Sunday, August 30, 2009

Friday Night Lite

The opening of football season, Milan, MI. Friday night, August 29th. (photo by Lon Horwedel)

There’s just something about Friday night.

I’m not exactly sure what, but there is something.

Maybe it’s the way it makes you feel, like it’s the start of something special, the beginning of long stretch of fun; all there in front of you, exciting and full of potential. Kind of like the month of June, only it happens every week, not just once a year.

Friday night is a time to relax; a time to breathe; a time to stay up late, go to the movies or out to dinner.

Where I grew up, Friday night also was a time for the whole town to reunite on a crisp autumn night at a small-town stadium in the middle of a cornfield to watch high school football. Not that anybody ever really watched the game, apart from maybe the coaches and parents.

Young boys were too busy tossing Nerf footballs behind the bleachers emulating the players on the field. Older boys were too busy hanging out in packs, bragging about their sexual prowess to one another through their gaudy orthodonture.

Old men stood along the fence and complained about the coach. Old women waddled up the bleacher steps before settling their squishy bottoms into the comfort of a foam stadium seat emblazoned with team name and colors; ready to take in the action of the game, or at least watch their nerdy nephew performing with the band at halftime.

Little girls were nowhere to be found, as if they didn’t exist, home with their mommies. Older girls were hanging in packs like the boys; snapping gum and giggling; totally ignoring the poor slobs on the field whose only mission in life was to try and impress just one cute high school girl with his on-field heroics.

The week of behaving in home or in class or at the drive-thru window at McDonalds had taken its toll. F-bombs flew freely and easily between teenage boys and girls as if it were the word “the” or “if.” No sentence was immune from insertion, no matter how short. Sometimes it was the sentence - just one simple word, effective only with proper inflection - and only on a Friday night.

Twenty-five years later, much remains the same.

Teenage girls still snap their gum and giggle. The boys still hang in packs, bragging though their acne-scarred faces about sex they never had.

Lights still burn in the sky over small town bleachers barely taller than corn rows in towns called Milan, Clinton, Manchester and Saline.

Young men strapped in helmets and pads, thump their chests and bang their heads as they prepare to impress gum-snapping girls who aren’t even watching them play. 

All on Friday nights.

Every fall I’m one year older - one year closer to becoming that old guy standing by the fence complaining about the coach. But the giggling girls never age. The pimple-faced boys still brag to their friends and cuss like sailers. The fifth graders behind the bleachers still throw perfect Nerf spirals that bounce harmlessly into the corn. 

Fat-bottomed women still waddle up the bleacher steps to get a glimpse of their nerdy nephews playing in the band and chest-thumping boys still strap themselves into hard plastic helmets and oversized shoulder pads, hoping to cream someone in the name of unrequited love.

The lights eventually dim on Friday nights. 

Sooner or later, the old man leaves his home by the fence and heads back to his pickup truck. 

The oversized woman waddles down from the bleacher steps and heads for home.

The chest-thumping players limp out of the locker room clad in varsity jackets, hoping someone, anyone, but their parents is waiting outside the door. 

In the darkness of the parking lot, the giggling girl and the pimple-faced boy awkwardly swap spit through their braces as she repeatedly swats his hand off her unbuttoned jeans.

He’s looking to go all the way, but it’s not going to happen ... 

Not on this Friday night.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Sunset at Cedar Point. (photo by Lon Horwedel)

At some point in everybody’s life, they reach a point.

Maybe it’s a boiling point.  Or perhaps a point of no return. Or possibly just a starting point.

Whatever the point, it’s always there to remind us that up until that point, there was no point, and everything before and after that point was, well … pointless. 

Which brings me to my point.

At one point in my life I was reckless and adventuresome, with a real, devil-may-care attitude and a feeling of invincibility. I had wit and wisdom beyond my years. And even if I didn’t, I thought I did.

My eyes were sharp, my head was on straight and I bounced around with a cocky stride that seemed all-too-natural at the time. The world was my oyster and the only real challenge was how high, how fast and how far could I go to prove my point.

