Stanley Cup Finals here we come!

Many, many happy people going around Northern Virginia today. People who could care less about hockey 99% of the time are rocking the red and putting up #ALLCAPS messages on Twitter.

The last time a sport engulfed a town like this was 2012. It was the fall of 2012, specifically, and my first football season as a resident of the DMV. Remember this one? RG3’s rookie season? Seven wins in a row to close out the regular season and win the NFC East? That was the new bandwagon and I jumped on it.

Let’s hope this one turns out a little better.

Game Seven tonight

Dare I call this the most important D.C. sporting contest this century? Caps-Lightning Game Seven tonight from Tampa Bay. This is big. Either way there’s going to be a lot of people around here calling in to work tomorrow morning.

Will this finally be it for the Caps, setting up a Washington-Las Vegas final? (Those are the two places Americans send and spend the most money, by the way.) Or will it be a matchup of those two great hockey towns, Las Vegas and Tampa, Florida?

This is big.

That is all.

The grind is always interesting

It is often said that the baseball season is “too long.” One hundred sixty-two games is too long a grind for fan and player alike.

You know what really takes forever? Hockey and basketball playoffs, which I believe started around Valentine’s Day and are still in progress. ‘Round these parts, the Capitals’ slow death has been simply excruciating.

To baseball, though, where interesting things happen every day. Literally.

Here’s something for you to ponder… without looking, can you name the last time a major league baseball team repeated as World Series champions?

Didn’t happen this century. (Well sort of not.) It was the 1999-2000 New York Yankees (who also won in ’98).

Don’t look now but the Houston Astros have a real chance of pulling off that feat this year. They currently sit in first place in the AL West, with five of the best starting pitchers in baseball. Yes, five of the best.

Check the AL ERA leaders today. The top three are Astros starters! The only two not on that list are Lance McCullers (owner of five wins–only four AL pitchers have more) and Dallas Keuchel, owner of a freakin’ Cy Young!

This is an interesting development.

D.C. is now “cool”?

The cover of Sunday’s Washington Post Magazine proclaims that “D.C. is now a cool city.” It’s an interesting read, if not a decade too late. Working for the federal government became “cool” about 10 years ago, not so much for the Obama presidency (though that had a lot to do with it), but with the contraction of the private-sector job market. Kinda like it was cool to work for the WPA in the ’30s. Then for Uncle Sam during World War II. Then everyone went back to doing real jobs. This time around, I’ve afraid the “govsters” (get it? hipsters who work for the government?) are here to stay. Unfortunately they are of both parties, so flushing out half of them with each election cycle isn’t going to work. They’re a lot more like locusts. Locusts who drink macchiatos and post selfies on Instagram.

The author of the story recognizes some of the problems inherent in such a scenario. To me the criticism doesn’t go far enough. There’s the usual bit about gentrification and how terrible it is (because, ew, who wants their neighborhood improving?), but only a casual reference to the bigger problem of out-of-touch (read: elitist snob) lawmakers who haven’t the slightest idea of life outside the “cool” city. These same elitist snobs live in New York and Los Angeles too. At least there they’re good looking.

There is no shame in working at a “real” job and living in an uncool city. It’s what 99% of Americans do. Some of those folks invent things and create things and really do make our lives better. What scares me are the one percent of the populace who think that being good and bright (if not the best and brightest) means that one should work for the federal government. Honestly, I think our best and brightest should do real jobs, like the aforementioned inventor (or cop or chef or cab driver). Let the uncreative types work in Washington (at least they’ll follow protocol), and don’t worry so much about whether it’s “cool” or not. When tourists from foreign lands come to our shores and laugh at how boring our national capital is, just show ’em an iPhone. Or a WiiU. Or the Golden State Warriors.

Govsters didn’t make that stuff happen.

It was 20 years ago today…

Three major American events occurred 20 years ago today. All three were highly anticipated, though in very different ways.

The most welcomed of these three was a fond farewell to the sitcom that dominated television ratings in the ’90s and ushered in a whole new way to write stories for the small screen. The final episode of Seinfeld aired on May 14, 1998. Critics, for the most part, didn’t like it. I thought it was just fine and have said so for two decades. It was a little silly, yes, but amusing enough for longtime fans and fair-weather fans alike. When one considers TV sitcoms, “longtime fan” can happen with about five years of viewing. Seinfeld was my glimpse into adulthood from 1993-1998 (my teenage years). I remember watching it at a friend’s house that evening and thinking, wow, staying out until after 10:00 on a school night. Forget Seinfeld, this is what being an adult is really like.

A much different ceremony occurred in Arlington National Cemetery that day. Night, rather, for disturbing graves always works best under cover of darkness. Lieutenant Michael Joseph Blassie had lain in Arlington for more than a decade, though his grave was not marked by his name. He was the Vietnam solider in the Tomb of the Unknowns. Armies all over the world make such marks to honor fallen soldiers, and in our nation the tomb is cared for with great respect. But on May 14, 1998, a soldier’s remains were disinterred, later confirmed through modern DNA testing to be those of Lt. Blassie. Not an easy decision to make on anyone’s part, Blassie’s remains were returned to his family. He was reinterred at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis later that year.

Death came to an American icon May 14, 1998, as well. Frank Sinatra passed away at the age of 82. The final blow was a heart attack, and though he was rushed to the hospital (helped by the zero traffic that evening because everyone was home watching the final episode of Seinfeld) it was not enough to overcome several years of poor health. Sad, yes, but one of those celebrity deaths you knew was coming. He hadn’t been seen in public in over a year, and hadn’t sung in public since 1995. This from the man you thought would never stop.

