Monday, April 10, 2006

Sweet Flight

1990 ...

Tough year in a few ways.

First, my college girlfriend had set off for the Peace Corps in the fall of ‘89. Subsequently, most of 1990 can be qualified as the time when Billy became one of the two “Most Desperate Guys in The Western Region” (Worm, of course, being the other).

Second, the ultimate season didn’t end up quite the way I had hoped it would.

Then again, there were some funny times as well ...

January 1990, Dan Harrington rallies the Boot troops for a tournament in Arizona - New Year’s Fest. I am so completely consumed by ultimate at this point, that this actually sounds like a good idea to me.

We go. The fields are hard. Not hard as in, there are bare patches and it hasn’t rained in a week or so. I mean hard as in, there are patches of grass scattered among the gritty plains of dirt and stones. Hard as in, it hasn’t rained in ... oh ... four months. Anvil hard. And dry.

We cram the entire team into a single Super 8 hotel room. 14 guys, two beds, one toilet, one shower. I remember waking up in the night, stepping over random prone bodies, hoping to not wake anyone or break anything, just trying to forage my way to the bathroom. Will Debello, who had been sleeping nearest the window sporting the air conditioning unit, woke up in the morning completely drenched in the condensation that had built up and trickled down the panes. This was a typical hotel set up for much of those early years playing ultimate.

We ended up playing the LA Iguanas in the quarterfinals. Another loss. I was getting sick of losing to those guys. Jim Daddy with his perfect, imperturbable hair. “Big” who was so damn ... well ... big and lanky. Rich Gallagher who never seemed to make a mistake. Scott (Forgothisname) was a scary psychopath on the field. “Bullet” was a little Napoleon, badgering, bullying, cajoling, harassing. They did have “Goggles” on their team, and he was a nice guy both on and off the field. And Jeff Landesman played that role of "The One Fun, Cool Guy on a Team of Dicks", but I didn’t have much love for the rest of them.

The biggest highlight of that New Year’s Fest was not on the field, not on the sidelines, not at the party, and not at the team hotel room.

It was on the flight home.

As the majority of our team piled onto the Southwest Airlines flight bound for Oakland, we realized that a large number of the East Bay players were on the same flight. While we were disappointed with our (customary) loss in the quarters, East Bay had a worse tourney than us. They somehow managed to get stuck in a stacked pool on Saturday, losing multiple close games. Then, on Sunday morning, they lost to some up and coming college team. The result, before they had righted their sinking ship and began winning games, they had dropped to the “C” pool. Which they won.

Now, we would probably have lost 7 out of 10 games to East Bay at the time, but our path was easier and fortune smiled on us with a one point win where they had a one point loss. We lose in the A quarters. We’re not happy about it, but at least we are not them.

On the two and a half hour flight home, I am sitting next to Dan Harrington. He seems to slowly be developing an evil grin and mischievous twinkle in his eye. About half way through the flight, he gets up from his seat and wanders towards the back of the plane. The inter-aisle ribbing between teams has been subdued but persistent to this point.

After some time, Dan sits back down with a Cheshire Cat grin. A few minutes later, there is this announcement delivered by our cute, young stewardess over the intercom system:

“Ladies and gentlemen, it has been brought to our attention that there is an ultimate frisbee team representing the East Bay area on our flight this evening. We would like to congratulate them on their victory in the C Division of the annual Tempe New Year’s Tournament. Bravo and well done.”

There is an instant, collective groan of chagrin and embarrassment from East Bay, but it is overwhelmed by the spontaneous applause and calls for “Stand up!” and “Take a bow!” from The Boot players. We are giddy and wiggling with mirth. They are squirming and slouching in their seats. There is a short, quiet smattering of applause by a few underwhelmed passengers. Boot 1 - East Bay 0.

Great way to finish a lousy tournament.

Flying back from that Tempe tournament in 1990, I was missing skin from multiple areas of my body. I was dehydrated, sunstroked, scratched, bruised, and generally not happy. I vowed that I would never make the flight back down there.

If I recall correctly, I made that very same vow for the next seven years. Each time, it was definitely my last New Year’s Fest. Who needed to subject themselves to that kind of abuse and torment? Apparently, I did. Or at least, playing ultimate was important enough for me to annually forget my better intentions and re-enlist for the inevitable punishment.

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