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Author Archives: Nicholas Croston

A Proper World Footy Loyalty for Buffalo

A Proper World Footy Loyalty for Buffalo

The growth of soccer in the United States over the last 15 years or so has been phenomenal. I know that because I was there for every step of it. Back during the 2002 World Cup, matches were being shown at 4 AM in Buffalo. As everyone who has ever lived in Buffalo can tell you, 4 AM is Last Call there. So traditionally, people are on their way home at that time, not going out! Since soccer games were kept on backwoods cable networks if they were shown at all, soccer was nothing more than a weird little curiosity. But I’m a curious type of person. So one day, I decided to see what all the hype was about. I rolled out of bed at some absurd hour, found a World Cup match on one of those backwoods networks, and watched. I fell in love with the sport after about 10 minutes.

From there, I would try and watch soccer games wherever I could find them. I watched international matches whenever they popped up, regardless of who played. After a couple of years, ESPN signed a TV deal with an unknown little American professional soccer league called Major League Soccer. That meant there was now soccer being shown on a major network every Saturday at 5 PM, and so I followed MLS. Then I moved to Chicago, met travelers, and the English Premier League slowly found a spot on my radar. The European giants trickled in and out on promotional tours, and I watched Chicago’s local coverage of the Fire. ESPN started airing Champions League matches. Then in 2013, NBC picked up the rights to the EPL, and the world’s most popular sport blew up. NBC’s biggest sports competitor, Fox Sports, even grabbed the German Bundesliga a little later, so we have that too.

But enough about my personal relationship to soccer. You’re reading this because you, too, have discovered this deceptively simplistic sport. Of course you’re a good American local – you support the Yanks (both the men and women, but especially the women) and throw your weight behind the closest MLS club. But what say you’re both a sports fan and a traveler and you’re looking for one of the true world teams to get behind so you can relate to other travelers? Well, the good news is, this isn’t like adopting an ill-fitting civic loyalty when your city doesn’t have a team. The bad news is that you live in Buffalo, where people still scoff at soccer, so you’re not quite sure where to start. The only teams you’ve heard of are the Manchester teams, United and City, and you’re wary of just latching on to either of them because you fear they’ll make you into a bandwagoner. (And you’re absolutely fucking right! Supporting Man United makes you a regular ol’ scumbag, and supporting Man City makes you the moral equivalent of a Patriots fan.) You’re not necessarily looking for a team that wins a lot here, you’re looking for one that exemplifies you, your hometown, your ethos… Something that has enough familiar parallels to make you feel like they’re really yours. Here’s a short list of teams to start looking. If any of them pique your interest, you can probably find supporters and matches for many of them at Mes Que.

Borussia Dortmund                                                                                                                 German Bundesliga                                                                                                            Dortmund, Germany                                                                                                                           I figured I’d lead this thing off with a Bundesliga team, since Buffalo has the world’s largest German community outside Germany. And tell me if you’ve heard this kind of profile for a city before: Century long steel industry that collapsed? Revival around biomedical technology and tourism? Okay, there’s some stuff I omitted: Dortmund was also a leading producer of coal and beer, and its revival also has a metric ton of engineering, finance, and education involved. But hey, a blue collar root is a blue collar root, doubtless folk there still pine for the old steel-workin’ days, and they love good football. And Borusse plays a flowing, high-scoring version soccer which always seems to come up short when it counts! You’ll be tempted to think of the K-Gun Buffalo Bills as a comparison, which is definitely warranted. But The BVB also makes a decent offset for old school NBA fans who were around to see the old Buffalo Braves. These guys have a hell of a pedigree too: Eight-time Bundesliga champions, four-time DFB-Pokal winners, and five-time Supercup champions. Just make sure you start bandwagoning NOW, though – their American wonderboy, Christian Pulisic, will be jumping to Chelsea next season.

Crystal Palace                                                                                                                               English Premier League                                                                                                          London, England                                                                                                                            Soccer fans can all remember the epic end to the 2014 EPL season: Chelsea’s Demba Ba streaking onto an open pitch, Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard hot at foot. Gerrard tripping on his own normally sure feet as Ba shoots a fireball right by Simon Mignolet. That moment is still credited as the moment that cost the Pool Boys the 2014 championship, which was Gerrard’s last, best chance. What gets forgotten amidst such a signature moment is that after that loss to Chelsea, Liverpool still had a healthy lead in the standings, and the championship was still theirs to lose. What REALLY did the Reds in was what happened the following week: Holding a 3-1 lead against Crystal Palace in the 70th minute, Liverpool looked like they were on their way to a routine win. But the Eagles launched an all-out assault which drew the game and let Man City leapfrog Liverpool to the top spot, which they never relinquished. Crystal Palace was newly promoted, and they had just replaced the manager who got them up to the EPL. This was looking like a token one-and-done appearance, but since then, Palace has proven to be a gnat, and a rather resilient one at that. They seem to always be a trap team when they play the EPL’s giants, and although they’re usually middling, their finishes lately have been well out of the relegation zone. They’re a club that can always be counted on to play the full 90-plus minutes, never get intimidated, and play up to their opponents. It helps that their kits are red and blue and one of their nicknames is the Eagles.

Arsenal                                                                                                                                         English Premier League                                                                                                           London, England                                                                                                                                   I could comprise most of this list strictly of London teams, but I had to compromise for want of variety. Looking at the BIG London clubs, I was torn between Arsenal or their rivals, Tottenham Hotspur. Buffalo’s supporter club for Spurs is the only soccer club in Buffalo which is officially credited by the team itself. And Spurs is easily the more exciting club to watch. But fuck, you’re BUFFALO! Exciting in sports is a foreign concept to you! Your obsession with a football team that keeps modeling its identity on 60’s style football despite abject, consistent mediocrity fits into Arsenal Football Club. Yes, Arsenal is one of the world’s giants. Their history includes 13 titles, more than every EPL team save Liverpool and Manchester United. But ever since the most recent title – the famed “Invincibles” team of 2004 which didn’t lose any matches – all they can seem to manage is last-minute runs to being the fourth-best team in the EPL. They’re best known – somewhat unfairly – for a long-outmoded long ball style of play which inspired their fans to adopt “boring, boring Arsenal” as a chant! They kept former manager Arsene Wenger for WAY too long, even as he developed the habit of lopping the club’s best players. It happened with Thierry Henry, it happened with Theo Walcott, it happened with Robin van Persie, and I wouldn’t get too attached to Aaron Ramsey or Robbie Burton if I were you. At least they haven’t been relegated since 1919.

Atletico Madrid                                                                                                                            Spanish Liga                                                                                                                             Madrid, Spain                                                                                                                                      At a single glance, Atletico Madrid comes off as sort of an odd choice. They represent working class rebellion in a wealthy establishment city. But look a little bit closer, and there’s a strong sense of kinship between Buffalo and Atletico Madrid. Like Buffalo, Atletico has a huge daddy complex with a richer, bigger, more successful joint across the city. That sums up Buffalo’s relationship with New York City. Also, the rebellious reputation really isn’t warranted – during the Franco years of Spain, Atletico was the local team of the boys in charge. Once again, this sums up Buffalo – it tries to establish itself as a badass rebel, but what it means by badass rebel is adherence to rightfully dead traditions, only with more swearing. And in the Madrid Derby, Atletico struggles against Real in a way that Bills fans can appreciate when they play against the Patriots. Atletico Madrid’s crest features a motif that reeks of the American flag. And much like the Bills of the 21st Century, the team is in the habit of hot starts which create belief among fans which then gets dashed. Being a Liga team, though, Atletico Madrid makes up for its shortcomings with that beautifully fluid and entertaining Spanish style of soccer.