I’ve expressed my admiration for Frank Sinatra on this site many times before. Most of it started on May 14, 1998. Or I should say May 15. This was the day Frank’s old record companies (there were four) started rereleasing all of his old material: a blatant effort to cash in on his death. This was when I began collecting Frank Sinatra recordings. In time I became what we Sinatraphiles call a “completist.” Need to own every recording. Every movie. Every TV special. Every biography. I have half a dozen posters with his image and an entire shelf of LPs. I never play them. They just sit there like the prized mementos they are.

No complaints about the whole cashing-in-on-his-death thing. It got me into jazz and the Great American Songbook I’ve enjoyed exploring the past 20 years. The recordings don’t go away. New ones, though, do get harder to find.

I’ve been at it for 20 years and it’s still fun.

This calls for a celebration

The Washington Capitals have reached the Eastern Conference Finals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This is cause for celebration around here, the town that hasn’t seen playoff success in any major sport since the last century.

The Caps face off tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Yeah, Tampa Bay, Florida, has a hockey team.) Tampa Bay won a Stanley Cup in 2004, and therefore has an infinite number more cups than do the Caps. The Lightning have been in the league since 1992. During that time there have been 100 champions crowned in the four major professional sports. Washington’s oh-for-one hundred.

At least Washington brings some hockey pedigree to the NHL’s “Final Four” this year (Frozen Four, if you will). After all, they’ve been in the league longer than the other three teams combined (though Winnipeg had its original Jets for 20 years before this new incarnation, of course). In the Western Conference, Winnipeg faces that powerhouse of hockey… Las Vegas… in what will no doubt be the greatest show ever to hit the Vegas Strip. And much as I love the Caps, seeing Tampa Bay versus Las Vegas for the hockey championship would be something to see.

That’s about as silly as hockey in June.

Which is when the champion will be crowned.

Revolutions are happening all around us

A front-page story in the Business section of Sunday’s Washington Post (always my third-favorite section, by the way, after Sports and Travel), is headlined: “Now hiring for one day: Gig economy hits retail.”

Amen.

The thing that my industry has being doing for decades is now being used everywhere… substitute teachers!
Honestly, I love it. This is the closest we’re getting to a perfectly-efficient market of workers and work. The world has a huge job board and people who want to fill the roles fill them. Want to be a substitute fry cook at McDonald’s for one day? There’s an app for that. This is beyond Uber and Lyft, which have crumpled the taxi “industry.” This is the complete destruction of “jobs” as we know them.
Of course our friends at the Post find problems. What about all those people with “jobs”? What will happen to them? (Seriously, who likes their job, anyway?) Obviously all business owners will just hire these substitute teacher-types, leaving real employees in the cold.
First, there is something to having a bit of job expertise. Not everyone can walk in and be a brain surgeon. Even working at Walmart or Wendy’s requires some training.
What about health insurance?
If this is the only reason you have a “job,” that’s a problem with our whole system. The reason most people’s health insurance is through their employment goes back to salary cap workarounds during World War II. Being paid in cash what we actually deserve to work and paying what we actually deserve to pay for health insurance would be a better system for everyone.
The Post writers worry everyone will fall into that much-maligned “independent contractor” category of worker, with no “rights” or standards or bathroom breaks. Wrong way to look at it. Independent contractors are in a much better position to set their working conditions than those whose sole source of income is a singular boss. I think we should all strive to be independent contractors. After all, at the end of the day, aren’t we really? Nobody works on a plantation anymore.
That’s a good thing.
Companies such as Snag Work, Postmates, and the aforementioned Uber and Lyft have not only built a better mousetrap, they’ve built a whole new universe in which mice and mousetraps interact. Social media has made us all journalists and Airbnb has made us all landlords. This is just the next step. We are all business owners now. CEOs of our own lives.
It may be decades before the revolution comes to all industries. And really, maybe it’s just too dramatic a change to take effect everywhere. (Again, you probably wouldn’t take a substitute brain surgeon.) But for “easy” jobs? You’d take somebody over nobody.
I shouldn’t call this revolutionary. This is actually closer to how things were done a thousand years ago than they are to today. Back then, you wanted something done, you found someone to do it and worked out a price. Easy in a small village, trickier among billions. But billions with smartphones? Game changer.
Prepare for this to be the new normal.
I knew all that practice being a substitute teacher was going to pay off.

Human beings are great; too bad they’re becoming obsolete

Ignore all other signs and predictions regarding the future of Planet Earth. This is it. We have been given the official signal.

Spotted this weekend in Southern Virginia…

McDonald’s. No cashier. Just a computer.

I’d seen signs of this elsewhere. At Royal Farms or Sheetz or some Panera Breads (among others) one can order without talking. Yes, of course at many places there is online ordering from your computer or mobile device. Home delivery. Curbside delivery. It’s been done.

But walking into a McDonald’s–a McDonald’s!–and seeing the register turned around towards you?!

This is it. This is the future.

The robots have won fair and square.

Real news of Washington

The Nats, Nats, Nats, have won four games in a row, back to .500 after a sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates. (And how good did it feel Tuesday night when the Nats beat the Pirates and the Caps beat the Penguins?)

Unfortunately the Caps, Caps, Caps could not pull off the Pittsburgh double again last night as they fell to the Pens 3-1. That series is now tied at two.

Is this the old playbook rearing its ugly head? Nats play well in May, Caps don’t? Then in October fortunes reverse?

Let’s hope not.