Covid Chronicles

It’s Thanksgiving Day, and I’m sitting at the dinner table. We just ate microwaved nachos and cheese quesadillas.

We will have a more traditional dinner ASAP, meaning whenever Missy gets rid of her COVID symptoms, regains her sense of smell and taste, and our house gets disinfected so we can have relatives over.

I’m the one that brought the Rona into our house. You can never be 100% sure where you picked up the virus because it’s so easily passed, but I played in a poker game a few days before my birthday in which five of the players would eventually test positive. Nobody showed any symptoms at the game.

Two days after playing in that game, I had lunch with my mom. She got a little emotional and ended up crying on my shoulder for a couple of minutes. The day after that was my birthday, and I felt completely fine. Even went for a four-mile run. We were originally planning to have my mom and Missy’s parents over for a birthday meal, but Missy had a paper due for her school that night so we rescheduled it for the next day.

That night I had a hard time sleeping because of a mild cough but didn’t think anything of it. Ran a couple of errands on Friday the 13th and started feeling weird. Came home very tired and had a mild fever. By then I had heard about two of the positive tests from fellow competitors in the poker game, so I thought that was likely what it was. We cancelled the family get-together.

I looked for a place to get a rapid test and found out that I would need to wait until the next day to get one, as they are re-stocked every day but run out by around 10 a.m. because of the high demand right now. I felt like crap anyway so I went to sleep early and set my alarm in time to get to the clinic by 7 a.m. when they opened.

Instead I woke up at 5 a.m. drenched in sweat and feeling quite unwell. I drank a Gatorade and sat on the back porch, where the cool air felt good. I left around 6:30 to get a good spot in line at the clinic. On the way there, I got pulled over by a cop. I was going 50 mph on SW 134th between Penn and Western, where the speed limit is 50 mph. I was still going 50 mph between Western and Santa Fe, where the speed limit drops to 40 for no apparent reason. Honestly I wasn’t paying any attention to how fast I was going but it seems pretty weak to pull people over in that spot at a time when nobody is on the road anyway.

I managed to hit the triple crown on this pullover, getting three tickets. One for going 50 in a 40, one for my tag being out of date, and one for the insurance papers in my car being expired. My insurance was in fact up to date, so the last one has already been rescinded. Do we really need to have those tiny slips of insurance papers physically in our car every 6 months? Seems unnecessary. I probably could have accessed them from my phone but I was too sick to think about looking it up in the moment.

I was in a great mood when I pulled into the clinic right at 7 a.m. The line was already out the door. I parked and got out of the car. Right as I closed my door, an SUV speeds into the parking space next to mine. I’m walking over towards the line and the SUV’s driver jumps out and literally runs ahead of me, getting in the line before me. Then I hear a voice behind me. “Daddy, wait up!”

A boy, probably about 6 years old, is walking behind me trying to catch up to his dad. The guy turns around and yells, “Go shut your door!” The kid had left his car door open in an attempt to catch up. Or maybe he was just sick and forgot. It was clear that the kid was the sick one. Nevertheless, the boy turned around, shut the car door and rejoined his father.

I thought it was funny that this dude went so far out of his way to get one spot further in line, but it didn’t bother me. I would have laughed out loud if I had had the energy. We stood in line for five minutes without talking or moving when he abruptly turned around and said to me, “Do you want to go ahead of me? We got here about the same time but I don’t mind.” That actually did make me chuckle a little but I told him I was fine where I was.

The line was just for filling out your initial paperwork. Then you could wait to be seen either in the waiting area or in your car. I realized that the order in which you were actually seen was the order in which you turned in your paperwork, not your actual spot in line. Being a mature adult, I decided that my only goal for the whole day was to get my paperwork in before this sick kid’s dad, so that I would be seen before this 6-year-old boy whose father cut me in line 45 minutes ago.

Homeboy had a 60-second head start on me due to his position in line, but I was bee-bopping and scatting all over these forms. Didn’t even sit down to fill them out. Left spaces I deemed unimportant blank. Felt pretty damn good to turn in those papers and see my vanquished foe and his sick son still sitting in the waiting area while I waltzed back out to the parking lot to wait for my COVID test.

The wait in the car took another hour and a half. During that time, I debated whether I wanted my test to come back positive or negative. Of course, I didn’t want to have COVID, but I was pretty sure I did and wouldn’t have been confident even if I got a negative test. Then I started wondering whether I hoped the cop who pulled me over and gave me three tickets got COVID from me. I knew such thoughts were wrong, but since the cop was a white guy who gave off an air of entitlement, I gave myself grace and wished the virus upon him. As long as he didn’t have to go to the hospital or die.

Finally the call came and I walked back in to get my test, glancing back at the father-son duo in the car next to me to make sure that they knew that I was going in first. Once inside, the process was quick. I was dreading having the Q-tip shoved up my nose but it only took a fraction of a second. Fifteen minutes later the results were in. Positive.

They gave me a list of over-the-counter vitamins to take and sent me on my way. When I got home, Missy converted Maddux’s room into my new quarantine quarters, moving his stuff into our room. In fact, all the kids moved into our room and used our bathroom, and I stayed on their end of the house and used their bathroom.

That night was the worst night of my COVID experience. I was in extreme pain and couldn’t sleep. Missy kind of tried to talk me into going to an emergency room, but I really didn’t want to do that. I had a fever throughout the night too but I survived.

My COVID setup in Maddux’s room. Francine gave us the split pea soup and Josh and Sherri Ward provided the salad (as well as some great chicken parm which I ate the night before). Vitamins and Gatorade also pictured.

The next several days were very similar. I had virtually no energy but tried to get outside for a couple walks per day. The weather was great that week. Other than that, I just laid in bed and read my book or watched TV. I would walk out to the edge of the hallway and talk to Missy and the kids, but it was hard to not get to hug or kiss or even be within six feet of them.

One evening I was on a walk in the neighborhood. Things were going fine when I suddenly felt the urge to throw up. I stopped and hunched over right there on the sidewalk. Tons of saliva drooled out of my mouth and I got lightheaded. I dry heaved a few times, kept spitting out tons of saliva. Never did throw up. Made it back home and felt relatively fine within minutes.

Another night I was about half a mile away from our house when I felt a similar, yet distinctly different urge come upon me all of the sudden. I was certain I was going to crap my pants. I clenched my cheeks and jogged for maybe half a block, but then I was out of breath because of the COVID and had to walk more. By the time I was halfway home, my chest was puffed out like a peacock and my tail was tucked in like an ornery cat. I alternated jogging and walking, pausing to catch my breath after every short jogging session. When I got home I burst into the door and made it to home base just in time.

One night, maybe four or five days into my experience, my nose was completely congested. This isn’t unusual for me because of my allergies, but I couldn’t breathe fully through my mouth either because of COVID. It was a little scary. Felt like I was always half a breath short, gasping a lot. Missy took my pulsox and it was low but not low enough to force a hospital visit. Missy set up a bunch of pillows in my bed so I could sleep sort of sitting up, and some Vaporub opened up my nose enough to be able to breathe. It was never as bad after that.

Unfortunately, that’s about the time Missy started showing symptoms. She and the kids got tested two days after my positive result, but she was negative. When her symptoms persisted, she went and took another test, and this one was positive. Myra also got a positive test, and although the other kids’ tests came back negative we assume they all had it at one point or another. They all showed about the same symptoms, a little fatigued and a slight runny nose but nothing worse than that.

Missy’s case was worse, however. She lost all of her energy and all of her taste and smell. She didn’t have the fever or breathing problems I did but had more head and stomach aches than I did. For several days neither of us had any energy, but after my 10th day I started feeling fairly normal. A couple of days after that I’d consider myself 95% healthy. Even went on a two-mile run today.

Corona selfie. A tish pale.

Hopefully Missy will pull out of this soon. It’s weird not having any concrete plans for Thanksgiving, just playing wait-and-see until she gets to feeling better. I have to thank all of our friends and family who checked on us and offered to bring us things. Special thanks to my mom, Missy’s mom and Josh and Sherri Ward, all of whom brought us food and supplies to help us get through this thing. Hopefully the end is nigh.

Somehow, my mom never did catch the virus, despite that lunch and all those hugs after I was infected. Missy’s parents have avoided it so far as well. Everyone’s experience with this thing is different. Many of you have asked me about my experience, so I’m writing about it. For me personally, although it distinct from the common flu, it shared a lot of similarities as far as my symptoms went. I wouldn’t wish a 10-day flu on anyone though, except maybe that cop.

Dad

I think about my dad every day, even now that it’s been 16 years since he passed away. This is an especially hard time of year because the last time I saw him was at a family dinner celebrating my birthday (November 12). I wrote this blog six years ago. It’s probably not the best thing I’ve ever written, but it’s the thing I’m most proud of. Re-reading it tonight brought back a lot of emotions and allowed me to pause and reflect on how my thoughts and emotions have changed over time.

In truth, they haven’t changed much at all. My own mental health struggles have intensified in the years since, and I’ve written about those (see this and this). But my memories of dad largely remain the same. Since this is a long post as is, I’ll leave the intro brief. I updated this in terms of my number of kids and details like that, but otherwise this is my original post from 2014. For those who knew my dad and those who didn’t, I hope this gives a good glimpse of both who he was and how depression can look, especially to those who have never seen it up close.

