Thursday, October 30, 2008

Joe Biden in Mesilla, NM

Joe Biden stopped by Old Mesilla on October 17. I received word of his visit a few days in advance and was a bit excited. I mean, all I do is watch cable news and read political blogs all day so I've heard everyone's stump speech before. Still, I wanted to see him and show my support. I see the massive crowds that Obama and to a lesser extent McCain and Palin get and I hear stories about the excitement volunteers and about the protests and general craziness surrounding everything. I wanted to see it for myself.

I decided against going to class because I wanted to get there when the "doors opened" at 11:30. Of course I actually headed out on my twelve minute journey to Mesilla at a little before 11:30. Driving down the street a few miles away there were no Obama/Biden signs, but there were McCain/Palin ones dotting the place. That worries me. But when I finally got to Avenida de Mesilla I was pleased to see that parking was hard to come by. I ended up parking in a dirt lot and proceeded to walk to the Plaza.

I figured a couple of friends would end up coming too, but they had better things to do, I guess. That is sort of emblematic of this area. Anyway, I walked for about eight minutes alongside mothers with their children, retired couples and the occasional college student. We made our way to the Plaza and there were a couple of lines, one for people with tickets and one for people without tickets. I sat on the curb in front of the San Albino Basilica. It is a beautiful church. As a Catholic and a fan of old churches it made me happy that this was the backdrop of the rally. In the little yard in front of the church is a memorial for all unborn babies. More on this later.

After sitting for awhile I decided to stand in line to get in. When the gates opened thirty minutes late the line moved relatively quickly and, having no weapons or signs (you couldn't even get in with pro-Obama signs), I got into the open air rally site with a decent selection of places from which to watch. When I went to SXSW I learned to take a spot in the back of the line at least one band before the one you came to see. As the people in front leave because they're tired or already saw what they wanted to see, you get to move up and get to the front. So, naturally, I did this here too. I started off about fifteen yards away, directly in front of the podium. Slowly I moved up. The heat really began to get to people.

Even with the sun pounding down on us, we stood in good spirits and waited. Volunteers passed out water bottles, but I let the older people take the first pick. Over the PA system they played Tom Petty (yes!), Stevie Wonder (yes!), U2 (ugh) and John Mellencamp's "Small Town." That song was a single off of "Scarecrow;" the title track of which was recorded the day I was born. When a man near me asked nobody in particular who the song playing was, I wanted to start telling him all I know about the song, like how it is one of my five favorite of all time, but I stayed silent.

A fair amount of middle and high school kids stood waiting with their parents. I expected more college students, but the ones there were mostly the people already volunteering. Even some kids from San Antonio had taken a bus to New Mexico to canvass that day! They were the most excited of everyone. The next most enthusiastic group was the older people.

Next to me stood two older ladies who spent the hours we stood there talking about the recent debate and criticizing McCain and, especially, Palin. They were nice ladies who moved to Las Cruces from out east to retire. But the sun got to one of them (boy, it was unusually hot) and they had to leave to the shade before Biden spoke.

The wind knocked down the "Change" sign that would stand behind the speakers and look oh so pretty on t.v. Bad omen? Maybe. But, later, white birds that I have never seen before began flying over us. Then more flew over. Then more. So I think that offset whatever omen the wind had brought.

Finally they gave us the Obama/Biden signs you see at every rally on the news. Immediately every single one was raised in the a shield from the sun. And then people began to speak! Tom Udall's wife, Harry Teague, some local people, a young girl from the Las Cruces Obama office and Governor Bill Richardson all spoke. Richardson, of course, was the most charismatic and funny. Then Biden came out firing.

He gave his stump speech like I've heard so many times before. Then he introduced something new that he would bring up in subsequent speeches. Apparently, Sarah Palin had called the rural, small town places that she visits the patriotic parts of America. All of us Democrats have heard this for years. We are not patriotic because we oppose going into Iraq or lowering taxes on super rich people or ending the so-called "death tax" on the same super rich people or for not blindly supporting everything stupid, bellicose thing George W. Bush says. Over and over they bludgeon us with this charge. And it forces many people to stay silent.

So Biden, on stage, squinting into the sun, says, "I'm TIRED, TIRED, TIRED, of being called unpatriotic! We are all Americans! We are all patriotic! No part of the country is more patriotic than any other!" That being just what I've been yelling at my t.v., albeit to zero effect, for years drew a huge cheer from me. And it drew a huge cheer from the crowd.

Early voting was another of his major points. He had a blue card we could fill out. The volunteers had passed them out while we were waiting in line earlier in the day. By most accounts the Obama campaign is pushing early voting especially hard and is seeing some positive effects.

