Friday, January 30, 2009

Chuck the Writer DOES NOT WIN the $2000 Elbo Room Tournament - but isn't griping about it much

Sometimes you have to put everything in your life into perspective.

And essentially, that's what ended up happening last night. Reinforced by a third person, Ryan West, who graciously joined my wife and me on the "Street Academy" team, it was time to kick ass and take names at the $2,000 Elbo Room Trivia Tournament finals.

Did I know when John F. Kennedy was born? 1917. Yeps.

Did I know what city hosted the coldest outdoor Super Bowl (non-dome)? Super Bowl 6 in New Orleans. Yep.

Did I know why the 1968 Academy Awards were postponed? For the funeral of Martin Luther King Jr. Uh Huh!

Essentially with one question to go, I was in the lead with 166 points, but the other seven teams were anywhere from 90 to 140 points, so there really was no way to throw in a safe bet.

The final question - geography.

In what corner of Wyoming is the capital city of Cheyenne? Northeast, Northwest, Southeast or Southwest?

For $2,000 they're going to end the game on a multiple choice question?

I had no freakin' clue where Cheyenne was in Wyoming. I said Southwest.

The host announced the first five teams to answer as Southeast. I knew I was fucked.

Then he announced Street Academy saying Southwest. There were cheers and taunts. That confirmed I was fucked.

I had the lead and blew it. Cheyenne is in the southeast corner of Wyoming, and that $2,000 floated away from me and landed in the pockets of Woo Hoo A Go Go.

Yeah, it stung like a kick to the gut. I had the lead and lost it all on one question. So what do you do? You do what I did. You shake the hand of one of the teammates of Woo Hoo, you congratulate them, and you pay your bill and go home. It's not like I had the $2,000 spent already (guess I'll have to wait a few more years for that Nikon D700... sniff...)

However, on the way home, I happened to notice something on my street. Mind you, we recently had another nasty snowstorm, and the City of Albany was under snow emergency rules (24 hours park on the even-numbered side of the street so the snowplows can clear the odd side of the street; then 24 hours later park on the odd side of the street, etc.). This woman was trying to get into her driveway, which was coated in ice AND was on an incline. And her van's tires were not snow tires or all-weather tires, and they looked about as bald as a pre-commercial Cy Sperling.

I parked my car (found one spot on the odd side of the street, which was where we were supposed to park in the second snow emergency) and offered assistance. I and three other Good Samaritans tried to get the van up the incline, but it was no use. The driveway was too slippery, and the van couldn't get any traction.

Just then I remembered something. I ran to my house (three doors away) and came back with the Home Depot bucket of ice-melt that I use for my walkway and driveway. I poured the ice-melt all over my neighbor's driveway, and as I poured it on the ice and frost, I could hear one of her kids comment, "It's crackling," meaning the instant melting properties of the ice-melt were actually working.

Even if it didn't dissolve the driveway ice in 15 seconds or less, it did allow for the van to gain enough traction so that the Good Samaritans and I were able to get her up the incline and, eventually, to the level part of her driveway so that she could park her van safely.

Yeah, I didn't win the $2,000. And I'm probably out $10 in ice melt. But in the end, I don't feel as bad as in previous championships, where I'd lose by one point on a question I should have known. I did my best, I played the game, and if the frickin' capital of frickin' Wyoming was in the frickin' Southwest, where it should have been ... easy, Chuck. Don't elevate the blood pressure.

It did feel much better, though, to help someone, you know, by doing a good deed for the day. Random act of kindness. Granted, I can't buy a Nikon D700 with it, but it does take the sting off a bit.

Besides, there's another $1,000 money Elbo Room tournament starting in a week. And even if I can't get that Nikon with the prize money from that game... it would make a nice down payment.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Chuck the Writer returns from the PBL road trip

Yawn. Sunday morning. Up and at'em, rise and shine.

Got out of bed at the Days Inn in Montreal Centre-Ville, and immediately wanted to climb back in bed - it was just that cold. Nevertheless, I packed up, rebundled myself, and headed for a 4 1/2 hour trip to Manchester, New Hampshire for the PBL's Sunday afternoon contest between Manchester and Quebec.

Lots of blowing snow along Provincial Highway 15 to reach the Quebec-Vermont border, then more travel down I-89 to I-93. Drove through the Franconia Notch, and saw a sign for the Old Man of the Mountain historical site. Sad to know that there is no more old man of the mountain, except on the backs of New Hampshire state quarters.

Kept on driving, and eventually reached Southern New Hampshire University, home of the Penmen. I wonder if their cheerleading teams are known as the Ballpoints... but I digress.

Good solid game, the Millrats really took the Kebs all the way from first tipoff to final buzzer.

In fact, here's some photos from the game.

No, I didn't find any catwalks at SNHU, but I did find several levels of balcony to shoot from. Will definitely return to SNHU for future games.

