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Tradition and Colin Kaepernick

I’m going to be blunt with my definition of what tradition is: Tradition is a series of things you keep doing even though they’re useless and unnecessary and useless at best and dangerous to the welfare of other people at worst. No one ever bothers to give it any thought because that’s the way they were raised, dammit, and the way they’ve always done things, so therefore it must be right. Tradition is a series of hollow, meaningless gestures which maybe – MAYBE – had some great purpose back in the Victorian era, but since then has been worn down by the demands and conditions of a surrounding society and become stupid and self-destructive.

There are good traditions, but even those hold no more meaning than the bad ones. If you’re using tradition in an argument as your sole excuse for trying to preserve a practice or an idea, you’ve already lost.

You’ll have to excuse me for wondering what all the hoopla is about when people talk about traditions. If tradition was still king, women and black people would still be considered property.

Let me be clear about this: Tradition has never had anything sacred about it. It was something someone sat down and drew up on a lunch napkin during break that blew out of proportion. It’s also used as a way to get people to ignore certain issues about the surrounding world which need to be addressed.

Take the American flag, for example. We get so busy huffing and puffing over it that we forget the root of what it really is: A piece of cloth with a specific dye pattern. Broken down, it’s not even close to sacred, and even the pattern on it which is so recognizable everywhere in the world hasn’t been solid in basically forever. Everyone knows the stars on the flag represent the 50 states in the United States. What gets lost among all the nice unity chatter is the fact that the 50th state, Hawaii, was granted statehood in 1959, right on the heels of Alaska. That’s means there’s a sizable chunk of the population both alive and old enough to remember a time when this great sacred object only had 48 stars. You can imagine what it must have been like before then, especially during the 19th and 20th century turnover, when the country was adding a new star to the flag every three years. How tiring that must have gotten.

The precious, Precious, PRECIOUS flag is steeped in a tradition which has been surprisingly fluid is what I’m getting it. They never kept the damn thing the same. Wikipedia even has a section about the United States showing the planned flag designs of the future just in case more states are added to the country. The thing changed, and it’s going to keep on changing.

That brings me to the American Flag Code. Yes, there’s an American Flag Code, a good long list of behaviors and regulations of what to do when the flag is barging around the room. It was apparently written by over 60 organizations – including the Daughters of the American Revolution, Boy Scouts, Knights of Columbus, and American Library Association – and adopted in 1923 by something called the National Flag Convention. “Written by over…” is usually a code term for “the interns punched it out in a couple of hours.” But what really gets me about the American Flag Code is that the fucking thing is COPYRIGHTED. That means if you’re dying to get access to a hard copy of it, you’re going to have to engage in the one thing about America that has always been it’s great inarguable tradition: Paying money for something which, given the unique circumstances surrounding it, should be free! It’s the American way, really: We make you think it’s cool before selling it to you.

Having familiarized myself with a little bit of the American Flag Code, it’s a shock how extensive it is and how little the general public gives a shit when it gets violated. Section 176 specifically forbids the flag’s use as clothing or drapery. But how many people would be out of their jobs if that section was honored? The number of workers in factories making American flag clothes has to be in the thousands. And not everyone stands up and salutes the flag while the National Anthem is blared over the loudspeakers, either. They’re all still milling about and socializing amongst themselves, and the Respect the Troops rhetoric that these flag ceremonies hypothetically represent is left on the shelf while I-don’t-feel-like-it takes over.

It’s funny how a kneeling quarterback suddenly reminded us how much we love the flag. Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, recently did something pretty simple: He kneeled during the National Anthem because he was tired of being forced to salute a country where no one can seem to get over the habit of treating black people as something between second-class citizens and threats. Kaepernick was protesting Police violence against unarmed blacks on the outside, but his protest gained traction because this is coming at a critical juncture. Texas has banned the use of the term “slave trade” from school textbooks, Fox News has used on-air arguments justifying and excusing slavery, and the Republican Presidential candidate might as well be BFFs with David Duke. We like to think racism ended with Jackie Robinson; in fact, the school textbooks I grew up being force-fed adopted that attitude. “Hey, there was a ballplayer named Jackie Robinson who was black! Then Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream! After that, racism went POOF! in a cloud of hippie love!” It doesn’t mention that the hippie love puff was probably a cloud of weed – it made us look for and sometimes even see something that wasn’t there.

Yes, laws changed, but that doesn’t mean the people changed. Hell, even poor Martin Luther King only hit the public school mainstream because his famous dream is the only thing people want to remember about his beliefs. The dream sticks with people because it’s warm and fuzzy and deals with the individual viewpoint. Delving further into his work reveals the pissed off writing of a very angry man who believed the white moderates who emphasized his dream were more of a threat to his people than the KKK for that reason: Their belief in order and civility above real justice. Kaepernick’s protest is starting to reveal the people King was writing about. No one seems to care about all the crimes committed by countless other NFL players and the league not giving a damn. But Kaepernick broke our sacred tradition and now we’re talking boycotts. People use a lot of different methods of hiding from a lot of real issues in the country, and by kneeling during the National Anthem, Kaepernick cut them off from one of their escapes: Football. Now he’s being accused of creating controversy, but as another famous loudmouthed athlete I like, Charles Barkley, once said, he’s not creating the controversy. The controversy was always there. Kaepernick is merely bringing it to our attention.

It’s funny to me that our obsession with tradition is the only thing that’s making Kaepernick’s action controversial. I don’t believe most other countries would raise an uproar like this. They have something that we have and claim to love but appear to secretly hate: Freedom of speech. That’s the first law written in the United States Constitution, a document which does – or at least should – mean something to the country because it’s the supreme law of the land. What’s written in the Constitution is what goes, which is why there’s been so little change in it. Kaepernick probably knew about the uproar he was going to cause, because we’ve come to accept that our flag and song mean something – god only knows what – over his own right to express his displeasure over the fact that his people are routinely shot to death on traffic stops while white rapist Brock Turner was put in jail for all of six months because the judge worried about his prison time having the kind of impact on him that prison time should have on rapists.

If you want to drag one of our stupidest traditions into it – I’m talking, of course, about religion – you should know the god of your Bible specifically forbids the creation of graven images, and that’s what has now become of the flag. It’s apparently something to be worshipped no matter what. And if you want to bring the third Abrahamic religion (Islam) into it, the Quran’s version of the story of Abraham takes a special pain to point out how stupid it really is. In the Quran, Abraham’s father was a man who made idols, and Abraham wondered if there was a contradiction apparent in creating something which you then bow down and worship. That’s why God started sending him messages. Back in the land of reality, if we weren’t so busy being outraged at someone for having the gall to not stand up because our favorite idol was now blasphemed by someone expressing a constitutional right, then we could be enjoying the new season and this whole thing never would have been an issue.

But that’s the kind of bullshit that blind obedience to tradition makes you do. Ultimately, we’re going to go home and not give another thought about it until someone breaks from the sacred flag traditions again. In the meantime, we’re going to wear our American flag Calvin Klein underwear and send kids to school to recite words they won’t even think about. I’m of course referring to the Pledge of Allegiance, which wasn’t formally adopted until 1942, and which wasn’t written in its current form until 1954. And which was originally written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy. You may want to look him up. He was an outspoken socialist.

