November 11, 2016

FTV: The WCB Revisited – part 2

    First up I have to apologize for getting caught in a time warp.  The events in Part 1 of this tale took place in 2015, not 2014 as listed.  Einstein may have been right about the relativity of time, but a year is a pretty large faux pas in the fabric of time and space.

    We left Part 1 of this tale with Todd and I rumbling north from Eugene, OR on the Amtrak Cascades train to Seattle to see the Tigers and Mariners play a couple of games at SafeCo Field.  Elizabeth was staying behind to pack her office in preparation for a move to part time digs while her building at the U of O is being remodeled.  It doesn’t matter what time zone you start in, a 5:30 AM departure to anywhere is too early for me, but we were on the train and enjoying the scenery as we made quick stops in Albany and Salem to pick up more passengers.  We were not even up to full speed pulling out of Salem when the train stopped.  The voice on the PA informed us that there had been a problem and “we are getting out to see if everyone is okay.”   We were in the third car from the engine and we got a little bit of a creepy feeling when the train crew gathered outside of our window and spent a good deal of time examining the tracks under our seats.

    We later found that a young man who lived adjacent to the tracks had decided to sit down on the tracks with his back to our train which gave the engineer no time to stop.  A long train has a lot of mass and it just doesn’t stop immediately when the brakes are applied.  When we put two and two together, it began looking more and more like a deliberate act and not an accident.  That makes one feel for the individual who decided that this was their only option in that moment.  Had the victim not ended up under our very seats, we would have been strangely detached from the whole affair because we obviously felt nothing in the form of an impact.

    My hat is off to the Amtrak crew.  It took three hours for the coroner (as well as the fire department, police and Amtrak officials) to do their investigation.  When they cleared the train to move, we only went a couple of miles before we stopped again so a new train crew could come aboard before we resumed our journey.  They kept us informed and were very respectful of the tragic situation that had occurred.  For some reason, the woman seated ahead of us kept trying to take pictures of the emergency folks at work (they had asked us to close the curtains on that side of the train) making me believe that there are people in this world who have lost their focus on when it is not appropriate to dig out their social media devices.

    Upon our arrival at the Portland, Oregon Amtrak station, we were informed that we would be boarding a bus for the remaining leg to Seattle.  As we were traveling on a shared line, we no longer had  track priority as we were a full three hours behind the original schedule.  Our very jovial bus driver got us loaded up, passed out water bottles and snacks and we hit the road.  We made if all of four miles when she pulled into a shopping mall and announced, “When they pulled this bus into service today, no one remembered to check the memory card in the camera.  The IT guy is going to bring it here before we can legally proceed.”  In a matter of minutes, a guy who looked the part of an IT guy popped in, dropped in the memory card, gave us a jaunty wave and departed.  As we were crossing the mighty Columbia River, I told Todd that my buddy Mitch lives in Gresham just outside of Portland.  Mitch has to go to Seattle on business from time to time and he had mentioned that he does not particularly like the drive to and from Seattle as the highways have not kept up with the traffic demands.  The highway was busy the whole three hour trek to Seattle but things really got messy around Tacoma due to a massive freeway reconstruction project.  I was perfectly happy to be a passenger and not the driver or navigator in this case.

    As we passed the Tacoma Dome, I mentioned to Todd that they keep saying that it is bigger than the Superior Dome in Marquette.  In that the Taco Dome (take that Tacoma) truncates with straight walls before the curved roof hits ground level, it certainly doesn’t look bigger than the Superior Dome.  If you want my opinion, they can knock off that chatter anytime (note the complete absence of actual measurement data to support my Yooper brag of Superior Dome supremacy!).

    Todd had checked into the price of lodging and (naturally) the closer the rooms were to SafeCo Field, the higher the price range (think Space Needle high).  He found that the relatively new commuter rail line ran from the more reasonably priced establishments near the airport.  When we arrived at the central rail and bus station right next to the field (and the Seahawks stadium as they are side by side), we bought day passes and boarded the light rail for the twenty minute ride to our lodging.  We were much impressed with how easy it was to ride the light rail from the airport to the Space Needle and any place in between.  Should I return to Seattle, it will be by train or plane with the idea of riding the light rail for the duration of my visit.

