes. The other day someone offered me green tea ice cream after the main course was finished. Why not just serve it with creamed spinach and then sprinkle some asparagus shavings on top. This is all due to the fact that people want to have the life expectancy of George Burns.

When you think about it, people have imminent pain in their future. Older generations don't speak of this pain because they know suicide rates will climb like a sherpa with life insurance. I believe the pain all starts slowly with the awkwardness of asking a future father in-law for "permission" then it continues on with the 15 year high school anniversary. Mix in cleaning up your children's 3am vomit fest and your 30's are tolerable but not bad. It’s later on in life when it all does go from bad to worse, your being fitted for dentures, they fix you with telescope glasses and your trying to pass a stone the size of Gibraltor. Then the mother of them all is the old colonoscopy exams that happen every two years. Legend has it that Vince Lombardi died of colon cancer for the mere fact that he wasn't going to let them probe up the old dirt road. This is the man that won seven NFL Championships and the league even named the Super Bowl trophy after him! Let that sink in. This guy never lost and here he is, taken down because he was a man’s man. There is no escape.

Socially the waters might get a bit choppy with the fact that social security could collapse, Iran might have a nuke and every other gloom & doom report in current events. Its not quite "We didn't Start the Fire" but close. Cheers to you Piano Man. Its extraordinary that with all of this staring people in the face, they want to extend out their life line to try to hit triple digits. Thinking about it, I guess the elderly have their spoils. Who else could get away with doing 35 in the left lane, farting in an elevator and wearing a hair piece that Marv Albert would snicker at? Waiter, a round of green tea ice cream!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The mind of a madman

This will come as a shock to many people, but there aren't too many "celebrities" running around Indianapolis on a day-to-day basis. Routinely you'll see various Pacers or Colts walking around downtown, but the city is laid back enough that it's just not a big deal to see Marvin and Peyton having dinner downtown. That said, there have been two occasions where celebrity encounters in the Circle City have left me both impressed and slightly shaken.

It was a Friday afternoon just before Christmas-time, and I was in the Avid suite doing some last-minute editing on a project. From behind, I heard my boss giving somebody a tour of the company. I turned around just to say hi and wave to whoever was getting the tour, and standing before me was former rejected Circuit City employee and the city of Detroit's man of the year, Ron Artest. I walked over to shake his hand and he walked in the edit room, and proceeded to ask what I was working on. He asked questions like a curious 4-year-old; what was the video about that I was working on? How many video cameras did we have? Where did I get the graphics that were used? When was it going to be on TV? And as I answered each rapid fire question, I kept thinking to myself that this guy could take my head off for no apparent reason at any second.

After his tour, Artest was scheduled to have a meeting with my boss about our company re-doing the website for his record company, and about a documentary that Ron wanted to make about growing up in Queensbridge. Ron told my boss that he had ordered lunch from downstairs, and asked if anybody minded if he ate his lunch during the meeting. After being given the go-ahead, Artest headed downstairs to Hooters, which is located immediately underneath our office. (On a side-note, there is no worse physical feeling in the world than going into work hung over and catching a whiff of overnight frying grease while waiting for the elevator.)

When Artest walked back into the office, he was carrying two buckets. One was empty, and the other was filled with 50 Hooters chicken wings. In the course of a 60-minute meeting, Artest calmly and deliberately downed 50 wings, placing each bone into the empty bucket when he was done with it. I kept wondering how many more he could eat, and he just downed one after another like a machine. It was an impressive display, and when he was finished, you probably could have given him 50 more and he would have tore through them without a problem. The meeting ended and Ron said he was really excited to start working with us. Meanwhile, we all marveled in the overall surrealness of what had just been witnessed.

Unfortunately it was not to be, as the very next day Ron had his final blowup with the Pacers, eventually getting traded for a soft European who plays no defense and sits out of playoff games. For months the Artest story would set the standard of "weird run-in's with celebrities" stories, but it would later be dethroned by one of the legends of the state...