Celtic                                                                                                                                           Scottish Premier League                                                                                                           Glasgow, Scotland                                                                                                                             Okay, I know Buffalo’s ginormous Irish population is waiting for me to name a club representing their country. Unfortunately, soccer in Ireland is so low-scale that there are two governing bodies of it. That being the case, I refer you to the Scottish Premier League’s pretty much official Irish team, Celtic Football Club. Created as a charity for displaced Irish in 1887, Celtic has established itself as one of the most absurdly dominant teams in any local sports league on Earth. Their most recent victory set them up for this year’s title, and barring an epic choke job, it will be Celtic’s 50th. That goes with 38 Scottish Cups and 18 League Cups. In addition to that, Celtic is Irish in everything but location. They fly the Irish flag, sing Irish songs during chants, play in one of the more fun leagues in Europe, and supporting them isn’t a financial strain. Now, you would expect a team like Celtic to come with a few drawbacks, and there are some considerable ones with Celtic: First, this is a Scottish team. That means following them requires doing the legwork yourself rather than just letting the information find you. Also, the Scottish Premier League isn’t as high quality or as rich as the biggest leagues in Europe; the SPL is where third substitutes from, say, Leicester City go when they decide they want to attain godhood. If you make it to Glasgow, their stadium isn’t in the most convenient location. And the rivalry between Celtic and their crosstown rival, Rangers, is rooted in the same old-fashioned sectarianism that Northern Ireland fought a war over. The rivalry, which is called The Old Firm, is fucking terrifying even by soccer violence standards. You do NOT want to be seen wearing green, ever, around Ibrox Stadium. If you’re willing to overlook those flaws, though, following Celtic is worth some incredible fan riches. Celtic is one of the clubs that I follow myself. And if you’re a fan in Buffalo, you won’t have to degrade yourself any longer by continuing to follow the NBA’s Boston Celtics (they’re from fucking BOSTON!) or the NCAA’s University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish (I mean, COME ON!!!).

Hannover 96                                                                                                                             German Bundesliga                                                                                                               Hanover, Germany                                                                                                                       Think for a minute. What is the one thing that sums up the populace of Buffalo better than anything else? It’s their ability to work their asses off, forgoing every break, every excuse to call in, every day of vacation legally allowed. It’s bragging about how they don’t take time off and about how they work all the overtime they possibly can. And, despite all that, NEVER getting ahead. See, like Buffalo, they believe the great golden age of anything, ever, existed in the past. Hannover 96 won two titles – 1938 and 1954 – which get discounted because they were reeled in before the league took its current form as the Bundesliga. The Buffalo Bills won the 1964 and 1965 AFL Championships, but those get discounted because they occurred before the Super Bowl was a thing. As for success since then, Hannover has been good for two second league titles and one DFB-Pokal. And while they are frequently able to sign players with oodles of potential, that potential always manages to get wasted despite occasional impressive performances. Although H96 can sometimes finish strong and knock out one of the big clubs in the Bundesliga, they always seem to mislead fans and pundits while failing to build on whatever potential they’ve shown.

SSC Napoli                                                                                                                                        Italian Serie A                                                                                                                           Naples, Italy                                                                                                                                   Napoli is a very popular team in Italy, but when you get a good look at these guys, there’s one thing that really stands out: In a country rife with heated soccer rivalries and hooligans, no one really considers Napoli the team to beat. In fact, their fans are known for inter-fandom friendships that exist with fans of Catania, Palmero, Borussia Dortmund, Bulgaria’s Lokomotiv Plovdiv, and France’s Paris Saint-Germain. This can translate over since Buffalo is The City of Good Neighbors, especially since Buffalo isn’t high on anyone’s list of major sports rivals. (Okay, I’ll give you the Ottawa Senators.) Think about it. You think Patriots fans hate us as much as we hate them? No, because they know their team is going to fucking kill ours. We’re not a rival to them, we’re just another opponent to plow over. Maple Leafs fans obsess over two things: The Montreal Canadiens and the fact that the Leafs haven’t won the Stanley Cup in 50 years. Bruins fans hate Montreal and New York, Hurricanes fans don’t deserve the attention, the Jets are always trying to out-tank everyone, and the Dolphins don’t matter anymore and most of their fans have turned to the Heat anyway. So why not follow a cute, insignificant little Serie A team which isn’t anyone’s target even during rare good years? Besides, Italian teams swear by defense, which is something you can appreciate.

Aston Villa                                                                                                                                   English Premier League                                                                                                             Aston, England                                                                                                                              Okay, we all know London is a place someone from Buffalo would visit. But if you’re looking for a team from a Buffalo-like city, you’re cheering for the Villains. If there’s a British equivalent to the Rust Belt, Aston is on it, still with proud blue collar people, still struggling with economic depression. Aston was bombed during World War II, and victimized by sets of ill-fated, large-scale urban renewal projects after that. Poverty and unemployment are still all over the city, and the people undoubtedly don’t look for options outside of the factories. Aston Villa is where the people turn to distract themselves and find entertainment and inspiration. The Villains have spent longer on the top tier of English soccer than any team except for Everton, but their golden years are long past. They’ve won seven titles, seven FA Cups, five League Cups, and a European Cup, but the vast majority of ALL of those accomplishments happened outside the last 50 years. Their most recent title was in 1981 and their European Cup was the following year; both shocked the world. (The Villains had won their sixth title way the hell back in 1910.) Two years ago, they also lost one of their proudest distinctions when they were relegated for the first time since the highest level of English soccer split from the FA and became the Premier League. Only six other teams could say that. Aston Villa prides itself on its toughness and grittiness in the same way Buffalo’s teams do. That same ethic is worth a very limited amount of success, like Buffalo’s teams. And in the last few years, they made Bills-like final runs to escape the relegation zone before their luck finally ran out in 2016. 

FC Nurnberg                                                                                                                             German Bundesliga                                                                                                           Nuremberg, Germany                                                                                                             Another Bundesliga team with a particular affinity toward the days of yore, Nurnberg was the most successful team in Germany’s top flight until Bayern Munich took the record in the 80’s. They were dominant in the very early years of the Bundesliga, winning five titles between 1920 and 1925. They captured four more since those days – the last in 1968 – but had a ton of trouble even maintaining a spot in the Bundesliga. And the reason why is a typical Buffalo sports reason: They didn’t bother trying to adjust their game. The greatest teams they ever fielded played at a tight, deliberate pace meant to slow things down to their level, but every other team in the league just runs circles around them. Yes, Der Ruhmreiche still manages to get ahold of some of Europe’s great players – Tomas Galasek is a notable recent, and the modern tactics of former manager Hans Meyer was worth the 2007 DFB-Pokal, Nurnberg’s only high-level honor since the 60’s. But Nurnberg still always turns out to be Nurnberg, they can’t fucking stop using boring, DEAD strategies, and they still get used as a jump-off point to a bigger club. Again, this is a close parallel to the Buffalo Bills, and following Nurnberg will require you to dig around the German Second Division a lot.

Real Madrid                                                                                                                              Spanish Liga                                                                                                                             Madrid, Spain                                                                                                                                   Are trophies and international prestige really THAT fucking important to you? Fine, here’s Real fucking Madrid. Now go take a front-run on the Skyway. And remember that CHRISTIANO RONALDO PLAYS FOR JUVENTUS NOW! HA!

Soccer is the most popular sport in the world, and that’s just a scraping of available options. Hell, the leagues I mentioned are merely the biggest and most popular and the Scottish Premier League. I probably pissed off everyone in Buffalo’s Polonia neighborhood by not bringing any Polish teams into this. As for myself, I cheer for Celtic and Borussia Dortmund, but my own primary team – Liverpool – didn’t make the cut, either. (Both EPL teams in Liverpool – Liverpool and Everton – are worth honorable mentions, by the way.) Just keep an open mind and do a little research and, at some point, one team is just going to jump right out at you. Just remember that picking either of the teams in Manchester makes you a terrible person. Just a terrible, terrible person.

 

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The Ultimate Battle of Recreational Drugs: Beer vs. Weed

The Ultimate Battle of Recreational Drugs: Beer vs. Weed

You know, its been awhile since the last time I sat down and punched out a piece in my Ultimate Battle series. And I’ve decided that it’s finally time to fix that. But what to do? Well, having been living in the Puget Sound Megalopolis for three years now, I figured it might be time to write up something that fully celebrated my ever-emerging Northwestern sensibilities. And what are two things the Northwest is known for? The creation of things that alter your consciousness! The Northwest is where you come if you want to sample the trendiest microbrews and weed strains.

Beer, of course, is something I’ve known and understood for a couple of decades. I love my brews, the darker and heavier, the better. I never felt like I needed weed, and most of my experiences with it came from smoking joints other people had offered me. Then last year, I endured a personal event that absolutely crushed my soul, and my usually-tempered depression swelled out of control for the first time since I moved here. (The personal event, by the way, will NOT be elaborated on. That’s for me and only me to know.) I was barely able to move on some days, and when one of my supervisors at work noticed and yanked me from one of my essential duties out of fear that I would cause an accident, I decided it was time to bite the bullet and seek out some edible weed uppers. Now, I’m still not what you would call a regular user, but with a bit more experience under my belt now, I decided it was time to create a frank comparison between beer and weed. So let’s do this! Beer vs. Weed. One day, I’ll learn.

