Thursday, April 19, 2012

Recreational Obstructionism and Urban Recreational Opportunities

Just Say No. To Everything All The Time Always.
Let me start by saying that relentlessly happy and positive people drive me crazy. Those people who, regardless of circumstance or surroundings are painfully cheery to the point of giving the people around them diabetes. That sort of positivity is an act, and in my limited experience it is usually masking some serious darkness. Those are the people who end up going completely bananas and living alone in a room full of old newspapers.

Worse are the perpetually negative. Recreational obstructionists. The "no" for the sake of "no" crowd. These people aren't saying "no" to things for any deep-seeded reasons. They object because they think objection is the starting point of debate.

I think it's a personality disorder, but it might just as well be a learned behavior. Either way, it's crazy-making.

The Learning Factory has a strong contingent of recreational obstructionists. Most of them are very well-meaning and they think they are doing their academic duty by opposing anything new, but in a system that is already an incredibly complicated labyrinth of redundant bureaucratic systems, adding meaningless and recreational obstructionism to any process just means nothing gets done. Ever.

And yes, I just wrote "redundant bureaucratic systems." I'm aware of the implications.

Here is a completely fictional* example of how this goes down. Remember, this is pure fiction**.

Learning Factory Instructional Drone (LFID) sees a need for a new program and does the leg work and research to set up the foundations of said program. This LFID brings this simple proposal to his or her colleagues, makes a simple but thoughtful presentation meant simply to inform his or her colleagues that this is happening, and plans to move on and, when it gets to the stage of implementation, bring it to the proper group for approval. Remember, this presentation is merely informational, and perhaps an invitation for others to get involved if they are interested.

Level One Response: We tried this in the 70s, and it didn't work. Have you talked to the retired guy who lives in Palm Desert now about this? You should. He probably has some interesting things to say.

Level Two Response: This sounds an awful lot like a plan I was hoping to put together in my own department, and if you do it, then I can't. So I think you should have invited all of us in on this conversation.

Level Three Response: This seems inequitable. If you get to spearhead this new thing, doesn't that privilege you over the rest of us? We should all be equal in every way all the time.

Level Four Response: There are far better ways to spend our time/money than this. What about the _________ students/programs?

And the Level Five Response is a very complicated passive-aggressive campaign against whatever said initiative may be. It starts with a small alliance forming in opposition. Then the existing bureaucracy is used to slow down any progress on the initiative. Meetings are held. Committees are formed. Committees dissolve. Academic years end, putting initiative on hold for the summer. In the fall key members of the opposition are on leave, so no meetings are held.

Meanwhile, the grant money that was available to start the initiative is no longer available. And nothing changes. Opposition wins without ever actually having to articulate an actual objection. It's genius, really. And now you know why I seldom try to do anything new and interesting at The Learning Factory any more. Not that you were wondering.

It is amazing how resistant to change we are at The Learning Factory, but I didn't start thinking of this in terms of my place of employment. It all started when I got into an argument with someone about the proposed NBA/NHL arena in Seattle.

Seattle is famously obstructionist when it comes to public policy and infrastructure. For a liberal town, we sure are afraid of change and progress. The proposed NBA/NHL arena, in case you haven't been following it, is the investment idea of hedge-fund gatrillionaire Chris Hansen. It is a $490 million project that would build an 18,000 seat arena south of Safeco Field in the Sodo district. Hansen already owns all of the land and has proposed to build the arena without any public money (necessary because of a weirdly entrenched and now legislated attitude of Seattle voters, more on this in a minute).

His plan asks for the county to use their bonding authority to borrow $200 million for construction, all of which would be paid back through gate taxes, concessions, and the like at the new arena. With a few exceptions and concerns (traffic and access to the Port of Seattle seems to be a hangup, an issue Hansen has agreed to use his money to study), it is pretty well agreed that as stadium and arena plans go, it is a deal you just aren't going to get very often. It fits the anti-tax attitude of "pay to play," and it creates a few jobs where before there would be none.

But in Seattle, the answer from the public is no. Irrationally, uncontrollably, and defiantly NO!

No to the monorail system because it might not serve my neighborhood and sometimes they break down.

No to light rail because no one will ride it and we need more freeways.

No to new freeways because they cost too much to build.

No to a tunnel because I want a different option.

No to anything the government wants to do. Put it to a public vote!

Just no! To everything. It's bloody maddening. I understand transparent process and I understand the need for things to be vetted and discussed, but we in Seattle have a strange attachment to direct democracy that is just plain unhealthy. Why do elect anyone in the first place?

And why are we so bent on looking for reasons to say no to things? How different would life here be if we just flipped it over a little bit and looked for reasons to say yes to things? We can still debate the issues and we can still ultimately say no to things that deserve to be turned down. Maybe a little positivity in the public discourse? Shit.

Urban Recreation and Cocktails. Civilized.
Back many moons ago I used to windsurf. A lot. And I used to snow ski just as much in the winter as I sailed in the spring and summer.

