Goal: 1,380 miles - Miles to go: ZERO!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Vietnam in a week. Part 5: Sa Pa (Part 2)

(Holy guacamole this is getting out of control. If you haven't read parts 1, 2, 3 and 4, I'd just skip them and wait for the movie, that's what I did with the middle few Harry Potter books.)

When we last left our heroes, we had finished our first eventful day in Sa Pa and PTFO'd in our massive hotel beds (they were literally two queen beds pushed together) in preparation for our first full day of Sa Pa partying the next morning -- or Sa Pa-rtying if you prefer. Fair warning, that's not even close to the worst joke of today's blog.

Surprisingly, we'd only been in Sa Pa for about 12 hours when we met Sung at 9am to begin our long day. Three villages, 15km, infinity views, and probably a bunch of LOWs (Little Old Women who try to sell you stuff, if you missed episode 4).

We left on foot directly from our hotel and walked through town to a small path that would wind down into one of the villages. It only took about 45 seconds before a couple LOWs spotted us. It's not like we were that hard to find, a group of super white tourists carrying cameras and backpacks and towering over the 4'8" natives stick out like a Romney at a pride parade.

After the mandatory introductions "What's your name? How old are you? You buy from me?", they actually relaxed and tucked into the pack, apparently realizing this was going to be a long-sell. And honestly, they were pretty nice. One was named Mong Mai, and the other was her sister-in-law. I can't remember the sister-in-law's name so I'll just call her LaShawnda. That's almost definitely not her actual name though.

During the hike down to the first village we stopped every few minutes to take pictures of the incredible views. This posed a similar problem to what we had in Ha Long Bay: the views were gorgeous but when you go back and look at the pictures, they all basically look the same. Endless terraced hillsides, beautiful mountain ranges as far as the eye can see, yada yada yada. You'll just have to take my word that we weren't simply taking pictures of the same hillside from a bunch of different angles. These views were everywhere and absolutely impossible to do justice with a camera -- let alone an iPhone, which does double duty as my camera.
We entered the first village by way of a family's backyard. Or the equivalent of their backyard. Things are obviously more sprawling and property lines don't exactly exist around there, but this would have been like walking down the Burke-Gilman trail and then hopping a fence into someone's tomato plants. All of a sudden we were hiking past a couple small huts, a family of piglets, and a sleeping dog. And then we were tiptoeing through rice paddies, careful not to fall into the swampy not-yet-planted rice. This wasn't exactly difficult or anything, but Sung had told us that when they're planting the rice, they have to be careful because the fields are infested with leeches. So even though it was easy enough to walk on the 12" stone wall between terraces, I was 90% sure a pack of leeches were licking their leech lips, waiting for me to stumble.
Trekking through the middle of hundreds of acres of rice terraces gives you a new appreciation for what it takes to grow food. And really what it takes to survive in much of the world. When it's growing season there, it's an all-hands-on-deck operation. From before dawn until whatever needs to get done is done, the entire village is working. We talk about how Americans are workaholics. Yeah right. Try going to a rural village outside Sa Pa. I'm pretty sure Mong Mai and LaShawnda don't accrue any PTO.

If I'm honest, the entire trek really was just walking past endless hills of terraces similar to the first ones we hiked through. Which when you put it that way sounds kind of boring. But it was anything but boring. Like I eluded to before, it's impossible to capture the immensity of nature, no matter how many megapixels your camera has. But when you're walking through it and experiencing it in person, it's truly astonishing. And peaceful too. That's one of the things I do miss about running an obscene amount of miles every week: getting away from real life for a few hours everyday and just enjoying what's around you. Sa Pa would be an awesome place to train as a runner. As long as you had enough agility to evade a few LOWs here and there.

