A List of Firsts II

First Concert:  Eric Clapton and Muddy Waters in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.  First and best. I must have been about 16.  I remember it well.  I was supposed to drive that night but earlier in the day, I had a terrible accident, another first, in the parking lot of Skaggs Albertson in North Little Rock.   A speeding El Dorado broadsided me as I was leaving the lot.  No injuries thank god, but the family cruiser, a 78 Impala was practically impaled.  The worst thing was I didn’t think I’d be able to go to the concert, and feared I’d leave my friends without a ride too.  Fortunately, HD, my guitarist friend stepped up and got us there.  It was festival seating and we arrived early and walked right up to the front of the stage and stayed there all night.  I was there to see Clapton, so when Muddy walked onto the stage, I hoped it’d be a quick set.  And then he started playing and blew me away.  I just stood there with my mouth open in awe the whole set.  Clapton was great of course, but Muddy, one of Clapton’s idols and a clear influence on his music, was the show.

First Computer.  It was a Leading Edge, with two floppy disk drives and no internal hard drive. It was a pre-Windows machine running DOS.  This was back before the days of the Internet if you can imagine such a time.  All I could do with the thing was type and save documents to a floppy disk, but unless you are my age or older, you probably can’t imagine just how revolutionary word processing was back in the day.

First experience with the Internet.  The dial-up thing with AOL was a trip and a very slow one at that.  And e-mail – totally cool.  My first free e-mail account was with Fastmail.  It had a .fm suffix.  A lot of people tried to correct me when I gave out my email address.  They’d say, oh you mean .com or .net and I’d say no .fm and they’d think I was stoned or something.

First shot.  A shotgun.  The kick almost knocked my arm off.  No one told me it’d kick like that.  It was a 12 guage single shot.  Maybe it was a cheap one, I don’t know.  I went duck hunting a couple of times with it, but never hit anything.  And the thing is, you really only get one shot with a single shot and you’d better be dead on. I was too cold to shoot straight and not really into the moment and when I did half-heartedly aim and pull the trigger, I just scared those mallards and drakes or whatever they were all away.  Who knows, it might have been that “extinct” ivory-billed woodpecker spotted in the woods of Arkansas.  Glad I’m a bad shot.  I’d hate to have been the one to inadvertently shoot the last one.  That’d be a bad first – the first to kill the last ivory-bill.  I gave that shotgun to my cousin who knew how to shoot it and I gave up hunting and guns for good.

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A List of Firsts

I’ve compiled a list of significant firsts, certainly not an exhaustive one, but one I feel comfortable disclosing to a general audience.

Reading:  I remember not being able to read when I was 4 or 5.  I could read the world around me even though I couldn’t yet read the word.   What I would have given to do it before I entered first grade, but there were other tasks to conquer first.

Tying Shoe Laces:  It just looked so complicated.  I thought I’d never learn.

Whistling:  Not easy.  I faked it pretty convincingly for a few years, by blowing out a high pitched screech – sort of like a ventriloquist.

Writing in cursive.  Also seemed complicated and it was.  Some letters I never got the hang of like the cursive capitals G and Z.

Shooting a basketball.  The goal was just impossibly high.

First bat in baseball.  I thought I was going to get beaned in the head, and I almost did.  Not sure 8  year olds should be out on the mound.

First fish.  It practically caught itself.  I picked up the rod and reel and there it was on the end of my line.

Swimming.  Didn’t think I’d ever get beyond dog paddling that first day.  I actually became a pretty good swimmer.

First flight.  I was scared to death, but fascinated.   I couldn’t have been more than 4.  I racked up a lot of miles though as a kid with my uncle the pilot who flew Cessna and Beachcraft planes.  To this day, I love flying.

First solo car drive.  I knew what I was doing, but I still thought it a little crazy for a kid to be allowed on the road with no supervision.  And it wasn’t long before the cops agreed too and issued me my first speeding ticket.  Man was my mom pissed.

First beer.  It was awful.  A warm Schlitz, but I don’t think it would have mattered if it had been ice cold.  Nearly made a teetotaler out of me at a young age.

First cigarette.  A Kool.  A dreadful cigarette. I nearly died.  I later  “smoked” with friends and picked up the habit when I mastered the art of inhaling, which took months.  I never could stomach menthol though.  Fortunately, I never became addicted and quit many years ago.

Sam Adams Brewery Tour

I moved to Boston in 1986, just a couple of years after Jim Koch started the Boston Beer Company, the birthplace of the legendary Sam Adams Lager.  A few years later, the brewery began offering free tours and beer samples.   As a young man fresh out of college, with a low paying job, and very little extra money for going out, I can’t believe I never did the brewery tour.

I finally did it.  Or I should say, we did it – my wife, her cousin and I took the last tour of the day, and it was packed full of tourists.  Judging from the out of town baseball caps, the Midwestern and British accents about, and the folks leaving the brewery with bags full of stuff from the gift shop, there were few locals in the house.

