It's weird for me to leave Vancouver for a vacation and have the weather be significantly wetter and worse, but that's how this year's World Police and Fire games started out for me. It was also weird to get text messages that made my phone alarm with "Warning, flash flood. Be careful to avoid flooding areas!" The Americans love their drama. On my last WPFG in New York, a HUGE deal was made about a total non-event hurricane. This flooding felt like an average November Vancouver day...only about 25 degrees warmer.
Officially the games were in Fairfax Virginia, but we spent more time in Washington DC. Renting bikes to see Arlington Cemetery and Washington Mall was a great idea, allowing to see more than we would have and to save our legs a bit for the games.
We rented a home in Fairfax that easily accommodated our 9 players and coach Joey. Our first day in town was a rest day (which was really weird considering we'd play minimum 2 games/day every day after), so we headed into DC to check things out.
This is as close to the White House as you can get these days. There are barricades everywhere, snipers on the roof and lawns, and police all over. Having said that, even the security around the White House paled in comparison to all the cops New York had out for the 4th of July fireworks. I'd love to know how much money the States spends on security these days. It can't be much different than back in the cold war period.
This was my first trip to DC. In fact, other than a couple of weeks spent in New York, it was my first time in the Eastern states (Florida definitely doesn't count). I loved it.
I love the feeling of being able to put things in context. Washington, with the Mall, Congress, the Supreme Court, the White House, the monuments, the battlefields from the Civil and Independence wars, the Smithsonian museums, the Potomac, Chesapeake, the relationship to Baltimore, Philadelphia, Virginia, Maryland, Deleware....all were part of my consciousness but I had limited context to know how they all fit together.
It's really the best part of travel...gaining a better insight into how things fit together and what they mean. It sounds funny to say, but I think I have a better understanding of the States. I've read about heard about and unconsciously absorbed American history for my whole life. However, 99% of my time physically spent in America has been on the west coast, in Washington state, Oregon and California. This is not the same America.
I was at the supreme court the day after the historic ruling that deemed any laws that prohibit gay marriage as unconstituitional. The news is full of discussions about North vs South because of the recent racially motivated killings in South Carolina and the reopening of the Confederate Flag debate. Being an election year, there is much talk about which candidates will be able pull in voters in the North and South.
All these things we hear so much about back home mean very little in our world. They are put into contact in DC however. It's easy to see how, what feels like ancient history, really isn't that long ago, and effects today's east coast America in a totally different way than it does on the west coast.
A visit to George Washington's estate at Mount Vernon is a great example. It's beautiful. It's historic. It's revered as a national treasure. However, like so much of the south, it's built on the backs of slavery.
After DC I also visited Philadelphia and saw Independence Hall where the declaration of independence and the constitution were both signed.
Old town Philadephia was really alive with tourists getting ready for 4th of July celebrations. It played such an important role in the formative days of the union that they really take their history seriously. I'd guess there were a couple of hundred people dressed in old, heavy wool uniforms in the 90 degree heat re-enacting battles with the British on the lawn of Liberty mall.
Of course, the point of the trip was to play some basketball. The first team we played had full warm-ups, uniforms and matching Nike shoes. I'm thinking they might have gotten some sponsorship for that one.
We weren't quite so fancy...but not looking bad either.
We rolled through the round robin. Okay, maybe rolled is the wrong word. The style of basketball was very physical and the refs let a LOT go. So we battled through the round robin to a perfect 6-0.
Our first 2 games were against some local favourites....DC shields (Police) and Fairfax Fire. We lead the whole time but needed to play well to win.
We also beat Australia, FDNY (New York Fire) and the Toronto Metro Police pictured with us below.
During the round robin we played a New York Corrections team that was a very typical team in the tournament. They were all black, strong and athletic...but not as good a basketball team as us. Once again, we had to battle to beat them in a physical game, but lead from start to finish and won by 15 points.
With a perfect 6-0 record, we were feeling really good about what we'd accomplished. It's never easy putting a team together. It's a process of figuring out the role everybody should take to best help the team. This is harder than it might seem...and harder in basketball than many other sports.
Let me give you an example. When I'm on the court, I could shoot every time I get the ball on offence. I have enough experience and have the height and quick release (I better if I run a club called splitsecondbasketball.com) to know how to get off a pretty good shot against almost anyone at this level of the game. However, if I play this way, it's going to have a big impact on my team-mates who will get far fewer shots, touches of the ball, offensive rebounding opportunities...or just plain confidence from being involved on offence. It will also have an impact on me because the defence will focus their attention more on me and I'll likely be extra fatigued. Also, my team-mates might rethinking passing me the ball if I really over-do it.
Coming together as team is about getting all the players in sync, with a good idea of who is going to shoot when, how to play as one unit on both offence and defence. This is why it helps to have a coach, and we got Joey Vickery to come out for us. It was great having Joey, who was a key component to us coming together.
I felt good about my role. I started the tournament focused mostly on trying to get team-mates involved and moving the ball. It became clear the team needed me to be a primary scorer so I did. I feel very happy that at 41, and with 2 fake hips, I can play 7 games in 4 days and take on a primary scoring role against some very good defenders and still walk at the end.
