Tuesday, December 27, 2005

albuquerque luminaria tour 2005

Here are a few snapshots taken while on walkabout with friends through Albuquerque’s old town and country club neighborhoods checking out the luminaria displays.

At the end is a photo of my favorite present from this Krismas. Can you guess now what it is before you see it?

I love this way kool Jack Skellington cookie jar!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

a little bit western

Admittedly, I’ve never been much of a “joiner.” However, I couldn’t resist when offered the opportunity to take photographs for a local radio station (92.3 KRST) during their attempt to create a gigantic Christmas card to send to troops unable to spend the holidays with friends and families in the states.

The energetic morning personalities that make up the extremely popular Get Up Gang could not have asked for a better day (in December anyway) to try to get 1,000 listeners to contribute a couple hours of their busy Saturday for the effort. Unfortunately, the turnout was less than ideal to do justice to their concept.

I urge you to check out Levi and Dawson’s blog to see a bunch of photos I took for them. Although I’m including a teaser photo showing the volunteers practicing creating the “card,” I’m not going to include the final photo here since it is available on their blog. Seriously, go check it out.

Another item that recently captured my attention is the city of Albuquerque’s plan to provide FREE books for people using the public transportation system. As you may be aware, the city’s Rapid Ride buses are equipped to provide wireless web access to commuters. That’s great, but the fact that riders on ALL city buses who don’t have laptop computers are not being overlooked is fantastic!

I find it interesting that the list of book donation locations available on the city website fails to include the most obvious solution for people wishing to donate a handful of books. That is, to simply carry some books onto a bus during a future commute, and leave them on the seat when you depart. Just think, the next time you spot a copy of Contract Archaeology: The Coloring Book on a city bus, you’ll know I’ve been on board.

Friday, December 23, 2005

final flock

It appears that filming of “The Flock” on our block has finally wrapped up. Roderick , one of the Production Assistants, informed me that they were indeed using a wolf in the film. In fact, they had three Canadian wolves at their disposal- I guess because even the best animal handlers are unable to predict in advance how a particular animal is going to react to a given situation. I found it odd that even animal roles in motion pictures are being outsourced these days. I guess no American wolves were interested in the part.

I watched over an hour of the production late last Friday night, including more conversation between Richard Gere and Claire Danes while they sat inside that crappy brown Buick I mentioned a few days before. I also got to see one of the wolves up close. That was insane! I found it really interesting to watch the handler rubbing the wolf’s tummy while it rolled around on it’s back on Walter Street. The PA also told me that in the movie, the wolf enters Danes’ house and begins licking her hand while she is sleeping. Supposedly, the “bad guy” is sending her a message to leave him alone. Not to fear though, as Gere shows up and saves her (assuming, of course, that he isn’t a werewolf in FBI agent’s clothing).

Okay, I don’t expect to be mentioning this film again until I learn when it is scheduled for release. Thank you for your patience!

Monday, December 19, 2005

every krismas tells a story don't it?

While doing some shopping last week, I couldn’t help but be entertained by a number of the people who crossed my path. The one that stands out above the rest though was this young lad who reminded me of Ralphie Parker (complete with glasses) from A Christmas Story. I probably would have mentioned him even if I hadn’t overheard him trying very hard to attract the attention of either his mother or grandmother- both of which were so busy looking for bargains that they were ignoring him completely.

This kid was literally hanging from a red sequin-covered women’s blouse exclaiming “This is what I want people… Dots!” I couldn’t believe that neither of the women would even toss him a courtesy, “You’ll put your eye out.”

The scene reminded me of when I was young and would drop subtle hints by leaving the JCPenny and Sears toy catalogs open on pages with awesome items on them (such as the Marx Fort Apache plastic cowboys and Indians set that came in this really swell metal case that also served as the fort). Everyone tells me that Christmas is for kids. Is it really? I’m not buying it for a second. Christmas is for merchants, the post office and greeting card companies. Are they children?

So what is it you want for Christmas? Anyone interested in FREE music? That’s right… completely free with no fees of any kind, and you don’t even have to give your email address to obtain the tunes. Bill McKirgan, one of my buddies from way back, is part of a midwestern band called Terrapin. They are currently giving away FREE mp3 files of a few of their original songs as well as covers of Grateful Dead and John Prine tunes. Check them out and ENJOY! If you work for a record label, I urge you to sign them to a contract in the near future.

Friday, December 16, 2005

crying wolf

In spite of the very small number of comments posted on the previous entry (one), that blog item has resulted in a flurry of emails. It seems that everyone either wants to read more about “The Flock,” or is hoping to see more photos of Richard Gere. Okay, a few emails have arrived asking what any of this has to do with baseball.

First, I want to clear up any misunderstandings about the photo I posted of Richard Gere. I did NOT take it. The son of the couple who are in the process of “flipping” the property next door did. The ONLY reason I even have the pic is because it was in need of some light and color adjustments, and I volunteered to do them using Photoshop. Since I had access to the photo, I decided to share it with my loyal readers.

I was talking to one of the Production Assistants (PA) Wednesday evening, and he indicated that the character that “lives” in the house is indeed played by Claire Danes. He had this cool iPod-type device that let him view the actual scene that was being filmed in real time while standing about outside. The part he let me watch was a close-up of Richard Gere’s hands as he scanned through a FBI book of crime scenes and body parts. It was pretty graphic. He also confirmed that the movie was originally supposed to be set in New Orleans, but the locus was shifted to Albuquerque because of the hurricane. Thus, people who go to the movie expecting to see Bourbon Street and shots of St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 will instead be treated to various shots of our downtown skyline and the beautiful Sandia Mountains.

This same PA indicated that “Welcome to America,” a Kevin Kline movie currently being filmed in Mexico, is scheduled to wrap in Albuquerque around the middle of January. He also stated that a John Travolta project is to be filmed in the Duke City in 2006.

Okay then, whoever out there in cyber land posted the comment about Narnia must be some sort of genius or mystic. Certainly your timing could not have been spookier. I first read the comment in the wee hours of Thursday morning after coming indoors to warm up after having stood around in the cold watching all the activity. Although the crew didn’t show up at the set until around 4:00 pm, they shot for 10 hours before calling it a day at 2:00 am. Now those are my kind of hours!

At any rate, I stood transfixed in the blackness of winter watching an animal trainer handle what had to be the largest damn dog I’ve ever seen. Quite possibly, it was even a wolf. It appeared that she would release the beast from the leash on cue, and it would charge into the house and do lord knows what. (They really should provide copies of the screenplays to people like me, don’t you think?) As this scene was repeated time and again, I finally noticed the full moon overhead. “Good grief,” I fretted to myself, “I wonder if this is some sort of werewolf flick.” Taking a large step backwards, I attempted to calculate how quickly this wolf-dog could cover the ground between us if it escaped from the handler. Determined to spare my kitties gazing out through the living room window any holiday nightmares, I took an additional medium-sized step back towards the front porch.

Later, I was emailing a writer friend about what I had witnessed, and he inquired whether I thought Mr. Gere was a shape shifter. To be sure, the wolf-dog’s fur was the same color as Richard’s hair, but I didn’t think this was the case. I did recheck the movie’s details at InternetMovieDatabase.com though, just to make sure that Tony Hillerman hadn’t been added to the writing credits. He hadn’t.

