Sunday, November 21, 2010

An Alma Mater Hit and Run

I lived in the Northeast from when I was born until 2002. During that time I graduated from Syracuse University in 1991, and returned several times to cover college football and basketball games.

But since moving all over the country, I hadn't been back in 5 years and my 42 hours in town felt very familiar.

First, our group stayed at the Genesee Grande Hotel, which was the first hotel my Dad took me to when I first visited the campus in 1986. It was the Genesee Inn at the time, and a little more spartan than the boardroom suite I commanded on this trip.

We were there long enough to hit an excellent dinner at Phoebe's. And before heading to the Dome, I got my dome shorn up at a barber shop that was open at 7 AM on a Saturday.

I walked through campus to work, picked up some Orange gear for the kids, and remembered the 44-degree weather wouldn't be so cold without the 20 MPH winds, an observation I made many times in my 4-year (no summer classes, no 5th year) tenure.

Syracuse football is back on the map this year, with 7 wins and their first guaranteed winning season since 2001. And I was there to cover it - and in the press notes to prove it.

I'm sure my parents, who paid 6 figures in tuition, would've felt some sense of payoff for their investment. But as for the emotional investment in the football team, it was an uninspiring 23-6 loss to surging Connecticut.

There's always next year. Besides I never made it to Cosmo's - my first trip back to M Street without a signature tuna bomber.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Turmoil in Washington

I picked an apropos headline since were are upon a historic midterm Election Day. But the people who actually live in DC are probably much more concerned with the quarterback situation.

Mike Shanahan had the guts this past weekend to pull potential Hall-of-Fame QB Donovan McNabb, saying he was poorly conditioned and lacked the "cardiovascular endurance" to run the 2-minute drill in a comeback situation in Detroit.

Personally, I have loved McNabb since he set foot on the Syracuse campus. He is the most prolific quarterback in Syracuse history, and Philadelphia Eagles history as well. But Shanahan is right, highlighting McNabb's lack of fitness.

It was something that Andy Reid didn't address until trading the face of the franchise within the division. So maybe he said it without saying it.

And I don't believe that McNabb is poorly conditioned, per se. But I think he has a condition. I remember him burning clock in a big comeback spot against Miami so he could catch his breath in the huddle. Syracuse came up short in that game 38-31 and the game ended on the 1-yard line.

I remember another game where he suffered in the same situation, and actually threw up on the field minutes before throwing the winning TD pass against Virginia Tech.

And what Eagle fan can forget the Super Bowl loss to the Patriots, when the Eagles could not rally fast enough down the stretch because McNabb couldn't keep up?

McNabb's accomplishments in the NFL speak for themselves, but now Shanahan knows his limitations as well. And unlike Andy Reid, he won't have an invested fan base to piss off if he yanks McNabb in a similar circumstance.

And Washington will have to prepare for a change in its leadership structure.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Predictions for the Mad Men Season Finale: Go Fish

Some of my friends who enjoy Mad Men don't like the Sally Draper story arc. I find it to be one of the most enjoyable parts of the series. Her reaction to her parents' breakup, combined with growing up as a young lady in the mid 1960s, is fascinating.

But that only leads into Backtime's Mad Men fishing expedition into the season finale:

1. Sally Draper will do something more defiant and outrageous than anything she's pulled to this point. Her Mom's plan to move to get her away from Glenn down the street will be the next tipping point in her volatile state in the "Francis" residence.

2. There will be some sort of confrontation between Don Draper's most recent steady, Dr. Faye Miller, and his new secretary Megan.

3. Roger Sterling will be marginalized. Now John Slattery has become a bona fide TV star so I don't expect him to be gone from the series, but he will become a glorified consultant a la the role that Bert Cooper has take on this season.

4. As a result, Pete Campbell gets to be the agency's top dog. And SCDP won't have to change their logo as Campbell slides right into Sterling Campbell Draper Pryce.

5. Don Draper's New York Times ad that renounces Big Tobacco catches the eye of some big fish, and even prompts the return of Conrad Hilton, who signs with SCDP and saves them from economic free fall.

6. But ultimately, it will be an episode that ends the season with closure instead of an open-ended cliffhanger and tons of unanswered questions (a la AMC's other show, Breaking Bad).

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Open Mike: Putting the MV in MVP

We at Backtime smelt this comeback coming even while #7 was still serving 2-to-3.

