The Fifty States: New Mexico to South Carolina

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Continuing my record of impressions of the fifty states, based on a lifelong journey that ended in early October in South Dakota.

New Mexico:ย Spent a couple of days around Albuquerque. Incredible sunsets, beautiful vistas. Albuquerque is a big sprawling town, nothing special, poor air quality.

New York:ย Well, there’s The Big Apple and everything else. New York City is a universe unto itself and I love the place for its energy, its diversity, its food, its culture, its walkability, its transportation . . . it’s like riding a bolt of lightning at first, but once you match its speed, you discover the subtleties that make it a great city. The rest of the state is “upstate” and the countryside can be a lovely place to be unless you’re buried in snow. Albany is a very odd place with modernistic Rockefeller architecture interspersed with traditional industrial.

North Carolina: Spent a week in Raleigh-Durham earlier this year. My overwhelming impression is “feminine,” but I can’t explain why. People are friendly and helpful, and the landscape is calming. I learned to never attempt to drive anywhere in the area when Duke is playing North Carolina. I noticed that there is more diversity in the South now than during my visits in the early 1990’s. Made my first visit to a Chick-Fil-A, and gay marriage controversy aside, their food sucks. Although the religious presence is a bit too thick for me, if I had to live in the South, this would be the place.

North Dakota:ย #49. I spent the night in Fargo, which I liked a little bit more than the movie, which I hated. Loved the Roger Maris Museum. Very, very white. Many people have weathered faces because the prairie wind seems to be a constant and could explain why so many men don military-style haircuts.

Ohio:ย Several trips to Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus and various other locales in the state. The first thing I think of when I think of Ohio is “big houses.” Coming from a perspective of a grew-up-in-a-tract-home California boy, the homes in Ohio seemed humongous. I am a lifelong fan of the Cleveland Browns (see post), but the city still needs work: too many dead spaces beyond The Flats and the new stadiums. I remember little about Columbus because I was shit-faced during my entire stay due to another near-collision at an airport. Cincy has a perfect set-up rising above the Ohio, but the city itself is dead and grumpy.

Oklahoma:ย  #47. Spent an afternoon in Miami and Commerce to see Mickey Mantle’s home town in May of this year. The ugliest border crossing in the U. S. is from Eastern Kansas into Eastern Oklahoma. Definitely not my kind of place; no desire to explore any further.

Oregon:ย Several visits to Ashland for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, numerous trips to Portland, a few drives through the state on the I-5 corridor. Oregon is a beautiful state with much to offer, although the people aren’t especially warm and welcoming to outsiders (particularly Californians). Portland is nothing like what they show on “Portlandia.” It’s a very well-managed city with great restaurants, a vibrant arts and entertainment scene and great bookstores. Best walkability and transportation is in the city core; when you go out to the more distant neighborhoods traffic can be rough. Ashland is a delightful town with great food, shopping and Shakespeare. The Oregon coast is quite lovely, but a very different seaside experience from the warmer climes down south.

Pennsylvania:ย Several trips to both ends: Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. These are two of my favorite cities, although they are very different places indeed. In Pittsburgh, it’s the combination of stunning architecture, the mountainous setting and the convergence of the three rivers. When you come through the mountain tunnel at night, you feel like you’ve entered a magical kingdom. The city is a bit grittier than its appearance but not the smoky steel city of yesteryear. In Philly, I have to go against the stereotype that Philadelphians are mean people who boo everything and tell you that my favorite thing about Philadelphia is the people. I’ve had more people in Philly make me laugh than anywhere else in the world except Dublin, Ireland. The sights in Philadelphia didn’t knock my socks off (Independence Hall is a tiny little thing), but the city has a unique flavor that I appreciate.

Rhode Island: Spent a day in Providence, where I felt pretty comfortable but can remember nothing except a great lunch at a mahogany-trimmed restaurant.

South Carolina: Spent a Sunday afternoon somewhere near Gaffney. Everyone was in church. There were lots of trees and bugs. I really do have to see Charleston someday.

Photo Credit:ย Relief Map: ยฉ Lawrencelong | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

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Confessions of a Browns Fan

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I am a man of many defects, but there is one flaw I have that my friends and acquaintances can neither forgive or forget. I hesitate to disclose this to the reading public, as I am sure I will lose many of my followers with this startling admission.

I am a Cleveland Browns fan.

