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Monday, September 24, 2012

The Real Presidents Race


I suppose my love affair with Teddy Roosevelt started when USA Today assigned me to write about the best place to see wildlife in Washington, DC (excluding Capitol Hill). Not wanting to take the easy way out and yak about The National Zoo, I opted instead to cover Theodore Roosevelt Island, which, although located on the Virginia side of Potomac, is actually part of DC.

This little-known homage to our nation's 26th president was quite a find. The pristine island combines Teddy's love of nature with a statue you would swear came out of the Soviet Union. Even though said statue was a bit reminiscent of Stalin, I still left the island tsarry-eyed. 

Yet, my love affair with Teddy lay dormant for more than a year. But suddenly, watching an ESPN segment about the Presidents Races at Washington Nationals Park made me fall head over heels all over again.

The eight-minute piece, narrated by Ken Burns, highlights Teddy's travails during these races, which feature the four presidents depicted on Mount Rushmore. The quartet is made up of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and one Theodore Roosevelt. The race takes place once during each Nationals home game and Teddy always loses. 

Yes, during the course of five years, Teddy has won nary a race. The Let Teddy Win blog famously outlines many close but no cigar finishes. There was, for example, the time Teddy was tripped up by Martha Washington. Another time, the Kool-Aid mascot made him pitch over. Adding insult to injury, he has lost, in team mascot races, to stuffed pierogis, sausages, and beer steins.

The ESPN piece outlines this sad story, and poetically ends with the mascot of Teddy sitting in front of his statue on his island in the middle of the Potomac. 

The story tugged at my heart strings. And I was not alone. For on September 20, President Obama himself threw his support behind the Let Teddy Win movement, agreeing with Senator John McCain that a congressional inquiry might be needed
to look into Teddy-Gate..
But I digress. After watching the ESPN story, I knew I needed to immediately make a beeline to Nationals Park to watch the race (thank you, Destination DC, for the ticket) and cheer Teddy on. Surely, with my  loving support urging him home, finally, this time, Teddy would win.

I left my seat just once during the entire game, which is a world record for my bladder. It was after the third inning. But the top of the fourth was a quick one-two-three-out inning, and unbeknownst to me, the race always take place in the middle of the fourth. Thus, when I got back to my seat, I discovered I missed the show. I was crushed. That night when I got back home, I could only console myself by viewing Presidents Races past on YouTube and catching up on the Let Teddy Win blog. Thus did Teddy become my Saturday night squeeze. We spent a lovely evening together.

As this baseball season is drawing to a close, I will not likely be able to get to the stadium again in 2012...unless I somehow manage to wrangle playoff tickets. And I do have a good feeling about  Teddy's chances this post-season--he now has bi-partisan backing and this is, after all, the first time the Nationals have even made the playoffs. So, it could be Teddy's time.

And if not, I guess I will simply repeat the mantra that plays in my head every October as a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan. Wait until next year, my dear Teddy bear. 

By the way, rumor has it the Nats will be adding another president to take part in next year's races. Who do you think should be the fifth Beatle? 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Top 9 Childhood Toys

In a previous post, I discussed a Top 20 list of toys circa 1910-2010 that was compiled as part of a poll conducted by the Children's Museum of Indianapolis (CMI). I vehemently quibbled with the results. But instead of trying to correct the errors of 24,000 poll takers, I will compile my own list--this one, as is my wont, a Top 9 roster. It excludes board games, as that seems to me to be a separate subject.

Laura's Top 9 List of Toys from her Childhood :

   1. Barbie: 'Nuf said.  

2. Canadian Hockey Table Top Game: I'm not talking Air Hockey, nor a table masquerading as a hockey game. Instead, what my older brother and I lovingly called "Game-da-Plink" measured about two and a half feet long and 18 inches across. The skaters were tin Flat Stanley Mikitas, posted on metal sticks that slid between specific slits in the "ice" (allowing for limited, albeit 360 degree, movement). Players had to maneuver each skater by hand-operated rods. Therefore, the game took a great deal of manual dexterity, as each person was responsible for five skaters, plus the goalie. This game was old school--no  newfangled innovations (at the time) like the overhead puck dropper or an electronic scoreboard. Although our little tin men were Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens, most were anonymous, except for the wing man we called Badly Injured. Poor Badly Injured--he was constantly toppling off his post. The play-by-play from the era  (narrated by whoever didn't have Badly Injured that day) went like this: "Badly Injured gets the pass, he turns, he shoots, he topples over."  (I should mention that perhaps it was this early experience that propelled me toward a college sportscasting career doing play-by-play for minor league baseball, women's basketball, and synchronized swimming).

