Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Nationals. A Curious Mix Of Pleasantry, Damp and Highway Robbery.

I hope the Washington Nationals enjoyed my first visit to their ballpark, because there likely won't be another. The ballpark was nice, the people were even nicer, for the most part, but I don't think I'll be in any hurry to gamble on whether or not I get to see a game for my money in the future.

Bluntly put, my interest in Major League baseball as a sport could be ranked as "microscopic" or perhaps "somewhere around non-existent, possibly stretching into actual repulsion". Baseball is about as exciting to me on television as watching paint dry, and accidentally catching some Sports Center highlights once a year or so is enough for me. (Lest you think I'm simply not a sports fan at all , let me point out how I have made sure my last two new cars have been University of Kentucky blue, because... CATS. I'll micro-analyze college basketball all day long with you. I even entertain some college football fandom when I feel like it. And the NBA finally has enough former UK players that it's worth watching if only for the nostalgia factor. I own multiple pairs of UK-themed Nike Tempo Shorts, for crying out loud.)

The lone exception is getting to see a game in person. I'll happily go out to a ballpark for a minor or major league game when the opportunity presents itself, because then it at least ranks as an experience. Give me some overpriced concession nachos and hot dogs, maybe some Dippin' Dots, and I'm content to watch some baseball with people who could actually call themselves baseball fans with a straight face even though I will watch C-SPAN over baseball on television. On a recent conference trip to the D.C. area, I was one of a group of four who tried to take in a Nats game. Since one of the guys is actually a rabid baseball fan and there was a possibility of rain, he talked the rest of us into springing for decent seats under cover. (Spoiler: We should have bought the $12 cheap seats. We would have seen exactly the same amount of baseball, but felt a whole lot less screwed over.) We arrived plenty early, took in some of the stadium and a tiny bit of batting practice as the actual fan took some photos. The employees were without fail friendly and chatty, even while being oddly territorial about where you could and could not go with your ticket. (To be clear, I get why, say, private club areas are restricted. But is there really that much chaos and anarchy unleashed by someone with a $12 ticket going up to the enclosed but still public area near the $64 First Base Club seats to pay three times what a Philly cheesesteak and bottle of water costs anywhere else?)

Long story shorter, it opened up and poured before the game ever started. Wind blew. There was lightning. Instead of passing the stadium by, it intensified. We saw one poor guy lose both his beer and his cell phone in a spill on the slick deck between concession stands. They called the game not terribly long after it was originally slated to begin and announced the park was closing in about 20 minutes. Great. So what does a person who is from another state do when the chances of you being around for another game are nil? Cue scavenger hunt for answers.

We get sent to Guest Services. Guest Services has no clue what the policy is and sends people to the ticket windows. The ticket windows outside in the rain. And the occasional lightning. And here's where the conflicting stories start up. Some of the employees milling around claimed you could only trade the tickets in for another game and either use them or Stubhub them. Some claimed you could mail your tickets in with a copy of your ID for a refund. Some ticket window agents were actually taking time to write said address down and hand it to ticket holders. Self-proclaimed box office manager comes along and angrily contradicts the story about mailing your tickets in. (Well, lady, not to tell you how to do your job, but maybe clue your employees in to that fact, then?) Some of the more annoyed out of towners are threatening to dispute the charge with their credit card company.

By now, I'm pointing out that if only the ballpark had some revolutionary technology to inform guests of their options in the event of  a rain cancellation, one that displayed it visibly, perhaps, one that could be reused in the event this happens again... Oh wait! We have that! It's called signs!

In all seriousness, Nationals... have you considered the power of the written word? You have expensive technology out the wazoo in that park. You have ads that turn into mirrors when you approach them in your freaking fan shop. You could have cut the annoyance, frustration and occasional anger of fans waiting in the ticket window line to at least half with three stand up sandwich boards and a marker. Also, maybe settle on a single, consistent policy?

In the event a regulation game as defined by Major League Baseball is not played due to weather, Act of God, or any other reason, then guests should retain their tickets until rescheduling information and ticketing policies for that game are announced. Tickets for the originally scheduled game may serve as rain checks and/or provide admission to the rescheduled game. Ticket holders are advised to check the Washington Nationals website at, local newspapers, or Nationals media affiliates for rescheduling information and ticketing policies. Policies vary based on the situation.

This paragraph from your website might as well read "We are making it up as we please. And not informing the employees. Out of towners, you're probably hosed. Maybe not. But probably. Check the website, which doesn't have any information, or the local newspapers you don't subscribe to for information on just how hosed." Eventually, the actual fan used his ticket on another game the same week and took care of exchanging the rest of the tickets for the July 6 game against the Cubs. We've put the three of them on Stubhub since we're, you know, not flying back to D.C. for a ballgame. So, basically, we may have paid $64 for a self-guided stadium tour, 2 minutes of batting practice, some chatting with employees, the opportunity to buy the $1 Good Humor ice cream bars (which were melted), and 30 minutes of conflicting stories about what to do with unused tickets. And a thrilling thunderstorm, I suppose.

Oh, and to add semi-amusing insult to injury, MLB takes another $1.50 per ticket for the privilege of trying to recoup part of your investment by selling them on Stubhub.

Guess I'll go with the $12 ticket from now on. It's almost cheaper than the cheesesteak and seems more disposable in the event of a rainout.

Or maybe I'll stick to watching A League Of Their Own.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Billy Ray, how the worm turns...