    The Monday game found us 13 rows behind the Tiger dugout on the third base side.  According to Todd, SafeCo is one of the few major league stadiums where the home team is not on the third base side of the stadium.  It was great to be close enough to see the players facial expressions during the game but we were a tad nervous because we were in prime line drive or flying bat territory with no netting between us and the field.  A shower of foul balls fell all around us, but nothing landed within a hundred feet of our seats.  Todd pointed out the area below the press box where our second game seats would be and the foul balls all but rained down on that area.  Unlike my previous attendance at a Tiger’s game (versus the Angels), this one had enough action to make it a good game . . . but my record of live Tiger games slipped to 0-2.

    We were pretty beat after the long day so we went back to our room, grabbed a bite to eat in the lounge bar thanks to a friendly hostess who chased down some food for us after hours.  Watching the game replay allowed us to see ourselves during shots of the Tiger’s dugout (well, make that Todd as I was one seat too far to the right and could not be seen).

    Tuesday found us on the light rail heading for the Space Needle.  One can not go to Seattle without seeing the crown jewel of the World’s Fair park.  On the way up the spiral ramp to the elevators, we chuckled at a headline from the Seattle newspaper from back in the day that more or less said, “The Space Needle will be a boondoggle paid for by the taxpayers of the city with little or no lasting value.”  Judging by the admission cost to go to the top or eat in the restaurant, I am sure this so called boondoggle has paid for itself many times over.  Of course we had to ride the Monorail back toward town.  You may have seen the iconic episode of The Simpsons where they kind of take a The Music Man swipe at Springfield getting conned into building a monorail.  It is one of my favorites so of course, we had to sing a few choruses of the Harold Hill inspired monorail song as we took what I can only say was a rather disappointingly short ride to the downtown terminal.  I remember being fascinated by the inner workings of the Monorail and Space Needle when the were being reported in Popular Science as they were being constructed.  Up close and personal, they are still kind of awe inspiring.

    We arrived early enough for the second game that we decided to take a trip to the upper most level of the stadium just to look around.  A kindly usher let us take a peak from the seat level and proceeded to tell us his roots were in Kalamazoo and grew up a Tigers fan.  He suggested we take the time to go to the opposite end of the concourse as the view from there was much better.  What he did not mention was there was no direct route so we meandered up and down a bunch of stairs to get there.  We encountered another kindly usher who looked at my green and yellow WOAS Gladiator head shirt and inquired if we were Michigan State fans.  I explained that it was the logo for my school in Upper Michigan.  He asked what area and I told him about growing up in Marquette and teaching in Ontonagon.  He gave us our second “it’s a small world after all” surprise of the day when he told us, “I was at KI Sawyer in 1982 and 1983 – my wife and I went to church in Ishpeming.  Boy do I miss snow and pasties!”   We assured him there were plenty of both and while Todd climbed higher to get some pictures, the usher told me about his post Air Force life working in (what else) nuclear weapons research.  The attendance that night was probably less than 25,000 including the people working at the stadium, and we managed to find two Michigan contacts in as many tries.  The U.P. certainly seems to be the crossroads of the world.  Todd eventually sent me a text saying he couldn’t get back to where I was visiting the usher so we met at our seats just before game time.

    Sitting 38 rows behind home plate almost guaranteed we would get a chance at at least one fly ball so we were somewhat chagrined that they all seemed to be landing behind the third base dugout tonight . . . right about where we had been the night before.  Sigh.  We had one good chance when a ball landed in the aisle two seats to our right, but the two seventy-something Mariner fans occupying the seats between us and the landing spot made it impossible to get at without somebody getting hurt.  The woman half of the couple was already somewhat miffed that we were rooting for the wrong team, so we let that one go least we reinforce her already formed opinion that were were a couple of (gulp) Tiger fans.  

    We got our money’s worth as the Tigers lead for much of the game.  The Mariners made a comeback to put the game into extra innings.  In the bottom of the fifteenth, the home team had two on with no outs so we headed out knowing that the light rail stopped running at 1 AM.  My record of seeing the Tigers play in person is now 0-3, but I am gaining a better feel for the game.  I am not much for watching televised games, but live games are a different (ahem) ball game.  When you live in a small town, there isn’t a downside to being in a stadium filled with people you don’t know.  Even though the Tigers lost, it was a people watcher’s paradise.  For the record, the train trip back to Eugene was smooth and enjoyable – I could definitely traveling by train  again.

Top Piece Video – Some classic train music from Blackfoot (Train Train 1979)