There was too much ability and too much game to count him out. His time as a guest of the federal government gave him pay his debt to society, and emerge like so many others, with a second play the game that he redefined.

And the other thing that nobody talks about - he didn't take a hit in 3 years. He's still only 30 years old with a football age of 27. And now we see a new piece to the Vicksaw puzzle: poise.

Not only has he become a pass-first Quarterback, but he's playing now with a serenity to go with his sizzle. And you can make the argument that he's playing with the type of speedy skill players that Donovan McNabb never had (the Eagles ironically take on McNabb and the Skins this weekend).

With LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, and Jeremy Maclin to complement him, Vick doesn't have to do things on his own the way he did his early days in Atlanta (or McNabb throughout his career in Philly). Vick can trust the guys around him, and if he can trust himself, he may just have a season for the ages.

Just as we forecast over a year ago.

July 27, 2009 - The Trick for Vick: Gotta be like "Mike"
"There's a lion in my pocket, and baby he is ready to roar."
Prince, 1999

It was 10 years ago when I did a shoot with Michael Vick on the Virginia Tech campus. He was a phenom as a redshirt frosh, but he just seemed polite, friendly, and very unassuming.

When he introduced himself as "Mike," I didn't know who he was right away. There wasn't an entourage, there wasn't bravado, it was just Mike.

But there was plenty of bravado in my script and he didn't carry it like that. He was shy. The piece was average and didn't air because Vick got beat up by the Clemson "D" - though the other man on the shoot, Corey Moore, was the dominant defensive star in a Hokie home win.

I'm not trying to extol the virtues of Mike Vick, the seemingly mature 19-year old. This sick subculture was obviously ingrained in him from a very early age. And somewhere deep inside him was a Ron Mexico with middle fingers extended to his home crowd.

But we had truly never seen anyone like him. A black, left-handed whirlwind who probably could have been the best player on the field at a half-dozen positions. He did it with such confidence and class. His play screamed "look at me" so he never had to do anything arrogant to call attention to himself.

In Mike's freshman year, he led Virginia Tech to an undefeated regular season in spectacular fashion. And he left his guts on the Superdome field erasing a 3-TD deficit to Florida State before falling in the 4th quarter. Head Coach Frank Beamer is still his biggest advocate.

Two years later, Mike was drafted #1 overall. Three years after that and one broken leg later, he finished 2nd in the MVP voting, and led the Falcons to the NFC Championship game.

Then came the contract. The sense of entitlement. The rules didn't apply to him. He could spread herpes around, or bankroll dogfighting, or smoke pot on his MySpace page. He thought the authorities and the media, much like your average NFL defender, couldn't catch Michael Vick.

"Tryin' to run from my destruction, you know I didn't even care."

He was wrong and paid the heavy price. This isn't some run-of-the-mill NFL suspension he has to come back from. He was incarcerated. Every day is a blessing for this man.

This time around, I think we're going to see a lot less Michael and a lot more Mike. And maybe one team's fans will party like it's 1999.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The State I'm Min

I packed the autumn hues for highs in the low 60s in Minneapolis.

Even though there were no flight delays, the travel snafus continued. First an over-officious gate agent at the home airport told me my new suitcase was too big to carry on, so she said she had to check it.

She shrugged her shoulders, "Don't worry, you're in first class and won't have to pay." I just shook my head, "It's not about money, it's about time."

And naturally I waited 45 minutes at baggage claim in Minneapolis. And then I got to the hotel and was assigned to a Westin "Grand" Suite. Cool. Except I had to return to the desk three different times because my key didn't work. Ultimately they decided it was the lock that was broken and my room wasn't going to be ready for a couple hours.

In the meantime I got an e-mail that I needed to set up my travel for a couple of October gigs. So I got on the phone with our travel department.

TRAVEL: What position will you be on these shows?

ME: Producer

TRAVEL: I thought so, I was just checking.

ME: That's OK, I like saying it.

Always remember no matter how important you (think you) are or how upgraded your travel day is, it's still just rife with speed bumps. Fortunately Suite 432 lived up to it's billing.

And that was just the living room portion.

The highlight of the Minnesota trip (certainly wasn't the game) was the two meals at Hell's Kitchen.

