Thursday, April 27, 2006

He's OLD

GREAT line in reference to gross Nick Lachey and new young chic he's dating:

"Sure, society might label him a creepy old pervert, but that's the price you pay when you're horny and your core fan base is still in their teens."

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

De Plane, De Plane!

One of my co-workers sent me this email forward today, and I can't stop crying, laughing. I had to share it with all of you (2) faithful readers...

Just in case you need a laugh:
Remember it takes a college degree to fly a plane, but only a high school diploma to fix one. Reassurance for those of us who fly routinely in our jobs.

After every flight, Qantas pilots fill out a form, called a "gripesheet," which tells mechanics about problems with the aircraft. The mechanics correct the problems, document their repairs on the form, and then pilots review the gripe sheets before the next flight. Never let it be said that ground crews lack a sense of humor. Here are some actual maintenance complaints submitted by Qantas ' pilots (marked with a P) and the solutions recorded (marked with an S) by maintenance engineers.

By the way, Qantas is the only major airline that has never, ever, had an accident.


P: Left inside main tire almost needs replacement.
S: Almost replaced left inside main tire.

P: Test flight OK, except auto-land very rough.
S: Auto-land not installed on this aircraft.

P: Something loose in cockpit.
S: Something tightened in cockpit.

P: Dead bugs on windshield.
S: Live bugs on back-order.

P: Autopilot in altitude-hold mode produces a 200 feet per minute descent.
S: Cannot reproduce problem on ground.

P: Evidence of leak on right main landing gear.
S: Evidence removed.

P: DME volume unbelievably loud.
S: DME volume set to more believable level.

P: Friction locks cause throttle levers to stick.
S: That's what friction locks are for.

P: IFF inoperative in OFF mode.
S: IFF always inoperative in OFF mode.

P: Suspected crack in windshield.
S: Suspect you're right.

P: Number 3 engine missing.
S: Engine found on right wing after brief search.

P: Aircraft handles funny.
S: Aircraft warned to: straighten up, fly right, and be serious.

P: Target radar hums.
S: Reprogrammed target radar with lyrics.

P: Mouse in cockpit.
S: Cat installed.

And the best one for last..................

P: Noise coming from under instrument panel. Sounds like a midget pounding on something with a hammer.
S: Took hammer away from midget.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Families and Mini-Vans

My family (and keep in mind we are many, many states away from each other and I have pointed out numerous times that they are weird) bought a mini-van the other day.

(Also remember that my dad wrecked his car so my family had to buy a new car.)

Here's the thing. It's not unusual for a family with kids to buy a mini-van. UNLESS THE KIDS ARE GROWN UP, ARE OF LEGAL DRINKING AGE AND DRIVE THEIR OWN CARS EVERYWHERE. And oh, yeah...ONE (me) DOESN'T EVEN LIVE IN THE SAME TIME ZONE.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A Moment of Political Correctness

I know the following list of little bits about our current President has been floating around email forwards and bulletins for ages...and it's outdated and the facts may not all be 100% accurate. But sometimes it's the thought that counts.

Especially when I went to put $10 of gas in my truck today and I thought, "I remember 6 years ago when $10 would give me 3/4 of a tank of gas." Tonight, 1/4 tank. Seriously. On both statistics. So my thought is counting for a lot tonight. Or not a lot, depending on which side of the pump you are on.


* First president in U.S. history to enter office with a criminal record.

* In his first two years in office, over 2 million Americans lost their jobs.

* Shattered record for biggest annual deficit in history.

* Set all-time record for biggest drop in the history of the stock market.

* Cut the taxes of the wealthiest people in America (those making over $200,000 a year).

* Members of Bush Administration are the richest administration in history.

* First year in office set the all-time record for most days on vacation by any president in U.S. history.

* Cut unemployment benefits for more out-of-work Americans than any president in U.S. history.

* Dissolved more international treaties than any president in U.S. history.

* Set the all-time record for biggest annual budget spending increases.

* First president in U.S. history to attack a sovereign nation against the will of the United Nations and the world community.

* Took the biggest world sympathy for the U.S. after 9/11, and in less than a year, made the U.S. the most resented country in the world.

* First U.S. president in history to have a majority of people in Europe (over 70%) view his presidency as the biggest threat to world peace and stability.

* In the 18 months following the 9/11 attacks, he has successfully prevented any public investigation into the biggest security failure in the history of the United States.