Then it was another 3 1/2 hour drive back home. By the way, my "books on tape" series that got me through this entire trip from Albany to Montreal to Manchester to Albany was the Game of Shadows tome about Barry Bonds and the BALCO steroid scandals. Definitely a good book.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Chuck the Writer and another PBL Road Trip

Up in the morning, ready to roll back to Montreal for another Premier Basketball League matchup. First things first - is it just me, or is every time I go to Montreal it gets colder??

Got to the Days Inn for my lodgings, and after stowing my gear in my room, I decided it was time for lunch. After my last attempt to enjoy a local meal turned out poor (the "smoked-meat sandwich"), I decided to head to the hotel's attached restaurant grille and order something on the menu.

After devouring a hamburger that was coated with a dollop of sour cream (surprisingly tasty), I was convinced by my server to ditch the side order of french fries and instead dine on poutine.

All right, get your dirty minds out of the gutter, poutine is NOT what you think it is.

Apparently poutine is french fries with cheese curd and a gravy-like coating. It's still not going to replace chicken spedies from Binghamton or Yocco's Hot Dogs from Allentown, but maybe I'll order it again the next time I go to Montreal. If the city ever warms up.

Here are some shots from the Montreal-Vermont game, all taken at the Montreal Sasquat'ch home building, Centre Pierre Charbonneau.

I'll post shots from the next game, the Quebec-Manchester game, later tonight. By the way, Centre Pierre Charbonneau is the fourth building in which I have shot a basketball game from the ceiling. The facility has an overhead catwalk, which allowed me to get some tremendous distance shots and a swank "over the basket" photograph or two. Centre Pierre-Charbonneau now joins the Butte (Mont.) Civic Center, the Yakima Valley SunDome and the Sovereign Center in Reading, Pa. as places at which I can "shoot from the roof." Rochester's Blue Cross Arena also has an overhanging catwalk, but they're not letting me shoot from the ceiling in that building - something about a security issue.

Maybe some day...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Chuck the Writer is now ready for the $2000 Elbo Room Finals

Okay, it's now official. My one-man team, "Street Academy," is listed as the #2 seed for the 2009 Elbo Room $2000 Trivia Finals. The top eight teams make it into the finals, which is essentially these eight squads:
  1. Big Red Machine
  2. Street Academy
  3. Woo Hoo A Go Go
  4. Stern Fans
  5. Mayhem
  6. Beer Addled Brains
  7. Tres Hombres
  8. Liquor in the Front, Poker in the Rear
  9. Brown Van Experience
  10. Donna Martin Graduates
  11. Clay Aiken's Skidmarks
  12. 40 oz. Bounce
Those teams in green have qualified for next Thursday's finals.

Realistically, if I don't know the information now, I won't know it next week. I just hope that I DO know the information that will be asked.

I'm not even going to say what I would do should I actually win. Don't want to jinx myself, you know, counting the cameras before I've shot the photos.

Just wish me luck.

I'm going to need it.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Chuck the Writer Regains First Place in the Elbo Room Trivia Tournament

With three weeks left until the final eight teams play in the one-night playoff, I'm pretty much set for the tourney. But I want to go in as the #1 seed. And this week, I was able to regain my top spot in the Elbo Roon Trivia Tournament, picking up a second-place win tonight (and its concomitant three points) to regain top seed overall. Not like it makes any difference, you don't get bonus points in the final week for being the #1 seed or the #8 seed. You do, however, get to play... which is more than the #9 seed will get. Tres Hombres returned and picked up 5 points; Stern Fans and Woo Hoo a Go Go tied for third and will split a point.

With three weeks go to, the teams in green are locked in. Teams in yellow are on the bubble; teams in red are on the outside looking in. So where are the scores? Here are the scores:

  1. Street Academy - 25 points (+3)
  2. Woo Hoo A Go Go - 23 1/2 points (+ 1/2)
  3. Big Red Machine - 22 points
  4. Stern Fans - 18 1/2 points (+ 1/2)
  5. Beer Addled Brains - 15 points
  6. Mayhem - 14 points
  7. Tres Hombres - 10 points (+5)
  8. Brown Van Experience - 6 points
  9. Liquor in the Front, Poker in the Rear - 3 points
  10. Donna Martin Graduates - 3 points
  11. Clay Aiken's Skidmarks - 3 points
  12. 40 oz. Bounce - 1 point
So the only team that could still get mathematically eliminated would be the Brown Van Experience, but they would have to have a major swoon and one of the four "red" teams need to get hot quickly. Tres Hombres is still mathematically not out of the woods, but one of the red teams would have to take first place twice in a row AND the Brown Van Experience would have to pick up two second-place wins to knock Hombres completely out. So it's safe to say Hombres will remain at least the #7 seed for now.

