Thursday, December 29, 2011

Back to the Ralph

I returned to Ralph Wilson Stadium for the first time in a while on Saturday for the Bills' game with the Denver Broncos. You know how the game turned out, I figure. But I did want to make a few quick observations from the fan's point of view:

* Traffic problem? What traffic problem? It took 30 minutes to make a 30-minute drive from Buffalo to the Erie Community College parking lot. I think it takes me about, oh, 30 minutes to make the same drive on a Wednesday in June. It was funny to see the main lots, charging $25, so empty, while the lower-cost secondary lots were relatively full.

* It's never easy to pick up the biggest price-gouging item at the concession stands. My personal winner, though, was the soft pretzel with cheese. Six dollars. Ouch. By that standard, the $3.50 hot chocolate was a bargain.

* I wonder if Tim Tebow is already in the NFL Shop's Pro Bowl for moving merchandise. The single most popular jersey worn by fans to the game ... IN BUFFALO ... was Tebow's. There were a few other Broncos' shirts for Champ Bailey and John Elway, but Tebow was about a 5-to-1 winner.

On the Buffalo side, there were a variety of shirts worn -- a Fitzpatrick here, a Stevie Johnson there, a few Fred Jacksons, one Merriman, some Jim Kellys. That might point out one of the Bills' problems -- a few more stars not only would move merchandise, they might help the team's record.

* I was about 20 rows up on the Broncos' side of the field, and I'm told fans have developed a new habit this year -- standing constantly. When the fans in the first few rows stand, the fans behind them stand, and the fans behind them stand, and so on. My first thought was, I'm getting a little old for this. My second thought was, I expect this at a Rush concert, but not at the Ralph.

* Speaking of fan behavior, one traditional action remains in effect during Bills' games. When fans (and there aren't that many of them, for the record) need to yell something really insulting at opposing players, sometimes no doubt fueled by alcohol, they still rely on an old standby -- homosexual slurs. Now, remember, the opposing players in question can't hear the insult from a couple of dozen rows up, so all those fans are doing are revealing a lot about their own character.

NFL games are always a great spectacle, and this one was plenty of fun to watch from the Bills' standpoint. And by Bills' standards, everyone was relatively well-mannered -- meaning I didn't see any fights or vomiting. But with fewer than 50,000 fans on hand and temperatures in the 30's, it wasn't a typical game by any means. I'm glad I went, but a Disney-like atmosphere it's not.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Who's turn is it anyway?

I'm starting to get the impression that the Republican Party is looking for someone, anyone, but Mitt Romney to win its Presidential nomination.

All together now ... "YOU THINK?!?"

Considering the election process hasn't started yet, I can't remember a more fascinating process without a single vote being cast. The polls have done up and down for most of the candidates, while Romney stays in the 20's for support.

If you recall, Michelle Bachmann got a bit of a boost early on when she bought her way to a victory in the straw poll at the Iowa State Fair. The bounce from that lasted, oh, about a news cycle.

Rick Perry thought he saw an opening, entered the race, and vaulted to the top of the polls. Then he started talking, people became rather fearful, and Perry's ratings plunged.

Perry was followed by Herman Cain, who seemed personable enough and had a simple economic plan. Too bad he knew as much about world affairs as I did, and may have cheated on his wife. See ya. By the way, his book called "This is Herman Cain - My Journey to the White House" was on the new releases table at Barnes & Noble today. Expect it to be in the discount section by about Dec. 27, if not sooner.

The Republicans, disapproving of a candidate charged with infidelity, then turned to Newt Gingrich. Now there's a man who knows something about infidelity. Gingrich, who at times at least has some thoughtful ideas, rose to the top of the polls. Then the "bad Newt" started coming out again in his public speeches, and suddenly bringing back 1994 didn't seem like such a great idea. Back down the ladder he went.

On the other side of the see-saw from Gingrich this time was Ron Paul, who at least sticks to his ideological guns under any circumstances. It's hard to think of him as the least bit electable considering his libertarian views, but he's not someone who panders to an audience. Right now, Paul and Romney are considered a toss-up in the Iowa caucus.

