Thursday, April 28, 2016

I Rooted Against Michael Jordan, Or Don't Hate On Great



I rooted against Michael Jordan in every one of his NBA finals appearances as a player, and I was not alone. I cannot remember a single person I knew at the time rooting for him either.

In the spring of 1992, in the midst of his first three-peat with the bulls, I was in Yosemite on a high school trip with a several other classmates. I distinctly remember seeing some kid who we did not know wearing a brand new Bulls leather Starter jacket (the sports fashion of the time), and daring one of our group to go over and ask the kid how the Bulls were doing. We were certain the kid was just a bandwagoner and wouldn’t be able to tell us anything.

The kid knew nothing. We laughed.

Six years later, I was on vacation. We were staying right on the Nevada-Utah border, and I remember distinctly the local paper taking out a full page ad to say “Go Jazz.” I was in a border casino to watch the final game, when Jordan pushed off Bryon Russell for the series clincher.

The entire casino- the entire casino- knew it was a foul and several fellows near me began cursing Jordan out. Nobody there was rooting for Jordan. Not. A. One.

I mention all this now because you can hardly find anybody who will admit to rooting against Jordan during his glory years.

I did. I don’t say it boastfully, I say it truthfully. I say it because I am from the West Coast, and I rooted for those Blazer teams of the early 90’s to win a title. I say it because I wanted Charles Barkley to win a title in 1993. I say it because I thought wouldn’t it be great if the Sonics could beat the 72-win Bulls in 1996. I say it because John Stockton and Karl Malone should have won at least one title with Utah.

I say it because I rooted against greatness, against arguably the best player of all time, and I only appreciated Jordan and what he did after he retired a second time, and then came back with the Wizards. Then I wanted Jordan to succeed, and of course he could not.

I say it because I see so much vitriol and hate pointed at Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors. I say it because I see so many people wanting the Warriors to lose, to fail, to stumble.

I say it because the Warriors have done something incredible, are trying to win back-to-back titles and be part of the discussion with the Bulls and Lakers and Celtics as having one of the great stretches in NBA history. And I see so many people trying to tear them down.

There’s an “Eff Steph Curry” hashtag out there (but without the “Eff”). (Link NSFW) Every time the Warriors lose a game- at this point, even when they win- I see so much hate in every comments section out there.

But I see more than hate- I see people who will regret ignoring greatness. I didn’t watch much Jordan in his prime, and that I regret. I don’t regret not rooting for him, I regret not appreciating him while he was the best basketball player on the planet. 

And yes, there is a difference. I am a Giants fan but I appreciate Clayton Kershaw and Yasiel Puig because they are good. I can't refuse to watch great talent. Because I refused to watch Michael Jordan, and you're thinking I'm an idiot for doing that.

So, what are all these Steph Curry and Warriors haters going to think in 20 years? Exactly, they're going to realize that refusing to watch this lightning in a bottle was a dumb thing to do. I want to tell the haters that someday soon they will regret ignoring these past two seasons, these playoffs, and however long the Warriors can keep this up, because they too are refusing to appreciate greatness when it is right before their very eyes.

I ignored Jordan because I chose to ignore greatness while it was happening. I won’t make that mistake again. Nobody should make it in the first place. 

courtesy: GettyImages, SFgate

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The New Transportation Fix is an Old Transportation Fix


Dallas-area interurban ad, circa 1918
I’m enjoying watching local governments spend lots of money on consultants to try and figure out how to alleviate the growing traffic problems and having those consultants pretend to study long and hard before determining that short-line rail is the answer.

That’s because in the early 20th century, a lot of people started moving to the suburbs to get out of the industrial big cities. Factories were springing up in every city, and with no pollution controls the quality of life began to drastically decrease. Those who could afford to move out to the emerging ‘burbs did so. But they still had to get into the city for many reasons, including work. Cars were mostly for the rich, although Henry Ford was beginning to change that. The then-common single-person transportation ways- horses and bicycles- were too slow.

Hmm, a burgeoning suburban population needing efficient transport into the big city but not by car. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

The solution then, like the solution a hundred years later, is short-line commuter rail.

Mostly it’s known as commuter rail. Occasionally the agencies get fancy. In Marin and Sonoma County north of San Francisco it’s called the SMART train- Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit.
But what it is, when you get right down to it, is an up-to-date version of a romanticized part of rail service in the United States- the inter-urban.

