[From Live Yachting]
It’s been a busy two weeks, with travel and major events getting in the way of blogging. Had I written one more post two weeks ago, it would have been about the news of Larry Ellison’s basketball interest.
Ellison, co-founder of Oracle, has been among the three or four wealthiest Americans for years. In sports, he is best known for his America’s Cup yachts that have won the last two competitions. A little over two weeks ago, in the aftermath of the NBA’s decision to ban LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life, the WSJ reported that “Oprah Winfrey is joining with entertainment mogul David Geffen and Oracle Corp. Chief Executive Larry Ellison with an eye to buying the National Basketball Association’s Los Angeles Clippers.”
We learn further down that in 2010,
Mr. Ellison unsuccessfully tried to purchase the Golden State Warriors, which are based near software maker Oracle in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Warriors were eventually sold for $450 million.
“Although I was the highest bidder, [former Warriors owner] Chris Cohan decided to sell to someone else,” Mr. Ellison said in a statement at the time. “In my experience, this is a bit unusual.”
Mr. Ellison, who routinely ditched schoolwork for basketball practice during his high-school years in Chicago, has yet to break into a major American sport.
His top sporting accomplishment has come in the America’s Cup, the world’s most famous yachting competition. He owns Oracle Team USA, the racing squad that lost the contest in 2003 and 2007 before winning in 2010 and 2013. Mr. Ellison, with an estimated wealth of more than $40 billion, lavished his own money on those campaigns; the head of Oracle Team USA estimated last year that the sailing squad’s budget for the 2013 America’s Cup was at least $115 million, though part of that came from corporate sponsors.
The Oracle chief has had basketball courts on at least two of his yachts, said Tom Ehman, who handles America’s Cup matters for Mr. Ellison. He said Mr. Ellison liked to relax by shooting hoops on these courts, and has had someone in a powerboat following the yacht to retrieve balls that go overboard.
How about that last detail? It got a fair bit of attention in the press, best of all in a piece the next day from the WSJ’s own sportswriter, Jason Gay, who imagines the powerboat pilot’s tale. Here’s an excerpt, starting with the tryout for the not-yet-explained job:
A couple of days later they brought me out to the Embarcadero. Put me in a powerboat, had me take the wheel and put a 12-foot net in my hand. Then they sent another boat out before me with a couple of dudes; told me to follow it.
All of a sudden, these guys just start chucking basketballs off the boat, right into the wake. They howled at me on a bullhorn to grab the basketballs with the net. It was completely bizarre. Here we are in San Francisco and I am reaching out with this net, grabbing Spalding basketballs and chucking them into the back of a boat. And it was tricky. If you know the water there, it’s windy as hell. They had the America’s Cup there for a reason.
The whole thing took about a half-hour. I guess I did OK. Something like 48 basketballs went into the ocean. I got 46. I heard nobody else got more than 30.
An hour after we returned to the dock, they told me I got the job. I still wasn’t sure what the job was. OWBR, they said. “Official Waterborne Basketball Retriever.” The pay was right. They wanted me to start immediately.
Mind you I still had no idea who I was doing this for, but the next week I’m flying first-class to Nice, and then a car picks me up to go to the Mediterranean. We pull into the harbor and I’m given the keys to a 44-foot powerboat.
“This is yours,” the guy said. “Go to that.” He points out into the sea.
And I look out and there is just the craziest and most blinged-out super yacht I’d ever seen. I mean, it looks like the Houston skyline. The guy tells me to keep the radio on channel 7 and wait for instructions.
“Instructions on what?” I ask.
I wrote four posts last Sunday about our visit to New York the week before on the occasion of my mother’s 94th birthday. Left unwritten was this one, in which our trip ends with an unexpected gift.
You may be familiar with the once-glorious Pan Am terminal at JFK, pictured above. On Pan Am’s death, Delta took it over. Under the numbering system developed for JFK’s different buildings, it became the prosaic Terminal 3. It also became a dump, though no less so than its neighbor, Terminal 2, which Delta also uses. Flying Delta to JFK, you knew you had arrived in hell, especially in contrast to the new terminals (5 and 8) that JetBlue and American built.
And then there was the old international arrivals terminal, which in an era when only Pan Am and TWA, among US carriers, flew overseas, and from their own terminals, was where all the foreign airlines came. It received its own facelift a few years ago.
With T3 beyond repair, Delta decided to invest in a huge extension to T4, which opened last May. They still use T2, while T3 is now a ruin. The T4 extension is a huge arm running perpendicular to the main entry building for as far as you can see, and then some. We flew into the end gate last summer and walked/rode the moving walkway forever to get to baggage claim.
