Archive for Stories

The No Good, Rotten, Low-Down, Horrible Pickup Day

Alexander

Yesterday Wasn’t So Good.

We played pickup yesterday in the new-found hours of the late afternoon, and despite every expectation to the contrary I did not have a good time. Not a single play went the way I wanted it to, I couldn’t do anything I intended, and with each game I felt more and more like I just shouldn’t have even bothered.

In short, I was turning more and more into a grumpy gussy. It was horrible.

I think it came down to a few things: I was in a rush to get there and held up by traffic/a lack of gasoline, I jumped right into playing (where I normally get prepared mentally to be away from work and at polo (no, really, I do that)). I also think that I was expecting too much from the day, and was too attached to that idea to shake off disappointment when it didn’t happen.

So I Left.

And not in a super-pouty, I’m-taking-my-ball-and-going sort of way. Just before the last game (or at least close to it, I think), I packed up my bike and went home. As I drove Em, she went home, too (which I did/do feel bad about, but she seemed alright with it at the time).

I’m all for the stiff upper lip and working through your own disappointments in a pickup day. In fact, you might be justified in saying that I basically ran away like an indignant child. But I don’t quite see it that way.

I was not enjoying myself, which is the primary reason I play bike polo (outside of perhaps a physical activity–writers generally don’t move if they don’t need to). Furthermore, I was concerned that my negative attitude would start affecting play for everyone else, which is a thousand times worse than just feeling grumpy. So I packed up a bit early, took a long shower, and went to bed. I felt much better, as I escaped something that was not bringing me happiness. It was swell. My dog fell asleep with her head on my belly and that made it even better. PUPPIES MAKE EVERYTHING BETTER!

Why Am I Telling You This?

Because I think there are plenty of bad situations/feelings that can be avoided if people are more cognizant of how they’re feeling and why. Polo is supposed to be fun–and if you’re not having fun, it’s time to take a second and figure out why. Is it something you can work through? Is it just a particular match or is it the whole day of pickup? Would you do less harm by staying or by leaving?

Most times, people get grumpy for reasons that are outside of their control, but how they react (and what kind of environment they make for others) is within their control.

I for one am happy I went home early. Sometimes the best polo is not playing (and thereby keeping it a positive in your life).

The Cold War: Veteran Players vs. The New Wave

cold war

More Importantly, Who Will Win?

It’s just subtle enough that you might not even notice it, but bike polo is locked in a cold war of sorts.

On one side are the forces that we come to associate with bike polo’s history: clad in mix and match sports equipment, armed with home-made mallets and normally treating bike polo tourneys as social events as much as a sporting event. These are the people who, without question, made bike polo as big and as fun of a sport as it is today. They are the folks who struggled to find a place to play, were often run off by officials and the police, and simply didn’t give up on the game. They are world-forged in the sport, and are oftentimes the people who can identify almost every other veteran player from every other club.

propogandaOn the other side is the second wave of bike polo players: these are folks who look more like they are playing a sport. They have equipment specific to bike polo, they are more likely to wear padding and face cages, and are likewise more likely to avoid drinking heavily until after they’ve played, if at all during the day. They play the sport for the sake of achievement, and are consistently thinking of bike polo as something for everyone (rather than something “for us.”) Because of this, they might also not be as solid on their feet as the veteran players, but what they lack in skill they more than make up for in tenacity and willingness to learn.

But before I dive into this cold war, a caveat: I’m making sweeping generalizations and categorizing all polo players into two groups, which really is impossible to do. Just allow me this editorial hyperbole for the sake of writing coherently, okay?

What Caused the Divide?

When it comes down to it, bike polo has always been a sport for others. It’s creation story is surrounded by people who didn’t quite fit into the sports crowd, nor did they fit into the non-sports crowd. It brings together misfits, really, and that’s part of the draw of it.

quietHowever, all things that are made for a particular group eventually bleed out into the world at large (that is, if they are ever worth a damn), and that’s precisely what happened to bike polo. What we have now is a mix of people who are emotionally invested in keeping bike polo the way it is (that is, not making it too mainstream), and people who are emotionally invested in making bike polo into more than it is (or, more appropriately, into something that gets sponsors and write-ups in sports columns).