And Moving to Borderline Politically Incorrect...

The freaking quote of the year comes from Vikings player Moe Williams, as he walked away from his trial regarding his part in the Love Boat scandal on Lake Minnetonka. First, though, to set the scene, the defense admitted he had a "close dance," but that it was "consensual" and "not in plain view" - or something to that effect. Then Moe proclaimed:

"I've danced at a club before. I didn't know it was illegal to dance with a woman who had lingerie on."


Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Worst Hour of TV - Ever.

I seriously just watched the worst TV show ever. "Celebrity Cooking Showdown" on NBC. I had NBC on, because I usually do, and this show came on. And you know how it goes - you start watching a show, realize how bad it is, and then you can't change it because you have already missed the ever-important beginning to another show and you are already wrapped into the "intense" plotline of whatever stupid show you are now stuck watching. Or maybe that's just me.

Anyway, back to CCS on NBC. WOW - BAD TV. 1 hour of a live cooking competition...between 3 celebrities aided in 2 minute intervals by celebrity chefs. And to make it even worse, Alan Thicke hosts it. It's like he's trying to be an older, wiser, Ryan Seacreast. With the EXACT SAME intonations in reading the judges' comments during the score reveal.

And to add one more log to the flame, NBC is threatening to show this show every single night this week. Seriously? Do they hate their viewers that much?

On a positive note, during the first 30 seconds of "Scrubs," there was a reference to Optimus Prime...and it was even painted on a wall in a nursery. That is pretty cool. Transformers can fix anything.

There has to be an easier way...

My dad has found what may be the most difficult, dangerous and expensive way to replace his car when he gets sick and tired of it. He wrecks it.

I know that the bright red '93 Dodge Intrepid has been through some rough times. It's unreliable, to phrase it nicely. It has been in accidents with no less than 3 of our family's four members behind the wheel. And it was just plain getting old. But really, the best way to replace it is to just sell it to some sucker off the street or take your $1,000 on the trade in. Not to wrap it around a pole or wedge it under an SUV. Com'on Dad!

Now, I'm writing this blog without speaking to the guilty party. Basically I found out about the demise of the car that was originally my high school graduation present (gulp) 10 years ago from a brief IM conversation with my mom. (Yes - the ideal way to find out your parental unit has wrecked his car.)

The Mom: Did you hear about the Intrepid? (Sidenote: This is usually followed by a sentence such as "The engine blew up." "The brakes went out." "Something fell off and we don't know what it is but the car is kinda still running." "Dad figured out what fell off and replaced it with a combo of duct tape, tongue depressors and chicken wire.")

The Steph: No, what happened now?

The Mom: It decided to take a nose dive under an SUV.

The Steph: What? When? Is Dad OK?

The Mom: Yeah, going between 3 and 4 MPH. Yesterday afternoon. Yeah, it happened yesterday, Dad is OK. It's wrecked.

The Steph: It was wrecked at 3-4 MPH??

The Mom: Yep, completely went under the SUV.

The Steph: Do you have pictures???

(Yes, there are pictures, and when I get them, I will edit this blog and insert them!)

There are two histories to dad's ability to acquire new cars within 24 hours of when he apparently decides he wants one while living in FL, and the Intrepid's history of torturing our family which makes it deserve to suffer the horrible death of being pinned under an SUV on the entrance ramp of I-75.

My dad has gotten the hand-me-down cars from me and my sister in the past. Basically, we drive a lot more than he does, and when our cars have gotten too unreliable for us, he has kinda taken them over. That was how he got the blue Jeep Cherokee. It was my sister's first car, and became my dad's car sometime after my family moved to FL. See if you can follow this tangled web: I had the Intrepid. My sister had a Jeep. My mom sold her car in NY to move (and my dad initially stayed in NY for a year to finish retirement so he had his Ford Tempo up there. Yes, a Ford Tempo. It's better than his last car before that - a GMC Pacer. Even Hot Wheels doesn't make them anymore as Match Box Cars.) My mom got a new truck, I took that, my sister kept her Jeep and my mom drove the Intrepid. Then my dad moved down and he took the Jeep Cherokee, my mom bought a Jeep Grand Cherokee and my sister got the Intrepid. (Through every car transaction from here on out, I kept the truck and my mom has kept the Jeep Grand Cherokee.) dad must have decided, "Hey, I really don't like this Jeep Cherokee anymore." So he ran it off the road and knocked over a telephone pole or something. And flipped it. And wrecked it. He was OK. Car and pole - not so much.