One of my earliest strong memories of my dad involves a game of catch in the backyard. I had just started playing baseball and was only beginning to be proficient at catching a ball from more than a few feet away.
Dad was rolling me some ground balls, lobbing a few fly balls, and tossing a few soft liners, one of which hit me smack in the nose. I started crying, but the main thing that has remained in my memory was dad’s reaction. His eyes got huge and it was obvious that this event affected him way more than it did me. Of course he had no reason to feel guilty; he hadn’t thrown the ball hard at all and it was a sheer accident. I don’t even remember if I got a bloody nose. But he was shaken up for the rest of the day. Causing the slightest bit of hurt to anyone — especially his children — was something dad could never abide.
Delbert Kenneth (Ken) Franklin was the antithesis of the overbearing parent. He never pushed us to do anything we didn’t want to do, and he provided 100% support and 0% criticism in everything we did. I’m not saying that’s the best formula for perfect parenting, but that was the only way he knew how to be a father.
My siblings and I had varied talents and interests. I was pretty much all about sports and writing. My brother was an incredibly talented musician/dancer/singer. My sister was something of a hybrid, an All-State athlete with artistic and journalistic skills to boot. Dad, a former athlete with a Master’s degree in music from Oklahoma City University, had the ability to give each of us 100% of himself in all of those areas. He was the loudest cheerer at Allison’s cross country races, the first one to give a standing ovation at Andrew’s musicals and the first one to want to read my newspaper stories and tell me how good they were.
He never got onto a ref for a bad call or onto a coach for more playing time. Part of that was being the most non-confrontational person I’ve ever known. Part of it was having more unconditional love than anyone I’ve ever known.
I can only remember him raising his voice a handful of times and never saw him even close to raising his hand in anger, despite his three kids giving him ample reasons to do so.
In my mind, there was never a question of which one of us or our hobbies dad loved more. They, and we, were 100% equal. This is something I once took for granted; now I recognize how special it was.
The same can be said for dad’s work ethic. Five days a week for 25 years, he came home drenched in sweat after walking several miles in the Oklahoma sun with a heavy mail bag on his back. I can still instantly conjure an accurate nasal memory of the smell of that sweaty postal uniform. The job was taking a toll on him physically and he hated the politicking that kept forcing him to change routes, change start times, or do more work in less time than he felt was physically possible. But he clocked in every day, and when I would meet him for lunch at a fast food place that was on his route, the other mailmen eating with us inevitably told me that they envied dad’s always-sunny personality. Some of them made fun of him for it.
That always-sunny personality could sometimes be pretty annoying. When we went golfing, he would be optimistic that the balls I shanked all over the course would turn out to be good shots. He’d yell “Bite!,” “Get legs!” or “Turn over a little now” as soon as it was obvious to everyone else that I’d be nowhere near the green. He always thought we’d be able to find the ball that I’d hit into the middle of a dense forest, long after I was ready to give up and move on with the round. Still, those once-a-week golf outings were special times for me, and I’ve hardly played in the 16 years since then because golf just isn’t the same.

Now that I’m a father of four with a wife and a mortgage, I recognize the sacrifices that my parents made to give us the best upbringing they could. Mom and dad could have driven nicer cars, gone on more dates or put more money toward their retirement, but instead they spent that time and money on their kids.
For dad and I, that meant playing golf when the weather was nice and going to baseball, football and basketball games together. Dad was a huge St. Louis Cardinals fan and I rebelled by cheering for the Chicago Cubs, a decision that has so far cost me a couple World Series celebrations. But in the middle of the steroid era, we drove to St. Louis for a three-game series between the two rivals. In the car, dad said he hoped to see Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa hit three home runs each and the Cardinals win two out of three. I told him he was delusional, then watched Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa hit three home runs each and the Cardinals win two out of three. I saw it as a crazy coincidence, but dad didn’t act surprised at all. He always expected the miraculous. He always had faith.
Although that series certainly ranks near the top of all of my “dad memories”, for me nothing will beat the games.
My family was always playing games; that’s what we did. Board games, card games, dice games, you name it, we played it. I couldn’t even begin to guess how many different games we played over the years. Dad and I liked playing games more than the rest of the family, and often it would be just the two of us.
After I moved out, I loved to come home, get a free meal, and spend the evening playing cards with mom and dad. For mom, one or two games was enough. But dad and I would play until he had to go bed. It wouldn’t even be a discussion. One of us would pick up the deck, shuffle and deal. I usually didn’t know which game we were playing until dad quit dealing. Four cards was a quirky but fun game called casino, six cards was pitch, eleven cards was gin rummy, etc. We’d talk about sports, school or work until the game neared its end, then all our attention was on the finish. Dad loved dramatic finishes, which was annoying when he won. But he would show the same enthusiasm for the game if he lost on the final play. I can still picture our post-it notes filled to the max with scores from various card games. Dad always wrote and circled the letter W under the name of whoever won, although we never made any effort to keep track of who was winning the games long-term.
Then there was the laughing. Always the laughing. Slapstick was by far his favorite, although he could laugh at just about anything, especially himself. There was no mistaking or hiding that laugh. No restaurant big enough to keep everyone in the place from hearing it, no one else’s laughter over the same topic loud enough to not be drowned out. If a moment was bereft of laughter, he’d pick up some random goofy object, put it on his head, cross his eyes and make a Three Stooges face until you laughed. And if you didn’t laugh, he’d laugh so loud that you couldn’t help but laugh at the fact that he cracked himself up so easily.


When I was 16, I bumped into a car in a parking lot. I was a straight A student who had good influences for friends and never got into trouble. I didn’t want to get in trouble for this either. So I panicked and drove off. Luckily, someone spotted me. I fessed up and got a good lecture (and probably a grounding of some sort) from my parents, and then I had to call the person whose car I hit and apologize. That lady was understandably upset and gave me another good lecture which included calling me a few not-nice names. After all of that, I felt like a loser. I’ll never forget hanging up the phone and walking over to my dad, who was standing in the middle of the living room, about to go upstairs to bed. I wrapped my arms around him and just started sobbing. Dad wasn’t real good at giving life lessons or expressing his emotions, but he let me hold on to him as long as I wanted, then he told me that I was a good kid and he loved me.
That was quintessential dad. In that moment, I didn’t need advice or a scolding. I needed a dad that would hug me and tell me he loved me. Luckily, I had that dad.

I was already moved out and in college when I got a call from mom that dad was in the hospital. He was dealing with depression and anxiety. That didn’t make any sense at all. Dad was never anything but happy, relaxed, carefree. He pretty much let mom make all the day-to-day planning decisions and just went with the flow without complaining. I remember seeing him cry when his mom died — and that was about the only time I saw him cry. I dismissed the whole thing out of hand, but I did go to the hospital to visit him. He was acting weird, and showed me a drawing he had made of an apple being eaten by worms. He told me that it represented his heart, which was corrupt and bad just like the worm-riddled apple. I looked at him and the drawing in disbelief, told him he was the most loving person I knew and that his drawing was in no way reflective of his heart. Then I got out of there as fast as I could. I refused to believe that this person was my father. I assumed that in a short amount of time, he’d snap out of whatever this was and go back to being normal. Then I could forget I had ever even visited him at the hospital or that he had made this weird drawing. Let’s just get back to normal. Give me my dad back. That’s basically what happened. He wasn’t in the hospital very long, and when he got out he was back to being my same old dad. Happy, laughing, talking sports. At least 95 percent of the time. When I was around, anyway. I wanted to get as far away from that other dude as I could. I didn’t want to lend any credibility to this poisoned apple business, didn’t want to talk about it. Occasionally I’d ask him or mom how he was doing. I knew on some level he was still struggling, but it didn’t make any sense to me and I just kept thinking (hoping, really) that it would go away. It was awkward. I told him I was interested in learning how to play guitar, and he bought me a really nice Taylor acoustic for my birthday. (More than 15 years later, I still get compliments on the guitar). Dad was a good guitar player who, prior to meeting mom, had made a living playing and singing in various bars and clubs around town. He taught me the basics, then wrote down the chords and lyrics to his most popular song, one for which he was offered a decent sum of money (1970s money anyway). On the top it said, “By Ken Franklin.”
I said with a laugh, “Dad, why did you write your name on the top here? Are you afraid I’m going to take this song and claim it as my own and become famous without ever giving you credit?” He just smiled and shrugged his shoulders. I thought it was weird. Makes more sense now. Also weird was how dad started bowing out of our card games half the time. I was driving more than an hour to have dinner and hang out with my parents. Mom always went to bed at 8 p.m., but I expected to get a couple more good hours of card playing out of dad. Sometimes that would happen like normal, but sometimes he’d play one or two or zero games instead of 20 and go to bed at 8:30. Said he was more tired than usual lately. Makes more sense now. What does depression really mean, anyway? Aren’t we all sad sometimes? I never thought there was any chance dad would hurt himself. In my 25 years I’d never seen dad hurt a fly, never do anything but walk away at the first sign of conflict. 

Our family got together a couple of days after my birthday to celebrate with a dinner at Red Rock on Lake Hefner. I brought my girlfriend Missy, who dad always loved. She enjoyed a good laugh almost as much as he did. After the dinner, we all went back to mom and dad’s house. I said good night to mom and she went to bed. It was just dad and I in the living room. I asked him if he wanted to play cards. He said no, he was heading to bed also. He told me he needed me to pray for him, that he was having some bad thoughts. For someone who never shared his personal feelings and emotions at all, who in fairness didn’t even know how to share his personal feelings and emotions, this was a massive statement. But I refused to carry its full weight. I didn’t want to talk to the guy with the weird drawing. Let’s just get back to normal. Give me my dad back. I assumed that his (and all) depression was a temporary feeling that would eventually subside. Suicide is for people who don’t have moms, dads, kids, friends or co-workers who love them. I refused to even consider the possibility that this was a serious medical issue that was relentlessly attacking my father.

On top of all of that, I was the son of a man who never shared his personal feelings and emotions. I’m not good at it either, and I didn’t know what to say. I know I told him I would pray for him, and I know I did pray for him. But I had no clue what was really going on and I have no idea what I said or prayed in that moment. I decided to go ahead and drive back to Lawton that night. It was a Sunday, and I had to work Monday afternoon anyway. In the doorway, after my little chat/prayer with dad, he gave me a huge hug. It was just like the one he had given me nine years before, when I hit-and-ran in the parking lot. We were standing in almost the exact same place in the house. Again, he squeezed me tight and told me he was proud of me and he loved me. I told him I loved him too. It was the last thing I ever said to him.

Mom called me early Wednesday morning — November 17, 2004. Told me dad had abruptly left the house before dawn, still wearing his pajamas. She didn’t know where he was, maybe I should come home if I could. I left my apartment without changing out of my pajamas. I didn’t pack anything, just hit the highway. My brain was going a thousand miles an hour, but within minutes all the clues started coming together and I knew I’d never see him again. I didn’t know how he’d done it, but I knew he did it. What was an impossibility days earlier was now a certainty. While driving 90 mph up I-44, I slammed my fist against the steering wheel. Again. Again. Again. My hand hurt. I yelled at the top of my lungs. I was pissed at him. At myself. At him. My throat hurt. My heart broke. By the time I got to the house, my siblings were already there. They held out hope of finding him. My mind wanted to believe that was a possibility, but my heart knew the truth. A friend of the family called to say they saw a car that looked like his parked next to a pond close to our house. I drove over there with my brother-in-law, saw that it was indeed his car parked askew near the pond.

“He’s in there,” I said, never more certain of anything in my life. I didn’t want to be there one more Godforsaken second. I got back in the car and drove home. My brother-in-law talked to someone, and soon enough a firefighter dive squad went in and got him. They fixed him all up at the funeral home. The rest of the family went to see him. I refused. A family friend told me to reconsider, that this would be my last chance, that it might help bring some closure, start the healing process. I still said no. I wanted that bear hug and those I Love Yous to be my final memories of him. I still don’t regret it. I couldn’t handle the funeral. Every single seat in the church we grew up in was full. The choir loft was full. It was so humbling, an awesome tribute, to know how many people my dad had touched. It was also maddening, knowing he wasn’t supposed to go this early. What if he knew he had impacted all these people? What if he knew all these people loved him?…Every emotion imaginable flooded me the moment I walked in and saw the crowd. I was supposed to be strong for my mom, who was clutching my elbow as we walked down the aisle. I wanted to be strong, but I cried uncontrollably the entire time. Later, our family drove to Sulphur, Oklahoma, a beautiful place with a bed and breakfast mom and dad would often go to. I took out the Taylor and played this song as we scattered his ashes.