Obligatory panoramic shot. You can click it, but it still won't quite be cool enough, but it shows the enormity of what was around us a little better (cool drinking game idea I just had: take a drink for every synonym of the word "big" I use to describe the scenery around Sa Pa)
Trust me, we didn't just walk back and forth on this road. These terraces were everywhere.
About 10km into our hike we took a quick break to drink some Coke and play the "let's see where Woody forgot to put sunscreen" game. Spoiler alert, it was the back of my legs. Red as a Twilight book at a 7th grade girl's slumber party. 

At our little rest stop, I spotted this cute puppy and had to track it down for a picture. But as soon as I took this shot, our guide laughed and said, "when as he grows up, he'll be dinner". I had seen some puppies early and had intentionally not asked about what their future entailed because I was afraid to know answer.
I'm sure this little guy will escape that fate though. How could anyone eat something with a face like that?

A couple kilometers before the end of our trek through colossal spectacularness, we grabbed lunch at a homestead -- those are like hostels for tourists in the little villages. Mong Mai and LaShawnda were still with us, and since it's really hard to say no to a couple nice old ladies who just went on a four hour walk with you, Jenny bought some stuff. It was really pretty handmade stuff, but souvenir-type stuff all the same.

Lunch was really good and I'm almost certain it didn't include any puppy meat. But do you really think you could tell the difference between dog meat and pig meat?
After lunch, we walked the last few kilometers to meet up with our van and head back to our hotel. We said goodbye to Mong Mai and LaShawnda, who hung out while we ate lunch so that they could finish the walk with us. Which was of cool of them. They'd already made their sale so I don't think they were expecting any more money, but I like to think that we sort of made friends with them by the end of the day.

That night we had dinner at a little Italian restaurant in Sa Pa. Which might sound weird, but there were actually a lot of good non-Vietnamese restaurants everywhere we went in Vietnam. And there's only so much Pho you can eat before you want to mix it up with a pizza. For me that was after no Pho. I'm one of those weirdos who doesn't really get what all the hype is about with Pho. Isn't it just chicken noodle soup on steroids? And normally, the only time anyone eats chicken noodle soup is when they're sick. But give it a fancy name that allows for all sorts of inappropriate puns, toss in a handful of shrubbery and some comically long noodles and all of a sudden everyone goes crazy for the stuff. Maybe it's the fact that we make ourselves eat it with chopsticks and no one wants to admit how insane the idea of consuming soup with a pair of sticks is.

In ten years, I think we'll look back on this brief Pho frenzy the same way we do about Capri Sun packaging. The target demographic for Capri Suns is 8 year old boys at halftime of a soccer game. Has any 8 year old in the history of the world successfully punctured a Capri Sun without showering him and his entire team with sticky sugary liquid? Who's idea was it to effectively package that stuff as mini hand-grenades with a taped on straw-detonator? They don't still sell those things do they?

But anyway, pizza. We had pizza for dinner that night from an Italian restaurant in the middle of Vietnam that had Columbia Crest wines on their menu. Super exotic of us, but it was a nice quiet way to spend our last real night in Vietnam. The next day we had a quick visit to our Sung's village and then just a couple hours before we had to hop on an overnight train and begin the epic journey back to Seattle. Any hopes of getting to that part of the trip in this episode were dashed by my Pho and Capri Sun diatribe. I swear that wasn't planned, but I'm totally right. Right?

To be continued...

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Vietnam in a week. Part 4: Sa Pa

(Jump to previous episodes in this Vietnam anthology: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.)

Sa Pa was the highlight of our time in Vietnam. For me an ideal vacation needs to include the right mix of unique experiences, the kind of stuff that make for great stories (or mediocre blog posts). But also enough relaxing down time that you can actually soak in an appreciate where you're at and what you're doing. Sa Pa had that balance. Mostly. What I don't like about vacations is buying souvenirs. I'm psychotically opposed to buying souvenirs. And Sa Pa has heat seeking souvenir dealers who will trek 15km with you just to make a sale. If everyone had their work ethic and unrelenting persistence, we'd have cured cancer a decade ago. They were annoying, but also make for great stories.