Forms

Okay, let’s get one thing straight: Both beer and weed begin as plant life. Beer begins with hops, the flowers that come on hemp plants. Marijuana, of course, starts with the cannabis plant. Both of them are dried before use. Hops are pretty easy to work with: All you have to do is boil them down with some malt, and then add some yeast in order to start the fermentation process. After that, voila! Beer! As far as alcoholic drinks go, that makes it so simple that home brewing is a popular hobby. Weed can also be easy. Once the leaves are nice and dry, they can be smoked, so growing cannabis plants at home is also a popular hobby. But the dry cannabis leaves are just the ground material for a few other forms of weed: There’s kief, a powder form which can be taken plain or baked into food; tinctures, hash oils, and solvents.

Winner

Weed. Yes, it’s simple to ferment hops to make beer, but it’s even easier to let some pot leaves lie around until they’re dry and then smoke them. Also, brewing beer can leave a brewer worried about the right taste and the right amount of hops. I don’t imagine that being quite such a worry for someone who just wants to keep their weed simple, which is the deciding factor here. If you’re looking to make anything else out of those weed plants, though, you’re going to need a bit more education.

Consumption Methods

Beer is pretty simply. It’s beer. It’s a liquid, bottled and sold in stores in convenient packs of six. And that’s how you consume beer: By drinking it, as a liquid! I supposed you can add a variety of options by suggesting that drinking straight from a glass or through a straw count as consumption methods. A creative chef, however, can find different ways to add beer to recipes for flavoring. So there’s that. Weed can be used through just about any popular medium used for consumption. The most popular method is through smoking, but cooking it into edibles is also quite popular. If neither of those works for you, it’s possible to extract solvents from the plants to use as tinctures. There are oils. And if consuming weed directly is a bit of a put-off, it can be added to cooking solvents like butter or cooking oil. And yes, there are pot-infused drinks. Weed is versatile, so if you’re put off by one form of it, you can try another and see if it works better. If there’s a heavy weed taste, though, it’s bitter. Beer is bitter too, but the aftertaste of weed is outright revolting.

Winner

Weed. Weed isn’t as widely accepted as alcohol, so sometimes you have to find a way to be stealthy about consumption. You can’t do that with beer. And hell, weed-infused beer is now on its way to the market.

Effects

Okay, we know that beer can make you drunk and weed can make you high, but does anyone go more in-depth about what those really mean? Well, alcohol’s kicker is called ethanol, a depressant which gets metabolized by the liver and absorbed into the blood. How much you feel these effects depends on how much you drink. Drunkenness starts with impaired judgement and euphoria. As you drink more, you start to lose your coordination, your emotions start to go haywire – your emotional reactions stop being the expected and accepted norm for various situations. Eventually your speech starts to slur, you get nausea, start vomiting, and if you’re dumb enough to keep on drinking, you black out, have trouble breathing, and finally lapse into a coma. The kicker drug in weed is THC. THC goes to the bloodstream and into the brain, and being a psychedelic drug, it finds some weird ways of playing with it. Cannabis, depending on the type, can be a potent mix of depressants (like alcohol), stimulants, and hallucinogens. Weed’s effects tend to be pretty subjective. I’ve never experienced much more than a dizziness and a feeling of relaxation myself, but then again, I don’t use the stuff to get high. Other users have reported heightened senses of taste and smell, and at higher dosages, you can both see and hear hallucinations. Use enough, and it can cause dissociative states – both users and the surrounding world feel less real.

Winner

Weed. Given the choice, I’d rather feel removed from the world. Hell, removed from the world sums up my entire life. But rarely is mourned the person who dies from a cannabis OD, and do you know why that is? It’s because IT DOESN’T FUCKING HAPPEN! It’s possible to get a bit too high, but there’s not a whole lot to worry about if you do. Beer, though, has the same basic effects as any traditional poison: You throw up and it can eventually kill you. Drinking too much results in you not feeling well, so this one is a no-brainer. Two sentences ago, I referred to alcohol as a poison, and very few drinkers ever stop to think about that. An important thing to remember about both alcohol and cannabis is that both of them are ultimately forms of poison. So is nicotine, for that matter, and the fact that nicotine is somehow legal while cannabis puts people in prison is the stupidest thing in the world. Nicotine has all the eventual effects of a poison with none of the recreational tradeoff.

After-effects

Once you’re finished enjoying your little out-of-mind journey, your body has ways of dragging your sorry ass right back into the real world. With beer, reentry is rather unpleasant. It can start with a nasty headache coupled with some nausea, and depending on how much you drank, it can get worse. Dehydration and vomit may be involved. You may not remember anything about how you got to where you are. And that “where you are” may or may not involve a hospital room and a stomach pump. Strangely, as unpleasant as a hangover can be, sometimes it doesn’t stop a person from going out again the next day and doing it more. And more. And more! Until, given frighteningly little time, their body is just physically incapable of letting the stuff go. This is called dependency; once you’re physically hooked on alcohol, your body gets into the habit of making you feel like shit for NOT drinking. Weed has its own little side effect; it’s called the munchies, and it’s when coming down from a high makes you feel REALLY hungry. Long-term use, like alcohol, can create a dependency which makes it difficult to stop. The effects of that dependency include… Um, well, increased immunity to the effects of weed and more time recovering from the effects of it. (I can’t help but think there’s some sort of contradiction there.) Yes, there ARE recorded cases where people have had their lives disrupted by using too much weed, but that happens in only nine percent of users overall and 10-20 percent of daily users. That’s a much lower number of people compared to those who get addicted to alcohol. And while dependency does have its withdrawal symptoms, those symptoms tend to resolve after maybe a month.

Winner

Weed. I’d rather feel hunger than nausea. And even the withdrawal symptoms don’t come across as that bad – basic dysphoria (anxiety, depression, irritability, and restlessness), GAT problems, disturbed sleep, and decreased appetite. And only for a few weeks. And have I mentioned that the number of cannabis addicts is incredibly low? And that overuse doesn’t, you know, make you die?

Price

Prices for both beer and weed can vary depending on what you’re getting. But generally, you can get a six-pack of beer – six 12-ounce bottles or cans – for under $10, and that includes even the good beers. When you get down to the cheap, mass-produced stuff – your Budweiser, your Miller, your Coors – it’s even cheaper. A 12-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon can be bought for under $10! You can buy large bottles of beer for prices ranging from $4 to $9, which actually makes the beer more expensive as those large bottles are frequently good for about two 12-ounce glasses. If you have a generous grocer like Trader Joe’s they let you grab singles, which don’t even cost $2. (I’ve seen only a couple of brands cost more than $2 for singles.) With weed, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that prices are falling constantly; when I moved to Washington, a single joint would be the cheapest thing available in pot shops, and those would cost about $15 at the time. Now the prices have been halved, and it’s possible to get dosages for under $10. With government regulations, a single dose will be considered about 10 mg to a bite-sized edible. In my personal experience (and I should remind you that this is new territory for me), you can get packages of two 10 mg edibles for $6 or $7. A package of five of them can run about $15. A 10 mg dose isn’t going to get you high, but then again, neither will a single beer. As for buying weed in leaf form, I wouldn’t know the prices, because I don’t do that.

Winner

Beer. Yes, I realize weed prices are still tumbling, and I expect weed will keep getting cheaper. Legalized weed in Washington has boomed so much that it’s taking a large chunk of the microbrew market share. But for now, beer is still the option for those on a budget.