The war itself is played out most clearly in any online forum or discussion where veterans call out movements towards regulation (ANY new ruleset), new equipment, or new requirements. It might just be a simple “fuck this” or longer explanation of how we’re making the sport too rigid to play, but it’s all there to be seen. The other side can be identified by how they overstretch to discuss relationships with potential sponsors, how they’re willing to drop thousands of dollars on having the “best” equipment, and how little they regard people who are still using non-polo specific equipment. They build online communities and sustain them, or they actively engage in defending new developments in the sport.

Tear Down That Wall

BERLIN-WALL-pan_641537a-29jw5nyI don’t think there isn’t room for both groups in the future of bike polo (veterans might say “what future” here, but let’s just use our imaginarium caps). Any activity needs people who protect the heritage of the sport as much as people who press forward blindly into what could be.

The truth of it is, I think all polo players have some aspects of both wanting to keep this sport all to themselves and also share it with the whole world in any way possible. Most also lean more one direction than the other. The way to avoid either

  • Losing the foundations of our sport to over regulation and increasing costs
  • Allowing our sport to become stagnant and shrinking

is to recognize the reason and not the manner that people communicate. Sure, Johnny Old-Head just said your new model for a prototype wheel cover is lame and you don’t know what you’re talking about, but it might just be because he’s scared of watching the sport fundamentally change. In the same vein, Susan New-Idea may have just called you out for refusing to recognize the new ruleset, but really it’s because she doesn’t want to see injury befall you or anyone else who’s playing.

Between the veteran players and the new wave, there’s little more to do than try to seek balance. Sure, that might come off as a Russo-inspired phrase, but really it’s the best advice I can give (and anytime I can bring in a Russo-esque thought, I will. Because Russo is a favorite).

Bike Polo in the Media

reporter

Just ran across an article featured on Stack.com about hardcourt bike polo, written by John Bobel. It’s a listicle, to be sure, but it’s not a terribly inaccurate one (save for the section about rules–if the newest ruleset has taught us anything, it’s that there aren’t a simple set of rules to play).

This is, however, yet another display of how bike polo is moving it’s way into the mainstream media inch by inch. I’m thankful for Mr. Bobel’s take on the sport and for getting it out in front of more folks.

Read the article here: http://www.stack.com/2014/03/26/hartcourt-bike-polo/ 

AAAAnd then there’s an article on BBC America that discusses “10 British Things About Jackson, MS,” which also features (small as the write up is) bike polo: http://www.bbcamerica.com/anglophenia/2014/03/10-british-things-jackson-ms/.

So what does this mean for you and me?

Well, nothing really. Especially for you. You’ll keep playing the sport, I suspect, whether or not it’s covered in the media in a more general way. However, it might be the next stage in the development of our little sport: a wider consciousness of it that might just bring in a few more people to play. If anything, you may notice more film crews or reporters here and there at tourneys, perhaps a few more newbie players who didn’t hear about it from a friend, but rather from an article they stumbled across online.

As for me and the esteemed Association of Bike Polo Journalists, this might be something different. As more news agencies and websites look to reach out into Bike Polo, they might turn to us to help them. Or, alternately, they might push us out of relevancy. I’d like to think that only I will push myself out of relevancy, but whatever.

So, really, I guess I’m just sharing the little bit of pride and excitement that comes from bike polo getting press. I look forward to a day when it happens so often that it’s no longer exciting.

2014 Eastside Thaw: A Reporter’s Diary, Day 2

2014-03-09 10.39.06

When I wake up, it’s to the gentle sounds of my phone’s impression of wildlife. From the point I lift my hand up to switch it off, my body is screaming in pain.

My fingers are swollen, my wrists won’t bend, my elbows feel like they’ve been shattered and my shoulders aren’t even pretending to be functional.

My neck is strained, by back aches, and my spine is a’screaming.

My legs are pretty alright, though.

So it’s in this state that I wake up the rest of those staying in the room: Kyle by shaking his shoulder, Horse by Kyle’s exclamations, and Yeager’s already up just by virtue of the noise everyone else makes. Then it’s a round robin of people trying to stretch and realizing their bodies aren’t quite into it, and then staring blankly at the wall or phones or anything and wondering if maybe not playing for 2 months makes the first tourney a bit hard to get through.