The only way to do this was to strap myself into any and every roller coaster I could find within driving distance of my hometown. What other way was there? It was, and still is, the redneck stamp of approval and I was, and still am, very much a redneck, albeit, one with a college education who never really developed a taste for NASCAR, Mountain Dew or Marlboro Lights. Still, despite my dislike of fast cars turning left, urine-colored rot gut and a pack of smokes, roller coasters were a different story.

Luckily I grew up on the doorstep of Cedar Point and there wasn’t a coaster in that park I hadn’t conquered.

The Mine Ride -  yawn. 

The Blue Streak – nothing to it. 

The Corkscrew – mere child’s play. 

The Gemini – are you serious?

It got to the point where I had to travel dang near all the way to Cincinnati just to ride The Beast at King’s Island. Then a funny thing happened – I grew up.

I started wearing t-shirts with sleeves. I started using silverware when I ate. I even started brushing my teeth. I was different now. I was what you might call ... sophisticated.

The thought of amusement parks and roller coasters never really crossed my mind again once I graduated from high school. Then, when I was 30, my niece Mairi, who was 14 at the time, asked my wife Julie and I if we could take her to Cedar Point. We had a great time that day and I realized I still had it, whatever it was.

The park had grown in many ways, but it also had shrunk. New roller coasters dotted the landscape making it even more a teenage thrill-seeking paradise and less a place for the really young or the really old. But I was 30, I was neither old nor young, and I could still tackle whatever coaster Cedar Point had to offer.

The coasters of my childhood still remained, but now there were serious new coasters to contend with. The Corkscrew, Gemini and Blue Streak had been relegated to kiddie-ride status with the addition of rides like The Raptor, The Magnum and The Mean Streak. I rode every one of them that day and I felt invincible once more, even if my shirt now had sleeves ... and a collar!

That day came and went, and much like after graduating from high school, I never so much as thought about another roller coaster for 14-years – that is until last month.

Last month I realized my three children had not only grown well past baby status, but also had gotten quite big and un-huggable as well. I’m pretty sure two of them may even have entered puberty. What kind of father would I be if I didn’t treat my three 48-inch-and-taller children to a fun-filled day of thrills, and potential motion-induced regurgitation, one can only find at a place like Cedar Point?

Not a very good one, that’s for sure.

So at the ripe, old age of 44, I headed south on US23 and east on Route 2 with my three kids in tow; bound for the land of my youthful glory - the glorious phallic-shaped peninsula on Lake Erie known as Cedar Point.

The kids were giddy with excitement. They'd spent most of the week going on the computer and watching point-of-view videos of every ride at “The Point.” I too, was excited, but a strange feeling began creeping into my gut along with the excitement. This wasn’t a feeling I’d ever felt before while heading to an amusement park. This was more akin to the feeling I’d often had on the first tee at a golf tournament – I was feeling nervous.

It had, after all, been 14-years since I’d last set foot in an amusement park. Plenty had changed in that time span. For starters, my sense of balance now was totally screwed. A bout of vertigo in my early 30’s left me unable to even swing on a swing set. If I couldn’t deal with something that gentle, how would I be able to handle the twisting, turning and upside-down-spinning on a roller coaster?

Certainly I couldn’t let on to the kids that I was nervous. I was their dad - their hero. The guy who had been there and done that a million times before. How would it look if I chickened out on them now?

As we crossed the Thomas Edison Bridge over Sandusky Bay, my nervousness grew when they spotted the Cedar Point skyline and nearly peed their pants with excitement. I’m pretty sure I did pee my pants once I saw the 450’ tall Top Thrill Dragster stretching a zillion miles above the horizon with its airplane warning lights blinking in the thin air high atop the ride’s massive hill.

It was official. I had reached a point - my point. The point where I no longer was a teenage, or even a 30-year-old, thrill-seeking, semi-immortal, man of cool. I had crossed that point on the way to “The Point.” Now I was a scaredy cat; a chicken shit - a middle-aged, quivering coward wearing pee-stained underwear.

