Between one of the baseball innings the other night, Gary, who I hadn’t seen in years and who enjoyed reminding me that he is 69, leaned across the seat vacated between us and admired out loud how I was still thin and in good shape. And wondered how I did it.
Now, as I recall from years back, Gary often thought — probably more than a tad correctly — that my mind was an apothecary of expired drugs. I mean when we ‘cowboys’ were brought in some 34 years ago to help launch USA TODAY I was supposedly hired for my ‘versatile’ writing skills, and, unlike Gary, not because I knew which end of a football needed to cross the goal line.
Or how much it had to be inflated.
Sooo…. While Gary and I were grand working-friends, let’s just say we are definitely from bi-polar-opposite quadrants in the solar system. I think his had a little less oxygen.
At that I studied my older compatriot who stuck around USA Today until they handed him a buy-out last year, and simply answered his query in a bombastic manner he no doubt remembered: ‘I exercise before dawn… right after I quit drinking for the night. And in between I chase the daughters of mothers I used to chase.’
Gary’s dark eyes poking through round-rimmed glasses slowly twinkled at the thought. But he definitely needs to drink more. And then I added: “You know, like Erik says: Eat, drink and re-marry.”
Erik is the reason we were all at this ball game. Even though he has lived and worked in Washington, D.C. as a sports columnist with USA Today for the last 34 years, Erik still thinks the world, sun, planets and his Catholic Almighty revolve around his snow-drifted hometown of Buffalo, New York.
Fortunately Buffalo doesn’t have an MLBaseball team. And so he got some of us ‘founding fathers’ of the first newspaper to put ‘real-color’ in the news to gather at a game in Washington. Especially me, because the Washington Nationals were playing my home team – the Philadelphia Phillies.
And I have to tell you, for the first time in my life I suddenly felt old. Or at least now that I’m in my 60s that I must be getting old. Actually I always thought growing old would take longer. Or, as I wondered to Erik, how old would he be if he didn’t know how old he was?
With his trademark impish grin he offered: “All I know is: I may grow old, but I’ll never grow up.”
Hmm… At that his wife, Carol, and even their cat, Buff, have no doubt.
Anyway I ‘started’ feeling archaic when Erik pulled his gray Honda with the USA2DAY license plate into the parking lot some four or five blocks from the stadium. And the sign read $45.
Now I may be a tad penurious, but I ain’t cheap… Okay, one of my exes did accuse me of being so cheap that I wouldn’t even pay attention.
And I know that $45 isn’t THAT much more than it is to park at the stadium in Philadelphia. However, at that moment – with more such moments to quickly come – I started thinking how my dear ol’ bourbon sippin’ Pappy would have reacted to paying more to park your car — for a little more than 3 hours — than what a worker earned under the mandated minimum ‘weekly’ wage back in the late 1950s.
Lock and load, brother. Lock and load.
So with that in my DNA you don’t have to wonder why you can touch my ex-wives, but don’t you DARE touch my Second Amendment! I mean my round trip bus ticket from Philadelphia cost much less. And that’s for 3 hours – each way!
After getting into the ballpark, where they pat you down and check you keener than they do some uninvited folks running in and out of the White House, I immediately steered myself to get a hotdog… and a beer.
But Erik suggested we find our seats first. I looked at him with true horror. Like it wasn’t only his root canal that got yanked at the dentist that morning. I mean this was the same guy who once lectured me on a drunken week in Canada that: “Beer isn’t just for breakfast anymore, Drew!”
So, after I ordered a hot dog this sweet young counter girl, who could have been one of my illegitimate granddaughters, informed me that it cost $6.25.
I looked back at her and blinked. And tried not to imagine her naked and bent over the deep fryer.
But, what-duh-hell-what-duh-heck, I paid.
And then she and her food serving crew watched in amused amazement as I loaded up that damn dog like a sundae. With onions. With relish. With mustard. With just about anything I could locate on that condiment cart. With everything that would back out painfully late in the night.