The answer, dear reader, is yes.

squidbagBut we trudge to breakfast where I begin to gather the extent of the uselessness of my hands. I can’t quite manipulate the fork or knife, and sitting up straight is difficult. Still, I eat the mysterious yellow sponges and meat circles and head back upstairs to dress for the day.

The 1 minute bike ride from the back of the hotel to my car hurts in ways that I will never be able to express.

The second day is a bench tourney, wherein about 9 players are joined by a captain who chose them. While I had my doubts as to how Alexis perceived my performance the day before, it seems I did well enough to get picked up into his team.

“I think you and I have a good feel for each other now,” he says to me, “so we’ll have a little advantage in there.”

I think about telling him my ailments, but Ben Z. is within earshot and I don’t want him to give me his judgement face.  Read more

2014 Eastside Thaw: A Reporter’s Diary, Day 1

eastside

The trip to the 2014 Eastside Thaw started like any other trip I’ve taken: with me starting late, getting somewhat lost (maybe that’s over-exaggerating, as I was still in my own county and state at the time. It was more like sidetracked), and altogether happy to reach the hotel which apparently every other polo player was staying.

I traveled alone, however, which was new and required me to build up a 3 hour long playlist just to make sure I had something to entertain me. It seems to have worked, as by the time I reached the hotel The Final Countdown was just finishing up and I walked into the hotel feeling like I was going to knock it over.

After dropping off my bags and bike I went through the normal routine of going to pickup on the courts (it was late, and cold, and I didn’t much feel like bringing my bike and changing clothes in the hope that I’d get thrown once in the hour that was left before the lights turned out over the enormous Frederick courts) and meeting those who were already checked in.

JofHAlias was there of course, looking aware and nervous. I drew from the deck which signified what my team would become. I probably enjoyed getting the Jack of Hearts more than perhaps I should have, if only for the little writerly quirkiness of getting one of the mustachioed face cards and also one in which the heart played a role. Still, I had no idea who my team-mates would be as I was the first JoH to draw.

So instead of making clever, self-serving deprecations to my team-mates, I helped out where I could. Troy and I (mostly Troy) helped get a gate shut on the B court, I talked a little to Alias, and I said hello to the players I knew who were taking in the full size of the courts and wishing they had changed their gearing a bit.

SquidBut, like I said, the cold was creeping in on us so Troy and I decided to abandon the courts and get to the hotel. By this point Kyle and Yeager were in the vicinity and we eventually all found ourselves in the hallway with other polo players, drinking Hylon’s home brew, watching Squid do his best Nacho Libre impression, and generally trying to seem interested-but-not-interested in conversations.

I was then informed by Troy that my team-mates would be Ben Quigley from Raleigh (who I met almost immediately after) and Alexis.

Alexis Mills.

Alexis “The Means” Mills.

And I think it’s safe to say that was the first time my heart gave me trouble over the weekend.

I’m not necessarily star-struck by any player in bike polo–it’s a goofy sport, after all. But I am perpetually worried about letting people down. I assumed that Alexis was quite used to winning, and seeing as though I wasn’t necessarily, that caused me some alarm. And then, on cue, Alexis stepped out of the elevator and I extended my hand to let him know I was his B player. He nodded and smiled and if he had any regret in his bones he didn’t show it. Still, I felt flustered, so I escaped the floor.

I went outside to find Russo enjoying a cigarette and decided to join him as he is, more than likely, one of the most interesting people I’ve come across to talk with. Soon we were joined by a few other players and conversations got deep and not altogether correct to report here, so I turned off my reporter memory and switched on my “enjoy the moment” memory, which worked. I found it funny to recognize every single person who came in or out of the hotel.  Read more

Shake off the Winter Blues: It’s (almost) Polo Season

Distant Elmo

Friends, we’re almost there.

March is here and that means that polokins everywhere are going to be coming out of their caves and log cabins to crack open a High Life and get to work on the 2014 NAH/Tourney series. While it still might seem like a ways off right now, the truth is it’s just around the corner, and that’s certainly something to get excited about.

2014: The Year of Rules

As for this humble editor, I’m seeing this year as one that is more or less focused in on the new rule set we’ve been given this year–namely the interference rules and how they’re going to play out in actual game play. A good thing about these new rules is that they seem to be focused on evening the playing field a bit and are likewise some of the most articulate we’ve seen in our sport. A bad part, I fear, is that to actually enforce the rules will take more than just 1 ref.