I wondered to myself if my kids would be brave enough to ride that thing. I secretly hoped the answer would be no. It wouldn’t be long, 20 minutes or so, and we’d be at the park to find out. My mission now simply was to get through the day with enough courage to not let my kids down, hopefully with enough balance to walk a straight line without listing too strongly in one direction.

Smartly, I’d packed myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to take into the park on the off chance I might hurl mid-ride at some point during the day. It’s a common courtesy I extend to my fellow coaster riders after I suffered an unfortunate incident on the Viking Fury at King’s Island in 1983.

On that hot August day, a young boy sitting directly behind me nearly gave me whiplash when he projectile-vomited pepperoni and mushroom pizza upside the back of my head. He blasted me so hard it left a perfect, puke-framed outline of my head on the seat in front of me. Trust me when I tell you, nothing smells worse than recycled pepperoni and mushroom pizza dripping from your hair on a hot August day at an amusement park.

I shuddered at the memory as I pulled up to an ATM machine to drain my bank account. Giving your kids the opportunity to see their dad become violently ill, or shudder with fear while balled up in the fetal position, doesn’t come cheap. Now I only wished I’d stuffed a clean pair of undies into my fanny pack along with my peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Luckily for me, an amazing thing happened when we arrived at the park - heredity kicked in. Once my kids got an up-close look at The Top Thrill Dragster, their knees turned to goo and they huddled close to their old man like three little ducklings. Either they hadn’t yet reached the point in their life where they felt invincible, or they were just as chicken shit as me.

“Dad, are we gonna ride that?” My 9-year-old son asked, squeezing my fingers hard with his sweaty little hand.

“Sure,” I said, trying to sound brave, “but only if you want to.”

“We can skip it, it’s no big deal.” My 12-year-old daughter said, trying to sound nonchalant about the whole thing, but secretly feeling relieved.

For the next seven hours we had a magical time at the park. The weather was perfect, the lines were short and my kids worked up enough courage to go on most every coaster at the park. I found I still enjoy the thrill of a roller coaster ride as much as ever - as long as the coaster stays upright. I also was pleasantly surprised by my kid’s kindness as they helped steady me while I walked down the midway the five minutes or so it took for my balance to return to normal after being Corkscrewed, Mavericked or Raptored into submission.

By mid-afternoon I was extremely tired and sore.  The coasters had beaten me to a pulp and I'm pretty sure I was bleeding internally somewhere. At 44, I was nowhere near as resilient as I was at 17, or even 30. But I never lost my lunch on any ride, in fact, I even bravely downed by peanut butter and jelly sandwich while waiting in line to ride the Mantis. Even though my cell phone had been systematically destroyed after a complete dousing on Snake River Falls and a total ejection on Maverick, I still had a great time.

At the end of the day, my kids decided to pass on The Magnum and Millennium Force as well as The Top Thrill Dragster, but that was okay. They had more than surpassed my expectations for their bravado by riding the amount of coasters they had, and they impressed me even more by enjoying the quiet, little rides at Cedar Point, like the Cadillac cars.

A beautiful sunset began to engulf the twisted metal madness stretching up in the skyline behind us as we left the park. Cedar Point, it turns out, was a turning point for my kids and me. The torch had been passed. They now were the official thrill seekers in the family - the rightful owners of all that was cool and hip.

And I?  I was just the owner of a sore hip … a hip pointer, to be exact.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Hawk and the Squirrel

The Hawk begins the systematic process of eating the Squirrel. (photo by Lon Horwedel)

It happened so fast it was as if it didn’t happen at all.

A small spark of red and gold set against the deep emerald green of a lush, mid-summer forest. So quiet, it nearly slipped away, if not for the corner of my eye.

I was heading in for the day. I’d had enough. Not something I often say while on the golf course, but this day I’d hit my limit. A slow foursome at Leslie Park had congealed before me, thwarting any further progress in my round or my rhythm.

My fate was sealed. Five holes were all I could take. I picked up my bag and began walking in, cutting through the woods, this way and that, on my way to the clubhouse.

Had I been a blind man, the event that unfolded before me would have been lost. Only the flash of red and gold had made me stop. Ten more degrees in the other direction and it would have escaped my periphery too, but it didn’t.