Drew’s Song:The Most Misunderstood Buffalo Bill

Drew’s Song:The Most Misunderstood Buffalo Bill

Rob Johnson must have been laughing his ass off somewhere. I assume it was after he bench-rode his way to his Super Bowl ring with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he was laughing somewhere along the line.

I don’t think I have to bring up the mess that preceded the 2002 Buffalo Bills season. The Bills, a hapless and luckless team for the first 25 years of their existence, made a serious bid during the late 80’s and 90’s to change their fortunes for good. Even though the team pulled the trigger on Rob Johnson after the ugly quarterback controversy between Johnson and Doug Flutie, and Johnson proved to be a disaster, the Bills were still so closely removed from respectability that the horrific 2001 season could have come off as an aberration. In fact, that’s what most onlookers dismissed it as. It was a little hiccup from a rebuilding team which would be back in the playoffs quick. It seems funny nowadays that Bills fans were that optimistic, but it seemed perfectly feasible back then. But the Rob Johnson fiasco did lead to one of the quirkiest eras in Bills history when general manager Tom Donahoe tried to make up for Johnson by trading for New England Patriots All-Star quarterback Drew Bledsoe.

Drew Bledsoe was a Bill for three years, and I never quite thought he got a fair shake from Buffalo. Fans continue to pile blame onto him for the circus act the team turned into. That happens for a couple of reasons: He was the quarterback, and as the quarterback, he was credited for setting the tempo during games; and he DID have one disgusting year in Buffalo – his second one – which set the tone for every Keystone Cop and Monty Python incident the Bills have endured since. I can even theorize that Bledsoe’s reputation even played a part in his lasting image in Buffalo. It wasn’t that Bledsoe had some obvious character issue which spending-crazed owners like Jerry Jones or Dan Snyder would have ignored. Bledsoe was always a stand-up good guy and a class act who took his licks after every game, but that habit sort of started and ended at the post-game press conference. He seemed willing to take all the undeserved media punishment that came his way, which may have turned him into the typical non-leader in fans’ minds. When he finally got fed up and lashed out during his final season in Buffalo, it was a little late, but it did manage to light a fire under the team’s ass.

Bledsoe was a victim of circumstance more than anything else. His years in Buffalo were a little on the odd side because in the three he was there, he ran the full gamut of possible types of records in the NFL: An even record, a losing record, and a winning record respectively. The even and the winning records are two of only four non-losing records the Bills managed to pull in the millennium. Despite not making the playoffs – even the winning record was a 9-7 effort in which the Bills were denied a tournament appearance because they couldn’t beat the Pittsburgh Steelers’ third-string players – he is the owner of ten team passing records, including most yards in a single season and most yards in a single game. His own famously dominant show against the Patriots which opened 2003 is one of only three victories against them since Tom Brady usurped Bledsoe and enabled Pats fans to become the worst people on Earth.

Let’s look at Bledsoe starting in 2002, his best statistical season in Buffalo. The 2002 season put an 8-8 tally on the board, but that year was an 11-5 year in disguise. Jim Kelly himself couldn’t have run the offense any better. Bledsoe, Ruben Brown, Eric Moulds, and Travis Henry all went to the Pro Bowl. The Bills’s offense was second in the NFL only to the AFC Champion Oakland Raiders, and they seemed to do it all: There were comebacks, blowouts, narrow escapes, game-changing plays, no-huddles, and he-can’t-possibly-be-able-to-do-that heroics and plays. There were about two plays which prevented the Bills from ten wins and the damned AFC East crown. (I know what you’re thinking, and here’s the answer: The Patriots went 9-7 that year.) In 2002, Bledsoe was also assisted by an army of excellent receivers which included Eric Moulds, Peerless Price, Larry Centers, Josh Reed, and Jay Riemersma. And when Price, Centers, and Riemersma split after the season, Moulds was suddenly the constant target after Reed fell into the league’s traditional second-year slump.

One of the better methods of building a team is to figure out your strengths, then fill out the roster by getting players who are good where the team is weak. In one way, the Bills prepared for 2003 by doing just that. Despite signing London Fletcher in 2002, the defense was garbage. So after the season, the Bills quickly signed linebackers Jeff Posey and Takeo Spikes. Unfortunately, Buffalo’s coach happened to be Gregg Williams, the former defensive coordinator with the Tennessee Titans. And the problem with defensive coordinators being head coaches is that they think they can get by with a smash mouth offense no matter what they have in position. No one is blaming Price, Centers, and Riemersma for taking their talents – and their collective total of around 100 receptions in 2002 – elsewhere. But one can point at Williams and Donahoe for replacing Centers and Riemersma – respectively a receiving fullback and tight end – with blocking fullback Sam Gash and blocking tight end Mark Campbell. Their sudden issues at wide receiver were ignored, and Donahoe’s first round draft pick was a damaged goods running back. Despite Bledsoe’s talent, this was clearly an offense built for punching holes in the forward lines.

With the offense rebuilt from the ground, Bledsoe had all of one threat to throw to. Travis Henry regressed, and newfound kicker Rian Lindell was missing so many kicks, you’d think he had a mob boss to pay off. Although the defense boasted All-Star talent like Spikes, Nate Clements, and Antoine Winfield and put on a hell of a show, the suddenly frail offense went through a stretch of several games without scoring a touchdown. The Bills went 6-10 and Williams was fired after the season. The new coach of the Bills became Mike Mularkey, who won the job in the traditional NFL fashion of convincing the team that he was some sort of guru. They also addressed their recently-bad passing game by drafting receiver Lee Evans. Aside from that, though, they didn’t do a whole lot to upgrade their roster, which showed when they started 0-4. It was around that time they pulled Travis Henry and plugged in running back Willis McGahee, their 2003 draft pick. Although McGahee was still slowed by a severe injury that he was hit with during his last year of college football, his installment sprang the offense to life. The Bills won their first game in week five, against the Miami Dolphins, then lost to the Baltimore Ravens – Deion Sanders scored the final touchdown of his career in that game – and then won two more before getting killed by the Patriots again just because some things don’t change. It was around this time that the media and locals started to harass Bledsoe again, and this time the mild-mannered Bledsoe responded by flying into an angry rant. The Bills finally woke up, swept the NFC West, and rattled off a six-game winning streak which placed them in playoff position. Their advance was finally stopped by the Steelers in a win-and-in game, and the Bills hit the golf course with a 9-7 record.

Although Bledsoe seemed to enjoy playing in Buffalo and liked the idea of ending his career there, the Bills suddenly deemed him expendable after drafting quarterback JP Losman in 2004. Bledsoe naturally didn’t want to sit on the bench when his team was on the verge of contending again, and you can’t really blame him. Management thought different, and that was the end of the Drew Bledsoe era. Bledsoe reunited with coach Bill Parcels on the Dallas Cowboys for a couple more years before calling it a career.