The terminal’s new Delta Sky Club is far past the wing’s midpoint, which suggests that the extension isn’t finished, and that is indeed the case. Last November, I dropped Gail and Joel at T4 for their return to Seattle and then took the post-security shuttle bus from T4 around to T2 to catch a flight to Chicago, giving me a good view from the tarmac of the continued construction. When the extension is completed, the club will no doubt find itself at the midpoint.
Anyway, here we were, two Sundays ago, at T4, just through security, with a long walk first to the Delta wing and then to the farthest end of it for our Seattle flight. Or maybe not quite the farthest end, since we were going to stop first at the club.
As we made the turn from the main terminal area to the Delta wing, one of those beeping shuttle vehicles was headed right at us, the kind with a few rows of bench seats that ferries passengers with mobility problems out to the gates. It was returning passenger-less, and I was trying to get out of its way when suddenly the driver pulled alongside to ask what gate we were headed to. I gave him a number just short of our actual gate, one by the club. He said hop on.
Hop on? Did I look like I needed a ride? How old do I look anyway?
Well, who cares? This was too good an opportunity to pass up. And there was plenty of room on board. Gail got in one row, me in the one behind. Joel looked at us like we were insane and kept walking. Then we were off.
I had to record this, at the least so I could show Joel what he was missing. I got my phone out, took a photo, then switched to movie mode. You can see the result below. We asked the driver to pull up to the club entrance and we jumped off.
If this is what being old is like, I’ll take it.
Oh, bonus viewing: see if you can spot our son as we pass him. I didn’t even notice him when we went by, but he’s there, in the video.
One of the pleasures of travel is the opportunity it affords to discover how similar life is in other places. And how different.
Take cable, for instance. Here in Seattle, we live under the Comcast monopoly. A few years ago, they rebranded all their services under the Xfinity label. Back at my parents’ house in New York, Cablevision runs things, and they brand their services under the Optimum name. I have no idea why cable companies decided to invent stupid names for their consumer services.
In any case, when we were in New York last week, we decided to help with some cable box problems. I called Cablevision, described the issue, and was told that we should exchange our DVR for a new one at the nearest Optimum store, in Roslyn. We disconnected everything, put the box in our rental car, and drove off.
Once in the store, I was amazed to see that it was a clone of our Seattle
Comcast Xfinity store. Long line. Lots of customer service reps behind computer screens along a long counter. Piles of cable and DVR boxes behind them. Wait your turn, walk up, describe problem, turn in box, get new box with new power cable. It was like a parallel universe, with only the store name changed.
Except for one thing. The race. This I haven’t seen in Seattle.
When we drove into the Optimum lot, I passed up some parking spots close to the front door, parked out of the way, Gail and Joel got out, I fussed with the rental car a bit, finally getting out and locking up, during which time a woman had driven into the lot, parked, and gotten out with what looked like a bill and cash in one hand. There was a bit of drizzle. I looked over to see Gail and Joel waiting for me rather than heading in to get on line. Suddenly, the woman was off and running. I told Gail to go ahead, which she did. But she wasn’t going to run too. Clip clop, clip clop the women’s shoes rhythmically pounded as she passed Gail and entered with a yard to spare. Amazing.
Of course, we ended up standing in line just behind the race winner, who kept her head rigidly facing forward, suitably embarrassed I’d like to believe. Her reward? She was taken about two seconds ahead of us, with several spots opening up at once.
The new DVR we were given didn’t solve the problem. In that regard, the trip was a waste. But we did enjoy the new lesson in human behavior. Next time we go to the cable store, we’ll be wearing running shoes.
[From Sports Illustrated]
Joe Posnanski has been running a series of posts on the 100 Greatest Baseball Players Ever. I gather this will turn into a book. The posts were coming pretty quickly a couple of months ago, but then he went to Sochi to cover the Winter Olympics and things slowed down, which has been fine with me. The post-every-few-days pace allows me to enjoy each new entry a little more.
Today we learned Posnanski’s choice for number 48, Bob Feller. Posnanski attempts to explain just how extraordinary a pitcher Feller was from the moment he arrived in the big leagues at the age of 17 in 1936 through the 1946 and 1947 seasons, despite missing all of the 1942-1944 seasons and most of 1945 while serving in World War II. We can safely assume that Feller’s rare level of dominance would have continued right through the war years. (See Feller’s stats here.)
One accomplishment that Posnanski highlighted caught my fancy. Before describing it, I’ll take a detour into golf.