So then they bought a used Ford Explorer and my sister got that. And my dad got the Intrepid. My mom and I kept our cars. Then, apparently, yesterday, my dad decided he didn't like the Intrepid anymore. And here is probably why:

Pretty much from the 2nd month I had the Intrepid, it started breaking down. My first two years in college, in the shop every other Thursday. Out the next Monday. And that pattern of unreliableness never really ended during it's long life.

Then when my mom had it, she held it out as a target at a stop light for a guy who didn't understand what a red light meant. And it probably should have been totaled, only the insurance guy read the mileage as 67,000 instead of 167,000. So a few weeks later, she got it back.

Then I borrowed it one weekend when I was home to go to a Devil Rays game to watch a friend pitch. And decided to take it water skiing on the highway during a rain storm on the way home. And hyroplaned right off the road, into the grassy median, bending some bracket things in the back...and denting the door, but my dad was able to fix it.

And then yesterday, my dad wedged it under an SUV. My mom gets hit by a guy going 30 MPH, I fly off the road going 50 MPH, and my dad is going 3 MPH AND WRECKS IT! Huh??

So now my dad, or more likely with recent history, my sister, will wind up with a new car because he just decided it was easier to wreck the car than to buy a new one. Nice tactic. I'm buying him a HANS device, helmet and flame retardant suit for Christmas.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Not-So-Lucky Bamboo

I have lucky bamboo in my office. 3 stalks of it. When I left the office Thursday afternoon for a tennis match, all three were green and vibrant. This morning I walked in and one is now yellow and soft and only 2 are green and vibrant.

Something tells me that one stalk is not so lucky. I hope bad things don't come in 3s for lucky bamboo because then I'll have an empty glass jar with little marbles in the bottom.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Movie Review: Larry The Cable Guy - Health Inspector

Before you say anything about "Why would you go see that movie??" I want to let you know that I watched this movie knowing that it was going to be stupid, silly, immature, contain bad acting and freaking hilarious. And I wasn't disappointed on any of the above...because that is exactly what I was looking for!

I dragged one of my friends from work with me to see it. And by dragged, I mean I had to spend 2-3 weeks convincing him to go see it with me...literally. He had never seen the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, so he didn't know how freaking funny this guy was. So I lent him the movie, and he said, "Oh, it is really funny." In fact, he now keeps quoting it! So we decide to go see this flick last night...and for some reason there are only like 3 theaters in the Twin Cities showing this movie. Just because it won't get nominated for an Oscar doesn't mean that theaters can't show it! So we went to the only local one of the 3 theaters and chose one of the 2 times it was showing.

The ticket taker was making fun of us for going to see it - and laughed at the fact that I made my friend see it with me and wasn't paying for his ticket. I said, "Well, at the end of it I may have to pay him back for it." Obviously my friend was very reassured that he had made a wise financial decision in going to see this movie.

Well, we get in to the movie and it was hilarious. Yes, the humor was crude, stupid, immature, idiotic, far from politically correct, etc, etc...and the acting was bad. But there was actually a plot - which was a surprising feature. But it was hilarious. It was exactly what I anticipated - a make-you-bend-over-laughing, thoughtless, mindless nearly 2 hours. And it was exactly what I want in a movie from time to time. Everyone gets all caught up in analyzing how good a movie is, the cinemetography, etc. Sometimes I just want to watch a movie and laugh and not have to think about anything! And guess what - MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

Go see it if you want to watch a stupid, mindless movie. You won't be disappointed...and you won't ask for your money back either. My friend didn't make me pay him back for his ticket, and he never really wanted to go in the first place!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Weatherman

Wow, the new people on the local news shows are getting younger and younger. Our local NBC affiliate KARE11, has brought in some new people recently...anchors and a weatherguy. We all knew these changes were coming...but one day I turned on the weekend weather report and this kid was talking about precipitation and I said, "Oh, are they letting the interns do the weather on air, now?"

Answer: NO. He IS the new weather guy! He just looks like his mom had to drop him off at the studio for the broadcast...and can't do the 10:00 news because it's past his curfew. But I will say, he does have the perfect meterologist name...for FLORIDA. Sven Sundgaard.


