August, 2012

Wednesday, August 1:

I'm being "loaned out" to the sports department for the Olympics -- and that's fine. Despite the hassles that go with such huge events, I have wonderful memories of the four Olympiads I attended in the 1990s. And one of the reasons is because of the athletes themselves. I have no desire to ever again enter a clubhouse of the professonal sports team. Been there, done that, experienced the air of snooty superiority exhibited by the average superstar. But Olympians? I can't get enough of them. From Roseline Filion and Meaghan Benfeito giggling and virtually finishing each other's sentences in the interview room after their diving bronze, to Antoine Valois-Fortier, a third-place finisher in judo who couldn't wipe a smile off his face in either official language to Christine Girard, who followed her heart when her head said Canadians -- especially women -- simply don't win medals in weightlifting. Their medals may be bronze but they're champions in my book, the lot of them.

Friday, August 3:

We're like ships passing in the night. I'm just back from a lightning car trip to Montreal, and tomorrow The Bride takes off for the cottage with friends of ours for a week of R&R. So the pups and I will be baching it, while I juggle my work shifts. And it's supposed to be a great week for weather -- mostly sunny and a fair bit less humid, once this current heat wave dissipates. I prefer to leave them outside when I'm working, so they can romp and play. But I won't do it when the heat and humidity are at danger levels. They may be confined to the kitchen but at least they can enjoy the air conditioning.

Saturday, August 4:

My calm, relatively quiet day on the Olympic shift was shattered at about 10:45 in the morning when Rosie MacLennan etched her name in Canadian sports lore. She won Canada's first goal medal of the London Games and marked a changing of the guard in her sport. She idolizes teammate Karen Cockburn, who was hoping to win a medal for the fourth straight Olympiad. Instead, MacLennan won gold and Cockburn, who was second with two competitors to go, ended up placing fourth in her final Olympic appearance. Sad for her but great that the country finally won an event. Except that, at 10:45 a.m., my recorded 10:50 report was now out of date. So it was scrapped, a new one written and recorded and we got it out there just a few minutes past its scheduled transmission time. It was our own Olympic pressure, and -- while stressful -- dealing with breaking news is why those of us in the game signed up in the first place.

Sunday, August 5:

I'm about as bright as a new moon sometimes. Early yesterday evening I finally tackled the drought-stricken straw-like lawn and the weeds that accompanied the dead grass. An hour later, bathed in sweat from the heat and humidity, I let the dogs out, went upstairs for a shower and was set to start dinner when I received an urgent knock on the door. Did I forget to mention that I failed to close the backyard gate when I let the dogs out? Off they went in an adventure through the neighbourhood. Thankfully, we have a full street of great people (and thankfully, the pups are very friendly with people). They corralled the wayward creatures, even gave them water, and we all were able to herd them back into the house. Of course, my face was as red as the type you're reading right now, and I must have set a record for the most "sorry!s" in five minutes. The dogs are safely inside. Now, if I could only find my brain.

Monday, August 6:

I'm glad to see that Canadians have rallied behind Paula Findlay, the triathlete who finished her weekend event in sobs, coming in dead last in the women's competition. There are questions about the treatment she received over the past year after injuring her hip. Without question, she wasn't "right" physically. Findlay appeared on television after finishing the triathlon, tearfully apologizing to the country, saying she believed she let the whole nation down. No way. Paula Findlay is not some preening, overhyped, pro sport multi-millionaire who won't play defence or who loafs down the line after hitting a grounder to short. They're the ones who should apologize. Not an amateur Olympian who has dedicated her life to training and who is among the world's very best in one of the most demanding disciplines in the Games. You did us all proud by being there, young lady. Nothing more was needed.

