Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Joy Formidable Live in Seattle

Last night I went to a great gig here in Seattle at the Neptune Theater. The headliner was The Joy Formidable, a group out of Wales getting a lot of attention right now...and for good reason!

You can read my review of their new CD Wolf's Law by clicking HERE.

Suffice it to say that TJF came ready to rock and give it their all. Featuring the dynamo lead singer/guitarist Ritzy Bryan, the group performed a compelling and varied set of tear it up power chord rock, mellow acoustic ballads and mid-tempo melodies. Favorites  for me were This Ladder Is Ours, Austere, Whirring, Silent Treatment and Serenade.

I'd highly suggest you check out Wolf's Law and their previous disc, The Big Roar. In the meantime, here are a couple pictures I took last night...

The Joy Formidable live on stage in Seatte - March 27, 2013

Ritzy Bryan of The Joy Formidable on stage in Seattle - March 27, 2013

Friday, March 22, 2013

Verbal Pet Peeves

We all converse with people all the work, at home, with friends, family, strangers, colleagues, etc. Over the years, I've noticed a few verbal habits a lot of people seem to have that really bug me. And guess what? I'm going to tell you about them. See if you recognize these annoying patterns and if they bug you as much as me...

"Well, a)..."
You ever notice how people will initiate an an explanation of something like they are going to go through several points - outline style - but then never follow up on that? As in, they'll say something like, "Well, I think a) there's no reason to support that viewpoint because of blah, blah, blah." From there, you'd expect them to say, "And b) not only that but..."

However, most of the time, people don't follow up with the subsequent points...they just say "a" and trail off after that. It's annoying and shows how many or most people cannot verbalize a liniar line of thinking or express more than one point about something before they lose track or - in some cases - are interupted.

My advice? Dont' use the "outline style" in answering questions. Or, if you dang sure to get a second point in.

"I could care less"
Really? You could? "I could care less" is a phrase people use all the time to express that they actually could NOT care less about something. I am not sure why it's so hard to say "I couldn't care less" instead. But, it's noticable and quite annoyong. Next time someone says that to you, ask them, "Oh, really? How much less could you care?" Or, say something like, "Oh, doesn't bug you that much then, right?" See what you get as a reply and then point out that they said the could care less.

"How are you doing?"
Do you really want to know how I'm doing? No. You don't. Or, at least 99% of the time when someone asks you that - no matter how well you know them - they don't. What they're really saying is, I cannot think of any other way of greeting you, so I'm going to ask how you are doing. It shows a lack of imagination and communicates that - actually - they don't really care how you are. And then, on the other end of it, you're usually forced to answer with soemthing inane (and probably not true) such as "I'm fine." That's lame too. The whole thing is a social device construction of falsehoods to make two people feel better about conversing.

You want to stop people from doing this? Two suggestions:

1) When someone asks you how you're doing - tell them. You don't need to tell a long story every time, but let them know. "I'm hungry." "My back is killing me." "I am sure loving how last night's game came out." Or whatever. Over time, your friends and colleagues will get the picture.

2) Don't ask people this as a greeting yourself. Better yet, when greeting someone, try and engage with them on something you know about them or think might be of interest to them.

OK, I concene this one is too much part of everday speech and I should probably just get over it, but does annoy me that people describe citizens of the United States of America as "Americans." Why? OK, get ready for this. "America" is a continent, not a nation - more accurately it is two continents: North America and South America. Moreover, North America has two other nations other than the U.S. on it - Canada and Mexico.

So, our people have taken manifest destiny to the verbal level and claim the entire continent every time we describe our nation or citizenry. It's just not accurate or correct to call the U.S.A. - "America." It's like Germans (or Italians or French) calling themselves "Europeans" and assuming everybody knows what they're talking about.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

At Long Last...Bobsledding!

This March, I did something I've always wanted to do. I took a ride on a bobsled.

Affinity for Bobsledding
Ever since I first saw this sport on TV during the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, I have been fascinated. The speed, the athletic ability needed to get the sled going, the bullet-like look of the sled, international competition...everything. Very cool.