Thursday, April 13, 2006

They're Stopped. They're Stopped. We're Gonna Hit Them.

Seriously. What a start to a road trip.

Our tennis teams (men and women) were heading south a little over an hour to play a match this afternoon. We get on 35W - typically a log jam...and typically you would avoid it and take 35E from where we started. Typically. But today was obviously not typical.

We're in a bus - there's 18 of us or so...two teams and 3 coaches. The 3 of us coaches are sitting in the front row of seats, the players behind us. This isn't one of the big, full-sized buses. Everyone just fits in. 2 or 3 times our driver came pretty darn close to hitting the car in front of us...not really paying attention, not really understanding what the brake lights in front of us meant? Each time he did it, we stopped so suddenly that we had to brace ourselves. The other assistant coach (OAC for future reference in this story) and I just kept looking at each other...both wondering "When are we going to hit someone, what will we hit and how fast will we be going?"

It didn't take long to find out the answer, about 5 minutes, right at the one place on 35W where you can be guarenteed that there is a sudden stoppage in traffic no matter what time it is, a Kia Sportage (or something like it) and going at least 25 mph. We just PLOWED into it. As we approached the soon-to-be scene of the accident, we knew it was going to happen. We weren't stopping. The OAC goes, "They're stopped. They are stopped. Hey, we're going to hit them." Which gave everyone in the bus plenty of time to brace themselves (and if we had had seatbelts, we could have buckled, adjusted and refastened them - that's how long it took because that's how much room we had), fortunately. Except for the 1 kid who was asleep. I have never seen an ENTIRE back window of a car crumble and pop out onto the windshield wipers of the car behind it before. We crunched the Kia (who was completely stopped), who slammed into the car in front of her, who slammed into the Explorer in front of them. Yes. It really happened. The Kia is probably going to be considered totaled - destroyed radiator, crushed frame, and who knows what else.

The other coaches feel bad for the driver. They agree with me that he had no right to be driving a bus...but they feel bad for him. I absolutely don't. Not one bit. He had nearly 20 people's lives on his bus for which he was responsible, and he drove recklessly and irresponsibly. It is truly amazing that no one was hurt, or killed. And it is a miracle that the baby seat in the Kia in front of us was not occupied by a baby. The crash was 100% avoidable...and I don't feel sorry for him. I don't care. He was reckless and dangerous from the time he got on the road with our bus...and we are just lucky that the crash happened early on in the trip (so that we didn't have a heart attack before we got to the matches) and no one was hurt.

The company sent a new bus to pick us up...and a driver that was no better. She was afraid to be passed, so if someone came up alongside to pass she slowed down dramatically and pulled over onto the rumble strip.

Seriously, how do some people get to drive buses and are entrusted with the lives of others? I wasn't angry before...but now I am.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Growing on me like mold in blue cheese...

I don't know why it is that I have decided that I like living in Minnesota so much. But I find myself getting more and more attached to this place - for no real definite reason. I stayed here last fall after the job for which I moved here ended. And a lot of people (including my family) thought I was nuts...because there wasn't a real reason for me to stay. But I did. I still, to this day, can't tell you exactly why I was so dead set on staying here, I just didn't want to leave. And I don't regret it. Yes, I miss my family (but gosh, we talk more on the phone now than in person I think...hahaha), but I really can't think of another negative to the situation. And I realized this even more tonight during an IM conversation with The Dad.

The Steph: How is it going in NC? (The 'Rents are in NC visiting family on my dad's side)

The Dad: It's ok. About as good as it can get in NC.

The Steph: Yeah.

The Dad: I guess you have to leave Florida once in awhile to see how good it really is.

The Steph: Haha yeah.

The Dad: I don't know what I would do if I had to leave.

The Steph: Haha.

The Steph: You can survive it - I promise.

The Dad: I think I could live in the San Antonio area.

The Steph: I have to admit, Minnesota (despite the horrid cold and snow) is kinda starting to grow on me. Yes, I eventually want to get back south, but I'm tough and young enough to make it here for now!

The Steph: San Antonio would be heavenly. (Sidenote: I lived in Corpus Christi, Texas for a while - and my family has a habit of coming to visit me for months at a we hung out in San Antonio some while they were visiting.)

The Dad: I honestly don't think I could live in Minnesota - not at my age. I definitely could not own a house.