Consider this: if there is an interference call to make, the infraction needs to occur near the ball carrier or the ref needs to not be watching the ball carrier (which opens them up to more missed calls). Really, I think this can be avoided by giving more power to the goal judges to signal that an interference infraction as occurred (which the ref can then choose to recognize or not), but that level of power doesn’t currently exist for the goal judges.

So, like I said, I think there are going to be some late night meetings and long forum discussions on the interference rule. Furthermore I see at least one helmet thrown in anger per tourney until we get to NORTH AMERICANS JOE RSTROM, where people will either have worked it all out or simply given up.

NAH Qualifiers Feel like Qualifiers

This year I also think we’ll see the rise of more well-run qualifying tourneys. No, I’m not saying every single qualifier in the past was horrible: I’m saying that it’s just a natural matter of course. As we progress, we’ll get better at doing things. This year, we’ll get better at throwing the qualifiers. Clubs are getting more time to prepare, to make inroads with local businesses and motels, and are securing great spots to host. I think it’ll be a banner year for the qualifiers and set the bar for what comes next.

This is also the year that the Mexico Region will host it’s first (I think, right?) Qualifier. Altogether exciting, the Mexico qualifier is going to be a fun one to watch with teams that most of us are relatively unfamiliar with–for now.

 

The Year of The Newbie

Let me qualify that statement: the 2014 season will bring about a heavy focus on gaining more players (and those players going to tournaments). This is more of a wish, I think, but it’s about time we get another big injection of new players into tourneys and clubs, and as a club member, it’s your job to make that happen.

The sport is beginning to get some footing as far as folks recognizing it, and that means it’s time for bike polo clubs to actively recruit players (instead of just accepting them when someone stumbles into a pickup day). Put out flyers, get the slightest bit involved in your community, and you’ll see a drastic influx of newer players.

Yeah, it’s rough for more veteran players to take on new players, but you’re tending to your future, not your present. Without heavy recruitment every once and a while your club is going to falter.

Scoring Goals as a Form of Social Proof

moustache

I received another mysterious missive from writer HandlebarMustache420, this time discussing his/her view of what it’s like to be new in the sport and what he/she believes is the way to get into the culture. While I don’t exactly agree with the conclusions drawn, I do appreciate different voices and views, so why not share it with the whole polo world (all 12 of you that read the site): 

newDo you remember your first tournament? I do. It was a nightmare. I didn’t know anyone, obviously, and I walked around the pre-tourney party like a lost kid in a supermarket, eagerly looking for someone to hold my hand and glom onto in conversation. I didn’t know what to talk about. “Where are you from?” sounded trite and unnecessary in my head. I had only been playing polo for six months and I was intimidated. I felt uncomfortable and out of place. More than that, I was playing with some random kids out of necessity, and that, combined with my lack of skill and experience, guaranteed us to fall into a dead fucking last position in the bracket. It was enough to make me want to quit polo entirely.

utra playerNow let’s fast forward two years to my most recent polo tournament experience. I remember walking into the party and feeling like the long skinny Tetris piece— because it seemed like everybody was waiting for me to show up and wow this is such a terrible analogy, it makes me feel physically ill. What changed? Sure, I’m marginally better at bike polo, but I have still never won a tournament. I don’t drink excessively or do a lot of drugs or party too hard like some cool polo kids I know. What is it then that makes people desirable as acquaintances? Read more

To Answer Your LoBP Question: You Are A Brat

brat

On February 26th, a post went live on LoBP (All Hail) which discussed a recent tourney in Arizona (DPI 6). The gist of the post (I invite you to read it here and scurry back) was that the writer expected lots of prizes to be handed out in a particular way, and that didn’t happen.

In particular, many of the items that were given by sponsors to the organizers were raffled away, with the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place teams getting only a few of the prizes overall.

The rest was raffled to whoever wanted to enter for tickets, which resulted in items going to some players, some fans, and a few local folks, too. This frustrated the writer of the post (I don’t know the person other than their handle, Ghabe), as he states:

I recognized a problem and would just like to get to the bottom of it.

I know it seems a bit like I’m being greedy and ungrateful, but come on. It was the first time I podium’d in a tournament. I was looking forward to some sick prizes.