As for the Bills, a five-win 2005 in which upper management meddled every which way with what Mike Mularkey tried so hard to establish the previous year forced Mularkey to walk off after the season in frustration. If there was a single point where the Bills were clear that they would never again be the dynamo my generation in Buffalo grew up knowing, that was it. That point on was a welcome return to a sort of football irrelevance the Bills hadn’t known since the early 80’s, just before Marv Levy turned them around. There weren’t a whole lot more stars and keepable keystones – just a revolving door of players and coaches picked out by general managers trying to outsmart themselves. There are 122 professional sports teams in the big four leagues, and of those 122, 121 have made their playoffs during the millennium. Even perennial trash teams like the Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Pittsburgh Pirates, Los Angeles Clippers, and Florida Panthers have been to the playoffs. The Bills haven’t, and they’re now setting themselves up to create a new brand name as the NFL’s lovable losers. And sure, with Donahoe in charge of player movement, this may have been coming no matter what. But we can’t lay the blame for it at Drew Bledsoe’s feet. If anything, he prolonged the team’s respectability while Donahoe was hard at work destroying everything it built up in the previous decade and a half.

Night Moves

Night Moves

There’s no controlling it. At some point, your zombie switch just flips. Your body wants to sleep, you’re never sure if your brain is asleep or awake, and in general it starts to feel like you’re on some sort of unpleasant drug. Actually, there is a drug involved: Caffeine. You’ve been sucking it down since dinner, and on every break, because it’s closing in on 3 AM – which makes it the seventh hour of a ten-hour shift – and you can’t help but think of that warm, wonderful bed you have back home that you should be in!

Hell, thy name is night shift.

One of the strangest things about working a night shift is how many people you meet who don’t believe they’re talking to someone who works a night shift. Sure, they’ve heard of such a concept, but it seemed so faraway and alien that they quickly disregarded it as the make-believe of JK Rowling or George RR Martin. To meet someone who has to work this mythological concept is the equivalent of receiving an Owl Post acceptance letter from Hogwarts. There’s no possible way this could exist. Night shift! Didn’t those things go extinct when the governor of Peoria passed the work act of 1569 or something like that?

Well, they’re there. And for awhile, I worked on one. It wasn’t something I was looking to specifically do, but my transportation circumstances resulted in my asking for the night shift over the day shift. I’m not sure my body has been able to forgive me just yet. I know every night shift worker acts according to this idea that your body will adjust to working on the night shift, but for me that just didn’t happen. Then again, most of the people who told me about adjusting my body weren’t factoring in the schedule I was working. See, not only was I working a night shift, but that night shift happened to be a 4-10 shift: Ten hours per shift, four nights a week. And when we factor in my commute – which was two and a half hours for one way – I was basically working a 60-hour week which was crammed into four days.

I rode the bus and overshot my stop more than once because I caught myself sleeping. That was the primary issue with me: I was that kind of person who read about how Navy Seals in training go through Hell Week – a week in which trainees get four hours of sleep, total – and thought to myself, “Four hours a week. Must be nice.” My sleep on weeknights was nothing more than a series of extended naps, then travel naps while riding the bus back and forth. At one point, I took to buying coffee for the bus ride home to be awake enough to not overshoot my stop, but that never kept me from falling asleep. Once, I spilled coffee on myself because I could’t stay awake and keep my hand upright long enough to make the trip back home.

Being up and at ’em all night has a weird effect: It doesn’t seem to stop or alter the onset of night aches. The only difference between night shift and bed in this regard is that night shifters get some extra pain in their feet because they have to spend the night running around in a frozen warehouse. (Well, I did. That’s where I was working.) By the time I was let out of my shift, I usually felt like I was one of the damned, doomed to walk for all eternity.

My days went like this: While your own lazy ass is just rolling out of bed in the early AM – I mean about 8:30 here, just so there’s no confusion – I was unlocking the front door of my sublet from the outside. See, it was at that time that I was just getting back home from a hard night in the pits. So I would walk in, maybe head upstairs to the kitchen for a ludicrously light breakfast, shower, and be in bed between 9 and 9:30 AM. Up again somewhere between 12:30 and 1:30 PM for a quick workout, then two or three hours of free time before heading off to my next shift. Now, I had to leave early because of the way the public transit runs, and factor in a walk of about a half hour to the first bus stop I need. Bus came, I got on, and rode close to another half hour before getting off for a five-to-ten-minute wait for an altogether lesser bus ride to my NEXT bus stop. This one was the biggie: Almost an hour to get to the next county. Get off, wait a few more minutes for, YES! ANOTHER BUS! That one was a short ride to the sport where I got off and walked another three blocks.

At work, I quenched my hunger with a light dinner which was take out-bought more often than I prefer to admit. I didn’t want to get too loaded up because there was still a ten-hour monster in front of me that I didn’t want to tackle with a full stomach. I clocked in and started work. After the first hour and a half, there was a short break so I could get some of the free coffee generously provided by the corporation. Then came three hours of more work, followed by lunch, two and a half more hours and a break, and finally punch out after a three-hour final leg. My feet were throbbing by then, so walking the three blocks back to the bus stop was never exactly comfortable. At the transit center, I would try to grab a coffee and maybe a light breakfast – usually something from Specialty’s, but I made the switch to Blazing Bagels after Specialty’s apparently got tired of never being quite prepared for their opening with an oder I was looking for. The ride home wasn’t quite as trying as the ride in, because there was a more direct route home available. This was my nightly routine for four nights a week.

It’s easy to go crazy trying to keep a routine like that up. This was something I doubt I would have been able to pull in my 20’s, let alone right now. Fortunately, there was always that extra weekend day there to rescue my sanity. The extra sleep alone made me appreciate sleep more than ever before, and three days of doing whatever I wanted may have kept me from the sauce – if, that is, I had had time to get on it.

The great irony of this was that this job wasn’t a bad one, and the corporation is generally in excellent standing with the people who work for it. I was a temp while working there, which is how at least half the people who work permanently for the corporation are hired. I applied for conversion, and all my co-workers and supervisors expected me to be a shoe-in. My only complaint – besides the insane hours – was that I wasn’t included in the task rotation nearly as often as I should have been. And that’s a serious complaint, so when, on my last night, I was told by one of my supervisors that the corporate offices had waffled for so long about conversion that my contract simply ran out, I felt a bit of relief.

Trains, Planes, but No Automobiles: The Ultimate Travel!

Trains, Planes, but No Automobiles: The Ultimate Travel!

I’ve gotten a respectable distance through the United States. I’ve been from the extreme north to the extreme south, extreme east to extreme west. And here’s a kicker which people these days may not believe: My journeys to the extremes all took place on land. There were some buses and cars involved, but I’ve mostly become known for my primary reliance on a form of old-fashioned travel which is so forgotten that a lot of people don’t even realize it’s still around: Train. It was the Amtrak that opened up the vast expanses of America for me and allowed me to view and experience firsthand the sights we sing about in all our popular National Anthems.