Our first afternoon in Sa Pa called for a trip to a really cool pretty neat mediocre waterfall. It was fine, but honestly any waterfall I see now gets unfairly compared to Igauzu. And come on, no one can compete with that. It'd be like if your wife told you she dated Brad Pitt in college. You'd be forever living in Tyler Durden's shadow.

Like I said, totally unfair.

The mountain roads to and from the waterfall had some spectacular views. We asked Sung (our tour guide, if you missed part 3) what the mountains were called and she told us "Fancy Pants" Mountains. Which is definitely the greatest name for any mountain range ever. Even if we later learned that they were actually called Fancipan, I'm sticking with our original interpretation.
Keep in mind that during our first day in Sa Pa, we still hadn't really slept for a while. As we discussed, the overnight train ride was more on the "experience" side of my experience/relaxation vacation partnership. So the waterfall and beautiful views were cool, but they were experienced in the haven't-slept-in-a-while haze. We were about to get abruptly shaken from that haze with our next adventure though.

Sa Pa is a super small town. The area only opened to tourism in 1993 and only really got going in the last decade or so. It's nothing like the organized chaos of Hanoi. Surrounding the town are lots of even smaller villages inhabited by several ethnic minorities. The villages are effectively only accessible by foot or motorbike (though we did see a full sized bus attempt to navigate a road that was about half the width of a full sized bus), which would make them feel really quiet if it weren't for the swarms of little old women trying to sell you stuff.

We were engulfed by these little old women (LOWs) as soon as we stepped out of our van a couple kilometers from the first village that we visited. And we definitely weren't expecting the insanity. They were the motorbikes of Sa Pa. If motorbikes spoke broken English.
Don't let the babies on their backs deceive you, they're as tenacious as a pack of honey badgers. And I don't think honey badgers even hang out in packs because there wouldn't be a way to measure that level of tenaciousness.
I thought the juxtaposition of the LOWs and the ducks was funny. Heh. There were all sorts of animals running around the villages, waiting to be eaten. Well I guess they didn't know they were going to be eaten. From their perspective they were just chillin' on the farm. But yes, they all get eaten. Even the puppies (foreshadowing for part 5!). They probably live much better lives than most of the stuff we eat though, so I actually didn't feel to bad. Except for the puppies.

A typical conversation with an LOW goes something like this:

"What's your name?" "How old are you?" "How many kids you have?" "You buy from me?" "Maybe later?" "You buy from me?" "You buy from me?" "You buy from me?" "You buy from me?" "You buy from me?"

Multiply that by a gazillion and you have our first trek through a local village. Eventually I learned to answer the "maybe later?" questions with "no, never ever ever" which was only mildly effective. If you do make the mistake of buying something form one of the LOWs, it sets of a shitstorm with the rest of them.

"Why you no buy from me?" "Why you only buy from her?" "You buy from me?" "You buy from me?" "You buy from me?" "You buy from me?" "You buy from me?"

Notice the subtle difference in the introductory inquiries before breaking into the chorus of "you buy form me"s. They try to make you feel guilty. Ruthless. When they finally break you and you do buy something, they give you a free bracelet. Which is clearly just a way to flag you as a sucker.

I want to be clear, I had a strange respect for the LOWs. In spite of their obnoxiousness, they were fascinating. I would totally read a Malcom Gladwell book that studied the groups of women selling crap to tourists in and around Sa Pa. Surely some are more profitable than others -- what techniques do they use? Would it be beneficial for them to unionize? Maybe have the better crafters stay at home and knit pillow cases while the top saleswomen focus only on suckering in tourists. Honestly, someone has to write a book on this. Someone get in touch with the guys at FiveThirtyEight, this seems right up their alley.

