Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving! Remember all of our blessings today

Caroline and Zack were in charge of the turkeys this year, with the Gnome of Victory and Celebration looking on.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

I’m blessed. I know it and I don’t take it for granted after a tough spell.

I remember to pause on this day, and most others, to be sure, to take a moment and reflect on all the good things going on in our lives.

Adopting the boss’ relentless positive action approach, we’re going easy on identifying the turkeys this year.
Certainly I can never express enough thanks for my family and friends, who stick by and encourage me and guide me back to the proper path when I go astray, as I do.

We've spread out across the country, but still stay in touch through the wonders of modern technology – like the Words With Friends app!

Here are only a couple things I’m grateful for:

It was difficult to leave journalism and the people I worked with. But we're having all kinds of new adventures.
I’m thankful: That my wife and I both have jobs that we enjoy. Leaving journalism -- and a position at MLive that I loved, with people who I loved and admired -- was a difficult, difficult decision. But I’m proud to work for the governor. I believe in what he’s doing and know that our state will be much better off in the long run.  It’s been quite an adventure – meeting new people, seeing different people and experiencing amazing things.  A friend and former boss told me, “You’re in for the ride of your life.” I think he might be right.

The whole family gathered at Mt. Rushmore for presidential fun.

I’m thankful that my son is in his senior college and close to going out in the world. He’s known for years what he’s wanted to do, found a wonderful program with internships that placed him in the field. I’m proud of him, and it’s exciting to think about all the people he’ll help as a social worker as he embarks on his career. (It’s OK for Dad to be thankful, and still a little nervous and even scared.)

Turkeys! OK, everyone knows college is expensive. But the only time I feel that we’re not getting our money’s worth is when we walk out of the book store. Charging $100+ for most of the textbooks is, well, unjustifiable.

I’m thankful that Mom Nelson took us on an amazing family road trip to South Dakota! Mom knows that I’m a big fan of all things presidential, and there aren’t any bigger presidents than those on Mt. Rushmore. What a fantastic adventure we had, also exploring the Crazy Horse monument, museums, Big Rapids’ presidential statues, a missile silo site, the world’s only corn palace and the wild and wacky Wall Drug, where a giant jackalope attacked the Gnome of Victory and Celebration.  (He recovered.)

I’m thankful that we were able to visit Florida and spend time with Mom and Dad, Jenny and her family and John.  Here’s a call you never want to make: “Hi, Mom. You know how the flight is going to land at 11:30? It’s been delayed until 1 a.m.” And here’s a call you really, really don’t want to make: “Hello, Mom? You know the flight that was supposed to arrive at 1 a.m.? It’s now landing at 2:30 a.m.”  And here’s a call you dread making, especially at, say, 1 a.m. “Hello Mom, now they’re saying we’ll arrive at 4 a.m.” I’m thankful I wasn't’t told to get on the next flight back home! Being greeted at the airport at 5 in the morning is a sign of true love.

I’m thankful there is a near-endless supply of bad postcards. A fun hobby turned into a popular column on MLive that I can continue here at Mets Guy.

Turkeys: Sports writers who refused to elect Mike Piazza – or anyone else – into the Baseball Hall of Fame last year. Luckily the 2014 ballot just came out and the writers have a chance to correct this grave error and let Mikey take his rightful place alongside Tom Seaver as Mets in the hall!

I'm thankful: Did I mention I have awesome nieces and nephew? I don't get to see them as often as I like, but we still stay in touch. And I'm always on the lookout for things to send them. It's fun being the mischievous uncle.

I’m thankful that my buddy Will has been blogging through the 1,000 days until his 50th birthday with a favorite song and a story. It’s always a great read, and a wonderful life story. And my buddy Greg chronicles the ups and downs of our favorite baseball team – and the story beyond the story, told with passion and a sense of great community. Mets fans are a different kind of family.  
Some times being a band dad means standing in the rain most of the day in Detroit. But it's all good.
I’m thankful to be a band parent. OK, there’s a chance I used to poke gentle fun at band parents. But, through Caroline’s involvement, I've learned about the incredible work the kids do and all the things that go into a marching band show. As a parent chaperone, I get to help. I pretty much move the marimbas and not get in the way. But I get goose bumps rushing to get all the equipment on the field, stepping back and watching the kids put on an amazing show – and scrambling to get it all off the field. Walking onto the turf of Ford Field this past was a thrill I’ll never forget.

I've learned that even when I think times are tough, we are still so blessed. Today I'm making sure I look around and celebrate who we are with and what we have. Life is fragile. Embrace and appreciate those around you today.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Bad Postcard of the Week: Mystery bean stalk in Muskegon

Welcome to the 1950s idea of a theme park.

Once upon a time, people of all ages could be amused by walking through the woods and seeing wooden versions of nursery rhymes with an occasional deer safely frolicking among the Humpty Dumpties.

I discovered an entire postcard package of Deer Park, and we can start with our friend Jack.

The back reads: “DEER PARK, MUSKEGON, MICHIGAN:  This view shows Jack and the Bean Stalk at the entrance to Deer Park, along US-31 eight miles North of Muskegon in a beautiful 40 acre forest. You can feed and pet over 100 deer and fawn. Enjoy the picnic area and snack-bar.”