Sixteen years. Can it have really been that long? A lot has changed in that time. Dad got to walk Allison down the aisle, but he didn’t get to meet her three awesome kids. He didn’t get to see the miracle God worked in Andrew’s life, meet his wife Jordyn or their four kids. Didn’t know I married Missy or get to meet our kiddos, all of which are displaying the same zeal for laughter and life that he had. He didn’t know that I now play card games for a job, that all of those hours we spent with post-it notes at the kitchen table were in fact crucial training sessions for a future career. Who’d have thunk it? I think about it now, at least once a week while sitting at the poker table, and I can’t help but smile.

I’m not going to lie, I still get mad at dad sometimes. For missing out on all the things I just mentioned. For not being there for mom. For ruining golf and slapstick comedy for me. For not playing guitar with me. For not playing Chutes and Ladders with my kids. For making me feel guilty for being so incredibly ignorant and not doing more. Ultimately, however, I know that I’m just a kid in the backyard who took a baseball to the face. He never meant to hurt me. I understand now better than ever how lucky I was to have such a loving and committed father, who was there for every milestone in my life while he was alive. Who busted his tail to put food on the table and allow us to have the experiences in life that we’ll never forget. Other kids had nicer cars, nicer clothes. I shared a clunker with my sister but got to watch Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa hit three home runs each in one weekend.

I still cringe when I see or hear people make jokes about suicide. You know, the whole finger gun to the head and pull the trigger thing. It’s ignorant, just like I was until it hit me real close to home. This is a serious thing, yet it seems like the public and even the medical community is centuries behind in dealing with it. Just like cancer can make a strong person weak, depression and other mental health issues can slowly or quickly damage an otherwise healthy person. I hate telling people that didn’t know dad that he committed suicide, because I think it gives the impression that he was moping around the house all the time, when nothing could be further from the truth. He loved and appreciated the small details of life as much as anyone I’ve known. He was healthy, he got sick, it kept getting worse, and eventually the disease won. I’m not going assign a certain percentage of blame to him. I know who he really was.

My deepest fear is turning into my father. The first time I experienced depression was two years after he died, on my honeymoon. I had no idea what hit me. I couldn’t stop crying, wasn’t eating and didn’t want to leave the hotel room despite being in the Arenal Volcano Mountains of Costa Rica, one of the most gorgeous places on the earth. This was obviously a sucky situation for Missy, who didn’t know what to do. She’d been married for 24 hours and her husband was already losing his mind. All I could tell her was that I loved her and had no regrets about marrying her. Those things I knew deep down in my heart. But that was all. I had no idea why I was so sad. Maybe it was because I never really dealt with dad’s death head-on, never got counseling. Maybe it was because all the people at our wedding reminded me of all the people at dad’s funeral, such an unexpected outpouring of love that I wasn’t equipped to handle. Whatever it was, it went away after about three days and the rest of our honeymoon was awesome. In the eight years since then, I’ve had a few other, less severe episodes. Not many. I don’t like talking about it, not even with Missy. I’m not good at it. I don’t feel like I need medicine all the time for something that pops up less than once a year (so far), and I don’t trust the medicine out there anyway. I personally know a lot of people who have been tremendously helped by the medicine, but I also know at least one person who got significantly worse. So I do nothing. This is probably exactly the same thing most people do, up until it’s too late.

Or almost too late. In some ways, I already am turning into my father. I’m pretty easy going, I’ll usually go along with whatever my wife wants without complaining. I got begged into getting a dog about whom I am at best ambivalent, yet I’m the only one who feeds him and takes him to get his shots and haircuts. I spend my free time reading nonfiction and watching sports. I’d rather eat at home than go out, and I’ll eat just about anything. I sweat like a faucet when I work out. I laugh a lot, don’t cry much. Still not one to talk about feelings and emotions. Does that mean I’ll be fine for another 20 years and then it will hit me like it did dad? Was he struggling with it hardcore the whole time and just hiding it up until the end? Will I learn from what happened to him and do something different? Has the world around us changed, making it easier to deal with these issues and get help? Or is it harder now? These are things I think about.

On Monday, November 17, 2014, Addison bounced up to me and asked if we could play a game. Please? Please? We played Memory, letting Myra play too although she didn’t know what was going on and kept trying to turn all the cards up even when it wasn’t her turn. Maddux tried to eat a card. Addison loves playing games with me as much as anything. Hide and Go Seek is her favorite, but she’ll play anything I want for as long as I want to play it. I’ve even taught her a card game or two. We always play by the rules and I never let her win. I help her make the best strategic decisions, but what’s really important to me is her attitude. When she played T-ball and soccer this year, I didn’t care how good she was or what the refs did. I wanted her to give 100% and then I told her how proud I was when the game was over. This is the only way I know how to be a father to my kids, because it’s exactly the way my father taught me. And if I can show my kids half the unconditional love and grace that he showed me, then maybe turning into my father isn’t such a bad thing after all.

Family Shenanigans and Temporary Abstinence

2020!

I’m so over 2020!

Actually, I’m over people being over 2020. Celebrities die every year (RIP Sean Connery) and stuff happens every year. Maybe not on the level of a global pandemic, but complaining never did anyone any good.

Complaining about the complainers, however, is totally valid. I’m enjoying the view from atop my high horse.

Anyway, these last couple months have been different and hectic for the Franklin family. I’ve cut down on my work, which is a nice aspect of being self-employed. That is partly due to some junior high-ish BS involving my work, which is not so nice. But the main reason I’m staying home more is because of school.

Missy started her PhD program, which is somehow even more time-consuming than we thought it would be. Losing our power briefly this week actually allowed her to take a tiny respite from it. She’s working on it nearly every waking moment. I’m so proud of her because she’s stuck with it despite the enormity of the task and also because she is doing very important work fighting human trafficking. I get to proofread her papers and I’ve learned a lot of things that make you cry while also making you proud knowing you are helping make a difference. Or your wife is, anyway.

We have elected to do virtual school for all four kids. Overall, I’d say it’s going just fine for three of the four and we feel good about the decision we made for our family. With Missy’s packed schedule, I’ve taken the lead on the kids’ school. It’s really made me feel closer to all four of them than I felt before the pandemic.

We didn’t get to do anything on Fall Break because Missy had two big papers due that weekend, but we took advantage of the flexibility online school offers to take a family day trip to the Wichita Mountains on a weekday recently. Of course we went to the top of Mount Scott and took in the beautiful view there. We also visited the Holy City, walked on a hiking trail and spent some time at one of the small lakes on the refuge. The kids loved looking at the bison and longhorns roaming around. The only downside to the day was when poor Maddux stepped directly onto a small cactus. He fell down and got the quills all over his sweatpants. It was a slow and painful process to remove his shoes and pants, and we had to swing by a Wal Mart in Lawton to buy him something to wear before we went to dinner, but he’s a tough dude so he survived.

Great Scott! It’s Hawk and Addie at Mount Scott! Below is all four kids there.

Next on the list of fun stuff that happened in October was the YMCA Halloween festival. They did a great job of keeping everyone socially distanced while still providing plenty of games and candy. Missy was busy working on another paper but I took all four kiddos and the only problem we had was that we ran out of time and didn’t get to play all the games. Hawk dressed up as a dinosaur, Addie was an old lady, Myra was Elsa (I think. Either that or Anna, not sure which is which) and Maddux was Tigger.

Last night we had Myra’s birthday party (she’s 8 now!) and carved pumpkins. She said it was her favorite birthday ever, which always makes you happy as a parent. She requested an Oreo ice cream cake for her dessert, and as always Missy made an amazing one. That thing probably has 100,000 calories in it and I’m determined to eat half of them myself. At least it’s keeping me from stealing Halloween candy from my kids. I don’t know anything about those missing Reese’s cups.

Earlier I alluded to some juvenile BS going on at work, and that has caused me some increased anxiety over the last couple weeks. Because of that, I decided to abstain from cigars and alcohol until my birthday, which is November 12. It’s been about 10 days so far and I haven’t had more than a couple small cravings, both of which were for cigars and not booze (if that matters). I’m not sure if it’s really made any difference in my life so far, but it can’t be hurting. Plus, I don’t ever want alcohol to gain a real grip on me. Abstaining for 3.5 weeks ought to allow me to really get sloshed during the holiday season. (Just kidding Mom.)

My real point in sharing this is to encourage everyone to check in on your family and friends. Even those who haven’t gone public with mental health issues might be struggling with something they’ve been keeping inside. Even if they don’t want to share that with you, they’ll feel loved that you cared enough to talk to them.

This is a hard time of year for many people, as the weather turns chilly and the days get shorter. Holidays bring up memories of loved ones lost. The upcoming election is a stress-builder for many as well. We can all lift each other up.

No more of these shenanigans until at least November 12!

Restaurant Review: The Mexican Place in El Dorado, Kansas

Up until five days ago, Missy’s parents lived in El Dorado, Kansas. Most every time we visited, we ate at the Mexican place. I’ve eaten there several dozen times over the years, but until our final visit I never knew the name of it. We just called it the Mexican Place. Turns out its proper name is “Fiesta Mexicana Mexican Restaurant,” which is perfect.

Since I most likely won’t be stepping foot in El Dorado ever again, I thought I’d pass along the experience of dining at this fine establishment in case any of you happen to wander into town and want some great Mexican food.

It’s located in the heart of downtown El Dorado. Any old restaurant can have its doors face the street, but Fiesta Mexicana Mexican Restaurant brings its customers in through the back. While this quaint town of 13,000 doesn’t offer the bright lights and urban noise of a major metropolis, Fiesta Mexicana Mexican Restaurant brings a slice of the big city to you by forcing you to walk through an alley lined with trash bins before reaching the back door. On the plus side, nobody will see that you are eating there.

Once inside, you’ll be offered your choice of a table without plates, a table without salt and pepper, or a table without plates. I’m just kidding — there’s no choice involved. You won’t get all of those things. For our final visit last week, Fiesta Mexicana Mexican Restaurant rolled out the red carpet and gave us the combo deal without any of it. They told us the plates were currently being washed but just gave an “oops, I’m sorry” when asked about the other stuff.