Another 25 hours have passed and they are still going at it. They spent the day Thursday using cranes to hoist additional lights and rigging into the surrounding Chinese Elm trees, and have been filming since dusk. It never ceases to amaze me how much footage goes unused while pulling together a motion picture.

They are supposed to finish up in our neighborhood tomorrow, so I can get back to thinking of excuses for not writing.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

no place else to go

Yet another entry about New Mexico's film industry. This time I’m not working as an extra, or even sitting around pretending like I’m waiting to be an extra. Instead, this time someone is shooting a movie across the street and three doors to the north of our house. In fact, they are shooting there right now.

This film is reportedly called “The Flock,” and stars Sir Richard Gere and Claire Danes. I won’t delve into the plot since I don’t know any more about it that you can find at Internet Movie Database.

Walter Street has been closed off since 9:00 am. My truck is the only one on the street that belongs to someone who lives in the neighborhood, resulting in an eerie feeling of being stuck in some combination of the Twilight Zone and the film Omega Man. I understand that everyone else on the block has complied with the requests of the production company to park in a church parking lot a few blocks to the east. I’m holding out for them to either sweeten the pot by offering me some cash to move my truck, or at least give me a ride in a limo. If nothing else, perhaps my old Ranger will make it into the movie.

The scene I’ve watched them shoot over and over and over and, well… over again today is this:

Richard Gere is standing out on the sidewalk next to a crappy brown car. Maybe it isn’t “crappy,” but it certainly is ugly. Anyhoo, once the director calls for action, this blonde-haired woman walks out of the house and down the sidewalk. The neighbors are telling me this actress is Claire Danes. I honestly have no idea who that is, so I looked her up online. After looking at her photos, I don’t think they are correct. Instead, I think she is KaDee Strickland. Nevertheless, this woman and Richard talk for a bit before he opens the car door for her and walks around to the driver’s side. They continue talking, and then she yells, “What, are you following me?” That leads to a bit more talking and eventually they climb into the car close the doors.

I shot a few photos from the front yard, but wasn’t able to get close enough to take anything worth sharing. However, our neighbor really wanted to meet Richard, so her son Jeff walked her over to the set and they actually got a decent photo with him before an angry Production Assistant ran them off.

Other rumors I’ve heard about this film include us not be “allowed” to have any outdoor lights on tonight, and that the movie is supposedly set in New Orleans.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

the boys of indian summer

Watching Juan Uribe hammering the nails into the Astros’ coffin with his magical glove work during the later portion of Game 4 of the 2005 World Series, I realized that another sweep was about to mark the premature beginning of winter in my corner of the world. I was going to have to get creative in order to squeeze a final few drops of baseball out of the season before the snow began to fly. But how, where, and WHEN? Cheating Old Man Winter was going to take a serious plan.

Perhaps a trip to the Dominican Republic was in order. Unfortunately not, but hopefully that will be the topic of a future post. Instead, I loaded up the Jeep and set out across the desert towards the Valley of the Sun. The plan that had been hatched was to try to catch the final days of the 2005 Arizona Fall League season.

Thursday, November 3

Although a flight to Phoenix from the Duke City only takes about an hour, it usually proves more adventurous to drive. Late autumn is a terrific time to bop along the Purple Heart Trail (Interstate 40) and take in the changing colors of leaves as trees prepare themselves for their annual hibernation against a backdrop of black lava flows and outcrops of red sandstone- all under a stunningly blue sky. Dilapidated structures dotting the remnants of the nearby alignment of historic Route 66 serve as stark reminders that there isn’t always a “next year.”

As always, I must recommend spending at least one night at the La Posada Hotel in Winslow, Arizona if you can manage the time during any leg of your travels through that area. After enjoying a couple of drinks and a fine meal in the Turquoise Room at the historic Harvey House, one could easily drift off to sleep while sitting in front of the large crackling fire in the ballroom and wondering about which big league ballplayers might have visited the grand hotel during its heyday. I, of course, opted to make a beeline back to the room in order to watch a fantastic fresh episode of Smallville.

Friday, November 4

Barreling down the Black Canyon Freeway (Interstate 17), the thought occurred to me that most people probably don’t have the slightest notion of what that the Arizona Fall League (AFL) is all about. Major League Baseball (MLB) created the AFL several years ago in order to have a place in the states where a goodly number of the better minor league prospects can play organized ball as an alternative to participating in winter baseball outside the US. The AFL includes six teams made up of the six best Double- and Triple-A players from each of the Major League teams, or a total of 180 players. Games are played at various Spring Training stadiums located throughout the Phoenix area over a six-week period beginning in early October. I tend to think of the AFL as an extended minor league All-Star tournament.

Intentionally skipping the Deer Valley Rock Art Center since I was relatively certain that they wouldn’t have any new petroglyphs to look at, my first stop was Surprise Stadium to catch an evening game between the Peoria Saguaros and the Surprise (formerly Scottsdale) Scorpions. The Saguaros include players from the Blue Jays, Nationals, Pirates, Red Sox and White Sox organizations. The Scorpions roster includes prospects sent by the Angels, Astros, Cardinals, Phillies and Royals.

Last time I was in Surprise, Arizona, the only sights were a lazy jackrabbit and a couple handfuls of Hohokam pottery strewn across the desert surface. I knew that a stadium had been constructed to lure the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals from their Spring Training facilities in Florida, but I had not been to a game there. Imagine if you can, my shock as I discovered that the surrounding area has been completely developed as the Phoenix metropolis stretches its dry tentacles "out Wickenburg way." Hotels, sports bars, restaurants, shopping centers, gas stations and housing had seemingly burst forth from the ground like wild flowers following a light spring rain. They all pale in comparison to the ballpark.

The AFL provides more game experience for managers, coaches, and even umpires hoping to advance to the majors. In fact, I recognized two dudes in blue (Angel Campos and Todd Tichenor) who had worked a number of Albuquerque Isotopes games during the summer. Other Pacific Coast League umpires I would see in action before the end of the trip included Shawn Rakos and Kevin Sweeney. Scouts and players’ family members make up the lion’s share of the AFL’s official attendance (reportedly 581 at this game). Actually, the only other people who show up in any sort of force are the seasoned autograph collectors. Major League Baseball does a miserable job of marketing the AFL to fans. Ironically, it is probably this lack of publicity that makes the AFL one of the best possible venues for fans. A $6 ticket allows you to sit virtually anywhere you want (except in the outfield berm areas), and provides close contact with the players.

I got a couple of dozen cards autographed by players (Brian Bass, Brendan Harris, Howie Kendrick, Corwin Malone, Brandon Moss, David Murphy, Neil Walker and Jered Weaver) before the game. I also chatted briefly with a few autograph collectors from Albuquerque before settling back in my seat to enjoy a leisurely game that ended dramatically with the Scorpions coming from behind to win 4-3 in the bottom of the 9th. I got Astros outfielder Josh Anderson to sign his cards soon after he scored the winning run by colliding with Blue Jays catcher Guillermo Quiroz and forcing him to drop the ball. Never mind that three of the game’s five errors were committed in the bottom of the 9th inning, it was still very exciting. I enjoy watching a play unfold, then listen as the manager and coaches explain to the players how they would be better off taking a different approach the next time they find themselves in a similar situation. Obviously, this is something you can’t do when you are in a ballpark with 10,000 fans and commercials are being played between innings.