When it was all said and done, we'd trekked about 4m into the valley, through the village, and then up to meet our van on the other side. And some super skilled photographer took a panoramic of the route.
(click on it for a bigger picture)

It was a fun, full day but we when it was done, we were ready for some food, wine, and relaxation. The next morning we had a 15km trek planned, and at the time fully expected to be fighting off LOWs the entire time. It didn't turn out to be quite that exciting, but was still more action-packed than The Hobbit. But just like The Hobbit, I'm going to split this story into way more movies/posts than it needs to be.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Vietnam in a week. Part 3: Ha Long to Hanoi to Sa Pa

(Links to part 1 and part 2 if you missed those)

Flying halfway around the world is tiring and takes a really long time. An arguably more arduous endeavor however, is traveling from Ha Long bay to Sa Pa without the gift of flight. Vietnam doesn't have a freeway system. Even Seattle's display of civil engineering idiocy where we narrow down to two lanes through the heart of downtown would be a vast improvement over Vietnam's meandering lane-less alleyways that are used to traverse the country. So getting from Ha Long bay to Sa Pa was way harder than Google maps would have you believe.
Google's 8 hour estimate for the 499 km journey is laughable.

That actual trip involved a four hour bus ride back to Hanoi. That's a four drive in order to cover 100 km. Then we had to take an overnight train ride to Lao Cai. A ride that allegedly can be done in less than 9 hours but instead took us about 12. From there, it takes an additional 45 minutes to an hour to traverse the final 30 km mountain climb to Sa Pa. A climb during which we were precariously weaving around trucks and motorbikes the entire way.

But now we're getting ahead of ourselves. Let's back up to the train ride.

Mike, Lynn, Jenny, and I had a private four personal sleeper car. We had no idea what to expect from that. But all things considered, it probably met our ill-defined expectations. Adequate but cramped and slightly uncomfortable to say the least. The room was about the side of our Prius. With four beds and an entirely unnecessary table that took up half the floor space.
At least it had air conditioning -- for the way to Sa Pa anyway. We'll have to wait for a future installment of this blog series to learn whether the air conditioner broke on the way back to Hanoi, forcing us to MacGyver open window so that we didn't suffocate in our box car turned oven.

The train doubled as a passenger train and whatever you call the other kind of train. It stopped frequently to grab new cars and unload others, resulting in what felt like an earthquake simulator. Needless to say, this made sleeping difficult if not impossible. Jenny and I were still pretty jet lagged and sleep deprived at this point so I actually did get some sleep despite the turbulence. But I got a lot of not sleep too and was mildly afraid of being thrown out of my bunk whenever the train decided to pretend to be a bucking bronco.

Additionally, we didn't know that the train would end up being three hours late. And you forget how hard it is to figure out where in the world you are without an iPhone to tell you. So we were stuck staring out the window trying to figure out where we were and how far we had to go; attempting to decipher Vietnamese signs and comparing words that were either names of towns or billboard advertisements to a map of scheduled stops for the train. It was hopeless. Eventually we found a train employee (or possibly a stowaway) who spoke a little English and was able to inform us that we were still about two hours from Sa Pa. It was 7:30am. We were supposed to arrive at 6:30am. Blargfanuggin.

We burned the next few hours mostly lamenting about how we still had a few hours to burn. And then wondering whether we should worry about missing our flight if our train was as late on the return trip. Really exciting stuff.

But in the end we made it.

We got off the train and realized we were completely relying on there being someone waiting at the train station, holding up a sign with our name on it. We'd arranged the trip through a travel agent and didn't know what hotel we'd be staying at, who we were supposed to be meeting, or really anything at all. Just that someone was supposed to be meeting us at the train station to save us.

And that's how we met Sung.

Sung was amazing. Like, "totally took the trip to a new level of awesomeness" amazing. We found her in the throng of people as we left the train station and were relieved that she knew who we were, didn't appear to be scamming us, spoke very fluent English and had that effortless charisma where she just makes you happy to be around her even when you just finishing a mindbogglingly long overnight train ride in which you don't really remember sleeping even though you're pretty sure you must have at some point.