The Inter-urban was the early 1900’s version of what’s happening now as rail slowly becomes recognized- I should say re-recognized- as the solution to the traffic mess around the country. Regular rail lines at the time were freight-oriented, as they are now (this, by the way, explains Amtrak’s dismal on-time performance. They’re running passenger trains on rails where freights have priority. This would be like 18-wheelers having freeway priority, and every time you saw one you’d have to pull over. Every. Time. Think about how many 18-wheelers you see on the highway every day. You wouldn’t get anywhere. That’s what Amtrak is up against). With the growing suburban population, many regional railroads built passenger-only electrified tracks and put streetcars on them. These then connected to the small city’s trolley lines to extend the routes.

Towns that you would never even think of having passenger rail had passenger rail when inter-urbans and trolleys were at their peak. From Lawrence, Kansas to Fairfax, California to Fort Smith, Arkansas to Nashua, New Hampshire, rail ruled suburban America. Chances are really good that your town had inter-urban or trolley service.

There are ways to figure this out without resorting to Google- at least immediately. Here’s Inter-urban sleuthing for dummies.

Phenomenal example of a too-wide four-lane road

Is there a former railway station that still exists and is now something else- most likely a coffee house or Asian fusion restaurant?

Do you occasionally see rail lines that clearly have not been used in years?

These are the obvious signs, even if you’ve never consciously put two and two together. But there are other, more subtle signals.

One is noticing that your town has dedicated bike paths that are not just painted lanes on the street. If so, chances are really good that the bike path was once an inter-urban or trolley line. Given how many dedicated bike paths have sprung up in the past 30 years across the country this is not a guarantee, but more often than not it is the case.

Chicago bike path example (1955/2015)
Secondly, an unnaturally wide boulevard or divided road that’s oddly bumpy because of different pavement gradients or really large things in the center splitting the lanes of traffic, whether that’s parking or trees or just a really wide grassy median strip.

In that case, there are two options. If it’s a four-lane divided road, it’s highly likely that the rail line ran on one side of the street, and the other side, instead of being two lanes in one direction, was a two-lane road. This possibility becomes patently obvious if one side of the boulevard abruptly ends at a coffee house or Asian fusion restaurant.  

The other option is that the rail line ran down the center of the road. This is the probable scenario if the road currently is too narrow to be a four-lane divided road, but just too wide to be a two-lane road. The trolley or inter-urban needed to have some extra space on either side of it, but not an entire extra lane. Essentially, when the trolley was running it became a three-lane road, and when the rail line was abandoned there was not enough space to make a four-lane road and have parking on either side of the street. Thus, the really wide center median and really wide lanes on either side.
San Francisco, unusually wide two-lane Valencia Street (1906/2012)

There is a third way to tell. It sounds more confusing to figure out than it actually does. And that’s if there’s a four-lane divided road with little parallel side roads that seem more like pull-outs, divided by curbs or unnaturally placed sidewalks.

If that road was built in the 1960’s there would have been no reason for five or six lanes of traffic divided by unnaturally placed sidewalks.

But if that road was built as the town was expanding in the early 1900’s, the layout becomes obvious: two dedicated rail lines on one side, a two-lane road on the other, and auxiliary roads on either sides where cars can pull over and park to use the shops.

Enough about history. The truth is that the inter-urban, or short-line rail, commuter rail, or whatever you want to call it, is the best solution to the traffic mess.

For those who claim self-driving cars are the solution, it isn’t. It may prevent accidents but it still doesn’t get cars off the road, it just changes the types of cars on the road. This is like claiming electric cars are the solution. Electric cars are still cars. So are self-driving cars. There may be less carbon pollution but there are still tires and every other automobile issue, including traffic.

Short-line rail gets cars off the street. Hundreds of them. At one time. Per trip. End of story. Have three 200-passenger trains, that’s 600 cars gone. Make it efficient enough that those 200-passenger trains make six one-way trips every two hours, that’s 1,200 cars off the road. Per train. With three trains, that’s 3,600 cars that aren’t on the freeway. Every two hours. That makes a big difference.

Right now, that probably doesn’t seem like a lot. But now imagine how much better things would be if there were 8,200 open parking spaces, wherever you are, in a typical 8-hour workday.

Now lots of anti-rail people who I talk to then ask me where those 8,200 cars will park so the drivers can get on the train. My answer is, this isn’t an airport. You don’t need 8,200 parking spaces in one spot. If there are eight stops on the line, and 25 people get on at each stop, there’s your 200-passenger train. But there aren’t going to be eight stops, there are going to be ten, or 12, or more. And those people aren’t going to all get to that station by single-passenger car. That’s what the bus or bicycles or other public transport are for.

