Sunday, August 28, 2005

Take Me out to the Ballgame

Warning: This essay consists of whining and complaining, and items that are designed to annoy one’s conscience. Those who have already mastered correct thinking need not go any further.

"To be stupid, selfish, and have good health are three requirements for happiness, though if stupidity is lacking, all is lost."
- Gustave Flaubert

We went to a baseball game a Petco Park last night. I do not like Petco Park, for a number of selfish, inconsequential reasons. For those of you unfamiliar with San Diego, we citizens subsidized the installation of a wonderful baseball-only stadium in the heart of Downtown, which now solely belongs to a few millionaires. The majority of us now drive by the perfectly good former venue, Qualcomm Stadium (formerly San Diego Stadium), with the second-largest parking lot in the United States, to wend our way through construction zones and evening traffic to find parking somewhere near Petco Park. As our constitution dictates, the closer you get, the more you pay. We pulled into a lot a mere mile or so away, where a woman advised me that, for $10, we could park and someone would watch our car for 2 hours after the game. Wow. We got out, I handed her a bill, to receive the reply “A whole TEN?” This of course, indicated that some sort of tip was in order and I could probably expect some sort of minor damage resulting from my lack of proper downtown parking etiquette. This, gratefully, did not happen, but she was not there when we returned after the game, either. My guess is she didn’t get enough tips. It’s a little known fact that tipping is one of the things that drove the taller, smarter people West nearly two centuries ago, leaving most of the griping gladhanders in the Tri-State Area. Too bad they put in the Trans-Continental Railway.

“The rich get richer, the poor get the picture”
- Midnight Oil

One of the aspects of our vibrant, growing downtown – and it’s probably true for yours, too – is homeless people. I seldom go downtown, but when I do, it’s usually some sort of occasion – a fancy dinner, ballgame, sightseeing with visitors, or jury duty. On all but the latter, I’m on my best behavior to try and have a good time. This, by design, means that I will be spending what is euphemistically known as “discretionary income”. Therefore, the sight of my fellow men, women, and children curling up for the night under dirty blankets and sleeping bags tends to shoot my mood all to hell. The fact that I’m now feeling both ashamed and defensive as we stroll this gauntlet to the shiny venue with the perfect lawn; they are sentiments that haven’t dulled yet from my three whole visits there. I don’t even go down the mental road of circumstances, choices, “that’s just the way it is” (Bruce Hornsby), etc. much, this time. I just don’t like it.
I know I’m cheap. My grandparents slept under newspapers during the Great Depression, ok? But spending over $100 for three people to go to a baseball game is still too much, as far as I am concerned. Now this did include $35 for food – $3.50 for each fish taco, $7.00 for a chicken quesadilla, and 3 drinks (yes, we could’ve hauled food in, but one’s choices are limited when considering the hike in – it’s all cold by then – but then, so was the fish taco). The San Diego Padres use volunteer workers to man the counters, and then certain profits go to the charities that the volunteers represent – so I guess I can feel warm all over for that. Our seats, three rows from the top of the stadium (oops, park), were over $60. I particularly enjoyed the pre-game show, with a guided tour of one player’s home, including such items as the 60-inch plasma TV the Padres gave him last year, which is mounted on the patio wall in the back yard, near the putting green. OK, so now I know my place in the great universe – somewhere between his life and those lying on the sidewalk, outside. Ironies abound.
The game was what it is – watching the Western Division leaders play what looks like under .500 ball. They deserved to lose this game, and they did. A couple of great plays, too. The blessing and boon of baseball is that there is too much of it – plays become important only within context, to most of us. That there’s a lot of games means more of us get to see them, unlike say, football or golf. That there’s a lot of games means that some games don’t seem to um, command one’s attention like they probably should.
It’s hard to get into the game when there’s so many distractions, too, like the lousy sight line from our seats to home plate, where, if anyone in any of the 20 rows in front of us moved, was instantly obscured. Must I say that this was pretty constant? We had the distinct pleasure of sitting behind a large group; their socialization included constant seating changes and pleasant conversation. I think they had a wonderful time.
The game ended, and we made our way out into the night and the homeless-street-slalom back to our car.
My night ended, and I do mean ended, as we drove through the stoplights to the freeway home. Stopping at one intersection, I looked over to see a shape, under a blanket, in a cubbyhole at the corner. Parked next to the shape was an empty wheelchair. I turned to Vicky, who was looking with me, and said, “There has to be a better way.” She nodded. We drove home and got into bed.
It’s a great game. Or is it?