The events and the timing of the day had brought me here - to the edge of the woods on the ninth hole; a place I’d been many times as a golfer, but only once as Mother Nature’s witness.

The flash of warm colors that caught my eye now rolled in the grass at the edge of the woods, still not making a sound.

Slowly, I crept toward the rolling ball of red and gold until I recognized one of the colors to be a hawk, the other a squirrel.

I set down my bag and moved closer. Now I was 10-feet from the raptor and the rodent, and both felt my presence. The hawk spun his regal head in my direction, looked me square in the eye, puffed out his feathers and opened his beak. Still, he made not a sound.

Beneath his grasp, the squirrel had felt the break in concentration and snap-rolled himself free. The edge of the thick woods and freedom were only a few feet away. Quickly, he made a dash for the life-saving cover.

I had intervened with the natural order, but not long enough for the squirrel. My disruption of the hawk’s hunting process was only momentary. Again, without so much as a rustle, the hawk pounced on the squirrel with an awkward little hop that completely contradicted any grace he might have while in flight. On land, the hawk was more wrestler than raptor. His short pounce had trapped the squirrel once more, only inches from freedom. But this time there would be no second chance.

The hawk gripped the head of the squirrel in his razor sharp talons the way a professional basketball player might palm a basketball. His bright yellow foot and the squirrel’s head were a perfect match, each talon firmly locked in place around the curvature of the squirrel’s skull like a steel prison bars; the thumb talon painfully piercing the eye socket of his hapless prey.

Every twist or turn of the squirrel’s body was met with equal or greater force from the hawk as he pinned the squirrel on his back. To gain leverage, the hawk spread his feathers and squatted over the squirrel in a sit-down move.

Now all that remained for the poor squirrel was death. Like a car accident, it was hard to watch, but I couldn’t turn away. I waited for the hawk to deliver the fatal blow, not knowing what it might be. I guessed he might rip out the squirrel’s throat, much like a lion does to its prey, or maybe pierce the squirrel’s heart or lungs with its deadly talons.

None of that happened. Instead, the hawk simply waited for the squirrel to give up and die. It took a while, probably ten minutes or so; then without warning, it was over. The small flinches and twists below the hawk’s talons melted away and the squirrel went limp. It was sad when it happened. A life had slipped away, and yet, it was beautiful in its simplicity - quiet and peaceful.

This was a necessary death, the hawk is not a vegetarian. But this squirrel was relatively large and there was no way this bird was going to fly away with such a large kill … at least not in his talons. The only way this squirrel was leaving the premises was in the hawk’s stomach.

To watch a hawk systematically eat a squirrel is a study in efficiency. Starting with his prey's left front leg, the hawk used his sharp beak to strip the fur and skin neatly to the bone before severing the limb completely with a sharp snap.

The orifice formed by the clean amputation of the leg became a portal for the rest of the hawk’s meal. Using his beak like a surgical instrument, he snipped away at the hole, making it bigger and easier to remove the squirrel’s organs.

For the next ten minutes I found myself in science class trying to identify each organ upon removal. There was no mess, in fact, very little blood at all. Occasionally, the hawk would stop and look around, but he no longer paid any attention to me; only the sound of a far off golf cart or another soaring hawk screeching in the distance seemed to make him pause. This was his meal and he wasn’t about to lose it ... or share it.

As he moved on past the delicacy of the internal organs, I decided to leave the hawk with his meal and finally head for home. Nearly a half hour had passed since I’d walked off the fifth green. The slow foursome that forced me off the course still had not reached the ninth hole and not one group had passed by since I had witnessed Mother Nature's massacre at the edge of the forest.

It was an amazing 30 minutes on the golf course - a time frame that didn't involve any golf.  The hawk had struck down the squirrel at the perfect moment. If not for me, he would have done so in complete anonymity. I felt privileged to witness the horror, and the beauty, of life and death as it unfolded.

