Saturday, May 28, 2011

Central Park

This was not my first trip to New York. I had already been there in January and February of 2009, and I was not left with any of the same impressions others usually have about the city. I have my reasons.

Nonetheless, I was still excited for this new trip to New York. A big reason for the excitement was the reunion aspect of the trip. Most of these friends I have not seen in 2 and a half years! The reason for the reunion? A wedding on Long Island. I met both the Bride and Groom while living in Daegu, South Korea. The last time I saw the Groom was in January 2009 (the trip to New York was to visit him).

Unfortunately I missed the Bachelor party on the Friday night, having arrived early Saturday morning. My flight arrived at 9am, and I planned to meet up with friends as soon as I could. That did not come as soon as I hoped because of the Bachelor party the night before. I made some calls and got either no answer, or a half awake friend who needed more sleep. I'm easy going, so I just figured I would find something to do.

The last time I was in New York I was hanging out with 3 friends and mostly just following them around. That is what I tend to do when I travel with others.

This time I was on my own which I am more than used to. I took the M60 bus from LaGuardia airport intending to get off at Astoria where the guy I was staying with told me I could catch the N R subway line to close to where he lived. Of course, I waited too long before working up the courage and asking someone where the stop I wanted was. I ended up way past it in Harlem. The bus driver gave me instructions how to take the subway and transfer.

I got off the bus and even considered walking. I did have all my stuff however and as I started walking I started feeling uncomfortable. I knew Harlem was a rough area and the landscape seemed to reinforce that. So I decided to hop on the subway after all. I saw no need to take it all the way to where I was spending the night, my host wouldn't be home until 8 o'clock anyways. So I got off at the South East portion of Central Park.

Central Park is what made me fall in love with Manhattan. I had been there before, but it was different this time. I was free to wander on my own, stop when I wanted and go where I wanted to go. Most importantly, it wasn't winter time. I got the chance to see real New Yorkers in their elements. They were walking their dogs, jogging, taking their kids out, and just reading on a rock in the sun. The day was absolutely gorgeous as well, so there were a lot of people out and about.

I also took a few breaks to read. I was, after all, still carrying my big back pack. I felt like a walk through the park was an authentic aspect of the trip. Obviously there were tourists, myself being one, but it didn't feel touristy. Just wandering around reminded me of getting lost along the canals of Amsterdam. Being in a big city, yet away from all the traffic. It was the best of both worlds.

One man was making balloon animals for kids. I was getting a drink from a water fountain when a couple with a child, maybe about 4 years old, approached him and asked him how much a balloon animal was. He asked the child what he wanted and responded they could pay what they liked because he couldn't put a price on a child's happiness.

Another real thing I enjoyed about New York was different from the stereotype. I actually found them to be quite friendly. This is from experience and from observation. One thing I have come to admire is a helpful bus driver. I have encountered too many grumpy bus drivers that I find it intimidating to ask for help, which can be a problem if you don't know where you are going. Every time I asked for help I was assisted pleasantly, or told they did not know just as pleasantly. New York is a busy city and everyone seems to be in a hurry. One lady who rushed past me was on her way to catch the bus before it left. Ahead of me I saw another lady walking by the open bus door and telling the bus driver that someone was on their way which made him wait.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Justin Verlander's 2nd No Hitter

The title of this blog post may suggest I am getting away from my travel blog and posting something a little more personal. While that is partly true, it still falls under the travel category because I actually made it to this historic game.

First off, I will explain what a no hitter is. It is a baseball term for a game in which the opposing team fails to get a hit. That doesn't mean they don't make contact with the ball, but that after making contact with the ball they do not make it safely to a base without the other team making a mistake. There have been 271 no hitters in Major League Baseball, but that dates back to 1875. Before Saturday May 7th only one had been thrown at this site in Toronto. It was then known as the Sky Dome but it's name has been since changed to the Rogers Centre. This is the first no no since the name change.

Rewind to months ago when the schedule was released and I circled this day as a day I wanted to go to the game. By myself if I had to, although I knew I would be able to find a worthy companion. The one I had in mind was my roommate from Australia, Marc. The two of us stayed up to insane hours to follow baseball while living in Australia.

Plans were in motion for our reunion. As the date came closer, the excitement grew. Finally I looked at the pitching match-up and could not be more excited. My favourite pitcher Justin Verlander vs his favourite Blue Jay pitcher, Ricky Romero (the way Marc says his name gives me chills every time and brings back pleasant Australian memories).

It turned out my parents were taking my sister and her boyfriend to this game. I got them to drop me off in Hamilton on the way so I could drive in with Marc. As was expected, the trash talk began, "Weiler, Verlander has horrible career numbers against the Jays. They are going to get swept." I still was proud in my Verlander jersey. We headed over to Marc's uncle's place for some hot dogs and a beer before the big game. We reminisced about our good times back at 38 cricket, with the gorgeous Danish girls, the boisterous Australians, the crazy French, Earth the Thai guy we have no idea how to contact and words cannot describe Keith Kavhai, the guy from Zimbabwe. We just know we miss him.

As a result, we showed up a little late for the game. We met my friend Joe--also a big tigers fan--and started talking to scalpers to find tickets for the game. I got a little anxious and wanted us to just buy the next tickets and be done with it. We paid $60 bucks for each, no discounts despite missing the first inning and a half. Our seats were in right centre and we seemed to be in the midst of a pitchers duel. Neither team had a hit at the start of the third inning.

That's when the tigers bats came alive. By the end of the fourth it was 6-0 Detroit and the Blue Jays not only were hitless against the Tigers, but Justin Verlander was perfect. In the history of baseball only 20 pitchers have ever thrown a perfect game. I took some time to find my father to discuss, or rather to avoid discussing what was happening.

It is considered bad luck to mention either a perfect game or no hitter.

After I returned to my seat, Verlander remained perfect until one out in the eighth. That meant he had sent down 22 batters in order. Then rookie catcher J.P. Arencibia stepped to the plate. In an at bat that seemed to take for ever--J.P. fouled off six strike 2 pitches--the perfect game bid ended with a walk. The very next batter grounded into a double play, ending the inning, still giving the Jays only 24 up and 24 down and keeping the no hitter hope alive.

In the final inning there were no disappointments. Verlander got his 3 outs and I went mad. Literally mad. I kissed every Detroit Tiger fan in the vicinity on the cheek, and Marc for good measure. Keep in mind I only knew Joe, the others were only fans I had been cheering with throughout the duration of the game.

It didn't stop there. It continued on the way out of the stadium and onto the streets of Toronto. Not all were very appreciative. Some Blue Jay fan started to give me props on a well pitched game so I kissed him too. Euphoria was a plenty and I have never felt that overcome with joy in my life. It was a great feeling and a greater game. I can only imagine what will happen when I am able to witness my favourite sports team win a championship.