Toasty of the Town

College and professional sports offer the perfect environment for several strange team mascots. Here in the U.S. of A, a bear or tiger or some other animal just doesn’t make the cut anymore. Instead, we have a wide assortment of weirdos: “The Tree” (Stanford University), “Blue Blob” (Xavier University), “The Phillie Phanatic” (Philadelphia pro baseball), and “Whatizit/Izzy” (Atlanta 1996 Summer Olympics). If you prefer downright creepy, look no further than “King Cake Baby” (New Orleans pro basketball). The Pelicans just won the #1 pick in this year’s NBA draft. They should keep King Cake in the closet ’til they sign Zion Williamson.

       

   

I’m an avid sports fan, so coming up with these examples was a no-brainer. I could add another dozen without too much thought. But even the weirdest of these characters – take your pick – couldn’t prepare me for a local newcomer, debuting next month alongside our minor league baseball team, the Rocky Mountain Vibes. Meet “Toasty – the fun-loving S’more“. You heard that right – a dancing, cheering S’more.

“Toasty”

Salmon and maple syrup?  Incompatible.  Grounds for divorce?  Irreconcilable.  Oil and vinegar?  Immiscible.  But a S’more and baseball?  Super-duper immiscible!

The Rocky Mountain Vibes – formerly the Helena Montana Brewers – must have a twisted front office.  I’d like to meet one or two of their decision-makers.  Consider the five finalists in their “name-the-team” contest:

  1. Colorado Springs Happy Campers
  2. Colorado Springs Lamb Chops
  3. Colorado Springs Punchy Pikas
  4. Colorado Springs Throttle Jockeys
  5. Rocky Mountain Oysters

If these are the finalists, I don’t want to see the rest of the entries. Happy Campers and Lamb Chops?  What the heck is a Punchy Pika?  And for those of you unfamiliar with a Throttle Jockey or Rocky Mountain Oyster, click the links at your own risk.  I repeat, at your own risk.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

With a passing degree of intelligence, the Vibes nixed all five finalists and came up with their own choice.  They claimed “Vibes” was something of a spin on “Happy Campers”; that euphoric feeling experienced in the Colorado outdoors.  Whatever.  Even without the reference, it’s a pretty good name.

Otherwise, this baseball team goes off the rails.  The Vibes’ major-league affiliate is the distant Milwaukee Brewers (not the Colorado Rockies right up the road in Denver).  They have five team colors – can’t wait to see those perky uniforms – “rubine” red, navy, gold, sky blue, and tan.  They’ve never, ever won a minor league title.  And then there’s that mascot.  I can’t get past it; a dancing, cheering S’more?  And then you had to go and name him “Toasty”?

If we’re just talking S’mores as a dessert – remove the Vibes – we’d be having a whole different conversation.  I love a good S’more.  Er, qualify that; I love a good S’more for about ten minutes.  Then I’ve had enough for the next six months.  It’s like those plate-sized German apple pancakes you gorge on at carnivals and amusement parks.  They sound good and smell good, but you pay too much for one and you’re feeling sick after just a couple of bites.  Don’t forget to wipe all that powdered sugar off your face.

S’mores are a basic, fun dessert.  Like the wheel or the hamburger, the origin of the S’more is debatable.  The most credible story in my book: a recipe published by the Campfire Marshmallow company back in the 1920’s.  Since then S’mores have been a favorite of the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts (or just about anyone with graham crackers, marshmallows, chocolate bars, and a nearby campfire).  You can order a S’mores Frappuccino at Starbucks. You can even purchase an “Electric S’mores Maker” on Amazon.

