Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Crisscrossing the Nation for College Hoops - Austin, Texas

Austin from my hotel window

The view of the capitol building wasn't as clear as in Madison, but I was happy I could see it peeking around the larger buildings.  My cab driver on Sunday morning said that no building in Austin could be higher than the capitol so as not to obstruct its view.  Not sure if that's true, but it sounds good.

The buildings on the front row make up part of Austin's infamous 6th Street

The discussion about the potential blockage of Austin's state capitol arose from talk of the expansion of the Darrell K. Royal - Texas Memorial Stadium where the University of Texas Longhorns play football, which is in the distance of the above picture.  Trust me, it's there, all 94,113 seats of it. The well-informed cabbie, an Austin native, told us that UT has been expanding its seating capacity by adding seats under the stadium at ground level rather than building up.  (Again, no idea if that's true.)

The Game: 2 Oklahoma Sooners vs Texas Longhorns
This was a Big 12 matchup of perennial football schools; the rivalry is more palpable on the gridiron rather than the court.  This hoops game was much-hyped due to the presence of the likely National Player of the Year, Oklahoma's monster forward Blake Griffin.  So guess what? The big man suffered a concussion in the opening minutes of the game and spent the second half sitting on the bench, eyes glazed and mouth agape.  The efforts of Griffin's older brother, Tyler, and super freshman Willie Warren notwithstanding, Oklahoma didn't have enough juice without its star and lost the game 73-68 and its #2 ranking.  (I won't mention that had Carolina not relinquished a 16-point lead and lost to Maryland in overtime earlier that day, my Heels would have been number one.  But no, they forgot how to play defense - again! - and allowed Greivis Vasquez to explode for a triple-double.  Because of that, they dropped two spots to #5 in the ESPN/USA Today poll.  But I'm not going to mention that.)

The city of Austin celebrated Mardi Gras last Saturday, so it took almost half an hour to drive the mile and a half from the Erwin Special Events Center to the hotel.  I considered going up to 6th Street to check out the scene, but decided that I will wait until next time to discover why the college town's slogan is "Keep Austin Weird."

Instead of flying home, I went from the capital of Texas to the nation's capital: Next stop, Washington, DC.

Crisscrossing the Nation for College Hoops - Louisville, Kentucky

Last Wednesday the college hoops gods sent me to Louisville, Kentucky, for a Big East contest between Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals and conference contenders Providence Friars. Here's the view from my hotel window:

Spectacular, isn't it?  My favorite part of the parking lot is the horse that's in the median.  It is thoroughbred country, after all.

Well, I know I'm not being fair to Louisville.  I'm sure it's a fine city, but the only part I've ever seen is the five-mile area of the airport, the hotel, and the fairgrounds, where Freedom Hall is located.  Word is the university is building a new basketball arena downtown, so perhaps the next time I go I'll be able to appreciate the city beyond its parking lots.

The game itself was an interesting one, especially for Providence.  The team shot 75% in the first half, a season high, only to throw up a bunch of clankers in the second half for a season-low 25%.  (Not to pat myself on the back, but we had a good graphic about that.)  Once the Cardinals smacked the Friars 94-76, the crew had an impromptu pizza party in the hotel lobby and watched Bryant Gumbel's sports show on HBO.

My next assignment took me to one of the nation's hipper college towns: Austin, Texas.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Ga-Ga for Go!Go! Curry!

One of my favorite dishes is curry rice.  I'm not talking about the curry you'll find at an Indian restaurant, although that's delish as well.  I'm talking about Go!Go! Curry!, a Japanese curry restaurant that also serves as a shrine to Yankees designated hitter Hideki Matsui.  Matsui is such hero that the restaurant is named after his jersey number, 55.  Go is Japanese for number five, so Go! Go! is a little play on words, which the Japanese are fond of doing.  (Technically, however, fifty-five in Japanese is actually go juu go, but I'm not going to let semantics get in the way of a good story.)  

Marked by a yellow awning bearing a picture of a gorilla, the Tokyo chain is located in an unassuming building in Midtown Manhattan at 273 W. 28th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues.  Hours of business serve as further tribute to Matsui:  10:55am until 9:55pm, seven days a week.

The order counter and menu of Go! Go! Curry in NYC.

