Sunday, August 30, 2009

An Apology to Reagan, Obama, and Ted Kennedy

I've lived in the DC area for 11 years. During this time I've run a few 5Ks, visited monuments, and played ultimate (that's frisbee) on the Mall and Polo Grounds. I've enjoyed cheap eats, cheap drinks, and cheap souvenirs. I've also been supremely disappointed with expensive eats (I'm looking at you 1789), enjoyed many a ride on the Metro, and gotten lost because L'Enfant used the Masonic symbol for major thruways.

The only new things left to enjoy DC are special patriotic events. The kind of events that cause people travel from far away to be a part of. Often they may only catch a short glimpse of a tinted limousine, but just being there is worth it. It's a once in a lifetime pilgrimage that should not be missed.

All of DC's Heavy-hitting politicos said their goodbyes to Kennedy except for me.

In the last few years DC mourned Ronald Reagan's funeral, handled the human onslaught of Barak Obama's inaguration, and mourned again for Ted Kennedy's funeral procession yesterday. These events have a common thread that links them across party lines.

I've missed all of them.

I've lived within an hour of these historic, once in a lifetime, never to be repeated experiences and never as much tried to attend them. Maybe that makes me a bad American. Maybe I'm just a lazy DC metro resident. Or maybe none of my excuses are valid.

Reagan's Funeral - A procession for a president is the grandest of all DC affairs. Inaugurations happen every 4 or 8 years, but dying presidents are rare. Reagan passed away in 2004 and I thought it was more pressing to save my vacation leave and work in my Shirlington cubicle instead of viewing Reagan lie in state.

I dropped the ball on attending this one.

Obama's Inauguration - I viewed the entire proceedings, but chose to avoid the sea of people and cold toes by watching it at home. One of these years I'll catch the inauguration of a new president.

Kennedy's Funeral - Yesterday's procession wasn't as hyped as Reagan's, but I was well aware of the planning. Instead I chose to go food shopping and get a haircut. The weather was plenty warm and the route was Metro accessible, but I needed my chocolate-vanilla Jell-o pudding.

So I'm 0 for 3 for rare DC experiences. I already struck out, but maybe, just maybe, I won't have an excuse to miss the next one. Unless I'm working, the weather is bad, or it requires taking the Metro.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Arrow Sign Spinning - The Next Great Sport

Where can you see Olympic level baton twirling, but not feel ashamed for enjoying it? Drive on Wisconsin Avenue/355/Rockville Pike/Frederick Road and look for the impressive moves of arrow sign flippers. It's the best in retail rhythmic gymnastics.

A 7-minute YouTube documentary must mean it's legit.

Because there are so many competitors with basic flipping skills, little separates the talent. You've seen one flipper you've seen'em all. All sign flippers are males, between 16 and 24 years old, getting paid $15-20/hour to burn in the sun and show their sleights of hand. It's a scene repeated every other traffic light and I can't stop watching.

Arrow sign spinning needs a Tony Hawk 900 move to advance the profession and artistry.

The spinners hawk signs for mattress stores, condominiums for sale, and furniture stores forever claiming they're going out business. Not only are the businesses repetitive, but so are the moves. I will never appreciate the more intricate moves, but I do notice people who do more than just spin the sign around their bodies.

The song may not be great, but spinner Matt Doolan keeps it interesting.

We've reached the pinnacle of signage performance. The tricks are the same including rotating the sign clockwise and counter clockwise, 360 degree sign rotation, flipping a horizontal sign, sliding the sign around the torso, and a horizontal flip high enough to pirouette and catch it again. To differentiate spinners, I need to see more non-flipping moves like dancing with the sign and creative ways to catch the sign.

Ah, who I am kidding, I have no idea what I'm talking about.

I wouldn't want something that sharp that close to my nether regions.

What the sport needs is an innovation or move that transcends the generations of sign flippers that have come before them. I think it'll come when the first vertical sign is flipped a few times on the vertical axis. Perhaps a vert-vert-flip is beyond the physics, aerodynamics, and wind resistance of gigantic arrow signs.

