Thursday, October 18, 2012

Buckle Up!

The backdrop of an unfortunate end to an improbable post season run by the Baltimore Orioles seems ideal for the recounting of a trip to Camden Yards to take in the final home game of the season for the birds. 

I was fortunate enough to make the journey to baseball's "mecca" with my good friend and bird of a feather, Chris Carey (the originator of the above quotes) and Rich Arleo, very much not a fan of the black and orange, who displayed his displeasure with a bold showing of New York team pride. Rich donned his Yankee cap, which is pretty much expected for any and every sojourn we make together, and took his fandom to the next level when he wore his Mark Sanchez New York Jets jersey. Considering there are places in New York where you couldn't get away with wearing that jersey, he was making a bold statement, indeed.

Promptly upon entering the car, Chris made sure to tell us both to "Buckle Up" as this was the new slogan for the Orioles as they came down the stretch of meaningful October baseball. This comment was expected (if he didn't say it, I would have), but we resolved to try and use the phrase ten times before getting to Baltimore, with the only catch being that we didn't want to force the issue and say it for the heck of it. The gauntlet was laid down.

Almost equally as promptly, Chris packed a lip, citing that it was his way of coping with long drives and minutes later Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight" popped on the radio. For but a moment we questioned whether or not we wanted to venture such an intense tune so early in the morning. We came to the conclusion that if it wasn't too early for chewing tobacco, it wasn't too early for Phil Collins. The track appeared to set the tone for the entire day. We made the right choice.

Not the best roots to lay for a story per se, but Chris made unbelievable time getting there and back; incredibly impressive. At one point during the ride in, we spied a massive bird of some sort chilling in a cage in the passenger seat just watching the traffic glide by. Consequent Birdland jokes were traded and after imagining the bird saying buckle up to its driver, we were all the more closer to both the great state of Maryland and our "BUCKle Up" goal. As we pulled into the city, we caught a glimpse of a perhaps inevitable traffic sign reading, "Buckle up for safety" and, while not the most creative of endings, considered our "buckle" goal reached. 

Stating the obvious here, but as questionable as the outter parts of the city may be, the Inner Harbor area of Baltimore is really a pretty special place that definitely has it's own distinct feel. I equated it, perhaps not quite eloquently enough, to having a Down Port kind of atmosphere with a big city activities list. There's a little of everything there, including a life-sized robot in the image of the tallest man in the history of the world that can rise from a seated position very, very quickly. More about Baltimore's extra curriculars in a bit.

The park itself is nothing short of incredible. If you haven't seen it, be sure you do at some point. I mean, there's that old time feel that I guess every ball park has to an extent, just because it's the nature of the game to take you back in time to something perennial, in a sense, but Camden Yards' brick construction right in the middle of a very populous city really takes the feeling to the next level. Even the vibe at the park was something special. You could tell that A. We weren't in New York and B. The Oriole fans were still a bit unused to being on the winning end of a baseball game. Even the people who stopped to heckle Rich a bit for his attire did all but apologize for it afterwards. (Including the guy who Tebowed in front him.) This truly was a team and fan base that was just happy to be here. One of my favorite shirts I saw while at the park seemed to sum up the attitude of park and its people perfectly as it combined the name of Oriole third baseman, Manny Machado, with a popular "Lion King phrase to say "Hakunamachado." No worries, indeed, what a scene.

One of the other great aspects of this trip was the fact that a few friends from York were also at the game. Lord Baltimore himself (and his peach shorts) took the time to dwell amongst his masses, taking in the game with the lovely Lauren. As if things couldn't get any better, Greg "Poppyseed" Sullivan and Emmie were also in attendance and fortunately, Rich, Chris, and I were able to go sit with them after learning there were some open seats in their section. This move proved most helpful, as we were initially seated next to a nice enough family, but a family with two young kids with them that were clearly more interested in reading books than watching the game. It wasn't exactly conducive to the kind of baseball atmosphere we wanted, so we were relieved Emmie and the Seed swooped in with the seating arrangements.

