Friday, November 02, 2012

Wanderer At Home

Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012: Daly City, Calif.
The Cow Palace
San Francisco Bulls 6, Bakersfield Condors 5

As a hockey fan, I was happy to hear that the ECHL was adding a team in San Francisco, for the simple reason I would be able to afford to attend nearby hockey games.
The Bulls sold out their opening night, but I dodged the hoopla and headed over the next night, where a more intimate crowd was in attendance.
The Arena: I'm a fan of old arenas with character, and the Cow Palace is old and has character. That said, it's not an ideal hockey arena. The layout, as its name suggests, reflects its original purpose as a livestock show venue. As a result, most of the seats are more distant from the action than would be ideal.
History is on display throughout the concourse, with many vintage photos of the National Western Livestock show, rock concerts and best of all, a display case with uniforms and mementoes of previous minor-league hockey tenants -- the San Francisco Seals of the 60s, the long-forgotten Shamrocks of the 70s, and the one-season wonders of the 90s, the San Francisco Spiders.
Hats off to the hard score Spiders fans who are still rocking those sweaters at Cow Palace hockey 17 seasons later!
Yes, It's the Minors: The team feels compelled to constantly blast mediocre hard rock through the PA system at any pause in the action. I'm sure this is a scientifically market-tested technique that is proven to improve attendance, but it's one of those things that makes me more inclined to stay home. I think it betrays a management's lack of confidence that the people who paid good money to watch a hockey games can be trusted to enjoy a hockey game.
Feel the noise: The Bulls' in-house PA announcer frequently interjected himself into the action with frantic shouts to "Make Some Noise!" Judging from the awkward timing of some of his outbursts and his inability to sync with the rhythm of the contest,  I suspect the Bulls' second game was the second hockey game he had ever seen in his life.
Mr. PA was also completely oblivious to the turning point of the hockey game -- when the Bulls picked up a five-minute major in the third period, and compounded it by taking another minor penalty during the major.
In the first two periods, the Bulls penalty kill was about as effective as the Maginot Line, so it was all the more remarkable that the team killed off the entire major, including two minutes of being two men short.
The PA announcer didn't say a thing about any of this (he didn't even announce all the penalties during the game as is customary) but the fans definitely picked up on it and cheered accordingly -- perhaps us Bulls fans know a thing or two about hockey?
My wife will be happy to read this: There were no fights.
A note on the food: It was utterly ghastly. But it was about as expensive as a meal at the French Laundry. At least a handful of the beer taps had adequate alternatives to Coorsweiser, though the beer is also very expensive.
Just to be perfectly clear: I enjoyed it and planned to come back. My nitpicking aside, it's hockey. I like it. It was a spirited contest that went down to the wire. Game report here and boxscore here.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Turn, Turn, Turn, Turn, Turn

Europe on Five Wrong Turns a Day

By Doug Mack

Perigee, 2012

It's a great premise: tackle modern-day Europe using a 1963 Frommer's guidebook for direction.
I suspect the premise was better-suited to something the length of a magazine article, rather than a book.
Basically, all the restaurants Frommer cited are closed or have become unholy tourist traps, and the hotel business has changed a lot in 49 years.
To be fair, there's plenty to offer in this book, including a thoroughly researched, engaging look at the postwar history of US travel to Europe.
The premise works for a while when Mack is on the road, but by the time he reached the eighth and final destination, Madrid, I'd tired of it and it's pretty clear Mack did too. It led to a lot of digressions into topics like the circular debate over the nature of travel versus tourism. (Mack's short answer, and I agree, is they aren't as distinct as some people like to think.)
On the plus side, the tale is enlivened from a distance by Mack's mom, who toured Europe in the 60s and left a cache of postcards and letters that enlightened his 21st century tale a bit more than the old guidebook did.
The author’s acknowledgements include one to Arthur Frommer himself, “though we’ve never spoken or met.”
Too bad – Arthur still has a lot to say, and I think Mack would be a great interviewer.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Heading Out To The Highway

China Road
by Rob Gifford

Country Driving
by Peter Hessler

A long road tells a story of its own. It can also serve as a means of telling another story, as Rob Gifford does in an effort to draw a bead on modern China.
The book's construct is simple: Gifford, closing his tour of duty as NPR correspondent in China, sets out from Shanghai on State Road 312, a 3,000-mile journey across the breadth of the land to its border with Kazakhstan.
It's an effective tool, carrying the reader from the teeming megalopolis to the dusty deserts of Chinas hinterland.
The book paints a picture of a country changing at a pace it's own people have trouble assimilating, and Giffords road effectively touches on those struggles, including the dislocations created by the mass migration toward cities and factories, the hopelessness of country life that helps drive it, pervasive corruption, the one-child policy, and the fate of ethnic minorities in outlying regions.
China Road, in my personal experience, suffers from only one major flaw for which it cannot be blamed: it was published in 2007. Given that relentless change is a primary theme of the book, one wonders if is also out-of-date. (The book itself grew out of an NPR series that ran in 2004).

By coming to 'China Road' so long after its publication I unfairly subjected to comparison with Hessler's 2010 'Country Driving,' another book that uses a road trip in China as a storytelling vehicle.
Gifford's straight-ahead journalistic approach is effective, but it's an unfair fight to compare it with Hessler's more literary non-fiction; 'Country Driving' is one of the best books of any kind I've read for years.
The titles not completely accurate.
The driving trip in question is one of the book's three parts. The other two detail Hessler's long-term experience as a part-time resident in a country village outside Beijing, and following the story of a single factory in southeastern China.
These two immersive experiences are at the heart of Hessler's book; the end result is insightful about the strengths and the weaknesses of Chinese society as it attempts to thrust itself into the First World. It also has a lot of heart.