The counter at Midtown Manhattan's Go! Go! Curry.  The walls are adorned with articles about the store and its Tokyo flagship, autographed pictures of Hideki Matsui - including a tally of his home runs for the season - and lessons on how to say basic phrases in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.

My order on this night is a big ol' slab of breaded pork cutlet with a boiled egg and shredded cabbage on the side.  Underneath the pork is a healthy portion of rice with divine curry sauce.   The portion size is the Walk, the smallest size available.  

Marc's meal was the Single, a larger helping of pork and rice.  It's a lot of food.  I can't imagine being hungry enough to consume the Double, Triple, Home Run or Grand Slam portions offered by Go! Go! Curry.  (Get the recurring baseball theme?)

All done!

Go! Go! Curry isn't just about baseball and panko-encrusted meat.  It combines ukiyo-ethe venerated Japanese cultural icon, with humor.  (I'm giving the native Japanese speakers at the restaurant a pass on the incorrect grammar.  Isn't that nice of me?)

A counter at the Go! Go! Curry in the Shibuya district of Tokyo.

Other folks have been to Go! Go! in either New York or Tokyo or both, and have had good things to say.  Here is a link to a story that appeared in Wired magazine.  A recent post in a food blog about the Midtown area had this to say about a new dish on Go! Go! Curry menu.

Crisscrossing the Nation for College Hoops - Madison, Wisconsin

ESPN's Saturday Night Prime Time show went to Madison, Wisconsin, a quaint college town as well as the capital of the Badger State. The Badgers of the University of Wisconsin played host to the Ohio State Buckeyes in this Big Ten matchup at the Kohl Center.

Wisconsin defeated Ohio State 55-50 in one of the most boring basketball games I've ever witnessed.  The Big Ten plays plodding, methodical basketball, which I'm sure makes for bad TV.  Trust me, the only reason I watched it was because I was working it and had no choice.  Both teams barely broke twenty points in the first half; the halftime score was 24-23 Wisconsin.  Considering the halftime score of the previous Wednesday's Carolina/Duke contest was 52-44, you can imagine what a yawner this was.  I suppose it's not fair to compare the Big Ten to either the ACC or the Big East because there is no comparison.

At any rate, Madison is a delightful place, especially in the fall, when I've been there for college football.  It's the first time I stayed downtown, and I liked that much better.  Although I was disappointed I didn't have a lake view from my hotel room, I did have a nice look at Madison's capitol building:

Like Spokane, Madison is its state's second-largest city.  I don't know how people can live there.  Too cold.  But they're nice people of hearty German stock.  They have to be to put up with the cold, snowy weather.

And this was probably a mild day.  (Can you tell I grew up in the Sandhills of North Carolina?)  But places like the Nitty Gritty - where you can hang out and have a nice bowl of chili, a yummy grilled cheese sandwich, or some kind of brat dish while looking at framed pictures of famous people and ESPN crew members - keep you warm inside.

After a couple of days in chilly New York, I leave tonight for equally chilly Louisville.

Little Anniversaries Mean So Much

Today, February 17, 2009, is a special day for me at shrinecastle.  This is my 100th blog entry!  Yay!

I realize it's pretty much the equivalent of celebrating the one-week anniversary of your first date with someone or the six-month anniversary of someone flirting with you, but I'm exciting about having written one hundred posts. Knowing that I have written this much helps motivate me to continue writing and to develop better focus and more interesting entries.  We'll see how that goes over the next one hundred posts.

Crisscrossing the Nation for College Hoops - Villanova, Pennsylvania

When I first agreed to do this game, back in October or November, I thought it was being played at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia.  I was mistaken. The Marquette/Villanova matchup was held at the Pavilion on Villanova's campus. Instead of a nice, hourlong train ride followed by a brief hop in a cab, I rode two hours from New York City with one of the camera guys.  It was a nice ride, though, good weather, no traffic.  The crew stayed in a hotel in King of Prussia, which has such an international sound to it.  I didn't take any pictures from the window of this hotel room because, well, I didn't think anyone would be interested in seeing a generic highway in southeastern Pennsylvania.