Three days later I returned to the course. This time I played all 18. When I reached the ninth hole I hit my drive in the middle of the fairway, but before I walked to my ball I detoured to the edge of the woods to try and find any evidence from the events that took place earlier in the week.

I thought I knew exactly where to look, but there was nothing to be found. No fur, no bones, no entrails, nothing. It was if it never happened. Then, as I was getting ready to leave, I spotted a small, downy feather sticking up out of the tall grass. It was a feather from one of the hawk’s legs – the only clue either had been there.

Above me soared a pair of hawks screeching in the hot August sky. In the woods to my left, a group of squirrels chased each other up and down a tree. On the spot where I stood, both species had clashed three days earlier. An hour later, only one had left.


Saturday, August 8, 2009

Drummer BoyKyree Tooson, 11, joyfully bangs out the beat on a pair of 5-gallon buckets in the alley next to Michigan Theater in downtown Ann Arbor earlier last month. (photo by Lon Horwedel)

The sound is loud and thunderous.

So loud it would hurt your ears if it wasn’t so catchy.

It booms off the alley walls behind the Michigan Theater and pours out onto the street. It pounds into the chests of all those walking by; stops them dead in their tracks and forces them to stomp their feet to the intoxicating beat.

The powerful rhythm, it turns out, is being produced by a mere child. An 11-year-old boy who goes by the street name of T-Nice, but whose real name is Kyree Tooson. A friendly little kid with a smile even more intoxicating than the beat he's putting out. Standing in the alley, not far away, is Kyree’s father Rick, who keeps a protective eye on his son while he does what he loves to do most - play drums.

Not that Kyree needs an actual drum kit to play the drums. In fact, the booming sound emanating from the alley comes only from two 5-gallon buckets (three if you count the one he sits on) and a pair of tattered drum sticks.

Both buckets have semi-circles cut out of their rims so Kyree can prop them up with his foot to get a deeper bass sound when he smacks them with a stick. 

And what about those sticks? 

Looking more like he just fended off an angry tiger than played the drums, neither stick is equal in length and both are badly splintered from their daily beating on plastic, concrete, wood and bricks. In fact, they're in such bad shape, it's hard to believe they don’t break into pieces, let alone make music. But watching Kyree play, you soon realize his sticks aren’t splintered wood at all; they're more like an extension of his hands…his life…his soul.

This kid can play, and that’s all he wants to do. With his dad by his side, Kyree is trying his best to get back to the Pacific northwest, where he was born. Although if you ask him, he’ll tell you he’s from “everywhere.” He has a dream of attending the Seattle Drum School some day. He figures all he needs is a break. Just one little break in a life that hasn’t had many.

“My mom left when I was little.” Kyree said. “She used to bring me around to all these people who were gang members and stuff, so my dad had to come and take care of me. He’s got full custody of me now so my mom’s not really in the picture anymore.”

There isn't a hint of regret or sadness in Kyree’s tone as he talks about his mother. He just lays it out there like a simple truth before resuming his rhythmic tapping on the nearest surface.

Kyree has only been playing the drums for a year - and not just 5-gallon buckets, he actually has a real drum kit; one donated by a church, but as Rick points out, “we ain’t got no car yet and it’s easier playing buckets on the street.”

Listening to Kyree play, it’s hard to believe he hasn’t been playing longer.  “He started dancing when he was two or three.” Rick said, “We went to dance at a market about a year ago and he seen a guy playing the buckets and he said ‘let me try that.’ Dude gave him a bucket and I bought him some sticks and this is how he sounds a year later.”

Never mind the four measly bucks he has in his collection jar. Kyree’s mission is to turn his passion into a decent living someday. “I wanna be a professional drummer when I get older.” He said. “I wanna save up a million dollars ‘cause I never had a million dollars before. And if I ever get rich when I’m older, I want to help people who don’t have money…and animals too, like cats and dogs. I wanna be as happy as I can be.”

With business slowing, Rick decides it's time for Kyree to take his drums over to Nickel’s arcade in search of a bigger crowd.  

What began as a family reunion in May, turned into a 6-week stay in Michigan for Rick and Kyree. But last Tuesday the pair took the money they’d been saving all summer and left for Seattle in search of a brighter future for the talented young drummer.