The tour guide showed us the boiler room, passed around samples of hops and barley and directed us to the tasting room where we were given a free Sam Adams glass to sample Boston Lager, Summer Ale and Cherry Wheat.  The cold beers served in pitchers tasted fresh.  I’d had them all in bottles before and prefer the Lager to most of the other Sam Adams offerings but do especially like the

seasonal  Octoberfest.  I don’t care much for wheat beers in general but I found the wheat based Summer Ale more refreshing than before, perhaps due in part to the sample being free and fresh on a sultry summer evening.  I also don’t like fruit in my beer as a general rule, but those clean Michigan cherries used in Cherry Wheat tasted surprisingly good, leaving me wanting another glass or two.

Though locals, we did have a guest from out of the country and used her as an excuse to visit the gift shop where we proceeded to buy a pack of Sam Adams playing cards and  2 glasses designed to enhance the experience of sipping Sam Adams Lager.

Mr. Koch, brewer, scholar and patriot – I salute you!

The Joy of Flying a Roadster

I’m in the market for a car.  If I were buying just for me, I’d look at some American muscle like the new Camaro or a Dodge Challenger.  If not a muscle car than a roadster, maybe a Mazda Miata.  I haven’t driven a roadster since I learned to drive a stick on my dad’s 1972 MG Midget.

There’s another car I’ve been looking at, and it can fly, literally, the  Terrafugia Transition, a flying car.  At $200,000 U.S., it’s a little out of my price range, and I don’t have a pilot’s license, but these are small details.  The company is based in Massachusetts so maybe I could haggle for a hometown discount. Anyway, the thing, and it does sort of remind me of a VW Thing, or a mutant VW Beetle, drives and flies on gasoline.  It’s kind of like a riding lawnmower with a hardtop that can take flight – no like a SMART car with wings.  And like the ultralight SMART car, it’s not terribly swift, with a top speed of 85 mph on the road, 115 in the air.  I wonder what the gas mileage is?  Can you imagine future mpg ratings, say 35 city, 55 air.

According to Terrafugia it’s actually not a flying car, but rather a roadable aircraft.  I’d call it a flying roadster, which sounds more like something out of the Jetsons.  And if they threw in a joystick and build in those Jetson sound effects, I’m sure they’ll sell a ton of them.

3 of 4 Europe Knocking on the Door

When I last posted, South America had 4 of the teams in the round of 8; 3 from Europe, and the black stars of Ghana.  Now Ghana is gone and so are 3 of the 4 South American teams, and 1, Argentina, fell to Germany 0-4.  Europe dominated in the quarters, winning all 3 matches.  I expected the Germany Argentina match to be close, but never imagined it would be a blowout.  Like Chile and Brasil in their elimination contests, Argentina unaccustomed to being behind, fell apart in the second half.

With Chile, Brasil, Paraguay and now Argentina out, South America’s only hope rests with Uruguay, who are the clear underdogs to win the Cup, at 14/1, but have slightly better odds of winning their match against the Netherlands at 6/1.

Of the European powers left, Spain, the favorite to win the Cup, had maybe the most difficult quarterfinal match, eking out a 1-0 win over Paraguay.  I’d say Germany is the team to beat, based on how well they’ve played in the tournament thus far, scoring 4 goals in three of their games, two of those wins against powerhouses – Argentina and England.

As an inhabitant of the “New World”, I’d like to see Uruguay, the last team from the Americas left standing, in the finals against Spain.  I think this matchup might favor Uruguay.  First, though, they have to take down the Netherlands, no small task.

New World Cup Rules Proposed

Soccer, Futbol, Football, or whatever you want to call the sport, needs to make some changes, especially in World Cup action.

First, no more ties in Group Play.  Just penalty kicks, that’s it.  I like overtime in the knockout rounds, but it seems just too much for the players.  One thing FIFA ought to look at is how many games are actually decided in overtime. So far in the knockout rounds, two games were tied after 30 minutes of overtime only to be decided by penalty kicks.  This extra time seemed like a waste of time.

Second, I don’t like the fact that if a player gets two yellow cards, or a red, he misses the next match.  FIFA did change the rules for the 2010 World Cup so that a yellow isn’t carried over to the semis.  If the players reach the semi finals, the card slate is wiped clean, but a player could still miss the finals if given a red card or two yellows in the game.  A red, I can understand, but two yellows and you miss the finals – that’s harsh.

Third, I’m tired of the whining, the play acting and the fake injuries.  The referees need to issue more yellows for stalling tactics.  And I don’t think there should be any added time.  It seems the referees just add on 3 minutes to the end no matter.  They should simply stop the clock if there is an injury or some sort of delay.

Fourth, I know this sounds a little crazy, but I’d like to see extra points awarded for difficult goals – a long kick like Ghana’s goal in the Uruguay match should have been worth 2 points.   Headers, maybe 1.5.  A scissors kick, 3 points. A free kick and penalty kick, just 1, because hey, it’s free.  Like a free throw.

Fifth, FIFA should adopt instant replay technology so that a close goal call can be reviewed.  No team should be eliminated due to an officiating error.