With no lack of embarrassing small-town flair, Colorado Springs has completely embraced Toasty’s upcoming debut.  A handful of local diners want you to “Vote for Your Favorite ‘S’more'”, with the following choices (restaurant names omitted in a desperate attempt to save their reputations):

  1. S’mores cheesecake bar (“healthier” with GF graham crackers!)
  2. “Sweet Victory” Tableside S’mores (including mini-campfire!)
  3. Smoky S’mores Cannoli (apologies to Italy)
  4. Savory S’mores Lamb Chops (no comment)
  5. S’mores Pancakes (i.e. dessert for breakfast)
  6. S’mores Florentina (with rum flambé, naturally)

Mark your calendar – August 10th is National S’mores Day.  You’ll probably get a free one if you’re watching the Vibes at the ballpark that day.  As for me, I’ll be sitting at home lamenting our former minor-league baseball team, the Colorado Springs Sky Sox.  I’ve already forgotten the Sox mascot. Pretty sure it wasn’t a dessert.

 

Some content sourced from the Springs Magazine article, “Toasty S’mores Tasting Contest”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Boston Long

Durgin-Park, the venerable restaurant inside of Boston’s Faneuil Hall, recently closed its doors after almost two hundred years of operation. You read that right; D-P opened for business a few decades after the Revolutionary War, but served its last patron this year, citing “an inability to turn a profit”. For America at least, that’s some serious history. For Beantown on the other hand, that’s par for the course. After all, this week the Boston Marathon completed its 123rd consecutive running.

I am in awe of runners who qualify for – let alone run – the Boston Marathon.  It’s daunting enough to compete for 26.2 miles, but you can’t join the “fun” in Boston unless you complete a qualifying marathon in under 3 hours (men, ages 18-34), or 3.5 hours (women).  Consider, 3 hours is an average pace of 7 min./mile.  To appreciate that, go to the gym, crank up the treadmill to eight or nine miles/hour, and see how long you can maintain it.  Now imagine running that fast for three hours straight, up and down the city streets of Boston.  It’s superhuman.

The Boston is the world’s oldest annual marathon.  Simply achieving the age-specific qualification time is the goal of most elite long-distance runners.  But if that’s all you know about New England’s most-spectated event, you’re missing out on some fascinating race-related trivia.  Here’s a sampling:

  1. The Boston is run every “Patriots’ Day” (the third Monday in April), a holiday to commemorate the start of the American Revolutionary War.  Effectively, the marathon is a nod to freedom.
  2. The Boston was first run in 1897, one hundred years after the first Olympic marathon in Athens, Greece.  That marathon, as most know, was inspired by the fabled run of the Greek soldier Phillipides from Marathon to Athens, announcing a battle victory over the Persians.  Effectively, Phillipides’ run was also a nod to freedom.
  3. The Boston Red Sox play every Patriots’ Day in Fenway Park.  The game finishes in time for the fans to walk a mile east along the Charles River, arriving in Copley Square as the marathon runners are crossing the finish line.
  4. Until 1986, the men’s and women’s winners received a wreath of olive branches and a trophy; no cash prize.  Today?  First place: $150k, Second: $75k, Third: $40k, and Fourth: $25k.  Might want to dust off the running shoes and start training.
  5. Check out Derek Murphy’s “marathon investigation” blog here.  Derrick started his sleuthing five years ago and outed over 250 cheaters, including several who faked their race qualification times in order to run.  Too bad Derrick wasn’t around for the 1980 race, when Rosie Ruiz pulled off the marathon’s most famous heist (see her story here).
  6. In the 2011 race, Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya effectively broke the world marathon record (even though it wasn’t deemed official), finishing in 2:03:03.  Try that pace on a treadmill.  Set the speed at twelve miles/hour and… well… let it spin from a safe distance and just watch.
  7. The Boston draws an average of 30,000 participants each year, cheered on by 500,000 spectators.  The participants are divided into men’s and women’s categories of “elite runners” (i.e. pros), the remaining qualified runners (waves of 10,000), wheelchair-bound, and hand-cyclists.  The Boston even accommodates blind runners.
  8. The Boston is famous for Heartbreak Hill; the incline located a few miles from the finish where runners tend to hit an endurance “wall”.  Why the name? In the 1936 race, Johnny Kelley caught up with rival Tarzan Brown on that hill, giving him a pat on the back as he passed by.  Bad move.  Brown took the gesture as a challenge, found another gear, and went on to win the race.  Brown effectively “broke Kelly’s heart” and the hill gained a name forever.
  9. Halfway through the Boston, the lively women from nearby Wellesley College form a long “Scream Tunnel”, yelling and blowing kisses as the runners pass by.  These ladies are so loud, you’ll know the Scream Tunnel is coming a mile before you get there.
  10. And finally… the Boston Marathon is not really run in Boston; not until the final couple of miles.  Before that, you’re touring twenty-four miles of eight neighboring towns instead.

