Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Mid-Atlantic Trip

I drove to Washington/Annapolis--and back--last weekend (now 2 weekends ago) for my fifteen year school reunion. I enjoyed it maybe more than I expected to--I had been open to the possibility of being depressed afterwards, though a depression interladen with meaningful assocations at least, which is better than the purely anomistic, low-intensity one with which I am ordinarily afflicted. There was not a big turnout for the reunion--most people my age are very busy living their proper lives even they want to come--but for all that the collection of people seemed to be good. At this point anyone who is still coming to school has an affection for it that I suppose is largely incurable, whatever form their subsequent lives have taken, which contributes to a pleasant, even if somewhat gentle atmosphere, as was the case here. It poured rain all afternoon and night on Saturday, which contributed to the mood of nostalgic melancholy I was feeling most of the time.

But I am not going to dwell on the reunion, which was certainly not without some real problems (running out of or shutting off the beer at 11:30 at the official Friday night function--unacceptable!). I also have a theory of people who go to reunions which does not cast them in a flattering light, though I find I am unable to adopt my own principals in these matters. My trip had other aspects to it that I want to write on.

On the long drive down the East Coast, I got a good sampling of the major sports talk radio stations in each area, these being WEEI in Boston, WFAN in New York, and WIP in Philadelphia. There were stations in Washington and Baltimore too, but they were atrocious. Most callers and hosts on talk radio are obnoxious, unfunny, vapid in the most unimaginative way, and devoid of any kind of distinguishing personality to some degree, but in the Baltimore/Washington corridor all of these qualities were seemingly combined in every person who made it onto the air. I couldn't endure them for five minutes. Washington is a weird area in that with the exception of the black population there aren't many people with deep generational roots there, and the social competition is brutal with no sort of alternative identity or community for people to fall back on so that many people who grow up or live there have even more than ordinarily crimped and damaged souls, as well no affection for the area whatsoever in a way that isn't common in New York or even the oft-maligned Philadelphia. But Baltimore used, anyway, to have a more colorful blue-collar fan base for sports, which is the lifeblood of these kinds of shows, back in the 1950s and 60s, but they have either left or suburbanization has totally lobotomized them. But here are a few observations on the different views of the current sports scene in the other cities:

Phillies: People in Philadelphia, doubtless impressed by the unexpected ease with which the Phillies cruised to the championship last year, are very bullish on the team's chances of repeating. This would be astounding to anyone who regularly listened to sportstalk in Boston, where you might have the impression that no such team as the Phillies even exists. Indeed, the entire National League scarcely exists in WEEI-land, unless former Red Sox players, usually pitchers who failed in Boston but become miraculously above average upon moving to the weaker league, are being referenced. The Phillies are talked about a little more in New York, though mainly in reference to their being the current main competitors of the Mets. Otherwise they are not highly interesting to people their either.

A-Rod: One of my favorite summer rituals in recent years is tuning into WFAN for a half hour on my way down to Philadelphia to get a good helping of vicious A-Rod bashing from the New York fans. This year however they have backed off from this--Yankee fans in general seem to be taking a cautious, wait-and-see attitude where this current team is concerned. In Boston meanwhile the hosts and fans alike have been talking for weeks about the chills A-Rod must be getting at seeing the calendar march inexorably towards October 1. They fully expect him to choke.

Patriots: The Patriots receive a lot of attention/fascination, both in New York, where of course they have been pounding on the Jets for the last decade, and, surprisingly, in Philadelphia, mostly in the form of the duo of Reid/McNabb being compared unfavorably to that of Belichick/Brady.

Eagles: Except in 2004 when they had T.O. and started the year 13-1 and were killing most of their opponents, the Philly fans are in a constant state of angst about the Eagles, even though in other cities they are considered one of the better organizations in the league. The fans are bitter about the team's failure to ever win a Super Bowl (or any championship since 1960), a bitterness now accentuated by the rival Giants sort of sneaking in for an unlikely title in 2007 after the Eagles had dominated the division for the entire decade. The pro-Giants people in New York seem to think of the Eagles as having the upper hand on their team in recent years and talk as if they are worried about them, despite their having won a title recently while the Eagles haven't.

Eli Manning: He gets absolutely no respect in Philadelphia, and is considered a total chump. This is in the tradition of Troygirl Aikman and Phil Simms, other Super Bowl winning QBs from division rivals considered horribly overrated and effeminate by Eagles fans.

With the exception of the reliably nasty Howard Eskin in Philadelphia, the Boston radio hosts tend to be the most surly and aggressive towards callers who disagree with them, or are meek or confused in their point. Surprisingly the New York guys struck me as going the easiest on people, or at least they saved their combativeness for callers who could take it and come back quickly with another point.

I hate to admit it, but New York callers were the most intelligent and interesting. Even the guys who were obviously not very educated knew how to talk, and express a coherent series of thoughts as they related to the world as they experienced it, which is something of a lost art out in the provinces.