Thursday night dinner - Lobster Tacos - a "10"

Saturday morning breakfast - Poached Eggs over Venison Chili with a side of Cornmeal Waffles topped with Homemade Peanut Butter - a "12" - one of the best breakfasts I've ever head.

Other highlights of the trip (that didn't involve food) were USC-related. Let's forget for a moment that the USC Song Girls practiced their routine right outside our truck.

After a fairly generic USC victory over the Golden Gophers, we went out to Smalley's sports bar in downtown Minneapolis. And watching 50 Trojan fans in USC colors sing "Fight On" in unison in the center of enemy territory was actually very cool.

Then it was the 3:45 AM wakeup call for the 5:20 AM flight Sunday morning, all so I could be home before Noon and spend the afternoon with the kids.

And maybe, just maybe, I'll get to watch some of the Jets-Patriots game.

Fight On Mark Sanchez!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Breakout Star of Hard Knocks: Mike T

My new favorite Jet doesn't wear a number, but he sure can crunch them.

The 4th episode of HBO's Hard Knocks 2010 featuring the New York Jets may have been the most ground-breaking hour in the history of reality television. The training camp football behind-the-scenes of who makes the team and who gets cut, and the big personalities - are always eye-catching. But it's the candid contract negotiations headed up by GM Mike Tannenbaum that yields unprecedented access.

When Mike T gave 3rd string QB Kellen Clemens a calculated business offer to take it or leave it, that's when I hit the rewind button and watched the same scene several times in a row. Did that just happen? Was that on television?

Did an NFL quarterback have to decide his own future right there on the spot? No, but pretty damn soon. And a man who started 9 games at QB for the Jets in the last 3 years took the minimum salary to stay with the team. Hey, at least it's guaranteed.

And the cut-throat decision-making involving veteran team leaders WR Laveranues Coles and FB Tony Richardson were handled with tact and a personal touch.

And there was the outright lambasting of ESPN's Tim Cowlishaw who reported that holdout all-everything CB Darrelle Revis' arrival at Jets camp was imminent, which of course was a fallacy.

And is it any wonder that after an episode that showcased how Mike T and the Jets do business, that Team Revis ended their holdout and came to camp at a much lower number than they were floating?

Mike T handled players' coach Rex Ryan the same way with the same incisive, clinical thinking he operated with players and their agents.

That's the side of football that isn't reflected in a Fantasy Football draft or a 3-hour TV broadcast, the complicated and fascinating business side. And the business of Jets football is in great hands.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Mad About You: Another Case of Co-Dependency

The continuing, evolving drama of a night with Don and Peggy told you everything you wanted to know about what this show is all about. Watching them take on a the Samsonite campaign, a mouse, and a Duck in an all-nighter, was very reminiscent of watching the way a mentor and protegee bicker on their AMC compadre show, Breaking Bad.

Don naturally backed Sonny Liston against Cassius Clay that night in 1965. The way he liked Nixon over Kennedy a few seasons earlier. Don liked the guys who didn't brag.

And Peggy is Don's #2 now. Peggy gives don ideas and she tries to boast about it, but he shits on her. At least that's Peggy's take on it. But Don is adamant.

"That's the way it works. There are no credits on commercials."

"I give you money. You give me ideas."

When Peggy complains, "But you never say thank you!" Don is incredulous, "That's what the money is for!"

It is a pivotal night in Don's life. Not just because Don lost $100 on Liston, but because of the death of Anna Draper - and the close relationship he had with the woman who allowed him his name. And Don showed vulnerability for the very first time.

But at the end of the night (really the next day), a "spruced up" Don Draper realizes he has a stable relationship in his life. Despite the death of his great friend, his divorce, and his reckless drinking, he found someone to complete him, and not in the usual way Don relies on a woman.

And the constant shake-up of the pecking order on the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce totem pole continues. At age 26 (Happy birthday!) Peggy Olson is in a tremendous position at her job. And she didn't know it until now.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Mad Mentor: When Roger Met Don

On the eve of Don Draper's first Clio Award for television advertising excellence, Roger Sterling walks down memory lane to how it became possible. When he met Don, the fur guy. And it's kind of a hazy path considering how much they each drink along the way. Just consider Roger's ramblings in the dictation of his book.

And for Don the award is a culmination of his crooked path to the highest heights of his profession. And after the win, the calculated Draper lets his guard down. First comes the most exaggerated case of hubris, then the drunken blur.

