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Posts Tagged ‘sports’

Russian White Night Street Racing

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

Aleksandr Pushkin

Natasha and Dmitri met me at the train platform. It was after midnight in June in Tver and the sky still had sunlight in it. “Do you like Russian fast driving?” Dmitri asked me as I sat down in the backseat. I put on my seatbelt. Natasha, with brown hair and blue eyes, smiled at me from shotgun and turned up the stereo. Dmitri hit the gas.

We changed cars for a red, tuned-up Mazda with a turbocharger and custom spoiler. I got in the back. Dmitri drove us over the river, the sky a dark blue, to a warehouse parking lot. About a dozen cars were parked waiting. Boys and girls stood around them smoking cigarettes and drinking beer out of cans.

The city of Tver (56°21′N 35°55′E) is more than 800 years old. It once competed with Moscow for the capital seat of Russia. But the Moscow-engineered murder of a prince in the 14th century undercut the momentum the city had gained, and in 2009 only about 400,000 people live there. It is also where the Volga and Tversta rivers flow together. There are only three bridges in the city, so in the winter people walk from one part of the city to the other across the frozen Volga.

The race organizer handed out disclaimers to the drivers. Dmitri paid the 500-ruble entry fee. We got back in the car and Natasha translated the disclaimer. She spoke good English and savored the opportunity to use it, smiling as she read.

Street racing is your choice.
It is your choice to speed or break traffic laws.
We know you must drive fast, but please, be safe.
If you break the law and there is police, we are not knowing who you are.
Good luck.

A man with a clipboard and a stopwatch stood at the exit of the parking lot. The cars lined up–Nissans, Toyotas, Subarus, and Russian Ladas–and drove away at two-minute intervals. We were eighth out of nine cars to leave the lot. When it came time to leave, Dmitri popped the clutch and we threw up rocks headed south into the city.

“I love this,” Natasha turned around and told me. “I love the speed.”

Dmitri sat alert with his back off the seat as he sped over the river, one hand on the wheel, one hand on the shifter, only speaking to ask Natasha where the next checkpoint was and the best way to get there. He drove the Mazda hard to the first checkpoint at Liberty Park. We found a green Lada with it’s hazard lights on and Dmitri gave them his name. Then we took off again. We chased a black Honda, nearly catching her multiple times. We drove 90 miles an hour through the city, over the Volga bridges, past statues of Vladimir Lenin and Aleksandr Pushkin.

En route to the fourth checkpoint, on the outskirts of the city, we passed a power plant with three smokestacks, each standing alone, red bands across their middles, thin vapor still escaping into the white night. Before we came to our next goal, we had to stop at a police checkpoint. Dmitri handed the officer his documents and swore as we drove away for the time we had lost.

We sped back to the center of the city, and as we entered into a large roundabout, 20 miles an hour over the speed limit, Dmitri cut in front of a new, white Audi sedan. The roundabout shot us out headed north into traffic and as we fought to find an opening the car pulled alongside us. The driver was a short, pudgy man with dyed blonde hair. He had his window rolled down and yelled, furious. Dmitri smiled and changed lanes, swerving around a car. He chased us, honking and flashing his lights.

He came along our left side. Dmitri said yelled something in Russian and the driver hollered back. Then, with a slight pump of the brakes and a downshift, Dmitri turned right onto a side street. The turn was too quick for him to follow and we were gone.

Then the battle with the black Honda was back on. We caught up to her at the gas station checkpoint. She cut us off driving out of the lot and for the next two checkpoints it was a dogfight-trading the lead several times, nearly colliding almost as many. Through it all Natasha laughed, Dmitri drove at attention, and I held on in the backseat.

The race ended back at the warehouse. Stars spotted the sky-the night just turning black. We waited for the last car to come in. She didn’t win but the organizers gave the driver of the Honda a bottle of champagne because she was the only woman driver. We finished sixth. After the parking lot cleared, we went to the store and bought beer and vodka to take back to Dmitri’s flat. We stayed up until the sky turned back to white.

Bart Schaneman is an American writer. He writes about his travels and about Nebraska. Read more of his writing at http://bartschaneman.wordpress.com and http://rainfollowstheplow.wordpress.com.

In Korea, the bulls get the horns

Friday, April 10th, 2009


This is not Hemingway’s bullfight.

A man in a blue jacket that reads “Cheongdo Bullfighting” leads a bull into the ring. The tawny Hanwoo bull carries the bulk of his nearly 2,000 pounds in his neck and shoulders. He follows easily behind the man, led by a rope threaded through one nostril and out the other. On his flank is stamped in big, black Hanguel CHUL YONG.