Traffic after the game was much lighter than before, making the remainder of the drive into downtown Phoenix a breeze.

Saturday, November 5

This day proved to be a baseball extravaganza. First I visited Tempe Camera and rented a Nikkor 80-200 mm zoom lens for my Nikon D70. I found renting the lens at a rate comparable to the average cost of a box of Topps Total baseball cards per day preferable to purchasing one for around $1,400. From downtown Tempe it was off to the Peoria Sports Complex to watch the Mesa Solar Sox (Cubs, Giants, Indians, Reds and Tigers) take on the Peoria Javelinas (Brewers, Mariners, Orioles, Padres and Rockies).

Interestingly, the distance between the Peoria Sports Complex and Surprise Stadium is only about six miles. But considering that the straight line between the two facilities takes you directly through the pacemaker of Sun City, I wonder if walking it wouldn’t prove a wise decision.

I have been to a number of games at the Peoria Sports Complex before, including the inaugural 1994 Spring Training game featuring the San Diego Padres vs. the Seattle Mariners. The last time I was at that ballpark was when Garth Brooks was “playing” for the Padres in an exhibition that I am extremely thankful has finally begun to fade from my memory. They have a great facility in Peoria, with easy access off the Loop 101 freeway.

I played my trump card at Peoria- flashing my media credentials to gain access to the field before the game. The day was absolutely gorgeous, with temperatures reaching into the mid 80s. Perfect for baseball! A total of 539 fans apparently agreed. The Javelinas pounded the Solar Sox pitching staff, and held on to win by a final of 10-6. A couple of plays that were burned into my brain included a BOMB launched by Brewers infielder Corey Hart in the bottom of the 5th. I suspect some kid playing in his yard in Flagstaff likely ended up with that souvenir. I also enjoyed the hustle displayed by Mariners outfielder Gary Harris with two outs that same inning as he stretched a solid double into an impressive triple. Harris went on to score on Alcides Escobar’s infield single that followed a lengthy conference on the mound. If there’s one talent the AFL showcases above all others, it's hustle! Maybe that’s due to the presence of all the scouts, or perhaps the players simply want to finish the game and take off in search of trouble. I have difficulty finding the words to describe how exciting it is to be in a dugout when a team is in the process of scoring five runs in an inning.

The only downside to using media credentials is not being allowed to ask players for autographs. I suppose I could have hung around the stadium after the game, but time was running short, and there were tasks to complete before it was time to head over to Phoenix Municipal Stadium for the showdown between the Peoria Saguaros and the Phoenix Desert Dogs (As, Braves, Devil Rays, Diamondbacks and Dodgers). As it turned out, I had plenty of time to travel back to a buddy’s house and download my photos, clear my 1 GB CompactFlash card and enjoy a frosty beverage.

Phoenix Muni is unquestionably the “best” ballpark within the current AFL configuration. Access to players is considerably more challenging, but I find the overall atmosphere to be more conducive for watching a ballgame at this park. Possibly it is because Phoenix Muni offers the best beer prices in the entire AFL. I’m not sure why they weren’t playing any games at Scottsdale Stadium, although I did hear rumors that they are in the middle of some major remodeling, and might be using that facility again in 2006.

Phoenix Muni was relatively packed (with the official attendance at 1,016). I honestly have no idea why so many people were on hand for that game. Possibly many attended to watch Diamondbacks super fan Susan Price in action. Price is definitely one of the many reasons to go to Fall League games. Apparently some sort of retired music industry guru from LA, Price seems to know as much about all the players on the Desert Dogs roster as the coaches do. Her unique voice is powerful enough to carry across any ballpark, and I suspect opposing players find her quite unnerving. One thing is certain, after seeing her at a single Fall League game, you will be able to pick her out at any regular season Diamondbacks game even if it is standing room only.

Sunday, November 6

There were no baseball games on Sunday, which seemed to defy all logic. In the “good old days” of the AFL, they used to play doubleheaders on Sundays, and take Mondays off. Now I understand that they don’t play on Sunday so the players can watch football. sigh…

Monday, November 7

Next on my agenda was the Monday afternoon contest between the Peoria Javelinas and the Grand Canyon Rafters (Marlins, Mets, Rangers, Twins and the “evil ones”). I was particularly interested to catch at least one Rafters game in order to see Isotopes shortstop Josh Wilson play second base. Unfortunately, Josh didn’t play at all that game. He did coach first base for an inning, and handled himself with such poise that I believe he would have made Reggie Jefferson proud. The rest of the game Josh hung around in the dugout and entertained his teammates.

The mood in the dugout was pretty light as the Rafters handled the Javelinas with relative ease. I think I would be willing to believe that there actually were 116 people in the ballpark as reported, if someone from the AFL admitted that all players, coaches, grounds crew, office personnel and both vendors had entered through the turnstiles along with the handful of fans. Nevertheless, those who were present, witnessed catcher Mike Nickeas (Rangers) lead the offensive charge, going 3 for 4 with a three-run homer off ex-Isotopes pitcher Mike Flannery in the 8th. Although the Javelinas managed to put a few runs up on the scoreboard, they never really challenged the Rafters. Another powerful Corey Hart dinger to center went largely unnoticed as Grand Canyon won 8-3.

A person has an opportunity to hear many interesting things in a dugout during a baseball game, even one that lasts only 2 hours and 20 minutes. For instance, I overheard Rangers’ infielder Drew Meyer's recipe for a “great drink” that consists of Crown Royal and Cherry Coke. While some players pass the time quietly by fidgeting on the bench, others are content to entertain themselves by flicking sunflower and pumpkin seeds at photographers. Some players spit, a few pace to and fro in search of the perfect location to watch the game from, and others simply fondle their balls and bats hoping the manager will call on them to perform. Almost all of them can be spotted now and again discussing pitches and approaches to facing certain pitchers. But telling jokes and playing practical jokes on each other seems to be the dominant form of dugout entertainment.

Other Marlins prospects Reggie Abbercrombie, Robert Andino, and Logan Kensing played, and played well. Outfielder Abbercrombie scored two runs while infielder Andino went 2 for 4 on the afternoon. Kensing also turned in a solid performance by striking out three batters through two innings in his no-hit relief appearance.

Tuesday, November 8

Originally, I had planned to return to Phoenix Muni for one last game on Tuesday before leaving town. However, I changed my mind after learning that the Solar Sox would be playing two games against the Rafters that afternoon, and returned to Surprise Stadium.

The first game of the doubleheader was the conclusion of a game that had previously been suspended under the terms of the AFL’s (Frank) Robinson Rule. In a nutshell, the Robinson Rule was designed and implemented to protect pitching staffs by suspending games tied after 11 innings. You have to keep in mind that many of these pitchers are working on limited pitch counts set by the parent clubs since they have already put in a full season, and they don’t want their arms to fall off.

They picked up the game in the top of the 12th tied 1-1. Still in the hunt for the AFL post-season, the Solar Sox quickly added three runs and appeared ready to take the game. Already eliminated from the post-season, the Rafters showed up ready to take on the oft-underrated role of spoiler. Mets outfield prospect Lastings Milledge pulled the Rafters to within a single run by driving in Twins outfielder Denard Span with a two-run shot to left center. Electricity flooded the Rafters dugout as they managed to get two of the next four batters on base. With two out, Mets infielder Chase Lambin doubled to defeat the Solar Sox. Abbercrombie scored the winning run. It was one of those miracle moments that make baseball so enjoyable (unless you were pulling for the Solar Sox).