Stigma

Beer – and alcohol in general – predates written history. One of the earliest known pieces of written language is a beer recipe. That should tell you everything you need to know about the stigma of beer. It just doesn’t exist. There are people who think society would be better off without booze (and let’s be honest, they’re not completely wrong), but beer’s place in society and history is safe. Hell, the United States tried to permanently ban alcohol in the 1930’s, and it amended the highest law in the country to do so. That ban lasted about 12 years, when the Constitution was amended again in order to repeal that first ill-advised booze-related amendment. Weed didn’t come along until comparatively later, and it wasn’t actually banned in the United States until the 1930’s. Hell, the weed ban came along after the government decided it was okay to drink again. (Also: Smoking has never been illegal.) Either way, though, we have to make a particular acknowledgement about something here: Both beer and weed are recreational drugs. Both are strictly regulated; you’re not allowed to drive a car after using certain amounts of both. Sales of both come with vice taxes just about everywhere. But here are a few things to consider: They’re allowed to advertise beer on TV (although there’s a strict rule against showing characters from commercials actually drinking it), a right which was yanked away from even mighty Big Tobacco a long time ago. No one is doing that with weed. Beer has advertising everywhere. Weed advertising is regulated to offhand magazines (like The Stranger) and billboards, and even then, it’s not the weed itself that gets advertised – it’s the stores where you can buy it. As a result, even wee-legal states haven’t quite wrapped their heads around the fact that weed is legal yet. Beer is expected at social gatherings. It’s considered socially acceptable to buy and drink beer right at the places that exist to sell it. Weed still has the ability to shock people if it’s widely available and used in “polite” company. Even Seattle still can’t bring itself to legalize weed cafes.

Winner

Beer. Weed still has to deal with stigma on a national level, and the national/state difference created a few weird snags. Although the feds are slowly being forced to reckon with the fact that people want legal weed, weed’s stigma in the states where it’s legal have merely moved it fup a few pegs from being illegal to being like pornography: Yes, it’s legal, but that doesn’t mean you should do it. I expect that this will be changing, so this one comes with an asterisk, but for now, beer is what you drink at public parties to be on the “safe” side.

Availability

Like I just said, beer is beer, and weed is basically porn. You can go out and by beer just about anywhere. It’s available at grocery stores, convenience stores, gas stations, and cute little stores all of their own. Weed has its own stores and that’s it. And pot shops look exactly like porn stores; they’re almost completely boarded up little shacks with “NO ONE UNDER 21” signs hanging all over the outside. Beer can be bought as an impulse item in emergency runs. Weed needs to be specifically sought out. And the weed stock varies so much from store to store that you’re better off just ordering some items online.

Winner

Beer. Easier to get is easier to get.

Full disclosure: I’m much more of a beer person. I love to take in a couple beers on a Friday night, sampling something new. Weed doesn’t offer the sort of taste and heft, and it doesn’t have the fulfilling satisfaction of finishing a good beer. THAT being said, though, weed is the more useful and better overall recreational drug. This little contest actually doesn’t cover the full scale. I never even mentioned how much healthier weed is than beer, and weed STILL kicked beer’s ass. The only reason weed has the forbidden stigma that it does right now is because the government spent decades spreading bullshit about it while keeping it illegal. There’s not yet a Big Cannabis lobby throwing money at government corporatists, but I promise you this: Weed’s time has come, and the government is now being forced to acknowledge the fact that nothing is going to stop people who want weed from getting it.

The True Life of a Bicycle Messenger

The True Life of a Bicycle Messenger

It was a typical hot, humid July day in Chicago when I laid down and watched in horror as a pickup truck rolled over my bicycle. The truck had run into me. The both of us had run into a blind corner at the same time, and a chromium death machine being much stronger than a normal-sized human, the truck won. I was horrified over my throbbing ankle, of course, but I was able to let that go. My ankle would heal. It wouldn’t heal WELL, mind you, but it would stop hurting eventually. My bicycle, on the other hand, wasn’t going to miraculously straighten itself back out. The entire thing was so bent that even though it was unrideable, I wasn’t able to remove the wheels from the frame. Hell, the wheel itself was fucked up beyond all recognition. My horror was a result of the fact that the bicycle couldn’t be rescued, and that I would have to buy another one. Bicycles cost money, which I didn’t have, and getting one that was affordable meant losing business time.

The truck driver replaced the bike. As for my ankle, well, I let nature do its job with it. I never went to the hospital, missed only one day of work, and spent the next six weeks basically walking it off. At the time, I was working a volunteer job as the barista at my spiritual community’s Thursday night sketch comedy show, and I was in fact limping to it 20 minutes later. To this day, whenever the subject is broached around my Minister, she still responds using the same four words: “That’s crazy. You’re crazy.”

Maybe so, but a 45-hour-$160-per-week job doesn’t leave much of a choice. I was working as a bicycle messenger – messengers are very rarely referred to as couriers – and it was hell on a bicycle. Which was incredible, because until I was doing that, hell was the one thing I never thought I could experience on a bicycle. Now, in fairness, the hours weren’t bad, despite 45-hour weeks. But the pay was dreadful and the job in itself was extremely dangerous. The typical threats from cars apply, but that’s a part of bicycling, so I’m going to write them off. Walkers are also dangerous, but that’s not because they’re in the way. They’re dangerous because so many of them make a conscious choice to put themselves in your way in order to physically assault you. Road conditions and weather can add extra threats. The three years I spent running packages back and forth were all in Chicago, which means a few of those things were magnified. I had to endure the worst weather the city could throw at me, and traverse roads that could have torn the treads from a Panzer (Lake Street, ahem).

After my career in the media crashed, I went into a messenger service with the intent to take a job for a few months while I got back on my feet. I ended up doing that job for three years, and it left me with a set of back problems, laden with debt, and with a set of Hollywood-driven stereotypes written on my head that effectively made me unemployable. There was no form of skill growth on the job, no chance at promotion, and the fact that almost all messengers are independent contractors left me ineligible for many safety net benefits which could have helped me back on my feet. After a year and a half of holding out, with my financial reputation in tatters, I bit the bullet and moved back home.

Anyway. When I first walked into my messenger service’s office to tell them I was there, they gave me a test. I had lived in Chicago for less than a year, so they wanted to see if I knew which streets were on which numbers. After passing, I was given the job and a company cell phone and told to show up in The Loop the next morning and call the office. There was no meeting at the office every morning for a meeting or assignments, and no exact location as to where I should be when I called the office. As always, I developed a few routines. When I made my morning call into the office, it was usually from the Merchandise Mart, although I would be hanging around Madison and Clark come payday because my bank was there. My service quickly figured out where my spots were, but that didn’t make much of a difference. My service would give me long-distance runs first if they decided that was necessary. Those were rare, though; most of my packages were grabbed and dropped right in The Loop, or around the Magnificent Mile.

There are no pre-assigned packages in messing. At least, there weren’t any at my service. I picked up and dropped off according to when packages came in and where I was in relation to both the pickup point and other messengers at my service. Some messengers can make around 40 runs per day, but since my service was so small, 20 was considered excellent. That would almost be a mercy, but we got paid on commission. And contrary to the widespread Hollywood myth, messengers don’t receive tips. I was given a handful of tips in my three years, mostly by people who didn’t interact with messengers on a daily basis. The regular clients that I got to know fairly well were secretaries and receptionists and mailroom clerks. They’re the ones accepting and signing for packages, and they’re not going to offer tips from their own pockets. They see messengers all the time, after all.

If it happened to be a busy day, time was never an issue. I mean that in the sense that any package I picked up would get dropped off in whatever order was the most convenient to me. Yes, I tried to drop off the hourlong packages sooner than the two-hour packages, but when you’re carrying six packages and five of them are all in a seven block radius while the eighth is at the Hancock Center, those five are getting unloaded first unless the one going to the Hancock is a Top Priority package. And the times don’t account for things like rush hour traffic, weather, or sign-in routines. And those things do affect a messenger’s performance. A lot of pedestrians asked me whether I preferred doing my work in the rain or the snow, and they were all surprised when I said I preferred the snow. But the reason was pretty simple: In snow, clients and pedestrians are a lot more forgiving. They know a package can turn up late. But they also think rain is the same condition as a sunny day, except you’re wet. They couldn’t grasp that wet clothes add weight to the bicycle and that your brakes don’t cause nearly as much friction in rain.

The thing that could REALLY add time to a delivery, though – as well as put the elitism of the white collar upper classes on full display – was getting into the buildings. There were some places which let messengers sign in and use the regular elevators like any other guest, but they were more likely to shove you into a messenger center or send you into the winding labyrinth used for freight deliveries. Some buildings were excellent about that. 311 South Wacker probably had the best messenger center in Chicago, and its cross-street neighbor, the Sears Tower, had a great one as well. The worst buildings sent messengers through the freight entrances, which not only added time but usually demanded a trip on dangerous Lower Wacker Drive as well. After you navigated the Chicago netherworld and found the address you needed, the wait for the freight elevator could add another 10 minutes. In my time as a messenger, one building (I believe it was 317 East Wacker, but the exact number escapes me) tried to make the switch from bringing messengers through the front door to bringing us through the freight entrance. That experiment was dropped after less than two months because the building’s clients complained to the management about how long basic deliveries started taking. That information was, shall I say, EXTREMELY revealing.