We still had about a 45 minute drive to Sa Pa -- even though it was only 30 km. The drive was kind of fun though. It was somewhat frightening because we were practically driving up the side of a mountain while zig-zagging around other cars, trucks, vans, and motorbikes. But we also got some spectacular views along the way.

Our hotel turned out to be totally awesome. It way exceeded expectations, which were a little bit deflated after of our boat accommodations. Not only were our rooms sans rats and cockroaches but they were legitimately nice. They were huge with our own (mostly private) balcony and a view of Sa Pa and the surrounding mountains.
The bathroom itself was probably bigger than our room during the cruise and our toilet actually flushed -- I may have forgotten to mention that particular inadequacy about our boat bathroom.

We had a great basecamp from which to begin our adventures in and around Sa Pa. Which is all coming up in part 4.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Vietnam in a week. Part 2: Hanoi to Ha Long Bay

(If you missed part one, nothing really happened. Sort of like how the first billion pages of Lord of the Rings is just walking, smoking, and eating, part one just covered our epic journey uneventful plane flights to Vietnam. Boring, but necessary in order to construct the proper narrative. If you still want to read it despite that incredible recommendation, it can be be found here)

After checking into our hotel in Hanoi, we took to the streets. We were in a bit of a can't-remember-the-last-time-we-slept haze, but managed to navigate the motor bike pandemonium of downtown Hanoi without getting run over. Which is actually a bit of an accomplishment. There are no real traffic lights to speak of, few sidewalks, no crosswalks, no lane lines, and no significant breaks in traffic. I'm not exaggerating. Crossing the street is like fording a river. You just go for it. You can't stop halfway across or you'll get swept away by the myriad motorbikes. No matter what happens, you have to forge ahead. Fortunately the drivers don't want to hit you almost as much as you don't want to be hit so it all somehow works out. The river parts around you and you get to the other side unharmed. When it works, you feel like Moses parting the Red Sea. Fortunately, we never had to experience what it feels like when it doesn't work.

At some point we grabbed a round of Tiger beer. They were only 75 cents each, and easily worth twice that. Compared to some of the local Hanoi beer we had, they were world class. We did our best to avoid a brief rain storm and then headed back to the hotel for dinner. Then we PTFO'd in our bed. Ah, glorious sleep. If you ever want to really appreciate sleep, take the most uncomfortable chair in your house and put it in your smallest closet. Then sit in the chair for 15 hours and periodically eat some really crappy microwave food. Then walk around your block a dozen times while someone follows you around in their car and honks their horn every few seconds. Or just fly to Vietnam and walk around Hanoi for a couple hours. Very similar sleep-deprivation experiences.

The next morning we got on a bus for a four hour drive to Ha Long bay.
Our tour guide, Duk, told us some cool Vietnam fun facts:

  • The are a gazillion motorbikes -- he may have been more precise.
  • Hanoi means "ascending dragon". It's probably supposed to be written Ha Noi, but now I don't want to go back and fix it the dozen places I've already typed it. So deal with it, we're sticking with the Western spelling.
  • Ha Long means "descending dragon" -- it was created when some dragon descended to earth and spit out a bunch of jewels, which turned into those neat rock islands. Either that or they formed through tens of millions of years of limestone erosion. Honestly, if Science ever wants to compete with ancient myths and religion, it's got to come up with some more exciting stories. I'm taking jewel spitting dragons over erosion any day of the week.
When we got to the bay, we checked into our luxurious cabin on the boat. Yes, that's the whole cabin, not just the bed. There also may or may not have been rats in the walls. And I might have found a cockroach in our room. 

But at least there was a hell of a view out the window.
We cruised around the bay for two nights and it was one of those cases where it's simply impossible to capture nature's beauty with pictures. There were hundreds, probably thousands of islands (or dragon jewels, if you prefer) all throughout the bay. Unfortunately, there was even more garbage. That was the sad part of the cruise. We did some really awesome kayaking through caves, saw some monkeys that were literally "monkeying around" (how cliche) as they leaped from tree to tree. But everywhere we went there was trash floating around too. I guess that's one advantage to seeing the bay only in pictures -- I mostly shot around the trash.