One of the great joys of that lifestyle was the Wednesday night races. Around 6 pm at Magnussen Park and Alki Beach we would get together, race around some buoys, have a beer or two (let's say for today's purposes that I was 21 years old for this. I wasn't. But let's say I was) and then go home when it got dark. I remember it being very civilized and communal. Generally a nice way to spend an evening.

In the winter, we would drive up to Alpental to race around the gates under the lights, have a beer or two in the lodge (see above disclaimer about my age) and be home by 10. Again, very civilized and fun.

This week I had that feeling again at the  Ravenna Weeknight Run put on by Northwest Trail Runs. About 100 or so runners got together for a 6:45 start and a friendly "race" through the trails of Ravenna Park. There were prizes, there was food, there was a very well organized race, there was comedy, and there was community. And afterward, RPD and I grabbed a nice cocktail and appetizer at Franks Oyster House in Ravenna.

This weeknight series is a great idea, and I hope they continue it. Sure, the longer weekend races at more exotic locations are a bigger "sell" but being able to decide at the last minute to leave the office and drive 15 minutes to the park for a nice run and some community is a nice addition to the local running scene. There are running groups and there are training runs and all that, but a race event is just different.

For the record, I finished the 12k race in 1:01:05, just missing perfect 20 minute splits. Now I have a goal for the next race.

Coming Soon: I reflect on traveling to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Can't wait, can you?

*It's totally true.

**Not at all fiction. This totally happens all the time.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Pimento and Cheese

I Totally F-ing Went to the Masters!
While my DVR was recording the HD feed of The Masters last weekend, I was in Augusta, Georgia, eating pimento and cheese sandwiches and watching the best golfers in the world make their way around Augusta National Golf Club.

It's true. Here are my credentials. I have no other pictures, because just like women*, cameras are not allowed at Augusta National.
I'm not exactly what magic The Colleague pulled to make this one happen, but I can tell you I've never been so surprised to receive a gift in my life. The sequence went something like this:
  • I arrived home to an obviously golf-themed birthday party. Brain says: But I haven't played golf in 4 years. Maybe I'm taking it up again!
  • Guests unscrambled names of flowers and plants as a little party game. Brain says: It's spring!
  • I am asked to make sense of the list of these flower names. Brain says: There are 18 of them. And one of them is "Azalea." This clearly has to do with The Masters. But what the hell is going on?
  • I open a package from Premiere Sports Travel that includes an itinerary for the weekend rounds at Augusta National. Brain says: Error error error.
I know at least two of my two readers think golf is ridiculous to play, let alone watch. But this is Augusta National, and other than The Old Course at St. Andrews, there is no more storied golf course on the planet. And there is no tournament with more compelling stories and history than The Masters. I vividly remember watching as my golf hero, Fred Couples, landed his tee shot on #12 short of the green and staring amazed as his ball defied gravity and somehow didn't roll back into Rae's Creek.

So on day one, after running the gauntlet of Augusta National Security (no cell phones, no electronics, no cameras, no food, no water, no women*...) I walked straight to Amen Corner and sat on the grass, marveling at the fact that I was there. That feeling never wore off. 

Even if this year's tournament had been a bust on the course, it would have been worth it just to be on those grounds. It really was amazing. I will never eat a pimento and cheese sandwich again, but if I do, it will be because I had about 100 of them ($1 a piece) while I was there.

But the tournament was amazing. By nothing more than pure dumb luck, I saw 2 holes in one and a double eagle on the same day. Let me explain the double eagle for both of you. Hole #2 is a 575 yard par 5. I walked up to the ropes near the green just as Louis Oosthuizen was walking up to his first shot, perfectly placed in the middle of the fairway. I'd seen several groups come through here already and very few made much noise. #2 is not the hardest hole on the course, but in tournament play it gives up the fewest eagles of any of the par 5s on the course. 

So Oosthuizen hits his shot from about 255 yards away. Three and a half football fields. The guy next to me says, "Oh, he left it short." His kid says, "It looks pretty good!"

The best thing about this shot is that the ball landed in South Carolina before rolling slowly up and across the green. The crowd applauded a little. It kept rolling. The crowd murmered. It curved toward the hole. The crowd got up on their toes to watch. It kept rolling. Some asshole from 1995 yelled "Get in the hole!" forgetting that John Daly wasn't there. It kept rolling. I said to the guy next to me, "That damn thing is going in the-" It dropped into the hole "-cup."

And the place just went bananas. There is something special about a golf tournament roar. For starters, you can hear one from anywhere on the course. So every fan, sorry, patron, and every golfer on the course knew something amazing happened. And because the course is usually so subdued, it goes from silent to Sounder's home game loud in 3 seconds. As sporting moments go, it is one of the most emotionally overwhelming moments possible, right behing the fighter jet fly-over at the Rose Bowl, which even gets to the sports-resistant Colleague.

So, The Masters was incredible on every level. Augusta, GA? That's another story. What a hole that place is.

*If you were the female CEO of IBM, would you want to be a member of Augusta National? I think not.