There’s some interesting punctuation and capitalization in there, but let’s stick to the front of our card.

If you remember the story, Jack is nearly banished for trading something important for “magic beans.”

 Everybody is surprised when the beans actually are magic, and a huge stalk grows into the heavens.

Jack climbs all the way to the top, where he discovers a giant living in the clouds and bad things start to happen.

So many problems.

Is this Jack, or the giant? We don’t know.

If we assume it is Jack, how is he holding on to the bean stalk? His hands are on his hips.

Jack seems kinda plump. I’m not sure the stalk would support his girth. How is it not bending over as it is? But they were magic beans, so we’ll assume it is super strong.

Our stalk does not seem exceptionally tall. Most of the surrounding trees are taller. Who knew that you just had to climb two-thirds of the way up a tree to find giants?

Let’s look at the bottom of the stalk. I’m loving the snow fence. Do you think that’s there because some people tried to climb the stalk? Or, did they think that some people might try to climb the stalk? Did they really think that someone loopy enough to climb a bean stalk would be deterred by a flimsy snow fence?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Bad postcard of the week: Parking in California must be difficult

Was there no other place to park?
Parking is a survival sport in New York. We end up finding spaces in all kinds of places, including some places where we probably shouldn’t. But we wouldn’t park on a tree.

This is one reason we are usually suspect of all things California.

So that’s why this week’s bad postcard jumped out at me.

The back reads: “DRIVE ON LOG:  This log was cut down at the turn of the century with a two-handed saw, a process which took 5 days! Even today, it contains enough sound lumber to build 10 homes! Drive-on log is located in Shrine Drive-Thru Tree Park at Myers Flat (50 miles south of Eureka) on the Avenue of the Giants.”

There’s a big unanswered question. Why?

Seriously, why in the heck would I park on a tree when there are plenty of other spaces around?

And if there was enough wood for 10 homes – a pretty useful thing – why are they using it to park on car?

Is there enough room between the door and the fence for someone to get out, or do they have to climb through the window?

Why did they spend five days cutting the thing down if they were just going to let it lie there?

It’s not like there were too many cars around in 1900, so did the first people ride their horse and buggy up there?

Sounds like the place is still there, according to the always awesome “Roadside America” site.

At the Shrine Drive-Thru Tree in Myers Flat, the star attraction offers passage through a tight tunnel carved into a naturally angled opening in the trunk. Steel cables securely anchor the tree; the owners told us they hadn't detected any measurable movement in their monolith, or anything that would discourage tourists from coming to Myers Flat. As enticing bonuses, the Shrine Tree park features the Step-Thru Stump and the Drive-On Tree, a fallen giant with a partially paved ramp up, so you can photograph your vehicle in off-road triumph. Kids love the attraction's intricately carved ‘treehouses.’”

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Bad postcard of the week: Deer hunting in Michigan, when the law catches up to the Doe Gang

Just another November day in Michigan

Well, the law finally did catch up to the Doe Gang.

Their crime: Looking all graceful while frolicking through the fields and eating the tomato plants in Mrs. Anderson’s garden.

So the law decided it was finally time to bring this gang to justice. The boys in orange set out a trap, leaving a bait pile of apples can carrots, the climbed up in their tree blinds with “The Enforcer,” ammo and a six of Bud Lite.

The sun had barely risen before the gang moseyed on over and started nibbling on their last meal. The law unleashed a rain of lead not seen since Bonnie and Clyde’s fateful day.

With much fanfare, their bullet-riddled carcasses were thrown in the back of Buck’s pick-up before being taken into town and strung up for all to see – especially the other gang members, presumably hiding out in the woods. “The Enforcer” was positioned there next to their swinging bodies as a not-so-subtle warning to the others. Stay the heck out of the tomatoes.

This carnage-inspired postcard is from 1954 and was sent from nearby Newaygo, where deer might outnumber people.

The back reads: “A day’s kill for three lucky hunters. Vacationland scene.”

Michigan’s firearm deer season kicks off this week, Nov. 15. This is a Very Big Deal. Not so much on this side of the state, but when I worked in Flint there everything came to a virtual halt as the men headed into the woods.

Best I could tell, the procedure then was to strap the deer to the roof of the car and drive around until it started to spoil. Bonus points if the tongue was seen flapping in the breeze as you sped down I-75.

OK, maybe it wasn't that bad. But this was all culture shock for me. As a New Yorker, my hunting is limited to parking spaces at the mall and Topps 1982 high-numbers in bargain bins.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Bad postcard of the week: Not-so-wondrous views of the Astrodome, the 'Eighth Wonder of the World'

Astros fans this weekend had a chance to take home some seats, turnstiles, on-deck circles and other treasures from the long-closed Astrodome.

But I’m guessing there wasn’t a mad rush to get to items from the Astrodome Club, shown here in all its Texas subtlety.

But first, a good story! I love the Astrodome. It’s an important place for baseball history and Mets history – and I boldly snuck in during a visit in 2009.

Here’s a portion of that post, and you can read the rest here. (There are some photos of what I saw during that adventure.)

