Reflections from a road trip – some baseball, some media, some culture.
I recently checked off ballparks 33 and 34 on my way to seeing all the Major League venues. I love road trips, and this was a fun one, including a 24-hour drive to Dallas, and a 28-hour drive home from Houston.
Both Rangers Ballpark, opened in Dallas in 1994, and Minute Maid Park, opened in Houston in 2000, deserve to be in the top 10 of Major League ballparks.
They are among the trend in new ballparks launched by Baltimore’s Camden Yards in 1989, with great sight lines, spectator treats like giant scoreboards, and amazing food.
Minute Maid’s iconic touch is a nearly lifesize train that travels above the left field grandstands when a home run is hit.
My favorite feature in Rangers Ballpark is the variety of Texas barbecue you can buy in the centerfield food court (I had a smoked Turkey leg dripping in barbecue sauce). A side benefit is the view of the Dallas Cowboy’s amazing new stadium next door.
I prefer the Rangers’ park to the Astros’, but it’s a close call. One thing that is nice about Minute Maid Park is its downtown location. You can park for $5, walk the downtown, and eat at a sports bar across the street before entering the stadium.
Rangers Ballpark is in Arlington, a half-hour drive from downtown Dallas, sandwiched between Six Flags Texas and Cowboys Stadium. That’s cool, but not as nice as a downtown location.
Another baseball highlight – watching the Rangers’ emerging superstar, Josh Hamilton, hit two home runs during the stretch when he hit eight in 18 at-bats. I witnessed a tiny little piece of baseball history.
There’s nothing like 52 hours in the car (actually, that includes six hours each way sleeping at a rest stop) to get a feel for the state of talk radio in America.
And let me tell you, it’s a frightening experience.
I took along my ipod, loaded with lots of music and an audio book. But I like news radio (not surprising for a journalist), so I still spent hours spinning the dial listening to conservatives, liberals, preachers, sports fans and some I couldn’t even identify.
What’s so scary? Here’s a list:
• It seems that conservative and liberal talk show hosts are entirely blind out of one eye (or is it deaf out of one ear). They say the most outrageous things as if they were truth. It’s as if repeating a wrong over and over makes it right.
For example, liberals talk about the Tea Party as if it’s an evil crusade, something akin to the way conservatives talk about the Occupy Movement.
It apparently hasn’t occurred to any of them that both movements are comprised of good, honest people struggling to make their country a better place. They just see the world from different viewpoints.
Why can’t radio hosts help their audiences see that, instead of playing into the most small-minded views of reality.
• Christian radio hosts may be even worse, based on some that I heard while driving through the South. Their lack of tolerance left me alternately angry and sad.
One discussion I listened to focused on how Muslim extremists have infiltrated the Obama White House. As I pondered the on-air conversation between the host and a supposed expert, I realized they were using the terms Muslim and terrorist interchangeably.
It was as if they truly believed that if you choose to worship God as a Muslim, you are inherently evil. I was floored, dumbfounded. Who gave these people keys to the airwaves?
• Why is it sports talk show hosts think they have to yell to make a point? I know they have a lot of time to fill, and they’re often forced to do it with meaningless drivel. But yelling doesn’t make it sound better.
I’m a sports fan, for better or worse. I like to keep up on what’s going on in the wide world of sports. But it sure makes it painful when you have to listen to ranting and raving by guys who apparently think shrieking at the top of their lungs improves ratings.
• For me, National Public Radio is a refuge of sanity in the otherwise nutty world of radio news and talk.
News and commentary on NPR is easy to find – I went through Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama without failing to find an NPR station.
NPR’s news reporters and talk hosts are consistently thorough, thoughtful and balanced.
I listened to other talk radio out of curiosity. As a journalist and a media teacher, I wanted to hear what was out there on the drive from Michigan to Texas. But I kept coming back to NPR to regain my connection with reality.
Besides going to baseball games, my second reason for visiting Texas was a family reunion. I spent a week at Lake Conroe, about an hour north of Houston, with my mother, brothers and sister and their spouses.
A week in Texas was much nicer than I expected. I’ve always had a bit of a bad attitude about Texans – based only on the small sample I’ve known (several have been good friends).
As I drove across the Texas-Louisiana line on the way home, I had two thoughts:
One, the Texans I met were genuinely friendly and helpful. Even more than Midwesterners, they’re quick with a “How ya’all doing” and a wide smile. They answered my questions – I ask a lot of questions wherever I go – with good humor and wanted to know about me, too.
On either of the coasts, you’re more likely to get a quiet smile and maybe a nod. In some cities – Philadelphia comes to mind – it may be more of a snarl.
In Texas, as in Michigan, folks were much more willing to initiate a conversation with a stranger, along with an honest offer to help.
Two, the commercialization/homogenization of America has made it tough to find real, regional differences. The same stores line the same strip malls, whether it’s in Louisville, Memphis, Little Rock, Dallas or Houston.
We asked a local for a tip on the best authentic Texas barbecue, and he sent us to a franchise restaurant.
We went to the Woodlands, a famous upscale Houston shopping area, and I thought I was at Easton Town Center, the mall outside Columbus, Ohio. I don’t know which came first, but I suspect Woodlands Mall was built first, but then expanded to copy the Easton “Main Street” concept.
The result, though, is cultural confusion. Where am I, anyway?
I only have two cities left to complete the tour of Major League ballparks – Tampa Bay and Phoenix.
But don’t worry about me running out of destinations. When I finish the first round, I’m starting over, visiting the ballparks built since my first visits. There must be a dozen.
I sense many more road trips in my future.