Monday, October 30, 2006

Week 8 - Dream A Little Dream

New Orleans, LA -- 10/29/06.

Surreal (adj.) 1. Characterized by fantastic imagery and incongruous juxtapositions (i.e. Our trip to New Orleans was surreal.)

Lets start with the fantastic imagery, and for those of you who have never had the pleasure of spending an evening on Bourbon St., the imagery is fantastic! Especially on Halloween, a night in which you are allowed to wear anything you could imagine, something’s you couldn’t imagine, and in some cases, not enough to leave anything to the imagination.

Now before I get into the visual buffet, I have to start my story with some true gourmet cooking. Lauryn’s Aunt and Uncle treated us to some of N’Orleans finest fare at Galatoire’s right on Bourbon St. No menus. No need. Our waiter explained their specials and his Cajun accent could have convinced me to order anything in the kitchen, even though I couldn’t understand a word he said. Turns out, I said ‘yes’ to a pan-seared butter-basted trout topped with lump crabmeat, in addition to the fried oysters wrapped in bacon that preceded the main course. Butter. Bacon. Fried. How could you go wrong? We probably should have stopped after dessert – pecan pie a la mode – but there were drinks to be had and people to be watched.

We set up on a corner along the strip – Bourbon and Toulouse to be exact – and over the course of the next four hours we witnessed what could only be described as, um, well, I don’t think you could use one word to describe what we saw. Here are a few attempts:

Oompa Loompas, Larry Legend, Moses and the Devil.
Football players, football fields, Stewie, Homer, and we even found Waldo.
Plenty of beads, hot pink boas, and an actual boa constrictor.
Sexy referees, police cadets, Mr. Clean and Little Bo Peep.
Batman and Robin, butterflies, bumble bees, and oh what a view from those famous balconies.

New Orleans was apparently back. I was never in the Big Easy in the pre-Katrina days, but a few drinks ironically called Hurricanes made me see the city for all that it has to offer. Of course my vision may have been impaired at this point in the night, but from what I could tell, New Orleans never looked better.
And now on to those crazy incongruous juxtapositions you’ve been waiting for.

An award winning sportswriter named John Feinstein wrote a book last year about life on the sidelines in the NFL called ‘Next Man Up’ in which he followed the Ravens for an entire season. I couldn’t help but find the concept of interest now that I too am chronicling my year ‘On the Road with the Ravens’. I finally decided to read his version of events and the ‘surreal’ nature of my time with the team really sank in. I would read a paragraph about how and why the team decided to trade a first round draft pick in order to select Kyle Boller. I would then look up from my book and see Kyle Boller getting up to use the bathroom. Every page mentioned someone on the plane. It sounds like the next screenplay from Charlie Kaufman, but I was reading a story that was coming to life right before my eyes. I couldn’t wait to find out how this week’s chapter would go.

The atmosphere inside the refurbished Superdome is ridiculous. It was October 29th, yet I felt like we were at the Super Bowl. Some of the Saints’ legendary alumni were walked out on to the field by the teams cheerleading squad – the Saintsations – who by the way were practicing on the field as we walked into the stadium earlier in the day and I couldn’t help but notice how physical their practice was. I swear – that was the only physical thing I was noticing. The cheerleaders got the crowd up on their feet and the noise that came raining back at us was deafening. Larry had some sort of decibel tracker and the meter was close to 100, which apparently is high because we couldn’t hear ourselves ask if 100 was high.

The game got off to a great start. On third and goal in the first quarter, newly appointed Offensive Coordinator Brian Billick called a running play for quarterback Steve McNair, which he ran to perfection and was barely touched on his way into the endzone. Apparently frustrated by not being able to throw the ball on this particular play, McNair unloaded at the wall behind the goal post to celebrate his score. It just so happens that your favorite production team was filming from right behind the goal post at that exact moment. I never had the chance to play football in high school – more specifically I never thought I’d be able to make it through a practice so I stayed on the baseball diamond where I belonged. In any case, I’ve never really had a ball thrown at me that hard. I wasn’t sure if I should dive out of the way, dive in front of Jeff, or maybe even make a diving attempt at catching the ball. As you can see in the picture (I have the white sleeves on), I eventually decided to just flinch, scared out of my mind about what the ball would do to my hands if I tried to get in its way. I'll have to work on that in practice.

The player we were filming from that fateful vantage point was Jonathan Ogden. Now for those of you who may not be familiar, Jonathan Ogden is a monster. And not just on Halloween. He's a Pro Bowl offensive lineman, a future Hall of Famer, a loving father, and a certifiable genius. But at 6’9” and 345 lbs, in full pads with a few more inches of afro on top, he is above all else a monster. We had the good fortune of listening to ‘J.O.’ the entire day and as the Ravens’ continued to rack up the points, the mood on the sidelines started to change. A bit more jovial you could say. So much so that Ogden felt like singing. Not hip-hop. No Metallica. Not even the NFL standard - Phil Collins’ ‘In the Air Tonight’ which he hummed a few bars of during warm-ups. Nope, the monster was in the mood for a little Wild Cherry and out came the funk:

Play that funky music white boy
Play that funky music right
Play that funky music white boy
Lay down that boogie and play that funky music till you die…

The birthplace of Jazz was certainly a good place to get funky and JO and the Ravens’ were getting down all day en route to a 35-22 win.

When the game ended we made our way into the locker room. Now, since my first week on the job, I’ve always found it interesting that female reporters walk around the locker rooms as the players change, shower, hang out – you know things you do in a locker room. I think they have every right to be there, or at least as much of a right as a male reporter, but I still find it a bit, lets say, awkward. So to my surprise, when it came time to shower up, I saw a female reporter hovering around a locker that just happened to be near the showers. I wasn’t quite sure what to do. I am by no means a professional athlete, so these situations don’t come up that often for me. The team at Exit10 doesn’t shower after a new business pitch, and we don’t have reporters waiting to talk to us afterwards. Fortunately, as I found myself pacing around the sinks, trying to decide how to handle the situation, Ray Lewis made himself available to the media and all those who carry a microphone swarmed towards our fearless leader. I was free to wash up.

The final piece of the juxtaposition puzzle came on the bus ride to the airport. I was busy checking my fantasy stats and various box scores from around the league. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one. From the back of the bus I could hear Ray shouting out scores and stats to his teammates. I would read on my trusty Treo that Fred Taylor rushed for 100 yards against Philadelphia. Ray would shout out, 'Freddie rushed for 100'. You see, Ray Lewis actually knows the players that make up most of my fantasy football roster. Not just by name, but probably by where they grew up and how they like there steaks cooked. Once again, fantasy was becoming a reality.

A secondary definition for the word surreal is, 'Having an oddly dreamlike quality.' My first eight weeks on the road with the Ravens has certainly had an oddly, dreamlike quality to them. A dream in which the line between fantasy and reality is blurred, And after spending 24 exhausting hours in a city in which that line is all but erased, I can't wait to get to sleep to find out what happens in the next chapter of this dream. Stay tuned.

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