Archive for Stories

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?

Organization: How Much Is Too Much?

govtmeeting

One of the draws that bike polo has for plenty of us is just how little organization it has. Or at least, how disorganized it seems. To someone who is outside of the gritty of the sport, it just looks like a weird, spontaneous collection of people who happen to all be rolling past a court and decide “oh, why not, let’s invent a game right now.”

But to anyone who has spent more than a month playing, it’s very clear that there are many forces at work to assure that things happen which need to happen.

No, I’m not talking about the NAH level, necessarily, but more about the club level of organization.

In The Beginning…

When I first started playing with Lancaster, there was no elected leadership (our godfather, Kyle, was the de facto leader) and certainly nothing more than absolute democracy (one person, one vote. No representation). This worked out because we weren’t really trying to do anything other than play, and we were all pretty happy about it, I think.

But then had a series of events which required more than one guy to decide on, and needed less than the whole club to take action for. This happens to every club, I believe, and it lead to the idea of “polo elders,” or players who had more experience as being members of the club and could be trusted (more or less) to do what was right for everyone.

In this structure we managed to purchase a generator, develop a transportable lighting system, and also managed to make club shirts (though that was much harder than it should have been, truth be told).

Lancaster United Gets Some Government

government-structureBut even that wasn’t enough–or maybe it was–and that takes us to where we are now as a club: we’re preparing for the Eastside Qualifier, we just elected Elders to lead the club for a year, and the Elders have asked one of the players (appropriately, Fat Stacks,) to act as treasurer because we’re now collecting club dues from club members. 

This is all kinda amazing when you think about it, and I’m curious if other clubs collect dues from players. Actually I wondered for a while if we were going too far with it all, if it made any sort of sense to be so rigid in our organization.

But when I got to thinking about it, it made lots of sense: there are times when a situation comes up (buying club shirts, paying local gov’t for space, insurance costs, court/light upkeep) where only a few members actually pitch in; or the people who do pitch in are the same ones who always do. By putting a cost on membership, we assure that the load is balanced fairly between players, and we also have a bit of money for any unseen expenses. Read more

Local Bike Polo Team Goes to Sochi Olympics

Sochi

Sochi, Russia–Local bike polo team “The Farmer’s Daughters” arrived in Sochi yesterday to participate in the 2014 Winter Olympics. The three players; David Magbee, Troy Young, and Emilie Watts, touched down just 12 hours before the games were set to commence due to a scheduling error on the part of their coach, Matthew “Horse” Krofcheck.

“Does anyone really know how to figure out local time?” Krofcheck said when asked about the mix-up.

The Sochi Olympics are shrouded in scandal already, and the late arrival of the three American Bike Polo players adds to the already tenuous relationship the States have with the Russian Federation.

“In Soviet Russia, schedule keeps you,” a stereotypical representative of Russia said, probably after drinking “whodka” and wrestling a bear or something.

Despite the mix-up, “The Farmer’s Daughters” have high hopes for a good showing during the games.

Sochi 2014

The press conference was held here, at the parking lot outside of a Vodka supercenter

“I think we’re the only team here who even plays bike polo,” Watts explained. “No, I don’t mean that as a sarcastic jab at other players. I really think we’re the only people who are here to play bike polo.”

“Is it even an Olympic game?” Young asked reporters at a press conference held in a parking lot.

“We don’t even have matching team shirts.” Magbee  said when asked how prepared he felt for the games.

The three, after a lengthy call to the US Embassy and a much louder call to their coach in the States, have decided to press on and try to combine bike polo with a recognized 2014 Olympic sport. The Sochi games will be the first to feature Bike Polo Bobsled.

“We’re going to die doing this, aren’t we,” Watts said as they rode off towards the Olympic Village.

Growing Pains: Bike Polo and American Football’s 400 Year History

football old

Huge hat tip to Gene Fruit for pointing out this podcast to me recently. 

It seems, at times, that bike polo is doomed to get lost in a mix of arguing over rules, equipment requirements, and a general “we do what we want” attitude holding back any real formation of a standardized way to play (as evidenced in the bench format/3 man/no set positions arguments we see every single year). But we are not alone in the chaotic birth of a new sport.

Point in fact, we need only look to the glory and absolute majesty that is/was the Superbowl to see another sport which, in it’s beginnings, was wrought with confusion, double standards, and a complete mix-up when it came to it’s future.

Native American FootballAmerican football started before America was America. According to a recent podcast by On Point, Native Americans were playing a form of football that English settlers quickly identified to have similarities to their own more bloody, less sportsmanlike “mob ball.” As Susan Reyburn (Author of Football Nation: 400 Years of America’s Gameexplains, the Native American game was quickly absorbed by settlers. (Their lands and own gainful existence was also taken by the settlers, but that’s a different topic altogether).

What is interesting in this podcast and in the history of early football is it’s eerie similarity to the problems we’re currently facing in bike polo today. Consider the following: Read more

A Polo Player Goes Camping

boy scout

In the course of emptying out my polo bag (to stuff it with spare socks, jeans, and manly-man, I’m-totally-prepared-for-this lumberjack shirts), I found not only several items I thought surely lost, but also a bottle of hot sauce, six beer bottle caps, and about a  half cup of glass from the break in on my car a few months ago.

I went ahead and wiped out the bag a bit more than I expected, imagining my underwear filled with trace amounts of glass. Whoa boy.

And so I packed, with the gentle and disappointing reminder that this wasn’t for a tourney–that I didn’t really need to bring my favorite Gunk bicycling cap, my mallet, my spare tube.

Oh, well maybe I’ll just pack the cap and the mallet in case. Nobody will notice them in the trunk.

I pick up my nephew after spending a whole day dreading the high pitched squeal that only emanates from a pack of ten year olds at work and he is decked out in his full camping regalia. He is excited, and it makes me happy to be part of this, even if it does mean that I’ll probably miss bike polo on Sunday. I push my wheel covers out of the way (I might need them too, you don’t know what cub scouts do these days) and put his stuff in the car with mine. We’re off, and he’s already planning how we’ll kill a squirrel and eat it.

Bonding.

We meet with the rest of the pack at a Chik-fil-a. I look at my car compared to the other parents: stickers from my club, a bike rack, inexplicable mallets and those wheel covers poking up from the back seat. They all have SUVs with “proud of my cub scout” on them. Maybe the “read local” sticker I have will qualify me as an alright uncle. who knows.

The parents ask me where I live and what I do. I tell them I’m an editor, and they naturally ask of what. Well, it was good while it lasted.

I explain the blog and my regular job, which leads to a series of questions about bike polo and an equal series of blank nods and half-smiles. I order an extra chicken sandwich to stop myself from crying. It’s always worked before.

The cabin we’re staying at has bunk beds and I sleep on the top. I’m scared of falling through and killing my nephew, but it seems to hold. as soon as I hop down the scout master tells me I should lock my car doors, even though we’re in the woods. I wonder what would prompt this until I see a cub scout named “Francis” using one of my mallets in an attempt to chop down a tree, and two other scouts trying to break acorns with my helmet.

“They’re all so violent,” I say. Read more