Thursday, June 5, 2008

Like a Bowa constrictor: Early thoughts on Philly

Greetings, people. These are my first words for public consumption since May 21, my last day at LEO. It's been an interesting couple of weeks — mostly good despite that disappointing change. I'm feeling a lot of relief, and curiosity about the future. I truly appreciate the support that's come my way in the interim. I had a good run at LEO for 10 years, and it's largely because of the community that supported us.

I’m in Philadelphia this week, site of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies 2008 annual convention. This is the 10th one of these I’ve attended, and quite possibly my last. I had planned to do it (I've paid my own way to these conventions for several years now), so I figured I might as well show up to visit old friends, network, learn new things, garner some sympathy and possibly find a job. Yeah, I need a job.

It’s always risky to generalize about a new place based on one day in a selected part of it. I can say confidently that the vibe here is much more open and friendly than I might’ve guessed. You hear stories about the east coasters being so gruff and whatnot, but so far, it seems people here are genuinely nice. By that, I mean, they speak to you easily without the aloof avoidance you find in some big metropolises.

It even kinda feels like Louisville, although the pace here is more forward looking. That seems to go with bigger cities, I suppose, because you can’t wait around for things when there’s so many people trying to get so many places.

I arrived at the airport, took a train downtown (more on trains shortly) and checked into the Marriott on Market Street. It was storming by the time I got back above ground, and the forecast called for possible severe weather that didn’t materialize.

The Phillies are in first place, and they were at home — against Louisville’s favorite MLB team, the Reds. I had to check it out, so I got directions on how to get to Citizens Bank Ballpark on the train (more on that later).

The game was sold out. I bought an upper level ticket — $22 face value — for $30. Not bad. The stadium sits near the former site of Veterans Stadium, where Mike Schmidt (not my high school classmate by the same name), Larry Bowa and Pete Rose and Co. had a nice run of World Series teams. I always thought of the snake when I heard Larry Bowa’s name.

It’s a beautiful park, spacious, open, easy to navigate and with real grass. The outfield fences are old-school — i.e. non-symmetrical in their dimensions. From my fourth-level seat (yep, top row on the highest level — Section 424), I was looking right at home plate and straight down the right-field line. The right-field fence has a scoreboard in it that shows other game scores — just as a ballpark should have. The bullpens are on two levels out in center field, just to the right of an area of trees and shrubs.

I knew my day was blessed when I went through the turnstiles and they were giving away free Jimmy Rollins bobblehead dolls (no relation to Sonny, we surmise). Jimmy is the Phils’ shortshop, a switch hitter who won the NL’s MVP award last year, when he hit 20 triples. Amazing.

Rollins couldn’t help his team last night — the Sleds didn’t get their first hit until the top of the sixth inning (Joey Votto’s RBI double) but squeezed out a 2-0 win on about three hits (Votto also doubled in the other run). The pitching was impressive for both teams all night long.

Other stadium observations:

* There’s something strangely appealing about the Phillies’ mix of pale blue and red, even though I don’t know what a Philly is.

* The prices weren’t much higher than they are at Slugger Field. They actually seemed a bit more modest than Great American Ballpark in Cincy. Example: large pop, $3.75, hot dogs $3.75, large bucket of fresh-cut fries, $5. Large beers went for $6.75.

* Philly groups all of its major stadiums in one area. The ballpark sits south of downtown, near the Wachovia Center and Spectrum and Eagles Lincoln Financial Field. It makes me realize that downtown arenas may be more iffy. I certainly think Louisville, while using its new arena because it must, will come to regret how it got shoehorned into a crowded area.

After the game, I took the train back downtown, then caught a cab to the North Star Bar to see the Waco Bros., featuring former Mekon Jon Langford. It was a hot set of straight-ahead roots rock with verve, humor and energy. For the encore, Langford riffed on Bo Diddley and the band did one of its Diddley-influenced songs before seguing into "Hey, Bo Diddley" and then "White Lightning."

This morning I headed over to WXPN-FM, home of the public radio music show "World Cafe." Dan Reed, who spent several years at Louisville's Public Radio Partnership (WFPK), is the ops director and programming director for XPN. Dan says hello to Louisville, a city he loves and misses greatly. He agrees that Louisville shares a vibe with Philly. Dan (that's him and Jimmy Rollins in the photo below — Dan's the larger of the two guys) gave me the nickel tour and we grabbed lunch at the World Cafe Live, an adjacent but separate business that hosts lives shows (I'll be seeing Dan Bern there this weekend).

Parting shot for now: About those trains — they simply help make life more manageable. They're fast, cheap and convenient. When you're in a place with so much traffic, you spend too much time and money on gas and parking, not to mention wasting your time and raising your blood pressure. Maybe Louisvile's economy of scale can never support a rail system, but I just can't escape the notion that we're just not making the right sorts of plans for the future. There's got to be a way to get past that.

That's about it for now. More to come. —CARY STEMLE


Anonymous said...

If you have time, grab a beer at The Monk.

The New Albanian said...

Plastic bottles of Miller Lite were running $7 from the roving vendors last time I was in Cincy for a game.

I second the Monks.

stemmer said...

thanks for the comments, and the tip.

and ... the domestic swill is overpriced at all ballparks, but i was somewhat surprised that things may be more expensive at the cincy ballpark than in philly.

i have not gone on a cheesesteak mission yet, but that's coming soon.

last night we went bowling ... man, i forgot how much strain that puts on the ol' elbow. i feel like tommy john.