And I announced to the smiling crew: ‘This dawg cost twenty-five cents more than what my dear ol’ Pappy used to pay me for working 60-hour weeks on the farm.’
They had no idea what this crazy old fool was jabbering about. They just knew that I’d probably be back for another fix. And after I woofed the anything-but-kosher swine in about three bites I demanded to know where the heck do I get a beer.
They pointed across the way.
So I went where directed. And handed a pretty, young barmaid $40 for five 16-ounce cans of Island Goose beer to bring back to Erik and the guys.
At first I couldn’t figure out why, at the same time I was holding out my hand for some expected change, she was also holding out her hand. Figured it might be some local custom initiated by all the Capitol Hill politicians and lobbyists. Then she, in a chewing-gum tone of some jaded Navy yard prostitute, informed me that I owed her ten more dollars.
It was $10 … A beer!
I blinked. And tried not to imagine the two of us naked in that tub of ice and water. Apparently she’s seen this sticker shock and salacious neon thought before. And due to my dumbfounded amazement I can’t remember precisely what she said. But it might as well of been: ‘New in town, sailor?’
“I am just imagining my ol’ man beating me to death for paying $50 dollars for five beers,” I responded. “It would require complete facial reconstruction. And many more root canals than the one my friend here had this morning.”
She barely laughed as she announced to the next guy that it would be $20 for his two beers.
Indeed, they do this to us because they can.
Look… I am no curmudgeon. It’s not as if we didn’t have a great time.
We did. We just can’t afford to do it again.
We drank. We told lies. We talked about old times and the people who got lost in our mental smoke. As Erik and Gary and even Reid, who I always viewed as a kid brother but is now retired, explained, the Washington Nationals are ‘only’ (ONLY!) the 5th most expensive seats in MLB.
A study determined last year that an average night at the Nationals ballpark for a family of four, including beer and hot dogs, costs $232.08. That’s $20 less than in Philadelphia. And ‘only’ (ONLY!) $20 more than the average cost in MLB stadiums — with the Yankees and Boston costing about $300…
It’s no secret that I love baseball. At home I smoke cigars while listening to it on the radio on my terrace many a night. Yet, I have to admit our seats at the National Stadium were marvelous. They were on the 200 level just behind home plate. I have no idea what they cost. It was Erik’s turn to treat.
But then I went a little gaga when Erik pointed out that the mostly empty blue seats just below us at field level were all sold out but rarely filled. They’re apparently bought out by lobbyists for gifts to clients. The seats sell, apparently, for about $300 each. But only at that ‘cheap’ price if you buy them for the entire season.
That amounts to $24,300 per seat.
And once again, like my dear ol’ bourbon sippin’ Pappy would point out: That’s more than most houses in the 1950s.
It all starts to affect your way of thinking.
Thousand dollar seats… like first class seats on airlines. Or people seated in limousines… You start to feel different about yourself and your country. It ain’t classless. There is something different about the rich. And you get to comprehending that money isn’t the root of all evil, it’s the ‘lack’ of money.
Because we all want to live rich. And make sure other folks know it.
At one point before the game’s end with my Phillies miraculously performing a 3-game sweep of the series, I turned to Erik and the guys and wondered:
‘Now let me get this straight: We build the stadiums. Pay off their bonds. TV throws millions of dollars at the team owners. And yet we can hardly afford to go to the games. Do I have that about right?’
At that Gary and Erik and even Reid, all gave me a strange gaze that asked: You get out much? Or, is your latest future-ex-wife actually your parole officer?
On my $16 bus ride home late that night I felt very old.
And helpless at how money has changed the game – all our games. And I got to thinking that old age is like a plane flying thru a storm. Once you’re on board there is nothing you can do.
At that I caught my reflection in the bus’s darkened windows. And I realized, once more, that after a certain age every man is responsible for his face. And now I’ve got mine.
And dats yDrewIS on dis penal colony…