Ironic thing, though ... Clay Aiken's Skidmarks had a chance to pick up a point for third place, they had the right answer and bet it all.

Oh wait... they thought they bet it all, but one of their teammates actually changed their "all" bet to a "one point" bet. And since the question was about 6 levels of easy (Until 2001, what Eastern city has a morning newspaper called the Constitution?), everybody nailed it - meaning that if the original "all" bet were allowed to stand, the Skidmarks would have been in the money.

It's not over yet.

For me ... I can relax for a change. Put my feet up.

Less stress for me.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Chuck the Writer's Premier Basketball League trip: Week 1

Over the weekend, I began my first of what will be many trips this year for the Premier Basketball League. The PBL is a minor league circuit with 13 teams spread throughout the United States and Canada, and is entering their second season of operations. I currently freelance for the PBL, in both writing and photography.

So last weekend, which was the PBL's opening weekend, I needed to make sure that all 13 squads have their team's "head shots" and action shots. This means I must travel to several of the PBL cities and get as many good photographs as possible. With that, I plotted out the schedule and estimated which teams would be in which buildings, so that I could photograph everybody as early into the season as possible, while still minimizing my travel expenses.

So Week 1's schedule looked like this - drive from Albany NY to Montreal (3 1/2 hours) for a Saturday night game with the Montreal Sasquat'ch and the Halifax Rainmen; then travel to Quebec City for a Sunday afternoon contest between the Quebec Kebs and the Manchester Millrats. Then drive home.

Rule #1 of my PBL road trips - when entering Canada, make sure your car is cleaned out of any unnecessary junk. Make sure your passport is in order, and that all your electronic equipment (cameras, lenses, laptop) are registered with Customs and the Department of Homeland Security so that nobody gets accused of smuggling. So that when I made it to the border, I got through the checkpoint without any trouble.

Got to Montreal way early - much earlier than I originally estimated, so I did some time-killing at a nearby shopping mall and had lunch at a bar and grille called Nickels (it's going to take a while for me to get used to smoked-meat sandwiches). Then drove to the Pierre Charbonneau Centre, which is part of a sports complex near Olympic Stadium.

Really tight contest between Montreal and Halifax, it went into overtime and the crowd was really into the match. Here's a shot of the game, which Halifax won 127-125:

Then it was off to Trois-Rivieres, where I had a Days Inn reservation for the night (the MTL-HFX game ended about 10:00 pm, if I tried to drive to Quebec after that I would have reached the city limits at about 2:30 in the morning, so I needed a rest stop).

Like the Charbonneau Centre, the Pavillon de la Jeunesse is part of what appears to be a sports complex, with the Quebec Nordiques' old building, Le Colissee, nearby. Again, it was another tight and spirited match, with the Kebs fans cheering their team on with chants of "Go Kebs Go! Go Kebs Go!" There were some spectacular dunks and defensive expertise, and - oh yeah - here's another shot of the action, with Quebec's Michael Anderson trying to make his way to the hoop:

Quebec won the game and the fans went home happy.

I just went home. 7 1/2 hours home. Stopped at a duty-free shop to pick up some gifts for the way home (and to get rid of my Canadian coinage; I kept the bills for a future trip), and made it back to the ALB at about midnight.

Some minutiae about the trip:
  • Make sure you pack lots of tunes for the trip. I had 200 songs plugged into my iPod/car stereo combo, and that seemed to be enough for northern travel; but by the time I was on the road home, I was reduced to listening to archived podcasts of "Car Talk" and "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me," which helped kill time a bit.
  • Once you get into Canada, go to an ATM and take your money out there; that way, you have the proper amount of cash at the current exchange rate.
  • The parking at the Charbonneau Centre is on an "honor" system, you have to put ten bucks into a kiosk computer and receive a little receipt that goes on your dashboard. Make sure you get this - you don't want to spend your weekend in Canada looking for the tow shop.
  • Great shooting angles in both places; the Charbonneau Centre has an upper level that doubles as a running track, and I got some great overhead shots in that location. The Pavillion's basketball court sits on a hockey rink (with boards separating the ice from the hoops floor), which provided me with lots of mobility in terms of shooting and setup.
  • The Kebs have a mascot called Dunky. It is a big green jumping frog. Of course, this team originally wanted to call themselves the "Jumping Frogs," but how many Quebecois would have supported a team with a nickname that would be the equivalent of the Munich Krauts?
  • This is going to be a really strong PBL season. I can tell from the competitive and close games that have already taken place on Opening Weekend.
  • Car held up nicely, camera and lenses worked out well.
So let's see. Head shots for Quebec, Manchester, Montreal and Halifax - done. Head shots for the other nine teams - Augusta, Battle Creek, Buffalo, Chicago, Detroit, Mid-Michigan, Rochester, Vermont and Wilmington - on their way.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Chuck the Writer says Bye Bye to Old Chicago

Man, did I kill another trivia bar?