Top 5 Reasons Not to Like team Brasil

Top 5 Reasons Not To Like Team Brazil

  1. They go by nicknames or first names.  This has to stop, starting with the coach, Dunga – his name is Carlos Caetano Bledorn Verri.  And Kaká, couldn’t they come up with a nicer nickname like Speedy or Hammer or something – by the way his name is Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite.  Why not call him Rich – he no doubt really is that.
  2. Unappealing Jerseys.  Blue, Green and Yellow – I know these are the colors of the Brazilian flag, but must the uniforms contain all the colors of the flag?  In some cases the jerseys actually look like flags – see Paraguay.  Brasil, stick to green and yellow, it looks much better.
  3. Rough Play. Brazil is a physical team that will push folks around.  I’ve seen them commit some nasty and dirty fouls.  This is not rugby.  Their game is far from beautiful.
  4. Bad Acting and Whining.  This play acting and whining is especially popular among latin american teams – see Argentina.  Stop stalling, flopping, and contesting calls.  Just play ball.
  5. Brasil is not known for beer and wine.  Whereas, Germany and Argentina create fine wines and Holland and Germany brew some of the best beer in the world.  I know, I’m running out of material here.

Ok, having said all that, I like Brazil and Brazilians.  They are a nice people and have a wonderful country and many fine traditions, soccer being one of course.  But their soccer team is so good, maybe too good for their own good.  I’d like to see a team that hasn’t won one get a chance like, Uruguay or Ghana.

Immigration Reform Now

President Obama gave another great speech, this time at American University , in D.C. on comprehensive immigration reform.  The question I have is this, can he lead?  Under his stewardship, comprehensive health care reform passed, with no republican support, even though there were many concessions made, to the point that the bill is fairly tame and really cannot be called comprehensive, but it’s something, right?  Now the Republicans are calling for its repeal. This is what they’ll be running on in the Fall, despite the fact that about 50% of Americans favor it, or think it has enough good in it that it beats starting over from scratch.  Poor Obama has had a difficult time getting any cooperation from the Grand Old Party of NO.  Not very patriotic in my view, when the opposition party doesn’t even try to work in a spirit of cooperation, and find common ground where it exists, and it does exist and the GOP knows it. It’s all about politics; politics ahead of country.  The Rebubs with a kick in the butt from the Tee-Party are going for the big power grab in the midterms. They’ve fought him on everything: energy policy, Wall Street reform, the BP spill, the jobs bill which has stalled in the wake of Robert Bird’s death, and now immigration reform.

With respect to Arizona, border patrol has been a problem for years, but they way the Republicans make it sound, the undocumented began crossing the border illegally in 2008.  Obama has responded by sending reinforcements to Arizona, where there are more border patrol than ever before, and he is calling for immigration reform to get to the root of the problem.  We have a problem with a leak in the area, but it’s not at the border, it’s out in the Gulf, courtesy of BP.

I’m glad immigration reform is taking center stage.  We have 11 million or so undocumented living here.  Many who are of working age are doing just that, working…and paying taxes by the way, yes taxes, sales tax, property tax, even income tax with an IRS tax id. Oh, and don’t forget the tolls, fees, and that they send money home to their families, a lot of it going to ailing latin american economies, that might otherwise collapse without this support. And immigrants are raising families, going to college, those who can afford it, and some can and some lest we forget are quite gifted, even valedictorians – all in some way or another trying to live the American dream.  Why are people so up in arms about the undocumented?  It makes no sense to me.  It really doesn’t.  I hear they are a strain or drain on services.  But could you imagine what would happen if they were all deported?  There would be an immediate shortage of migrant labor, of building cleaners and restaurant workers.  Talking about a strain on services – try no services.

I agree with the President that we have to crack down on employers, but employers need the workers – crack down, yes, by fining them for exploiting the workers, and then requiring them to pay minimum wages with the benefits that they should be entitled to, based on the number of hours worked. I do think workers who do not have a criminal past should be given some sort of temporary work authorization, with a path to citizenship at some point down the line – it’s not amnesty at all, not at all.  That’s just a demonizing Republican buzzword.

I’m going to stop here, because this is getting long, but stay tuned, I’ll be writing more on my thoughts on the subject in the weeks to come.

Down to 8 and So. Am. dominates

Down to 8.  The elite 8.  Africa, South America and Europe, the only continents left standing.  And of the 8 teams, 4 are from South America, a continent with only 5 representatives in the tournament, posting 10 wins, 1 loss and 4 ties in first round group play.  All 5 teams, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina made it to the knockout round, and all but Chile, beaten by Brazil, have advanced to the quarterfinals.

Domination?  Not quite, but if the 4 teams all advance to the semifinals, guaranteeing an all South American final, then we can legitimately talk domination.  And the scenario could happen.  How about Argentina and Brazil in the final.  Of course, the unexpected could happen too – what about Uruguay and Paraguay?  Or Spain and Ghana or the Netherlands and Germany.   Anything can happen and probably will.  My prediction?  Paraguay over Uruguay (PU) 0-0 with Paraguay winning on penalty kicks.  Why, there is something about Paraguay’s clown outfits, those zany stripes that intimidate and distract opponents.  Yes, I’m going with Paraguay.