Remarkably, this year’s Boston Marathon included four finishers in the top hundred from right here in Colorado Springs.  The next day, my cycle instructor casually mentioned she’d run the race before.  Ditto my former boss at Hewlett-Packard.  And my sister-in-law has a good chance of qualifying in the next couple of years.  Superhumans.  As for me?  I do like to run, but I’d be happy enough just to spectate beside those hundreds of thousands of “Boston Strong”.  I’m just sorry I can’t have dinner at Durgin-Park afterwards.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”; and the Mental Floss article, “11 Fast Facts About the Boston Marathon”.

Super Dough

The beauty of the Super Bowl is its broad entertainment value.  There’s something for everybody in the five hours between The Star Spangled Banner and the Vince Lombardi trophy. For sports fans, there’s a highly-anticipated football clash. The Super Bowl is not football at its best or most dramatic, but this year’s coast vs. coast, old coach+QB vs. young coach+QB match-up creates more than the usual intrigue.

If you’re not into football, you’re at least enjoying the musical entertainment.  Maroon 5 will be there after all (rumor had it they were pulling out), and the band acknowledges “… it’s the biggest stage you could ever play…”  Even if you’re not a fan of the 5, you get Gladys Knight (but no Pips) singing the national anthem before kick-off.

If neither live sports nor live music is your bag (and that’s a small rock you live under), you’re watching the commercials instead.  I admit – especially as a sports fan – there’s as much press for the Super Bowl ads as there is for the Super Bowl itself.  It’s the only sports broadcast I know where viewers fast-forward through the game to get to the commercials.

Courtesy of Anheuser-Busch InBev

No wonder advertisers are so worked up for this Sunday.  The Super Bowl is routinely the single-most tuned-in-to entertainment of the year.  Viewership has quadrupled over the last fifty years.  The 2018 Super Bowl drew over 100 million viewers; 25% more than second-place.  And what came in second?  The Super Bowl post-game show, of course (74 million viewers).  Say what you will about the NFL; people watch.  The four most-watched television shows in 2018 were NFL games, followed by a “This Is Us” episode… airing immediately after the Super Bowl.

Courtesy of Frito-Lay

Sunday’s line-up of Super Bowl commercials includes the usual products: cars, drinks (alcoholic), more drinks (non-alcoholic), foods (snack), more foods (fast), even more foods (avocados), and technology.  Of course, they’re all designed to get you to remember, long after the game is over.  Whether it’s a celebrity, a laugh, or a cute animal, it’s all about permanent placement of the product in your brain.  But even if you don’t remember, consider this: the commercials will be watched millions more times on YouTube.  Add in the Internet and the considerable cost of Super Bowl advertising is a little easier to swallow.

Speaking of cost, this year’s commercials will set producers back $5 million a spot, for a mere thirty seconds of air time.  That’s just the bill to CBS.  Production costs run as much as another $5 million.  Try counting “one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand” every time you watch a commercial this year.  You’re squandering $333,333 for every “-one-thousand” you utter.  That’s what I call super dough, and it’s only rising (ha).  The car companies account for 25% of the take (remember that the next time you negotiate the purchase of a vehicle), but Anheuser-Busch InBev is the “King of Advertising”, spending over $600 million on Super Bowl commercials since 1995.  Yes, Clydesdale horses are cute.  More importantly, they sell a lot of beer.

