Monday, June 29, 2020

Travel in the Pandemic

With New York City having flattened the curve and much of the northeast beginning to re-open, I decided to take a brief trip to Washington before flying returns to some semblance of normality. Of course, there were no sports to attend on this road trip, but it was quite interesting nonetheless.

I flew out of LaGuardia's Terminal D, which was closed landside. I was still able to get inside and take a photo of the deserted security area (above). I then had to walk over to Terminal C using the outside pathway, go through security (there was nobody in line) and then return to Terminal D through the indoor pathway. Ten minutes to travel ten feet. My flight was the only one using Terminal D at that time, which allowed for more post-apocalyptic pictures.

Nothing says pandemic like 50% off yogurt. 

The flight down to DCA was only 37 minutes long. I did grab a shot of MetLife Stadium just before we entered the clouds. The Meadowlands Arena (formerly Brendan Byrne Arena, where I saw the 1995 Stanley Cup won by the Devils) is visible in the sun near the top left.

After arriving in Washington, I went to Abingdon Plantation, a historical site with the remains of a house from the 18th century. The site was owned by the Alexander family, for whom the nearby town of Alexandria is named, and it passed through some other famous clans before burning down in 1930. 

What is interesting is that the site is entirely on airport property and easily reached by following the signs in the terminal. A number of historical markers can be found along the path that takes you to the top of the knoll. Though the actual structures are rather limited, it is worth a few minutes of your time to check this out. As the word "plantation" has come under scrutiny recently, this may be renamed in the near future.

You can walk from the airport to Crystal City (or even Washington) using the Mount Vernon Trail. It was about 20 minutes to my hotel and a safer option than using the free shuttle. After dropping my bag in my room, I spent some time wandering around Crystal City, and saw most people wearing masks. I picked up a very tasty pie at Extreme Pizza and was surprised that they were allowing a couple to dine inside. We all have a different risk tolerance; for many, flying during the pandemic is too dangerous. I am going to avoid the inside of restaurants and bars because you cannot eat and drink with a mask on, but otherwise I plan to start living as before, which includes travel like this. We can't spend our lives inside waiting for a vaccine that may not arrive for a year or longer. The majority of cases are transmitted indoors, in venues with limited air circulation, where people are not wearing masks. Bars, restaurants, churches, casinos, subway cars, etc. Avoid those places and when you are inside elsewhere, wear a mask. This is not living in fear, it is recognizing that there is a virus and if you have it, a mask helps you from spreading it to others.

In addition to the coronavirus, another story has taken the country by storm, namely the killing of George Floyd and the resultant Black Lives Matter protests. Washington is one of the cities that had seen rioting recently, and a BLM Plaza was set up to allow for peaceful protests. Located on 16th Street NW between K and H Streets, the words "BLACK LIVES MATTER" are painted in large letters along the pavement, along with a more recent addition of "DEFUND THE POLICE". The plaza, already visible on Google Maps, ends at Lafayette Square, just north of the White House.  A fence that prevents access to the square is filled with signs and banners, including some that appear to be roadwork indicators from a distance but actually contain pithy platitudes (below, you can see the White House in the distance behind the statue of Lafayette). Protestors have added many of their own signs and there are dozens of people congregating there throughout the day, some protesting, others just taking it all in. The plaza itself is a collection of vendors, most selling t-shirts. Police are everywhere but on this day, there was no trouble. The underlying issue is far too complex to discuss in this blog, but I will say that I find it ironic that those who are so against wearing a literal mask to protect others are quite happy to don a figurative mask to protect themselves.

As I walked around Washington, I was surprised at the number of storefronts that had been boarded up. I knew the riots there had been bad, but they seemed to be spread out farther than I expected. Perhaps these were businesses that were just taking precautions. The riots were only two weeks ago, and the number of police around indicated that things had yet to return to normal. I found a Potbelly sandwich shop that was open and actually allowing people to eat inside. No thanks. I ate lunch at McPherson Square (below), a square block of paths and grass highlighted by an equestrian statue of James B. McPherson. Presumably, as he was a Union general, this statue will remain in place. Still, there were at least 20 cops enjoying a break in the park.