Oh shoot the puck, fond memories of Badly Injured and multiple victories over my older brother have caused me to drastically digress. Let's get back to my Top 9 list.

3. Ping-Pong Basketball: By which I mean the one complete with spring-loaded levers to pop the ball out of the hole and into the hoop. Not to be confused with the Thai version. And, parenthetically, if these sporting games sound archaic, please note they belonged to my much, much older sibling.

4. Skate Boards
5. Model Trains
6. Little Kiddles
7. Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head
   8. Etch-a-Sketch

   And last, but not least:
9. Ken. Poor Ken. Such a second fiddle, yet such a trailblazer. Back in my childhood days, he was simply before his time. Now, my particular Ken had bendable (and shaved) legs, so I could never get his pants on. Still, this didn't cause major problems in the Barbie bedroom, as the couple slept on bunk beds formed by placing the Barbie wardrobe case on its side at night. By day, Ken perused said wardrobe, and was particularly fond of Barbie's Trans World outfit.  (Apologies for the different type--apparently, Blogger thinks Ken requires an alternative font style.) 

Which toys make your list? And if you were to choose among board games, how would Candy Land and MONOPOLY, as named in the CMI poll, stack up against Operation, Trivial Pursuit, or the Game of Life? Don't toy with me. Just leave your thoughts.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Meandering Around Maryland

Here's a copy of my most recent weekend travel supplement for The Washington Post. It appeared in The Washington Post Magazine yesterday. Enjoy.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

¿Dónde está Barbie?

Ladies and gentlemen, I am appalled. The Children's Museum of Indianapolis has just announced the results of its "100 Toys That Define Our Childhood" contest. According to the popular vote of the 24,000 responding to the poll, the favorite toy from the past century is one G.I. Joe. G.I. don't think so.

IMHO, there is absolutely no question that Barbie should have been #1. But travesty upon travesty, not only is she not #1...she doesn't even rate a bronze medal. Transformers came in second and LEGO got the bronze spot.
WTF? Who voted in this contest? Not to sound sexist, but it sounds like some boy toys stacked the competition.

But let me get back to a little journalism here. The goal of this poll was to determine, from a list of 100 toys compiled by curators of The Children's Museum's collection, the ten most iconic.  After five weeks of public voting, the list of 100 was narrowed down to the top 20. From said list, the public once again was asked to rank favorites. In the wisdom of these masses, the Top 10 are as follows:

#1  G.I. Joe                           #7 Cabbage Patch Kids      
#2  Transformers                   #8  Crayons
#3  LEGO                             #9  Play-Doh  
 #4  Barbie                            #10 MONOPOLY
#5  View-Master
#6  Bicycles 

Regarding #10, I couldn't be happier, although I do think board games should have been a separate category.
Nevertheless, as a collector of international versions of Monopoly (I have more than three dozen), I'm a big fan of the board...although I do get rather bored when I play the game. By the way, dear reader, the stories behind the collection of those international games--ranging from Australia to Israel (in Hebrew) to Poland (pre-1989) to Tunisia (pre-2000) to Yugoslavia (pre-the break-up) will be detailed in upcoming posts.

The also-rans:

#11 Raggedy Ann
#12 Spirograph
#13 Etch a Sketch 
#14 Little Golden Books
#15 Hot Wheels
#16 Lincoln Logs
#17 Candy Land
#18 Roller Skates
#19 Silly Putty
#20 Mr. Potato Head 
Again, I am disappointed with the low rating for our spudly buddy. I definitely eye him for the Top 10. Yukon be sure I will discuss Mr. P.H. and others in my next post, which will serve up my own Top 10....or maybe my Top 9 given my contrarian nature. Meantime, what were some of your favorite childhood toys? And if there were a separate category for games, which would be on your list? Operation? Masterpiece? Sorry? Please weigh in.