There’s something weird about messenger work when it comes to your relationship with cars. You yell and scream at the motorists who share the road, but that’s okay; they know you’re there. Most drivers might hate your guts, but they DO have enough awareness of the streets to keep themselves from killing you. But if you’ve worked as a messenger for a significant length of time, you’ve definitely been hit by cars. It’s considered a known and accepted risk of the job. Most of the times I got hit were pretty benign: A cut or a scrape or a bruise from a car that jammed the brakes. But more serious injuries can happen through weird and innocuous reasons – I once got doored in a narrow space and ended up in a hospital getting stitched up for a basic cut which went through to my bone. Ironically, that was the only time my bicycle survived a shot from a car. Like other messengers, I avoided going to the hospital for anything if I could, because messengers can’t afford insurance. (I still haven’t even started paying back my old medical debts from Chicago.) As mentioned, we have a cavalier attitude toward getting hurt, and that’s necessitated by the fact that we don’t have much control over how many pickups our services get. Even high-performing messengers are just scraping by, and that’s before taxes. (We always owe, because contract workers don’t get pay automatically removed from checks.) If our bicycles get damaged, we’ll usually have the driver pay for the damage.

If there’s no work coming in, we’re forced to just sit down and relax somewhere while we wait for a call from the dispatcher. Standby breaks are indefinite. We don’t know when they’ll start, we don’t know when they’ll finish, and we don’t know what we’ll get called for when we hear from the dispatcher again. Smarter messengers will carry books with them (almost everything I know about world affairs, politics, and economics is grounded in books I read on standby time) and most of us won’t bother trying to buy a lunch. (It’s not like we could afford one anyway.) The only thing we really have to go on is the time of year. In Chicago, there’s likely to be a lot more standby time in summer because more people are willing to go out and make a drop of three blocks themselves. In winter… Well, it’s Chicago. It gets cold there. There’s a lot more work in winters, and not as many people will be confusing messing for summer work, so there are fewer messengers around willing to do it. The ones who are around will dress in the works: Multiple layers underneath thick jackets, a couple of layers of pants, several socks plus plastic bags on both feet. Hats and gloves are important. Some messengers spend extra money on proper facemasks. Others go for the basic scarfs. I couldn’t afford a facemask, and when I learned how difficult it is to breathe through a scarf, I opted to let my bare face get scalded in the often-negative temperatures.

As for the money, there’s nothing good that can be said about messenger work. My paychecks maxed out at about $250 per week, and they rarely hit that ceiling. $200 was a high-earning week for me, and my average earnings were about $160 per week. All the bad weather, dangerous roads, and back problems I endured got me enough money for some groceries. There were summer weeks when my 45-hour paycheck didn’t even clear three digits. As a result, I lived in scraping poverty and squalor. My daily meals consisted of one bowl of oatmeal and one bowl of ramen noodles on more days than not, as well as whatever candies the receptionists kept on their desks. (My spiritual community held Sunday dinners after services, where I earned a reputation as the person who ate a lot. The other members of the congregation joked about it, but that Sunday meal was usually my only nutritionally substantial meal of the week.) I lived in mortal fear of my bicycle getting damaged because a broken bicycle meant a loss of both time and a substantial amount of rent money. My heat was shut off twice, and for awhile I had to steal my electricity. (The electricity is now one of the very few debts from those days I managed to pay off.) I went to HEAP in order to get my heat turned back on, which had an irony in the fact that I had to lose runs during work hours in order to get it.

I earned a little over $10,000 a year before taxes. When the IRS caught up to me, I owed close to a total of $6000 in back taxes between state and federal. My parents had to dip into their retirement savings to erase my federal debt. My debt to Illinois wasn’t paid until 2015. I tell people today that I’m pretty sure I ended up losing money working as a bike messenger.

The only thing that kept me going for as long as I did was a mortal fear of losing my meager paychecks and then dropping off the face of the Earth. Quitting jobs denies a lot of benefits, as does being an independent contractor. The end of my job came in September of 2009. My service already had clientele jumping ship, but it was about that time that the largest messenger service in Chicago started a monopolization campaign. My service closed down and I was laid off. Unfortunately, I was also afflicted with a Hollywood-induced stigma about bike messengers being anarchic slackers which probably destroyed my chances of finding gainful work somewhere else. I managed to hold out in Chicago for another year and a half, strictly through my landlord’s generosity. But between the messenger stereotype (fuck you Hollywood, fuck you very much), most of my other work experience involving commission sales, and the ruined economy, I was effectively unemployable. The safety network ran me around because I was technically not an employee as a messenger. My landlord tried to help however he could, but I was too much of a liability and my time ran out. In March of 2011, I stored everything I could save (some of which I was never able to recover) and abandoned my home.

I’ll grant that the kind of freedom I had as a bike messenger is something I’ll never have again at any decent job. But there was nothing else about messing that makes it worth the trade-off.

 

The Dark Side of the Rust Belt Work Ethic

We’re on the ninth day of the Great Seattle Snowpocalypse of 2019. The Snowpocalypse started last Sunday night, dumped several inches of snow by Monday morning, and made the roads so dangerous that it took me 10 minutes to climb up a routine incline on my way to the transit center; a hill which doesn’t take 10 seconds to climb. Still, though, I managed to get my ass into work. I managed to get into work every day that week, in fact, in a week in which staying out due to transportation was perfectly acceptable. I stayed indoors the entire weekend. But now that it’s Monday, I tried to head back into work. Even with the snow still falling and my part of the region untouched by plows and closings happening everywhere, I got up at my usual time, exercised, ate breakfast, and tried to head off into the shiny white void to do my job. Then I spent 20 minutes brushing off my car. After that, I got into the buried vehicle, hit the gas, and couldn’t make it out of the snowbank. So I hit reverse, and still couldn’t escape. Then I hit drive again, hoping I had picked up some momentum, only for the same result. At that point, I finally admitted defeat.

Being a child of the Rust Belt, there’s a certain set of values that I come with. One of them is a work ethic. I take a lot of pride in being a hard worker who does his job right. I also take a lot of pride in my willingness to work in less-desirable conditions. But the fact the I was trying to go on today, after any reasonable person would have looked out the window and gone right back to sleep, leaves me a little bit of time to reflect on something. The Rust Belt work ethic that all of us take such pride in comes with a certain dark side. Namely, paranoia.

Rust Belters are the country’s most paranoid workers.

As with a lot of other things, we like to gussy this up as an effect of our trademark toughness. But this so-called toughness causes us to do a lot of stupid things. We’ve taught ourselves that a proper work ethic means going into work no matter what. We’ll try to force ourselves to work through dangerous inclement weather and sickness, even though doing so places ourselves and our co-workers in danger. We’ll brag about how we take all overtime, never use vacation time or other time off, and push ourselves through extra schedules. We refuse to even use up our proper breaks at work. And somehow, we’re proud of this.

This really isn’t our fault. The Rust Belt is so-named because its economy was once based in heavy industry. When those industries all became outdated and outsourced, the factories closed and left a rash of poverty which the region still hasn’t recovered from. My hometown of Buffalo is the third-poorest city in the United States, and the two cities above it – Cleveland and Detroit – are also both Rust Belt cities. (As is fourth-place Milwaukee.) And I happened to be born just a few years after Big Steel bolted, which means I went through my formative years and entered the workforce when everything had hit rock bottom. The prevailing ethos of the region is that you need to appreciate any job at all where you can get one. You go in, you work, no matter the personal cost, because there were five people in line willing to do your job if you weren’t. The result of this is a mindset which is unique in having both the willpower and ability to accept endless heaps of busywork and both the corporate and customer abuses that, all too often, come with it.