One of the top spinners in all the land.

While the signage gymnastics never fail to impress, the sign is never held still long enough to actually get the message out. All motorists learn is something is for sale somewhere, but they do get a good sign spinning show.

It could be worse, 355 could be lined with wacky waiving inflatable arm flailing tube men.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

It's the 2009 Howard County Fair!

I made my way to the land of manure, farm equipment, over-tanned people, carnival rides, carnies, and animal shows...also know as the Howard County Fair. County fairs are smaller than the state fair and that's just fine with me. Everyone reaches their limit of animal stalls to see and the county fair has just enough. Offering twice as many cows, rides, and games is a waste when half that amount is all I'm looking for.

One suggestion for next year...offer fried dumplings. Apparently it's impossible for a Maryland fair, at any level, to offer the best carnival snack. Think malasadas or funnel cake balls doused in powdered sugar.

Onto the pictures!

Another August means another HoCo Fair.

Nothing says you're not a superstar yet like being advertised on a HoCo Fair's Richie Fields, Nashville recording artist!

I now control you, rabbit. Soon the world!

What I'd look like reincarnated as a rooster.

Like the military...all haircuts are high and tight.

When your animal's on display, hairdryers are just the beginning.

Just like the scene from...

....Lady and the Tramp. Or close enough.

I dare thee to find a cuter animal.

This pony requires more than the 0.03 acres of land we have.

Not exactly what Ludacris meant when he talked about milking the cow.

The Mountain Dew souvenir cup doubles as a bong.

The best chicken fingers anywhere!

Ride this if you'd like to see those chicken fingers again.

Her magic cooking produced fried Oreos.

A fried Twinkie is much better than a fried oreo, but it was worth a shot.

At least they used double stuff oreos.

You are such a horse's @$$!

The horse world's NFL combine. Checkout the pretty horse's vertical.

Last place becomes bacon!

Pig racing at a 4-H fair is sooooo Maryland, but I can't help myself.

Does a dunk tank ever get boring? I think not.

Jacob's Ladder...the key is to keep moving.

Or else you fail.

13 MPG means this baby will easily receive the maximum Cash for Clunkers rebate.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

The Pro Football Hall of Fame - An Underwhelming Experience

I visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame (PFHOF) the other day and and was wholly unimpressed. These 3,000 words touch the surface of that feeling.

Even after I lowered my expectations from my dad's experience a few years ago, telling me that I wouldn't like it as much as Cooperstown, I still came away bothered by a colossal missed opportunity. This HOF could be, should be, and needs to be so much better than it is. I am not a museum curator (shocking I know) but if I can think of at least a dozen improvements then something must be wrong. I can't imagine how bad the PFHOF was before the addition of two rooms in the last few years.

Perhaps I was spoiled when I visited the baseball HOF (BHOF) with my dad some 15 years ago (wow, has it been that long?). That HOF was designed well and touches on all aspects of the sport; you can't help, but come away learning many new things. I have heard awful things about the basketball HOF in Springfield, MA, that it's just about shooting hoops on wacky baskets and not much else, but I bet that it can't rival the PFHOF for being an utter disaster to America's #1 sport.

The PFHOF is like building a monument to America and forgetting the noses. As a country we deserve better than an inadequate center for all things football.

In what should be a shrine for all football fans is nothing more than a poorly laid out building offering out-of-date displays that fails to touch on many aspects of the sport, all the while located in a very unromantic part of Canton, OH, off a highway. Visit the PFHOF only (and that's a big only) if you are in central Ohio and have nothing better to do than waste $17, 4 hours of your time (hour drive there, 2 hours to walk around if you go really really slow, and an hour drive back).

I should have gone to the Rock n' Roll HOF instead.

It's never good when your shrine to football is dwarfed by the underbelly of a stadium's seats in the background.