I enjoyed the tournament. I enjoyed playing in Arizona. I enjoyed socializing with fellow southwestern players. This is just something I thought should be brought up.

Was this an actual problem that needed addressing? Or am I just a brat?

 

I’ll go ahead and help you out here: you’re being a brat, and an ungrateful one at that. 

I realize that’s a hard line to take, but I can’t sell papers without being provocative, so just deal with it.

Now, if you want me to build the case, I’ll be happy to do that, too.

You’re going to win, not to win prizes.

champsphTo start with, you are going to a tourney to play in a tourney. Prizes should be the last thing on your mind. Point in fact, if you’re looking forward to prizes more than reaching the podium, I think you would be better served by:

1. saving the money to enter tourneys, buying yourself cool bike stuff

2. giving that bike stuff to your friends

3. having them, randomly, throughout the year, knock on your door and say “congratulations! You reached the podium for pooping in the morning! Here’s a Paul brake lever!”

4. high-fiving yourself repeatedly

Bike polo tournaments have a weird expectation of giving away stuff, and I am likewise happy when I get free goodies, too–but I’m not indignant if a tourney doesn’t have anything other than a well run tourney where I get to hang out with my friends. That’s what I’m paying for: for the experience, to play, and to challenge myself against others.  Read more

A Guest Letter From A Mysterious Moustache

moustache

I just got this in the ol’ email today from a mysterious writer who identifies him/herself only as “Handlebar Mustache.” As it turns out, it seems the general malaise I’ve been feeling about bike polo isn’t a singular thing:

I want to play bike polo so bad it hurts. I’m currently under a foot of snow, slowly withering away into nothingness. I have to take public transportation to work with the yuppies. I have to wear fifteen layers and stare directly into the sun just to remember that I am in fact alive. Every day that there is ice on the polo court, my sadness and frustration multiply exponentially. The ennui grows within me like a tumor in my heart.

Watching the videos on Mr. Do momentarily abates my listlessness, but I am jarringly rocked from my fantasy world when the video ends and the Fixcraft logo appears and I’m staring at a blank computer screen. It’s like watching porn, except I don’t feel as ashamed when I watch people having sex.

Sometimes I rub chain lube on my fingers just to pretend like I’ve done work on my bike. My mallets are all capped, taped, and tightened. My wheels are trued and covered. My brake pads are dialed in and toed in.

I just want to feel alive again, I want to feel the adrenaline pumping through my veins when I am hurtling down the court on a breakaway. I want to feel the pressure of a goon’s shoulder on mine as we smash into the boards together. I want to feel the thrill of scoring a goal on an overhand shot with zero angle. Ok, maybe that last one has never happened, but I want to believe that it COULD happen if I were back on the court.

bald flag

My body aches for contact. My heart aches for drinking beers court-side. My joints… don’t ache. They feel pretty good, actually. My knees haven’t had this much scab-free skin in quite a while. My elbows don’t have bruises and my quads aren’t sore. I don’t have any black eyes or helmet hair. It feels unnatural. My day job productivity is way up, and my free time, on a scale of “one to America,” is as free as a bald eagle flying over Mount Rushmore. Maybe I could get used to this! More likely, however, I won’t, and I’ll just keep waking up every morning with my arm outstretched, as if waking from a dream where I scored a game winner and went into the boards at full tilt. C’est la vie de polo-vélo.

 

Alright, Listen Here, Snow.

mean looking woman

The last time I had this much time away from polo, my heart was trying to kill me.

The time before that, my knee tore apart (but  I got a puppy out of it so I’m not even really counting that one).

But now, now that I can ignore my knee and medicate my heart, you come along, Mother Nature, and snow up the whole mid-state.

Knock. It. Off.

out of caveI don’t know if you know this, but I’m really not that good at bike polo–I kinda need to “use it or lose it,” as the hip kids say. I know they don’t say that, weather, shut up.But you’re coming around so often that I’m forgetting what it’s like to even hit the ball. WHICH END DO YOU HIT THE BALL WITH?! IS IT THE POINTY END?

By the time Spring rolls around in June, I’ll probably not know how to ride a bike anymore. I’ll be pale and jelly-like and confused as to why people are calling me Crusher.

So you just knock it the hell off, winter. I didn’t care before but now I’ve got to play bike polo and you’re messing it all up.

Alternately, anyone know of an indoor rink?