This didn’t happen because I had anything against air travel, per se. Except my fear of heights. But I always knew that sooner or later, I was going to have to get over that. And when my sister got married, I found myself nestled on an Alaska Airlines flight to California asking “Is this really so much better than the train?” So let’s do this! Trains vs. airplanes. One day, I’ll learn.

Efficiency
The point of both trains and planes is to get passengers from one point to another. Now, everyone knows the fastest way between two points is a straight line, and that how airlines operate: They fly from point A to point B in the straightest line they possibly can. Furthermore, they can frequently make those flights in a matter of hours with minimal interference. Trains are land-based, and can only travel on sets of parallel rails, which means that if things are crowded, they can’t simply turn onto the next rail because it’s moving faster. Trains also move slower than airplanes – yes, they’re faster than cars, but they still take a matter of days to make trips airplanes cover in hours. Of course, you’re allowed to get off a train to stretch when it stops.
Winner
Airplanes. There’s virtually no way trains are superior to airplanes in pure efficiency. I saw very few delays in the airports that I was in, while trains will frequently get held up for the slightest of reasons: They can’t keep the tracks clear, there’s a shift change, the engineer channel-surfed into a rerun of Battlestar Galactica that he really liked. Furthermore, the primary train system in the United States – Amtrak – is a government-run passenger train which is forced to run on privately-owned freight tracks. If you can’t guess what gets the priority on the freight lines, you’re probably not an American. My first-ever train journey was delayed three times because of this.

Service
Good service can make a long ride a little bit more pleasant, and both trains and airplanes have certain kinds of service. Trains have their conductors, who walk from car to car taking tickets, writing down ticket information, and giving passengers notice of what stops are coming up next. Trains also have service exclusive to the dining and lounge cars – two different things – and they all excel at their jobs. All the dining car service I ever experienced was faster than The Flash; after placing my order, I had my hot food placed down within a few minutes. The lounges don’t have roving service, but the server standing behind the snack counter has always been very fast. Instead of a handful of different kinds of servants handling designated roles, airplanes make do with their flight attendants. The flight attendants are in the business of doing a little bit of everything, from handing out little trinkets to serving drinks and snacks as well as being a line of first aides who present safety procedures. It’s the flight attendant who greets you as you board and cheerfully sends you off after the flight. In between, the flight attendants perform all kinds of services, from giving out complimentary snacks to taking food orders to cleaning up your garbage. And they all do it with a politeness which is almost superhuman.
Winner
Much as I like the service on the train, the flight attendants take this one because they’re asked to do a more impressive number of tasks in a much smaller space. Flight attendants are the be-all-and-end-all on an airplane. Not only that, but they also bring the service to the passengers rather than standing in one place so the passengers have to get up and approach them. Also, I frequently found myself looking to them for how calm they are in the face of everything a flight can go through. After all, they make their living on the airplane, so they’ve seen it all.

Terminals
If you have to wait, you should at least be comfortable while waiting, right? And trains have stations that resemble palaces in certain locations. The train station in Albany is a modern glass and steel structure with all the amenities of a western skyscraper. Grand Central Station in New York City and Union Station in Chicago offer giant underground networks filled with restaurants and kiosks, comfortable waiting rooms, and even vehicles which span for several blocks and protect travelers from the elements. Unfortunately, those fortresses are rare, and if you’re in some backwoods outpost like Rugby, North Dakota, or Elyria, Ohio, your train station is more likely to resemble a quickly-assembled tool shed. Its amenities will include virtually no security, bathrooms which offer no reason to trust them, and a few vending machines. And there are cities with the aforementioned palace stations that don’t even have their palace stations anymore: Buffalo and St. Louis both ran train stations which were art deco masterpieces before they were left to decay. Both have been rescued, but Buffalo is struggling to find a new purpose for its old station while the St. Louis station is nothing more than an odd gathering of random food outlets and small outlet stores. Airplanes park at airports, which take up enormous tracts of land and provide an aesthetic beauty which is less than underwhelming. Douglas Adams once wrote that it’s no coincidence that in no language exists the phrase “as pretty as an airport,” and he was dead on. Airports are built more for functionality, and that makes up for their ugliness. Most airports offer a bevy of places to eat and buy newspapers and souvenirs. More importantly, an airport can hold several different flights going to many different places at the same time, while the average train station will be a single train stop for five minutes while some people get on and others get off, which is why there are so few trains that go in and out of any given city per day.
Winner
Airplanes. The good train stations are too few and far between, and they’re actually becoming less common with fewer people taking long-distance train rides. In any case, even the largest train stations can hold a handful of trains at once. Airports have a lot of terminals and are built to get a lot of people to their flights. Airplanes aren’t as large as trains either, so airports are built to be convenient for a bunch of different airplanes to dock at the same time.

Price
Prices on both the train and airplane tend to shift according to how many people are traveling. I’ve seen prices for both run close to $300 for round trips. The difference is that for the train, a price like that could take you across the country while an airplane ticket with that price tag could take you a couple of states. Oh, and there are these other differences too: After you pay the ticket price for the train, that’s the end of all monetary transactions unless you decide to buy the food on the train. Otherwise, you show up at the station, collect your ticket, get on the train, get off the train, and that’s that. With airplanes, the ticket prices tend to waver a lot more on a day by day basis. Then you go to the airport, and pay to have the pass printed, and to have your luggage checked, and to get most of the food. Although I did notice that the airplane food you have to pay for is cheaper than the train food.
Winner
Train. Maybe you could make an argument that the airplane offers better advantages for the higher prices, but given unlimited time and money, do you think that’s going to matter? Cheaper is going to be better in most cases, and the train is one of them.

Sightseeing
There’s a reason trains and airplanes have windows: It’s so the people traveling can get some sweet views of the outside scenery. The great thing about airplane windows is that there are covers which easily slide over them if you think too much sun is getting let in. Trains have curtains, but they’re a pain in the ass to move. Airplanes offer some incredible views which you’ll never find anywhere else – if you overcome the height, you’ll get to see entire coastlines, whole mountains from above, and big cities which you can cover with your hand. It offers a chance to see things in an entirely new way. The view from the train is dramatically different. It offers more of a pioneer point of view as it takes travelers, ground-level, over expanses of land which a lot of people will never get to access in their cars. Trains tracks are built in a way which allows them to cover any kind of weird stretch of terrain, no matter how unlikely. The kinds of things they’ve done with steel rails are still things no one has really attempted to do with asphalt, because a train needs only a narrow confine to move around, and that leads to incredible sights as travelers are taken across swamps, along canyon bottoms, and even through cities.
Winner
Trains. While an airplane can give travelers a unique view from above, it offers its best upon takeoff and landing. At some point, the level is just about perfect, and that can be before the airplane levels out. Also, train travelers don’t have to try to look through cloud cover the way airplane travelers do. There’s a lot more to see, and you can easily view the little details which lend color and artistry to the landscape. But what really takes points away from the airplane here is that the best views of the scenery are only available to the people next to the windows. This isn’t a problem on trains, where windows are very large and you can head to the lounge for a view of everything the surrounding scenery has to offer.