With lunch done, I began walking toward Jefferson Memorial, the only major monument I had yet to visit. Along the way, I passed the National Museum of African American History and Culture (below), the newest addition to the Smithsonian Institution, having opened in 2016, less than two months before the election.

It took about 30 minutes to cover the two miles to the Jefferson Memorial, which is currently under renovation.

The interior reminds me of the Pantheon in Rome, not surprising as architect John Russell Pope referenced the Pantheon while designing the memorial. The statue is 19 feet tall, and several of Jefferson's more famous quotations are inscribed on the surrounding walls. As Jefferson was a slave owner, his name is under consideration for cancellation by the left. I'm not an American, and don't have any horse in this race, but you cannot change history, only learn from it. Trying to make the past conform to the standards of the present serves no purpose other than to increase ignorance, the very quality that should be eliminated. Add new interpretative markers that allow young people to understand that the world in the past was quite different than the world today. Confederate monuments are a different story - losers who fought in the name of slavery (yes, the issue was ostensibly states' rights, but the right they cared about was the allowance of slavery) should not be celebrated. Imagine if Germany had monuments to Hitler, Göring, and Goebbels; Japan's Yasukuni Shrine is equally offensive to many countries in Asia. The South needs to understand that their history includes a very long, very ugly period that deserves no celebration whatsoever. 

This post is already the most political I have written, and I apologize to my hypersensitive readers, who only want sports content. But there are no sports to write about, so I shall continue. A few minutes sauntering around the tidal basin, which was seemingly at high tide (below), led me to the FDR Memorial, which is spread out over 7.5 acres and includes several sculptures that highlight the various accomplishments during his presidency.

I found the quote below, accompanied by a sculpture of a bread line from the Great Depression (below), to be the most fitting in this time. With 40 million unemployed, the stock market continues to rise. The Fed is clearly helping to increase the income gap by propping up the market. The poor lack the resources to invest and will simply be poorer, relatively speaking, as those that have enjoyed their capital gains prosper. The full economic effects of the pandemic are still months or years away from being fully felt, but it is interesting that 90 years after Black Friday, we have not progressed at all.

As I continued to stroll along the shore of the tidal basin, I noticed the Washington Monument in the distance, reflecting on the water. 

With several hours before my flight home, I had time to walk back to the airport along the Mount Vernon Trail. From the FDR Memorial, it was about an hour. As I walked toward the 14th Street Bridge I saw the George Mason Memorial. For me, George Mason is a school in Fairfax at which I have yet to see a basketball game, but as it turns out, the school is named after the Forgotten Founder. Update: I saw a game at George Mason in 2022.

Mason refused to sign the Constitution, as it did not abolish the slave trade among other reasons. Mason owned many slaves (second in Fairfax County to George Washington) so he was not entirely against the concept, which leads to some difficulty in understanding his thinking. He did write the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which was the basis for the Bill of Rights. It is interesting that such a relatively minor figure can engender such a diversity of views. Whatever the case, his memorial is rather unpopular; I was the only visitor for the 15 minutes that I was there.

With my flight time approaching, I made my way across the 14th Street Bridge (above), which has a pedestrian/biking path right next to I-395. This is the bridge that was struck by Air Florida Flight 90 back in 1982; in fact, one span is named after Arland D. Williams, a passenger on that flight who saved others before disappearing in the freezing water. After crossing the bridge, it is another 45 minutes to the airport. It would normally be a relaxing walk, but having been mostly homebound for the past three months, it was rather taxing in the heat and humidity. I was surprised to pass a large group of people sitting at Gravelly Point, just below the approach path to runway 19. I had not known that such a plane-spotting place existed in the DC area and was heartened to see so many outside, respecting social distancing rules and still having fun.

Between that time and my flight, the wind shifted so that planes were now landing from the south, meaning that they would be taking off to the north. If you wanted a view of the city, you needed to be sitting on the right side of the aircraft. The flight was less than 50% full, so I had no problem switching my seat. Within seconds of takeoff, we were above the Jefferson Memorial (above). I am fascinated by seeing places from the air, particularly when I had been there just a few hours before.

I also grabbed a good shot of the National Mall, with the Washington Monument in the foreground and the Capitol in the background. The entire collection of Smithsonian museums is visible. Just think about all the art and memorabilia hidden in this single picture.