Also under the terms of the Robinson Rule, the second game was scheduled to last only 7 innings. The game got started after a 25-minute break to allow the players a chance to regroup, and the 122 fans to grab a hotdog and a beer. This second game took only an hour and 45 minutes to complete. Once again the Rafters displayed an amazing ability to come from behind. After the dust had settled, it became clear that the Mesa Solar Sox had been eliminated from any post-season play as well. Grand Canyon heroics included a grand slam by Twins infielder Garrett Jones in the bottom of the 5th, and a game-winning 2-RBI double by Josh Wilson in the bottom of the 7th. Marlins prospects Abbercrombie, Andino and Wilson combined to go 3 for 7, with three runs scored in the game. I am hopeful that some of these Marlins prospects will be sent from Carolina to Albuquerque next season.

With the sun setting in the rearview mirror as I headed back towards Albuquerque, I realized how fortunate I had been- catching six games within a span of less than 92 hours including a day/night twin bill in two different ballparks, and the afternoon doubleheader for desert. Everyone should be so lucky to get to taste the Arizona Fall League at least once. It is a MUST for baseball purists since mascots aren’t allowed in the ballparks, and commercials are practically just as scarce. One would also be hard pressed to find any location where it is easier to literally bump into former and current big leaguers.

Watching the milepost markers on the edge of the pavement descend one by one as I neared the Arizona-New Mexico border, I prepared my mind for the inevitable countdowns to Spring Training and Opening Day in 2006.

I was talking to a buddy afterwards, and he asked what the KOOLEST thing was that happened during the trip. Without question, it had to be when a handful of players gave me their email addresses and asked if I would send them copies of the photos I took of them. I guess I now have all winter to figure out the best way to convince the baseball card companies to take a look at some of my shots.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

signature of the times

So I’m in the process of getting my baseball cards all prepared to take to Arizona next week where I will be checking out some Arizona Fall League action. Not only will this trip allow me one final taste of baseball before the harsh reality of winter sets in, but will also provide opportunities to get autographs of some of the most highly regarded talents who are only a few steps away from waking up in the major leagues.

With baseball still on the brain, I have a couple of other related items I feel worth mentioning.

I just received a very nice letter from Minnesota Twins pitching prospect Pat Neshek. Pat sent me a few autographed cards to complete a trade I had mentioned in a previous entry entitled art-O-graphs. He also mentioned that he had added a link to my website from his On The Road website. Pat’s site is such a great source I guess I should add a link to it on the baseball portion of my site and drive some traffic his direction.

Another strange thing happened late this week. I opened a package from Just Minors and discovered that they had mistakenly sent my recent order to my old address, and had sent me an entire set of preview cards and an Aubry Huff autographed card to compensate for any inconvenience I may have suffered. Now THAT is quality customer service my friend! Even before that I would have stated that Just produces some of the best baseball cards on the market- especially if you are looking to acquire autographs of future stars BEFORE they get famous.

Sunday, October 02, 2005


Raise your hands if you thought this entry was going to be about Cubs fans. Well, it isn’t, even though that would be very appropriate given that the Major League Baseball regular season ended only a few hours ago. Instead, I thought I’d write a few words about lollipops.

I was recently enjoying one of the new Tootsie-Pop flavors when I noticed that my wrapper had the complete image of an Anglo kid dressed up like an Indian aiming his bow and arrow at a nearby star. That reminded me of the rural myth I often heard when I was a kid that if you got a sucker with the entire “Indian and star” image on it, you could take it up to the Sunoco gas station where friendly Mr. Burcham would give you a free sucker. Another theory that passed around was that the image really meant that you would have good luck. Personally, I couldn’t imagine much better luck than someone handing me a FREE sucker.

I did some Googling and was unsurprised by the wealth of related data hitching it’s way along the information highway. Snopes.com has a decent article about the rumor. Interestingly enough, they also report that the rumors began spreading almost immediately after Tootsie-Pops first hit the markets in 1931.

My favorite place to secure a FREE sucker was to pluck it myself from the sucker tree in the lobby of the State Bank of Toulon. Of course that was back in the days of plenty before they began stocking the tree with smaller and more economical Dum-Dums. Although Dum-Dums were much smaller, and obviously lacked the chewy Tootsie-Roll center, they did offer more varieties. They have continued to add to their catalog over the years. In fact, today can even vote online for the next Dum-Dums flavor to be manufactured. (I'm beggin' ya- PLEASE do not vote for coconut. Instead, follow my lead and write in "macNcheese.") They also will sell you your favorite flavors in bulk, so you don’t have to suffer through anymore of those awful pineapple flavored suckers.

I guess I was surprised to learn that Tootsie-Pops are now available in the Dum-Dums size. So this is progress? Sigh…

I wonder how many years will have to pass before I fail to remember the classic commercial where the kid asks Mr. Owl how many licks it takes to reach the center of a Tootsie-Pop.

Thursday, September 15, 2005


Someone recently asked me when the baseball season will be over. Although the major league season extends well into October for the play-offs and World Series, the season ended locally on September 5th when the Isotopes failed to qualify for postseason action.

I will take advantage of the “down time” known as winter to deal with the baseball cards I got autographed this summer, and reorganize the cards I had pulled but failed to get signed for any of a number of reasons. Oftentimes, I will pull cards of a player who is on the roster of a visiting team several days before they come to town, then he will get traded, injured, or pro(de)moted within that particular organization, and not make the trip. Sometimes players will simply refuse to sign their cards. As unbelievable as that may seem, it is completely true. Sometimes I fail to get a card signed because I do not recognize a player in time to request an autograph before he climbs into the van that shuttles teams to/from their hotel and the airport.

Other times you can try to catch players and managers and ask them for an autograph include right outside the clubhouse either several hours prior to game time, or up to a couple of hours following a game. I’ve found that it is a good idea to avoid hanging around outside after a game if the team gets beaten badly. Sometimes you can recognize players out and about around town, but that is normally pretty difficult. Every once in a while, teams will schedule official autograph signings. This is a great way to get started collecting. Ballplayers often make appearances at baseball card shows, but I don’t have it in me to pay someone for an autograph. I would NEVER purchase an autograph via eBay as I prefer to get my cards signed in person. That said, another popular method of getting cards signed is to mail them to the appropriate stadium addressed attention to the player you want, and include a nice and brief note thanking them for their time. Be sure to include a self-addressed stamped envelope for them to return your cards, and be patient, as some players will wait to the end of the season to answer their fan mail.

I ended up getting just over 300 cards signed this season. Without question, my favorite one is this 2002 Topps Harmon Killebrew card (no. RB-HK) near the end of the season. Not only is Mr. Killebrew a Hall of Famer, but is also a genuinely all around great guy!

You may not realize it, but there is an entire subculture of baseball fans that are completely addicted to the sport of autograph collecting. Albuquerque has a group of about a dozen “hard core” collectors. Although you may notice a larger crowd of people hanging around the dugouts before and after games trying to get players to sign for them, it is this main core of fans for which collecting is truly an art. These guys estimate that they get between 1,000 and 3,000 cards signed per year. Most of them do not ask to have duplicate cards autographed, but it does happen.