Now all that's left of Kyree in Ann Arbor is the thunderous echo he left behind with his splintered drum sticks and 5-gallon buckets. It bounces off the streets and alleys and reminds us not to forget him... and don’t be too surprised if he resurfaces a few years down the road on a much bigger stage.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Longest Night
Finally, after more than 5-hours of extra-inning baseball, we got what we came for - fireworks! (photo by Lon Horwedel)

It's not often you can say you went to a baseball game that started in the month of July and didn't end until August. But that's exactly what happened when I took my family to see the Detroit Tigers take on the Cleveland Indians Friday night in Cleveland.

Usually taking in a professional baseball game is a 4-hour affair, give or take an hour depending on traffic, crowd size, and the pitching match-up. Friday night's game in Cleveland was a spontaneous deal - we were in Ohio on vacation when we noticed the Tigers were playing the Tribe in Cleveland over the weekend.

"Hey you guys, the Tigers are in town, wanna go watch them play the Indians tonight? I asked my wife and three kids, knowing full well the answer would be yes.

"But you don't have tickets." My wife pointed out.

"Don't worry," I said, "The Indians suck this year; plus they just traded away Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez (their two best players) and the fans are really pissed. I bet there won't be anybody there."

Somewhat resistant to the idea of just showing up without tickets, my wife finally agreed to the plan when I told her there were fireworks after the game and "we wouldn't want the kids to miss that, would we?"

With a 7:05 pm start time, we hit the road sometime around five o'clock for the 52-mile drive to Cleveland. First, let it be known that the 52-miles from my hometown of Berlin Hts. to an Indians game in downtown Cleveland is nothing like the 45-mile drive from Ann Arbor to a Tigers game in downtown Detroit.

In fact, the first time my wife, a native of Birmingham, MI., made the drive with me, she couldn't believe how easy it was. No white-knuckling on 1-94, no hoping and praying there won't be an accident to grind your progress to a screeching halt, or, God forbid, the ever-present road construction that boils the blood of even the most mild-mannered motorist.

No, the drive from B.H. to Cleveland was as easy a 52-mile stretch one might find. Two lanes most of the way, but well maintained and smooth as silk. Just one small town after another along the lazy shores of Lake Erie with nary an exit in between. In fact, until you hit Rocky River, you might think the existence of a major metropolitan area like Cleveland was strictly a rumor.

Ten minutes into our drive on a beautiful summer evening, the thought of scoring some really good seats for very little money (thanks to the Tribe's fire sale on talent and the fans upheaval at the front office) was still fresh in my mind  when I was greeted by a familiar site that was very much Michigan...brake lights!

"What the...?"  "Aww, you gotta be kidding me."

Brake lights, brake lights, and more brake lights, as far as the eye could see, nothing but brake lights.

Apparently those silky smooth roads don't just happen by accident; every so often road crews actually have to pave them, and that's exactly what they were doing at 5:15 pm, Friday evening, July 31st.

Ahead of me, roughly a mile or so, cars were trying to merge into the right lane as a series of steam rollers were flattening the freshly poured asphalt in the left lane. There wasn't even that much traffic, it just wasn't all!

"So much for batting practice." I announced to the car.

"Do you want to just scrap it?" My wife asked, hoping I might say yes.

"What do you guys want to do?" I asked the kids.

"Will we get there in time for the first pitch?" My 9-year-old son asked.

"Yeah, I think so," I said, "or at least I hope so."

After a few minutes of discussion in the stopped traffic, the kids decided the fireworks were too good to pass up and we continued on to Cleveland.

When we finally got to the construction site, it was like most construction sites - you know, the feeling of "how did something this small slow down traffic that much?" A true anomaly that scientists certainly should devote some time to study. Nonetheless, as small and insignificant as it appeared, the three steam rollers gliding up and down a 300-yard stretch of the left lane on westbound Route 2 had thwarted our progress mightily. Now the first-pitch arrival I'd hoped for earlier, seemed like a pipe dream (but I wasn't about to let the kids in on that little fact).