This is another argument I hear a lot. “The buses aren’t going to the train stations!” Yeah, now they aren’t. Because there aren’t any trains running now. You’re telling me the city and county-run bus lines won’t add or modify routes so that buses can stop at city and county-run commuter rail stations? Governments might be ridiculous, but they’re not that dumb.

When people argue against commuter rail, I point to what the transportation “experts” said about BART, Bay Area Rapid Transit, the San Francisco subway, when they were trying to get it built.

Do you know what they said? They said BART would only be used three hours a day- during commute times. The other 20+ hours a day it would sit idle and nobody would take it.

Do you know that BART is now practically over-capacity every weekday now?

Do you know that BART wants to build a second tunnel under the bay to double capacity?

Do you now suspect that those transportation “experts” were paid by the auto companies?

Now, I’m not a complete foamer (that’s the term for passenger rail fanatics- the idea being they’re foaming at the mouth for more rail service). What I am is a realist.

Fact: There are too many cars on the road.

Question: How do you get people out of the cars?

Answer: You give them a convenient way to get where they’re going. I could give a damn if it’s rail or bus or boats or hovercraft. Rail just seems like the easiest solution, because 100 years ago when this exact issue came up it was the right answer, and I haven’t seen anything yet that tells me it can’t be the right answer now.

Now the timing of the trains is the other issue. I generally work till midnight. I have to drive because there are no real public transport options then. If the bus or train ran at midnight to where I need to go, I’d take it.

But that’s a story for another day. Let’s get the inter-urbans running again, and then we can get them running long enough into the night for guys like me.

photos: Dallas WWI interurban ad, hometownbyhandlebar.com. Chicago bike path, marmarinou.tumblr.com. San Francisco Valencia Street, sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com. San Anselmo, pinterest.com.


 

Friday, December 11, 2015

A Modest Bowl Game Proposal

There was a time when every bowl was decent.

There are too many bowl games. We knew that before the NCAA allowed three 5-7 teams to participate in bowl games (Nebraska, San Jose State, and Minnesota). We knew that before the first non-playoff meeting of two teams from the same conference in a bowl game since 1979 (Colorado State and Nevada from the MWC in the Arizona Bowl). Even though the NCAA claims that's okay because "they didn't play each other this year." (Honestly, that was the rationale.)

I came up with a disarmingly simple solution to the bowl game fiasco. Require bowls to include at least one team that finished in the CFP Top-30 playoff ranking. That would make a maximum of 60 teams participating in bowls- about half of D-1- and that would never happen because of the amount of teams that play each other, either in the playoff or otherwise. It would really end up being 25 or fewer bowls.

I think that's plenty. Don't you? The rankings only go to 25 now, but if all the bowls depended on the rankings I'm sure they could extend it to 30 pretty easily. In a bowl with only one CFB-ranked team then that team would be designated the home team. If they did it with 25 this year, the last "home" team would be USC.

By attaching the CFB playoff ranking system to the bowl selection process, it validates both the playoffs and the bowls. Why not extend it all the way down the line to the smaller bowls? I'm sure the Independence Bowl Committee would love to have at least one marquee name instead of Tulsa and Virginia Tech (sorry, Frank Beamer).

Yes, this would necessitate throwing out all conference bowl alignments and giving them all straight over to the CFB playoff bowl committee. But so what? The Rose Bowl is part of the CFB playoff and the Boca Raton Bowl is too good for it? Come on now.

Yes, it would also result in some fringe bowls sometimes having games and sometimes not. I would argue that this would make things more interesting. We care about the 68th team that gets into March Madness, why not get a reason for people to speculate on the Quick Lane Bowl matchup?

Besides, you know who owns these small-time bowls? There are separate bowl committees in each city, but a little Wikipedia research will show who actually owns the bowls. With the exceptions of the big guys, every mid- and lower- tier bowl is owned by.... well, you know who televises most of the bowls. They own the bowls. That's the reason most new bowls struggle to find a network. Because they aren't owned by that place that owns the rest of them. That's also the reason the Sun Bowl is the only bowl game on CBS. They are the only even semi-major independent bowl.

So why not tie all the bowls into the CFB playoff committee? It makes too much sense to me. Maybe that's why it won't happen. But it's worth talking about.    

Is there any possible reason to care about this game?
images courtesy: complex.com, pineapplenewspaper.com

The Legitimacy of the 1884 St. Louis Maroons

When the Golden State Warriors allegedly tied the longest season-opening win streak in professional sports, I felt compelled to write about that other team and its league on TownBallStories.MLBlogs.com. Still relevant now.