Many of these collectors are as interesting to talk to as are the baseball players themselves. Most of them will arrive at the ballpark at least a half hour before the game starts. That’s normally when cards are traded, and discussion topics include what players (if any) got called up or sent down overnight, who everyone still needs to get autographs of, and rumors about when team sets are due to be released. It is also safe to expect that out of this group of a dozen collectors, you will see at least four different rosters printed out for the same team before the first game of a series. By the end of a homestand, most of the chatter revolves around the best autographs people have gotten, or how much of an asshole George Brett is.

Everyone has their own system of organizing the cards they hope to get autographed that day. (I tend to keep mine in alphabetic order sorted by the last names of the players. However, if I am attending the game as a fan and the visiting team has their numbers displayed on the front of their uniforms, I will reorganize my cards into numeric order.) Everyone has their favorite writing implement(s). Probably 90 percent prefer a blue Sharpie for cards, there’s always the odd duck who prefers black Sharpie, or is always trying out some new metallic pen that invariably sucks.

Unfortunately, I believe the team’s front office personnel misunderstand these collectors. Although they assume these guys are hounding players for autographs, then turning around and selling them on eBay, I honestly don’t think this is the case MOST of the time. Sure, some do it, but most of these guys are simply nuts about the game, and enjoy meeting the players and getting their autograph. How can you tell when you meet one of these guys? Simply look for the telltale Sharpie marks on their hands!

Speaking of Sharpies, it is a good idea to always carry an extra old Sharpie to GIVE to kids who ask to borrow yours to get their hat, glove, or program signed. Nothing ruins a Sharpie faster than the bill of a baseball cap.

My favorite baseball cards have always been those that feature a photo of a player in the act of signing an autograph for a fan. I have yet to see a baseball card of a player signing a huge contract, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.

I recently discovered a very interesting website maintained by Pat Neshek, a pitcher for the New Britain Rock Cats (Double A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins) who is into collecting autographs. His site contains a message board where people can discuss what players are great at giving autographs, and which ones you might as well forget about. Neshek also displays a bunch of kool proof shots, or photographs of himself in the act of signing autographs. I can’t decide which one I like better- the one of him signing next to a van with the Hostess Twinkie logo on the side (ps #5), the photo of him signing a baseball while jumping on a trampoline (ps #9), or the picture of him signing a shoe while pumping gas (ps #23). Neshek has a very unique signature; one that I’d like to add to my collection before he tires of signing. Pat’s website also has a fabulous feature he calls “Grapher of the Month.” These are the guys I'm talking about! Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Neshek’s website is that he will give away his game tickets to fans who trade him autographed cards of other players. What an insanely beautiful concept!

I realize that I already mentioned that I prefer to get my signatures in person. However, I think in Pat’s case I will make an exception. Unfortunately, I don’t have any of his cards, so I’m going to send him a team logo card for the Quad City River Bandits (where he pitched in 2003), and duplicate Matt Erickson and Andy Pratt cards I have signed in hopes that he will trade me a couple of his.

Monday, September 12, 2005

not my father's catapult

My dad owns a number of slingshots. Prior to visiting the New Mexico State Fair this weekend, I was convinced that he had at least one of every type of catapult ever produced. In fact, he even boasts that his collection includes the actual sling that David used to dispatch Goliath! (Don’t worry; I will spare you the punch line.)

At any rate, one of the strangest “rides” available at the Fair this year has to be the “Human Slingshot Ejection Seat.” He definitely doesn’t own one of these! I got close enough to snap a few photos, but the thought of climbing on board never entered my mind. Forget the $25-$30 price tag, I wouldn’t participate if it was FREE!

So I’ll email these photos to my dad, and wait till next summer to find out if he will be adding yet another new event to the Summer Nationals Slingshot Tournament.

The rest of the Fair experience was just as interesting. The Fair has so much to offer, whether you are interested in livestock, artwork, food and beverages, horse racing, or even watching demonstrations of promising “miracle” products that you will never see on TV. If people watching is your sport, then head on out to EXPO New Mexico at some point within the next two weeks. I was greatly amused by the carnie named “Bozo,” who earns his living by putting on clown makeup, and sitting in the dunk tank shouting insults at the crowd. The ironic part is that he wasn’t half as offensive as some of the people I watched trying to dunk him.

I’m wondering if ANYONE can explain to me the appeal of throwing dimes at glasses, cups, saucers and plates that you can pick up at the Salvation Army for a nickel each. Fair goers didn’t seem able to get enough of this kind of action. I saw one fella carrying a battered cardboard box containing at least a half dozen drinking glasses and an ashtray around the midway. I suppose he was searching for a ride that would allow him to carry his new trophies with him. I thought he must have been having a spectacular afternoon.

Undoubtedly, the koolest attraction on the midway is the bulk candy tent. I would like to nominate whoever came up with this idea for an upcoming Nobel Peace Prize. I’m telling you, this place has it all- salt-water taffy, jawbreakers, Razzles, candy smokes and bubblegum cigars, Pez, individually wrapped circus peanuts, Bit-o-honeys, mints, jellies, Bottlecaps, Pop Rocks, chewing gum, strips of candy dots, those hookless candy canes of various flavors that I first encountered at Stuckey’s as a kid, and even frozen Charleston Chews (just to name a few). I walked out with a 10-ounce bag of strictly banana Runts and the desire to run back in and squeeze all the tiny wax bottles containing sugary colored liquids.

Finally, I wonder if a corndog prepared in the finest restaurant in the world would taste as delicious as one eaten outdoors at the Fair. I doubt it!

Thursday, September 08, 2005

i gave at the pumps

No, I haven’t been on vacation, but thanks for asking! I haven’t been blogging of late in part to do my share of conserving energy. What I’ve discovered over the past five weeks or so is that one person can’t do it alone. Seems like the rest of the cyber universe continues to spend TONS of time ranting and raving about subjects that are completely out of anyone’s control, so why should I remain silent?

The big question that seems to be in the back of everyone’s subconscious is, “How can I get my grubby paws on one of those kool “I GAVE AT THE PUMPS” t-shirts?”

With that question in mind, I recently set up a store at CafePress that will allow people to purchase these thought provoking t-shirts, as well as stickers, magnets and even postage stamps. You wouldn’t believe how proud I am to be able to help people say “NO”- with an attitude! Expect, but accept no substitutes.

Each item offered for sale includes the base price as established by CafePress plus the current market value of one gallon of gasoline. Although I can’t say what the CafePress folks do with their share of the money, I can assure you that not one cent of the remainder of the proceeds will be donated to any form of charity or “cause.” In fact, every penny generated from sales of these items will be invested in my personal transportation costs (including gasoline, bus fares, and new Chuck Taylors).

I would ask that if you happen to be one of the people who insists on driving around the city while jabbering on your cell phone to please refrain from ordering any products from my site (especially the bumper stickers). Thanks for your understanding!

Friday, July 29, 2005

star photo

So much time has passed since my last posting, my readers are probably thinking that I’m working on an entry that will blow them away. Ummm… sorry to disappoint.

I was driving along Isleta Boulevard last week, hunting down what I believe is the last standing drive-in theater in the city of Albuquerque, when I noticed this gem of a building. I don’t know any of the history behind Star Photography, but I think it is safe to assume that the business was run by some interesting people.

