Last on my itinerary was Baltimore. My brother and sister-in-law were in town to watch AC Milan vs. Chelsea and they were kind enough to buy me a ticket. As soon as I got downtown, I saw a cop on horseback. The horse pulled up behind me at a red light, and I managed to get a not-so-great picture through my sideview mirror:
The game wasn’t until 8, so we had to kill some time in the Harbor. I insisted on visiting the USS Constellation, thinking it was one of the original six frigates commissioned by Congress back in the 1790s. Turns out that this Constellation was actually a sloop built in the 1850s after the original ship was scrapped. She hunted slave ships before the Civil War, served in the Mediterranean during the war, was used for diplomatic and training purposes after the war, and eventually became a floating museum in the 1950s. We weren’t allowed to climb up the masts (which was probably for the better), but we were allowed on most of the rest of the ship, even down to the orlop deck, where we could see the ballast. Some pics:
Our next stop was the National Aquarium, full of animals that could quite easily pass for aliens in a sci-fi film if we didn’t know any better. On the lowest floor was the ray pool, which held many different shapes and sizes of stingrays, a few sharks, and a three-legged turtle. Some of the rays got pretty close to the surface and looked like they were waiting for a foolish-enough tourist to lean a little too far over the pool. The guides assured us that the rays and sharks were definitely not going to jump up and grab anybody, probably.
The tour took us up a series of escalators, stopping off at each floor to look at various types of small aquatic life, some very colorful, some well-camoflauged. At the top was an artificial rainforest, and then we descended a spiral staircase encircled by a shark tank that included some rays.
I managed to get a few videos of sharks, rays, and some jellyfish:
If anyone can digitally add laser shots and sound effects to the jellyfish video, I would be eternally grateful.
By the time my phone’s camera finished taking the picture below, this guy was facing me head-on, just on the other side of the glass, as if to gruffly ask what I thought I was looking at:
Highlight: while looking at a nurse shark (two barbells jut from their mouths, resembling tendrils or tusks), my sister-in-law asked, “What’s that one called?” Being a smart-aleck, I answered, “Oh, that’s Ted.” A kid standing nearby asked, “That shark’s name is Ted?”
After the aquarium we had dinner at the Cheesecake Factory, long-notorious for having the worst menu on Earth. The food is fine, but the menus themselves were a perfect example of the “paradox of choice”: they were far too long with far too many options printed in teensy-tiny type that makes it too difficult to read, and therefore too difficult to decide what to eat. The first time I encountered this menu I was overloaded with options and paralyzed with indecision. Happily, this Cheesecake Factory had a much more compact menu with very readable type, and I was able to enjoy my meal rather than be wracked with regret at choosing the wrong entree.
Game-time finally arrived. On the way into the stadium, we saw the real-live FA Cup, currently held by Chelsea:
We were up in the nosebleed section, but the view was pretty good. We were a little worried that since it was an exhibition game, both teams would play their second stringers, or at least sub out their starters pretty quickly. But both teams played their starters during the whole first half, and most of them well into the second half. I wouldn’t have complained too much if they hadn’t, because even the bench players from these two squads would have made for the most skill I’ve seen on a pitch in person.
The teams lined up for the kickoff:
…and I asked my brother if he could imagine having to explain to the typical American coach why the players were so compact (the widest players are about 30 yards apart, and the teams’ defenders are probably only 50 yards apart). The short answer is that the players are quick, fast, and smart enough that they can afford to be that compact.
They played not the most exciting game I’ve seen in person, but probably the most skilled and tactically sound game I’ve seen in person. Drogba scored first for Chelsea, ripping a shot from about 35 yards out to the opposite upper 90. Seedorf tied it up with a dead-on shot from just outside the arc, and Zhirkov scored off a long rebound with about 20 minutes left. Chelsea, 2-1. Not the result I was hoping for. Oh well. Some highlights, courtesy of YouTube:
Other, non-goal highlights: Ronaldinho megged a guy–from where we sat it looked accidental, as if the guy had simply ran past the ball, but the replay (at about 0:25) shows it was deliberate. Oguchi Onyewu, only the second American to play in Serie A and the first to play for Milan, received a standing ovation when he was subbed in. Gennaro Gattuso got subbed in. Andriy Shevchenko, formerly of Milan and currently of Chelsea, was subbed in during the second half (Zhirkov’s rebound goal was off a Sheva shot). We saw the stars, we saw some goals, we saw some moves–it was exhiliarating.
The voyage home was uneventful, aside from a stop in Columbia, SC to have dinner with my pal Robert. He is, without a doubt, both the kindest and strangest person I’ve met in my life, and whenever I bet people that he’s the kindest and strangest person they’ve met, I win. That said, Robert has what humans would consider an unusual perception of spacetime. For instance, the most efficient way for a normal person to travel from Point A to Point B, which is roughly 30 minutes away on the same road, would be to travel along that road in the direction of Point B until reaching Point B. But someone from Robert’s dimension would travel 45 to 60 minutes in a direction perpendicular to the road connecting A and B in order to get gas and visit an ATM. This would not, in any way, be unusual for Robert, and I stopped questioning it a long time ago for my brain is stuck in lower dimensional-thought. Our brains can handle dimensional axes such as x, y, and z; his handles q, Ψ, Я, and ♣.
I got home midafternoon on a Sunday, had to leave for three back-to-back soccer games, scored a natural hat trick in the first one, got dehydrated and barely played in the next two games, had severe leg cramps and heart palpitations in bed, and fell asleep in agony. But the next morning I woke up late, went to lunch and due to waitress error received two deep-dish Chicago pizzas with pepperoni and black olives for the price of one. It was a great vacation.