Afterward I tried to shake Biden's hand, but the crowd stretched just far enough that I could not get to him. The secret service, who must all be about 6 foot 5 inches tall, do a great job of shadowing him from different directions. I don't know how they survived all day in the sun in those black suits though.

I walked back to the front of the church in time to watch a small group of college-age kids with pro-McCain signs start yelling at the Obama college-age kids. They each did their chants and the McCain protesters, vastly outnumbered, were shouted down repeatedly. I wonder what they thought they would accomplish? The real protesters were the Catholic anti-abortion people yelling at us about the evils of abortion.

Since they were just standing there being ignored, I decided to buy an Obama button. I asked the lady how much each thing was in what I figured would be descending order of price until she hit one I could afford. I bought a plain blue one dollar button. Thanks a lot "Not Having a Job."

Suddenly the abortion people became more aggressive because the leaving crowd began engaging them. Police positioned themselves between the crowd arguing about abortion and the crowd yelling their candidates slogans. The anti-abortion people had big signs, about four feet tall, of aborted babies. The protesters children held up these truly gruesome signs. Other signs read "I Regret My Abortion" and "You Can't Be Catholic and Pro-Choice." I watched people argue for about half an hour without getting anywhere, using bad examples and making generalizations about one another that they should not have been making. Eventually I just wanted to have an intelligent conversation and it seemed neither side was interested in having any of that.

Suddenly one of the few men protesting decided to talk to me. We did not even well at each other. It was amazing. When he found out I was a journalism major he asked what they taught us about what stories to choose. He said the news did not cover the pro-life movement. I told him I found it hard to believe because I saw those stories periodically, but that they mostly taught us how to gather information and put together a story and the media usually picked stories that would get the organization viewers/readers/etc. After talking for another half-an-hour, the protesting wound down and they huddled together to talk so I left.

Upon returning home I realized I had been sunburned. It was about four and I had not even thought about taking a hat or wearing a collared shirt, an unfortunate decision indeed. Now, if only Barack Obama himself would come down here for an open rally like he has done in Albuquerque, EspaƱola and Denver.

This article presents a good rundown of the Obama EspaƱola rally: Barack Obama Held a Rally in my Front Yard!

Note: All of the pictures presented here are from Barack Obama's flickr account.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What to Do When You Root for a Bad Team and Live Far Away

Watching the Boston Celtics defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight in Boston, I could not help remembering the joy of the crowd as they won the NBA Championship last season. The final game being a blowout, it turned into one long celebration. The fans were having such a great time! Now, I am a Celtics fan, but I have never been to Boston. One time I went to Washington, D.C, but that is as close as I have ever gotten. I am also an Oakland Raiders fan, but I have only been to the west coast once (and that was to Los Angeles). So, how can a fan stay rooting for their team when that team is bad and they live nowhere close? Unfortunately, I have some experience in this department.

Haha. Once upon a time all of my teams (actually, the teams I am a fan of, you know, since I don't actually own them) were horrible losers for many, many years and nobody ever had any hope they would win, possibly ever again. When your team only gets the minimal mention on Sportscenter and then only to laugh at their latest loss, it starts to become a drag to stay a fan. During such trying times I like to criticize the coverage on ESPN (especially during football season because, as a Raiders fan, it is obvious to see the amount of Raider haters/former Bronco players on television) for only covering to same couple of boring teams over and over and over again.

But that only goes so far. Talking to other fans helps too. They know what it is like to feel so abandoned by their overpaid athletes who give only the minimal effort because who cares, they are just lazy and stupid and I would fire them if I was the GM. Due to the fact that I am so far away from the majority of the fans of the same teams (besides my immediate family, more on that later), I have to take to the internet. Using the Almighty Google I have found a couple of websites that offer the chance to interact with people of the same love of my teams. For the Celtics I go to CelticsBlog and for the Raiders I go to the ProSports Daily forums. Reading what other fans say and occasionally chatting with them makes me not feel so alone out here in southern New Mexico.

Finally, I try to remember why I became a fan and the good times that I was not alive to witness, but which provide a peak into what is possible. I don't know about you, but the reason I got into my teams was because of my dad. There are pictures of me as a baby shooting a little basketball into my little Larry Bird basketball hoop. I distinctively recall laying on my stomach next to my dad (imitating him) watching the Raiders on the tv, sharing a bag of Doritos while he drank a beer (this was a really long time ago because he quit drinking when I was very young). I remember my parents watching the news when Larry Bird retired and someone, I think it was Nick Anderson, saying something to the effect of, "They're done. When he leaves he's taking the lucky leprechaun with him." I was seven. And it took until this decade for them to become good again. And then really bad again. And then really, really good!