Food
Trains serve both regular meals and snacks, but they use two different cars to do so. The lounge car offers several snacking staples – a little alcohol, pop, and some small, cheap, handheld sweets. They also offer more lunch-like treats like burgers and hot dogs, but those are wrapped up and thawed in the microwave. In my book, that makes them no good, since parts of them stay frozen anyway. The food in the dining car is actually pretty good, and served nice and hot. And in all honesty, Amtrak serves one of the better cups available anywhere. Airplanes serve complimentary snacks and drinks – at least some of them do. They also have full meals available, but the trouble with this category is that I haven’t eaten a full airplane meal. I’ve heard the food in first class – which I’ve never flown in – is much better than the food in whatever non-first class is called, but having never eaten either, I don’t think it would be fair for me to judge the nice train food against a couple of bags of mini-pretzels.
Winner
Incomplete. Ask me again after I’ve made a longer-distance flight. Actually, I’m just including this for completion’s sake – I tend not to order full meals during lengthy travels. Even on the main leg of my journey to the west, I subsided mostly on a loaf of bread from Whole Foods and Amtrak’s coffee.

Comfort
The most hated and disrespected form of long-distance travel in the country is probably the bus. There’s a reason for that: Buses are cramped, loud, slow, and have very little space to move around. Imagine that same atmosphere in the sky. Okay, that’s not fair to airplanes – airlines do everything they can to make the flight more pleasant than any bus ride will ever be. They offer refreshments, and the flight attendants are always around in case you need anything. But that doesn’t change the fact that airplanes have to cram a lot of people into a small space, and there’s going to be a little bit of discomfort on a few levels like that. The seats tend to be on the smaller side, it’s difficult to walk out of your row, and having your carry-on bag by your feet can make you feel a little cramped. Trains, well, the dining cars don’t have a whole lot of space available, so you may sometimes be asked to share a table with someone you’ve never seen before. And like on airplanes, there’s a risk of slamming your head against the overhead compartment. Airplanes seat people three to a row, unless hey paid for a first class ticket, in which case it’s a roomier two to a row. Trains offer two to a row in coach, with large seats and sizable spaces to get in and out – which train travelers use to move around in the car quite often. The aisles on a train are significantly larger, and two people can easily get around each other. And although trains don’t call it that, they do offer a first-class spot for people willing to pony up the cash; it’s called the sleeper car.
Winner
Trains. There isn’t a spot I can think of where airplanes are more comfortable than trains. Even the first class goodies on airplanes don’t come off as any more comfortable than the average coach seat on a train. Furthermore, the room trains have is important on long trips, where passengers will want to get up and stretch their legs a few times. Even if a passenger feels crowded in a seat, they can easily get up and spend a few hours in the lounge car reading, using the internet, or watching the world go by. Airplane passengers also have more engine noise and turbulence to deal with, while the train is almost silent and makes little more than gentle rocking motions.

I don’t intentionally write these things to be ties, you know. I try to be as honest and objective as possible, even if my preference isn’t what comes out on top. (That was the case in my Cleveland vs. Buffalo sports curses post.) But, for a third time, I’m not able to place one above the other. Airplanes and trains both have their merits.

Sebastopol

Sebastopol

My little sister got hitched and I took on an insane onslaught of new experiences in a year which was already full of them.

My sister’s engagement went for awhile, so I had known there was going to be a wedding somewhere down the pipeline. But the where and when didn’t pop up until earlier this year. Now, between my schedule and current location, I never let myself fall into the mindset that getting to my sister and brother-in-law would be easy. But when my sister revealed the location during one of our online conversations, my heart dropped a little bit. It was going to be in Sebastopol, a little resort village in California. Wanting to be the well-prepared traveler, I immediately started looking up any information I could find on Sebastopol. A few pieces of key information popped up: Two hotels, both too expensive for me to stay in. And Sebastopol was some 50 miles out from San Francisco and Oakland, ruling out my usual travel routine of a nice hostel and the learn-as-you-go method of navigating the public transit. Santa Rosa was a more reasonable ten miles down the road, but there were no major travel hubs there, and the lodgings weren’t going to be any better.

At some point, I wondered what kept the two of them from having their wedding in a more convenient location, like Antarctica. Was McMurdo Station all booked up for the summer?

The problem of where I was going to stay wasn’t even the first obstacle in front of my face. The first was reserving the necessary time off from my brutal work schedule, which turned out to be much easier than expected after I told them what I was missing Prime Week for. The main problem was that I didn’t want to be returning home only to have to force myself through one of my 15-hour nighttime workdays right after my arrival. I got around that by placing the entire working week on hold, but that presented yet another problem: Doing that left very little wiggle room for me to, you know, arrive there, because it meant I would still have to work for the whole week leading up to the wedding. My options for outbound travel were left between the frying pan and the fire: Either finish up my final shift of the week and make a bum rush from work to the local terminal, or wait for the next day to arrive in the nick of time, save the day, and be the big damn hero. Given the travel times, it looked like I was going to have to drag my luggage to work. Then a chat with my brother-in-law finally spelled out the truth: My preferred method of travel was always the train, and that was too slow and unreliable in the time crunch I was facing. There was only one way to get me into Sonoma County in time for the festivities, and it entailed leaving the ground.

I’m a seasoned traveler. I’ve seen a pretty wide area of the country, and I have somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 travel miles under my belt. Not a single one of them was by air, because the prospect of air travel was pretty scary to me. You get pressure-locked inside of a giant sardine can flowing with one of the most flammable liquids ever created and suspended 30,000 feet in the sky. If evolution had the sense to create birds the size of tractor trailers, it might make a bit more sense to domesticate them, but it didn’t. One of my goals for the near future is international travel, so I always knew I would have to face my fear of flight, but that didn’t mean I would be Spartan about it. Brother-in-law said this would be just about perfect for my first real experience with air travel.

“It’s just a two-hour nonstop flight from where you are,” he said.

I finally had to concede. “I’ll have to get over it some time, so I guess now is as good a time as any. Besides, I’ve already been doing a lot of things for the first time this year,” I said.

“That’s the spirit!” said my sister.

Also, I would have to rent a car or rely on a three-hour bus route – best case scenario – and several busses being on time in order to get there. That presented yet another obstacle: Either hope I get on all the right busses and that everything arrives on time or face the California freeways without a navigator.

My first step was to secure a place to stay. I wasn’t keen on throwing a ton of money at a hotel, but my sister found some airbnb links to spots to stay right in Sebastopol. I liked what I saw, opened an account with airbnb, filled out my information… And learned that my computer and the airbnb website just don’t care for each other very much. I never got to the reservation confirmation screen, or received a confirmation email, and when I brought the issue to the attention to airbnb customer service, they said I didn’t have an itinerary to speak of. So I couldn’t make the booking on my computer, and I’m obviously not going to fill out the information they needed in the middle of the public library. Fortunately, my sister found links to a similar site called VRBO, and once again, I found a place I liked. And it was booked solid. So once again, I found another place on VRBO that I liked, and lucked out when I saw that it was not only available, but a double booking had given me a cheaper price when the people running it said they had to put me in their camping trailer rather than their cottage. They didn’t accept credit cards for the site, either, so I would have to send them a check, which they would return when I got there with the proper cash. Booking took days because I had to use snail mail, but it went smoothly. Unfortunately, I waited until the booking was confirmed before making my flight and car reservations, which left me with higher prices to pay. The flight and rental car websites both took my information without any weirdness, although I was on the phone with my sister the whole time because I didn’t want to get slapped with a charge for something I didn’t actually buy.

