Last week was my friend Andrea's birthday. As part of the celebration activities, she decided to get a bunch of her friends together for Saturday afternoon's Reds game at the Great American Ball Park. There was a catch, however. It was a requirement to go the game dressed as a superhero.
The invitation said that we were supposed to meet at Rock Bottom Brewery between 10 a.m. and noon for a few beers before heading to the game. I showed up at 11:30 a.m. wearing a Jedi Knight costume and had a mild panic attack when I realized I was the first person there. After 15 minutes of getting strange looks from the bartender and all of the servers, Zorro, a Mexican wrestler, Batgirl, Supergirl and the rest of the superheroes finally walked in and I was able to relax.
After three incredibly quick rounds of beers, we gathered outside on Fountain Square for a group photograph and walked down to the ballpark. The best part about being dressed up in costume was definitely the wide-eyed looks we received from little kids. If they were a real little kid, they couldn't believe they were seeing a superhero up close. If they were older, they were jealous they couldn't wear a costume to the Reds game.
Once we got to our $10 bleacher seats, we set out to accomplish Andrea's two goals for the afternoon. The first was to get a picture with the new Reds' mascot. The second was getting on the Jumbo-tron.
It turns out that it's incredibly easy to get on the Jumbo-tron if you have a group of people dressed up as superheroes. Unfortunately, the Reds' mascot was a little afraid of our group and stayed away.
Since the game went into extra innings, we were actually able to sober up from the seven innings of non-stop drinking we did before beer sales were cut off. After the game, we walked all the way across downtown to Tina's at Fourth and Central to continue the birthday celebration.
I wish I had a photo of the whole bar at Tina's that afternoon. On the end of the bar near the door, you had drunk superheroes. On the other end, you had drunk bikers, with a lot of confused "normal" people in-between.
Three Cheers for the Underdogs
It does the heart and soul good in the world of mega-million superstars and athletes to see the heart and spirit win. Nothing's better to me than rooting for the underdog and sharing the thrill of victory with the belief that, if you think you can, you can.
Take the Kentucky Derby this year, with all its hype swirling around the favorite Empire Maker and his trainer Bobby Frankel. Yeah, Empire Maker is a talented horse and Frankel is a Hall of Fame trainer who deserve to be talked about. They maybe even deserve to win. But with all the talk about this horse's Triple Crown potential I couldn't help but wonder if this team would deliver race day.
As I made my way to River Downs' gate through the parking lot on Saturday, I realized in my heart I wanted an underdog on my $2 bet to win. It isn't because the payoff is better (though that's fun too) but because I like the idea that it isn't all hype and glamour but possibilities that create excitement.
The crowd tailgating in the parking lot seemed happy to be on the Ohio River instead of the infield at Churchhill Downs. It didn't seem to damper the mood that in Cincinnati it was cloudy and cool instead of sunny and 65 degrees like it was in Louisville. The drinks were cold and the lawn chairs comfortable right next to the track within dirt-flying distance of the horses.
Inside the track the lines were long at the windows as hopefuls had all kinds of crazy combinations for win, place and show for the races at River Downs. They relished cashing their winning tickets even though there weren't a ton of mint juleps being served or women in hats swirling the paddock area. In fact, they seemed focused on the horses and the jockeys as they clutched their programs and daily racing forms.
I made up my mind to go against popular opinion on favorites and refrain from star-studded ownership and go with the two geldings as I cast my Derby bets. Buddy Gil and Funny Cide hadn't gotten a lot of press, but I liked the idea that a gelding hadn't won in 74 years and couldn't be put out to stud promptly after taking the big prize money.
It also seemed fitting that a woman jockey was in the race, and so I put a $2 bet on her horse just to support the trainer's choice and faith in the power of women everywhere.
If doors are opening to women in other fields, why not in the sport of thoroughbred racing?
When the bell went off for the Kentucky Derby, we all crowded around the televisions to watch the telecast. It was difficult to tell exactly how the race was going to play out. As they rounded the last turn, though, it was indeed a race as Funny Cide surprised Peace Rules and Empire Maker when he ran with heart and spirit to cross the finish a clear victor.
The crowd cheered as the competition was fierce and honest. It gave me great pleasure to realize a gelding from a three-horse stable had won. Funny Cide was a $22,000 yearling, which is dirt cheap. His trainer was a first-time entrant who admitted he watched the Derby on television like the rest of us until the day his horse brought home the roses. It proves dreams are never too high and victory is sometimes reserved for the horse that runs with the most heart on a beautiful Saturday in May.
Another race to attend on Sunday morning at the crack of dawn makes the heart sing when you realize that, for all the bad press and naysayers around this city, Cincinnati gets behind a running event in style. The Flying Pig Marathon is in its fifth year and in my book one of the best events to watch and/or participate in.
When the alarm sounded at 4:30 a.m., I wondered why anyone gets out of bed in the middle of the night to don racing clothes and running shoes. I debated whether to drink coffee and whether I needed gloves and earmuffs after being chilled all day on Saturday. I decided better safe than sorry, as I was only jumping in to run a mile or two on the Kentucky side of my friend Macy's Papa John's 10K Race. I'd planned to run the 6.2-mile race this year but the flu this week left me weak and wimpy, so I climbed in the driver's seat and took on the role of supporter.