You are perhaps familiar with the golfing notion of shooting your age. The par score for an 18-hole golf course is typically 70 or 71 or 72. Top golfers will routinely score in the 60s. On a handful of occasions, players have shot 59s in tournament play. (A list of occasions when men have done it is here.)
The best players, when in their 30s or 40s, are never going to shoot a score equal to or lower than their age. However—and this is one of the benefits of aging—once you hit your 60s you can begin to think about “shooting your age.” It’s not that unusual a feat, at least for the golfing elite.
I haven’t played a round of golf in years, but even if I had, I’m too young to be shooting my age. In a few years, who knows? I could take up the game again and at least dream of shooting my age.
Oh, I just found an article from a few years ago by the WSJ golf writer, John Paul Newport on “The Wonders of Shooting Your Age.” Doing so is more common than I realized:
Phil Schlosser has always been a determined fellow. As the founder and owner of a forging company in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., his happiest moments came in defying competitors who whispered that he’d taken on a job his facilities couldn’t handle. “Every fiber in my body started to vibrate,” the strapping 84-year-old told me recently at his golf-course home in an elite Palm Springs-area community called The Reserve. “And I thought, ‘I’ll figure out how to do her.’ ” Usually he did.
So it’s not surprising that 11 years ago, when he was paired at his golf club in Bend, Ore., with two major-league baseball players who almost totally ignored him, he grew miffed and took action. Despite having scored less than 80 only three or four times in his life, he rolled in an eight-foot birdie putt on the final hole for a 73. “How’s that for an old man!” he told the players, whom he prefers not to name.
It was the first time he shot his age or better — and it was on the number. Since then, including Friday’s round of 81, Mr. Schlosser has shot his age an additional 381 times. That’s far from a record: A Minnesotan named T. Edison Smith, a retired physical-education professor, has shot his age or better nearly 2,700 times. Ed Ervasti, a member at Turtle Creek in Tequesta, Fla., and other clubs, last year at age 93 shot 72 on a course measuring more than 6,000 yards.
I shouldn’t just dream. I should do it.
Back to baseball, and the notion I was previously unfamiliar with of “striking out your age,” which Posnanski describes in writing about Feller.
He made his Major League debut two weeks later by pitching one shaky inning against Washington. He made his first big league start about month later, August 23, against the St. Louis Browns. He struck out 15. That’s when the papers really went crazy. To sum up the coverage in one sentence: This lad, who learned to throw by pegging at a makeshift backstop in his father’s cow pasture, this boy wonder not long out of short pants, this high school boy has a future brighter than the sun.
Less than a month after that, Feller had his most remarkable day of that remarkable year. With his father in the stands, he struck out 17 Philadelphia Athletics — an American League record. The United Press account probably described it best: “A fastball, a mystifying curve and a flare of wildness that made the Philadelphia athletics step back from the plate made 17-year-old Bob Feller today the amazed possessor of a New American League record of 17 strikeouts.”
That’s 17 strikeouts in one game at the age of 17!
Feller is one of only two players, by the way, to strike out his age. He struck out 17 at 17. Chicago’s Kerry Wood, more than 60 years later, struck out 20 at 20.
I missed Feller’s feat but remember Wood’s. What I don’t remember is anyone making the connection to striking out one’s age.
Alas, doing so has an age upper bound. You’re not going to do it once you turn 28. Too late.
Oh, I know. It’s possible to strike out more than 27 players in a game. A batter strikes out, the ball gets away from the catcher, the batter runs to first and arrives safely. It counts as a strikeout, but not an out. (Here’s a list of the occasions when a pitcher struck out 4 in an inning. It was done just last October.) If enough players strike out but get on base, you can have unlimited strikeouts. But basically 27 is the natural limit. Or let’s say 36 to be safe, nine consecutive four-strikeout innings.
This is one rare feat, for sure. And one I can’t dream of doing. Even if I somehow defy the laws of aging and become a professional pitcher at my age, it’s too late for me to strike out my age.
No baseball when I retire. I’ll focus on golf.
The northeast Seattle neighborhood where we once lived is home to the Wedgwood Broiler, a modest steakhouse that I still love to return to, if for no other reason than that there’s still a good chance, even twenty years after we moved away, that we’ll be the youngest people in the dining room. Indeed, we were there for dinner just a month ago and I didn’t notice anyone younger.*
Now we know where to go when we want the opposite experience. Our friends Tom and Carol are in from Edinburgh as houseguests, and two nights ago they were discussing with Gail and Joel (I was out) where we might go for dinner last night. Joel suggested Local 360, which despite taking over the old Flying Fish location in Belltown a few years ago, just a few blocks south of Jessica’s condo, was news to Gail and me. After reading up on the place and studying the menu, we decided to reserve.