After driving four kids three hours up to your in-laws, you might be ready for an adult beverage. You’re in luck! Fiesta Mexicana Mexican Restaurant has some of those. They offer a pitcher of margarita which is actually drinkable. I usually split it with my mother-in-law, who probably needs it to prepare for a weekend with four kids and a smartass son-in-law. On this most recent trip, however, I declined the booze and Karen just got a single frozen margarita. She drank half of it and said it made her sick. For those who can’t handle the hard stuff, Fiesta Mexicana Mexican Restaurant offers a variety of beers ranging from Corona to Corona Light.

Fiesta Mexicana Mexican Restaurant is set up like a sports bar. There are several big TVs all over the place and lots of Kansas City Chiefs mumbo-jumbo. For whatever reason — and I have wasted a lot of time in my life trying to figure out why — those TVs are ALWAYS turned to the most random sports stations. I’ve never once seen one showing ESPN or even ESPN2. One is always on ESPNU, one is on ESPNNews, one is on CBS College Sports. Clearly, if you’re paying for those channels you also receive ESPN or Fox Sports or something with a higher rating than a rap station in Alabama. A couple of times we’ve been in there during fairly significant sporting events that I’d like to watch. Unfortunately, those events aren’t being broadcast on ESPN Ocho. Maybe Missy calls ahead to have them switch the channels so I won’t be distracted.

After 15 minutes, you’ve probably received your plates, silverware and condiments. Cheer up pals, it’s time to eat! Or, as they say at Fiesta Mexicana Mexican Restaurant, it’s time to eat! (Everybody speaks English at the Mexican place in Kansas.)

Your chips and salsa come first. The salsa just looks like a tomato that had diarrhea. Quite runny, no flavor. If the chips were thin, the salsa would roll right off every time. Well, the higher-ups at Fiesta Mexicana Mexican Restaurant are too smart for that, so they made the chips as hard a rock, but with less flavor. Missy always orders some of their white cheese queso. That stuff is actually pretty good. Not even being sarcastic for once. She also orders the guacamole, which is also very good.

Fiesta Mexicana Mexican Restaurant has a secret recipe for its guac but I harkened back to my days as an intrepid investigative reporter and figured out what it is. At the risk of being sued, I’m going to share it here.

They just mash up some motherf***ing avocados. Literally nothing else in it. No tomatoes, no onions, no lime juice, no garlic. Nada.

The first time we ordered it, we asked if they messed it up or if it was really just avocados and nothing else. The waiter went back into the kitchen, came back a few minutes later and confirmed that it was just supposed to be avocados. I was really mad for a minute before I got yet another reminder of how awesome my wife is. She had them bring out some pico de gallo (which I was shocked they had), and she mixed that into the guac, and it was excellent. Even had just a little kick to it.

The entrees are your typical Tex-Mex fare. I will say their fajitas are somehow above average. That’s what I should have ordered for my final visit, but instead I went with the beef chimichanga, which was touted as world famous on the menu. It was literally a quarter pound of fried bread with half a pound of hamburger meat inside. Literally nothing but beef on the inside.

After putting a pound of questionable meat and grease into your body, you might have occasion to use the restroom. In all likelihood, you’ll be S.O.L. on that front. The restaurant seats about 100 people and the men’s facilities consist of two urinals and one pooper. If you expect these to be halfway clean, you’ll be S.O.L. times dos.

On our last visit, Maddux told me he had to go to the bathroom. I asked him if he could hold it for a few minutes and he said no. I asked him if it was a numero uno and the answer was no bueno. I took him to the bathroom but the toilet was occupado so Missy had to take him to the women’s room, which I’m sure is much more pleasant.

After finishing the meal and tipping the white waitress with the barbed wire tattoo, you’ll be escorted back through the trash alley to see how strong your stomach really is.

All in all, I’d say this is the best restaurant I’ve ever been to in El Dorado, Kansas.

Having said all that, I’m gonna try to mend some fences here at the end of this thing. We have some really good memories from this place because we did get to spend a lot of quality family time there. Missy does have a pretty solid order there every time she goes. She just eats the cheese dip, the doctored guac and a burrito that she likes a lot. During one of her pregnancies she had a craving for it and got it more than once on a single weekend visit.

Also, I’m very happy that her parents moved to Oklahoma City this week. They were able to swing by for a dinner the other night and it’ll be great to have them so close and be more involved with our kids.

Fiesta Mexicana Mexican Restaurant — a great place to eat.

Is OU closer to being Clemson or Texas Tech?

Ever since Lincoln Riley took the reins from Bob Stoops in Norman, I’ve shuttled between these two opinions. It’s been evident since Day 1 that Riley is an offensive genius. The only question is whether or not he can get the other side of the ball to a championship level.

When everything is clicking, the Sooners look like Clemson. When the defense falls apart, OU looks like Texas Tech. Oftentimes — like Saturday’s 38-35 loss to Kansas State, you get to see Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in the same game.

Even with two turnovers in the first half, OU looked great. The defense forced four straight punts to start the game and Spencer Rattler showed why he was the top-ranked QB in the country coming out of high school. His arm strength is already markedly higher than Mayfield, Murray or Hurts, and those guys finished first, first and second respectively in the last three Heisman tallies. Occasionally Rattler will leave a ball high, but otherwise he’s very accurate, and we can assume that he’ll only get better under Riley. He has decent foot speed (nowhere near Murray or Hurts but more than Baker) and hopefully will develop better awareness of when to tuck it and run. I like that he keeps his eyes downfield but he did miss a couple opportunities to convert third downs with his feet late in the game.

Anyway, we know the Sooners will put up points every Saturday. What we don’t know is how many they’ll allow. Skylar Thompson looks like the guy who played quarterback at my high school. OU made him look like Jalen Hurts, throwing a couple touchdown passes to wide open receivers and powering his way into the end zone a few times with his legs.

The defensive lapses hurt OU on the offensive side of the ball as well. Smelling an upset, the K-State defense started zeroing in on Rattler, who was constantly on the run. Riley basically abandoned the running game because he knew the O-line was tiring and couldn’t overpower the Wildcats up front for 80 yards. The Wildcats started playing loose and the Sooners started playing tight. A blocked punt here, another pick there…the Sooners have gotten lucky and survived second halves like this several times over the past couple seasons, but not this time.

When the Sooners play like they did in the second half, they look a lot to me like Texas Tech with better athletes and cooler uniforms.

Come this offseason, OU may be looking like Texas Tech in more ways than that. Anyone else see what Kliff Kingsbury is doing in Arizona and think it’s only a matter of time before an NFL team drops a helicopter load of money onto Riley?

Like I said, it’s been obvious from the moment he stepped foot in Norman that Riley is an offensive genius. Kingsbury has done some cool stuff, but he’s not in Riley’s league as a play designer and establishing an offense that can be lethal on the ground or in the air.

I thought it was absurd that an NFL team would hire a college coach who won about half his games, but it makes more sense now. There are tons of lifelong NFL coaches who can coordinate a defense, and you’ll theoretically have as much defensive talent as any other squad. So an offensive guru like Kingsbury or Sean McVay can really give you a competitive advantage in a league where the margins are razor thin.

I know Riley loves being at OU. He’s very well compensated and seems to thrive on the recruiting grind that makes many college coaches want to move on to the NFL. But this might be the time for the NFL to steal him, with the NCAA showing its ineptitude on crafting a uniform schedule across major conferences and instituting draconian suspensions for pot smoking even when it’s legal in almost every state now. Riley riffed on that latter topic at his press conference this week.

I hope he stays in Norman, but if he takes a few more jobs he might be like my favorite NBA player, LeBron James. Yes, I know that was a crappy segue but I’m leaving it in. James just made the NBA Finals for the 10th time in his career. That’s a lot.

Debating whether LeBron is better than Jordan is silly, because they play different positions, different styles, and played in different eras. So I always say LeBron is my favorite player, just because I enjoy his well-rounded game. If you preferred Jordan, that’s completely fine. Just don’t let that take away from your enjoyment of what James is doing right now. This isn’t the 1950s, when the whole NBA consisted of about 8 teams and the Celtics had 60% of the talent in the entire league. Making 10 Finals in those days is still impressive — it’s not like those players could control what the rest of the league was doing — but this is a whole new ballgame. LeBron is definitely past his peak, but he’ll be a favorite in the Finals this year and there’s no reason to think he doesn’t have a run or three left in him after this. What a beast.

With this weird 2020 sports calendar, we have football, basketball and baseball all going strong at the same time. The MLB playoffs start this week, and I have to say I’m less interested than ever. It feels like the season just started. They let more than half the teams in the league in the playoffs. And no fans takes away a lot of the fun.

Tonight the Cubs clinched the NL Central, which is bizarre considering they’ve played 59 games, barely won half of them, and score about 1.3 runs per game. That last stat is an exaggeration but most of the lineup is hitting around .200. It’s hard to get into a team when it rarely scores outside of a home run and those aren’t exactly flowing bountifully. I’ll definitely watch the Cubs playoff games but I doubt I tune in for Indians/Twins or whatever the other first-round series are.

I was vehemently against the runner-on-second thing to start extra-innings games, but I actually like it. Still not a fan of the 7-inning doubleheaders although I understand why they did that for this year. Hopefully it goes away along with the Royal Rumble playoff structure but I fear those are here to stay. The almighty dollar demands it.

Major League Baseball will take the cash grab of extra playoff games. Will Lincoln Riley take the NFL’s money next fall?

From two Bud Lights to near death to Paw Patrol cake

I’m a rule follower. Always have been. (Mom, this is when you should stop reading).

That’s why my first drink of alcohol came on November 12, 2000, the day I turned 21. I went to O’Connell’s (back when it was still on Lindsey St.) and had a Bud Light with a couple of my journalism colleagues. Thought it tasted terrible, then ordered another one. Still tasted terrible.

No shots, no beer bongs or shotgunning. Just two shitty BLs followed by the usual games of dominoes at the apartment.

Over the next several months I would occasionally have a beer or two, but never mixed drinks, liquor or shots. Maybe it happened and I just don’t remember it, but I don’t think I ever got drunk until the day I puked in my own car and almost died 600 miles from home.

I covered the OU football team for the school newspaper, and in 2001 they played an early-season game against the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. I had to go to cover the game, but several friends wanted to check out the AFA and the beautiful scenery around Colorado Springs so we made a trip of it. I know Keith, Josh and Ryan were there, and we took my old Honda and split one room. My memory is that we had another carful of friends who drove separately and stayed in the same motel but I don’t remember who was in that group or exactly how many we had. Probably our photographer Paul and maybe George or the douchey yearbook guy they stuck with us a lot. Maybe one of these guys can add some details in the comments.