When we came to a complete stop on I-75 at Norwood Lateral at about 6:15 a.m., we started strategizing where I could drop Macy off so he wouldn't miss the start of the race. Parking would have to be an issue as well. The interstate looked like a parking lot, and this event was drawing over 9,000 people downtown on a Sunday morning. We decided to approach the race from the Kentucky side and he could jog across the Suspension Bridge. The car beside us was full of racers too and they asked us how far ahead the accident was plus did we know where to park. We shared our ideas and finally traffic started to move.
The adrenalin had to be surging by the time all the entrants made it to the start line behind Paul Brown Stadium for the 10K just in time to see the marathoners make a pass as they began the 26-mile journey through Cincinnati's neighborhoods. Macy said the cheers were incredible from the one group of runners to the others. The start of the race was held so the two races wouldn't overlap, giving everyone a clean slate to test their legs.
Over in Newport and Covington I made my way to Mile 3 for the 10K, which would later double as Mile 23 for the marathoners. I chatted with the volunteer at the station and cheered as the leaders started to run by as I looked for Macy on the horizon in the sea of runners streaming by. It felt a little unfair to jump in fresh at Mile 3, but Macy looked relieved to see me and needed a push if he was to keep up his 8-minute-mile pace for the last bridge back into Cincinnati.
As we conquered the hill on Clay Wade Bailey Bridge and the brisk air blew, we both commented that this was a great way to start the month of May. It never ceases to amaze me how runners come in all shapes and sizes with all kinds of goals and speeds and also how the crowd of supporters and volunteers give so freely of themselves to cheer on family, friends and strangers alike. It's just human nature at its best.
When I read the press reports about the events on Monday morning and saw the pictures, it brought a smile to my lips to realize that winners had local ties and weren't elite runners who came to town to claim the prize money. There was no prize money this year for the Flying Pig anyway.
The male first-place runner, John Aerni, had never run a marathon and wanted to see if he could do it while his dad rode his 10-speed bike around town catching him in 11 different points along the way. He sounded like a nice guy who you'd like your daughter to bring home, but he's on his way to Alaska to teach in the boondocks.
Lisa Veneziano, the female winner, was in the same traffic jam as we were and is 38 years old. She and her husband drove the course on Saturday night because, having just moved to West Chester, they didn't know where she'd be running. I wouldn't mind being neighbors with them as she humbly admitted she was hoping to finish in the top five and had ridden down to the race with three other runners, her husband and a friend. No prima donna treatment for this runner -- just a girl who runs with spirit and a can-do attitude.
The big winner was the city of Cincinnati, and not because millions of dollars filtered in from participants spending money in hotels and restaurants. It isn't even that local charities will benefit from runners who ran for a cause and raised millions doing it. The real kick was that thousands upon thousands of local people were there for each other.
It was in the form of a volunteer handing out water and encouragement to a struggling runner. It was in the Over-the Rhine neighborhood, where for the first time the marathon ran by and put a glimmer of hope in a child's eye. It was in watching the wheelchair participants and realizing the human spirit is victorious and anything is possible.
Kudos to the Flying Pig. Just like the 10K medal says on the backside: Run like the wind and sweat like a pig! It's a great feeling from any vantage point.
There's Something About Mary
Last week I finally was able to get a hold of Mary, a young lady I met at The Comet a couple of weeks ago. After an hour phone conversation, we decided to arrange a first date.
I have had a few notorious first dates in my life. First, there was the blind computer date I had in Dallas with a girl who described herself as "big boned." I'm sorry, but if you're 6-foot tall and over 250 pounds, you're no longer "big boned."
Then there was a fix-up date a few years ago where gal pals of mine decided to drag me to York Street Café for what quickly turned out to be an unexpected blind date. They sat me down with a girl I'd never met before and grabbed a table behind us to see how we'd hit it off. I felt like I was in a zoo cage with a sign that read "Watch the Humans Date!"
When Mary asked me what I wanted to do, I suggested going to see a friend of mine, Jeff Wehmeier, play acoustic guitar at Northside Tavern for his regular Wednesday gig and talk over a few drinks. There were two reasons for this suggestion. I've been trying to see Jeff play for a couple of months now, but I either show up too early or too late and miss him. Plus, the last dinner date I went on I ended up nearly swallowing a catfish bone and there's just not a smooth way to spit out one of those suckers.
I ordered a beer and she ordered Scotch, and we headed out to the bier garden. After talking about nearly everything under the sun for two hours, I realized that the really good vibe I got from her at The Comet when we first met was actually genuine and not alcohol induced. We both have eclectic taste in music, have overlapping groups of friends and have a fear of insects that swarm, like ants and bees, that can be only be compared to Austin Powers' fear of carnies.
Since I was starved from not having eaten dinner before heading out, I asked Mary if she wanted to get something to eat. She wasn't hungry but didn't mind going with me. Then it was up to me to try to decide where to go for food in Cincinnati at 9 p.m. on a Wednesday. The only places I could think of were chili joints, so I had to break one of the few first date rules I have -- not eating at Skyline -- and headed off to Skyline Chili on Ludlow Avenue.
Maybe I haven't figured out how to do it yet, but I can't carry on a date-type conversation when I eat a three-way. I'm so paranoid that I have either cheese or chili stuck to my teeth that I just don't want to talk. I'd ask Mary a question I hoped would take her a few minutes to answer so I could take a bite, swallow and rub my tongue on my teeth to make sure they were clean. It took me 20 minutes to eat half of my three-way before she had to go to the bathroom. I quickly devoured the rest of it in a minute flat.
As we hugged our good-byes outside Skyline, I quickly decided to abandon another one of my first date rules and kissed her goodnight.
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