My sister gave me a rundown of what to expect when you’re new to flying, which was helpful when the big day arrived. I arrived at the airport about two hours in advance, and learned pretty quickly that my sister had made everything sound more complicated than it actually was. The process of getting to my plane was easy:
1 – Print ticket.
2 – Hand baggage over to baggage people.
3 – Go through security.
4 – Find gate.
5 – Find food and coffee, sit down, and relax while waiting for boarding to begin.
I called my sister, per her request, once I was on the plane. Things were smooth right up until the plane reached the beginning of the runway. That was where the engine started revving up for the flight, which in turn caused my heart to rev up like Pepe Le Pew’s whenever he spies his weekly l’amour. As the plane then sped down the runway, I was glued in place by some combination of g-forces and fingernails digging into the armrest. And… The plane left the ground. THE. PLANE. LEFT. THE. GROUND. I couldn’t seem to distract myself from that, so during the flight, I kept myself occupied with my iPod and a Neil Gaiman comic book my sister and brother-in-law gave me. I also made a habit of glancing at the flight attendants; not because of the typical reasons, but because they made their careers on airplanes and likely had experienced everything a typical flight could put them through. It stood to logic that if they weren’t panicking, there was nothing to panic over.

Everyone has heard a million times that flying is safer than driving. Whoever said that had to be from California. Of course, anything would have to be safer than driving in California. Trying to stick to a set of directions I had hand-written from Google Maps, I began my drive to Sebastopol by getting on the I-880 in the wrong direction, zipping past two or three exits, and getting off to ask directions at the closest gas station. Returning to the I-880, I had a brief flashback to my first visit to St. Louis, when my friend Kevin handed me his Dad’s car keys with the instructions to take the car several miles down the road – at night, in a place I had never seen before and had been in for less than a day – to grab a handful of stage props he left in his wife’s car. I performed flawlessly, but that was a straight shot down the road for five miles. This was 50 miles of twisting and turning through express traffic and semi-rural scenery. After getting lost five times and stuck in traffic three times, I finally arrived in Sebastopol.

By the time I got to my VRBO location, the rehearsal dinner had been going for two hours at someplace called the Hopmonk Tavern, so now I had to get back in the car after a drive that already ran nearly six hours and push for another half hour, the last ten minutes of which was spent trying to find a parking spot. I think I was the last one to show up. After missing a phone call from my concerned mother just as I got there and greeting her and my sister, I put together a plate of food and dug in with gusto, as my food intake for that day so far had consisted of a breakfast bagel with coffee before my flight and a small bag of mini-pretzels courtesy of Alaska Airlines. The rest of the night was a rousing round of who-are-you. My sister had friends coming in from quite a few different places, many of whom had met me before in pasts both distant and not-so-distant. I’m horrid with names, and sometimes I can be pretty bad with faces, but I did remember everyone who said they already met me before. They had all heard right: Why yes, today WAS my first-ever airplane flight!

Wedding day started with a nice walk through downtown Sebastopol, where I looked for a nice joint to eat a decent breakfast. After finding Hole in the Wall, I took a walk for a few blocks of Main Street before returning to my VRBO place to rest up for the wedding. My hosts were excellent with giving out directions, but their sense of time seemed to be a little off. The wedding was going to be in Armstrong Woods, a state-sanctioned redwood forest just outside of a nearby little town called Guerneville. Between the way my sister talked about it and the way my hosts told me how far away it was, I figured that “nearby” was the Buffalo definition of the word: Hamburg being two towns south. I didn’t count on Guerneville being nearly an hour down the CA-116. After failed phone calls to my parents, I headed out at nearly 2 PM and arrived at Armstrong Woods just on time, but faced a three-quarter mile hike to the wedding spot. Fortunately, my new in-laws spotted me and gave me a ride into the meadow where the wedding was taking place.

My sister and I aren’t big on tradition. And weddings, well, the whole idea of a church wedding in front of a community is a relic of the ancient past, and not a good one; to me, the whole idea comes off like something a community would believe is done for it. Weddings, to me, have always been personal expressions of the couple getting married, and that’s what my sister and brother-in-law went for. Both of them love being outdoors, so being in a meadow, among the trees and animals they both love, seemed appropriate. The ceremony was simple – the Minister of the ceremony made a funny and touching speech about why the two of them are perfect for each other, they exchanged rings, said their I Do’s, and just like that, I had new family members. There was no communion, no bridesmaids, no best man, none of that silliness of someone being given away, and I think I spent more time admiring the redwoods than watching the ceremony. Even the flower girl forgot to throw the flowers.

There wasn’t any more tradition at the reception than there was at the wedding. The bride and groom didn’t give their own table any prominence above the others. They stood up and greeted the audience, but that was it. Again, there was nothing there to make the party any more complicated than it had to be: Garter removal, first dance, first pieces of cake – hell, cake itself – honorary toast, and bouquet toss – there was no bouquet either – were axed, and everyone let their hair down, socialized, and enjoyed themselves. I ended up hitting it off pretty well with my new in-laws, especially the husband of one of the sisters, because he was an avid soccer fan. A lot of us took turns swinging on a large rope suspended in a tree for no particular reason. When the party was over, it still didn’t seem late enough, so the group of us that was left walked back to the Hopmonk Tavern for drink, music, and more general merriment. There was a reggae/ska band called Pacific Soundrise playing, and it was here that I discovered that having a sister who was the bride could mean all access. No one paid anything to get into the show, and several of us stood up, listened to the music, and kept on dancing the night away. A few people noticed my outfit and wondered why I looked like such a professional.

The next day brought the final event of the wedding weekend: Brunch! Taking place at a park, it was another stripped-down event. I talked to more people and walked around. A few of us went on a short walk on one of the paths. I was invited to see a couple of other places, but I got lost pretty early on and my phone is crap for reading directions by text message. So I spent the day with my parents in downtown Sebastopol again, looking at musical instruments – including a $10,000 custom guitar whose maker let me play it briefly and an enormous bongo drum that stood up to my chest – and books. Afterward, we met my sister and brother-in-law for dinner before visiting the house where my new in-laws were staying, watching the scenery, watching baseball, and playing endless games of corn hole – you know, getting to know each other better.

That was it for the weekend. I raced back to Oakland the next day to get my rental car in and ended up catching my flight just in time, while my parents headed back to Buffalo and my sister and brother-in-law went to Hawaii. It had been one hell of a weekend.

Welcome to the family, everyone.

Tabletop Games vs. Electronic Games: The Ultimate Games!