While not nearly the sore thumb Rich was, Emmie was dressed in neutral colors as a sign of support for the Red Sox. Needless to say, she had a long day as the O's pounced on the Sox like bird seed and pretty much never looked back. At one point, while the Yankees were down large to the Jays and the Jets were in the process of being shut out by the Niners, Rich, sandwiched between Chris and myself proclaimed, "This is my hell." At which point, I told him to "buck up". We didn't exactly make that day easy on him, but considering the Yanks came back and won that day, it's hard to regret it.

After the game, the announcer at the park notified us that the Angels were in the final inning of their game, which, if lost, would clinch a postseason berth for the Orioles. They threw the game up on the big screen and fans and players alike lingered on the field and in the stands respectively to see how it would all pan out. The buzz in the place was electric. Even Rich admitted that this moment had the potential to be really cool. Sadly, the Angels pulled it out and while the O's did clinch later that night, we didn't get to witness and partake in the celebration. Hard to be too upset about it, though, following the victory.

After the game we toiled around the harbor for a while and grabbed a bite to eat with Greg and Emmie. As we walked through the harbor, I noticed a replica pirate ship that I suppose they used for tours or something. I thought it was awesome, until I realized that the cannons actually worked. The thought of midday cannon fire and pillaging is a little alarming, but these cannons only shot water at those on land. To be fair, These guns didn't reach very far inland, but even so, I have to say if I was just strolling around enjoying the day and I was nailed with a water cannon, I don't think I'd take it very well. After it was clear we were out of shot range, we saw a street performer doing her thing. Towards the end of the show, she tried to mount a huge unicycle after turning on the entirely appropriate Rocky theme song. She messed up the first time, but played it off well, stretching and restarting the song. She had played it off like it was a gag. She messed up the second time and grabbed a drink of water and restarted the song. Again, really over selling it like it's all part of her schtick. She screwed up the third time and does more the same, which you expect because of the comedic rule of three. She screws up a fourth time and even then you think it's a part of the gag because she wants to stick it to the know-it-all in the front row referencing the comedic rule of three (namely, me). But then she fails to mount it for a fifth time and doesn't take the time to restart the song. At that point the crowd realizes it's not part of the act and it gets really tense really quickly. The crowd got pretty silent and the theme song now seems like cruel irony. It was awkward because they call it a unicycle for a reason, there's not much someone else can do to help you out. After about eight tries, she finally got up and the crowd erupted nearly as passionately as after the O's win.

Greg and Emmie left after the meal, leaving Chris, Rich and I to wander about ourselves. For a while we were just walking and talking and what have you, until I realized we were walking away from any sort of tourist area and were entering something akin to the dark forest of Legends of the Hidden Temple lore, except there were no trees and no talking rock. Whether or not there were Mayan temple guards lurking about...I'll never know. The comedy of this moment is tough to describe, but we very nearly wander aimlessly into a much less friendly area of Baltimore.

Later that evening, we met up with Nick (Lord) and shot some pool and played some ping pong. It got pretty intense and I think we all wound up sweating a little more than we'd like to admit. It was a great casual hang out to put the cherry on the day. Great to catch up and share old times with Nick and I'm glad Chris and Rich were there to share it with me. The trip was unforgettable and I'm thrilled to know that the Buck Truck is poised to bring Baltimore baseball back to its winning ways. *flaps arms like wings* See you next season.

Song of the Day: Conventioneers-Barenaked Ladies
Jazz Song of the Day: Raju- John McLaughlin

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Ruggedly Refined

I wanted to take a post to honor the life of Professor James Valiant and extend my sympathies and condolences to his family and friends, as well as my York College peers who share grief in his passing.