After checking into the hotel and partaking in its breakfast buffet, we made the short drive to the gothic architecture of the Villanova campus.  It's fun to visit these different schools and learn the history of them.  I'm particularly fascinated by the fact that Villanova University is a Catholic institution of higher learning based upon the influence of Saint Augustine of Hippo. (Well, I'm not really fascinated by it; I just wanted a reason to put Saint Augustine of Hippo in my blog.)

The Wildcats were sluggish in the opening minutes of the game, but each team picked up the pace and ran up a 45 (Golden Eagles) to 50 (Wildcats) halftime score.  Villanova shot 72% in the 2nd half and pounded Marquette 102-84.  The game was part of ESPN's Interactive Tuesday, an outlet for fans to voice their opinions about the game and the teams.  At the risk of offending the folks at ESPN who provide me with more than a third of my yearly income, I'm not a fan of Interactive Tuesday.  If I'm sitting at home watching a game, I just want to WATCH THE GAME.  I don't care about other people's opinions!  Plus, I can't read that stuff because I'm sure it's riddled with bad grammar.  Luckily for the Marquette/Villanova game, I wasn't the one who typed all the crap that people texted in; it was handled through ESPN's home base of Bristol, Connecticut, and it magically appeared on the screen.  The poll questions were typed by the other graphics operator on the show, thank goodness, and I was able to focus on the game itself.  I Googled "Interactive Tuesday" and found that other people feel the same way I do.  I read a few comments from a blog called Awful Announcing  and some Yahoo! Canada sports blog.  

The following day I was happy to drive back to the city and watch my Carolina/Duke game sans scrolling comments.  Go Heels!

My next game took me to Madison, Wisconsin, for Big Ten hoops with the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Wisconsin Badgers.  

Monday, February 16, 2009

Crisscrossing the Nation for College Hoops - Spokane, Washington

The next stop on the college hoops tour took me to Spokane, Washington, for a non-conference, Top-25 showdown between the Memphis Tigers and the Gonzaga Bulldogs.  Prior to this trip, Seattle was the only city in Washington state that I had visited.  Spokane is on the far eastern side of Washington, 20 miles from the Idaho border.  Although its population is only 200,975, Spokane is the state's second-largest city.  

The Gonzaga Bulldogs, longtime darlings of the NCAA Tournament Cinderella story, have in recent years fielded strong teams that have been expected to do well in the rankings throughout the regular season, not just in the postseason. They were riding a nine-game winning streak before Memphis ran them out of Spokane Arena by defeating the overmatched Bulldogs 68-50.

So the game may not have been great television material, but it was a good trip for me because I slept on all three legs of my trip (Syracuse-Boston-Denver-Spokane).  Like Syracuse, Spokane was a little to cold for me to walk around and see the sights.  Here's Spokane from the window of my hotel room:

The Davenport Hotel from the Davenport Tower

We stayed in the Tower portion of the Davenport Hotel and Tower, a gaudily appointed hotel adorned with animal skins and what appears to be the contents of Teddy Roosevelt's big-game trophy case.  Each guest room has a leopard-skin chaise longue and oil paintings of various animals one might find on the African veldt.  The bar and restaurant are a taxidermist's dream:  stuffed animals are everywhere, and I'm not talking about cuddly Gunds; I'm talking about wild creatures with large fangs.  (The restaurant, after all, is called the Safari Room.)  Surrounded by all of these creatures, I surmised, incorrectly, that the Davenport Hotel's namesake had to have been a hunter or enthusiast of big game.  The hotel's website doesn't even mention the existence of a safari theme.  Weird.  At any rate, the food is excellent - I highly recommend the crab and avocado omelet - and the people who work there are some of the nicest you'll encounter.

I took an early flight home on the Sunday after the game and had the next day off before my next game, Marquette vs Villanova.

Crisscrossing the Nation for College Hoops - Syracuse, New York

Since returning from Australia, I've been on the road for ESPN in the States, typing graphics for college hoops games.  The first stop was Syracuse, New York, a mere two days after my 20-hour journey from Melbourne. 

Afflicted with severe jetlag, I sleepwalked through Syracuse's 74-61 trouncing of the West Virginia Mountaineers.  (Despite not being 100%, I didn't make any mistakes.)