Anyway, we got to Colorado Springs on Aug. 31 and found a bar the night before the game. The fact that we were completely outnumbered and stood zero chance in a fight didn’t stop us from talking some good-natured smack to the cadets. It was a lot of fun hanging out with them and at the end of the night we made a friendly wager on the next day’s game. We wagered a shot of alcohol on whoever covered the point spread. They had the exact same number of people in their group as we did ours. My (probably faulty) memory is that each group had eight people in it and that OU was favored by about 28 points. We agreed to come back to the same bar the next night after the game and settle up.

Whatever the point spread was, OU covered it. The final score was 44-3. Immediately after the game, everyone else in our group went to eat dinner while I did interviews in the locker room and wrote my story. I sent that Pulitzer-worthy piece in via dial-up internet (no joke!) and my boys picked me up at the stadium when they finished eating.

We headed over to the bar, although I was convinced there was no way these Air Force dudes were going to show up. Why go out after your team got throttled just to buy shots for obnoxious Oklahoma punks? But not only were these gentlemen there, they paid off the bet in a much more generous way than I would have ever guessed.

Since our groups had the same number, I assumed that we were betting one shot per person. Had OU lost, I would have bought one guy in the other group a shot. I can assure you I didn’t have enough money in my wallet to buy all eight guys a shot, yet that’s what they decided to do for us.

By now, I’m sure you know where this story is headed. Guy who doesn’t drink that much and didn’t eat dinner gets presented eight shots in a 30-minute span from Air Force cadets who were cool and being super generous. These weren’t the first shots I’d ever taken in my life, but I do remember thinking it couldn’t be that big a deal because shots are so small. I also remember Keith asking me how many of those shots I’d taken and seeing his eyes widen when I answered, “all of them.” He knew I was in trouble.

I still contend that the eight shots of Jagermeister put together didn’t do as much damage as the single shot I took with Josh shortly thereafter. We happened to be walking past the main bar when the bartender climbed on top of the bar and yelled, “Free tequila while it lasts!” He had a fountain spray like they use to add Coke or water but it was full of the lowest-quality tequila the world has ever seen. He was just spraying a shot of it into the mouths of whoever was in front of him, which unfortunately included me and Josh. I remember turning to Josh immediately afterward. We both had looks of utter disgust on our faces and we knew our stomachs would not soon recover from this blow. I’ll never forget him saying, “Dude, we’re fucked.”

The next thing I remember is being outside of the bar with Josh, trying to find an alley to throw up in. That didn’t pan out and the other guys thought we should head back to the hotel. Ryan was our DD and hadn’t drank anything so I sat in the passenger’s seat. As we’re driving on a winding highway back to the hotel, I can tell I’m not going to make it. I tell Ryan to pull off and he does. Josh and I get out. He threw up (maybe he threw up back in the alley, but he got it out of his system anyway). I decided to just lay down on the grass next to the highway. I knew I was going to throw up but it wasn’t coming out and the other guys were worried I’d get arrested for public intox so they loaded me back up into the car. Couldn’t have been more than a mile from there when I puked violently all over my own car.

We get back to the motel and I pressed the elevator button corresponding to whatever floor we were staying on. I remember one of the guys saying, “I can’t believe he pressed the right floor.” The next thing I remember is laying in the bathtub, shivering and dry heaving after throwing up everything in my body. I really thought there was a decent chance I’d die from alcohol poisoning. So far in my 40+ years of life, that’s the closest I’ve ever felt to dying.

Just as my stomach gave up everything it had, I must also give it up to my boys. They completely cleaned out my puke from my car that night. We had a 10-hour drive to make the next day and I don’t remember it smelling at all. I also have to give it up to 21-year-old me for being able to recover so quickly. I felt like crap when I woke up the next morning, but we ate a super-greasy breakfast in Colorado Springs and I slept for the first couple hours of the drive home. Then — voila! — the well-oiled machine that was my 21-year-old self felt more or less fine. I took the wheel and drove the last eight-ish hours home. Didn’t miss a class the next day. Age-40 Matty Frankles would be hooked up to an IV for three days after a night like that.

Actually, age-40 Matty Frankles put his stomach through a different kind of test today. Cheap pizza, ice cream, and a delicious homemade birthday cake to celebrate my youngest son Hawk turning 5. (I used to have a baby…my kids are growing up too fast!)

The weather was beautiful and Hawk loved riding his new bicycle around the block. This being 2020, my mom was only one invited to his birthday party.

In 16 years, perhaps Hawk will have two Bud Lights at O’Connell’s to celebrate his 21st birthday. Ten months later, assuming college football still exists and they allow fans in the stands, I hope he gets to go someplace like Colorado Springs, see the beauty of it and meet some new people. But do your tummy a favor, son, and stick to the Paw Patrol-themed birthday cake instead of nine shots of liquor.

The Plank in the Ocean

Note: One of my New Year’s goals was to post one poem and one fictional short story on here. It’s August and I haven’t done either, so here’s my attempt at the former. I don’t read poetry and I’ve never tried to write it, so I have no expectation that this will be good. Hell, it’s probably not technically even poetry. Tips and criticisms are gladly accepted.

Note, Part 2: This deals with mental health issues. The thoughts I express here are real but I have never actually considered harming myself. I promise.

Mornings are always good. There is life, my beautiful children running to give me hugs and playing together.

Routines — making breakfast for the kids, reading the newspaper, going to the gym — make me feel calm and productive. After that, I never know how the day is going to go. The kids might be crazy, or they might be great. Work might be great, or it might really suck. More to the point, I never know how I’ll react to any of those scenarios. The kids might be crazy, and I might be the calm, empathetic father I want to be. Or I might lose my temper. Work might suck and I might not let it bother me in the least. Or the tiniest annoying thing might stick in my head and not get out.

Nighttimes are almost always good, like 97.5% of the time. I can unwind, relax, go to bed.

That 2.5% though…it feels like floating on a plank in the middle of the ocean without land or boat in sight.

The water is the made of Nevers.

Never be good enough.

Never be the father I want to be.

Never be the father I had.

Never be the husband I want to be.

Never get to sleep.

Never escape this ocean.

The salt is the mistakes I’ve made.

Yelled at the kids.

Lied.

Drank too much.

Misplayed a hand and cost my family money.

Can’t even provide for them.

Chose myself over my family.

Missed out on time I’ll never get back.

The salt stings.

Cycling from one to the next, it never ends. I rub the salt out of my eyes only to have more instantaneously appear. I poke my head out of the water.

Breathe.

Deep breaths.

Count to ten.

I’m back underwater. Never, never, never, because X, because Y, because Z.

Your mistakes don’t define you.

You try the best you can.

Tomorrow is a new day.

Thing is, this isn’t manufactured salt. All the mistakes are real and regrettable. They aren’t one-time occurrences either. I’m 40 years old, and every year it seems to get worse, not better. How does this all end? I’m back underwater. Never, never, never, because X, because Y, because Z.

I should take an anxiety pill, but it’ll make me sleep for 12 hours. It’s already 2 a.m. The whole next day will be wasted. All because X, because Y, because Z. Never, never, never.

The plank is the morning.

Just hold on.

Just make it to the morning.

But how? Can’t breathe, much less sleep. Head is light, stomach turning. Seasick, I guess. No land, no boats in sight. Just nevers and becauses, water and salt.

Just hold on.

Just make it to the morning.

That’s all well and good, but it only takes one time of not making it to the morning. Dad was 56 before he didn’t make it to the morning…can I even make it that long?

Just hold on.

Just make it to the morning.

A couple more cycles and then, finally, nothing. Sleep. A 50/50 chance the sleep gets me to the morning. A 50/50 chance I suddenly wake up two hours later unable to breathe, and the cycle starts over.

Just hold on.

Just make it to the morning.

HOLD ON TO THE PLANK.

Mornings are always good. There is life, my beautiful children running to give me hugs and playing together.

Routines — making breakfast for the kids, reading the newspaper, going to the gym — make me feel calm and productive. After that, I never know how the day is going to go.

Cigars

I’m not short on vices, and my favorite one by far is smoking cigars.

I never would have guessed I’d pick up that habit, but I’ve had it for a good seven years now and have no plans to quit.

I tried a cigarette once in college. Hated it and couldn’t get the taste out of my mouth all afternoon. That was the first and last thing I lit on fire in my mouth until I decided to try a cigar.

I don’t have any recollection of when exactly I smoked my first cigar or who I was with. I feel like Mike Carroll was involved but not entirely sure. Regardless, it certainly didn’t become a regular thing for quite a while. I was maybe smoking one cigar a month, and this was low-quality shit we’re talking about. I ordered a starter kit from an online site. It was a tin humidor, 30 sticks, and a lighter that broke the second time I used it for $30. Might as well have been smoking sticks from the backyard.

All of that changed one fateful day when a buddy of mine who was a serious cigar aficionado said he needed to offload some of his inventory. He was smoking about seven cigars a day and wanted to get that down to three or four, so he was getting rid of the cigars he kept in his office at work. I met him over there and he gave me about 120 sticks, a really nice humidor, and two travel humidors for $300. The humidors alone were probably worth almost that much, and these were some fine cigars. Now that I know more about cigars, I know that those cigars would have averaged more than $10 per stick retail. And he had obviously taken care of them so they were perfectly fine. If I were smarter, I probably would have just re-sold all of that stuff immediately and made a quick $1000 but I wanted my mouth to smell like ash for the next 40 years.

The funny part of the purchase was when my buddy pulled out the five-cigar travel humidor. He showed it to me and said, “Now, what if you go to Vegas for a weekend? Are you going to want to smoke five cigars?” I shook my head no, because at that time five cigars was enough to get me from Memorial Day to Halloween. “No,” he said. “You’re going to want a lot more than that, which is why I’m giving you this 18-cigar travel humidor as well.”

(Postscript: I still have the 18-stick humidor, but the only time it’s ever had cigars in it was when I went home from his office. That’s because all three humidors were filled to the max to hold my 120 cigars. I still use the five-cigar humidor every time I go out of town though.)

That initial jackpot stash eventually disappeared, but another buddy who belonged to the same cigar lounge started selling me his excess product every time I ran low, and he also gave me great deals on them. A couple of poker buddies who don’t smoke have also gifted me some really good cigars.

Naturally, once I started smoking these higher-end stogies I started liking the whole concept a lot more. Still, I was only smoking about once a week until maybe a year ago, when I started averaging two or three.

Then this dang coronavirus thing hit. Suddenly, I was out of work. Check. The weather was beautiful almost every night. Check. And I was teaching school for all four of my kids every day. Checkmate. I started smoking every day. Occasionally even throwing a second cigar into the mix.

Let this be a lesson to the kids out there. Don’t let a lack of income or increasing personal responsibility keep you from destroying your lungs, even if there’s a global pandemic going around that also destroys your lungs.