Dinner on the cruise was decent, massive, but redundant. Each meal consisted of close to a dozen courses. We had an ongoing joke that "when the rice arrives, you're halfway done". We'd typically get some kind of chicken dish, a pork dish, at least one squid dish, some shrimp, a couple plates of vegis, and a massive bowl of rice. Plus an occasional bowl of soup, and some sort of fruit at the end. It was fine, but by the third night of surf and turf and surf and more surf, I was on the verge of going vegetarian. The couple meals after the cruise, I think we all did avoid meat entirely. It was just too much mediocre protein cooked in conditions of questionable sanitation in a short amount of time.

There were a few other families with us while we toured the bay. A Canadian family with two kids who were at the start of a seven month journey around Southeast Asia. They were from Victoria and had a delightful Canadian accent. Another couple from the Netherlands, who said only foreigners call them Dutch. And a super self-entitled British family, who we were really relieved weren't Americans. There was some mix up with their rooms -- they were supposed to have adjoining rooms with their small kids but somehow the reservations got messed up and they were in two adjacent, not adjoining rooms. Definitely disappointing, but sort of an unsolvable problem once you're there and every room on the boat is booked. The crew bent over backwards trying to accommodate them, eventually giving them a full refund and free drinks even though, to every one's dismay, the family stayed on board for the full two nights, three days. There was one night where things nearly escalated into a fist fight. Plenty of super awkward yelling and insulting. It was ugly. They were assholes. We still had a really fun cruise, but were definitely ready to get off the boat when it was done.
Oh yeah, and one day we spent on this man-made beach with a little hike. This sign was at the start of the hike. I always love the broken English you find on signs like this in foreign countries. One of my favorite was in Singapore a few years ago by some road-side construction. It said "Be Safe. Then Sorry." Classic.

After our cruise we had the four hour bus ride return to Hanoi and then an overnight train to Sapa. But that will have to wait until part 3.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Vietnam in a week. Part 1: Seattle to Hanoi

Last year, Jenny and I flew to Western Australia. That's like a 9 hour flight, then a 7 hour flight, then another 6 hour flight. Probably even more than that, I may have blocked the specifics from my memory. Plus there's plenty of hanging out in airports all over the globe in between the mind-numbingly long flights. It's really freaking far. Vietnam is pretty far, but it's not Australia far. So when our itinerary called for just a 12 hour puddle-jump to Taipei and then a 3-hour-and-some-change hop to Hanoi, it didn't sound too soul-crushing. The 2 am departure time wasn't necessarily ideal, but when you're flying to the other side of the planet, your body gets so confused as to what day and time it is that it really doesn't matter what time you start the adventure. It's exhausting to matter what.

We landed in Taipei after the first leg of the journey to discover we had more than a six hour layover. Well, I discovered that, Jenny definitely already new. I sort of make a point of being blissfully naive about time-frames when traveling. It's easier to wrap my mind around that way. One time when I flew from Boston to Buenos Aires, I was pretty sure my Atlanta-Buenos Aires leg was something like 6 hours. About 5 hours into the flight, I discovered it was actually closer to 11 hours. But hey, at that point I only had 6 hours left. Somehow that sounded more rational when it was only in my head.

Anyway, back to Taipei. Not a lot was going on in the airport at 5 am, or whatever ungodly hour we arrived. Fortunately, it was early afternoon on Saturday back in the states, and I was able to watch Portland implode against Colorado on the only-sort-of-sketchy wifi.
Rickets took a red card, Timbers conceded two penalties in like 60 seconds and went on to get spanked 0-2 against an extremely mediocre Rapids team. So far the trip was a rousing success. A couple more hours of soccer and a double espresso later, and I felt fully immersed in South Asian culture.
At least it was a decent way to spend of a brutal layover.