The Steph: Oh, there's no way I would want to own a house here.

The Steph: Not and deal with frozen pipes, plowing, shoveling, etc, etc, etc.

The Dad: And 4 wheel drive cars rusting out in 5 years. (Sidenote: I have a 4 wheel drive car in that it kinda has 4 wheels and the back 2 are weighted down with 300 lbs. of sand.)

The Steph: Yeah true.

The Steph: The last 3 or 4 days here, actually, the last 2 weeks...have been pretty nice though!

The Steph: I forgot how much I miss wearing sandles and skirts and shorts!

The Dad: Honestly, NY was ok until I was about 50. I actually enjoyed the place when I was young and played in the snow.

The Steph: Yeah. I don't play in the snow, just get stuck in it - but it doesn't bother me as much in winter #3 as it did in winter #1. I really like just about everything else about the Twin Cities though.

The Dad: Yeah. I really have a good time visiting you. Ideal situation would be to live in your apartment from May 1 to say Oct 1 then live in our house the rest of the year.

The Dad: You have much better restaurants and beer places than we have.

The Steph: That is SOOO true.

The Steph: That's prob why I don't leave - if I didn't have Summit to drink I would have withdrawals.

The Steph: During the few times I have left the state I have suffered through Miller Lite and Amberbock...both of which are ok...but aren't Summit Pale Ale or their seasonals.

The Dad: The Growlers are better though. (Sidenote: Visit the Town Hall Brewery, located in the 7 corners area of Minneapolis - it absolutely rocks. As in it's good - not that there's wonderful live music. And their beer is awesome.)

The Steph: Oh gosh yeah.

Oh, now I know why I live here. The beer. Now everyone that thinks I'm crazy for living here knows the truth. Riddle: Solved.

Monday, April 10, 2006

It's a great big beautiful today...shining at the end of the winter...

75 degrees, sunny, no wind...could today have been any more beautiful?

Sunday, April 09, 2006

"There's Room For Everyone"...But Do "They" Know It?

I'm sitting here watching the pre-race stuff for today's NASCAR race in Texas, and I saw an ad that caught my eye. At first, I thought it was just another normal NASCAR ad about how typical everyday people live vicariously through the drivers. Basically, it was a NASCAR car with people climbing out of the window. People in suits, people in racing uniforms, male, female, young, old...and then I noticed that many of the people climbing out of the car window were people of color - all different backgrounds. Then the final message flashed across the screen: "There's room for everyone [in NASCAR]." It was actually a really well done ad.

But then I started thinking about it. And I realized...they are showing this ad during the pre-race show for a NASCAR race. When current NASCAR fans are watching. And who comprise most of the current NASCAR fans? That's right, people who look like me. (I'm white, for those of you that don't know me!)

So then I asked, what is the point of this ad? Is it supposed to show that NASCAR is supposedly making a commitment to diversity outreach? Is it supposed to appeal to people of different backgrounds to make them feel welcome and involved in the NASCAR family? Is it supposed to show that NASCAR fans really are diverse? I'm not sure. But my gut, and background in marketing, tells me that the diversity ad campaign within NASCAR is supposed to be designed to attract people of different backgrounds to the sport.

Which makes me question the wisdom of NASCAR's marketing execs...and this is a sport that is supposed to have one of the most ingenious and best marketing plans in sports.

First of all, if you are trying to attract new fans to any sport or activity - don't run your marketing pieces to attract those fans DURING THE EVENT or in places that are already targeting CURRENT FANS. That's like running an ad telling shoppers where the nearest Target is when they are in the check-out line. You already have those people...focus elsewhere, it's ineffective. It's also like when a baseball team only runs ads during sports talk radio shows - which drives me nuts. Those listeners are aware of your team...they follow sports...they are probably listening to that station because it has news about your team. Run your ads on local hip hop stations, country stations, news talk stations, etc...where people aren't as aware and aren't currently following your team. ATTRACT NEW AUDIENCES.

Secondly, why run a diversity piece to make people of different backgrounds feel comfortable with the sport to an audience of mostly white viewers? I mean, maybe I'm going to go to one of my friends who isn't white and say "I saw a really cool ad during the NASCAR race...they say everyone is welcome to watch should watch it." But probability is that I won't! So run these ads where this audience is watching. They aren't watching NASCAR - that's the point of NASCAR's diversity outreach run the ads during shows or sporting events are being watched by a diverse audience. I haven't seen these ads run during basketball, football or prime-time TV shows that have a diverse audience, so I'm only assuming that they aren't running then.