Courtesy of Anheuser-Busch InBev

To pique your ad anticipation, Town & Country Magazine’s website includes a list of the “50 Best Super Bowl Commercials” (including the videos).  The ads are listed chronologically, starting a-way, way back in 1967.  It’s entertaining to see what products and companies paid big for Super Bowl advertising fifty years ago.  Some are no longer around.  I’m guessing their advertising agencies aren’t either.

Courtesy of Apple

Mark my words.  Monday morning after the Super Bowl the water-cooler talk will not be about the game.  It will be about the commercials.  Which one was your favorite?  Which one left you scratching your head?  Which one was $5 million up in flames?  And most importantly, which one will still be talked about years from now?  Even this sports fan has to admit: the game will soon be forgotten, but not the ads.

Some content sourced from the Wall Street Journal article, “Why Advertisers Pay Up for  a Super Bowl Spot”; and from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Clothes Shrink

On our 25th wedding anniversary, my wife and I crossed the Atlantic for an unforgettable first trip to Ireland. We wanted a few keepsakes to bring back with us, so we shopped carefully as we went about our travels. She found a gold necklace with a St. Brigid’s cross (her namesake), and a few ceramic Christmas ornaments. I opted for a few logo items from the Guinness Brewery, and a coffee table book on the village of Kildare. We also purchased music from a lovely harpist, playing outdoors just steps from the Cliffs of Moher.  Last week, I came across one more Ireland item I forgotten about: the sweater you see below.  It’s colorful and it’s Celtic… and I think I’ve worn it once.

Don’t know about you, but the new year is always my opportunity for “spring cleaning”.  Maybe it’s because I’m already in the mode as I take down and box up the Christmas decorations.  Or maybe it’s because my office files burst with paper after a year of accumulation.  Whatever the reason, by mid-January I manage to a) empty my office of anything irrelevant to the coming year, and b) conduct something akin to an inventory reduction sale on my clothes.  The office files are easy, but the wardrobe; that takes a little more judgment.

When it comes to decisions about clothes, it’s safe to say guys have it easier.  We’re more utilitarian – by definition “designed to be useful or practical rather than attractive”.  Yep, that’s us guys – if the shoe fits, so to speak.  Of course, women flip the definition around and put the premium on “attractive”.  For them it’s more about fetching than fitting.  In fact, I’d venture to say a woman’s closet is 75% “attractive” and 25% “utilitarian”, while a man’s is the reverse.  And trust me; “utilitarian” is easier to shift to the giveaway pile.

Destined for Goodwill

My annual wardrobe shrink is always nostalgic.  Some items – particularly suits and sweaters – survive several years before reluctantly leaving the nest.  Others – admitted impulse buys – fly the coop having been worn just a handful of times.  I’ll never forget one year, when I brought eight suits to Goodwill.  Why so many?  I moved from California to Colorado and changed jobs in the process.  My CA job required the suits; my new CO job did not.  Even so, I had to swallow hard on that donation.  Those suits had plenty of mileage left in them.

Illustration: James Gulliver Hancock

Here’s a mistake I make all too often with my wardrobe.  I’ll buy a shirt or a pair of pants at a store.  Weeks later, I realize I really like what I purchased, so I go online and buy another half-dozen; same style in various colors.  That’s the mistake.  Not only am I a poor color-chooser through the Web, but I don’t wear that shirt or those pants as often as I think I will.  In other words, I over-shop (and I’m a guy!)  Then comes wardrobe shrink time, and my giveaway pile includes that shirt or those pants.  Not good.

The more common mistake – at least for us guys – is to buy something last-minute for a single occasion.  Sure we may need it, but do we take a moment to project whether we’ll ever wear that item again?  If not, that shirt or tie or sweater is reduced to a keepsake, sitting quietly on the closet shelf just yearning for another wear.  That’s my Ireland sweater.  Kinda sad, isn’t it?

