This post is brought to you by the letters F, U, and the number 36.
The only thing better than celebrating your birthday is extending the revelry to an entire week, which is about how long my sainted mother was in labor before delivering me into the world as a welterweight at a terrifying but even 11 pounds.
So it was that after friends and family feted me on the 36th anniversary of my rather obnoxious arrival on Earth, I boarded a plane Monday morning for what would prove to be a week of firsts, including maiden visits to Fenway Park and Shea Stadium...
(wait for it...)
That crash was the sound of Red Sox fans collectively chunking their chowder bowl through the computer screen. And in their defense, I'll admit that lumping Fenway and Shea into one experience - or even the same sentence - is like bragging that you've met two famous actors: Laurence Olivier and Pauly Shore. Same business, different league.
Fenway is Boston, and vice-versa. As long as you keep moving, everyone's happy. I'd made it approximately 90 seconds and 200 yards before my ignorance of this single rule of Mass. transit took its toll. Or tried to. A left-right-left out of the Avis lot led me to the on ramp of the Ted Williams Tunnel, a passage that required a $3 charge. I had exactly nothing. Like the tunnel's namesake, I froze. The guy in the booth grudgingly fetched a form and return envelope for me to send in my three bills. And as he did, a detail from the Boston Visitors Bureau was lining up behind me to welcome me with a staccato of hello honks and a collective point in the right direction with one big middle finger. It was comforting, in a weird way. You don't want to be told to fuhgeddaboudit by a waitress at a Chattanooga Cracker Barrel. And you don't want to hear "Howdy!" in the Hub.
Outside Fenway, I bought a ticket along the rightfield line and made my way in with a couple of friends who already had seats. As the Sox came to bat in the bottom of the first, my friends called and said there was one empty seat behind them and to come on down. "On down," precisely, was only the third row at Fenway Park. Hello, Mooch-a-chusetts! I was so close to the Red Sox on-deck circle I could've spit a sunflower seed into Johnny Damon's hair. And with that mane, I doubt he'd have ever known.
The whole experience was even better than I'd hoped. The sights, sounds, smells were unmistakably Fenway. The Green Monster. The Pesky Pole. The Citgo sign that's further beyond left field than it appears on TV. And a 2004 World Series banner that I suspect many in that park thought they'd never see.
Baseball isn't a game in Boston; it's a religion, complete with its own sacraments - franks (on white bread) and beer (which comes with the same instructions as shampoo: suds, rinse, repeat). And you're not just invited to partake, it's actually pointless to resist. More people offered to buy me a beer on the first day of my 37th year than in the previous 36 years combined. The scoreboard said Cleveland 7, Boston 0. But I was the clear winner on this night.
The next day wasn't bad either. After a quick tour of some Boston landmarks - the Old North Church, Harvard, Dunkin' Donuts - my friend and I teed it up at The International, founded in 1901 and billed as the longest golf course in the world at 8,325 yards. Not wanting to be rude, I played where my friend wanted. He likes his tee markers and his hot dog bread white. I didn't exactly bring the monster to its knees. But with a birdie at the 3rd, I did kick it in the shins really hard before signing for a 78, turning tail, and running away kicking and screaming like a teenage girl. Actually, 78 doesn't beat too many teenage girls these days.
The five-hour drive that afternoon from Boston to New Jersey where I was to broadcast the Women's World Match Play Championship for The Golf Channel took me down the Massachusetts Turnpike; through Hartford, Connecticut; across the New York state line; past West Point; and finally into New Jersey. I remember hearing Rodney Dangerfield one time deliver the line, "You from Jersey? What exit?" I always wondered if that was offensive to the people who lived there. It wasn't to me.
Jersey's an interesting place. It's one of two states (the other being Oregon) where it's mandatory for a filling station employee to pump your gas. This further proves Dan Quayle was right back in 1992 when he pointed to a "Help Wanted" sign at a Burger King on the campaign trail to prove there really were good jobs out there. Of course, the work is for men only. Murphy Brown and all the other moms should stick to pumping breast milk and everything will be okay.
The golf tournament's host city, Gladstone, is a cozy village and, as far as I could tell, unpopulated. I was there four days and didn't see a soul. Yet 45 miles to the east is arguably the most important city in the world, New York. And argue, New Yorkers did. In my one foray into the city, I was:
honked at in the Holland Tunnel
cut off by a cab in Manhattan
scalped at Shea Stadium
lost on Long Island
and flipped off of Manhattan as I headed back to Jersey.
It was great.
Back at the tournament, my good friend and Golf Channel colleague, Kay Cockerill, and I discussed the allegations by a former LPGA caddy that he had fathered the child of a player, who just happens to be one of the most well-known members of the tour's weekly Bible study. Kay said (with tongue somewhere in the vicinity of cheek), "You Christians are always the ones who seem the most screwed up and need God to solve all of your problems. And yet you seem to look down on people who have some sense of balance in their lives." I hate when she makes good points like that. It's true that calls for repentance ring kinda hollow when the callers' lifestyles aren't nearly as holy as the ones they're calling. Of course, angels are easy targets once they've fallen, and the only reason they fall so far is because they're aspiring for great heights.
The conversation and the cart path turned as we came upon the third hole at Hamilton Farm Golf Club where rookie sensation Paula Creamer was suffering through comments like this from one of the guys in her pro-am group after his buddy left a birdie putt short: "Hey, you oughta be playing on the ladies' tour!" The chauvinist pig promptly stepped up and yanked his attempt a good Buick-length left of the hole. And then Creamer "chau"-ed him a thing or two by ramming hers right in the heart to rescue the team from par.
This tournament aired on The Golf Channel Thursday and Friday but was produced by CBS, which carried the weekend rounds. That meant I got to again work with my friend and the head of CBS golf, Lance Barrow, aka "The Round Mound of the TV Compound."
Before our first telecast, we discussed ideas for the show. Sort of. When I tried to make a suggestion, Lance proved he wasn't cutting any slack to his fellow Abilene Christian alum by scoffing, "I don't know who you been working with, but you let me worry about what we're going to do." I assumed he was kidding, so during rehearsal I offered my own good-natured jab in his direction, only to have him fire back, "Watch it. I'll come up there (to the booth). Don't think I won't. I don't know who you been working with, but I'll come up there and take care of things if that's what it takes..."
Gulp. Lance is a former football player, who's still big enough to squish me in his loafers. At that point, I wasn't so sure he was kidding. But he was. I think. I hope.
The week ended with one final full-serve fill up and the check-in at Newark International Airport where the sign for all of the carriers running out of Terminal B listed Ethiopian Airlines immediately above Hooters Air. My first thought was that the passenger perks must be a tad different. My second thought was that Addis Ababa is either the capital of Ethiopia or what a guy at Hooters stammers as he simultaneously ogles his server and snarfs his wings.
Alas, I flew plain old American Airlines back home as my birthweek celebration concluded. But knowing such a beautiful wife and three precious kids were waiting for me when I walked through the door, I figured every day is like a birthday.