Tuesday, August 7:

Hope Solo has it all wrong. The rather mouthy American soccer goalie's comment on Canadian star Christine Sinclair following her hat trick in yesterday's Olympic women's semifinal was, "We made her look good." Which, of course, is 100% equine poop. What happened of course was that Sinclair made Solo look bad, which in turn looked good on her (if you follow my drift). The only one who made the Americans look good was the completely cowed Norwegian referee, whose delay call on Canada won't be made for the next 10 years or more in any soccer match at any level. Brutal is far too kind a word for the officiating and the Americans know it. Especially Solo.

Saturday, August 11:

There are days when it's a blessing to be awake at 4 a.m. for a morning shift. Today was one. Following a summer-long drought, we've had three days of steady rain. So my morning sky gave me this sight: Lightning to the northeast, where a thunderstorm had just passed. Clear sky to the southeast, where Venus, Jupiter and a crescent moon were all shining brightly. I hate the alarm clock but love what see most mornings when I step outside.

The Bride returned home safe and sound yesterday from the cottage with a case of 60 beers in tow. The cost at a Quebec Costco? $58.99. That's less than a buck a beer. And beer is available at grocery and corner stores, like it is in most states south of the border. But not here in Ontario where only the provincial government knows what's best for us. Sometimes I think we're a century behind here.

The gold-medal winning American women's soccer team donned shirts proclaiming "Greatness Has Been Found" -- yes, a Nike product -- immediately following their 2-1 win over Japan. Tacky, tasetless and lacking in sportsmanship. And somehow, just perfect for this team.

Sunday, August 12:

And just like that, they're gone. Imagine the months and years of training for Olympic athletes, people who are usually invisible to the word except for a two-week time frame every four years. Even for those on the absolute outer edge of the Olympics, they fly by with the speed of a cheetah. All I've done for two weeks was report on the games, but for those reports, months of preparation -- especially in our case by one dedicated and completely unappreciated co-worker -- were completed to make them work. Truth be told, we reporters dread the games as they approach (always fearing the worst in terms of failed equipment, unpreparedness, etc.), love them when they arrive and miss them when they're gone. For those of us fortunate to have actually covered them live (for me, 1992 and 1994 winter; 1992 and 1996 summer), we tolerate the particular hassles and come away with marvelous memories. I personally saw current Canadian chef de mission Mark Tewkesbury win gold in in the 100-metre backstroke in Barcelona. Earlier that year I watched Kerrin Lee-Gartner win the women's downhill gold in Albertville and then was right beside her when she called her family back home (exclaiming, "Mom, I won, I won!!"). And the most moving thing I've ever seen in sports was back in Barcelona when Derek Redmond tore his hamstring in the 400-metre semifinals and his father Jim eluded security and the two completed the lap of the track together, with Derek tearfully leaning on his father's shoulder for support. He was disqualified of course, but everyone went nuts and gave them a standing ovation. There wasn't a dry eye in the house. (Quincy Watts eventually won gold but few remember that). In addition, there have been countless memories from those trips away from the athletic competition, get-togethers with colleagues I'll treasure for all of my days. So yes, the Olympics are very, very special to me. Hard to believe they're here and gone again, just like that.

Tuesday, August 14:

Bought a lottery ticket the other day. I was prompted to by something that happened on my way to work. It was early -- maybe 4:30 in the morning and I was just taking the on-ramp to the expressway when I saw it. I couldn't tell at first what was in my path -- a dog, a car, a raccoon -- only that I knew I had no time to swerve and avoid the creature. Than, just before impact, the realization of what I was about to hit flashed into my brain: a skunk! Oh no! How was I going to explain my nose-crunching aroma to my co-workers? I waited for the wheels to flatten the body and waited for that unbearable stench to fill my car's interior. No impact. No bad smell (although I did imagine it for about a minute. Evidently, I drove right over him. The lottery ticket? I missed the jackpot just as I missed the skunk.