A Team USA bobsled rumbles down the track
But, no mater how interesting I thought it was, where the heck is someone ever going to ride one? Certainly back in the 1980s, there was only one track in the entire North American continent - in Lake Placid. By 1988 Calgary had one when it hosted the Winter Olympics that year. So, I'm just saying, zero chance to experience the sport living in Seattle.

So, over the years I'd make a point to view the bobsled competition each Winter Olympics. Usually, it's dominated by European nations such as Germany (and in the old days the East Germany), Switzerland, Austria, Italy and similar. Until very recently, the only U.S. success was way, way back in the early history of the sport. None the less, I always thought there was something compelling about the competition...and of course always a team to root for in the USA.

And then there was the 1993 movie, Cool Runnings that told a Hollywood-ized version of the real life formation of the Jamaican bobsled team - which, by the way, while obviously ironic given the tropical climate of Jamaica, is not all that absurd given the spectacular athletes they have in that nation.

In 2002, Salt Lake City hosted the Winter Olympics and another bobsled track was added to North America. And then in 2010 Whistler, BC hosted the Winter Olympics...building by all accounts the fastest bobsled/luge/skeleton tracks in the world.

Booking a Ride
Even though Whistler is about a five hour drive from Seattle, it never occurred to me that whoever ran that facility would have public rides available.

Then, this year we planned a ski weekend up at Whistler with some friends. For whatever reason, I decided to look into whether or not the bobsled run there had any public access. Lo and behold, yes...yes they did! For a price, you can book a spot on one of their public ride sessions. I knew I was in, but checked with my wife and the other couple we were to be at Whistler with to see if they wanted to do this too - and they did.

I booked us spots and looked forward to checking this sport out first hand after so long.

Our Bobsled Experience
We arrived at the designated time at the Whistler Sliding Center, which sits on the hillside above the Fairmont Hotel at Blackcomb, but not right at the track. There, we checked in, received a briefing on what to expect and got our helmets. The assembled group was pretty big. Since the sled can only hold three people + the driver, the groups were broken up to accommodate. Of course, our group was four people. That meant that one of us had to go alone with another two people. The Sliding Center team had already made that person me, so we just stuck with that. Diane and our fiends Kristi and Chris would be a group, and I'd go with another couple who were there own group of two. Not idea, but OK whatever.

The Whistler team drove groups up to the track where we stood at the start line.

Ready to bobsled!
Now, we were not starting at the very top start line, but rather about a third of the way down from there. They never said why this was, but it probably has to do with avoiding extremely high speeds and G-forces that any sled - filled with pros or novices - would generate if starting all the way at the top.

We also for the first time saw the sled we'd be going down the track in. The staff said that this version was "the luxury" model compared to competition sleds because it had higher sides, padded seats and cords to hang onto inside. In competitions, you would have lower sides so it'd be easier to jump in after pushing the sled to its start, you would not have seats and you would not have anything like chords to hold onto.

The sled we rode
My group's time came up and we got in. The other two people in my sled were a couple from Australia. The guy was quite tall...6ft 6 maybe and in good shape...and his girlfriend small. I'm 6f 2 and (I believe) in good shape. Anyway, he joked that with me and him in the sled we were bound to have the fastest time.

With this "public" sledding, you don't push the bobsled yourself and jump in. Back at the check in center, the lady there said that the reason they don't do that with us is that she could "guarantee that not all of us would get in the sled." I am 100% sure she was correct. So, instead, we took our seats one in front of the other and all behind our driver. With the construction of the first class track for the Olympics, Whistler has become a haven for bobsled teams - new, old, training or otherwise. So, there is no shortage of drivers willing to take some tourists down the track for a little extra dough.

In the sled with my new Australian friends. No driver yet.
Sitting at a standstill, the track manager gave us last minute instructions on how to ride. Among the things he said was to grip onto the chords on the inside of the sled walls for balance and to push out with our arms against the inside of the sled. Both these actions help cement your spot in the sled as it jolts down the track. He also said that while competitive bobsled teams all duck down behind the driver for maximum aerodynamics, he encouraged us to keep our heads up and look around as we went down.