Don still didn't pull a Duck Phillips, ranting out in a crowded banquet room, but his spouting at the mouth caused him to inadvertently steal a slogan from an idiot he interviewed earlier. Then naturally he winds up in bed with a waitress he doesn't remember.

For Roger, the alcohol reveals the truth in his feelings. He's jealous of Don, who always gets the credit and naturally he transfers his anger to any target he can find.

Ultimately, Roger's behavior is damaging his own company. Lane Pryce, the London corporate lackey who runs the nuts and bolts of the agency said so much calling him a "child" in his empowerment of Pete Campbell. This ultimately begs the question, "Who runs Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce?"

1. Don Draper - He's the face of the firm, but ultimately a creative diva who goes off the reservation whenever he fells like it.

2. Roger Sterling - A buffoon who is tied to Lucky Strike, the company's biggest client. But he's a loose cannon (see what he did with the Japanese Honda people?) who isn't up to date in 1965.

3. Bert Cooper - Older than Sterling, his presence is mostly ceremonial.

4. Lane Pryce - He really is in control of everything with a dollar sign attached. But he's just an operational wizard who doesn't do accounts or creative, and is still an outsider.

5. Pete Campbell - This is the best character arc in the 4 seasons of the series. He went from a conniving kid to a savvy, confident exec who is well on his way to running the show.

Pete has been challenging Roger this season, and took the balls of his former colleague/competitor Ken Cosgrove while hiring him back.

The next generation is on the rise on the creative side as well with Peggy taking the balls of her creative cohort in the art department in a metaphorical game of strip poker. "Let's get liberated!"

When she "won," she was promptly tagged as "the smuggest bitch on the planet."

Just another major character evolution on a show where the kings are becoming the jesters, and their loyal servants are becoming enlightened.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

When The Men In Blue Don't Have A Clue

Being a Major League umpire is a pretty thankless job - nobody disputes that. But there are occasions like Wednesday's Tigers/Yankees game, when Home Plate ump and crew chief Eric Cooper brought it upon himself.

Let's rewind for a second to Monday night, when the Tigers turned a dramatic game-ending DP to take the series opener at Yankee Stadium. The Tigers completed the play despite a vicious takeout slide by the Yankees Brett Gardner, that landed Tigers 2B Carlos Guillen on the disabled list.

Now I am a Yankee fan, but not a Yankee apologist. Gardner's slide, with the game on the line, was a bit overzealous (I refrain from using the "d" word). Yankee broadcaster Michael Kay called it a clean slide live, though you could hear him biting his tongue on the replays.

I recognized right away that with 3 more games in the series, that this situation wasn't resolved. I even tweeted as such at the time. The Tigers, managed by old-school Jim Leyland, sat out the situation on Tuesday as not to involve their ace starter Justin Verlander.

But on Wednesday with Brett Gardner leading off the bottom of the 1st, Tiger starter Jeremy Bonderman returned fire on the very first pitch of the game.

But Bonderman didn't put one in Gardner's ear. He went for the legs of a guy who makes his living with them (34 Stolen Bases), since Gardner injured Guillen's knee.

Gardner didn't charge the mound, he took his base. The Yankee dugout didn't empty. This was the type of baseball justice that's been going on since the game began. You could almost see Joe Girardi tipping his cap to Jim Leyland that the matter was resolved. Except Umpire Eric Cooper injected himself into the situation by warning both benches.

So now fast forward to the 8th inning, with the Yankees holding a 9-4 lead. AL MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera, who already homered twice in the game stepped in and was plunked in the back by Yankee reliever Chad Gaudin.

Whether Gaudin intended to hit Cabrera or not, the scenario plus the warning made it a no-brainer. Eric Cooper had to eject Chad Gaudin and his manager, Joe Girardi. But he did nothing.

Was Cooper intimidated by the pinstripes? Or the Yankees crowd? Either way, he proved to be a chump for not following through on his own warning. Jim Leyland rode Cooper relentlessly, until Cooper had no choice but to eject him. And Leyland was still pointing the finger, quite righteously, as he took his walk.

So the situation continued to take on a life of its own, and the umpires had lost control of the game. So in the bottom of the 8th, Tigers reliever Enrique Gonzalez threw behind Yankees captain Derek Jeter.