It was John Steinbeck who said the reason socialism never caught on in the United States is because the people all think they’re temporarily embarrassed millionaires. That’s the mindset that dominates on the Rust Belt. We’re warped from an early age to believe that the hardest workers will always make do, and that those who are just scraping by aren’t working hard enough. Workers, Rust Belters believe, are supposed to be uncomfortable and on edge because there’s a pile of gold at the end. Those who want things to improve are considered entitled brats who can’t be bothered getting dirty. The largest corporations will keep dropping in with promises of prosperity, but they inevitably bolt. I was saddened to hear that the New Era Cap factory in Buffalo closed and left people out of work. I’m also disgusted that New Era, in spite of that, had the gall to buy the naming rights to the football stadium.

When I moved to Seattle, I found employers who treat their workers with dignity and respect. But I’m also still trying to snap the worse aspects of the Rust Belt work ethic. I felt awkward asking for vacation time when I’ve done so, because I’ve never had employers who offered me that before. When I recently found a dentist who didn’t take weekend appointments, I didn’t know how to ask for the day off to get my teeth looked at. When my teeth turned out to be a bit more of a mess than I had anticipated, I started asking for time off to get them further looked at and fixed with the enthusiasm of a prisoner walking the Last Mile. I don’t know how medical leave even works. I’ve been more at ease in my life than ever, but my programming instilled the idea that I’m somehow supposed to suffer. I’ve finally found a piece of stability and even success in pursuing the life I want to live, so it’s an incredible irony that my old Rust Belt paranoia is still there to keep me from enjoying it.

A Snowpocalypse Story

A Snowpocalypse Story

The Seattle Snowpocalypse hit right around the time the local weather outlets said it would. It was around noon on Friday, and the entire region had spent the previous two days preparing for a long-range sheltering. The place I worked had announced it was likely going to close early, and traffic on both Thursday and Friday was terrifying even by Seattle standards. The weather folks were reporting the region’s famed Seattle Cement slamming everywhere from Kitsap to Skagit counties for the entire weekend. A good 10-inch pile-up was expected.

Even after a good glopping hit the area on Sunday night going into Monday, I can’t say I was preparing to face anything especially severe. I looked outside on Sunday night and wrote the snow off as just another dusting that I would simply motor through on my work to work on Monday. Then Monday came, and in the waking hours, it was still snowing. Now, if I had been living in the Seattle area longer, I might have known better than to try and plow my way through the snow without the plow and just called in. But nope, I had to go out. I had to make my 15-minute commute to the transit center in 40 minutes across flying snow and ice which Snohomish County hadn’t even started to touch. I kicked myself while at work, doing nothing in the freezing cold, until a little past the afternoon hour when I finally begged off. I left partly because there was nothing to do, but mostly because I was getting concerned about making the final run home with the snow buildup.

The next few days were cold and icy, but unexceptional. Hell, I even enjoyed going into work more than usual because the weather was keeping everyone locked inside, which meant work had a pleasantly slow pace. There wasn’t any worry about getting the job done because so few people turned up. The bosses weren’t going to be pissed about the regular outdoor crew taking its sweet time stepping indoors. Employers everywhere understood employees’ reluctance to go out, so people just didn’t go out. If anything, I later thought to myself that I was probably on the crazy side for for going in, at least through Monday and Tuesday. Either that or my old Rust Belt work programming was getting the better of me. On Wednesday, things looked like they were returning to normal. But all week, the local news was saying the snow might not be finished yet. By Wednesday, in fact, it was saying it DEFINITELY wasn’t finished yet. The worst was yet to come. When the week started, getting myself around aside, I had no intention of treating the week any different than any other. I would go and do things as normal, just with ice on the roads. I had bought a Playstation 2 for myself just after Christmas which was meant to replace the one my Father was forced to jettison when he moved to California. That console hadn’t worked right, and when I returned it, the store put me on a waiting list for people who wanted PS2s and returned my money in store credit which was to pay for a new PS2 when one was sold to them. On Tuesday, I finally got that call from the store. My new PS2 awaited with my name literally written on it. They also told me they understood if I couldn’t get there because of the weather, and I said to just hang onto it until Sunday, when I would be free to pick it up. But it took just one day to change my mind, and with more inclement weather on the way, I made the trip to grab it on Wednesday.

Thursday, though, was the day when I sensed that there was going to be something different about whatever was coming. This was a familiar routine. The buildup in the weather report, then the actual hit. It had shades of Winter Storm Knife in Buffalo back in 2014. That enormous sucker had stopped the city dead with seven feet of snow, quarter-mile visibility, and 40-MPH winds on the way to becoming the city’s new standard-bearing winter storm. Even people of older generations admitted that it may have been the blizzard which displaced Buffalo’s old standard of bad winter storms, the legendary Blizzard of ‘77. Now, this is Seattle, so it would be wrong to compare this winter storm to the monster that was Winter Storm Knife, but between the region’s topography, layout, and lack of winter preparation, it was time to settle in for it all the same. Thursday night, I decided I had better get my extra grocery shopping finished and went to Fred Meyer. The self-checkout line was backed up for a half hour, and a reporter from KIRO News was interviewing people for the 11 PM broadcast. I also let my Game Night friends know that I wasn’t likely to show barring a sudden thaw. They responded that they weren’t going to show up either, and out store would in fact be closing early.

Since work was also supposed to close early on Friday, I didn’t make any drastic preparations or changes. The basic plan was to get in and get out. But the thing about a huge storm setting in is that people all wait until the last minute to get serviced, and so, unusually for Friday, it was the busiest day of the week. We were still working for a couple of hours after the snow hit, although since I made the main leg of my journey to work by bus, I made sure I was in the first wave of dismissals. The snow started around noon. I was out by about 2. At about 8:30 that morning, I had gone to a Trader Joe’s across the street to buy a small meal for myself. That usually isn’t an issue. Trader Joe’s opens at 8, and it’s still usually sparse at 8:30. Friday, though, the place was already crowded. The lines stretched back through several of the aisles, and some shelves were already clear. All I was after was a damned wrap, and I must have looked absurd to the crowd there with full baskets. In any case, work continued as normal until workers started trickling out of other departments a little after 12. At 2, I was let out, and since it had only been two hours and there was only an inch of snow on the ground, I thought I might makes fairly decent time on my way home.

That would have to be my old Northeast/Northern Midwest mentality talking again. I’ve been living in Seattle for three years, and my mindset hasn’t quite shifted all the way to the Pacific Northwest setting. If it had, I wouldn’t have bothered going in. But the hard part of the day beckoned, and now I had to set out on my Hell-on-Earth-frozen-over journey back home. A consistent falling of packing snow is treacherous in Seattle, and every driver in the city reacts accordingly. The I-5 traffic was moving extra slow, EVERYONE was trying to get home at the same time, and when I made it to the bus stop, I ran into a long line. Now, I’m hard-pressed for how much of a failure Soundtransit was in the moment. On the one hand, it successfully increased its bus frequency in spite of the ongoing traffic. I saw seven of their busses roll by in the hour I spent at the bus stop; an hour usually means three busses at peak travel times. On the other, only two of those busses let anyone at my stop on at all, and only a couple of people got off. The busses that let riders off didn’t let anyone on. Every bus was so packed that I started trying to think of alternatives, and other people in line had the same idea. The line got shorter, alright. But that was because random wannabe passengers were getting fed up and dropping out. I had to wait, though, because I didn’t have any alternatives.

Seattle-area public transit is a mess of several agencies, all of which are terrible. The main agency that serves my area in Snohomish County is Community Transit, which can’t keep up with anything even when traffic is light and moving at a fast pace. They were supposed to be serving their full compliment of bus routes during this winter storm, and as usual, they were failing. I saw two of their busses roll by in an hour, and both were 860s, which didn’t take me to the stop I needed. People in line were so desperate that they were just getting on any random bus in order to get to a location where they could connect with a bus which could get them where they needed to go. But the driver on that second 860 had obviously overheard a few complaints, and he did something which will forever make him a Saint in my mind: He leaned off his bus, asked who was going to the very stop I needed to reach, and said he could make that place an extra stop without any problems.

I’ve owned my current sneakers for over a year, and they were soaked entirely through. I was cold and wet and getting worried. I quickly spoke up, got on the bus, and let myself feel crammed as the bus made its way north. I’m not much for crowds, especially when they’re tossed like sardines into a moving vehicle. But all things considered, I got home, and I got home in a fairly timely way. After I got off the bus, in fact, traffic on 99 in Snohomish County had let up to enough of an extent that I could make my final grocery stop on the way home, like I had originally planned.