Admittedly, I have other keepsake clothing.  I buy shirts from favorite destinations (hello Guinness), and can’t bear to part with them.  I buy shirts with my college’s logo on them, and can’t bear to picture someone else wearing them.  I still have an Aloha shirt from our honeymoon in Hawaii (probably the last time I wore it too).  No matter – there’s plenty of room in the closet when 25% just went to Goodwill.  The purge is not completely pure.  My Ireland sweater will live to see another year.

Some content sourced from the Wall Street Journal article, “The Case for Buying Less Clothing”.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Thanks to another pro football season, America’s allegiance to its flag is once again called into question. My wife and I chatted with our German exchange student recently, asking whether her own country found patriotism so controversial. To this she said, “You Americans are considered very patriotic people. We Germans not so much; perhaps, because of Hitler in our past”. I was a little taken back by that comment. Americans can point to shameful events in our colorful – albeit brief – history, and yet; we still sing the anthem and stand for the flag. Well, most of us.

This week in Colorado, primary and secondary schools begin another year of formal education. The setting is not so different from schools I attended. The classrooms are laid out the same (technology aside). The cafeterias offer up borderline-edible food. And the students – every weekday morning – stand, face the flag, place their right hands over their hearts, and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.  Forty-six of America’s fifty states mandate the practice.  Congress opens its sessions with the Pledge, as do countless other government and private meetings across the land.  Another day begins in America.

     

The Pledge has a rich history for a phrase spoken (or sometimes sung) in less than fifteen seconds.  It was based on Captain George T. Balch’s Civil War-era pledge: We give our heads and hearts to God and our country; one country, one language, one flag!  The version we use today – reworded by Baptist minister Francis Bellamy, was first published in the children’s magazine The Youth’s Companion in 1892 (albeit with simpler wording).  The Pledge was also first used in public schools on October 12th of that year, coincident with the opening of the Chicago World’s Fair.  The Pledge was designed to generate patriotism in young people, at a time when this kind of energy was on the decline.  Sounds like something we need just as much today.

The original version of the Pledge stated: “...allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands… ” The change in 1923 to today’s version: “… allegiance to the flag, of the United States of America, and the Republic for which it stands…”, was a nod to America’s immigrants, so as not to deny loyalty to birth countries.  Finally, the phrase “under God” was added in the 1950’s, and formally adopted on Flag Day (June 14th) of 1954.  It was also at this time students began the everyday reciting of, as President Eisenhower referred to it, “…a dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty.”

Along with saying the Pledge and standing for the flag, America’s students “place their right hands over their hearts”.  This gesture also has a history.  In lieu of a military salute (reserved for those in the Armed Forces), students originally stretched out their right hands towards the flag, palms down, ending the Pledge with palms up.  But the practice was associated with the Nazi salute and quickly abandoned, in favor of the hand-over-heart (or cap over left shoulder) we use today.

To no one’s surprise, America’s Pledge of Allegiance (almost unique among countries) is not without controversy.  Since 1940, there have been at least a dozen high-profile legal challenges.  A few target the practice itself, claiming a violation of the First Amendment.  But most target the use of the words “under God”, in conflict with the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause (freedom of religion).  None of these suits succeeded, with the typical defense, “…the [Pledge’s] words represent a patriotic (not religious) exercise…”, and [to atheists], “…participation in the pledge is voluntary.”

Three years ago, in the most recent defense of the Pledge, New Jersey Judge David F. Bauman declared, “As a matter of historical tradition, the words under God can no more be expunged from the national consciousness than the words In God We Trust from every coin in the land, than the words so help me God from every presidential oath since 1789, or from the prayer that has opened every congressional session of legislative business since 1787.”  Amen to that, David.

Aretha Franklin – America’s indisputable “Queen of Soul” – died last week after a long struggle with pancreatic cancer.  Aretha’s most famous lyric was undoubtedly, “…all I’m askin’ is for a little respect…”.  No coincidence; America’s flag makes the same request.  The Pledge is a voluntary act – sure – but who’s going to argue with, “…liberty and justice for all”?