Tabletop Games vs. Electronic Games: The Ultimate Games!

Games are one of life’s simple pleasures. We all love the big outside escapes – travel, movies, museums, arts and culture events, things like that. But those things tend to cost money and take time, and so games provide everyday escapes from the skullduggery of work, chores, and daily news. Games are fun to play, they take your mind off the rest of the world for a few hours, they can bring people together, and you can use them to learn about basic principles of sportsmanship.

The kinds of games available can be drawn into two different categories: Tabletop games and electronic games. Tabletop games are basically games that can be placed on a tabletop so everyone playing can have equal access to the equipment. They are probably better known as board games, but calling them board games tends to leave out various card and dice games. Electronic games are games that are hooked up to a television or computer. Many of them can be played online.

As many people know, I grew up pretty well-versed in the ways of both, but had a clear preference for electronic games. I spent seven years as a critic of electronic games, but tabletop games were recently reintroduced into my life and I started thinking about which type of game is better. So let’s do this! Tabletop games vs. electronic games. One day, I’ll learn.

Gameplay
Remember that I said games can be used to teach the basic principles of sportsmanship? Yeah, if you play a lot of tabletop games, that’s something you’re going to be learning plenty about. Tabletop games require you to have a good sense of humor about defeat, because even a lot of games where you get a significant amount of control over the game’s universe require good, hard luck. It doesn’t matter how much you understand about the laws of probability – if you’re playing a card- or dice-heavy game, you’re going to fall victim to some weird masterstrokes of fortune. The more complex the game, the more odd luck can get. Games like Dungeons and Dragons add an extra dimension with the sheer details they throw in – Dungeons and Dragons itself is famous partially for the number of 12-to-20-sided dice it includes in a package. While little novelties like that are intended to tip the odds, you’re still not allowed to find your favorite number and plop the die down with it facing up, and that can result in things like a dwarf with two hit points charging through a small army of ogres. (That was something that happened to me once playing Dungeons and Dragons.) Electronic games can also require a certain amount of luck. Back when video games were first starting out, one hallmark was the fact that developers were constantly throwing in little glitches and obstacles made to ensure the game always had the advantage. That meant gamers had to deal with traps in scrolling games meant to throw off any sense of rhythm, which could place a gamer in a precarious situation. Other games were loaded with dead ends and unfair traps which the people playing had no way of knowing about in advance, and to make those matters worse, some sadistic developers would randomize those things, which meant a gamer would put a lot of hard work into getting into the game only to get locked in some inescapable room on a deep run. Electronic games also utilized keyboards and controllers instead of dice.
Winner
Electronic games. Although unfair little gameplay quirks will always be a trademark of electronic games, they’re not showing up nearly as often now, while tabletop games are always depending on the luck of the draw or the roll. Besides, having direct control over a video game character through a controller can mean that someone truly skilled will always have a chance. That’s not the case on tabletop games. Yes, there are degrees of skill required to play tabletop games well, but unless you’re sticking to one of the old school staples like checkers, chess, othello, or go – which don’t depend on luck – you’re always going to be reliant on elements of gameplay that are out of your control.

Social Bonding
Despite their competitive nature, a good game can help cement a bond with people you know and create one with people you don’t. This can be especially apparent with tabletop games, because any tabletop game worth its salt requires that you have other people around to play against. (Unless you like to play solitaire.) Unfortunately, that can also be a great weakness for the shy and introverted: In order to really enjoy a good tabletop game, you have to be able to coax others into wanting to visit you to play. Electronic games can also be a source of fun for friendships; even after the game is turned off, a great game can have friends talking strategy and tactics for hours afterward. And while their solitary nature allows them to be enjoyable for a single person, our increasingly online world actually opens up the outside for those willing to take the time to learn online gaming, because it allows people to connect with others anywhere in the world. It’s not unusual these days for real-life couples to say they first met in the online world during a game of Everquest.
Winner
Tabletop games. Yes, it’s possible to meet people online, but there’s the reverse of that as well: Online gaming has become a source of bullying and sometimes crime. There are a thousand different stories of friends and couples who met online, but the faceless nature of electronic gaming has given rise to forms of blatant sexism, racism, and other bad -isms which have discouraged potential gamers who were dabbling in a new hobby. The Gamergate movement exists because of people who believe electronic games are the exclusive domain of a very particular type of person (think a Y chromosome and a low melanin level); they’ve taken to attacking, insulting, and threatening anyone different from them – roughly half the population – for the crime of having an opinion. You never heard of behavior like this developing from tabletop gamers.

Storytelling
It’s hard to find a good story in a tabletop game, but not impossible. Hell, when I was a kid, I loved a role-playing game called Hero Quest, which became a sort of gateway to Dungeons and Dragons later on. Hero Quest had defined good guys and bad guys who were thrown into various scenarios for reasons told in the fashion of a linear story by a game master who knew the ins and outs of the scene. The game master always had the most access to the story, and would slowly reveal it over the coarse of the game. Electronic games operate on much the same principle, except there aren’t any players there to reveal the narrative – it’s done by the game as you advance. In both formats, the players make choices which are supposed to affect the story, but electronic games were a bit slow to catch on to that aspect of it; the earliest electronic role-playing games were set strictly on rails. You simply walked through the game as any other and tried not to die. Tabletop role-playing games offered a bit more flexibility because it would be possible to find the right piece of information through communication with the game master. Electronic games didn’t have that – you got the information the game felt like giving you, which would only loop itself if you tried to press the issue. If you didn’t have a strategy guide, you were shit out of luck. Of course, not every tabletop game had a story. A lot of the classics just brought people together to play. Electronic games might seem to have an advantage here then, but they didn’t have a lot of story either. Games like Pong, Frogger, and Pac-Man never even bothered. What little bits they had as stories were nothing more than objectives.
Winner
I’m going with tabletop games on this one. Yes, electronic games are evolving and very much improved on the way they tell their stories and interact – Fable II has become a favorite of mine. But you’re still at the mercy of a game which isn’t going to tell you any more than it’s programmed to know. Tabletop games can be easier in reveals and puzzles if you’re able to figure out the right way to communicate. Also, I should note tabletop games don’t make use of arbitrary and unobtrusive bits of debris to prevent you from reaching your goal, either. That’s one of the great banes of being an electronic gamer for a few reasons, not the least of which is because it’s so fucking stupid. But the bottom line here is that your personal decisions have a greater impact in the world of a good tabletop game while even many of the best electronic games stop updating the current events halfway through.