Our arrival in downtown Cleveland, nearly an hour and a half after departure, was greeted with even more construction near the Progressive Field exit. 

"Geez, what's next, a sellout crowd?" I said under my breath before nearly putting the minivan up on two wheels while pulling off a nifty lane change at a high rate of speed trying to get to the game on time.

"Settle down you idiot!" My wife yelled as she tried extracting her fingers from their new home, deeply embedded in the dashboard.

"What? You wanna get to the game on time, don't you?" I said, somewhat sardonically. 

"You're a moron. You're gonna get us all killed." She shot back.

"Would you two stop fighting." My oldest daughter requested from the backseat.

I looked at my wife. She didn't look pleased. 

Ten minutes and four more risky lane changes later, we were pulling into a parking garage next to the gigantic LeBron James banner that graces the side of a downtown Cleveland skyscraper.  

The "Jesus of Cleveland,"  as I call him, James' bigger than life presence can be found everywhere in town - bars, buildings, jerseys - you name it, he's on it. Now our car was parked beneath his protective gaze on Ontario Street. What could possibly go wrong?

"Man, there sure are a lot of folks downtown tonight." I told my wife. "There must be something big going on by the lake or something."

"You are an idiot." My wife said. "They're all going to the game and we probably won't be able to get tickets."

"That's impossible." I said, sounding a little like the Grinch when he realized the Hoo's were still having Christmas despite all his devilish plans.

"They traded Victor." I said. "They traded Lee." They traded Francisco and Garko, what's left to see?"

Still, it was true. The hoards of people pouring out of the parking garage all were heading in the same direction, and that direction was the ball park up the street.

"Grab someone's hand." I yelled to my wife behind me. "Time to go into overdrive."

Not to brag, but years of slithering through 100,000 plus people at Michigan Stadium on deadline, have made me somewhat of an expert at maneuvering quickly through a massive throng of slow-moving Neanderthals. 

Like a snake, my son and I wove our way in and out of the crowd. Darting left, slashing right; every move a quick burst of accelerated smoothness followed by a brief stretch of contemplating our next move. Every now and then I'd glance behind me to see if my wife and daughters were still in the same zip code. Surprisingly, they were always right on my heels. Once they even passed us on a different path; shooting back defiant glare as if to say "the game is on, catch us if you can."

Now it was a battle of the sexes. My wife and girls pulling out all the stops as I dragged my son behind me like a kite tail through the crowd. We both were headed for the ticket office, so keeping each other in sight was of little concern, it was just a matter of simple competition - me against the wife; the boys against the girls. Who would get there first? Pride was on the line, and, as it turns out, it was a pretty long line. But not nearly as long as the line at the ticket window, which somehow my wife and I managed to arrive at the very same time.

The sound of the National Anthem could be heard drifting through the air.

"Dad, the game is starting!" My son exclaimed.

"Don't worry bud," I reassured him,  "we may miss a batter or two, but that's okay."

My biggest worry now was actually getting tickets. For whatever reason, this particular Friday night in Cleveland seemed to be the one night that everyone in northern Ohio decided to be spontaneous and go to a ball game. 

"We need five together." I told the ticket attendant. "Whaddaya got?"

"Well sir, sections 518 through 525 all a have seats available, would you like those?"

"Where are they?" I asked.

"Upper deck, right field." She answered.

"How much?" 

"Eighteen dollars a ticket."

"We'll take 'em." 

"Okay sir, that will $90."

I took the tickets and turned tail ready to sprint to the gates when the attendant called out to me.

"Sir, don't forget these." She said.

"What's this?" I asked.

"Well, these are tissues in case you get a nose bleed and this is an oxygen mask in case you start feeling dizzy."

Okay, so maybe I'm exaggerating, but when we started the ascent to our seats in section 525 at Progressive Field, I swear the temperature dipped 10 degrees and I began to hallucinate.

The worse news for both of us, however, was the glaring sunshine in our faces and the constant stream of seat-seekers stopping in our aisle mid-climb to catch their breath, thus blocking our view of pretty much everything except their gigantic heads dripping with perspiration, no doubt from the exertion required to climb to their seats roughly 4,000 feet above sea level.