Although there are many intriguing things to look at along the pre-1937 alignment of Route 66 through the south valley, the giant plywood camera at the front of this boarded up establishment was more than enough to distract me from the task at hand. It wasn’t until after I had parked my truck that I noticed the lovely paintings on the sides of the structure. Sort of reminds me of some mud flaps I see on trucks on the freeway.

If you want to see this thing for yourself, Star Photography is located on the corner next to the Dairy Queen at the intersection of Isleta and Brother.

By the way, I did find the drive-in theater I was searching for, so maybe you’ll be reading about that in the not-too-distant future.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

E D F C Z P 6

I guess I’ve been wearing eyeglasses now for about 30 years. For a while, it seemed like every time I went in for an eye exam, it resulted in a finding that my eyesight had gotten worse. The real problem was that I have such a general dislike for doctors and all things medical that I was putting off my “annual exams” for YEARS. Even though I knew that it was highly unlikely that an optometrist was going to give me a shot, draw blood, or force me to pee in a cup- the truth of the matter was that I was always capable of finding something more enjoyable to be doing.

The majority of my eye doctors have had practices in shopping malls. My goal was to get in, read as many letters correctly as I could, select the least offensive frames (honest), and get out as quickly as possible- making a beeline for the nearest video arcade. My impression of the doctors and staff in those joints was that they’d just as soon be doing something else as well.

Just more than a year ago, I stumbled into the office of an Albuquerque eye doctor that would change the way I viewed eye care forever. Arlene Sokola, OD has been practicing in New Mexico for over 20 years, having moved here immediately after graduating from college and passing her medical boards in Philadelphia. She has a wonderful personality, and is obviously a very caring and gentle person.

UltraVISION is contained within a small, unassuming turquoise structure at 2127 Menaul Blvd. NE. If forced to make a wager, I would bet that Mike Brady designed the building during one of the lost episodes of the Brady Bunch. The interior of the building is bright with light turquoise walls and interesting ceiling panels that transitions from dark blue near the entrance to a very pale blue as you approach the exam rooms.

The first thing that struck me about the office was the fact that classic rock tunes were pumping through the air in place of the standard elevator music one expects. Next, the entire staff consists of friendly people who seem practically overjoyed that you’ve chosen to spend part of your day with them. Robin, Lindsey, Vikki and Beverly are constantly joking with each other and the clients while going about their business. As I quickly discovered, none of them would hesitate for a second to inform you that you are trying on women’s frames by accident. It’s as if they enjoy working there. Oh yeah, they don’t allow cell phones either, so maybe that’s why they aren’t cranky by the middle of each day.

UltraVISION’s waiting area is tidy and roomy. A large selection of magazines is maintained for customers who require that sort of distraction. Of course, I’m quite content just eyeballing the place after I’ve completed the necessary paperwork. A funny green ceramic vessel sits on the counter in the reception area that reads “Ashes of Problem Patients.” I decided almost immediately that I didn’t want to end up there.

Sooner or later, you are led to a small area in the back where they test your eye movement, peripheral vision and determine whether or not you are colorblind. Then you are subjected to the test I dislike more than stepping on chewing gum on a hot summer day- the glaucoma test! This is where you willingly rest your face in this brace that allows them to move in real close to your eyes (one at a time), and blast them with a puff of air that helps evaluate the pressure within your cornea and front part of the eye. Try as I might to not blink, they’d have about the same reaction from me if they were trying to jab a red-hot poker into my eye. I simply cannot cope with the knowledge that the blast is coming. Wait… wait for it… wait… don’t blink… wait…wa…BAM! Thank god we only have two eyes. All I can say is that I’m very glad I’m not a fly (as the test would be 800 times worse).

Next you are led to one of the examination rooms. Unlike the sterile exam rooms of your average optometrist, at UltraVISION you enter the intriguing world as seen by Arlene Sokola. One of the rooms is decorated in honor of Janis Joplin, and the other in honor of B.B. King. The restroom is decorated following an extremely colorful Jimmy Buffett theme. I think I like the Joplin room the best. Yes, I’m sure of it. There are a couple of dozen framed photographs, concert posters, Rolling Stone magazines, and even a gold record of the Farewell Song hanging on the walls. The posters include gigs at Freedom Hall, Fillmore West, and of course, Woodstock. One particularly groovy poster is for a Joplin appearance at Winterland 68 with Big Brother and the Holding Company. A gigantic throw rug featuring the image of Janis sitting on top of a 1965 Porsche with a completely psychedelic paint job covers a 6 by 4 foot section of one wall. That image is based on an equally impressive Jim Marshall photograph taken of Joplin in 1968 at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco.

The rooms also contain a comfy chair for the patient, and a bunch of neat-o optical equipment. They have a totally kool plastic scale model of a human eyeball that opens up and is used to help explain how and why the eyes do what they do. A Snellen chart is employed to determine visual acuity in each eye. Then, if you are lucky enough to have eye problems like I do, a refraction test is performed. This is when the doctor places a number of lenses in front of your eyes and asks you to read lines of progressively smaller letter in order to determine the proper prescription. The amazing thing to wrap your brain around here is that they don’t force a time limit on you to complete any of the tests. The concept is that you need to be relaxed and comfortable when you have your eyes tested, not excited, agitated, or in any way irritated. What a novel idea!

And just when you think it is all over and you can prepare to leave, the kind doctor will put magical drops in your eyes to make your pupils dilate. She does this in order to use a light and a magnifier (this deal is called a ophthalmoscope) to take a real good look at your retinas, retinal vessels, the backs of the eyes, and the optic nerve heads. Although you are instructed to look away from the magnifier, the temptation to look directly at it is overpowering. The result is a very interesting view of your own eye. You don’t earn extra points for looking away, so go ahead and take a peek.

So the next time you are in the market for a new eye doctor, I highly recommend that you give the friendly folks at UltraVISION a call. If you currently don’t have an eye doctor, I would encourage you to call them today. You can tell them I sent you if that would make you feel better. No matter what, be sure you ask Arlene to tell you about the times she has met B.B. King- and enjoy watching her face light up as she tells her stories.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

John Edwards sighting

I had an encounter with the John Edwards entourage downtown Tuesday afternoon. Kudos to the DukeCityFix for alerting interested parties that the former Senator was scheduled to be in town to speak at the Albuquerque Living Wage campaign rally on the Civic Plaza. What a wonderful opportunity for freelance and amateur photographers to capture a bit of Albuquerque history! Therefore, I am going to give the Fix first dibs at publishing my better photos, so you may want to head directly to that website to view them. Nevertheless, I will be posting a couple shots here to give you a feel of the day.

This first photo is of one of Edwards’ bodyguards. These dudes were packin’ serious heat, and they weren’t afraid to show their pieces. This guy was giving me the thrice over as I made my way behind him to get this shot.

I also got a kick out of this photo for some reason. I was curious as to just how much this old fella truly cared about whether or not minimum wage is $5.15 an hour or $7.50 an hour- but not curious enough to ask him. Probably he would have told me to visit the ACORN website, and leave him alone.

And here are a couple of photos featuring the man himself...