From the homepage, one learns that they
believe in real food, grown and harvested by the good folks in our community who take care of their land for future generations. We believe in whole, natural flavors. We believe in sustainability, not as an abstract concept, but as a conscious daily choice. We believe in hands; the hands of our local farmers, products made by hand, and the goodwill fostered by such hand-in-hand relationships.
As for “360”, which makes me think of angle measure, not distance, it turns out to be the radius of the circle from which they aim to source their food.
From arugula to zucchini, our goal is to source everything we use from within a 360 mile radius of Seattle. At times, this will not be possible — in spite of its popularity, coffee still does not grow in the great Pacific Northwest, and we have yet to find a sugarcane field in our neck of the woods.
We had a surprisingly arduous journey downtown, and parking in Belltown is never straightforward, all of which served to remind me why we rarely go down there to eat. But we made it just five minutes late, and squeezed into the entry area, which was filled with people hoping to get tables despite no reservations. Two parties were told the wait was well over an hour, they left, we checked in, and were led to a booth near the back. There’s an open kitchen straight back, and a stairway near our table that leads to a balcony with more seating. It’s an efficient layout, with a string of booths tucked in under the balcony.
You can see the menu here. We shared some starters and small plates: the Grand Central baguette with whipped butter and sea salt (one has to order this if one wants bread), the deviled eggs, and the “Tender greens, farmer’s veggies, green goddess.” For entrees, Gail and Tom both chose the Chef’s Cut of the Night, which was fresh halibut with a salsa verde. Carol went for the Butcher’s grind house burger, with the “add cheese & bacon” option, and I chose steak frites with red wine butter sauce and aioli.
I couldn’t have been happier. The steak was better quality than I expected (at the given price) and the fries were excellent. Tom enjoyed his fish, but Gail thought hers a bit dry, and Carol found the burger overwhelming. A little too much to manage, with a bun that got soggy.
As I was finishing my steak, I realized that everyone I had seen—customers, cooks, and servers alike—seemed to be less than half my age. The people crowding the entry area at the beginning were more like a third my age. I could see two adults who might have been forty. Everyone else was under thirty. Tom pointed out that there was a bald guy at the bar, but when I took a closer look on our departure, I thought the baldness might have been a style choice, not an age indicator.
Go figure. Nothing about the menu or the restaurant philosophy suggests that it caters to a younger crowd. Time of day? Day of the week? I don’t know. It’s enough to send me back to Wedgwood, where the parking is easier and the staff has been there for decades.
But on to dessert. I chose the intriguing PB&J Bon Bons, Milk Shooter. It turned out to be three peanut butter balls breaded and heated, then placed on top of little jam circles. Bite into each ball and hot liquidy peanut butter pours out. Getting the jam to stick to the ball rather than the plate was a little tricky. I had to scoop it up with my spoon and try to get it all to mix in my mouth. Gail had the apple fritters with vanilla ice cream and bacon brittle. I took a small bite of a fritter, thought it good, but Gail didn’t seem so happy. Carol ordered a scoop of Olympic Mountain blueberry ice cream, served with two small snicker doodles. She pointed out to our server that the cookies were burnt on the bottom, to which the server responded by apologizing and, a few minutes later, bringing out two unburnt ones. I’ve never seen burning as an impediment to cookie eating, so I swooped in and ate the originals.
That was that. Age issues aside, I quite liked my meal. Gail, less so.
*The wedgwoodbroiler.com link that google directs me to doesn’t work at the moment, so either the site is temporarily down or gone altogether. Hence, I can’t direct you there for background reading. You might look here, where Mike Seely describes the Broiler as “the quintessential suburban American restaurant of the 1970s. Only it’s located within Seattle’s city limits, and it’s not the ’70s anymore.
[Jonathan Ferrey, Getty Images]
I’m a week late on this one, but I shouldn’t let the moment go without comment. A week ago, the Seattle Seahawks were stomping the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, providing fans from Seattle and Washington State to Oregon, Idaho, Montana, British Columbia, Alberta, Alaska, and who knows where else with the greatest moment in local sports history.
It’s more than a little strange that so much civic pride gets invested in events like these. I don’t understand the social psychology of it all. And maybe I shouldn’t try. I should simply enjoy the moment. As great as this team is, such a moment may not recur for many years.