And the Yankees had to sit there and take it, just like the Tigers did in the previous frame. So despite an early warning, the umpires didn't follow through.

Now the Yankees and Tigers play for the final time in 2010 at 1 PM today. Has the bad blood continued to elevate, or is the matter put to bed? Either way, the umpires, the policemen of the game, were invisible as it played out.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sunday's Step Up Squad At Whistling Straits

There's a little matter to be settled on some lakefront property in Wisconsin today. And everyone is talking about the "young guns," the 20-something band on the front page of the leaderboard. But to look forward, you first have to look back to the last PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.

In 2004, everyone was hailing this unique setting, which presented the challenges of a US Open with the look of a British Open. It was going to be brutal - except Vijay Singh was -12 through 3 rounds. But on Sunday, everything got tightened up. Singh shot 76 with no birdies until winning in the playoff.

I look for history to repeat itself and 29-year old Nick Watney's -13 and 3-shot lead to go by the boards long before the end of the day. That leaves a very precocious group to seize the trophy.

Exhibit A: Rory McIlroy (21).

While Tiger Woods' grip on the #1 World Golf Ranking will be over fairly soon, who immediately succeeds him (Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood) is a mere formality.

McIlroy is the next world's-best-golfer. He owns the year's most dominant performance with a 66-62 finish in Charlotte, blasting past Phil Mickelson in the process.

McIlroy also pounded St. Andrews with an opening round 63 at the British, before he got hammered by the weather in Round 2.

Exhibit B: Dustin Johnson (26).

The 6-foot-4 South Carolinian makes you take notice. He's got "extra" length off the tee, and can routinely out-drive Tiger. He can dunk a basketball.

And just watch him swing and watch him walk - everything exudes confidence, except his face. He's a "flat-liner," and maybe with the Sunday US Open blowup in his rearview, he may become the next face of American golf.

Exhibit C: Jason Day (22).

This is the wild-card. He's been flying under the radar until taking The Byron Nelson this year in Dallas.

While McIlroy blows you away with his moxy and Johnson with his talent, Day has all the tricks in a short game reminiscent of someone twice his age.

While these men may represent the next Big Three in professional golf, you never know what the future holds in such a tenuous profession (see: Garcia, Sergio).

And we don't want to write Tiger off too soon, though he won't win this tournament. He could find his way from 31st place to a Top 10 finish. That would give him three Top 10 Majors in a tumultuous, transition year in his life, a season 98% of PGA Tour golfers would probably trade their career for.

And the winner today will be: Rory McIlroy. His first of many career Golf Major championships.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Hard Knocks Ready To Take Off

It's T-minus one week to the Season Premiere of HBO's Hard Knocks, and I can't remember a higher-profile training camp than the beloved New York Jets, bunking in Cortland, NY in August 2010.

There are plenty of reasons that GM Mike Tannenbaum and Head Coach Rex Ryan should be looking up. But the real hard knocks have begun already with the holdout of Darrelle Revis.

Clearly the Jets brain trust anticipated this situation with their all-world corner, and signed an accomplished cover guy Antonio Cromartie from SD (10 picks in '07) and drafted a major playmaking corner in Kyle Wilson from Boise.

Rex Ryan's attack defense requires outside guys to take care of their island while he throws everyone else at the quarterback. The Jets may be set up there with or without Revis. So the Jets actually have some measure of leverage against the NFL's king of coverage.

From Revis' standpoint, he is living off the 6-year, 30-million dollar deal he got as a 1st round pick in '07. The one player in the League that is equal or better than Revis at his position, the Raiders' Nnamdi Asonugha, got a 3-year, 45.3 million extension in March of '09.

Whether or not the Raiders overpaid for the #1 ranked player in Madden 2010 is a matter of historical debate. But Revis feels he's entitled to that sort of deal, and that has been backed up by the Jets' brass, who said last year that he'd be taken care of.

While the Revis situation has vaulted to the #1 headline in an August that will be filled with them, HBO will still have plenty to enjoy.

> Rex Ryan: Year 2

> Mark Sanchez: Year 2

> LaDainian Tomlinson: Career 2

> Kris Jenkins return from torn ACL

> Moving Targets up top: Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes

> Pass rusher Jason Taylor: Can he still bring it?

> Pass rusher Vernon Gholston: Can he ever bring it?