Honestly though, there’s nothing more enjoyable than sitting on the back porch at the end of the day and relaxing, looking up at the gorgeous sky and moon, and smoking a cigar while drinking either a good beer or a couple ounces of bourbon.

Usually I like to play bridge online while I smoke. I love the game and there are ample breaks to sneak a puff or look into the sky and just breathe. Last night I got the trifecta because I kicked butt at bridge, enjoyed the cigar and listened to the Cubs win a baseball game on the radio, all at the same time.

Cigars are also a great way to have some much-needed bro time. It usually takes at least an hour to fully enjoy one, so you get past the “Hey, how ya been man?” stuff and into some deeper topics. I have a couple buddies who I get together with every once in a while, and it’s really good for the soul. My college roommate Keith, who now lives in France, came back stateside for a visit and we discovered that we’d both picked up cigars since our college days. We got together with a couple other college friends at a lounge and told the same old stories and played dominoes like we used to back in the day. It was one of the best nights of my life, and we’ve done the same thing a couple more times since when he’s come back for visits.

Made the mistake of leaving some of my cigars in my friend James’ car one time. He doesn’t even smoke but defiled all of them anyway.

There are some really nice places to smoke now, my two favorites (besides my back porch) being the Pub W in Norman and the BURN lounge up north by Top Golf. They don’t have the music on so loud that you can’t talk, and now that sports are kind of back they have those on the TVs. Smoking outside when it’s 100 degrees with humidity is too much even for me.

Generally, I prefer the more full-flavored, earthy cigars. Drew Estates is my favorite line, and the Liga Privadas are my favorite offering of theirs. In fact, I’m smoking a T52 right now. I recently got a box of My Father’s, and they are excellent as well. There are lots of great cigars out there and I like to keep a variety in stock. I can’t stand the sweetened cigars, and the super-mild ones with no flavor are a waste of time. But I’ll give pretty much anything else a whirl. I usually get bigger sticks, because if I smoke a short one I’ll end up wanting another one, which can sometimes be overkill.

Every once in awhile, the cigars will kinda mess up my brain chemicals. I know I’m already walking the line as far as that goes, but it’s rare enough that I haven’t quit yet. Still, it does stink on those rare occasions when I end up feeling weird or depressed emotionally after smoking.

Speaking of stink, some of these stronger sticks will really do some damage to my breath. I’ll brush my teeth, gargle mouthwash, and I still can’t get to first base with Missy because of the smell. I can’t blame her, I wouldn’t come near myself either if I had a choice. Cost of doing business.

I’m not the only one who has increased the cigar use during the pandemic. The last time I went into the cigar shop, the cashier said they’ve had record numbers since they’ve reopened.

I probably need to cut down on my cigar use. But I probably won’t, at least not anytime soon. Like somebody once said, smoke ’em if you got ’em.

What Are We Wrong About?

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love history.

I was a journalism major at OU, but I took so many history electives that when I met with my advisor before the start of my senior year, I asked her what I needed to do to get a minor in history.

“Hold on, let me look,” she said. After a minute of keyboard pounding, she looked up and said, “You’ve already met all the requirements. You just need to declare it.” I stood up, pointed my index finger into the sky and said, “I declare it!”

One of the things I enjoy about history is seeing the evolution of theology, products, architecture, etc. over time.

The past 150 years have brought about unprecedented growth in technology and medicine. Just think — in 1870 there was no such thing as a light bulb and “doctors” used leeches to let “poisonous” blood out of people who were sick with a wide array of ailments.

Even when humans get something right, we can go too far. The X-ray was invented in 1895, but within a decade or two it was being used on healthy people’s feet to determine their shoe size. Then those same people started getting cancer.

It’s easy to laugh at things like bloodletting and X-raying healthy feet, but we have to remember that those people were operating with the best knowledge they had at the time — just like we do today. In 100 or 200 years, what will people be laughing at us about?

The coronavirus situation this year is what got me thinking about this topic. For awhile, it seemed like the story changed every day. Wear a mask, don’t wear a mask, actually do wear a mask. We need ventilators, we’re out of ventilators, do ventilators really help?

Now that we’re several months into it, the story is only changing every week instead of every day. Still, it’s interesting to see people jumping on that day’s information like it’s the gospel truth — or ignoring it entirely if it doesn’t fit their political ideals — only to have a whole new set of data come out 24 hours later.

I don’t pretend to know the end result of this deal. I do believe we will come up with an effective vaccine and that this will be but a blip in the road of history. But I could be completely wrong.

In the year 2200, what will our descendants have to say about our generation?

People my age or thereabouts have lived through the beginnings of a technological revolution. I grew up with landlines, dial-up (read: slow-ass) internet, cassette tapes and a VCR. Things are only going to advance from here.

Here are my half-baked predictions.

  • Instead of complicated tax codes, credit card gouging and bank accounts, everyone will have one “bank account,” operating in a global currency like Bitcoin. Taxes, loans, deposits and purchases will all flow in and out of this account. You won’t use a card to access this but rather a chip planted under your skin. This will also contain your ID/passport so you won’t have to carry that around. Regardless, I think future generations will be appalled by how complicated our current system is.
  • I don’t have a good guess as to what it will look like but I’m already surprised we haven’t found a faster mode of daily transportation than cars. I picture a Jetsons-like situation with “highways” in the air, except the vehicles won’t look like traditional cars and different altitudes could exist for different speeds of travel and “exits.” Regardless, I think future generations will be appalled by how inefficient and harmful to the environment our cars were.
  • I think we will figure out a universal healthcare system that gives everyone a basic standard of care. There is enough money on the earth to take care of the essential needs of everyone without making rich people poor, and this will be a crowning achievement for the generation that installs it.
  • We will make a collective interpretation of when life begins and use it to draw a line on when women’s rights end and human rights begin. Everyone (except maybe a fringe element that doesn’t count) believes women have the right to control their own bodies. Everyone believes it’s not ok to take someone else’s life. We’ve been over-complicating this issue. At what point does human life begin? Whenever that is, another person doesn’t get to unilaterally decide to end that life. Seems logical to me that it begins with a heartbeat, since that’s how we define the end of life. But maybe people will decide it’s a different time. Regardless, I think future generations will look at this the way we look at slavery, wondering how society allowed this to exist and call it progress.
  • A sport that hasn’t been invented yet will surpass hockey and baseball in popularity. In 1920, boxing, baseball and horse racing were the most popular sports in America. Only one of those remain in the top three, and it’s hanging on by a thread. I’d bet on basketball remaining very popular, since it’s the easiest game for anyone to find a place to play. I wouldn’t be surprised if football’s health risks relegate it to niche status eventually, but now it’s so popular that it will take awhile to knock it off the pedestal. Baseball has been trending the wrong way for years and shows no signs of bouncing back to top-tier status. I don’t know what the new sport looks like or will be called, but if basketball and football can rise from nothing to the top in 180 years, so can another new sport. Heck, maybe it’ll be an old sport like lacrosse making a revival. It has good gambling/fantasy potential and it’s really fun and fast-paced to watch.
  • Religious beliefs of any kind will be mocked by mainstream society. I don’t really need to add any commentary here. This is the way things have been trending my whole life, so it isn’t exactly a bold prediction. But religion dates back as far as humanity itself, and while I don’t think it will ever disappear, it’s weird to see it being pushed to the margins like it has been.

What do you think the people of 2200 will think of us? What areas of society will be drastically different? Which of my predictions do you think are as foolish as bloodletting? Leave a comment so I can delete it and block you if I don’t like it. That’s the way we roll in 2020. (Just kidding I won’t do that. Would love to hear everyone’s thoughts!)

Matt and Chad’s definitive ranking of MLB parks we have seen

Basketball courts and football fields are all essentially the same, but baseball parks are unique. That uniqueness affects both the game on the field and the fan experience. A lazy fly ball to left is a routine out at most ballparks, but can easily clear the Green Monster for a home run at Fenway Park. Taking in a game at PNC Park is a fully immersive Pittsburgh experience, as the stadium’s designers did a wonderful job melding the Allegheny River, the downtown skyline and the Roberto Clemente bridge with the city’s classic yellow and black colors.

Chad and I have been on two extended baseball road trips (Kevin joined us for the first one in 2002). Since our second tour in 2015, we’ve tried to make an annual weekend out of hitting one baseball outpost and seeing what the city has to offer. This year, that’s not going to happen (“yer a bum, COVID-19!”), so we decided to take an inventory of all the stadiums we have visited and rank them.

We’re including stadiums that have since been retired or demolished, as well as stadiums where we only went for a tour or where our game was rained out. I’ve visited 20 stadiums in my life; Chad is at 24. We’ve both been to most of the stadiums on this list since we’ve attended many of these games together, but Chad had a few extra picks at the end since his list is a bit longer. I commandeered the first pick because I would have murdered him if he tried to take Wrigley Field away from me.

This blog is appearing identically on both our blogs and ironically on his. Luckylifestories.com (mine) is an apt title for a guy who gets to travel around the country to watch baseball and drink beer, while stayathomechad.com is writing about times when Chad did not stay at home.

1. Wrigley Field, Chicago (Matt)

Kevin, Matt, and Chad stand outside Murphy’s Bleachers before staking out a spot in Wrigley’s bleachers, 2002.
Andre Dawson jersey
Paying homage to the “Hawk” with a jersey purchase, 2015.

My high school graduation present was my first trip to Wrigley. We sat in the bleachers and I was scolded by security for leaning over the wall and snatching a piece of ivy. My college graduation present (to myself) was a baseball road trip with Chad and Kevin. I felt like crap the entire time which I later found out was due to having mono. Still, I managed to snag two batting practice home runs on the same day at Wrigley.

I once sat through two separate 3-hour rain delays and saw every pitch of a 14-inning game that started at 2 p.m. and ended at 1 a.m. There were so few people left in the stadium by the end of it that mom and I were able to sit on the third row behind the Cubs dugout.

I’ve been back twice since the giant video boards were added, and they don’t take away from the experience at all. You still have the neighborhood feel, the local bars, the old scoreboard, the ivy and the view of Lake Michigan.

I named my oldest kid after the street Wrigley is located on. Need I say more?

2. Camden Yards, Baltimore (Chad)

Chad’s first visit to Baltimore in 2000. Boog’s Bar-B-Q ranks among the best MLB stadium food.

Baltimore receives credit for sparking the ballpark building craze in the early 90s, with ample nods to history and vintage design. The brick B&O Warehouse in right field defines the park’s stunning aesthetics. The Orioles seem to have a supportive fan base, in good times and bad, with Cal Ripken Jr. serving as its god among men. A big plus is the Inner Harbor area. It is a picturesque setting just steps from the ball yard with colorful buildings, sailboats, and an abundance of top-notch seafood. Also in the neighborhood is Babe Ruth’s childhood home, with a decent little museum dedicated to the Bambino.