The domed arena is circular and modern, with 12,000 plastic seats and two jumbo-screen TVs. It is half-full on this Sunday afternoon — there is one more fight before the end of the day. The man in the blue jacket waits with his bull in the center of the dirt ring. Not long after, a man in a red jacket leads out TAE YANG (“sun” in English). Similar in color and size, the most marked difference is the curvature of their horns — Chul Yong’s point outward, Tae Yang’s point upward.

The two men bring the bulls together until they are head to head and less than a meter apart. From the press box the announcer calls the start. The men command the bulls to fight, and with a charge the two heads hit. The men pull the ropes from out of their noses and the fight is underway.

On a normal day it would have taken less than 10 minutes to drive north from the Cheongdo train station in North Gyeonsgang Province to the arena. But on March 29, the third day of the five-day Cheongdo Bullfight Festival, it took more than half an hour. We had a good taxi driver that was aggressive and knew some short cuts, yet we still couldn’t get through the traffic, so 500 meters out we stopped him and walked.

We passed people on the road — families of all ages, drunk men with faces of those who have lost money yelling at their friends, women carrying babies. We passed food stands selling beer, rice wine, odeng (processed fish on a stick), gyaeran bang (breaded eggs), and gift sets of dried persimmons. We passed an outdoor concert where a man in drag with clown face paint led a drum circle in front of seated middle-aged men and women. It was a full-blown festival and about more than just the bulls.

Back in the ring, Chul Yong and Tae Yang are having trouble staying focused. They push and dig and snort intermittently, occasionally stopping to look around — more interested in their surroundings than each other. If yelling commands to attack fail, the two men who stay near their animals’ heads throughout the fight run the ropes around the bulls’ necks and pull them back together. It is curious how the bulls don’t turn on the men.

Bullfighting has been part of Korea’s history for 1,000 years. What was once a village pastime has spread throughout some of the rural areas, and this annual festival is the main event. Now, much like the rodeo in the United States, there is a bullfighting circuit and they compete for money.

As the fight reaches the 30-minute mark the bulls are exhausted. Their sides heave in and out. Time after time they break from the fight and stand looking to their owners for direction. The hide covering their polls is gouged and bleeding. Again the owners yell and again they thrust, digging with their front legs, their humps straining as they work new angles, trying to turn the other or drive him back.

Watching the bulls fight is almost like watching boxing or wrestling. But with men you see learning, adapting, you see them trying new strategies — with bulls you merely see two animals who don’t know why they are in that ring getting tired. Their managers can’t tell them how to exploit their opponent’s weaknesses, they can only tell them to fight. And even bulls can find fighting and the base act of proving male dominance pointless and dull.

Finally, at 31:40 Chul Yong turns and runs, making a circle around the ring, choosing freedom from attrition over pride gained from victory. They place him in a pen on the side of the ring. Tae Yang’s owner takes a bow and leads his winning bull from the arena. Then the loser walks out, panting, his tongue wagging in his open mouth.

There are those that claim that this type of bullfight is somehow more natural — that the bulls are exercising their natural dominant instincts — than Spanish corridas. The Spaniards (and the Portuguese, French and various people of Latin America) use horses, spears and swords. The Korean kind is less bloody, and certainly less deadly. Yet as for how natural it is — this farmer’s son who grew up around cattle is not convinced.

Bulls, in a domestic pasture setting, establish dominance for the purpose of breeding. The winner here is not competing for any tangible reward — no trailer full of yearling heifers waits outside the ring. So it is easy to understand the half-hearted performance of Chul Yong and Tae Yang.

What then drove the bull in the last fight of the day?

In the same manner as the previous fight, TAE POONG (“typhoon” in English) and YONG BANG are led into the ring. From the first moment, when the referee in a hanbok calls for them to begin, it is clear this will be a different fight. Like boxers touching gloves, they touch noses. Then they pause for a moment to turn away from each other, lift their heads, and roll their nostrils back, sniffing, playing to an applauding crowd.

Their owners call them back to the fight. They snort and paw like cartoon characters, and then smash together. They dig into the dirt, driving, pawing, straining. Maybe these two are younger, hungrier — maybe they simply just have more pride.

At the 3:24 mark Tae Poong digs down, thrusts, turns Yong Bang’s head and starts to drive him to the side. Yong Bang scrambles for traction, to get any kind of hold, to stop Tae Poong from driving him back, but the other bull is too strong, has too much momentum, and there is nothing he can do. When Yong Bang is driven to the panels along the side of the ring the fight is over.