Plus there's hard news: QB Erik Ainge has checked into rehab for drug dependency. And there's the collateral tabloid damage that's developing from the Jets situation with Brett Favre in 2008.

Most importantly it's the Jets' most anticipated season maybe ever. Let's hope it doesn't peak on pay cable.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Don Draper's Unlucky Strike

While Don Draper isn't too fickle about who he sleeps with, he knows he fucked this one up.

After leaving the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Xmas party, Don had left his keys in his office in his usual drunken form. While he was ready to jump on the firm's psych consultant or the cute nurse across the hall, there are some lines Don doesn't cross.

Which of course he did when he nailed his own googly-eyed secretary after she came to the rescue with the keys in one of the queasiest scenes in the show's history. Alcohol is a hell of a drug. Just ask Freddy Rumsen, returning to the agency clean and sober after 16 months.

So what makes Don so different from Big Tobacco heir Lee Garner, Jr.? While the Lucky Strike prince can make any demands he wants (they are the #1 client responsible for some 70% of SCDP's billings), he does so in the brashest possible fashion.

Lee Garner, Jr. can threaten to fire the agency if he isn't accommodated by Art Director Salvatore Romano in a same-sex tryst. That was the likely tipping point for the likable character's departure from the firm last year.

Or he can pull out his swinging dick (figuratively of course) and demean the boss, Roger Sterling, in front of the entire agency, forcing him to be Santa at the Xmas party and putting his hands on Roger's wife. But Roger handles it with charm.

Nobody seems to know exactly what Roger Sterling does. When he comes back drunk from a client meeting, Peggy says, "I can't believe that's his job." But it's the ability to keep the big fish clients, the quirky, greedy, selfish perverts and their insatiable appetites...happy.

So back to the scoundrel tale of the tape:

Lucky Strike's Lee Garner Jr. is a bully who gets what he wants through sheer power and intimidation.

Don Draper uses his power to persuade and use and hurt people to get what he wants, from the same people who only want to please him.

"The morning after" meeting with his secretary was just as icy and sad as it could possibly be. He thanked her for bringing him his keys, which translates into "last night never happened." Allison gets a $100 bonus on a generic holiday card, while Don walks out of the office with the presents for his kids that she shopped for and immaculately wrapped.

Who is the more dangerous predator?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Mad Men Season 4 Premiere: Be Careful What You Wish For

Want to go rogue and start your own ad agency? Well you just might get it.

Welcome to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, a "scrappy upstart" of an ad agency, that Creative Director Don Draper has just put on the map with a very clever Glo-Coat TV spot.

Now Don Draper is the headline name of the company, even though we all know that's not his name. But as Don plays "modest" to an Advertising Age reporter, he comes across as aloof. In one of Roger Sterling's signature one-liners, he spells it out to Don, "You turned all the sizzle from Glo-Coat into a wet fart."

So the one-story agency isn't growing as fast as the partners would like, no matter how many chairs Don kicks around in the non-conference room.

Want to save the Sugarberry Ham account, with a bold plan to stage two women fighting over a ham Thanksgiving week? And make an end run around Don? Be careful what you wish for, Peggy and Pete.

When the play fight turns real and assault charges are filed, the bail and hush money escalates. And Peggy gets a tongue-lashing to boot.

And there's the suddenly sympathetic figure, Henry Francis (thanks to a very well-placed scene with his mother).

Want a beautiful trophy bride? Be careful what you wish for. You just might get Betty Draper.

As much as I love the ad agency, this is the storyline that resounds. Henry's mother calls Betty a "silly woman," and he's seeing it himself. A spoiled child, who went straight from Daddy to Don to Henry, Betty still lives in Don's house and does nothing but badger her own children.

And for those of you who think Sally Draper is an annoying, ill-tempered child - you obviously don't own the feisty Daddy's Girl home version.

The whole episode comes full-circle, when Don's smart, somewhat risque presentation to a potential ladies swimwear client strikes out. He realizes that being modest is ignorant and tells the Wall Street Journal the more confident and appealing Don Draper story.

Maybe next Thanksgiving, Don won't have to hire a prostitute to smack him around (not pictured).

Friday, July 23, 2010

Backtime Road Trip Day 16: The Voyage Home

This entry's subtitle was borrowed from Star Trek IV. As a plot refresher, Captain Kirk and the USS Enterprise crew had just commandeered a Klingon Bird of Prey and traveled through time and space to late 20th century San Francisco to transport humpback whales to the future to save humanity.

