sacramento

Exit 174. I enjoy traveling by train.

My twenty-five-mile commute to work runs parallel to a railroad track, used both by freight trans and an Amtrak route (for my readers outside the USA, that means a passenger train) that runs twice per day in each direction.  A few miles down the highway, I cross the track, and sometimes, if the timing works out just right, I can see the Amtrak train, and I end up following it for about another 15 miles until my exit.  Then, shortly after my exit, I cross under the railroad track again, and if the timing is still just right, I see the train one last time above me.  Last Thursday, I saw the train following me along my drive, but by the time I got to the underpass, I had gotten stuck waiting at a stop sign, and the train had already passed.

I am discovering more and more that I enjoy traveling by train.  I’ve often used BART, the regional electric commuter trains in and around San Francisco and Oakland, to get to Giants games or other occasional events in San Francisco for which I don’t want to deal with traffic or finding an overpriced place to park.  I went to a concert in the city a few weeks ago, and I took BART and then connected to a local bus, and I didn’t even miss the bus or get on the wrong bus or anything like that.  Me 1, San Francisco 0.  The local light rail in Sacramento is my usual method of transportation to get to Kings games when I don’t have to pick up someone who doesn’t have a way to get to games or won’t use public transportation.  I have also used light rail and buses many times to get home from long one-way bike rides.  And in June, I rode Amtrak for the first time, going to visit my family.

I think I would use public transportation more often, except that it usually does not go where I’m going when I need to be there.  When I say this to many people, they proceed to criticize the public transportation system in this region compared to others, or public transportation in the USA compared to other countries.  But this is not the issue.  The issue is that my commute is not along a common commuting corridor.  It is theoretically possible for me to get to work using three buses, run by three different agencies that do not issue transfers, with inconvenient layovers in between.  I could also just do the long bus route, getting to and from the stops by bike instead of two other buses.  However, that would still be about three and a half miles on my bike each way, which I do not like to do in work clothes or without being able to shower afterward, especially on hot days.  (I am thinking, however, that it might be useful to try this, just to see how it works.  I could be sure to arrive early enough to clean up a little and/or change clothes before the students arrive.  Even if this does not become my daily commute, this may come in handy in a pinch if I am ever without a car for any reason.)  As for using public transportation for trips that are not work, my social life usually involves doing things late at night, leaving me with no way to get home on public transportation.  Either that, or I am rushing from one place to another and do not have time to wait for a bus or train.

I’ve already reserved my ticket on Amtrak to visit my family for Christmas.  It’s longer and more expensive than driving, but to me, not unreasonably so.  And I’ve come to realize that maybe I don’t like driving as much as I thought I did, or as much as I used to.  As a roadgeek, driving is fun.  But sometimes it’s also fun to just sit back and stare out the window at the scenery going by.  And I’m definitely looking forward to doing that on the way home for Christmas.  It’ll be dark on the way back; the city where my parents live only gets one train per day in each direction, and the one taking me home leaves around 6:30pm, long after sunset in December.  But I’ll be bringing my Christmas presents home, so I’ll probably have some new movies to watch on my laptop for when it’s too dark to see outside.

Exit 81. If everyone feels this way, then the terrorists have already won.

The news this week hasn’t been good, for the most part.  Lots of terrorist attacks, drive by shootings, and other tragedies that have become all too commonplace in the world of today.  In response to this, a younger college student friend posted on Facebook that it was crazy that we have to be afraid to go anywhere these days because of terrorists.  She said that every day in class, or every time she goes to a movie, she wonders if someone is going to shoot everyone there.

I don’t mean to be harsh in my reply to this, but if everyone feels this way, then the terrorists have already won.

I’m not trying to say that we shouldn’t take these incidents seriously.  We should.  I’m not saying we should forget that they happened.  We shouldn’t.  There are a lot of people still out there who have lost loved ones in incidents like this.  They are suffering in a way I can’t imagine.  But I, for one, refuse to capitulate to fear.  Terrorists want to spread terror.  That’s why they’re called terrorists, not murderists or explosionists.  They want us to be afraid and capitulate to them.

I grew up in Salinas.  Historically, my hometown’s claim to fame is being the birthplace of Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck.  But more recently, Salinas has been earning a dubious distinction as a gang battleground.  A few years ago, I was visiting my family there, and one of the major local news stories was that a young child had been killed as an innocent bystander in a drive-by shooting.  In response to that incident, some sort of youth sports team based in nearby Monterey cancelled a tournament appearance in Salinas, fearing for the safety of the kids on the team.  A columnist for the Salinas newspaper wrote a brilliantly sarcastic column that I wish I had saved.  (If the author of this column happens to read this, I’m sorry I didn’t give you the proper credit, or if I got anything wrong.  And I’m going to use masculine pronouns, because I remember it being a man who wrote this, but I could be wrong on this as well.)  He wrote about how his nephew (or possibly some other kid he knew, I don’t think it was his own kid; as I said, I may be getting details wrong) had recently had a baseball game in the same neighborhood where the shooting occurred.  He explained how everyone around him was watching the game, not fearing for their lives, and when his nephew’s team scored, everyone cheered so loud that he couldn’t hear any shooting.  He said that if anyone from “crime-free Monterey” (a phrase he repeatedly used with proverbial tongue in cheek) had attended the game, they would have had just as much fun as if they’d been attending a game in crime-free Monterey without the threat of gunfire.  He concluded on a serious note, that someone can choose to live in fear whenever tragedies like this happen, but he and the families from his nephew’s baseball team chose to stand up for their neighborhood and not be afraid to live their lives.