Playing Equipment
A complex tabletop game can turn into an OCD sufferer’s worst nightmare. Boards, cards, dice, and figures are often parts of the most basic game setup. That’s no frills here – I’m not even considering the many pieces of equipment that can get thrown into games with 3D settings. Lots of the little accessories needed to play a good tabletop game are small and easily losable. And every time you want to go out and buy a new game, you get a whole new set of more losable equipment meant to go with that game and no other! So you would think the victory for electronic games here would be automatic. And 20 or even 10 years ago, it might have been – you get one CD or cartridge which contained literally everything on it. No need to worry about losing a piece or 13. But with the technology advancing, it started getting a bit more complex than that. If you play your electronic games on computers, you have to make sure the specs are just right, then go through the pain-in-the-ass process of downloading it. That’s called “installing” the game. Taking the time to learn the various keyboard and controller functions can also be a bit of a chore, and the games themselves try to rob you of the fun of learning yourself because they’re increasingly involving mandatory tutorials which can’t be skipped. If you want to play on the internet, you have to buy an expensive piece of equipment that enables it.
Winner
Electronic games. For all the bullshit you have to go through of buying all the equipment and installing the game, most of it is a one-time purchase. And you don’t have to worry about all your little knickknacks being inside the box once you decide you’re finished playing. It’s just a little on/off switch. Yes, electronic games cost more, but it’s worth the price to make sure you don’t lose anything because some poor loser swept the entire board off the table.

Replayability
So you finished a game and thought it was good. That doesn’t necessarily incentivize an immediate second play through. There have to be enough different ways to go about playing through a good game to warrant replays. And tabletop games shine at this: You can always find new people to play with who see things differently and force you to innovate and invent new ways of playing. Luck can always swing from one player to the next, and how the player on the hot streak plays can turns everything in a whole new direction. Video games also offer incentives to replay them: Some have secrets to find, some have different levels to challenge you, and some have variations in the gameplay. Of course, the differences in tabletop game replayability depends on who you have playing, and electronic games have it based on the gameplay itself – some games offer direct decisions on exactly what you can do.
Winner
Tabletop games. Electronic games can only have so much replayability. Games where your actions really affect the surrounding world are a very recent development, and even many of those get a lot of flack for not changing enough. And before them, electronic games were basically rote memorization of patterns. The early attempts at being nonlinear were noble, but all they offered was the same scenery in a different order.

There will always be a place for electronic games, but tabletop games are throwing them off the hotel balcony.

Letter to 12-Year-Old Me

Letter to 12-Year-Old Me

I’m sure a lot of us, when we were kids, had to do those cutesy little school assignments where we wrote letters to our future selves. After reading reading the popular blog Hyperbole and a Half, I decided to take a page from writer Allie Brosh’s book and offer a response to my young self who wrote a letter to my older self. However, I can never remember exactly when I wrote those letters and at what age, so I’m going to simplify this whole thing by writing a single response to myself at one of the most defining – and worst – ages of my life. My 12-year-old self is probably where I started to fall into a rocky road mentally because it was where the mental obstacles I faced probably hit their apex and where I could have used some real advice and guidance by someone who understood what was happening, and the fact that I was extremely impressionable and clueless.

Dear 12-year-old me,

You need to quit worrying about how to suddenly make yourself cool to your classmates. They’re assholes. Every last one. And at least half of your teachers aren’t any better. Hell, last year the teachers at Follow Through let one of your classmates get away with blatant physical assault. I know that part is finally over, but let’s look at the roster of people you are forced to interact with every day in school: There was the one kid, Tim, who was actually one of your good friends until sixth grade, when he decided he enjoyed making fun of you with a group he fell into and left you out of. There are those two who you think were decent friends once upon a time, but they sort of led you down the path. It’s not good-natured ribbing when they make fun of you – it’s them trying to make you jump through hoops for their own amusement.

Your best bet is to transfer to a different school. I know that’s a scary prospect, but you’re going to be doing that in a couple of years no matter what happens anyway, so why not? I know you’re worried about your social life, but that’s not exactly storming the beaches these days. So get the hell out. Make a fresh start. Considering what you’re going through, the evil you don’t know is a far better option than the evil you know. The deck is stacked against you there, and like I said, even the teachers don’t give a shit.

Speaking of terrible teachers, I can’t stress this enough: Quit listening to Pastor B in confirmation class. Nice man, well enough; but all he’s doing is selling you a bevy of half-truths and outright lies in an effort to scare you and warp you into his own way of thinking. Don’t worry about the prospect of more parent/minister chats. Fuck how much they annoy your parents. You don’t owe either of them jack shit for making you go through this. If anything, you should be doing MORE to piss off Pastor B and force more private conferences. The man is a walking boob who is selling snake oil, and what’s more, Mom and Dad both KNOW he’s a walking boob who’s selling snake oil. To this day I still haven’t the slightest idea of why they believed shoving me through confirmation class was so important. It was a waste of their time, an inexcusable waste of my time, and you ended up coming out all the worse because of it. In fact, a better thing to do is just refuse to keep going to confirmation class until they give you a satisfactory answer to the question of why you are being forced through it. “It’s traditional,” “It’s what young men do,” and “because I said so” don’t fucking count. Your parents were great, but sending me to confirmation class was a stupid thing to do back then, and considering what you’ve gone through since, in hindsight it’s a galactic fuckup. And they both know it.

Confirmation class will only have bad effects that will hurt your social development. It’s going to fill you with a sense of guilt and self-unworthiness which you’re STILL trying to get over; it’s going to make you feel a sense of shame whenever you realize you have romantic and sexual feelings toward a woman, which will take you years to expunge; it’s going to turn you into a homophobe, which will also take years to get over. It will act as a suppressor to your inquisitive personality and you’ll start trying to swallow your questions and ideas. You’re going to notice the rift between religion and basic science and let it tear you apart. You WILL eventually meet a new minister who is going to act as your guide through the tricky aspects of religion and take your questions seriously without offering the usual platitudes about reading more Bible or Just Believing, but that won’t be for another 12 years. Right now, you can spare yourself a lot of self-resentment by embracing your doubts and questions. Challenge Pastor B, stand up and demand answers to his propaganda statements, and don’t be afraid to walk out of class when the situation calls for it. Again, your parents royally fucked up by sending you there, and it’s vitally important that you drive that point home right now rather than in another 20 years.

Now let’s concentrate on something your folks did get right: Man, you need to find something to do besides school and confirmation class that gets you out the door. Yes, I know video games and books are your escapes right now, but you need human contact. You also need something challenging to try so you’ll be more willing to develop the talents you have. You recently taught yourself to play the piano. By everyone’s accounts, you weren’t too bad at it, either. Maybe you could keep going along that route and become the master of an instrument it’s widely believed to take ten fingers to master. Django Reinhardt messed his fret hand up in an accident and still became arguably the greatest guitarist who ever lived. Rick Allen played drums after his goddamned ARM was ripped off in a car accident!

No, your hand is not an excuse. There are several things which may cause you trouble, but you won’t know what you can and can’t do until you actually try them. You’re creative, so act like it. If something requires fingers that you don’t have, find a way to improvise.

Lastly, don’t let yourself fall into a self-destructive mental state. I’ve been there; it’s not fun. You’re awesome. You aren’t some freak show – you deserve dignity, respect, and the right to a life. You deserve to be around people who like you for who you are and don’t care about some arbitrary birth defect which you can’t change. You’re going to realize all this someday; but that someday can come a lot sooner and make your life a bit easier if you start taking the advice I just gave you above.

Sincerely,
Yours Truly at 34