You know, some time back during the First Great Miley Cyrus Is Ruining Civilization flapdoodle, I stumbled across a slightly heartbreaking interview with Billy Ray Cyrus. Maybe Chris Heath just penned the most undeservedly sympathetic article ever and should be awarded the Pulitzer, or maybe it was partly because Billy Ray's a fellow Kentuckian who seemed genuinely grateful and even humble about his fame, plus he never took himself that seriously. He did not pretend to be an ar-teeste. I think I also realized after reading an insider's perspective on why child stars so often go off the rails that having a child with any measure of fame must be a parent's worst nightmare, because your child has become a moneymaking commodity for a heartless industry that will not hesitate to discard them like so much trash once they no longer turn a profit.

But now he's capitalizing on the Second Great Miley Cyrus Is Ruining Civilization[1] flapdoodle by appearing  in an entirely cringeworthy video [2] featuring a remake of Achy Breaky Heart. Sort of. Kind of a reboot/sequel/remix thing. It's mostly inoffensive as a musical endeavor, no worse than most music, anyway, but the video is a whole other level of offensive that includes a shoutout to Miley's twerking and features a large number of women dressed in, essentially, tiny strips of electrical tape. There's Billy Ray happily appearing in a video where a fellow performer proudly proclaims "Miley keeps twerking, Daddy’s song is working". I may have gagged at this point. I almost missed Billy Ray shouting, "Wrecking Ball!”

I think they'll have to invent a new level of infernal torment for the parent who can give the impression that he's worried about the people exploiting his teenage daughter then turn right around and exploit her name for the sake of his own career.

[1] - Or, I dunno, one of them. I'm losing count.

[2]- I take no responsibility for the fact that you cannot unsee this. Watch at your own risk. Maybe have bucket handy if you read that interview with that sensitive, caring dad character who admitted he hadn't been the world's best disciplinarian but worried about the welfare of his little girl. And some people claim Billy Ray can't act...


Ew. Nasty.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Miranda Recap: Season 1 Episode 1 Date

For what seems like eons, I've been hoping to catch the rather brilliant-sounding Britcom Miranda, starring Miranda Hart. After making the "Merry Christmas to MEEEEEEE" discovery that the entire run of The I.T. Crowd is now on Hulu and mainlining that series in about a week's time, I made the "Happy New Year!" discovery that Miranda's first two seasons are also available. 

Spoilers ahoy, obviously.

From the very beginning, Miranda establishes itself as a little different from the run of the mill sitcom. Thankfully, British television is a little more willing to break the "safe and easy" mold than American television. There's a bit of a "breaking the fourth wall" heart to heart with the audience and Miranda's character, conveniently also named Miranda, is the owner of a joke shop, purchased with her inheritance. There's also the firm establishment of three themes that will apparently run through the show. Miranda's long running romantic interest in Gary Preston, a wonderfully goofy/punny/naughty in a middle school sort of sense of humor and Miranda Hart's willingness to go for physical humor with charming abandon. In a flashback to a previous meeting with the aforementioned Gary, she accidentally shimmies out of her skirt while dancing with him.  Amy Poehler's been quoted as saying "There's power in looking silly and not caring that you do." Miranda Hart is willing to be silly on camera, and it's awesome because she owns it and because her character is just so darned happy most of the time, not "lonely, sad single girl". You can understand, as a viewer, why people would be attracted to her. You, as a viewer, want to root for her.

A great deal of humor is wrung out of several comedy standards, but somehow, it doesn't feel tired. Miranda has a dainty, much more petite best friend, Stevie, a snooty mother, played by Patricia Hodge, who sounds desperate to pair her off, and a tendency to lose all perspective on acceptable behavior when she's socially uncomfortable. As an example, she nervously tells her crush, Gary, that she's married and has two children, then blithely kills them off when she realizes he's still single. The 6'1" Hart wrings a lot of jokes out of being mistaken for a "sir", humiliatingly named specialty size clothing shops, accidentally wandering into a store that caters to transvestites, being nicknamed "Queen Kong" in school, and being unwillingly roped into trying on wedding dresses for two giggly, girly, recently engaged schoolmates. 

The thing that prevents it from feeling tired and rehashed is the refreshing number of molds it shatters along the way. Miranda's wonderfully at ease with who she is most of the time. Yes, she sometimes panics socially, but she's also obviously an intelligent character, if somewhat clumsy and goofy and excitable. She's not desperate to pair off with someone, anyone, nor desperate to have a baby, though, which are the usual Hollywood comedy staples. The best thing of all?

Gary, played by Tom Ellis, is a very attractive man. His Gary is well-traveled, a chef, polite, seemingly an intelligent and nice guy. He's not a rude jerk, not a greasy playboy, not a character that would cause you, the viewer to think, "Seriously? If he didn't look like that, would you have any interest in him?" at all. He, in fact, shows the first signs of interest in Miranda, asking her over to dinner at the restaurant where he works, which is handily situated next door. Of course, this being 1) a comedy and 2) the first episode, things don't go quite as smoothly as they seem to be when Gary heads up to Miranda's flat after the meal. I won't ruin the surprise totally, but let's just say Gary would probably not be alone in hurrying off before Miranda has a chance to explain why the apartment is full of some unusual items. Again, it's a nice change that he apologizes for doing so the next day. 

The first episode wraps up with Miranda on that wedding dress shopping trip. The giggly former schoolgirls talk her into trying one on, which she pronounces a "chiffon-based anaphylactic shock". Of course, Gary AND her mother happen by the shop window within moments of each other, leading the usual hilarious misunderstanding, with her mum fainting from pure joy and Gary being chased down the street by Miranda, in wedding dress and canvas sneakers, desperate to explain she's not desperate. 

Let's just say I'm also looking forward to the other eleven episodes currently on Hulu.