So now there’s not much to do other than wait. Wait for the snow to subside enough for me to get back out, wait for signs of life to how back up in the neighborhood. And, perhaps most importantly, to curse myself for having the Rust Belt mentality of NEEDING to show, no matter the possible cost. My father, year ago, talked about possibly buying a trailer for his car to haul to work during winter storms. That doesn’t sound like such a bad idea now.

Snowpocalypse Driving

Snowpocalypse Driving

When I first made my move to Seattle, I had the attitude that everyone from the Northeast or Northern Midwest did about weather: What the fuck can this place possibly show me? I’ve been buried in snow drifts of five feet, drowned in humidity, and scalded riding my bicycle barefaced in -12 degree wind chills. Dressing up for the cold was my entire life. 10-inch snow dustings were routine. I’ve found myself shoveling snow off my balcony in Buffalo, getting drenched in frozen rain in Chicago, wearing two pairs of pants at the same time, bicycling across ice patches, and watching a city run out of something called a snow removal budget. After all that, what was a little rain? After everything I had endured in my other two hometowns, this would be easy.

Yeah… No. The first great lesson I learned about the weather in Seattle is that Seasonal Affective Disorder is indeed a thing. I knew a lot about the bone-chilling cold that came on sunny winter days, but looking out across a sunny batch of fresh-fallen snow could really cheer you up. Seattle is rainy, and even when it’s not, it’s gray. And humans need a certain amount of sunlight – sunlight is a source of vitamin d, which helps stave off depression. So when I first arrived in Seattle and the dog days of a Seattle winter set in, I was essentially laying on the floor in fetal position, crying and sucking my thumb. It was the psychic effect of seeing nothing but a vast expanse of gray for a longer time than I had even known before. I barely made it through my first winter. (Fortunately, subsequent winters get a lot easier after the adjustment.)

That was nothing compared to the surprise Seattle had for me after I bought my car. Once again, that’s my Midwestern ego talking. When the snow falls and the roads freeze up, we all think about how THIS is our element. And we’re going to charge across the frozen landscape like a bat out of hell, weaving through the traffic on the sparkly asphalt and leaving everyone in the dust!

Yeah, that’s another thing that didn’t quite work out the way I thought it would.

All the great driving skills you attained elsewhere amount to dick when you’re stuck in a place where everyone else is a terrible driver. Out of everyday survival, I’ve had to adopt driving techniques which were unthinkable – and illegal – in other places. Switching lanes on turns and multi-lane switches have become part of my everyday road repotoire. Quick turns, U-turns, stoplight mergers, and dashes into turning lanes are essential. You don’t have to spend money on training if you’re an aspiring NASCAR racer. Just move to Seattle and you can learn everything you need about dangerous driving within a couple of weeks.

In any case, I was wholly unprepared for what Seattle introduced to me when it snowed. I can brag all I want about being from the big, bad, nut-freezing East. Seattle, as with most things, doesn’t give a shit. No, Seattle doesn’t get a lot of snow or wholesale freezes. All that means is that I’m now locked in a dangerous chase with a bunch of people who rarely have to deal with snow on the road, and a city which generally doesn’t handle it well. The worst part of it, however, is that I, myself, have now joined the legions of idiots driving on ice. That’s not to say I’m some sort of idiot as a driver. Rather, it’s because I’m aware of my flaws as a driver and have ended up becoming everything I ever said I hated back East. I’m as bad as the other bad winter drivers on the road, and now I can see why they all suck so much.

Seattle is not a place which knows how to grind it out in a winter. Staying indoors, grabbing a cold six pack, and watching a good football game in Seattle involves buying out every grocery store in the city. Being unaccustomed to true cold and snow, the Puget Sound region doesn’t bother to prepare for it. It expects everyone to hunker down and weather everything out for a week, which is how I found myself at grocery stores trying to get my grocery shopping done when I didn’t need to be there. What that means for the big, tough easterner is that Seattle doesn’t set aside a large pile of money dedicated to getting snow off the ground the second it lands there. So, suddenly, hey, guess what? You know all those idiots we all see in Weather Channel reports crashing into telephone poles at five MPH? I’m now one of them, and that’s because, for all my gasbaggery, I don’t know very much about how to drive on bad winter terrain either. Buffalo was always spoiled when it came to winter. The joke there is how we prefer to drive in winter because all the potholes are filled in, but when the plows and salt trucks coming around every hour, there’s rarely anything to worry about.

Take 10 inches of snow in Seattle. Yes, a lightweight by Buffalo standards, but this city is stuck in a spot where it can’t get rid of the snow. If it’s too cold, it can stick around for awhile. The ice underneath the snow can also stay for longer than we would like. And I’m not the all-knowing snow driver anymore; I’m just as clueless about ice driving as everyone else on the road. Now that I live in a place that doesn’t do snow removal, the slippery elements can settle down on the road for a few days and turn driving into a white-knuckle battle between life and death. Going out on the open road, I’m afraid to hit the gas too hard when the snow is starting to pile up on the road. I can never quite figure out when to start breaking, how fast I can go before hitting the brakes leaves me to slide a good distance, or when the car will stop. Trying to outrun a snowfall is terrible because, without any way of clearing the roads, we don’t know where the crosswalks and driving lanes are. So most drivers in Puget Sound drive slowly, and since hitting the brakes can kill momentum, we run through every red light. Who is going to flag us down and stop us?

The biggest obstacle in the area, however, is the numerous hills and valleys that create Seattle’s terrifying topography. During most of the year, the topography is another one of Seattle’s popular little quirks. Come a snowpocalypse, they’re a terrifying mess of steep slopes and slants. At the beginning of this snowpocalypse, I was climbing a routine hill on my way to the transit center so I could make my bus. I ended up getting stuck for 10 minutes before a guy with a shovel pushed me enough to get me all the way up. And that was a light incline. It wasn’t unusual for me to lose control of my car because the road wasn’t clear through the week. I’m lucky, though, because my corner of the Northwest is relatively flat. If you got to Downtown Seattle in this mess and tried to move east away from Elliott Bay, well, you were sliding back to the drink. I can’t imagine how anyone could have been able to stop trying to make the climb from Cherry Street or Seneca Street or anywhere closer to Pioneer Square or the International District.

That’s the truth about what being a weather wimp in Seattle entails. They don’t have to deal with freaking mountains back East. Yes, they get snow there, but they also get all the amenities to deal with it properly. They don’t have to fight with unfriendly terrain. They don’t have to fight with their cars when they hit the brakes and the cars slide all the way down the hill and into the cross-street, which happened to me a few days ago. You can call us weather wimps, but YOU bring your ass out here and deal with this shit.

(You can find my on Twitter now: Niko Croston @baronchairman)

Why We Hate Tom Brady

Why We Hate Tom Brady

Consider the life of a very particular quarterback in the NFL. This quarterback led the exact life that was mapped out for him by birth: He was the son of an NFL lifer who had been the face of his own hapless team for over a decade. He was specifically taught to play the position and was given a full ride to one of the country’s most visible college football programs. Taken first overall and expected to lead his NFL team to a glory it has never known in its current location, this quarterback more than delivered. He built a strong reputation as a guy who rose up to everything thrown at him, posted video game numbers, and became arguably the greatest quarterback of all time. He became one of the faces of his sport and a visible presence as an ad man and a postseason quarterback.