The Eighth Wonder of the World still stands, though it has seen better days.

The Astros moved downtown and the Texans football team have massive Reliant Stadium, which towers over the first-ever domed stadium.

There’s a lot of Mets history in that dome, including what one author called “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” Game 6 of the 1986 National League playoffs.

So I figured I’d head over and just walk around the outside, taking some photos. The Texans wanted $8 to park, even though there was nothing going on at either stadium. A friendly attendant suggested I could park in the shopping center across the street and walk over.

After grabbing a quick turkey sandwich at Subway – proving that I had an official reason to park in the lot – I strolled over to see the dome.

It was sad. The mighty Astrodome, which inspired the team to change its name and even create plastic grass, looks pretty unloved next to the new stadium.

It has a new name – the Reliant Astrodome – but it appears there has been no maintenance on the building since the move. It looked dirty, and there were missing pieces of siding here and there.

I figured I’d make a lap, snapping photos near and afar.

Then, on the far side, I saw what appeared to be a truck ramp leading under the stadium. There were two swing-out garage doors, and one was open.
Hmm. I thought maybe I could walk down and an employee or kind security guard would allow me to poke my head in and snap photos.

So I slinked down the ramp, and as I got closer to the door I could see a little inside. It led not to some inner hallway, but to what was the centerfield gate. Off in the distance were the famous rainbow-striped seat sections, with light pouring though the panels of the roof.

I stood in the door. I looked to my left, and to my right. There were no employees to be found.



An adventure should have a little risk. If I had taken another step forward, I supposed it could be considered trespassing.

I pondered what would happen if caught. I was an obvious fan, with cap on head and camera in hand. No harm was intended. I figured I’d get a, “Hey! You’re not supposed to be in here!” and escorted to the door – or I’d run back to the car at the Subway before they could catch me.

After about 10 seconds of deep contemplation, I took a bold step into the Astrodome.

It was spectacular.

I started snapping photos, first with my camera then with the iPhone, quickly sending shots to Will and Greg Prince, figuring that I could be tossed out at any moment and knowing they'd like to share in the fun.

I stood were the outfield fence once was, heart racing and trying to absorb everything I could see.

I don’t remember if there were lights on, or whether the semi-transparent roof was allowing enough light in to illuminate the inside. But it was plenty bright.

The famed plastic grass was gone, the floor was hard concrete. The third base side was filled with those golf cart-like trams that I guess are used to drive fans in from the distant regions of the parking lots for football games.

The first base side was littered with folding chairs and other odds and ends. It struck me that the Astrodome was now the world’s largest storage shed.

After several minutes of not being discovered, I became a little bolder, and started walking into centerfield. Not too far, maybe 10 to 15 feet beyond where the warning track once was.

Turning around, I saw some old advertising signs, blank scoreboards and a sign reading “Home of the Houston Astros" with the orange and blue logo the team hasn’t used since the rainbow days, the design with the stadium in the middle and orbiting baseballs.

I looked at the light coming in the roof and wondered what it would be like for a player to stand in that very spot trying to track the flight of a fly ball.

I swear I could see Mike Scott and his scuffballs, the Toy Cannon launching bombs, Don Wilson and J.R. Richard and Jose Cruz and Cesar Cedeno and those magnificent rainbows.

t seems to me that it’s wrong to demolish history. I wish there was more left of Shea than plaques in the parking lot. But I don’t know if it is right to keep up an unused stadium.

So for now it stands -- a garage for trams and storage shed.

I stood there in deep centerfield, looking for ghosts in rainbow jerseys and wondering if I could walk deeper or even up into the stands for more views.

There’s a difference between boldness and recklessness. I’d experienced what I came for and far beyond. Intentional or not, The Astrodome offered a wonderful gift and I didn’t want to abuse it. I took a long last look and headed back out into the sunshine.

A short time later I came across a sweet “Astrodome, the 8th Wonder of the World” foldout postcard packet. It’s neat, with a bunch of photos of inside and outside the stadium.

But two of them show a part of the stadium I didn’t explore. And, if the postcard photo is an indication, not too many other people found it either.

Foldouts usually don’t have room for the kind of detailed backs we’re used to reading and searching for clues. These have only a title:

“The Astrodome Club Bar – Longest Bad in Texas (150 feet long)” and “The Astrodome Club – One of the private dining rooms.”

Both embrace the “ghost town” genre of bad postcards, where we get rooms and buildings void of all humans.

Let’s start with the dining room. Did they use enough red? And what’s the Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec rip-offs on the wall? Hey, Astros, that’s a stadium. Why is your club decorated like a cheap and tawdry casino on the wrong end of the Vegas Strip? Show us some sports or cowboys or other Texas stuff!

Now let’s check out the bar. No, wait. We can’t. It’s blocked off by the golden sash. That means that instead of getting a look at the actual bar, we get a close-up of the little section where I guess some employees sat and the golden sash.

So I’m sure none of those things awaited people who rushed into the Astrodome this weekend. The story said the sale was in advance of a bond request to convert the stadium into a convention center. Let’s hope the stadium remains in some way, because there’s too much glorious baseball history under that dome.