And that was that. Next thing you know, the driver jumped in, the track staff slapped down the visors on our helmets and shoved us off down the track.

Push start from the crew
So what was it like? Wow. I'll just say wow. The push got us going, but not too fast. This changed quickly. The sled picked up speed and as it entered the first turn it rode up just a bit on the curved wall. From there, the sled just seemed to accelerate. All of a sudden we were absolutely ROCKETING down the track. The white walls blurred by, the roaring sound of the fiberglass and metal bullet announced our presence and I was loving it. Again, wow!

Inside the sled, you move around a little bit...kind of a shaking, but not too bad in my opinion. As for what you can see, well, moving your head around a lot is not too advised because of the speed and G-forces. You don't want to hurt yourself. I kept my head as still as possible and looked around just with my eyes. Mostly what you see is the track in front of you. It was fun to see us climb the curving walls in the turns and see how straight the driver could keep the sled in the flat straights. Right at the end of the run, the sled hit the biggest turn. This meant we were at max speed hitting the longest turn...and that generates the most G-forces on the body. From there, we straightened out and hit the finish line and then the inclined section that naturally slowed the sled to a stop in the finish area.

Coming into the finish
All of this was exhilarating and a bit scary...exactly what I thought it would be like. The sensation of speed was unlike anything I'd experienced before. And the whole thing was over in about 40 seconds. Which, as it turned out, was the fastest time of the session at that point. The Australian was right.

As I stepped out of the sled, my two thoughts were: this was AWESOME and I WANT TO GO AGAIN RIGHT NOW! But, that was not to be. The whole experience you pay for only gets you one ride down the track. Want to do more? Come back for the next public session with your wallet or get involved in the sport. Neither are options for me. So, I reluctantly stepped out and onto the platform.

Next, I waited for Diane's sled to hit the track. Standing down at the finish, you could hear the track staff announce that the next sled was on the track. Very soon, you could hear the sled coming down the track and then it flashed by in one of the turns visible at the finish...and soon enough, Diane and our friends were arriving at the finish.

And with that, we were done. They unloaded from their sled, we chatted up one of the drivers for a few minutes and then it was back in the bus and back to the Siding Center where we returned our helmets and said goodbye to the staff. We made an immediate bee-line for Creekbread Pizza for dinner and to relive our runs.

All told, I am very pleased with our bobsled experience. If you get a chance, you should do this too. It really was as fun as I thought it would be and I was at long last able to fulfill one of my long term ambitions. Next time I watch the Olympics bobsled competition, I'll have just a bit more appreciation of what's going on and how it feels to be screaming down the track in one of those machines.

NOTE: All pictures in this post except the Team USA sled were taken by Marc Osborn. Pictures taken by Marc Osborn are not permitted for any use without prior written permission from him.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Sounders vs. Timbers - Round One 2013

View from stadium ramp pre-match
I attended the annual "derby" between the Seattle Sounders FC and Portland Timbers FC this past weekend in Seattle. For those of you not in the know, the two teams are in the Major League Soccer league and play each other anywhere from 1-3 times a year. In 2013 it's three times - two in Seattle, one in Portland. Last year it was the reverse. This time, 40,000 people attended inside Century Link Field in downtown Seattle.

While the Sounders own an edge in wins and losses over the decades that the teams have been playing each other in different incarnations, the animosity by Portland fans towards Seattle is clearly at a higher level that that of Seattle fans towards Portland. And indeed, this was evident last weekend by the behavior of the Timbers Army, the hard core support group for the Portland team. But more on that later.

Meanwhile, the game ended as a 1-1 tie. Seattle put in a spectacular goal in the first half, and then missed on at least two point blank shots on goal in the second half...leaving at least one goal unscored that could easily have been.