As with Chul Yong, they put Yong Bang in the loser’s pen on the side of the ring. Then he does an unusual thing. He begins to groan. His jaw hangs open, his fat, pink tongue hangs loose and he cries out. As the winner leaves the ring he moans over and over. He bellows either for his damaged pride or for another chance. He leaves the ring groaning.

As the crowd files out, dancers and musicians appear for a ceremonial mask dance to celebrate the end of the ritual. We walk out of the arena to the beating of drums and the shrill pitch of horns.

Bart Schaneman is an American writer. He writes about his travels and about Nebraska. Read more of his writing at http://bartschaneman.wordpress.com and http://rainfollowstheplow.wordpress.com.

March Madness is here?!

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Several people wondered why there was no tournament at this time last year. Fools! They don’t play this tournament every year do they? They do? Hmm…

So, download the PDF, fill in your winners, email me your Final Four AND your Sweet Sixteen and be eligible for prizes. OK?

There are many fine contenders for this year’s Final Four. The top seed in the East Seltzer hopes to return to the promised land, but faces a tough first round matchup with Stone Ground Mustard. The Best Show on WFMU also hopes to repeat its success in the North bracket, but face Triceratops early with Leverage, Adobe Garamond, or Gena Rowlands as possible later round opponents.

Surprise top seed in the West, Temptation Eyes by the Grass Roots, will be tested early and often if they advance to the Final Four with possible matchups against Pizzaburger Deluxe, Deviled Eggs, Daniel Murphy, and the MLB Network. The South bracket welcomes the return of the Khmer Rouge as well as other contenders BLT, We’re So Glad Elvis is Dead, and a framed photo of yourself in a novelty frame, and don’t forget to keep an eye on the winner of the first round matchup between Alison Statton by Pants Yell! and Alison by Elvis Costello.

Email your Sweet Sixteen and Final Four picks to sports.correspondent.johnny.bob(AT)gmail.com

Download PDF.


Intrepid sports correspondent Johnny Bob communicates exclusively via an Asthmatic Kitty issued blueberry device.

Where are the brackets?!

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

Where are the brackets?!

July, my friends. July. There were more than a few imposters this year. There was one with sixty five(?!) basketball teams, and one from one of last year’s competitors even! Please Susan Powter!

Either way, I’ve been rising with the sun for weeks. The C.L. Marines look real good again, and it was a pleasure to sit down and have a burger with Bobby V. when I ran into him.

Pedro Martinez was talking to reporters the other day in Port St. Lucie about the change in expectations for today’s pitchers. "I can’t help what others think…I prepare myself for nine innings, if I can’t go nine innings the bullpen will pick me up. The days that I have to pick up the bullpen and take one in the eye for the team, I’ll do that. I’ll do that for the team."

When Cousin Danny stopped by in the fifth, Dice K looked a heck of a lot better than he had over the first two innings (2 Runs, 4 Walks, 1 Hit By Pitch, 1 Wild Pitch). Matsuzaka’s final line of 5 IP, 2 Runs doesn’t look too bad, and Manny Ramirez got him off the hook for the loss in his homecoming with a two run, double down the line. Moss delivered the possible game winner for Daisuke after Lowell’s strikeout with a long single to right, scoring Ramirez. J.D. Drew was a late scratch with lower back stiffness, and Moss took full advantage.

Manny Ramirez and Jack Hannahan, in the bottom half of the inning, displayed the exact workmanlike approach required for the long grind ahead. They’re going to be doing this about 161 more times in the next six months. Now if Dice K could have only gone one more inning.

Mark Ellis might be the best all-around second baseman in the game that you forget to name in that group of Polanco, Hudson, and Castillo who impact the game on both sides of the ball. Chavez was that kind of player at third at one time.

Ellsbury made another few fans in New England with his leaping grab in the eighth. As if he needs more!

Moss tied it in the ninth. Okajima looked good in the bottom half. Ramirez won it, of course in the tenth. And Papelbon looked as shaky as Huston Street, but with more room to work.

Intrepid sports correspondent Johnny Bob communicates exclusively via an Asthmatic Kitty issued blueberry device.

Tom Scharpling Be Darned!

Thursday, November 15th, 2007

"Cavemen!" I shouted on my way out the door last night, knowing I had episode #6 "Rock Vote" saved for Wednesday morning viewing. Can I call this the best show nobody’s watching yet? It is.

Honestly, I was worried through the first three segments. But the fourth was as solid a piece of writing this show has yet seen this season. This is not Aliens in America nor do I expect it to be. But it is funny. There’s not a lot of shows that can legitimately claim more than general amusement. Rebel without a Cause! And Spoon?! Really, not bad at all.