Some people may have become a fan of a team for other reasons. Take my dad for example. He became a Raiders fan while watching a Raiders-Chiefs game as a kid. The two teams got into a big fight and the Raiders beat the snot out of the Chiefs. Voila! Raiders fan for life. I think that is pretty awesome. And he became a Celtics fan by reading about the great Auerbach/Cousy/Russell teams in books provided by the bookmobile.

So, while you may have bad years (for me the nineties and most of this decade) you can take solace in the fact that you do not follow the crowd. I should be a Cowboys and Lakers fan (I have no idea why so many people here like the Lakers). It would be so much easier. Everyone else around here is! But I like being different. When my team is bad I know people think I am weird for wearing my team hats and shirts proudly. To switch teams and join the crowd would mean a loss of integrity. It is a source of pride. At least. Then, when my team is good it feels even better. Just wait out the bad years and keep your head held high because the reward is sweet. Even if you can not really share it with anybody!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Lamenting Aggie Football

The NMSU football game in Moscow, Idaho just ended. Despite being a two touchdown favorite to the perennial pushover Idaho Vandals, the Aggies lost once again. I suppose the typical response from the average fan would be, "Here we go again," because looking at the remaining schedule it appears as if the team will not make a bowl game for the 48th year in a row. The unfortunate thing about this season is the team looks very good on paper/in video games. Senior quarterback Chase Holbrook led the nation in passing a couple of years ago. Senior wide receiver Chris Williams could be the fastest player in the nation. A new defense brought hope that confusing the opposing offense with unique looks could lead to increased turnovers. Injuries to key players last year forced young players to grow up quickly and looked to infuse this year's team with a deeper roster.

But a funny thing happened on the road to familiar mediocrity. First, a hurricane forced the Aggies first opponent to cancel coming to Las Cruces. Then the Aggies, understandably rusty, had to play Nebraska in Lincoln and played well considering it was the Cornhuskers third game. The following week brought a heart-stopping shootout in El Paso against UTEP resulting in a one-point Aggie victory. At this point things were looking up. Coach Hal Mumme's "Air Raid" offense produced an 84-yard touchdown on the first Aggie play against UNM and a 79-yard touchdown three minutes later. And then the offense was shutdown. Despite the disappointing 35-24 loss in Las Cruces, the next two weeks brought some hope with a blowout win against Alcorn State and a big time shootout win over Nevada in Reno.

For the first time in a long time the Aggies had a winning record this far into the season (3-2) and a winning conference record (1-0). Hopes for a bowl games were alive and well in Las Cruces. Of the seven remaining games, it looked like the Aggies could win five (San Jose State, Idaho, Hawaii, Louisiana Tech, Utah State) with two being complete pushovers with only one win (Utah State beat Idaho and Idaho beat lowly Idaho State). Only six wins are needed to get into a bowl game and with Boise State likely to win the rest of its games and play in a BCS bowl, NMSU was in good shape.

Then came the San Jose State game. With a pumped up crowd the Aggies could barely muster any offense and lost 31-14. The only bright spot for the game, the second annual "Tough Enough to Wear Pink" game, was the nearly $600,000 raised for breast cancer research. But the team itself played poorly. Still, despite the depressing performance from the team (and the fans, most of the student section left at halftime despite only being down 14) there seemed to be light on the horizon. A trip to Moscow, Idaho loomed and the laughably would be an obvious win. Right?

Of course not! Untimely turnovers (as if there are any other kind) lead to another anemic performance from the Air Raid offense. Was not a high-powered offense what Hal Mumme came here to create? All the branding in the world from Athletic Director McKinnley Boston, all the new uniforms, updated stadiums, new scoreboards, new websites and post-game fireworks shows in the world can mask that Mumme has underperformed and underwhelmed the people of Las Cruces. People here love football. The attendance of high school football games proves there is a market for college football. If it is entertaining, that is. But nobody will keep on going if they know the team will lose AND the team will probably not put up many points. And guess what? They know.

I do not blame the players for not winning. They are not paid (though you can, and I have, make the argument that a free education is, in fact, payment). They do not come up with the game plans. They do not recruit defensive linemen that are much too undersized for the position. No. It is the coaches, Hal Mumme in particular, who are not constantly out-coached and out-smarted. He is at fault. How long has he been here? Three, four years? A dozen? Does it matter anymore? His teams underperform constantly.

Now, I will not sit here and say he should be fired. But losing has become something of an expectation around here. It is never good for your team to be a joke. Mumme needs to prove to us, the fans, that he can make the team play up to their potential. It is on him. If he can not do that, then the team hold him accountable.

There are still five games left. We need three wins. We will not beat Boise or Fresno. We get Hawaii and Louisiana Tech at home and Utah State is still not good (of course, Idaho is even worse and we lost to them).

Go Aggies. Please.