The Old Chicago sports bar that opened in the summer of 2007 on Wolf Road in Colonie, and who offered Tuesday (and sometimes Thursday) night trivia was never the kind of place that would replace my Tuesday Night Trivia at the dearly departed Hooters, but it did have its own charm.

And it didn't take long for me to pick up win after win after win at the OC. Food wasn't anything to write home about, but I did like the fact that they set up a special single-person "champion's table" for me, halfway between the regular restaurant and the ancillary "Great Hall" that was also used for concerts.

Several of the veteran Hooters teams showed up at the OC, including Lynch's Mob, Clay Aiken's Skidmarks, Pimps from Oakland (rebranded as "A Few Cards Short of a Deck" and AtTax. Other teams popped in from time to time, including Tres Hombres and Pork is a Verb. Old Chicago did draw some new teams, including Surf Tulsa (who at one time invited me to their home trivia parlor, Noche, where I summarily won - before Noche shut down a few days later), Granny's One Night Stand, Bunga Bunga, Two Fat Guys, IDK, See You Next Tuesday (did they know their team's initials spelled SYNT?), Team Ramrod, Team Rawr, and My Couch Pulls Out (which in the past few weeks went through a name-change identity crisis of Paddle Faster I hear Banjos and Shut the Duck Up).

However, barely a year into its existence the ownership group for the Albany OC franchise declared Chapter 11. The restaurant stayed open for another six months, and I just heard that the place closed its doors over the weekend.

So let me see how this fits into Chuck's "I've Outlasted Your Trivia Parlor" scorecard -

HOOTERS (2005-07, won Trivia Bowl Championship and several first-places)
OLD CHICAGO (2007-08, won several times)
NOCHE (2007, won the only time I played there)
RECOVERY ROOM (still in existence, but I won so many times that other people complained and the management decided I was bad for business).

So whether or not I stay home on Tuesday nights (Brown's on Wednesdays and Elbo Room on Thursdays are still on), my choices for Trivia on Tuesday nights are McGeary's Pub (Irish bar downtown near Arbor Hill, decent parking availability), M Barley's on Madison and Quail (haven't been there since it was the meat market bar Lamp Post, probably no parking but decent neighborhood), and Pinhead Susan's (no way am I going to Schenectady for trivia unless they're offering money prizes).

Ah, decisions, decisions, decisions...

Monday, January 5, 2009

Chuck the Writer and the World of Sid and Marty Krofft

My new article for Toy Collector Magazine just appeared today; this was personally one of my favorite interview projects.

I grew up watching lots of those Sid and Marty Krofft television shows, like H.R. Pufnstuf, the Bugaloos, Land of the Lost and all the rest. This article includes an interview with Marty Krofft, as well as Billie Hayes ("Witchiepoo") and Caroline Ellis (Joy from "The Bugaloos"), along with great photos and anecdotes.

You can read the article at this link; hope you enjoy it!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Chuck the Writer Visits Kemp's Truck Museum

This is part of an upcoming article for RoadKing, so I'm not going to spill too many beans in this post. That being said, I spent last weekend driving up to Hillsborough, New Hampshire, for the specific purpose of investigating the remnants of a huge truck collection, assembled over the past forty years as a way-cool open-to-the-public attraction.

I was able to interview people involved in the truck museum as it was being assembled, and who are currently in the preparation stages of the proper dispensation of the collection now that its owner, Richard Kemp, passed away.

I was actually amazed by the number of trucks on the property, and had a blast taking photographs of everything from snow plows to bulldozers, hauling trucks and bread trucks and steam shovels and pavers. Really fun stuff.

This was also a personal milestone in that my 1991 Pontiac 6000, which suffered through the "Pep Boys thought it was an ignition module but it was really the fuel injectors" issue back in November, finally passed the test and was able to naviage successfully out of the 518 area code without any trouble at all. In other words... I think I got my car back in shape.

I was also very proud of one of the lenses from my camera collection. My Kenko 180-degree fisheye lens, which I normally leave in the bag because I have to attach it to another lens, then do some funky adjustments to even get a decent photo out of it, stepped up to the plate and got me this great shot.

And finally, I was able to naviage through the Franklin Pierce Highway using my Tomtom One, without losing any signal or reception. This is light years ahead of the absolutely crappy service I received from Verizon's VZ Navigator, which couldn't handle traveling through the White Mountains without completely crapping out and leaving me with no cell phone reception and no signal for the VZ Navigator to use. So major props to Tomtom, Kenko, and the team at DePaula Chevrolet for getting my Pontiac 6000 back into long distance driving shape!

And you can all look forward to the upcoming RoadKing that will feature this article... really great stuff!