Bachmann and Rick Santorum might be thinking, "Is there time enough on the calendar to have our turn?" Tim Pawlenty might be thinking, "I probably look good to a few Republicans about now."

If I'm forced to guess what happens at this point, I would say Romney will win the nomination because there isn't much of an alternative. But while some Republicans will hold their nose and vote for him, few will have any enthusiasm and some will just stay home on Election Day. Barring further economic troubles, it's difficult to see that combination winning a general election.

But, as commentator Jeff Greenfield says, if the election were held today ... everyone would be surprised. I can't wait until votes are cast.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Great but not greatest

Rob Ray, one of the North America's leading authors (sorry, couldn't resist), stirred up a good-sized debate on Facebook the other day. Apparently he said recently that there were no great American hockey players.

That sparked a series of responses. Some of them were along the lines of "What? What about Lafontaine, Tkachuk, Chelios, Housley..."

Then I thought about it. Rob may be on to something here.

Let's make a list of the greatest players of all time from anywhere. The top three is pretty set. You can change the order around all you want, but Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr and Gordie Howe are at the top of the list. Your order probably depends on what you value. Meanwhile, Mario Lemieux is number four.

If you were picking the top 12 players ever, particularly by position, you'd come up with a bunch of good candidates. Among forwards, the list for consideration probably would include Phil Esposito, Bobby Hull, Maurice Richard, Mark Messier and Guy Lafleur. Among defenseman, certainly you'd think Nicklas Lidstrom, Ray Bourque, Doug Harvey and Larry Robinson are in the hunt. At goal, I'd consider Patrick Roy, Dominik Hasek, Martin Brodeur, and Terry Sawchuck.

If you want to include some players from Russia who didn't play much over here, then the names of Tretiak, Yakushev and Fetisov would be considered.

See any Americans there?

The best American player might be Brett Hull, who scored 741 goals. The catch is that he is a joint citizen of the U.S. and Canada, although he played internationally for America. Let's say he doesn't count here for the sake of argument.

From there, my pick for the best U.S. player ever is Brian Leetch. Chris Chelios is right around him in the all-time rankings, and Pat LaFontaine might have been there had his career not been shortened. Mike Modano was really good for a long time.

Yes, the Americans listed are great players by most definitions. But they aren't the best of the best. I don't think you'd put any of them in the top 10 all-time.

Therefore, Rob just has a different definition of "great." His point is valid when examined that way. The top of the list is dominated by Canadians.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Man in the middle

I recently received an e-mail from someone through He said that he had noticed that I was related to the Budd family that lived in Meriden, Connecticut, about 100 years ago. By chance, his grandmother knew them well. The 1910 census indicated they were neighbors on Howard Ave.

He said he had some photos from those days, and would be happy to send them to me. He did. One of them had a picture of my grandmother at around the age of 5, give or take a year, with her mother and part of the neighbor's family. I had never seen a picture of my grandmother as a child; it was amazing how much she looked like her daughter (my mother) at a similar age.

There were also four photos of one of my grandmother's younger sisters, Eleanor. I happened to have the e-mail address of Eleanor's son in the state of Washington. Although I'm a little vague on the specifics, I believe Eleanor's first husband was killed when some sort of robbery went horribly wrong a long, long time ago (1942?). Later, after remarrying, she supposedly put a roast in the oven one day, laid down on the couch, and died.

I sent the photos off to the son via e-mail, with a note explaining what they were saying that I didn't know if he had ever seen them or knew anything about them. He wrote back and said that he had never seen a photograph of his mother from when she was a child, so to see these at this point in his life touched him greatly.

That's Eleanor on the right. The photo dates back almost 100 years, I would guess, since she was born in 1912. Even though she couldn't conceive of being remembered this way, it's nice to bring her memory back for a moment. And I was glad to play a role in getting the photos to their proper destination.

Richard may receive a number of holiday gifts this year, but I'll bet this one from someone he'll never meet will mean more to him than any of them.

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Sunday, December 11, 2011

It's a Wonderful Run

Seneca Falls, N.Y., hosts "It's a Wonderful Life" festival each year as a tribute to the movie, which was somewhat inspired by the little village in Central New York. Two years ago, four people got together and created a 5-kilometer race as part of the festivities.