Professor Valiant was indeed one of a kind. I'll never forget seeing him for the first time during my freshman year Opera Theatre workshop and considering him pretty imposing. A straight-postured bearded man who entered stealthily from stage right of Wolf Hall, smiled without showing any teeth and nodded slightly upon being introduced, and largely never said a word unless spoken to. When he did speak, I was a bit taken aback by how truly soft spoken he was. Having spent a great deal of my social/academic hours (especially at that point in my life) amongst music and theatre enthusiasts, a social circle which at times, no offense, seemed to center around competitions for attention and as a result, was anything but quiet and conservative, Professor Valiant seemed to clash with that perhaps unwarranted generalization. However, his demeanor was not that of a timid man, but of a confident and self-assured one. His reserved demeanor did nothing but add more weight to the thoughts and opinions he did express.

Professor Valiant was anything but an overly serious man as well. He was, as you would expect, a very clever guy, who every now and again would catch you off guard with a little pun or observation of some sort that would (at least in my case) send you into a fit of laughter. I think his wordplays were more situational than anything else and would be tough to relay via this blog, but I will share one time when I walked in on a conversation he was having with other students regarding his weekend and he said something to the effect of "one of my friends got married and I'm still trying to piece together the weekend. Yesterday I wasn't exactly up for the piano." His polite way of saying that he got totally smashed on Saturday was incredible and made him all the more relatable to his students. Not the drinking aspect, obviously, but his openness and willingness to share of himself. I feel like this is almost cliche to say about the deceased, but Professor Valiant was a man who truly seemed to have a joy for life and the wisdom to know when to work hard and when to sit back and enjoy it a bit.

His talent leaves me at a loss for words as a painist, vocalist, and overall performer. His turn as Elijah in the oratorio by the same name was moving to say the least, and his abilities as a pianist and organist were incredible to see and hear. The thing I believe I'll remember most about Professor Valiant is his willingness to teach and share with anyone who would care to learn.

To be fair, Doctors Woodfield and Muzzo were also beyond generous with their time and efforts with me as a musician and I'm left in awe of the fact that they continue to bring that passion for teaching and improvement to York College with them everyday, but as a non-music major with quite simply a passion for music, I always kind of considered my advancement in music kind of secondary to those within the major. That's not to say that I didn't bust my hump in my musical endeavors and milk all the knowledge I could out of these great professors during class time, but I kind of figured that the out of class time would be reserved for those paying for the music space and trying to make a future living out of it. When professor Valiant complimented my voice freshman year and asked if I wanted to work with him on some things, I quickly said I was a writing major, essentially giving him cause to help out someone else. He aptly replied, "so what?" and we went to work later on that week and a couple more times over the course of my time at York as performances with Rhapsody and otherwise came up. His desire to go above and beyond to help me made me want to go above and beyond and meet his (again Muzzo and Woodfield included) expectations. That kind of attitude is contagious and was everything you could want out an instructor and to a degree, mentor.

Professor Valiant's personality was so unique that Dennis and I took to forming a scale of ruggedness with his name at the top. Other notable names on the list he beat out were Kimbo Slice, Grimace, Popeye the Sailor Man, and the inscrutable Chuck Norris. When we told him about this list, he laughed heartily and gave the same humble nod I'd seen on the first day I'd met him.

In short, I know of few others as classy, talented, and professional as Mr. James Valiant and his impact on my life, as brief as our interaction was, will never be forgotten. In truth, I considered Professor Valiant a role model, which I feel are harder to find at 21 after you've found your own opinions and voice in the world, but I think that's just further testimony for the quality of Mr. Valiant's character. His passion for life, sense of humor, open heart, and ability to leave the stage on the stage and be a listener off of it are qualities I try to live by every day. Professor Valiant personified, in my opinion, how a man should conduct himself and I'm honored to have known him and grieve with the rest of my classmates and peers.

Song of the Day: God Bless The Child-Blood Sweat and Tears
Jazz Song of the Day: Spanish Fantasy Part III-Chick Corea