One good thing about the ad...there was no one talking during it. It just had music or something. And words on the screen. It is more appealing to a wider variety of audience one is isolated or turned off by a dialect or accent.

This whole thing just brings me to the awareness factor of what NASCAR is doing to increase diversity in drivers and in fan base. I did a quick search on for "Diversity in NASCAR." It came up with an almost infinite number of articles about programs to increase minority ownership, diversity scholarships, partnerships with historically black colleges and universities, diversity internships and diversity driver programs - just to name a few. But does anyone not reading know about these? Everyone hears the rumblings about how "white" NASCAR is and that they aren't promoting diversity, etc. But the only place that you can find info about these programs is by going to and searching. Once again, is that effective public relations or marketing??

All of this, from one 30 second ad.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Card Collector...Part Deux

Add bookstores and shoestores to the list. I can't resist. I bitch. I complain. I sign up for them. I can't help it. Damn those cards!

Spring Has Sprung

I'm in Houston this weekend for work, and before flying down here I didn't do the one thing I ALWAYS do before I go anywhere on a trip - for business, personal or anything - check the local minor and major league baseball schedule to see if anyone is at home while I'm there. Especially shocking because I am basically in love with Minute Maid Park in Houston. If they were to build a stadium like this in Minnesota, I would buy season tickets in a heartbeat. And make sure I went to every single game.

But I didn't check the schedule because I was going to be here March 31-April 3, and Opening Day is April 3. Well, I am here Friday night and believe it or not, the Astros were playing an exhibition game at home, here at Minute Maid Park. I didn't find out until the evening news recap...BUT...I did find out that the 'Stros would be playing the Royals in another exhibition game the next night. So I went. Oh, what a night.

My hotel here in Houston is right in the middle of the action...on one side is the Toyota Center (brand new, home of the Houston Rockets). On the other side is the Convention Center (gigantic). And on a third side is Minute Maid Park - just 4 blocks away. And there is really nothing between the front door of the hotel and the entrance to the ballpark...just parking lots and a park. At about 5:40 I headed out the door for the 6:05 start.

After taking about 3 steps onto the sidewalk I realized this was going to be a perfect night. It was about 75 degrees, sunny and not even humid (surprising for Houston). I made it to the ballpark in just a few minutes (even the crossing lights were on my side), and started to ponder whether to walk up to the ticket window and try to get a ticket when a little ticket scalper with a table said "Need a ticket?" I said, "Whattya got?" He said "How many do you need?" I said, "Just one!" To end this little dialog and spare you the details, I got a ticket about 11 rows about the middle of the 'Stros dugout and headed in. (I don't know why I contemplated going to the ticket window - scalpers always have a spare ticket isolated from the rest of their ticket batch and they can't sell them except to the rare weird people like myself going to a game alone. So they are always willing to unload them for a great price.)

I didn't have a purse on me (I try not to when going to sporting events...for the following reason alone), so I was able to go through the express security check-in line and within seconds I was through the doors of a ballpark that is my second favorite ballpark in Major League Baseball. (Yankees Stadium is the baseball mecca. It can't be touched. There's nothing like watching big, rowdy, drunk Yankees fans almost plummet off the second or third tier of the stadium!)

I had been inside for about 12 seconds and couldn't get the smile off of my face. It was a gorgeous night, the roof was open, the ballpark was buzzing, the beer was cold and I was about to watch my first baseball game of 2006. The night couldn't get any better. I was seriously so happy that I almost had tears in my eyes.

I spent my $2 on a scorecard, roster and pencil. Bought a beer after filling out my loan application (OH MY GOSH the price of beer is insane at this park - I don't remember it being this insane back in '03...get to the World Series and they jack the prices up on you, I guess). And found my seat. I greeted the family sitting on the aisle of my row...a youngish couple with a small son who couldn't have been older than 4 years old. An energetic young Astros fan. Fully decked out in the uniform of pitcher Mike Gallo, number 45. (Who had a VERY brief appearance in the game - 1 batter - who he proceeded to plunk. The poor little fan was so sad.) And this kid had it all - the hat, the jersey, the pants, the shoes. It was great.