In fact, at the end I felt like I had a lot left to give because I had paced myself for 2 more big games. I also felt cheated, we all did.
Any time you play sports, you know that the referees are going to make some good calls and some bad ones. You just hope it evens out in the end and that they call it fair. For all of the tournament, the referees called the game that took away the advantage from the more skilled team and gave it to the more physical team....think Broad Street Bullies of the 70's or Detroit Pistons of the 80's...or even Boston Bruins against the Canucks.
We were prepared for this. We dealt with this through the whole round robin. Navi got 6 stitches from a cheap elbow and was back for the next game. I was spitting blood from an elbow and got body-checked and intentionally tripped in the full court. We all dealt with it and won anyways. However, in the playoffs the referees went from allowing a style that favoured one team over another to outright cheating.
We had to play the same New York Corrections team we had beaten by 15 earlier in the round robin for our 1/4 finals game. We got back 2 good players who had missed our first game against corrections and felt great about our chances. I scored about 15 points in the first half and we were leading 32-18. This is a big lead in a running time game.
The second half was a joke. Every time we went down the floor we'd get mugged and get no call. They would come back, dribble into traffic, get a call and go to the free throw line. Bryson, our 6'9" 250 pound centre fouled out on 4 crazy calls in the second half. I was called for holding the ball for 5 seconds at the top key as I waited for a team-mate to use a screen. That's never happened in my life and I've never seen it called on anybody in a similar circumstance. It was really crazy....and yet we still managed to hold a lead the whole game...until the final 3 seconds of the game...on yes another foul called against us.
Of course we all know the tournament doesn't really matter, but we'd put a lot into getting there and were pissed. It's one thing to lose to a better team, or because you don't play well, but neither of these were true in this case. We had the game stolen and there was nothing we could do.
We headed back to the house way earlier than planned for a consolation cocktail or two. By noon, much of the anger had worn off and guys were already getting a start on the night.
My basketball team-mates were all done and getting ready to fly back home but I still had some dodge-ball to play with a team of all Delta firefighters. You can't really tell in these pictures but the socks were awesome....with a red cape attached to the back that flaps when you run.
I booked a couple of extra days after the WPFG ended to get to know the East coast better. I really want to come back with the family in the near future.
One place I probably wouldn't go is the jersey coast. Atlantic city was actually a bit better than I expected.
Seaside was....different. What a contract to the west coast. Pay $5 to get on the beach. Tacky, ancient rides full of people. Drinking, lots of drinking on a seemingly endless boardwalk. I guess I haven't seen enough (read any) Jersey Shore episodes because this all came as a surprise to me.
I didn't stay long. I returned my rental car on Staten Island and took a beautiful ferry ride into Manhattan. I love that the city feels easy and familiar to me. I would have looked like a local, not even needing a map to get to my hotel (right beside the Empire State building on 31st), but the 60 pounds of awkward bags hanging off my shoulders as I squeezed onto the Metro kind of gave me away.
Despite a long day, I walked from the hotel well into the night. New York is so alive on a Friday night in early July that there's always something to see.
On Saturday July 4th, I rented a CitiBike and hit the town. I should probably have looked up the official bike routes before I left because New York cabs don't give bikes a lot of room...but it all worked out.
Here I stopped at the high line. I know self-sticks are nerdy, but they're also really handy when you're travelling alone.
The 9/11 memorial wasn't open last time I was in New York for the 10th anniversary, so I decided to bike there.
It was incredibly moving and well done.
The museum covered so many different angles and details of 9/11. It couldn't help but make me think about what I would have done that day if I was on duty in New York.
This is one of the outside girders that held up the building and was snapped by the collision. Each section that is welded together to make this up is 2 inches thick solid steel. The sections of the plane's fuselage on display are so thin (less than 1/4 an inch) and light (aluminum?) that it's hard to even comprehend how the plane was able to penetrate the building.
It was haunting hearing the recorded voices of people trapped on the upper floors of the World Trade Centre or on a hijacked flight calling home knowing they would never talk to their loved ones again.
What impacted me the most though were the huge pictures of people jumping from the top of the WTC. Somewhere I've seen glimpses of those images before, but nothing like this. In one image there must be 100 people hanging onto the window ledges getting ready to jump. In others you can see people making that leap, 2 or 3 at a time.
By the time I got out of the memorial, I barely had time to navigate the crowds on my way to the Brooklyn bridge for Macy's 4th of July fireworks. The police presence and crowds were on a scale I've never seen, but the fireworks were no better than our Celebration of Lights. (As I write this I'm sitting on a plane, wishing I had shorter legs. Last night I was very glad to be able to see above the whole crowd)
I had a great ride through China town, Soho and all the way to midtown and Times Square for some late night shopping a people watching. New York is such an incredible mix of people from all over the world, speaking so many different languages, all peacefully getting along that it is fun just to observe. I can't imagine another city in the world as diverse.
I had enough time today to take another walk in the neighbourhood and buy gifts for each of the kids before heading for Laguardia.