Our flight to Hanoi was easy. We had plowed through the overtired stage (with the help of caffeine) and were ready for vacation. And lucky for us, Hanoi decided to make us feel at home by emulating Seattle's weather.
I guess that's normal for Vietnam though. Didn't it rain for like 70 days straight in Forrest Gump?

A few more "hurry up and wait"s later and we had our visas, were through customs, grabbed our bags, found our driver and were off to the hotel to meet Mike and Lynn. It was also our first introduction to the organized chaos of Vietnam traffic. Pictures don't do it justice, but imagine Seattle traffic without lane lines and replace each car with two motorbikes. Oh, and instead of freeways, it's a bunch of super narrow windy side roads. It's actually kind of beautifully in its insanity.

We met up with Mike and Lynn at the hotel. I think it was somewhere around noonish. Not sure what day. I think Sunday. Saturday disappeared into the travel abyss. We hadn't slept since Thursday night, not really anyway. But were ready to start the adventure.

To be continued... (part 2 now available here)

Sunday, February 2, 2014

There's no such thing as a second favorite team

Being a Bronco fan living in Seattle, I’ve had to answer a couple questions over and over again the last couple weeks.

“How do you decide who to root for?”
It was never a decision. I’ve been a Bronco fan since before I have memories. The earliest memories that I do have are of playing football in the backyard of our house in Denver. Pretending to be John Elway. Broncos are my team. Plain and simple.

“But isn’t Seattle your second favorite team?”
There is no second favorite. That’s like asking who my second favorite wife is. Unless you live in certain parts of Utah, you only get one.

And I guess first and foremost that’s the point I want to get across. There’s no silver lining in this for me. None of that “if I had to lose to someone…” crap. Losing a championship game is the worst. Losing a championship game to the city that you live in might be the super worst. When I went for a walk to try to clear my head after the game, I was bombarded by fireworks and shouts of “go hawks”. You Seahawk fans deserve to celebrate. You earned it. But, for me, it’s miserable to be around.

As for the game itself, there isn’t much to say. Seattle were better. A lot better. They dominated every single aspect of the game. On a different day, I think it could have been different. But today, they were better prepared, executed better, and proved that they’re the best team in the league. When you do have to lose, you at least hope it’s because you were out played. Not because of bad luck or a bad call. So I do take some solace in that.

For the bazillion Seattle fans who have forced me to take a Facebook hiatus the last couple weeks, my advice for you is to enjoy this win. Enjoy it, but also respect it. Super Bowls are rare. Remember that the before the “12th man” “Legion of Boom” brilliant marketing makeover of the franchise, your team very nearly moved to California because hardly anyone gave a shit when you were bad. And I say that only partially to be insulting -- my team lost, I’m bitter. But it’s also true. Sports are fickle. Fans are fickle. Don’t take any of this for granted. So many things have to go right to win a Super Bowl. They went right for you this season. You never know when it’ll happen again.

For me, it’s time to move on. This was an amazing season to be a Bronco fan. Peyton Manning, at his best, is an artist on the football field. His stats this year are mind boggling and he was thrilling to watch. But I’d trade it all -- and I’m sure he would too -- for that Lombardi Trophy. Damnit.  These losses don’t get any easier when you get older.

But hey, Sounders season starts in just over a month. So, there’s that.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

My below-average weekend

Anytime you start a story with something like “it could have been a lot worse” or “at least no one was hurt”, you know what follows will be at least mildly shitty.

Well my weekend could have been a lot worse; at least no one was hurt. And I do mean that somewhat sincerely. I realize that there are starving kids in China – probably elsewhere too – and there is homelessness and poverty and those drug addicts on The Wire who steal copper pipes just to pay for their next fix. So yeah, things could be worse. On a scale from getting eaten by a Sharknado, to winning the lottery, my weekend was somewhere slightly below average – probably just above “taking a poop in someone else’s house and realizing the toilet paper roll is empty”.