Tom Scharpling’s blogging again. So, the writer’s strike brought something good.

And Beware of the Blog reminded us that Captain’s Crate is back on a regular basis – which is a true joy for the vinyl junkie in all of us.

Hot Stove

Mets dodged a bullet with Posada, but appear ready to take one with Torrealba. It’s hard to doubt Omar, but I still do everytime. Castillo to go with Alou would help I think, so would Mark Lorretta. How he nevers get paid to the level of his production is a constant source of amazement.

Craig Monroe to the Twins. Most Likely to Succeed wasn’t that long ago was it?

Still waiting on that A-Rod Market.

Danny’s talking about bullets, not basehits. Something’s wrong.

Intrepid sports correspondent Johnny Bob communicates exclusively via an Asthmatic Kitty issued blueberry device.

Wednesday Baseball / Cavemen

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

Wednesday Morning Hot Stove Baseball / Cavemen

Most sitcoms bring amusement, to varying degrees. An honest, out-loud laugh is a real treat. There are several on the current schedule that are guarantees for at least one or two an episode, and even more in best cases.

ABC’s Cavemen has entered the club. I have passed the amusement offered by far too many of our current crop. Joel Cavemen and the gang are a well-written ensemble, and I appreciate the lack of the fourth caveman in Episode Five, "The Shaver". It appears he’s not shown on the show’s website.


Just as the Hot Stove threatens to cool…the Fall Schedule of 2007 comes through aces. Gossip Girl is excellent.


Josh Schwartz ("The O.C.") hasn’t strayed far from the formula that made the first season of The O.C. such a sensation. Not sure what the guy with one name is doing now.

Not sure how WFMU’s Downtown Soulville does it every week. Just amazing!

The Podcast: http://www.wfmu.org/podcast/SV.xml
The Playlists: http://www.wfmu.org/playlists/SV

Etta James and Harvey Fuqua!

How about the Mets sign A-Rod to be a first baseman, and spin off Delgado (at half-salary) and Milledge to Oakland for Blanton?

Twins keep Johan Santanta, and try to resign him.

What happens if Petitte retires? Wang, Mussina, and pray for young health, Kei Igawa, and effectiveness I guess.

Bad time to opt out Jose Guillen?

Replay MLB Post Season 2008?

Gold Gloves are always funny. I’d thank Sandy Alomar too.

Intrepid sports correspondent Johnny Bob communicates exclusively via an Asthmatic Kitty issued blueberry device.

Game 3

Saturday, November 3rd, 2007

Boston 10, Cleveland 5
Boston leads 3 games to 0.

Fungo, SacFly, and me.

O.F. (original farmhands for a total sausage party (Linguica, Chorico, etc.)
Fungo posted tracks for all the playoff teams.

Robert j. checks in.

Fungo finally told me the word for when someone listens to your idea, and tries explaining it to someone else in front of you, before you have a chance to say it yourself, and misrepresents you completely.

You’ve been "Swooshed".

Sergeant Major? Seriously.

Broken bat incredible barehand pick Tulowitzki.

Fungo’s favorite kind of music? Originally happening now. Couldn’t agree more.

Dice K single. That might be the big blow.

Fungo checks in.
Oh boy, do I love the big blow.

There’s nothing about Snack Wisely nor Tight Pickens that reminds me less of Manny and Ellsbury than their hair.

SacFly says:
Let’s check in with our comic strip blog dog of the month, Marmaduke:

/==========\ / ^ \
/ (my other \====/ 0 |_
| car is a rally __>
| taco!) /====\ /
\==========/ \====/
{ } { }

JB again:
If Spilborghs ball goes over, or if Lugo doesn’t make that stop?

Herges delivered a scoreless seventh with 3 K’s.

I root for Kaz Matsui, and thankfully someone’s pointing out the fallacy of history.

Double switched Drew and Timlin for Okijima and Crisp.

Holliday delivers fireworks from Youklis’ pizza oven arm warmers. Like Tom Scharpling laser fingered GOMP.

Cousin Danny in Brooklyn walked two miles instead of four blocks – so he could listen to the game on the radio. He’s still a nutbar for waking me up twice this morning trying to bait me with a comparison of Ortiz/Ramirez to Arizona’s Byrnes/Clark. I told him to try the comparison with Utley/Howard and get back to me.

6-5 and the world is a better place.

Double switched Pedroia and Delcarmen for Paplebon and Cora.

Foul Pole in his glory with EWF in the house.

Holiday delivers two three run jacks? Nope.

Boston pours on four more late. Game.

Intrepid sports correspondent Johnny Bob communicates exclusively via an Asthmatic Kitty issued blueberry device.