That quarterback’s name was Peyton Manning, and by the account of everything good and true about America, we should hate his fucking guts. Really, go back and read that last paragraph again and tell me there’s anything remotely likable about the guy. So it says an awful lot that he’s considered the consensus good guy in a marquee NFL rivalry between his team, the Indianapolis Colts, and the New England Patriots and their glory boy, Tom Brady. Let’s be clear about this: Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback to ever pick up the pigskin. The only arguments left against him are pithy and pathetic. Yes, the NFL is much softer and friendlier toward passers now, but let’s run down a few bullet points: Brady has gotten more production out of less talent than anyone else. Manning was constantly surrounded by Hall of Fame talent playing at their best. Brady’s stints with Hall of Fame talents have been brief at best. Corey Dillon lasted two years, and Randy Moss didn’t even get THAT far. Brady was already a three-time champion when Gronk came on. Brady was the more reliable player of the two – he threw half as many interceptions at his worst than Manning at his best. Manning had to learn several new systems with coaching changes, but Brady has, more than once, CHANGED THE WAY HE PLAYED HIS POSITION. Maybe you’re a Joe Montana person rather than a Peyton Manning person, though. Well, people vouching for Montana are looking more like old men yelling at clouds by the day in the same fashion as people who are willing to acknowledge Michael Jordan’s greatness but still cling to the idea that he’ll never be as dominant as George Mikan. But what the fuck, I’ll humor them anyway. Montana was the beneficiary of consistent Hall of Fame talent and great coaching year in and year out. He had Jerry Rice, arguably the greatest football player of them all. Brady cheated? Maybe, but Montana was the beneficiary of cheating at the very least. Rice has copped to using stickum, and former football player Tim Green wrote that his offensive line played extremely dirty – they used illegal and physically devastating leg whips. Undefeated in the Super Bowl? So are Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson. Won four? Brady won five out of eight, which means he still gets the edge because five is a higher number than four. The 4-0 record? I’m quite willing to bring Terry Bradshaw into this in response, and the only person stupid enough to think Terry Bradshaw is in Montana’s league is Terry Bradshaw. Coaching? Walsh’s coaching tree produced five Super Bowl winners. Belichick’s produced trash, so you can’t say Brady’s success came from a better coaching staff. Super Bowl competition? Brady beat the 2001 Rams, 2004 Eagles, and 2014 Seahawks – three of the greatest teams the league ever produced. In Montana’s day, the AFC was producing creampuffs. Montana won his last Super Bowl in the 1989 season. The AFC’s first 13-win team didn’t come along until the next year.

In any case, Brady has spent his career being that athletic ideal we all dream of being able to watch. He has always been a natural athlete, but he also started out being a legitimate underdog. He has been the singular keystone on the most dangerous and perfect machine in NFL history. He’s done just about everything he needed to do to prove his claim to the throne of the greatest quarterback in history. He won five Super Bowls, three league MVPs, won out in a single season, became only the third quarterback to play in three straight Super Bowls, and posted 11 wins in a BAD year. And that’s the thing – even when we learn to hate great teams, we always respect them. We respected San Francisco and Washington in the 80’s. We respected the Cowboys and Broncos in the 90’s. We respected the Rams when the millennium turned. Brady – and the rest of the Patriots – won’t be quite so fondly remembered. But why is that? Well, here are some real thoughts. Not the typical bullshit from a fan who’s fed up, but real points that I sat down and considered. (And since I’m a Bills fan, that’s no small matter.)

The Sportsmanship Facade

One of the reasons Tom Brady turned into a premier face of the NFL is because of his image. He was a sixth round Draft pick, which for a quarterback means they’re lucky to set foot on the field at all. A sixth round quarterback is signed to a contract which pays $500,000 for four years, mops up during preseason games, then goes into insurance. But it’s impossible to imagine Brady doing any of that now, because he’s cultivated a particular image. He’s the ideal leader and teammate, the selfless one, the one who will never say or do anything controversial. And for the first several years of his career, he really was that. Hell, flashes of that persona still show up from time to time – Yahoo News reported that, after beating the Chiefs in the AFC Championship, he went to the Chiefs locker room to offer their quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, some encouraging words. But this facade started breaking down around 2007, and now Brady has been coming off s whiny and entitled. He didn’t even shake Nick Foles’s hand after the Patriots lost their Super Bowl against the Eagles. He seems to get upset whenever things don’t go his way. He tried to pull privilege to avoid a suspension. He doesn’t own the rare moments where he screws up.

Enabling the Worst Fans on Earth

This is probably Brady’s worst crime. Now, You may take this cynically because I’m a Yankees fan, but if you’ve been reading Every Team Ever, you might have noticed that I said adopting the Patriots is a bad idea because of the enmity you’ll face. The great thing about being a Yankees fan is that you’re grandfathered into a smug culture. We’ve embraced the black hat. When the Boston Red Sox called us the Evil Empire, we wholeheartedly embraced the image and said yes, yes we are. We know what we are and we own it. The Patriots have been on a very Yankee-like stretch of excellence, but backing this machine still isn’t enough for their fans. Despite the Patriots being favored to win every game they play, their fans continue to cling to the image of the scrappy underdog rising up and punching the big bully in the mouth. When that happens in sports, fans of the scrappy underdog are allowed to be insufferable for awhile. But the Patriots’ sustained excellence means this has been ongoing. They continue to brag, they continue to whine whenever the scrappy underdog image is challenged, they continue to focus on refball even when there’s no longer any need. Yankees fans say their team is the best, and any team good enough to beat them deserves to win. Patriots fans still haven’t shut the fuck up about the Tyree and Manningham catches.

Not Retiring Gracefully

One of the unwritten rules of sports is that after an unquestionable legend has accomplished everything they can possibly accomplish, they take off their jersey, wave to the crowd one last time, and thank their supporters and team. Then they go off into the sunset. This is the reason everyone started turning against Brett Favre when he got up there in years. Favre had some good reasons for sticking it out, but we all got sick of him because he had already established himself, and it was time for him to move on. Brady has also accomplished everything there is. Hell, he’s accomplished a lot that will never even be done again. He posted a 16-0 record in 2007. The upcoming Super Bowl will be Brady’s third straight appearance in the Big Game. The only two other quarterbacks who have done that are Bob Griese and Jim Kelly. It will be his ninth overall appearance in the Super Bowl, and when it’s over, he’ll either be 5-4 or 6-3. No one else has ever come close to that. He won five Super Bowls. Only defensive lineman Charles Haley can say the same, and Haley won his five rings between two teams. He ranks fourth, third, and fourth in passing yards, touchdown passes, and passer rating respectively. He has three MVP awards and four Super Bowl MVP awards. He is also the oldest player to have ever won either of those. The fact that he’s sticking around – he hasn’t even mouthed about considering retirement – means he’s just sticking around as a middle finger. He would have been the greatest quarterback in history had he retired a few years ago. Now there’s no point whatsoever for him to be playing anymore, although he may have an unsaid reason for it…

The Common Dumb Celebrity

Brady has the ability to see a football field in much the same way Wayne Gretzky saw a hockey rink. And in his early years, he had an off-field persona which made him the same sort of inconsequential non grata as the Yankees’ Derek Jeter. He provided short clips which were predictable and interchangeable. He avoided giving out personal details, which meant it was easy for us to superimpose characteristics onto him to make him into anything we wanted. That turned him into a hero, but you know that saying about heroes – either you die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain. Brady definitely went the latter way. In doing so, he’s proving that he utterly lacks the capacity to function anywhere off a gridiron. He went public with the beliefs that drinking lots of water prevents sunburns. He sleeps in “recovery pajamas.” He differentiates between about six different KINDS of water. In the meantime, he went public wearing a MAGA hat when Donald Trump ran for President, saying it would be great if his buddy Trump became President. Then he backtracked when Trump won, saying he didn’t know much about world events. Well, no shit, Tom. He teamed up with a known quack to sell the techniques he uses to keep in shape. And this has sportswriters eating out of his hand – one Sports Illustrated writer used Brady’s fitness plan, lost weight in three weeks, and started raving about it. Again, this is a no shit call. Tom’s fitness plan is basically exercise hard, eat healthy food, and control your portions. I know because I use that same variation of a fitness routine myself, except…

Tom Brady, Scam Artist

I didn’t pay $20 every month for a fucking app! Here are some of the scams Tom Brady is running: $15 for a 12-ounce bottle of “electrolytes.” This is known commonly as Gatorade or Powerade, or just pickle juice if you want to get cheap. $40 will get you a 12-pack of his protein bars. $160 for a foam roller. Men’s Health reviewed the app and says that it has some good information and workouts, but for what a customer can get out of it, it’s not worth what TB12 is asking of it. In fairness, I can’t confirm whether or not the app is worthwhile because I’ve had a ton of success on my own fitness routine and won’t be throwing $20 at an app every month.

The MAGA Connection

This is something that goes for the entire team, but its become one of the faces of MAGA. Now, this doesn’t make any sense at all. The Patriots are a team that is careful, meticulous, and calculated in everything they do. Donald Trump is careless and wings it without regard for anything other than getting a reaction. In any case, Brady, Belichick, and Robert Kraft have all endorsed Donald Trump, and when things went awry, none of them bothered to denounce him. Even after prominent white supremacists cuddled up to the Patriots because of their support for Trump, the team sort of shrugged its collective shoulders and said, “Yeah, we get fans of all kinds!”