Living in fear is easy, but you miss out on so much that way.  Yes, I could get shot tomorrow.  I could also die in a car accident through no fault of my own, or a crashing airplane could fall out of the sky on me, or a building could collapse on top of me or with me inside, or I could have a heart attack.  Bad stuff happens.  Jesus predicted that the world would plunge into chaos before he returned (Matthew 24).    There are plenty of reasons to be afraid, and living in fear like that gets me nowhere and do nothing about it.  I’ve learned that the hard way, and I’m still not always very good at it.  But living in fear isn’t going to help me grow.

Lord Jesus, I pray for Paris, and Sacramento, and the regions in the Middle East experiencing unrest, and for the whole world, as we cope with tragedy.  I pray for healing.  I pray that we will come together to support each other in difficult times, and I pray that we will love each other to the point that potential future terrorists don’t feel a need to turn to that life anymore.  And I pray that those who are afraid or hurting will be comforted and find peace.

Exit 10. I believe that soccer can coexist with baseball, football, basketball, and hockey.

The FIFA World Cup is going on right now.  For those of you who aren’t sports people (if that’s you, keep reading, because there’s more to this post than sports), FIFA stands for “Fédération Internationale de Football Association.”  For those of you who don’t know French and don’t have a very good grasp on the obvious, that means “International Federation of Association Football.”  Association football is the game that those of us here in the USA usually call soccer.  Every four years, teams representing their countries play each other in a month-long tournament.  Thirty-two national teams qualify for the tournament, organized into eight groups of four.  Each team plays three games, against the other three teams in their group, then the top two teams in each group (that would be 16 total) play each other in a single elimination format (losing team goes home) until there is only one team left (meaning that a team would need to win four consecutive games, after the initial three, to win the World Cup).

The World Cup is huge in much of the rest of the world, even bigger than the Olympics in some countries.  In the USA, not so much.  Soccer is not the dominant sport here.  American sports fans tend to pay a lot more attention to baseball, American football (the kind of football with yard lines and touchdowns), basketball, and in some regions, hockey.  But soccer is definitely becoming more popular in the USA.  The USA did not qualify for the World Cup at all between 1954 and 1986, but since 1990 the USA has qualified for every World Cup, advancing past the group stage four of those seven times.  Major League Soccer, the top level professional soccer league in the USA and Canada, has expanded from 10 teams at its founding in 1996 to 19 today.  Sacramento has a new lower-level professional soccer team which, for some games, has drawn bigger crowds than many MLS games.  If these crowds continue, Sacramento will likely be considered as a possible future MLS expansion site.  And of course, city parks in many places around the USA are full of kids playing soccer on the weekends.

I’ve always had kind of an ambivalent relationship toward soccer.  I’ve never particularly disliked it, but I don’t really follow it or make much of an effort to watch it.  I have no family tradition of watching soccer (compared to, for example, making day trips to San Francisco with my family a few times every year to watch Giants games, or watching Joe Montana win Super Bowls for the 49ers on TV as a kid).   I already have teams to follow in the other four sports I mentioned above.  My watching of soccer has been limited to watching the students at the school I used to work when they have games, and watching the USA national team in the World Cup sometimes.

But while watching this World Cup, I made an interesting discovery, something that I started to notice about myself during the 2010 World Cup and am finally fully ready to admit: I like soccer.  I enjoy watching soccer.  I think soccer games are exciting.  And I really should make an effort to follow soccer more.

Fans of other sports, particularly American football and basketball, always make a joke about how soccer is about as exciting as watching paint dry.  I really don’t know where this comes from.  They must not have been watching the same games I was watching.  Usually such sentiments are borne of the fact that soccer games, at least at the professional and international level, are usually very low scoring.  So many of the games during the World Cup have been decided by one goal, with final scores like 1-0 or 2-1.  But I don’t think that makes the game any less exciting.  There is a lot more to this game than scoring.  The way the teams set up for goals and defend provides excitement in itself.  And, more importantly, a low scoring game is more exciting because it makes everything so tense.  One goal, one mistake, each one can end up being so huge.

There are a lot of important life lessons to learn from soccer.  Soccer teaches patience.  Goals don’t come often, and it takes a lot of work to set up for scoring a goal, just like in real life.  Soccer teaches that your actions have consequences.  As I said above, one little mistake can have huge consequences in the final score of the game.  And at the World Cup level, soccer is a bit of a humbling reminder that the USA isn’t the greatest country in the world at everything, and that we have a lot to learn from other cultures.

Soccer fans have a different culture than fans of the other popular North American sports, it seems.  They cheer for their teams differently.  They have a different vocabulary as well: a jersey is a “kit,” a field is a “pitch,” a tie is a “draw,” and a game-tying goal is an “equalizer,” for example.  Don’t get me wrong; I haven’t turned into One Of Them.  I believe that soccer can coexist with baseball, football, basketball, and hockey.  I’m not going to turn into one of those soccer fans who puts down other sports as inferior and roots for the USA to lose on principle.  And if so-called true soccer fans are unwilling to embrace me as a soccer fan because I’ll be going for the USA in the World Cup and because I’ll continue to watch American football, and call it football, then maybe I don’t want to be one of you (see Exit 1 on geekbullying, for example).  But I don’t care what those people think, nor do I care with soccer haters think.  I like soccer.

Since the USA was eliminated Tuesday on a 2-1 overtime loss (I haven’t figured out yet what soccer fans call overtime) to Belgium, I haven’t really kept up with this.  I didn’t watch any other World Cup games this week; I spent most of my sports time watching baseball, as I am doing right now as I write this.  And I haven’t been to a Sacramento Republic FC game yet.  But I plan on doing so eventually; there are four teams and four games left in the World Cup, and the Republic season lasts a couple more months.  It’ll be fun.  And I have a new culture to learn, and some new life lessons to learn.