The biggest issue I have with this place is that it lacked many subjects that should have been touched on, at least with more than a passing sentence. All too often exhibits looked old. Some were haphazardly pieced together and just thrown out there before they were ready. I want to be wowed at a HOF. I want to be overwhelmed by the amount of material. I guess I asked for too much.

Instead of "Drop-off and Pick-up" how about saying, "Fumble and Hand-off." Regular delivery guys would understand.

To keep myself awake driving home, as I actually felt more tired after going through the building, I came up with some exhibits that would have been nice to include in some form. Now, free of charge, I present things to make the PFHOF better, in no particular order of course.

If only the 1869 game between Rutgers and Princeton made NJ push to host the PFHOF. And no, it wouldn't smell.

The NFL (because that's what attracts people to this place) is full of great teams, often noted as the team of the decade: Colts -1950s, Packers - 1960s, Steelers - 1970s, 49ers - 1980s, Cowboys - 1990s, and the Patriots - 2000s. How about a section on these great teams? They represent what the league was about in easily marked periods of time. The PFHOF only offers a hallway alcove using displays about each franchise of today. Only there will you find any mention of a team's history. Decade dynasties are worth their own area, even if it's an equivalent hallway alcove.

Learn about great Redskins of the past...or not.

Along the same lines as league dynasties, there should be an area about the great team unit nicknames of the past. The nicknames, though not always deserving relative to their ability, are what make it easy to recall the best team units of the past. Most of the deserving nicknames are for defensive units like the Steel Curtain and Monsters of the Midway. Other nicknames that wouldn't earn as much real estate to celebrate include the New York Sack Exchange, Purple People Eaters, and the Orange Crush. Still, it'd be nice to have an explanation as to why these units ever deserved to be remembered.

There should have been more locker room displays, like this one for Terry Bradshaw.

Football has always been about the characters of the game, some were able to backup their charisma while others you just wanted to shut up. There should be an area about the league's more colorful players and what made them famous. If you want to only include the more positive, less annoying people, that's fine with me. Why did players get their nicknames in the first place? Visitors should learn that Billy "white shoes" Johnson did more than just wear white shoes and why people still fondly recall the Icky Shuffle.

Inside the PFHOF's football roof. I will give the PFHOF credit for incorporating a football into the design; just about the only good thing about the architecture.

The PFHOF needs a multimedia upgrade infusion (it's redundant because it has to be). Far too many displays were at least 15 years old with old highlights, computer graphics, and monitors with burnt-in displays. There was no display that simply showed you the best plays in NFL history. How about an area with multiple stations that let's you call up any of 100 great plays in history? From Super Bowls to the regular season, it's the great play that folks recall vividly. Want to see Adam Viniateri's game-winning field goal in Super Bowl 38? Bam! It's there in an instant.

The PFHOF's football players looked like...

...Marvel superhero the Thing.

While I crushed the PFHOF's trivia game, it was an agonizing experience, akin to running Madden 2009 on a Commodore 64. Delayed acknowledgement of an answer and more importantly for a trivia game, there were no questions about the NFL from even the 1990s. Think about it. Visitors have just walked through (a weak) display of the league's history so when it's time to test what they learned, the experience is unattractive. Please upgrade the trivia game.

There were many pieces of old equipment on display, but it seemed disorganized.

There was a You Make the Call activity that was cool, but again this had really old technology making for a really old experience. I think that a game that makes you think like a QB and read a defense would be cool. This would show just how hard it is to determine the right move with 21 other people moving around you. Certainly possible with today's computers, you could decide what the QB should do and the video would adjust, reminding the visitor why these guys are so good.

The NFC conference title was cool to see.

Along with interactivity improvements, there must be space devoted to the NFL and TV. This would have been great to unveil last year with the 50th anniversary of the 1958 NFL Championship between the Baltimore Colts and NY Giants. It wasn't the best game played, but it was the most important as it ushered in the marriage of the league and TV, yet very little mention relative to its significance.