I’ve been to Camden Yards three times. The most memorable came in 2001 when I was a U.S. Senate intern. This was before the Washington Nationals existed, and I wanted to catch a ballgame while I was in the Beltway for the summer. So I rented a minivan and crammed in all of my office’s interns (definitely more people than a minivan should hold) for the 45-minute trip to Baltimore. I was 22 at the time, and probably shouldn’t have been able to rent a vehicle, but flashing a Senate badge goes a long way in D.C., or at least it did then.

To be honest, it’s probably a crime that we ranked this above Fenway, but we did this blog draft style and I wasn’t invited on Matt’s Boston trip (cough cough), so what can you do?

3. Fenway Park, Boston (Matt)

Much like Wrigley, Fenway sits smack in the middle of a neighborhood. There will never be parks like those anymore, and those two are so unique and cool that they really should be separated from every other park on this list.

In college, two of my journalism friends got summer internships at The Boston Globe, so I saved up a little money and flew up for a weekend. We got to the park early, walked around the neighborhood and all around the stadium before settling into our crappy seats in dead center field about 520 feet away from home plate. We took pictures standing next to the left field foul pole right next to the green monster (this was before there was seating atop the monster). It was a fun day, and I’d love to go back.

4. PNC Park, Pittsburgh (Chad)

If stadiums can no longer go into neighborhoods, the next best thing is downtown. I love a good urban view, and no one has come close to doing it as well as Pittsburgh. The Roberto Clemente Bridge is such a cool backdrop. Really, the whole city is cool. All of the major sports teams have the same colors, and it seems like the whole city is adorned in yellow and black. We spent a lot of time walking the Allegheny River between the ballpark and Rivers Casino. Between the two is Heinz Field, home of the Steelers. The fan base is second to none. I feel sorry for them because the Pirates have had bad luck in wild-card games and they missed their small window for a championship. But I’d go back to Pittsburgh in a heartbeat no matter how good or bad the Pirates were.

My only complaint was that the ballpark feels like it was built on a lot that was too small. The sacrifice came in the concourses, where it was wall-to-wall humanity the entire game. Expect to miss a full inning in order to tinkle or buy a Primanti Brothers sandwich.

5. Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City (Matt)

In 2002, Kauffman served as the launching pad for an epic baseball road trip.

Many would say I’ve ranked this too high, but there’s a simplistic beauty to this stadium that I really enjoy. The fountains are a nice touch, and they’ve added a craft beer section with great stuff from Boulevard.

The first time I visited was on that college graduation road trip with Kevin and Chad. I remember “tailgating” with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the parking lot because we were too poor to afford anything better.

Chad’s bachelor party included a game at Kauffman, and that was a lot of fun too. With Chad living pretty close to Kansas City now, he gets to go to a fair number of Royals games. I stole this stadium in the draft but I’ll let him pick out a picture to go with it.

6. Coors Field, Denver (Chad)

Best seat in the house, 2018.

It took me multiple visits to find the best seat at Coors Field, but I finally settled on it a couple of years ago. It is the front row of the upper deck on the first base side. From there, you can see a wide panoramic view of the game as well as the majestic Rocky Mountain peaks just beyond the right field scoreboard. Oh, and lest I forget the sky. Most nights it fills up with a spectacular orange and purple splay at sunset.

The revitalized downtown neighborhood is fun, particularly if you are a craft beer fan. We have spent time before and after games at Wynkoop, Breckenridge, and Prost, among others.

In many ways, the structure itself is similar to its mid-90s contemporaries. It’s a very nice, clean ballparks with vintage vibes and great sight lines all around. But simply being in Colorado is enough to fill me with joy, so for the game day experience and natural views, Colorado has those rivals beat by a mile (high).

7. Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati (Matt)

There are two reasons this one is so high up on my list. First is the Reds Hall of Fame. Chad and I spent a good hour or so in there before the game started, and I just love the history. A lot of Johnny Bench stuff, which we have to love as native Oklahomans.

I also liked how wide the concourses were. It bugs me when I want to get a beer or take a leak between innings only to get jammed up in a sea of people on the concourse. Great American is the first class section of ballpark concourses. There were also lots of good food and drink options, and a view of downtown Cincy similar to what you get at PNC in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is just a little prettier to look at in my opinion.

8. (Old) Yankee Stadium, New York (Chad)

The ecstasy of a pre-game stroll through Monument Park.

Let me preface by saying I have had the worst luck with baseball in The Bronx. When I went to the old stadium in 2000, we sat and watched rain fall for several hours until the game against the Red Sox was postponed. Strike one. In October 2011, I went to New York for business and I bought a ticket for the Yankees’ second-round playoff series in their new stadium. However, the Yankees lost to the Tigers in the first round, rendering my ticket useless. Strike two. The next time I went to NYC in 2016, the Yanks were out of town. Strike three.

But I saw enough of the the House that Ruth Built during that rainout in 2000 to declare its majesty. Walking through Monument Park was especially satisfying. The enormity of the stadium, and I assume its successor, is stunning. Hopefully I’ll get to see the new one on my next visit to the Big Apple.

The fan base is simply nuts. A beer vendor appeared out of nowhere and shouted “WHOOOOO’S DRINKING HERE?” and a fan responded “WE’RE ALLLLLLL DRINKING HERE!” and the rest of the section cheered – and drank – as the rain fell. That’s about the nicest story I can recount about Yankee fans. They are bold and brash and obnoxious, home or away (“27 RIIIIIIINGS!!!!!”). I used to be one of them, but at some point I couldn’t even tolerate myself anymore.

The agony of a multi-hour rain delay. (I don’t know what’s going on with my mouth in this pic. In the film camera days, there were no re-shoots.)

9. Target Field, Minneapolis (Matt)

I loved Minneapolis as a whole. Reminds me a lot of Oklahoma City. I was really surprised by the craft beer scene there, surpassed only by San Diego among cities I’ve been to. We got lucky on the weather when we were there too.

The stadium itself is modern and cool, in the mold of Pittsburgh/Cincinnati/St. Louis where you get a good feel and view of the whole downtown area.

Of the two games we attended there, my main memory has nothing to do with baseball. The guy sitting directly in front of us proposed to his girlfriend on the jumbotron, and she said yes. So Chad and I were on the video getting excited for this newly engaged couple. And we had already had a couple beers so we were maybe even a little more excited than we should have been.

10. Progressive Field, Cleveland (Chad)

We were happy members of #TRIBETOWN for one wild Friday night.

I think I am safe in speaking for Matt when I say Progressive Field was the best surprise of our 2015 tour. Before we went, I knew the Indians had seen a lot of success in the mid-90s and had an impressive streak of selling out the stadium. But that was a while ago. I hadn’t heard much about the Indians and their fans since. But when we visited, the stadium was packed and we had a blast.

Pre-game, Matt played poker downtown, and I went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Eventually we met up and had a couple beers at the Clevelander Bar. From there we hit the stadium. It struck me as a very vertical stadium, which may not make a ton of sense, but it felt like the decks were stacked directly on top of each other. Despite sitting in the outfield, I felt like we were on top of the action. The fans around us, rooting for both the Indians and the Twins, were a lot of fun. Not annoying at all, but providing great conversation and fun teasing. It didn’t hurt that the game was an action-packed affair that ended in a 10-9 Twins victory. After the game, the Indians put on the most intense fireworks show I’ve ever seen. Not the biggest or brightest, but definitely the loudest. Overall, we came away with a positive impression of a vibrant downtown and an excellent stadium.

11. Chase Field, Phoenix (Matt)

The season was still a week away, but the Chase Field pool appeared to be in mid-season form.

Last year, Chad and I went to Phoenix for a few days of spring training, which was a fun wrinkle. We took a stadium tour of the Diamondbacks home, something I’d never done before.

It was cool to see the inside of the stadium, such as the clubhouse and the dugout. In the entryway to the home dugout was a metal horizontal bar bolted to the ceiling. Our tour guide informed us that this was installed when Randy Johnson was pitching for the team, and he would hang from it to stretch his back between innings. I had always thought stadium tours were just a weak money grab, but tidbits like that changed my mind.

The poker players of Phoenix took some of my money on that trip, so maybe one of these days I’ll exact my revenge during a baseball season and actually watch a game at Chase Field.

12. Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles (Chad)

This one is hard for me to rank, because I went there when I was only 6, and my memories are definitely colored by 35 years of watching games on television. To put that in perspective, I went there three years BEFORE Kurt Gibson’s miraculous walk-off home run in the 1988 World Series. But still, it holds good memories for me, as I watched the Dodgers square off against the Cincinnati Reds team that featured Pete Rose as a player-manager. Plus I really like the vibrant colors of the southern California yard, the hills and palm trees in the distance, and the cool 60s angles on the signs and overhangs in the outfield.

(Quick aside from Matt: My first MLB game was at Dodger Stadium, and it was during that 1988 season. Fernando Valenzuela got shelled. We sat on the very top row. I don’t remember much else about it).

13. Comerica Park, Detroit (Matt)

Will the statue of racist prick Ty Cobb remain at Comerica Park?

I’ve only spent one day in Detroit in my whole life. We drove across to Canada during the day before a 7 p.m. Tigers/Red Sox game, spent 20 minutes there and then got detained at the border trying to cross back into the United States. That was a bit unsettling, but after a couple of hours at the border patrol we got out in time for the game.

The seats we actually purchased were the worst ones I’ve ever sat in. They were temporary bleachers tucked under the actual bleachers beyond the left field wall. We decided to forego those and just roam around the stadium the entire game.

Like Kauffman and its Boulevard section, Comerica has a great craft beer bar from Founders. Chad and I drank a lot of beer on that 2015 road trip but the best was the Red Rye IPA we got at that bar. I also remember spending an inning or two talking to and older local man who told us stories about the old Tiger Stadium. Having conversations with strangers who also love baseball is one of the best things about going to a ballgame.

14. Petco Park, San Diego (Chad)

Everything about San Diego is bright and beautiful, including your blog author.

This is another park that I have visited, but unfortunately I have not seen a game there. Our family was in San Diego a few years ago smack dab between the World Baseball Classic and MLB’s Opening Day. We didn’t a chance for any games, but we took a tour of Petco anyway. Like Camden Yards, this one features an historic building facade (Western Metal Supply Co.) as part of the stadium. We went in that building and it has a pretty sweet bar and some swanky pool tables, as well as the Padres’ store.

When we came outside, the U.S. Navy Leap Frogs were practicing for Opening Day, and it felt like they were falling right over our heads and landing on the field. I’d still prefer a baseball game, but that was a cool consolation prize and great memory. San Diego is a beautiful place and its ballpark fits right in.