Since it was 4 degrees outside, I decided to view Syracuse from my hotel room rather than walk around the campus.  Above is the Hall of Languages, home of Syracuse University's College of Arts and Sciences.  Opened in 1873, it's the school's oldest building.  I was told by my game's producer, a Syracuse grad, that this building is reputed to be the model upon which the Munsters house is based.  I have no idea if there is any truth to that statement.  In the distance the puffy white structure to the right of the second empire-style building is the Carrier Dome, where the football and basketball teams play.  With a capacity of 49,250, it's apparently the fifth-largest domed stadium in the country and the largest on a college campus.

Also from the window of my hotel room, I could see the Romanesque Crouse College, a beautiful red-brick castle constructed in 1889.  It houses Syracuse's College of Visual and Performing Arts and the School of Music.

The trip to Syracuse was a brief stop in a cross-country tour of college towns for ESPN.  The day after the West Virginia/Syracuse game, I flew to the other side of the nation to Spokane, Washington.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Why Is Money From Other Countries Much Prettier Than Ours?

As happens in other countries I've visited, my wallet wouldn't shut during my stay in Australia.  Not because I had a lot of money, but because I had a lot of coin money.  It's beautiful money, even though I couldn't tell the difference between their 50-cent pieces from their quarters.  Like Canada, Australia has $2- and $1-dollar coins, which adds to the weight and girth of one's wallet. 

One feature of Australian paper money that I found fascinating is the see-through spot in the corner.  The transparency, I assume, is a counterfeiting deterrent.  In fact, Australian money is printed on polymer banknotes, which, according to a website of the Australian government's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, is more secure and easily recyclable.  

Using the Australian currency made me curious about the people and animals featured on the bills and coins, so I searched online to gain insight into Australian history and culture through its money. (Isn't the Internet great?) 

Depicted on the $20 note is Mary Reibey (1777-1855), who was born in England, arrested for horse stealing, and sent to Australia as a convict.  She eventually became a tycoon in Australia's shipping business as well as a philanthropist.  On the flip side of the $20 bill is Rev. John Flynn (1880-1951), who founded the Royal Flying Doctor Service, the world's first aerial medical service, which still operates today.  

Two poets appear on the $10 note:  A.B. "Banjo" Paterson (1864-1941) and Dame Mary Gilmore (1865-1962).  Paterson was an Australian bushman who chronicled the people of and life in the outback through such ballads as "Waltzing Matlida" and "The Man From Snowy River."  Dame Mary Gilmore helped found the Fellowship of Australian Writers, and in 1937 she became the first person to be appointed Dame Commander of the British Empire for her literary contributions.

The $5 note reminds me of Canadian money because Queen Elizabeth II is featured on it.  The Parliament House in Australia's capital of Canberra appears on the reverse side.

I can't explain my feelings, but I find $1- and $2-dollar coins worldwide to be bothersome, although they're not quite as annoying as receiving a bunch of Sacagaweas as change from a stamp vending machine at the post office in the United States.  Anyway, Australia's $2 coin took the place of its paper note in 1988 and combines the images of an Aboriginal tribal leader, native foliage, and the Southern Cross, the constellation that is part of the Australian flag. That's a lot of stuff to cram onto a fairly small coin.

The $1 coin came into being four years before the $2 coin, in 1984, and has five kangaroos bouncing around on it.  

The largest Australian coin, the 50-cent piece, has twelve sides that are squared off and bears Australia's coat of arms.

A platypus swims through the back of the 20-cent coin.  It is one of two mammals in the world that lays eggs.  The other, the echidna, appears on Australia's version of our nickel.  It's interesting that both of these animals are native to Australia.  Perhaps that's why they're featured on the country's currency?

Another native Australian animal is the lyrebird, who has a spot on the 10-cent coin.  (Do the Aussies call it a dime?)  The male has crazy tail plumage. Unfortunately, this wasn't one of the birds I saw at the Healesville Sanctuary.

In a brilliant move, the Australians stopped using 1-cent and 2-cent coins in 1991.  We'll never get rid of the penny in the States, even though it costs more than it's worth to produce and isn't accepted in vending machines.  Plus, Abe Lincoln is honored on the penny, making the case to eliminate the coin more difficult.

Extreme Temps

What I left behind in Melbourne, Australia: Sunny and hot

What I returned to few days later in New York:  Snowy and cold