One of the reasons that I had a great seat was because I was sitting next to this family. They are the reason that baseball is so great...and demonstrated everything that is wonderful about going to a game. They must have made a stop at the souvenir store on their way to their seats because Jr. had a black and natural Astros mini-bat that he clutched for the entire game. While holding his soda, popcorn, hot dog, or anything else he could get his hands on - he held onto that mini-bat for his life. And did that kid have a great game or what? When I got there he had a giant foot long hot dog in his spare, mini-batless, hand. His mom was holding a gigantic soda, for which he traded the hot dog periodically. Then the cotton candy man went by. And Jr. got a purple one. Then his mom left for a bit and came back with a gigantic tub of popcorn. At which point Jr.'s eyes lit up like Santa has just surprised him in his bedroom at 3am. Then of course, the peanut man came by. Even I got in on that action. As did everyone in our section, I think.

Jr.'s excitement and reaction to the play on the field was the best part. At one point in time they Royals loaded the bases with one out, and Jr. said "I can't watch!" and pulled his hat down over his eyes. The kid is 4!!! His dad just said, "They'll get out of it! Watch the game!!" So he pulled his hat up and proceeded to watch a strikeout and a routine 5-3 play. And then appropriately cheered loudly.

The best part of Jr.'s reaction and enjoyment of the game came at the last out. As the fireworks went off in left field over the train filled with oranges that chugs along at Astros homeruns (two trips in last night's game), Jr. jumped a huge smile on his face and I swear he had tears in his eyes...turned to his mom and jumped up and down as he hugged her and then did the same to his dad. That kid had the absolute night of his life. And all he did was sit in a chair the whole game. 9 straight innings. He never got up, never complained (except for when the Astros loaded the bases) and loved every single minute of it.

As for me, I was in seventh heaven. When I go to games by myself I nearly always grab a scorecard and keep score. Which interferes with my ability to get up to get food, but thank goodness for vendors. I may have been the only person in the ballpark stupid enough to attempt to keep score for a Spring Training game. The Royals literally played every single person that traveled to Houston from Kansas City. I didn't realize that the kids with "BB" on their backs could play left field according to MLB rules. (OK, that was a joke...don't write to me and say "The batboys played??") They had no less than 6 players on the field at one point in time that didn't have their names on their jerseys...and all of their numbers were above 65. It was hilarious. By the 7th inning they had replaced their entire starting line-up, 2 times over in some cases. But in the first inning a Reggie Sanders foul ball almost came to my seat. And by almost, I mean it was 4 rows up and 6 seats over. Which of course meant that everyone within 3 sections (except for me, because I knew it wasn't coming to me) stood up to try to grab it. This just reminds me that I have never, despite the 8 million baseball games I have attended or worked, gotten a foul ball! Nearly hit by one, yes. (I nearly caught a line-drive to the head at a Twins-Red Sox Spring Training game back in '00, but my then-boyfriend reached out and snagged it bare-handed before I died.) But I never actually physically got one! That really sucks.

But the best part about the game last night was just the atmosphere. If you have never been to a baseball game by yourself before, I suggest you do it. Don't get me wrong, I love going to games with my friends...but periodically I like to go by myself and just enjoy the game and the crowd. There's something special about sitting there quietly and listening to the buzz of the crowd as they chatter amongst themselves while a pitcher runs up a full count, and then grows with excitement as they anticipate a K. There's something special about watching a family share popcorn and argue over a cotton candy flavor. There's something special about listening to the wacko 3 rows behind you attempt to heckle the opposing team. And there's something special about standing up and cheering for a homerun or a pitcher striking out the side when you're no longer by yourself, but part of a crowd of thousands.

Over the off-season you think that you remember how special a night at the park is. You think you remember how sweet the taste of a cold beer and a hot dog is at your favorite stadium. You think that you remember how colorful clean uniforms against freshly cut grass can be. You think you remember the joy of a homerun. The thrill of a strikeout. The excitement of watching the closer trot in from the bullpen. The roar of the crowd at the final out. But you don't. You forget. You forget about the smile on your face. You forget about the spring in your step as you walk through the turnstyle and hear the beep of the ticket scanner. You forget about the slight chill as the sun sets on the stadium. The sound of the PA announcer echoing against the empty seats. The unconscious nodding of your head at your favorite batter's intro song.

Not until you see it again for the first time in months do you really remember.

Spring has sprung, and so has baseball. Play ball!