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”, and from Erik Larson’s novel, “The Devil in the White City”.

Jack Be Quick

If the lazy days of summer sap your get-up-n-go, here’s an idea. Find a friendly donkey (not a stubborn one). Halter him and attach a solid lead rope – at least fifteen feet worth. Saddle your jack with thirty pounds of gear, including a pick, a shovel, and a gold pan.  Finally, don your running shoes and head out to Fairplay, CO. $50 gets you into the World Championship of Pack Burro Racing.  Welcome to the state sport of Colorado.

Pack burro racing seemed a little ridiculous to me… until I dived into the details.  For starters, its origin is as legendary as the Greeks and the marathon.  Back in the strike-it-rich days, two Colorado gold-miners hit it big in the same location, and supposedly raced back to town (burros in tow) – first miner to the claims office wins.  Here’s another detail: pack burro racing really is a marathon – 28-30 miles up and back with your donkey, making the halfway turn at an elevation of 13,000 ft.  My favorite rule?  No riding.  However, the runner may push, pull, drag, or carry the burro.  Carry the burro?  A thousand pounds of ass?

Capitals, flags, songs, and birds – of course – but I never knew states had official sports, until recently, when California considered its options.  If your first choice for the Golden State is surfing, California’s state assembly agrees with you.  The Wall Street Journal reports the assembly just passed the “bill”, and now the tiff moves to the state senate.  I say tiff because a host of other Cali residents say not so fast.  Those who don’t live near the beach choose skateboarding.  Why skateboarding?  Because surfing is already the state sport of Hawaii.  They also say skateboarding is essentially surfing on wheels.  Maybe.

I grew up in California, but neither surfed nor skateboarded.  Still, I deserve a vote.  I did my share of body-surfing, so know what it’s like to catch a wave.  I did my share of bicycling, so know what it’s like to cruise on wheels.  You can put yourself in either camp, but arguments abound for both.  As one state assemblyman said, “Hawaii may have invented surfing, but California ‘mainstreamed’ the sport”.  Others say, “Surf ranches” and their wave machines bring the sport to the inland areas of the state.  On the other side of the aisle, skateboarding is a sport enjoyed by the masses just about anywhere.  And skateboarding really was invented in California, evolving from crude combinations of roller skates and wooden produce boxes.  Marty McFly should get a vote too.

By coincidence, surfing and skateboarding will join the Olympics in 2020.  The lighting of the torch in Tokyo will surely reignite the debate in California, no matter which sport is chosen.  Or maybe the state will still be arguing one over the other, instead of dealing with – ahem – more important issues of government.

Only a handful of U.S. states claim a sport in their list of symbols.  Some make sense, as in Alaska (dog-mushing), Minnesota (ice hockey), and Wyoming (rodeo).  Others have me saying, “What the heck?”, as in Maryland (jousting), and Delaware (bicycling).  I don’t live in Maryland or Delaware.  Maybe they banned every other sport in those states.  Of course, Marylanders and Delawareans probably feel the same way about Colorado and its pack burro racing.

Admittedly, Colorado could wage a healthy state-sport debate of its own.  The Rocky Mountains alone inspire a half-dozen seemingly better options.  If on water, go with river-rafting or kayaking.  If on snow, go with skiing or snowboarding.  If on land, go with hiking or mountain biking.  Yet none of those acknowledge the state’s rich lore of gold-mining.  None of them combine a human activity with an equestrian one.  Come to think of it, Colorado has enough runners and horses to win the debate, gold-mining legend or not.

According to the Western Pack Burro Association (“Celebrating 70 Years of Hauling Ass”), Colorado’s pack burro racing series still has several to go this year.  The first three are considered the “Triple Crown”, but I can still catch the remaining action in the towns of Leadville, Buena Vista, and Victor.  It’ll be like the running of the bulls in Pamplona!

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.