Sunday, November 1, 2015

More Than Alphabetical

Growing up in Oklahoma, it was never a question of whether I would become a fan of college football; instead, it was more a matter of for whom or to what degree.  I have followed the (largely) successful runs of the Sooners for more years than I care to count.  It was not until my daughters decided to attend the University of Florida that my allegiance shifted, if just a tad.  Their rivalries became mine; I shared their superstitions.  And, I have followed the roller-coaster wins and disappointments over the last decade, albeit not as rabidly as the two of them and their friends.

Now, as a resident of Georgia, I have been puzzled by the reference to this annual game played in Jacksonville in an order decidedly non-alphabetical in nature.  Even in my home hundreds of miles west, we knew it as Florida/Georgia weekend, but we still considered it something of a piker in the realm of state university rivalries.  I guess one would, with the Red River Shootout (no longer a PC term) as the gold standard of such games.

I have listened to the boastings of all those UGa fans throughout these many Augusts and early Septembers, only to hear the deafening silences that have ensued as their highly-regarded team has suffered several defeats, effectively relegating their postseason appearance to a few rungs below BCS-land.  Enough, I say.  Let us set the record straight on the correct order of this game played yesterday.  Yes, by calling it Florida/Georgia, it is proper for more than the logical alphabetical order. Heck, even the logo for the game gets it right:

The first and most obvious comparison: national football championships is led by Florida, 3 to 2.
National championships in team sports: Florida, 45 to 41.

You want non-sports comparisons?

Average SAT score of incoming freshmen: Florida 1918, Georgia 1800
US News & World Report ranking of top universities: Florida 43, Georgia 61.
Washington Monthly ranking of top universities (which sorts by contributions of its graduates to the quality of life): Florida 22, Georgia 52.  FYI: Georgia Tech ranks #9.
Research & Development ranking (amount of $$ spent for this purpose): Florida 12, Georgia 55.
Nobel Prizes awarded: Florida 3, Georgia 0.

I have neglected to mention the one category in which Georgia clearly leads Florida: number of universities that call themselves Bulldogs: 38; number calling themselves Gators: there's only one.

I rest my case.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Brooklyn, Brooklyn, Take Me In.

Ah, Brooklyn: a place I had visited but three times in my life, most recently for a wedding in 1985.  My father, who grew up in Queens, once said that it was easier in the 1930s to go to a foreign country than to travel the 10 miles or so to Ebbets Field.  He did admit to going to see the Dodgers play there once, after at least two failed attempts to find the borough.

In the intervening years since my father wandered the tunnels of the subway in search of those pearly gates, the allure of Brooklyn has dimmed somewhat.  Entire neighborhoods have acquired infamy as places visitors should not venture: Bedford-Stuyvesant has long been a symbol of urban blight and neglect, while other areas have become home to a new (if undesirable) class of immigrants, such as the Russian Mob in Brighton Beach.  To be fair, I cannot determine if that appellation is a Hollywood storyline or actual fact, since I've never been there.  Finally, there's Coney Island, another place I've not seen but feel omission from my bucket list will cause no tears.

Lately, Brooklyn has developed a new patina, as home to hipsters, urban pioneers and others, who have been accused of "gentryfying" the neighborhoods.  Allegedly, it is home also for what passes as affordable housing in New York.  These tribes are rumored to regard Pabst Blue Ribbon, a beer we settled on in college when we couldn't afford anything better, as some sort of nectar.

Brooklyn is now home to younger daughter Amanda, who has worked there the past three years, actually residing there since the middle of last year.  I recently traveled north to visit her and to see what all the fuss is about.

In a word, I was impressed!  While a good number of the old buildings are in a state of disrepair, there are some gems that have been restored.

This, for example, is the old Williamsburg Savings Bank, one of the tallest clock towers in the world. Apparently, it is now home to some higher-end condos.  

I was struck by the number of warehouses, many of which have been artfully tagged by local artists.  Some have been restored into shops or restaurants.  We went to an especially wonderful place, called Ample Hills Creamery, where I enjoyed perhaps the finest ice cream I had ever tasted.  One of the buildings that caught my eye was this one:

I know someone has to make caskets; I always assumed they came from some outfit called Lighter Than Air or Eternal Respite.  I had no idea that someone would actually call such a company by the items it manufactures.  

Amanda explained that part of the Brooklyn experience is complaining about going to that other island, which we did, a couple of times (went, not complained).  We met up with friends at the Marriott Marquis, where our tour guide led us to a wonderful cafe near the theatre district called Don Antonio, where we laughed and ate to excess for too short a time.  Afterwards, we visited the guardians of the New York Public Library, Patience and Fortitude, who are old friends to us. 

Our next visit to that island was to tour the Lower East Side Tenement Museum.  Over 7,000 people lived there in the 70 years before New York began to regulate such buildings.  There are several different tours, each relating the tale of one of the families that lived there.  After our tour, we all wondered that anyone survived that era in such a place and felt grateful that our ancestors, who certainly had their challenges when arriving here, did not have to live in a place quite like that. 

We explored Brooklyn Bridge Park, the school where Amanda teaches and saw a variety of neighborhoods, ranging from the elegant to the still marginal.  I think it would be a hard life, to exist there.  While I was fascinated by the diversity of life, people, buildings, businesses and neighborhoods, I fear I would find it overwhelming to live there.  

But then, I'm a bit older than my hosts/tour guides.  They are both at a great age and in a great spot.  They seem to relish the wonders of living in such a stimulating environment.  For them, getting on a train to the City or walking a mile or two are just part of everyday life.  I'm thankful for the time I had with them and the many memories they created.  

Thanks, tour guides!  I can't wait to go back!