TO BE CONTINUED

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Touch of Grey

So Mother's Day 2006 - at a small italian restaurant in the east 60's - about 15 or so families of different ethinicities and creeds are all conversing over good wine and great food. All of a sudden a slight hush comes over the restaurant in a wave that starts at the front bar and carrys through to the back. What you ask was the hush for? "Meredith Grey" from Grey's Anatomy had just entered the building. Shorter and more thin (hard to imagine i know) then you would guess from her TV persona - Ms. Grey (i don't know her real name and im too lazy to look it up on imdb) entered with a party of 8-10 people and then dissapeared to a back table away from the common-folk. While there was a small rush of excitement, within seconds the conversations at the surrounding tables resumed - and not of the ABC hit drama's star that just walked in - but rather who cousin Bob was dating, why aunt susie can't figure out how to set up her voice mail, and of course, the neighbors inconsiderate habit of mowing the lawn at 8am on saturdays.
This "celebrity" sighting led to a personal debate...do i get star struck and if I do, what celebrities would conjur up that reaction? I tend to be an almost anti-celebrity person. If i see a celeb i try not to look twice, i try not to impose on their privacy, and in the rare times i do cross paths - i subscribe to the notion that a hand shake and "Im a fan of your work" is much more appreciated then an autograph request or a picture being taken. So who would be a celeb that would get me excited?
I started with my sports heroes and i came up with a few different answers. Just looking at 2 of my favorite teams, the Yankees and the Celtics, i came up with different answers. With the Yanks, i was a die hard Don Mattingly fan. I always heard stories about Donny Baseball being seen at the local Grand Union and how he was good to kids and nice to the parents. My only interaction with the man who shares my birthday (4/20...smoke if you got 'em) was a letter i sent to him in 5th grade which received a reply from his fan club and a signed photo. As for the Celtics, I loved Larry Bird. While Larry might have been a Dr. Jekyl on the hardwood in terms of concocting game winning shots and heart stopping plays, he was allegedly a Mr. Hyde off it. From all accounts Larry Legend is kind of a pissy guy who drops Bob Knight type statements without the General's charasmatic charm.
With athletes coming up a push, i went to musicians. That lasted about 5 mins...I don't think i would want to meet any musician i like. They all seem pompous and self-indulgent which makes for a sick hidden track, but not really a good encounter. I can tell you from personal experience, i almost ran over the asian guitar player in O.A.R. and he was pretty salty about the whole situation. I mean if he's crabby, just imagine how Bono would be.
Finally i got the actors/actresses. There are literally thousands of "celebrities" in Hollywood ranging from the imortal Sean Connery to the guy who lives next door who was in a Denny's commercial. Technically they are both actors. I don't think id care to meet Paris Hilton, Leo DiCaprio, Toby McGuire, or any of the young hollywood generation. I would however like to meet one celebrity in particular...Vince Vaughn. Here's a guy that has a comedy resume of hit after hit, he tried his hand in drama's only to see them blow up in his face, so he know sticks with what works. He was Trent in swingers who got the girl, he was Ricky Slade in Made that used the same lines as Trent but with much different results, he was Beanie in Old School, Wes Mantooth in Anchorman, and Jeremy in Wedding Crashers - but before all that he was Jamie O'Hara who put it on the money when it counted to get Rudy on the field to make the magic happen. That's a man who's hand i would like shake

Old enemies and new friends.

Kokomo.

Most people know it as a tropical paradise referenced by the Beach Boys in their terrible contribution to the "Cocktail" soundtrack, but that couldn't be farther from the truth. Imagine being a 10-year-old child in Indianapolis listening to the adult-contemporary station as you drive to the mall with your mom. I was so confused by the lyrics to "Kokomo" because even at that age, I knew there was nothing glorious about that city, and certainly no reason that anyone would ever want to "get there fast and then take it slow." Later I discovered that the song was written about fictional islands, and not the city in Indiana, but that didn't change my distaste for Kokomo. It exists solely as a collection of 11-straight stoplights between South Bend and Indianapolis. Many trips to and from Notre Dame games have involved me sitting at any number of those stoplights (none of which are ever timed properly) and sighing in despair about my complete hatred for the city.

But as I realized last Friday, even Kokomo has a ray on sunshine that spills through the depression and Delphi plants. An establishment called "The Hiphugger" was always known in statewide lore as being the finest Gentlemen's establishment in the state. It had the rep of being the place to go to fraternize with wholesome midwestern ladies. As my friend Matt is moving to Chicago this week, we realized that we needed to finally take the plunge and brave the drudge of Kokomo to see what the hype was all about.

First thing of note at The Hiphugger? A $3 cover. God bless America. After a few $11 pitchers, it was clear that this bar was a real friend to the Midwestern workingman. For $10, not only do you get a friend to "chat" with for a song, but they tend to enjoy the physical contact, so it's OK to be all hands. But even in the most affordable and unassuming strip clubs, you must always adhere to rule #1: Never believe ANYTHING that is said to you by a stripper. I can't stress this enough, and it's a rule that should always be followed in life with NO exceptions. If she seems upset that some jerk just touched her inappropriately, she's looking for a sap to believe it. If she says she's nervous because she just started (a story I heard from 2 different ladies), don't buy it. Once you accept this fact, it takes away the thought process and just leads to an enjoyable evening of making new acquaintances.

Oh yeah, and the Beach Boys suck.