I merely transported some precious cargo through 15 states in 16 days, but we returned home and humanity was still intact.

When we left Busch Gardens last night, daughter fell sound asleep almost as soon as we got in the car. So as we foraged for takeout dinner and snacks on the back roads outside Williamsburg, I put us in the hands of my GPS to get us to our hotel in the northernmost part of North Carolina. Bad move.

Garmin directed me to the Jamestown Ferry. I was not prepared for this, so I chickened out, doubled back to I-64 and lost an hour. In retrospect, it may have worked.

So we wheeled into Roanoke Rapids NC right around 10 PM. I threw the bags on a luggage cart and propped a sleeping son on top of the pile. Daughter had woken up from her nap, so Gramps took her out for some late-night chow.

We woke up and saw the weather report for the region. High of 103 with heat indexes approaching 115. Good thing we were headed south.

First stop was to drop off my dad at RDU for his one-way flight back to JFK. His contributions were tremendous on the evening drives the last two nights. And there's no way I would have made it through Busch Gardens with the two kids without him.

Then we had a 5-hour drive home from there. Remarkably, we only made one stop. It was a place I had seen several times, but never visited - the iconic Carolina travel respite.

South Of The Border...let's just say there's truth in advertising. There was virtually no AC, smoking allowed everywhere, and no restrooms in the restaurant or the gas station. Instead there was a public restroom building next door that was just as gamy as you can imagine. Think of a below-average gas station bathroom, but 20 times the size.

And the restaurant was a real greasy spoon.

The kids were good with their hotdogs, but I decided to go native applying the "When In Rome" philosophy south of the border. I went with the beef and bean enchilada with the Mexi-fries. Wasn't half-bad (tasting). Would I pay later? At least I'd be home when I found out.

It was a very smooth and uneventful 3 hours home from there. And after the trip of their lives, the kids got home to a very happy reunion.

My dad asked me last night if the trip was everything I wanted it to be. I thought for a minute.

Maybe I should have re-connected with more people than I did back in NYC. But much like my situation, a lot of my friends' lives are not their own anymore.

Maybe I shouldn't have tried to cross Pennsylvania in one day, and bunked up back in Syracuse for a night. But that's easily tabled for another summer.

That's all. The kids never cried once that they wanted to go home. They were as into the adventure as I was. I devised a strong plan, and it was executed without (much) drama. The trip was everything I wanted it to be. And now, I was glad to be home.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Backtime Road Trip Day 15: Muppet Mayhem

The penultimate day of the family journey began overlooking Cal Sr. Park at the Ripken Baseball Academy from our hotel room in Aberdeen, Maryland.

Ripken has become a brand name in youth baseball over the last several years, drawing little leaguers to the complex from around the country, and consequently filling up the adjacent minor league stadium.

Naturally the address of the hotel was on "Long Drive," and we were off on hour 3+ hour trip to Busch Gardens Williamsburg for the brand name in youth everything, and a much more famous address...

The Sesame Street Forest of Fun at Busch Gardens. I don't know if I'd call it "fun for all ages," but I definitely got into the spirit on Prince Elmo's Spire.

Even Gramps got into the act, riding on Oscar's Whirly Worms.

And after several hours running around in near-100 degree heat, with never enough to drink and no nap, there was a great kiddie cool-off. Fortunately Daddy was on top of it with sunscreen, bathing suits, and towels (the ones that didn't cost $20 in the gift shop).

And speaking of the heat, how do you think you'd like to be dressed as a muppet as your summer job?

The chroma-key green background is so they can sell you overpriced pictures of your family with their favorite Sesame Street characters superimposed on some sort of background from the actual set of the show - much like how your favorite weather lady appears in front of a regional map.

I wasn't going to pay for that picture when they still let you take off-center snapshots against the green. But there was one picture that I bought, framed even, since there's no recreating the moment.

The kids took their first ever roller coaster ride on Grover's Alpine Express. I tagged along, expecting a kiddie ride. It wasn't. It was a real roller coaster, though a very short ride. I'd call it a junior coaster. The kids had a blast and rode it over and over again.

And sitting next to my 3-year old girl on her first roller coaster ride ranks right up there in the highlights of my life. But I am surely aware that the real roller coaster ride is only beginning.