15. Guaranteed Rate Field, Chicago (Matt)

The stadium itself is absolutely nothing special at all.

Having said that, it was the only stadium on our 2015 tour that let us sit wherever we wanted. So we bought crappy seats and never even bothered to check them out. We sat in the lower section and watched Chris Sale pitch to Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and the Angels.

We also found out that GRF has some of the best ballpark food in the country, but unfortuntely we didn’t find this out until after our visit there. We ate at a sports bar across the street before the game and weren’t hungry once we got inside, but the smells were amazing. Won’t make the same mistake again if I ever go back.

16. The Ballpark in Arlington (Chad)

Matt and I went to Arlington for Opening Day in 2009. President Bush, less than three months after leaving the White House, threw out the first pitch.

I’ve seen quite a few games in Arlington, since most of my life I lived only 3 1/2 hours away in Oklahoma City. The park that opened in 1994 is truly beautiful, and for most of my life I would have ranked it in the top 10, but now it is retired and will probably continue to slide down the list into history.

The main reason for this stadium’s early demise is the brutal Texas summer heat. I can attest, it is miserable. I have lost many pounds sweating at Rangers games, even into the night. One year I took my parents to an opening weekend game, hoping that early April would be mild enough for us to enjoy a day game. It wasn’t. I’m looking forward to seeing the new roofed stadium, although I predict it may suffer some of the same problems of Minute Maid in Houston (see below).

One good memory is when Matt and I both took our families to a Cubs-Rangers game in 2007 and witnessed Sammy Sosa becoming the 5th player to hit 600 home runs. I still think it’s crazy he hit that milestone AGAINST the Cubs.

17. Marlins Park, Miami (Matt)

Sure, it’s wonky, and I was there when they still had the goofy home run art piece in center. But it did offer a wide concourse with solid beer options, interesting dimensions and a bobblehead museum that I spent at least an inning and a half at.

Overall, I’d say this stadium gets a bit of an unfair bad wrap. But maybe that’s what it deserves for charging the citizens of Miami a buttload of tax dollars to build it and then putting a Triple-A caliber team on the field.

18. (Current) Busch Stadium, St. Louis (Chad)

Sweating my face off in 2006.

The first time I went to Busch III during its inaugural season of 2006, it was over 100 degrees for a day game. Baptism by fire, I suppose. The downtown views of the Gateway Arch are solid. The stadium itself, I found a little generic and underwhelming. The food selection was also not great (Carls Jr burgers? Get out of here!)

We waited many years for the Ballpark Village next door, but again, I was a disappointed. While I’ve certainly had fun with friends there, the entire thing is apparently owned and/or operated by Anheuser-Busch, which means the beer sucks and the food is mediocre. The atmosphere seems so sterile and manufactured, rather than feeling gritty and natural (like Wrigleyville).

Cardinals fans are passionate, there’s no doubt, but their park is middle-of-the-pack at best.

19. Minute Maid Park, Houston (Matt)

Chad attended Opening Day in Houston in 2012.

I found this one to be highly disappointing. The coolest thing about it was the flag pole on a hill that was in play in centerfield, but they got rid of that for safety reasons.

The left field fence is way too close, yielding cheap homers. Texas beers generally suck and the team cheats. Yes, we’re to that point on the list.

(If Matt can do an aside, so can Chad: Here’s the deal about Minute Maid. If the weather is decent and the roof is open, it is a top-10 baseball cathedral. The train is especially cool. But if the roof is closed, and it almost always is, the stadium has all the ambiance of a 1990s shopping mall on a Tuesday morning.)

20. Citi Field, New York (Chad)

When I sent this fiery sunset pic to Matt, he responded, “This is why baseball is the best sport.”

Luckily my New York curse did not extend to Queens. We took in a ballgame in ’16 while we were in New York for Aften’s medical conference. The tennis U.S. Open was also going on, and I wish I could have gone to that, too. We entered Citi Field through the Jackie Robinson Rotunda. You have to get past the fact that Jackie played for the Dodgers and not the Mets, and he played in Brooklyn and not Queens, but it’s still a neat tribute. The exterior facade of the park is also apparently a nod to Ebbets Field and the Home Run Apple from Shea Stadium is there for cool photo ops. The inside of the park is nice enough, although I didn’t get to explore much because I was wrangling a 7-month old. The biggest memory is a beautiful baseball sky sunset that was almost as good as Colorado.

Pro tips for visiting Citi Field: 1) If you are going to a night game in rush hour, take the express train and not the local that makes every stop in Queens like we stupidly did. 2) If you like real-deal Chinese food, go one subway stop further to Chinatown in Flushing for your pre-game eats. There is a hidden underground food court that has amazing dumplings and a ton of other good food. Then take the subway back one stop for the game. 3) Buy your return subway ticket BEFORE the game or make sure you have an all-day ticket. You do not want to be stuck in the line (there are literally only two machines for 40K fans) buying tickets after the game, or even in the 6th inning because you brought a baby and you have to get back to Manhattan so this kid can get some sleep already! (I never ever ever leave a game early, but there are some fights a man just cannot win.)

21. Fulton County Stadium, Atlanta (Matt)

I was incredibly lucky on the two games I attended here. The first, when the Braves were terrible, was a game in which Dale Murphy homered twice in the same inning, one of which was a grand slam.

The second involved a fire in one of the suites before the game started, leading to a long delay. This was 1993, and the Braves had just traded for star first baseman Fred McGriff. In his first game with the team, after waiting out the fire delay, McGriff hit a grand slam that sent the stadium into a frenzy. The Braves went on to run down the Giants by one game in one of the most epic divisional title races ever. But let’s be honest, the stadium itself sucked.

22. Angels Stadium, Anaheim (Chad)

My parents took my sister and me to Angels Stadium on July 4, 1989. I was 10. It was a vacation that was filled with a lot of sickness, as my family members passed around a stomach bug. By the time the game rolled around, I was feeling fine, but I can’t say the same for my parents. Big credit to them for sticking it out because the payoff was truly epic. Tony Armas Sr. hit a 3-run walk-off home run in the bottom of the 9th with two outs to beat the Rangers, 5-2. That led to by far the best fireworks display I had ever seen at that point in my life. I remember getting a little teary at the patriotic music. Big feelings for a 10-year-old.

I admit I don’t really remember much about the stadium. One detail I recall is that we were sitting down the left field line, and it felt like our seats were facing directly at the left fielder, making it uncomfortable to turn our heads to watch 98 percent of the action taking place on the infield. Angels Stadium has been renovated a few times since 1989, so hopefully they corrected that issue. Still, my overall impression of this stadium is that it is serviceable but not necessarily special, kind of like the Angels themselves outside of the GOAT Mike Trout.

23. Miller Park, Milwaukee (Matt)

We got Wood! And unfortunately, also mono.

I could be biased here, because the Brewers are division rivals with the Cubs and also because my only visit came on that 2002 trip when I had mono, but I was completely underwhelmed. The stadium had a fake-looking rusty-steel exterior, and that damn Bernie Brewer slide is annoying. The hot dog race is kind of cool, though.

24. (Old) Busch Stadium, St. Louis (Chad)

I went to a number of games at Busch II during my childhood. The time that comes to mind first was during a 1988 vacation that we made down the Mississippi River from St. Louis to Memphis.

In a game against the Giants, future Hall-of-Famer Ozzie Smith hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the 7th to tie the game and the place came unglued. Ozzie only hit 28 dingers in 2,573 career games, so there was about a 1 percent chance that it would happen in any given game.

The little arches that encircled the top of the stadium were cool. But the shape of the stadium, plus artificial turf, plus Midwest humidity, made the place the worlds largest air fryer. I also remember being supremely annoyed when I was a child at the number of beer vendors that Busch II had in the stands. Like, way way too many beer vendors. It was distracting. I certainly didn’t shed any tears when St. Louis broke ground on a replacement in the aughts.

25. Arlington Stadium, Arlington (Matt)

My dad took me to one or two games there when I was little. I don’t remember much about it, except it reminds me of both the old All-Sports Stadium in Oklahoma City and the old Milwaukee park in which they filmed “Major League” (Yes, even though it was the Cleveland Indians they filmed the games in Milwaukee). There’s a reason those stadiums no longer stand.

26-29. The rest of my list (Chad)

A Father’s Day walk-off for Ryan Zimmerman, 2006. Note the soccer players at the top of the upper deck.

If you’ve made it this far, I applaud your resiliency and I’ll make quick work of the rest of my list, mostly because they either are retired or I don’t remember much about them.

  • Candlestick Park, San Francisco. Swirling, cold wind in the middle of summer, and Barry Bonds went 0/4 (cue Nelson from the Simpsons saying “haha!”) in a day game in 1993.
  • Jack Murphy Stadium, San Diego. Mom got an up-close look at one of her favorite players, Ron Darling, during his incredibly short Expos stint (“he’s so darling!”).
  • Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, Washington, D.C. I went to a three-game Yankees-Nats series on Father’s Day weekend in 2006. On Sunday, Ryan Zimmerman hit a walk-off home run with his dad in the stands, which was awesome. The stadium was adorned with images of DC United soccer players, which was definitely not awesome.
  • Oakland Coliseum, Oakland. I can’t believe baseball is still being played in this sewage-spewing dump. The best memory I have from that 1993 trip is that a man hopped the centerfield wall wearing only a jersey, and ran and slid into second base before being arrested. “That’s gonna leave a mark!”

What’s next (Chad)

This year will be the first since 1995 that I will not attend a Major League Baseball game. Who knows what 2021 will hold for pandemics and sports. But eventually, we will get back to attending live games, and we certainly have a few stadiums on our wish list.

The first glaring omission on our list is that Oracle Park in San Francisco is not in our top-5, because unfortunately we have not been there yet. I have long wanted to go for multiple games, and spend at least one day in the bay with a kayak, radio, and a fishing net to catch home runs. It will be interesting to see how this much-heralded park could shake up our list.

In fact, it’s a dream of mine to do an entire West Coast run, because Matt and I both need to actually see a game at Petco, we need an adult re-do in LA, and Matt’s brother Andrew just moved to Seattle, which also has a nice modern yard.

As far as the rest of the country goes, of course we could always use a few days to visit both stadiums in NYC. I need my shot at Fenway. And we both need to see the Phillies’ and Nationals’ relatively new digs. Two other stops that we will likely make soon are the new parks in Atlanta and Texas. In fact, we were making plans to visit Texas before COVID-19 changed everything. Tampa and Toronto have never been big draws for us, but I would visit them if it meant clearing my list. If the pandemic goes on long enough, I may have enough credit card miles racked up to put on a mask and go everywhere in North America.

Hit us up in the comments to let us know your favorite MLB stadiums, your thoughts on our list, and where we should go next.