Philadelphia had by far the most black callers on their station. I realize they have a bigger black population, but still, I think I heard one black caller in New York, and none in Boston. The Philly station is still overwhelmingly white-oriented, in a knucklehead kind of way, sponsoring buffalo wing eating contests at Bennigan's in Bensalem and that sort of thing. Most of the callers in Philadelphia don't seem to have traveled much beyond the boundaries of Eagles nation, which runs roughly from Lancaster in the West to the Lehigh Valley/Poconos in the North, East in New Jersey to the shore (south of Atlantic City) and south into Delaware about as far as the line which I-95 cuts across the state. Sometimes you will get somebody calling into who actually attended Penn State, which is seen as being really far away. Almost nobody has ever been to Harrisburg, let alone Pittsburgh.

I couldn't get a room in Annapolis for less per night than what I paid in monthly rent when I lived there, so my hotel was in Washington. It was near the Museum of American Art and the National Portrait Gallery, which I had never been to, so I got up pretty early on Saturday and looked around for a couple of hours. I only saw the first floor, after which I began to get tired anyway, but it was a good museum, although in the portrait section I found I was frequently distracted by the biographical information on the subject rather than looking at the painting itself. There was a special exhibition on art commissioned by the NRA during the Depression which I thought was outstanding. These were mostly realist, very Hopperesque paintings of industrial subjects, highways, bridges, factories, main streets, scenes from city apartments, baseball games. I was disappointed that there were no postcards of the paintings available, and I even considered buying the companion book for $34, but I was the only person in the shop and the salespeople were eyeing me in a way I didn't like so I put it down. But I kind of wish I had bought it now. Here is the page for the exhibit.

I ate at quite a few diners on my trip, since there aren't a lot around where I live. There is one that is pretty good about 20 miles away, but it's right off the highway and is very popular with tourists, so there is almost always a wait for a table except in the dead of winter. So I'm going to review them.

Mamaroneck Diner, NY. On Route 1. Got to this place around 10pm. Open 24 hours. Not crowded. Very sleek, silvery shiny type diner, super clean. Staff immigrants of indeterminate origin--somewhere in the Eastern Mediterrenean/Black Sea area--casually dressed but very professional and perfunctory in carrying out their duties. Sparse crowd very diverse. There was what looked like an East Asian gang in one corner--hoodies, odd gloves, scowling, etc--as well as a pair of Italian or Hispanic babes out with boyfriends, all of whom diddled on their cell phones the whole time. Got the corn beef sandwich with cole slaw on the side and a bottle of Samuel Adams. Outstanding.

Aberdeen, Md. Diner. Unfortunately I can't remember the name, and there are several diners there very close to each other on the old Pulaski Highway (Route 40). This one was a classic boxcar type diner with jukeboxes in the booths. Nice view of the road, which is the main drag in this town. Ate here around 2-3pm. Not many people there, all local, all white. There was a group behind me from some business where a very Maryland-looking guy with a bad mustache and haircut was haranguing his hapless companions (presumably co-workers about marketing strategies). Waitress looked older than me but probably wasn't, acted kind of youngish and peppy (though she did call me hon), also her name was Jennifer, which is a name of my generation. I had the Philly Cheesesteak with Fries. Pretty good. Bathroom was great, looked as if it hadn't been updated since the late 60s.

El Riconcito, Cafe, Washington, DC. Not a diner, but an El Salvadorean restaurant that was near my hotel. El Salvadorean cuisine appears to be fairly similar to Mexican. Very small restaurant, full when I was there, people standing at the counter. Except for one other table of hipsters, and me, everyone else in the place speaking Spanish. A gangsterish looking guy and his heavy-cleavage revealing girlfriend came in and sat right in front of me, cleavage right in my direct line of vision. I had a beef nacho plate, which was heavy but very good. Waitress was pleasant, although she laughed at my Spanish pronunication and taunted my failure to eat my halapenos, I think she rather liked me.

248 Diner, Easton, Pa. More a restaurant than a proper diner. Upstate Pennsylvania means old-fashioned patriotic white Americans, many old, many fat, many with really bad clothes, but still, in many ways they are my people, so I do kind of have affection for them. I had the lasagna special with dinner rolls and a green bean and mushroom dish for my vegetable. The meal was so-so. What this place really had going for it was three or four quite beautiful and genuinely personable and chatty waitresses. Upstate Pennsylvania is very hit or miss in this regard. You can go one place and it's full of totally crass and hideous-looking people, and then go down the road and see some of the dreamiest Hopperesque American girls you've ever seen in your life. If I could have had the waitresses in this restaurant as my harem I would have had to give serious consideration to staying in town for several years. Kind of like Odysseus on the island of Calypso, really, and of course everybody (except my wife) thinks he's great now.

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