The TV broadcast has changed mightily from that black and white display. From the cameras to the TVs to the broadcast booth, a retrospective would encapsulate the history of how 99% of each week's fans get their NFL fix. The only mention of TV was a 5 x 10-foot collage about Monday Night Football that you almost missed coming off the elevator to the first floor. It shows no big picture (pun intended?) thinking by the PFHOF to ignore the medium people use to experience the sport.

Jim Parker, long regarded as the best lineman to ever play only gets a bust of his head? Where's the love?

I did not experience the NFL Films' Gameday theater because it was under some sort of repair. The theater, as explained to me, shows highlights from the NFL season and then turns your chair so you can view the Super Bowl highlights. Kinda cheesy, but it's what cheesy museums do. When I asked about the repairs I was told by many folks that they were updating the season video. Puzzled, I asked for a clarification, to which I was told the PFHOF had been showing the video following the 2005 season! That's 3 years old! How does the center for all things football not update its season recap video, oh I don't know, every season? Come on. At least update your season recaps each season!

A display about player cleats and no mention of Johnny Unitas' hightops??? How does that happen at THE football HOF?

The center of any HOF is the actual of Hall of Fame. At the PFHOF, it's a cramped display of player heads at such varying heights and so close to each other that it's easy to overlook some of the honorees. Further, unlike the BHOF, below each bust only includes the player's name, teams played for, and position. Care to learn why Wilbur Henry is worthy of the HOF? You have to use one of four (?) interactive screens in the center of the round room.

In case you were curious, Wilbur Henry...Three-year Washington and Jefferson All-America. . .Signed with Bulldogs same day NFL organized, 1920. . .Largest player of his time, bulwark of Canton's championship lines, 1922-1923. . .60-minute performer, also punted, kicked field goals. . . Set NFL marks for longest punt (94 yards), longest dropkick field goal (50 yards). . . Born October 31, 1897, in Mansfield, Ohio. . .Died February 7, 1952, at age of 54.

I admit that these touch screen displays were nice, allowing you to view a bio of the player and short videos of what made them great. But who wants to make the effort to go back and forth and learn more about a player you hadn't heard of? At the BHOF the information is right there, greatly encouraging you to read about unknown stars of the game. It's a logistical touch that's a huge improvement. The PFHOF should emulate the BHOF Hall of Fame because it works better. Until then it's a busted room of busts.

Wow...back lit mono colored pictures for the most important game in the NFL's history...way to know your audience.

Those panels and this snapshot of Alan Ameche's TD were all I saw about the game. Ridiculous.

The PFHOF had a small area devoted to league coaches as wax figures. There needs to be more emphasis on the men who ran these teams. What made Lombardi so good? Why should Bill Walsh get credit for the 49ers' titles? Someone unfamiliar with football would not have a clue about the game's great coaches and why they are held in such high regard. One small display does not do enough.

How is the "Evolution of Football Helmet" relegated to a glorified vertical shoe rack?

I expected the PFHOF to have a voluminous section on changes in game equipment. Instead, all I saw were scattered items in unattractive displays that you could easily miss. Football requires so much more equipment to play than baseball, yet the BHOF dwarfs the PFHOF in equipment history viewing and that's inexcusable. From helmets, footballs, cleats, uniforms, and shoulder pads, a simple timeline display of equipment changes would do the trick.

While I'm at it, I'd add some things about how the playing field has changed. From dirt fields to natural grass to artificial turf to synthetic turf grown outside Arizona's stadium, there's a huge impact to gameplay. How was there nothing about the Baltimore Extension to field goal posts after Green Bay incorrectly won the 1965 NFL title with a ball that sailed outside the top of a post?

At least the PFHOF has enough sense to display a replica Lombardi trophy.

Football strategy has changed a lot, even in the modern era (1950s - present). The PFHOF could devote some real estate to explaining football strategy and how it has changed. This would be a real X's and O's discussion that could touch on fads or styles of the league from Buddy Ryan's 46 defense to Warren Moon and the run n' shoot offense. The exhibit would explain why they worked and why they didn't.