In 2009, the event attracted more than 400 runners. That's quite good for a new race in a small town. Last year, organizers were stunned to have 800 runners, including me. This year, thanks in part to word of mouth advertising plus some media coverage, including an article in Runner's World, the race did more than 2,000 runners.

That's more than any race of that length in Western New York, by far. It's several hundred runners more than the Lindsay's Legacy run, held in November. Amazing. What a great economic engine for the festival.

I was back this past week for the third annual running, and have to tell you about the Saturday portion of the trip.

The race starts on a bridge that served as an inspiration for the suicide scene of the Jimmy Stewart movie. That alone is a little odd, especially to someone named Bailey (think of the film). I was waiting for the start with a couple of friends, when Karolyn Grimes was recognized. She was Zuzu in the movie, the young girl with the line at the end about an angel getting wings when a bell rings. Karolyn has made every one of the 11 festivals, signing autographs, selling her cookbook, and posing for countless pictures. She was nice enough to stop for a quick picture with me before the start of the race, and seemed to enjoy the fact that I was a favorite in the "Bailey Division" of the race. Last year, I was the only Bailey, and waited in vain for a trophy.

Grimes started the race with a replay of her final movie line ("Start running when you hear 'wings."), and we ran around the village at dusk. Near the end, as the race went down the main street of town, I again got to yell out at a temporarily renamed building, "Merry Christmas, you old Building and Loan." Then I finished, had some water, and headed back to the hotel to take a warm shower.

The fun really began when my wife and I got back to a bar/restaurant renamed "Martini's" for the weekend. The Lancaster Striders had a major club outing at the event, and they had gathered at Martini's for dinner.

When I walked in the bar portion of the place, my wife and I were greeted with a loud and unexpected chorus of "It's the Baileys!!!" I felt like I was in the drafty old house at the end of the movie, surrounded by friends. After a good laugh by all, I said, "I guess for the weekend, I should be named George Bailey," which got another happy response.

Then after a moment or two, I said, "All we need now is for Harry Bailey to get here." And someone pointed to my right and said, "He's right over there."

The festival uses "actors" to walk around town impersonating movie characters during the event. Sure enough, "Harry Bailey" was there in character, dressed in a military uniform and seated next to Grimes.

And at this point, I was no longer visiting a movie festival. I was in the movie.

Thinking quickly, I walked over to "Harry" and said, "I'm so glad you came home from the war, Harry," and gave him a big hug. Then someone yelled out, "Here's to George Bailey -- the richest man in town." I just wish I had the presence of mind to lead the bar in a chorus of "Hark the Herald Angels Sing."

You never know when you are going to have to be really, really fast on your feet. Whew.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Almost a big winner

"You have won $15,000!"

Well, maybe not. But it's a good story for the blog.

Yesterday, the phone rang. I answered it and was asked by a woman if I listened to WBLK. I said no. She didn't seem to care, and said that the station was giving away $15,000 to selected listeners, and I had won.

When I asked how my name had been chosen, she was incredibly vague. She mumbled something about getting names from lists compiled around the area, including businesses. When asked what I thought I said, "Well, when something is too good to be true, it usually is. But go on."

She said there were four winners already of the prize, including people named Baker, Bailey and Bailey. Think she was going down the phone book or something? She added that I had to come over to the offices in order to pick up the check by Saturday afternoon before 4 p.m., and that there were 50 prizes to be awarded. If I didn't get over to the office, my prize would go to someone else.

OK. Fifty prizes times $15,000? The station's entire operating budget probably isn't that big. A look at the address given as the offices was not WBLK's, but in a rather, um, poor portion of the city. I don't know if there's a course for rip-off artists, but this woman flunked it.

So ... I mumbled something and got off the phone. I wrote down the name and number of the call from Caller ID. Then I called WBLK, to let someone know that someone was using the station for a scam. (Oddly, no one there seemed too concerned.) And then I got in touch with the police, and presented them with all the information I had. They said they would send someone over to the address to take a look. If I had gone, I might have wound up with a conk on the head and an empty wallet for my trouble.

It's too bad I'll never get to hear how the episode turns out. But, hopefully, the community will become a little safer.