For those looking for some sports content, the picture above contains two sports venues. Capital One Arena is right in the middle, while RFK Stadium is in the top right corner. Both the White House (bottom center) and the Capitol (middle right) are visible here as well. As much as I enjoy sports, it is safe to say that the latter edifices are more important this year. Get out and vote!



Thursday, June 18, 2020

Baseball Road Trip Possibilities

Last Monday, professional baseball was played in the United States. Certainly it wasn't MLB, who are still shooting themselves in the foot, nor was it the minor leagues, which cannot start play without an agreement covering the majors first. Instead, it was the Northwoods League, a collegiate wood bat circuit that usually sees 22 teams doing battle over a 72-game season. This year, of course, is different. The league will play in three regions: North Dakota (three teams playing at Bismarck Municipal Ballpark); Wisconsin/Illinois (six teams each playing at their home ballpark, with others joining later if possible); and Michigan (six teams sharing three stadiums). Update: another region will include five teams in Iowa and Minnesota, while Kenosha will see a series of games between two teams.

Obviously, the WI/IL region is the best for a road trip, and there is even another team that will be playing in the Dairy State starting July 1. The Milwaukee Milkmen are one of six clubs in the independent American Association that will see action this summer. That league is divided into three hubs, each of which will host two squads: Milwaukee and Chicago will be based at Milkmen Stadium in Franklin, just west of MKE airport; Fargo-Moorhead and Winnipeg will use Newman Outdoor Field on the campus of North Dakota State University in Fargo, while Sioux Falls and St. Paul will call Sioux Falls Stadium home. Each team will play 30 home games and 12 road games at their hub ballpark, with the other 18 tilts coming at one of the other two hubs.

With games nearly every day, it is quite easy to plan a week-long trip to see every park in Wisconsin, plus Rockford. I'd love to do it just to get away after three months in my apartment, but trips of that length are no longer possible for me, with or without a pandemic. And who knows if you can even get tickets, with capacity limited every night. The first four games in Bismarck sold out, with just 500 lucky fans allowed in each night, just over 25% of its usual capacity.

Still, all is not lost for my baseball road tripping options. I am hoping to take a family trip to the Upper Plains starting in late July, and if that happens, I will stop at Fargo and Sioux Falls to add those two states to my baseball list (leaving just Wyoming and Alaska as ones where I have not see America's pastime). Things are still in the planning stages and will depend on how those states deal with the coronavirus, but it looks pretty good right now. Update: The Expedition League began play on June 25 and has 3 teams in the Dakotas, so I hope to add those to my list. Update 2: I did not take this trip, but did go to Martinsville, Chicago, and Milwaukee.

For those living elsewhere, there are other baseball leagues are set to start in the next few days. The Texas Collegiate League, another wood bat association, will have ten teams, including five that are being run by minor league franchises, including two at HODGETOWN in Amarillo. Also in Texas, the Sugar Land Skeeters are hosting four teams at Constellation Field. Meanwhile, the Coastal Plain League (also wood bat) is starting next week with three teams in Georgia and South Carolina playing each other, while eight other clubs based in North Carolina and Virginia will face off. Update: the list changes daily, so you might want to use Baseball Mapper's COVID Map to help plan your trip.

So there is plenty of baseball to be seen, just not at the level you might be used to. Each team will have their own COVID policies and those would need to be researched, particularly with respect to ticket availability. I would not expect any to be found at the box office on game day. With the way the mask debate has devolved into a political battle (the abject stupidity on display in this country is staggering), you can expect that most fans will not be wearing a face covering and probably giving you the evil eye if you happen to have one on. Personally, I think if you are outdoors and away from people, you don't have much to worry about. The vast majority of initial transmission comes from being inside for an extended period of time (restaurant, bar, church, gym, subway/bus, hospital/nursing home, etc.) where there is an infected person in your vicinity. Viral load matters, which is why masks, though not 100% effective, are helpful in reducing both the spread of particles from infected persons and the number of particles being inhaled by those who are still free of the virus. As always, do your own research and make your own decisions. Just try not to end up being an addition to the COVID page of shame.

