Ball Park

The final days of August, leading up to the Labor Day weekend, are very important for sports in the United States. Football, Major League Baseball, the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows…

This year the closing days of summer were unobliging, forcing the Mets to cancel two games this weekend, and the Giants and Jets to reschedule. Yesterday was the calm before the storm, and I strolled up from the Inner Harbor area of Baltimore in the evening, fighting the tide of white and orange heading the other way. The game had just finished, disgorging the Orioles and Yankees fans onto the street. The locals won at Camden Yards, 12-5.

As I watched the two groups heading down to the waterfront, clearly intent on contributing to the economic recovery by way of a beverage-related QE3, I was struck by how civilized the whole thing was. I lived in England at the height of football hooliganism, and remember seeing fights between Aston Villa and Birmingham City soccer fans in the middle of the New Street shopping mall in central Birmingham. Security guards with alsatians would invariably join in the melee. Some years on, I saw the downtown shopping area of Southampton boarded up on Saturday afternoons, to avoid vandalism, whenever Manchester United came to town to play the Saints, then in the first division.

The Oriole and Yankee fans walked downtown together, with none of the taunts, abuse, and fights that are common when opposing soccer fans meet. It was almost like the religious processions of southern Europe. They were so quiet I had to ask someone who won, because neither side seemed particularly happy or sad.

Today the weather is a little less suitable for baseball, although you could play water polo on some of the streets. Contrary to computer model predictions, the Chesapeake Bay area has not been hugely punished by hurricane Irene, and I suspect that the effects will be less serious than predicted, although it’s sensible to be prepared. Anyhow, the buying surge for dry goods which has cleaned out East Coast shelves is good for the economy.

Irene is now making landfall in New Jersey and Long Island, and the balance right now for the East Coast is three million people without electricity, and three fatalities. The cause is identical: fallen trees. As the morning approaches, the combination of tide, wind, and persistent heavy rain will lead to storm surges. As luck (or Murphy’s law) would have it, the new moon is due Monday at 3 am. The full moon and the new moon act together with the sun to generate Spring tides, in a phenomenon called syzygy. This means the 8.07 am high tide predicted for New York this Sunday morning will be a big one, because the moon is sitting between the earth and the sun.   

The India Road on sale at Daunt Books, in central London. The bookshop is unique in that it is organized by country, and defines itself as a traveller's bookstore.

A hurricane such as Irene begins as a tropical storm somewhere off West Africa, and crosses the Atlantic around the latitude of the Cape Verde islands, exactly the same route as Vasco da Gama took in The India Road. Of course, Gama turned south near the coast of Brazil, whereas Irene headed north, following the misguided route to the Indies taken by Columbus. On the way, the tropical storm set fire to Richard Branson’s mansion in aptly named Necker Island.

There was a minute’s silence at Camden Yards for Mike Flanagan, a former Orioles pitcher who commited suicide on Wednesday. Flanny, as he was known, shot himself at the age of fifty-nine. It’s always strange for European visitors to see the array of weapons available to the U.S. consumer. I know little about guns, so yesterday evening I stopped by a large outdoor activities store, specialized in hunting and fishing. I wanted a good look at various handguns, for some scenes in my current manuscript.

I wasn’t disappointed. On the contrary, I was surprised to see the number of firearms available, and I had a great time looking at the Glocks, Berettas, and Sig Sauers. Behind the pistols were racks with shotguns and rifles. Two things struck me, the first was the number of children that were at the counter with their dads, being instructed on the finer points of the various weapons on display. Guns always fascinate kids, I certainly remember harrassing my mother endlessly for more of them. My school held an event at which prizes for the best student in each class were awarded, and when I was seven or eight I won it. I was asked what I wanted, and immediately replied: “a gun.” They kindly gave me a book about guns.

Competitively priced Glocks on display at the gun counter. The Glock 23, third from the left, is popular with the law enforcement community.

The second point is that my interest in these particular firearms lies in their use by law enforcement agencies, the FBI in particular. The weapons I was looking at don’t have a lot to do with hunting―except for one species, Homo sapiens.

The India Road QR links for smartphones: point your camera and click.

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