Portland had opportunities early, but missed. "stopage time," they narrowly snuck one into the Seattle goal to pull even.
Seattle Sounders vs. Portland Timbers - March 16, 2013 in Seattle

Two observations about all that:

1) Ties ain't fun, but they add up. Many people hate that matches in soccer can end in a tie. Yes, it's a bit unsatisfying for many, including me. But, the way MLS and virtually every soccer league in the world measures how teams are doing is on "points" rather than wins and losses directly. So, for example, a team gets three points in the standings for a win, one point for a tie and zero for a loss. The team with the most points at the end of the season wins the division. Teams below them are placed in order based on how many points they've earned. SO...a tie is not as odious as it seems on the surface. Both teams get a point. The season is long and even those add up.

2) "Prevent" play only prevents you from winning. Often in American football (NFL, college), when a team has a lead late in a game it suddenly stops being aggressive, goes very conservative on offense and plays "prevent" defense. This is meant to try and kill clock and preserve the win. However, equally as often, the team that is behind on the scoreboard tries extra hard and...because the other team is letting them...they can manufacture opportunities to score TDs or field goals. Well, the same is true in soccer. Teams with a lead often go conservative near the end to salt away the clock and get the win. This is what the Sounders did in the last 10 minutes or so of the match last weekend. Their offense basically stopped and their defense sagged into their own end...enabling Portland to pour it on and get shots on goal. And they put one in. So, give it to Portland for scoring, but equally so...shame on the Sounders for letting it happen.

Finally, back to the fan support groups - particularly Portland's. OK, right up front I will say that the Timbers Army showed up motivated and loud. Give them credit for that. Yes Portland, you have a vocal and dedicated core fan group. We believe that you love your team. And we certainly can tell you don't like Seattle. Great. also have an extremely lewd, rude and embarrassing fan supporter group. If the purpose of the Timbers Army is to showcase how moronic Portland fans are, then mission accomplished. I can only deduce that we were witnessing the drunken and juvenile spasms of a MASSIVE little brother complex felt by Portland fans about anything Seattle. Of course, it's ironic that the Timbers' sponsor is Seattle-based Alaska Airlines. That means every player and fan wearing a Timbers jersey is walking around supporting a Seattle company. Also ironic is that the beloved urban combat kilts I see many Timbers fans wearing are, you guessed it, produced by Seattle-based Utilikilts.

Anyway, exhibit A is the ongoing chant they executed quite well during the match that featured calling Seattle "shit" and baiting Seattle fans with the accusation that they, the Timbers Army, "don't hear a fucking thing." Because they were in unison and chanted this stuff over and over again many times, the stadium was treated to that quite clearly. Classy. Ladies and gentlemen...Portland.

Exhibit B is this picture. See how many Portland fans you can find giving the middle finger to the Seattle crowd. My favorite? The short guy who looks like a leprechaun giving the bird with authority.

Timbers Army in Seattle - March 16, 2013

Now, I'm not saying that a fan base has to be nice to their rivals, but come on people. Really? Chanting the F-word, flipping the bird most of the game and generally being lewd? What comes across is that you actually hate Seattle far, far more than you care one iota about your team. This does not reflect well on your group or your city. Seriously, it doesn't. You look like a-holes.

One last thing on Portland fans. As loud and obnoxious as they are when they're safe in their own supporter area, they're very tame out on the concourse when getting beers or food. And, they arrive and depart as a group directly to/from their buses. Both these behaviors are fear based. Sure, they've got the big beards, utilikilts and all the Timbers garb you'd expect from Portland fans. And sure, they're going to rant profane cheers and flip off the crowd from their seats. But, once outside of their cheering section, all of a sudden...silence and security guards. Why? Despite their pride in Portland, they know that in Seattle they're in "the big city" and they fear what they might actually run into.

So that sounds pretty harsh towards the Timbers Army, it's supposed to. I was not impressed.

As for the various Seattle supporter groups. I am 100% sure there is boorish and lewd behavior there too, and it's equally as bad. But, as a whole...Seattle fans do not openly and uniformly have a reputation as "a-hole." And, they don't hate Portland, the city. Most people I know in Seattle (including Sounders fans) really like Portland.

For example, you can read about my foray down to Portland last season to catch a Seattle v Portland match HERE. I had a great time.

There are two more games in this rivalry this season - one more in Seattle in August and the last in Portland in October. I'm going to try to make both those matches and - if so - will report what I see!