But I’m complaining because normally my life is super awesome. I have a great job, a beautiful wife, a pain-in-the-ass-but-still-lovable cat, and two sports teams who could win a championship this year. And that’s only like half of what I have. My life is great, which is why when something mildly shitty happens, it feels pretty darn shitty compared to my normal life. And that’s how this weekend felt.

I woke up Saturday morning, expecting to go for a bike ride with some friends. As I was toasting a bagel, I noticed Shaqachusetts scratching at the widow by his kitty-fort. Then I noticed the window was cracked open. Weird. Then I noticed the lock on the window was broken, and Shaq’s kitty fort was shoved out of the way, and the back door was unlocked, and the screen from the window was lying in the backyard, and oh yeah, Jenny’s clothes from the bedside table downstairs were thrown on the floor, and my dresser drawers had been open when I got home last night, and holy crap, Jenny’s iPad was missing, and damnit, now my bagel’s burning. It’s a very strange feeling when you realize your house was broken into. Especially when you didn’t even notice the night before. I guess that speaks to how, in the great scheme of things, it really was only mildly shitty. But still, it feels really strange and it sucks a lot. Just the thought of some douchebag asshole punk going through your things, taking whatever he (or she? ... ok fine, he) wants. I guess I should be relieved that he closed the door and window behind him, only took an iPad and a bunch of i-device chargers, and didn’t do any unnecessary damage or destruction. He’s still an asshole though and the feeling is still super unsettling. But the reality is if your life sucks so much that you need to break into random peoples’ houses to steal iPads, your normal day would be a super shitty day for me. Jerk. And if TV crime shows have taught me anything, you’ll end up in prison, getting shivved on the way to the showers -- if you’re lucky.

The below-average weekend didn’t end there though. The Sounders played at 11:30, in a sort of “must win” game. And they got trounced. Again. For the first time in franchise history, they lost their fourth consecutive game. I’m now convinced the front office cursed us by sending out a “reserve your playoff tickets now” e-mail before we had officially qualified for the playoffs. In their defense, the only way we wouldn’t have qualified when they sent that out was if we lost the rest of our games and some other teams won/lost appropriately. But now it’s looking like that’s exactly what might happen. When that cursed e-mail was sent, the Sounders were one point out of first place in the league. Since then we’ve lost 1-5, 1-4, 0-1 and 0-2. That’s a 2-12 goal differential for those keeping score at home. Oh, also Oba got hurt, Eddie got hurt, Zakuani got hurt, Dempsey dislocated his shoulder, Zach Scott got suspended, Ozzie got suspended, and Portland qualified for the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. This is textbook sports-curse stuff. And sports-curses are not something to take lightly, just ask any Boston fan.

As if having a stranger dig through our underwear drawers and watching our beloved Sounders cursed for the foreseeable future wasn’t enough, my “could have gone a lot better” weekend continued this morning. I had to come into work at 5am on a Sunday. We’re upgrading Epic, our EMR, to the 2012 release. It’s actually kind of a big deal and honestly a good thing. But coming to work at 5am on a Sunday isn’t very much fun. Even when you’re helping solve the health care crisis. Hashtag Humblebrag.

I guess that really does put things in perspective though right? My shitty weekend involved “only” having an iPad stolen, watching one of my teams lose, and coming into a job that I love at 5am to do work that is meaningful, rewarding, and important. Later today, I’ll go to a dinner party with some of my best friends and watch my Broncos play on Sunday Night Football. Sure, they could lose too. And the way the weekend is going, they probably will. But it’ll be okay. I mean, it’ll suck compared to my normal weekend. But there are starving kids in China, lighten up.

And we’ll be ready next time. We’re getting a probably over-priced security system installed. It’s worth it for the peace of mind. I’ll figure out a way to appease the sports-gods to get this Sounders curse lifted (hopefully before the playoffs), and the Broncos have Peyton Effing Manning. Relax. My life is pretty great, even if my weekend was below average.