On that I have some experience. It was an odd thing growing up in New York in the ’50s and ’60s. Through the mid-’60s anyway. It’s hard enough in one’s youth to have much perspective. But I don’t know how perspective was possible for any New Yorker of that era. We had dominant teams in baseball and football. Many hit TV shows took place there. (The Dick Van Dyke Show for one. Guy lives in the suburbs, takes the commuter train into Manhattan every day. Like my father. I had no reason to think people lived differently.)
Every year from 1949 to 1964, a New York baseball team participated in the World Series. What? Not 1959? Well, you know, if the Dodgers hadn’t moved to LA two years earlier, there would have been a New York team.
That 1959 World Series is the first one I remember watching on TV, on our new color TV. Well, I saw a snippet of a game in one of the Yankees-Braves series at the neighbor’s a year or two earlier—my first time seeing a color TV—but I didn’t know what event I was watching. I just remember the stunning green field.
In football, the New York Giants played in the championship game in 1956, 1958, 1959, 1961, 1962, and 1963. They lost almost all of those, but they were there.
And then things changed. New York teams became mediocre. The ones I cared about. The Mets showed up on the scene, but they weren’t my team, and by the time they shocked everyone by winning the 1969 World Series, I had just moved to Cambridge. My attention had shifted to basketball. Good thing, since the Knicks won the NBA championships of 1970 and 1973. But I wasn’t in New York then. I was living amid fans of the reviled Celtics.
In hockey, the Rangers had become competitive, but not enough so to win Stanley Cup. The equally reviled Boston Bruins did so in 1970 and 1972. I was there for that. I took no pleasure in their victories, or in Bobby Orr. Over the years, I’ve come to regret how invested I was in the Knicks and Rangers, so much so that I couldn’t appreciate the greatness of the Celtics and Bruins. Only in 1974 did I come around, becoming an all-out Boston sports fan just in time to watch the Celtics win the NBA championship and to suffer the Bruins’s Stanley Cup loss to Philadelphia’s Broad Street Bullies.
By 1975, I was a passionate Red Sox fan. We won the World Series that year, didn’t we? We should have.
The Celtics won again in 1976, highlighted by the classic game-five triple-overtime victory over Phoenix. which I’d remember better if my pal Mike hadn’t called me from Philadelphia in the first overtime. This was at a time when phones were hard-wired to the wall. My phone was in the bedroom of my one-bedroom apartment, the TV in the living room, and the fully stretched out phone cord got me just outside the bedroom door. By leaning around the wall, I could see the TV, but just barely. Mike and I stayed on the phone to the end.
And that’s that. 1976. The last year that one of the championship in one of the four major American men’s team sports was won by a team in a city I lived in. Until a week ago.
Many around here think the Seahawks were robbed by the refs eight years ago in their only other Super Bowl appearance. Maybe. That was a merely good team, not a great one. This year’s Seahawks were great, as everyone around here knew, and as became evident just minutes into the Super Bowl for those not previously paying attention. A very satisfying experience, watching greatness manifest itself.
In case you missed it, be sure to read the real estate article in today’s NYT on the couple who have been renting in the Upper East Side. When they’re ready to buy, they are unable to find a place in the neighborhood that fits their needs at the right price.
I understand their desire to stay. Who wouldn’t? My grandmother lived her final decades there (a long way from her childhood Odessa). During my childhood and young adulthood, I hung out there. Lincoln Center. The American Museum of Natural History. Fine and Schapiro.
Alas, our featured couple had to look elsewhere. Then they thought of Harlem.
They realized they simply couldn’t find a place on the Upper West Side suitable enough to justify the price, Mrs. Johnston said. “If we had a checklist of eight things and needed five, we would have only two or three.”
But they had always enjoyed exploring other neighborhoods, and Harlem was the obvious choice. There they could afford an entire brownstone.
“You have to totally change your perspective on what you want,” Mr. Johnston said. “It’s another world in terms of space, and our imagination ran wild.” He found that Harlem houses “had more square footage than the homes we grew up in.”
A paragraph later, on their visit to the house they would ultimately buy, a significant cultural difference comes to light.
The owner was in the kitchen when they visited.
In Harlem, “we saw more owners,” Mrs. Johnston said. “We would never see an owner on the Upper West Side.”
All ends well.
“I didn’t know I would love this neighborhood so much,” Mrs. Johnston said. “I thought, ‘You can’t beat the Upper West Side,’ which was the end-all, be-all, the best place on the planet.”
She has revised her opinion. The new neighborhood “feels like what New York used to be,” she said. “It is very diverse and multicultural. We are completely embraced by our neighbors.”
I can’t help but think that the story is focused a little narrowly, with an important detail omitted. What could it be?
Perhaps Harlem house prices of $1.8 million indicate something significant about life in Manhattan?