Friday, August 17:

I’ve visited the Tiger Discothèque in Phuket, Thailand. Just to people watch -- I’ve passed the point of dancing the night away. And I likely would have gone again during my upcoming November visit to southeast Asia. But it will certainly be an empty lot then after fire tore through the two-story structure earlier today. Four people perished, burned so badly that authorities (at this writing) have yet to determine their gender. I love Asia but so many of the buildings are terrible fire traps, built in a hurry to take advantage of the tourist dollar without much thought to safety. That certainly appears to be the case here. I remember thinking that I wouldn’t want to have to escape the packed Tiger Disco in a hurry. Far safer to sip on a beer at an outdoor patio and there are no shortage of those in Phuket.

Sunday, August 19:

How times change. Twenty years ago tonight, The Bride and I were rapt visitors inside Old Trafford in the outskirts of Manchester. Neither of us had ever seen an England Premier League game before (in fact, hardly anybody had -- the Premier League was mere days old, having been renamed from the old First Division of English football). We were nearing the end of a 10-day British vacation. The Bride had arrived from Toronto and I had come in from Barcelona, where I'd been covering the Olympics. It was cool in England, a wonderful relief from the unbearable heat and humidity of Catalonia. So we rented a car and B&B'd it up from London through Yorkshire, north to Scotland and back down the west side and were heading toward Manchester. I'd been a casual fan of Manchester United since I was about 9 or 10 and I suddenly had this crazy idea -- maybe there were still tickets available for the Red Devils' home opener two nights away against Everton. Remember, this was a much, much smaller OId Trafford in 1992 -- in fact, they had just torn down the Stretford End, leaving it wide open behind that goal. But United as a team was very much a work in progress. They hadn't won a league title -- the treasured prize in England -- since 1967, and had opened the season four days earlier with a 2-1 loss at Sheffield United. The natives were getting restless with manager Alex Ferguson, I was hoping against hope a couple of unused ducats might be available. So we drove over from Liverpool and I inquired at the ticket office, explaining we were vacationing from Canada. No problem, she said. Two nights later, we were in the stands, watching a United fall 3-0 to their Merseyside visitors before less than 32-thousand fans, short of a full house. But from that 0-and-2 start, something magical happened. United lost just four games the rest of the way and captured the elusive league crown, the first of a full dozen such championships in just 20 years. They've taken four more F.A. Cups and two European championships. Old Trafford now seats about 75-thousand, Alex Ferguson is now Sir Alex Ferguson, and you have to "know someone" -- like maybe The Queen -- if you ever want to get inside on game day again. In 2000, I used connections for a late season match between United and Sunderland (4-0 for the home side). And now, here they go again, starting up tomorrow against the same Toffees, only this time in Liverpool. Just last week, United acquired Robin Van Persie -- one of the most dangerous strikers in the league -- from Arsenal and I've gone from thinking this might be another rebuilding year to thinking they can be in the hunt for a number of titles this year -- including that league title they lost to Manchester City in May by mere goal differential. Can't wait!

Monday, August 20:

I must admit I'm a little excited about this (and apologies if this gets a little photo-technical. Shooters will know what I mean): I've had a love-hate relationship with Panasonic's point-and-shoots over the years. I need them for hockey, football and basketball shoots (baseball parks and auto racing venues have no problem with my larger Canon SLRs and the three lenses I use). I was quite content with my Panasonic FZ28 until the night a Baltimore Ravens fan behind me at MetLife Stadium became peeved with the rabid New York Jets fans around her and decided to spray her Coke around. That ruined the on-off switch on my FZ28. I followed that with an FZ100. Great zoom, great burst rate -- terrible pictures, especially in low light at high ISO. I can still use the FZ28 but it stays "on" for half an hour after I turn it off. However, it looks as if relief is on the way. The FZ150, with slightly lower resolution, is said to be a tremendous improvement over the FZ100 but I'm waiting until month's end when the new FZ200 will be available. In addition to the great zoom and great burst, it features a maximum 2.8 aperture across it's entire zoom range. That should mean much more light into the camera in poorly-lit arenas without having to jack up the ISO levels. In theory, far better pictures, less digital noise. Almost sounds too good to be true but I'll be keeping a close eye on reviews!