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

play by play : day by day

I recently had an opportunity to sit down with Albuquerque Isotopes broadcaster Bob Socci (pronounced “SO-see”) a couple of hours before the final game of a four-game homestand with the Nashville Sounds. I had been wanting to ask Bob a number of questions that have formed in my brain while listening to him call minor league baseball games during the past few seasons, and felt that my blog was a good format to introduce him to people who may otherwise have never heard of him.

It is a special time of day at Isotopes Park as vendors begin preparing the food and batting practice is winding down. A sort of electric calm hovers over the field as warm summer breezes lift the smells of hotdogs, hamburgers, pizza and roasting peanuts up and into the open windows of the air-conditioned press box where Bob sits filling out his score sheet and preparing his notes for his upcoming pre-game radio show. Most people in the park are too busy preparing for the pending game to take note of the stillness before the gates are opened and it is drowned out by the spinning of turnstiles, excited voices of fans and the beeping of cash registers that will fill the stadium for the next four hours. But not Bob Socci. I mean, he’s busy and all, but he takes notice. Socci appears to thrive on the variable pulse of the park during the pre-game, the game itself, and while things are winding down afterwards. It’s almost as if his heart beats at the same pace.

Socci is a rare individual in that he does something that he absolutely loves on an almost daily basis. As a direct result, he is very, VERY good at his job. He told me that he knew when he was playing little league baseball in Auburn, New York that he wanted to grow up and have a career in sports broadcasting.

When asked if he had a backup career plan, Bob replied that he might have become a lawyer, or followed another path to a career in journalism or media relations had things not worked out as they have. Socci acknowledges the help and support of innumerable friends, neighbors, and people from his hometown who recognized both his talents and desire to become a broadcaster as major influences in his life. “Certainly at the top of the list are my parents- my mother and late father,” Socci explained as he paused from writing down the names of Sounds players on his score sheet.

Socci broke into professional baseball in 1987 while working as an intern in the Cincinnati Reds publicity department. Later, while working as a public relations assistant for the Rochester Redwings, Socci was given the opportunity to serve as the no. 2 broadcaster during the 1991 and 1992 seasons. From there, he was employed as the no. 1 broadcaster for the Peoria Chiefs from 1993 to 1995, the Delmarva Shorebirds from 1996 to 1998, and eventually the Frederick Keys from 1999 to 2001. Socci also broadcast a few Charlotte Knights television games during the 2002 season, but mostly served as a fill-in since his schedule was full with broadcasting United States Naval Academy football, basketball and lacrosse games that he had been doing since 1997. Bob had to give up calling the lacrosse matches due to schedule overlaps when he accepted the job with the Albuquerque Isotopes in 2003, but continues to broadcast Navy football and Patriot League basketball games during the winter months. Although he enjoys all sports, Bob admits that he identifies most closely with baseball. He estimates that he has called close to, if not more than, 2,000 games thus far in his career.

Today, Socci shares a small radio booth on the fourth floor of Isotopes Park directly behind home plate with former Albuquerque Dukes broadcaster Mike Roberts, of UNM Lobos football and basketball fame. Together they broadcast live every Isotopes home game on the radio (KNML 610 AM - the Sports Animal) and via streaming broadcasts available through the Isotopes website. Socci also travels with the Isotopes in order to provide live coverage of road games for rabid Isotopes fans that cannot wait till the next morning to read about the game in the sports pages.

Even though Bob is only in Albuquerque roughly 80 days per year, I had to ask what he enjoyed the most about the city. “The weather,” was the first thing that popped into his mind, followed by “the ballpark,” and “the fans support and interest in the Isotopes and his broadcasts.” He stated that IF he had more free time, he would definitely spend it hiking and biking and enjoying the mountains. Given that he spends 10 or more hours per day at the ballpark, the chances for Socci to get out and explore the city in search of restaurants, bars, or other entertainment venues are few and far between. He tends to primarily frequent establishments such as Whole Foods, Starbucks, REI, Sports Outdoors, the jogging path at Albuquerque Academy, and any of a number of bookstores. When he does have time to sit back and relax, Bob prefers to enjoy a beer or two on the patio at Kelly’s Brewery on Central Avenue.

If you Google “Bob Socci,” you will quickly learn that he is often referred to as “the Voice of the Isotopes, “ and “the Voice of Navy Sports.” I asked Bob if he had any interesting nicknames. As it turns out, one of Socci’s pet peeves is the whole “Voice of anything” deal. In his mind, he is “there to do a job- that is, to broadcast baseball games,” much in the same way that “the beer vendor is there to sell beer,” and “ticket takers are there to take tickets.” Bob explained that he believes the focus needs to remain on the game itself and the Isotopes. He feels that too many broadcasters hear stuff like that and actually begin to believe that they are, in fact, THE voice of the organization they work for. What you aren’t likely to learn about Bob Socci online (unless you’ve stumbled across this by accident) is that he was known as “Scrap Iron” when he played in Babe Ruth baseball. Prior to that, Socci lived with the nickname of “Lou” (after Lou Costello). Bob informed me that many of his friends back east, as well as a number of current Isotopes players, call him “Soc” (pronounced “SO-s” and perhaps even spelled that way).

Kris: “So Bob, have you ever said anything on the air that you wish you hadn’t?”
Bob: “Yes, many times. But one stands out in my memory.”
Kris: “Were you able to make amends?”
Bob: (laughing while entering the names of starting Isotopes players on his score sheet) “Fortunately, not many people heard it.”
Kris: “Would you care to tell me what it was?”
Bob: “Sure, but not on the record.”

A few minutes later…
Kris: “Oh, that IS funny! Thanks for sharing.”

Kris: “Do you receive fan mail?”
Bob: “I get some emails from listeners, but not too many. Usually they are forwarded to me from the Isotopes office. I wouldn’t say that it is always “fan mail.” Some of it is criticism, or from fans who don’t necessarily agree with my point of view.”

I have this annoying habit of asking “baseball people” whether or not they feel Pete Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame. Bob Socci is no exception. He answered quickly that he feels Pete should have a plaque in the Hall for his accomplishments on the field, but that he has no problems with Pete being banned from baseball for his actions that hurt the game.

Kris: “Personal feelings aside, do you think Pete will make it into the Hall of Fame during his lifetime?”
Bob: “That’s a real tough question.” After giving it some thought, Socci continued, “It would not surprise me. There’s a strong possibility that (Rose) will be acknowledged as a baseball player… possibly after the new guard of sportswriters takes over and the memory of what he did begins to fade, and the numbers he put up speak for themselves.”

I snapped this photo of Bob Socci interviewing Texas Rangers pitching coach Orel Hershiser before a Spring Training game at Isotopes Park in the spring of 2005.

I asked Bob to give me a short list of the most memorable interviews he has conducted. Socci had no trouble rattling off names of baseball icons faster than my pen could scratch them down onto paper. He has conducted interviews with Don Drysdale, Pete Rose, Tony Gwynn, Andre Dawson, Tony Perez, Vin Scully and Bob Costas- to name only a few. Scully and Costas were also included in the list of baseball broadcasters that Socci greatly admires, along with New York Mets broadcasters Gary Cohen and the late Bob Murphy. Socci has also had the opportunity to interview a number of intriguing non-baseball personalities including Apollo 13 astronaut Jim Lovell and President George H. Bush. That said, Bob stated that his favorite interviews have actually been conducted with everyday players who lack big name recognition. He feels that the famous guys have already been asked the most important questions, but that the everyday players also have intriguing and inspiring stories that need to be told, and perhaps more importantly, heard.