The Legitimacy of the 1884 St. Louis Maroons





photo: krispaulw.com

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Run Every Day From Thanksgiving to New Year's? Yes. It Can Be Done.


The author running.

I had never run more than seven days in a row until I heard about the Runner’s World Thanksgiving-to-New-Year’s-Day Challenge to run at least a mile during the year-end holidays. Of course even as a beginning runner I had heard stories of people who have run every day for 30, 40, and even near 50 years. Naturally, I considered those people not right in the head (not to say that many people consider me right in the head, either. But I digress).

The only time I had run at least seven days in a row was during a particularly stressful time at work, and the few people I told about my streak had differing opinions. The regular weightlifter said it probably was fine as long as I wasn’t running nine miles a day or something like that. The cross-fitter said I was probably going to damage something. Later, the cross-fitter claimed that any top cross-fitter could smash Ashton Eaton’s decathlon world record with a minimum of effort, but I had already stopped listening to his advice by then.

Nevertheless, the idea of “going streaking” was in my head. When I first heard of the RW Challenge, my mind was made up. 35 days or so in a row seemed very do-able. In addition, I had just moved and this seemed like a way to start things off right. Plus, it would let me explore my new town.

On Thanksgiving, I went for a morning run. My route was familiar up to a point, when I veered off to a new, untested portion of the trail. As tends to happen in these situations, I soon found myself not knowing where I was, and then in a mostly fenced-in private yard, which was really more like a ranch than anything else. Fortunately, nobody came out to yell at me, and nobody loosed the hounds to get the intruder. Still, I didn’t want to cross back through the property to increase the chances of either of those things happening. On the other side of the fence was the main road. Since there were no cars around, I hopped the fence and headed back, grateful that people tend to leave home during holidays.

The next few days I ran short distances, trying to figure out if a month straight was even feasible for a comparative newbie like me. I calculated that if I ran just a mile a day, I would do about 35 miles, a distance I would exceed in a normal month. Two miles a day would equal 70 miles, also a monthly distance I had exceeded before. The streak seemed more and more feasible.

I ran on. I discovered a new loop of about three miles. I cut it down to a mile and a half. I extended it to four. I reversed it.

After about ten days, there was a new challenge, although an inevitable one considering I now lived at four thousand feet elevation. It had snowed overnight, but not heavily. I had never run in snow before, having always said “forget it” every other time it had happened. I had instead gone for a walk or decided it was a good day to not go outside.

But this was different. This was part of “the streak.” Running a mile counted, walking a mile did not. Watching “A Hard Day’s Night” for the six thousandth time would not extend the streak. I had to go. I put on ski pants and felt like an idiot. I put on my lightweight running shoes and felt like a fool. I put on a windbreaker and a hat that covered my ears and knew I looked silly. I went outside and ran just over a mile on a short loop.

When I returned, my shoes were soaked and my feet were frozen, as were my fingers. But I didn’t care anymore about what I looked like. I was a runner and had done what real runners do- I ran despite the weather. I felt like I could do anything else that day, no matter how tough it appeared to be, and it would not be as difficult as running in the snow. I looked forward to the day where I could run when it was snowing.

The next day I ran with my regular running group. It was dark and 15 degrees when the run began. I ran four miles and didn’t care. I was a runner and knew I was going to complete the streak.

Over the next month I ran when it was snowing and when it wasn’t. I ran in my snow boots and I ran in battered sneakers. I ran in ski pants and I ran in ski liners. I ran in windbreakers, I ran in layers, and I ran in hoodies. I ran in the morning, I ran in the afternoon, and I ran in the dark. I ran when it was five degrees and I ran when it was 35 degrees. I ran just over a mile and I ran five miles. When the run group canceled one week because the weather was “too nasty,” I went out and did a mile anyway.

I ran close to 90 miles that December, my highest monthly total at the time. On New Year’s Day, despite being out way too late and having football watching parties to go to that day, I made time for a run. 

The next day I went out of town and the streak ended. I now understood how people could run 365 straight days, although I still didn’t understand why anybody would want to. Since then, I have rarely gone more than three days without running.

On Thanksgiving, I’ll start the yearly streak again. I’ll make time for it every day for more than a month, no matter the weather or the situation. I won’t run every day for 30 years. But 35 days or so in a row? That’s something anybody can do. Even if the cross-fitters tell you otherwise.