Let’s explore this blemish on my soul. I am a reasonably intelligent person. I have both a Bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, where we had a couple of pretty decent football teams who were certainly worth a fan’s devotion. I have no connection to Cleveland whatsoever and have only been there twice on business trips. I have reasonably high self-esteem and few masochistic tendencies.

And yet, ever since I was a little boy, I have been a Cleveland Browns fan. In spite of my intellect and the continuing misery that the Browns have heaped on all their fans over the years, I am still a Cleveland Browns fan. Last year I watched one of the few Browns games televised in Seattle and spent most of the afternoon making noises similar to those made by torture victims.

And yet I remain a Cleveland Browns fan.

My first experience with depression was the result of a Browns game. It came on right after Sam Rutigliano had Brian Sipe call Red Right 88 in the playoff game against Oakland. Instead of throwing the game-winning touchdown, Sipe floated the ball into the hands of Mike Davis of the Raiders. I spent two days in bed with no desire to move, to talk to anyone or to eat a thing. I didn’t go to work, didn’t go to school, didn’t do anything but just lay there and relive that horrible moment over and over again.

But I remained a fan. I still love Brian Sipe, too.

Any Browns fan will tell you that Red Right 88 was not the end, but only one of many equally depressing experiences that come with the territory. After that horrible day came The Drive, when John Elway canceled our tickets to the Super Bowl. Then came The Fumble, when the Browns fell tragically short in their second legitimate shot at reaching the big game. A few years later, the worst day of all: The Move. The Browns were moving to Baltimore and the team we knew and loved despite it all was going to disappear off the face of the planet.

Now, an objective observer would tell you that if any football team deserved to be removed from the face of the planet, it was the Browns. I didn’t feel that way. I cried. I wanted to rip Art Modell’s guts out.

But like a bad dream or the weird girlfriend you thought you dumped, the Browns came back. Sure, it was an expansion team full of rookies and castoffs, but they had the same orange helmets and the same tendencies as many of their predecessors.

They sucked.

They sucked worse than ever. Even when they had a decent record in 2007, they were left out of the playoffs because of a tiebreaker. You’d think that with all the pain that Browns fans have endured over the years, the NFL would have cut us some slack and let us at least play some kind of a mini-playoff game for that last spot in the playoffs like they do with the March Madness play-in games.

Nah. We would have lost that game, too.

The only thing I can remember about how I became a Browns fan is that it had something to do with watching footage of Jim Brown running the football, spinning past tacklers or knocking them on their asses on his way to the end zone. There’s another vague memory of Bobby Mitchell doing a public service commercial on nutrition and the importance of three squares a day.

But by the time I remember myself being a Browns fan, Jim Brown was retired and Modell had traded Bobby Mitchell to the Redskins. I must have been a very impressionable three-year-old.

The Browns used to be a dynasty. In the years 1946-1964, they won more championships than any other team. They were at the forefront of integration, admired inside and outside of football as the epitome of class.

I’m writing this because I intend to go to Cleveland this year and see the Browns live and in person. I’ve only seen the Browns once before. They were playing the Joe Montana 49ers in Candlestick Park. It was a blustery, rainy day and my buddy and I were wrapped in plastic to keep ourselves dry. The game was close and wasn’t decided until the final seconds.

And miracle of miracles, the Browns won! The Browns beat the Team of the Decade! Wow!

Of course, on the way home, we got a flat tire and spent a good hour in the middle of a ferocious rainstorm changing the fucking tire.

And I drove off still a Cleveland Browns fan.

I’ve looked at the 2012 schedule and it doesn’t look like the Browns will get anywhere near the playoffs this year. They’re in a tough division and this year they’re playing the teams from the NFC East, including the Super Bowl champion New York Giants. I’ve seen one writer predict a perfect season: 0-16. I don’t think things are quite that bleak. I think 2-14 is a realistic expectation.

Sheesh.

This is a 366-day a year obsession, by the way. Every day at breakfast, I read the news on the Net. I go to three sites: The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Cleveland Browns Page on the Cleveland Plain-Dealer website. Even in the off-season.

Please help.

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I am not alone! Terry Pluto of the Plain-Dealer has written a fabulous book on the on this apparently inexplicable passion that Browns fans feel for their hapless team: Things I’ve Learned from Watching the Browns. You can learn about the book and hear fans like me try to shed some light on this enduring mystery by watching this YouTube video:

Cleveland Browns Fans Featured in Terry Pluto’s New Book