I asked Bob if he could give me an estimate of when he would get his break in the major leagues. He replied that at the risk of sounding arrogant, he wouldn’t be doing what he is if he wasn’t absolutely sure that he could make it as a successful broadcaster in the majors. However, Socci added that since there isn’t a formula to calculate how long it might take him to get his opportunity, he didn’t care to speculate on when it might happen.

Kris: “Would you work for any major league team?”
Bob: “In a heartbeat!”

Kris: “Do you envision yourself writing a book in the future?”
Bob: “Yes, but not necessarily about sports.”

Socci feels that his writing and story telling skills help him as a broadcaster by stretching his vocabulary and strengthening his phrasing. He added that since calling baseball games is more descriptive than other sports, it is the ideal sport for radio even to this day. Bob’s passion for baseball is predominately due to the personality and identity it possesses. Certainly Bob manages to paint wonderful verbal images of the ballparks for listeners between pitches. In many ways, his coverage is better and more complete than fans would get at home if the games were televised.

Kris: “So Bob, after having called all the games you have, would you venture to say that by now you’ve seen everything that could possibly happen on a baseball field?”
Bob: “NO WAY! The more you learn about the game, the more you realize how little you know. That’s the beauty of baseball.”

Kris: “Well, that's the extent of my questions. Thanks again for taking the time to meet with me even though I’m not a real journalist.”
Bob: “My pleasure.”
Kris: “Now I’m going to break the cardinal rule of the press box and ask you for an autograph.”
Bob: “Seriously? My autograph isn’t going to be worth anything.”
Kris: “Hah. It is for my collection. I’m not going to try to sell it on eBay or anything.”
Bob: “Well, in that case…”

Fans have the opportunity to meet Bob Socci in person each month when he conducts his live radio show “Topes Talk” live from the Fox & Hound Pub and Grill. Those shows are always quite entertaining as Bob coaxes interesting stories from various Isotopes players and coaches.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Look Ma, no barber’s pole!

Two plastic signs that read “FOR SALE BY OWNER - 242-8637” mark the beginning of the end of a business several paces east of the intersection of Central Avenue and 12 Street between Albuquerque’s booming downtown and Old Town. Affixed to the interior of windows of the Castillo Brothers Barber Shop for only a few days, the signs have already attracted the attention of a number of local real estate agents who would love an opportunity to list the property.

However, the owners are real “do-it-themselfers,” and would prefer to sell their shop with 2nd floor apartments and two-story house that sit on a lot that encompasses approximately 8,450 square feet of prime real estate while avoiding the involvement of as many middlemen as possible. Since they returned home from THE war, Nick and Joe Castillo have made their livings by cutting hair in their cozy little shop at 1114 Central Avenue SW, and passed the time by spinning colorful yarns while patrons relax with feet up and watch traffic as it cruises along Route 66.

According to Nick, their structure on Central was originally built in the 1940s, and served as a paint store. Later the building housed a dentist office and even a restaurant before being converted into a barbershop. The Castillo Brothers rented the business for several years before they purchased it outright around 1960. Since then, the brothers have made the drive from their homes in Belen practically every day in order to keep court in the two-chair shop.

Unlike the barbershop in the small, midwestern town where I grew up, the Castillo Brothers do not maintain a subscription to National Geographic magazine, nor can they issue authentic fishing licenses. However, if you need to have a copy of a key made, they can take care of that while you wait. Also, the most recent Swimsuit Edition of Sports Illustrated seems to be located on the top of the magazine stack no matter what time of year- as if by magic.

Although hairstyles and attitudes have undergone major changes over the past 5 decades, the Castillo Brothers approach to dealing with customers hasn’t. A haircut only sets a customer back $8 ($10 for long hair) while the stories and jokes remains free of charge. When I asked why they were retiring, Nick told me that his brother has wanted to quit for the past few years, and he doesn’t feel like continuing without him. He added that he really enjoys his work, but after cutting hair for 51 years, feels that he has done his “share.”

The Castillo Brothers also have rented furnished apartments on the premises to short-term residents over the years- a business venture they claim often has as many headaches as it does benefits.

So, it is possible that I have had my last haircut at the Castillo Brothers Barber Shop. Perhaps they’ll still be in business five or six weeks from now when I realize that the crazy-haired lunatic staring at me in the mirror is due for a trim, or I will arrive and discover that the building is the new home of an art studio/gallery or law office- or has been demolished and cleared for new construction.

Thursday, June 23, 2005


I often wonder how it happens that one of the funniest movies from the early 1980s has yet to be released in the popular DVD format. When I think about the countless DVDs published of crap such as Arthur, Chariots of Fire and On Golden Pond, well, it makes me sick.

The film is based on Thomas Berger’s novel of the same title. I read somewhere that Neighbors should be thought of as part of a trilogy of Berger's novels about modern America's bad manners. The other titles include Being Invisible and The Houseguest. Incidentally, Thomas Berger also wrote Little Big Man, which is simply fantastic.

I actually walked out of the theater the first time I saw this movie because I didn’t understand it, and because I thought that drinking Mountain Dew and playing video games was a better use of my time. Some might think it strange that after all these years I would rank Neighbors high in my top ten list, but there it is. I also have an audio recording of the movie that I enjoy listening to during long road trips.

John Belushi stars as Earl Keese, a straight-laced family man living on the far edge of suburban America with his wife Enid and teenage daughter. Keese is essentially the complete opposite of Belushi, who died of a drug overdose not long after the film was released. Dan Aykroyd co-stars as the unpredictable Vic, who moves into the house next door with Ramona (who turns out to be even more unpredictable). The entire 94-minute movie is a virtual rollercoaster of odd happenings, funny dialogue, uncomfortable situations and unimaginable assaults on one’s personal space that takes place within the span of less than 24 hours.

Belushi delivers one of my favorite lines in the movie in response to Vic’s catch-phrase question, “Whaddya say neighbor?” His deadpan reply, “Welcome to the end of the road… I guess,” kills me every time.

I’ve been searching for this classic film on DVD since we tossed our VHS machine into the trash more than two years ago. I’ve heard rumors that the movie is available in the UK in the PAL format that won’t work here in the states. Every now and again, I’ll run across a listing for an American version DVD on eBay, but I’m suspicious enough to tell myself that those posts are likely the work of con artists. My cynical fire is fueled by the fact that bidding for this movie occasionally exceeds $50 (US).

Amazon.com indicates that the movie is not currently in press or otherwise available. Interestingly, they have a deal on their website that allows you to enter your email address to be informed of a pending release date for any particular movie. Supposedly, they gather together addresses of potential customers, and deliver them to the various companies who produce the movies so they’ll know how much interest a particular film has- or is likely to generate once it is released.

Tossing my skepticism of voting aside, I immediately signed up. Now I’m urging each and every reader to please do the same. Heck, I don’t even care if you don’t intend to purchase the movie. I don’t even care if you submit your “real” email address. All I ask is that you appear to be interested long enough to convince the powers that be to release this movie in DVD- ideally before the next time Santa is loading up his sleigh. And please, make sure you tell your friends, and your NEIGHBORS!