The PFHOF would do well to devote space for each of the game's positions and highlight the best. From guards and tackles on the offensive line to cornerbacks and safeties in the secondary, there could be text on what these positions deal with in a game. If we're upgrading video, it'd be great if you could watch a video showing what these guys see in a game so a visitor has a small idea of just how hard it is to cover a wide receiver. Let's not forget special teams players and their importance to field position and field goal kicking.

The PFHOF gave referees a display next to the snack bar that should have been much grander relative to their importance. I shouldn't be able to fit 3/4 of the display in one picture.

A section devoted to other professional football leagues was well done and on a scale commensurate with their importance in shaping the game; however, one good section does not make a good museum. This room was large and each display was packed with memorabilia from the leagues. Of course, it's only blemish was an old, randomly placed display from which you'd select an exciting game ending. The videos were old and the display was a clunker stuck in the room's corner for something designed to encapsulate the excitement of a close game.

Every hour a talk about some football artifacts took place. While this was a good idea with curators handling things with white gloves and curators giving stories behind the PFHOF's collection, it was done in this dinky room with classroom seats made for middle school. Again, an upgrade to the presentation classroom, maybe with some multimedia projector, would have really packed the room. Until then, it looks like an employee lunchbreak room with uncomfortable blue chairs.

A line of all Madden videogame covers was cool (it continued to the right). Of course it's only done well because this was an EA/Microsoft Xbox playing area and not solely the PFHOF. Offering an area to play Madden on Xbox was a good modern touch.

Missing from the PFHOF was full-fledged mention of NFL MVPs or other award winners. There should be a timeline of MVPs and what they were all about. Even the fluke, one-year winners deserve their moments in the sun. Today's game is full of players who shine for 2-3 years and quickly fall off the map, but I wouldn't know about them from visiting the shrine to the game.

Funny how the history of athletic training makes no mention of the PEDs, steroids, or painkillers needed to survive in the league today. A mention of the fact that gambling really seeds the league's money and popularity would have been honest, but not exactly a good public relations move. There's a reason people watch weak matchups on Monday Night Football.

Like any good museum, the gift shop was the last stop. Hey, the PFHOF got one right with layout! It was packed with current merchandise, but very little items from the past. And by the past I mean anything pre-2000.

How about I get a T-shirt of the great Steelers? No luck. Maybe there's a mug celebrating the Super Bowl titles of the 49ers? Ha! Outside of some replica jerseys, the gift shop offered little in the way of the game's history. Sure, kids of today want things representing today's players, but having just gone through a building that purports to act as the be-all end-all for football history, the gift shop fell short of selling that history.

The gift shop had plenty to sell except if you wanted something about players no longer playing.

The PFHOF is located less than a mile off I-76. Again, this is in central Ohio. It's not located in a sexy location. There's nothing romantic about it and there's nothing that just yells that this is the capital of football in America. The BHOF is in a quaint town in upstate New York that is the epitome of small town America from which the game thrives. Football comes across as a corporate giant having a much shorter history of about 50 years for the modern game compared to baseball's modern era beginning in 1900. Perhaps that's the part of the problem here.

I crushed the PFHOF trivia game, even if it was 15 years old. If it says that I won, why do I feel as though I lost $17 for admission?

Having one building represent the football-industrial complex that dominates the country is a tall order, but it can be done. Or maybe we're spoiled with the BHOF. How about we demolish the PFHOF and rebuild somewhere else that speaks to the football fan and to the common museum visitor. A tour of the shrine to America's most popular sport should not make you want to finish in under two hours.

This HOF is worth a trip from anywhere.

There's just so much opportunity to make a visitor feel the game, learn the game, and love the game that it's disheartening that doesn't happen here. It's not crazy to think that the NFL could give more money to turn this into something as grand as the league's TV contracts. One can only hope so.

When I visited last month, construction was taking place on a Lamar Hunt Super Bowl gallery, earning me a complimentary return pass to use before December 31. Perhaps my criticisms will be addressed there. But really, why return when it'll fall in line with everything else the PFHOF has to offer.

Not enough.