Archive for June, 2007

You Go. I’ll Watch.
June 19, 2007

Maybe you saw our “About San Diego” piece debunking the story about the roller coaster at Belmont Park. As legend has it, one day the coaster flew completely off its tracks, sailed across Mission Boulevard, and sent a load of horrified passengers to an unhappy landing at The Jack In The Box across the street. The only problem, of course, is that it never happened. Things like that never really occur. They just haunt the imagination. Especially mine.

Every year at the Del Mar Fair, I manage to somehow stray into the midway zone, and always recoil in horror. Now, don’t get me wrong, if you’ve got one of those double seat electric cars that ride on a track and stiffly bang their way into a darkened room with neon skeletons, spooky music, and plumes of steam, man, I’m the first in line. Take a splash ride, no problem. But
I draw the line at anything that twirls, spins, or falls. I could give you the old “been there done that” line. Indeed, I’ve made a carrier landing and take off, accidentally fallen off a cliff, ridden a runaway bus, and had plenty of e-ticket experiences. So why not plunk down a few bucks and take whirl on the vomit vortex? Simple. I’m too scared. I keep thinking about metal fatigue. I size up the grizzled ride operator (they’re always grizzled), looking for tattoos and needle tracks. I imagine him, head-down in an orange jumpsuit, tearfully telling the court that he “only stepped away for a moment to have a smoke”, when the mechanism ran wild.

Friends mock my cowardice. I don’t care. As they scream and hurtle, and ultimately hurl, I salute them from the air-conditioned comfort of the quilting pavilion. In my years, I’ve seen many a concluded fair and festival in the “disassemble” phase. And you know what? All those rides really do come apart! Most of them load onto trucks, the jolly colors of the collapsed “Giant Zipper” looking strange and tacky, moving along in the slow lane at rush hour.

It’s all a matter of preference, of course. The things I like at the Fair would drive almost anybody else nuts. I think those pitch-people selling kitchen knives are a hoot. I love how they talk with a cigarette-and-whiskey kind of drone, even when there’s nobody there to listen.
I think it’s great that you can walk into Pat O’Brien Hall, and in a matter of minutes, buy a 35-hundred dollar oak armoire, see an amazing kitchen mop, become a Christian, and join the Democratic Party. I could spend an hour just looking at those bubbling backyard spas. Some of them are so peppered with shining jets and spigots, they were clearly never meant to be seen without water. I love the gem show, and the furniture built by students, and the curious collections people keep, and the pies and cakes, and the prize pigs in the livestock barn.

Which, by the way, is nowhere near the “Tilt A Whirl”.

* * * * * * IN OTHER NEWS * * * * * *

I’ll see you at the Fair! Sunday, June 24, from 1 to 3. We’ll have pictures and a wheel to spin for prizes. We’ll be at the NBC/Mi San Diego booth. Come on out, say “Hello”, and let’s swap some stories “About San Diego”.


You Play What?
June 2, 2007

There was a time in San Diego when it seemed like everybody was playing it. I guess it was just a craze, but who could know that at the time? All over the county there were racquetball courts. It was a rite of passage for upwardly mobile 20-or-30-somethings. Deals were discussed and contracts agreed to somewhere between the second and third games.
I don’t know why racquetball fell out of popular favor. So much of its root structure was established right here in San Diego. Dr. Bud Muehleisen of La Mesa is even yet considered “The Most Influential Man in Racquetball”. Bob McInerny, a tennis pro from San Diego is the man credited with giving the sport its name. Times were, in the 1970s, you could play at the “Courthouse” on University Avenue not far from Texas Street. There was another racquetball club on India Street. Across the United States, in the 1980s, more then 10-million people played the sport. It is an incredibly easy-to-play workout that affords even ham-fisted klutzes like me a measure of satisfaction.
I was introduced to the sport by a friend named Mike Meagher, a former football player at San Diego State, who owned his own communications company downtown. When he talked about it, I pictured something like a cross between squash and jai alai. It turned out to be a lightning-fast series of volleys and roll-out slams that had me completely seduced from the start.
I loved the game, and the whole San Diego connection to it. It seemed easy enough to master, and healthy enough to be proud of having done so. If you wore eye protection, the worst that could happen was the odd black and blue mark, and I considered that a badge of honor.
But something happened. Racquetball declined in favor of “extreme sports”, a kind of euphemism for things you really should know better than to do. I don’t know what happened to “The Courthouse”. The club on India street became an indoor pistol range.
Today, according to the United States Racquetball Association, 5.6 million people play. But I’ll be hanged if I can find many of them. Mike Meagher passed away a couple of years ago. My friend Tara from work plays with (and often beats) me on odd weekends. Consumer Bob Hansen has a mean backspin in his similar victories. But for the most part, racquetball is a harder sell in San Diego than in the heady days of 20 years ago.
Meantime, I watch television sports coverage of poker games, for crying out loud! The only thing more boring and sedentary than playing poker is watching somebody else do it. The other day ESPN was actually featuring a program where two hulks were trying to see who could throw a tire the greatest distance. It was in a stadium, devoid of people, but when the cameraman inserted a star filter, and audio threw in some heroic music, you could believe, however briefly, that this lame contest somehow mattered.
Seems to me that racquetball has a lot more going for it than a Pirelli-toss, but these days, the courts at my gym remain mostly dark and strangely quiet.