Two innings was all I could muster.

"I didn't pay 90 bucks to look at people's heads." I told my wife. "You can stay here if you want, but the kids and I are moving over there." I said, pointing to a section just behind the foul pole in right field that was completely open.

"Fine!" She grumbled, "have it your way, I didn't want to come in the first place."

Her guilt trip didn't work. I'd already been on too many in our 13-years of marriage to really be bothered. Besides, I knew she would thank me in the end.

As luck would have it, the end wouldn't come for a long, long, long time. The pitching duel we expected turned out to be a grueling walk-fest featuring more than 200 pitches between the starting pitchers before the 5th inning.

The score was close, Cleveland somehow leading 3-2 heading into the later innings, but the action was non-existant. My wife and I both agreed it may have been the most boring one-run game in the history of baseball.

Several times we talk about bailing. The kids already saw fireworks on the Fourth of July anyhow, what was the big deal? But every time we got up to leave, we told ourselves to give it one more inning. Of course, one more inning led to one more inning which led to one more inning and the next thing we knew it was nearly the end of the game.

More than four hours had elapsed by the time the Tribe took the field to try and finish off the Tigers, leading 5-3 in the ninth. Unfortunately, the Tigers had other plans. A lead off single by Placido Polanco was followed by a two-run homer from Carlos Guillen and the game was tied.

By this time we were staying no matter what. With midnight creeping closer, my middle daughter and my son decided to get into the spirit of the occasion by leaving the rest of the family and heading to the top row of the upper deck where they began maniacally dancing like they'd just raided a meth lab.

It was embarrassing really, but pretty funny too. Their intent was two-fold, my son told me later. "We wanted to get on the the big video screen." he said, adding it was also the only way he could stay awake.

Shortly after midnight, more than five hours after the first pitch I had so frantically tried to witness, the Indians and Tigers clash that started on the last day of July, mercifully ended in the early morning on the first day of August.

The Tribe's Jamey Carroll singled home the game-winner in the 13th inning, and somehow, the talentless-Indians squeezed out a 6-5 win over the first-place Tigers.

All that was left now was the fireworks display we expected three hours earlier. When it did come, we weren't disappointed. Even members of the Indians and the Tigers came out of their dugouts to watch. I don't know what it is that makes people want to watch colorful explosions in the sky, but whatever it is, it seems to be universal and ageless, as even million-dollar ballplayers can attest.

When the last burst of the grand finale had finished lighting up the Cleveland sky, leaving behind only a thick haze of sulfury smoke, we headed for the parking garage underneath the giant LeBron James in the sky. 

It was nearly one in the morning and we were still an hour from home. Before we'd left the parking structure, all three of my kids were fast asleep and my wife was clinging to consciousness - basically useless in my quest to remain among the living.

The drive home was a doozy. I tried everything in my power to stay awake. First I listened to the post-game show on the radio. That worked for a while, but they went off the air at 1:30. After that, I thought drinking a ton of Pepsi might do the trick, but the bottle of Pepsi I started drinking on the way to the game was flat and warm. I tried slapping myself in the face, but that was just plain stupid. I was just as likely to put the van in the ditch by knocking off my glasses as I was from falling asleep. My last-ditch effort to stay awake involved the alternate eye-closure technique where I would drive with one eye open while closing the other for 10 or 15 seconds to give it a rest. The danger, of course, is that both eyes go closed for 10 or 15 seconds and you jerk awake just in time to avoid a fiery crash.

Somehow, someway, I managed to get everyone home in one piece, although I don't remember much of the last 20 miles. It was just after 2 am eastern time when I finally pulled in the driveway at my folk's house. One by one, I carried my dead-weight sleeping children upstairs to their beds. My wife thanked me for our safe passage, even going so far as telling me she got a good half-hour nap.

"No problem," I said, "I'm pretty sure I did too."

The longest night was finally over - a mere 9 hours, 22 minutes and 45 seconds after it began...