Tuesday, August 21:

I haven’t gone on a straight baseball road trip -- a different game at a different venue for a solid week -- in quite some time. The first I ever attempted was back in 1977 and it was a blast. That first excursion took me to Minnesota, Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago (Cubs and White Sox), Milwaukee, Cincinnati and Detroit. Six of the eight ballparks I attended on that trip are now history. Well, I’m doing another one, not quite a week (six days) and not quite six different venues (there are back-to-back games in Baltimore) but it will be a blast nonetheless. And the main reason is, I’ll be in the delightful company of my buddy Jim, who is as baseball-mad (more so, I’ll wager) than I am.

Thursday, August 23:

Voices: You might remember (you'd have to be old, like me) The Angels, a girl-group that had one smash hit -- "My Boyfriend's Back," in 1963. Peggy Santiglia sang lead on that song but it's not her I remember from that group. A year earlier, they hit the charts with the love song, "'Til," previously done (as "'Till") by the likes of Percy Faith, Roger Williams, Shirley Bassey and Tony Bennett. The Angels' version soared all the way up to to number-14, pretty heady stuff for a group that was unknown at the time. If and when you hear it, you'll know why. The lead singer at the time was Linda Jansen and she just absolutely nails it. I heard it for the first time in years this morning while listening to satellite radio. Highly recommended.

Sunday, August 26:

Summer colds are the worst. I've been felled by a bug that would have left Superman horizontal. It's been a week and change, and just when I think I have a day of improvement, I take two steps back the next day. My friend Nick, the local restaurant owner, has just come through the end of it. He says it took him a month to shake it. Great. I can live with it -- no fever or anything like that -- but every time I swallow, I feel as if my throat is being attacked by someone with a very sharp knife. Good times.

The signs are there. Sunsets at 8:00 p.m. Tinges of orange and yellow on the tips of maple trees. All of which belies the heat wave we're experiencing this weekend. The end of summer is less than four weeks away. The psychological end of summer (for me, at least) is a week from tomorrow -- Labour Day. I'm not ready for the best of all seasons to disappear.

Monday, August 27:

I have an extra week following our upcoming baseball trip, so -- thanks to some cheap air fares -- it's a combination baseball-football trip. I'll be taking in a Dolphins home game (against Oakland) and will check out the Super Bowl champion Giants in Carolina. Funny thing -- I never saw a game at the old Orange Bowl. The Bride and I had tickets to the Chicago-Miami game 'way back in 1985 but at the last minute, we had to cancel our trip. I gave the tickets to a college buddy who had put me up at his apartment when I first moved to Toronto a couple of years earlier. Famous game -- it was the Bears' only loss of their championship season. Me, I'm glad it worked out that way. My buddy died of lung cancer a number of years ago and it's a comfort to me that he saw that game live.

Tuesday, August 28:

OK, that was a shock! I haven't worked the afternoon business-report shift since late July. The shift ends at 7 p.m., and the sun was very low in the sky today when I hit the road for home. And when I arrived here, it was gone. Hard to believe kids will be back in school (here at least) one week from today. Usually, I'm very melancholy when Labour Day weekend arrives but I'm far more chipper this year. In addition to the usual pick-me-ups -- the start of both college football and the NFL as well as the September baseball pennant races -- I'm buoyed by my upcoming road trip and by my November excursion to the other side of the world (Southeast Asia). Even better, Environment Canada believes we'll have a warmer-than-usual autumn. In some ways, it's my favourite season -- I just hate what follows it.

Friday, August 31:

I've been battling a summer cold for weeks now and the main concern is a sore throat that renders my voice -- a key arsenal in my working life -- all but useless. So naturally, I handed this cold to The Bride who upped the ante: she also came down with a fever of 102 Fahrenheit, which left her horizontal. It takes a lot to drive her to the sick bed, but this did it. And of course now my throat (after days of improvement) is getting worse again and I'm alternating between the chills and the sweats with a fever of my own. Thank heavens this is happening now and not next weekend when our baseball road trip starts.