I'll update this post if I find out more baseball leagues that are playing, and once I book my vacation to the Dakotas. Until then, stay safe everyone!



Friday, June 12, 2020

A New Kind of Sports Road Trip

When the sports world shut down in early March, I hoped that things would improve by June and allow me to attend the Rickwood Classic in Birmingham, Alabama. That obviously did not happen. But as June began, two relatively major events decided to allow a limited number of fans. As both are somewhat close to each other and taking place at the same time, I couldn't help but plan a new sort of sports road trip, one that requires a lot more thought about how to stay safe.

The first event is the PGA's Memorial Tournament that will be held July 16-19 at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, OH, a suburb of Columbus; the second is the entire World Team Tennis (WTT) schedule that will be played from July 12-August 2 at The Greenbrier, a resort in White Sulphur Springs, WV. Usually, these would not even hit my sports travel radar, but with nothing else out there and my planning skills worsening, I forged ahead and booked flights and hotels, all of which can be cancelled without penalty. Update: The Memorial reversed their decision and fans are no longer allowed. So this post is essentially meaningless.

Both events have COVID-19 policies that include masks and social distancing, though it remains to be seen how strictly they will be enforced. Both are also being held outside, though the tennis does have an indoor stadium available should inclement weather occur. I'm convinced that the majority of coronavirus transmission happens in confined spaces when people don't wear masks, so I am not too concerned with either event being an undue risk.

I initially booked a multi-city trip on American Airlines, with a flight to Columbus on Friday, July 17. After watching a few hours of the Memorial on Saturday, I would fly to Lynchburg, WV (via Charlotte), which is about two hours from White Sulphur Springs. I would drive to the WTT on Sunday and then return to Lynchburg and fly back LGA on Monday morning, again with a stopover in Charlotte.

Of course, in these times, flights change and American altered all five of my flights, making it a much less efficient trip. So I cancelled that reservation and used the credit to book a simple round trip to Columbus. Now, with the Memorial no longer accepting fans, I changed that to a trip to Greensboro. From there, I will rent a car and drive to Martinsville on Saturday, where I will see a Coastal Plains League game.  I will then continue north and watch a couple of tennis matches on Sunday, heading back to Greensboro for a Monday flight home. I hope these flights don't change too much.

The WTT released their schedule on June 11, and tickets went on sale on June 12. Each day sees three or four matches and there are two primary ticket options: upper bowl and lower bowl, with prices varying depending on the day of the week ($60/110 for the 19th). A lower bowl ticket includes a free drink from the bar, complimentary water and snacks, and the option to move to the indoor stadium should rain affect play, but I could not justify the extra $50 for that. (In an unrelated note, the chance of rain in White Sulphur Springs on July 19 just rose to 100%.) Tickets are limited to 500 per day, 25% of capacity. I bought my ticket just after midnight Friday and was proud to see that it was the first ticket purchased for Sunday's slate, though I am not sure if that was the first for the entire tournament. As part of the ticket purchase process, I had to acknowledge their COVID-19 policy by checking a box. Meanwhile, the Memorial does not sell single-day tickets, so I will have to use the secondary market to get in that day. Update: No, I won't.

Now I bide my time and hope that Ohio and West Virginia are not heavily populated by Covidiots who feel that wearing a mask is an affront to their freedom. I am watching the number of infections continue to tick up in some states that re-opened a while ago and all I can guess is that those contracting the coronavirus are visiting restaurants, bars, malls, casinos, churches, etc., without wearing a mask. Update: yes, that is the case, Ohio is one of the states seeing a surge in cases, so no surprise that the Memorial made their decision. The way things are going, sports in 2021 might not happen either.

You can argue that flying is risky, but from what I have read, as long as everyone is wearing a mask and you sanitize your seating area, airplanes are not significant transmission points. Hotels are also safe as long as you avoid the communal breakfast area in the morning. The alternative is to stay home until a vaccine is discovered, which could take years. So I will continue to learn about the disease and use that information to try to return to a normal life as much as possible, including a few sports road trips when fans are allowed back in. If that means wearing a mask while in the stands, so be it. As we have seen, there are far worse fates than covering one's face for a few hours in order to protect yourself and others. Sadly, it seems like many are going to make this the hill that they will literally die on.