Saturday, May 21, 2011

So I'm Hanging Out With Drew Brees, Marshall Faulk, and Jerry Rice

And by hanging out, you know, I mean we were in the same room. The room was the Morgan Run Resort in ritzy Rancho Santa Fe, where Brees was hosting the kickoff reception for his charity golf tournament last Thursday night.

One of the recipients of the Brees Dream Foundation is the Friends of Scott Foundation (FSF) for all they do helping families battling cancer. I've been blessed to be on their advisory board since its inception in 2001, so founder and president Carmen Delgadillo generously offered me two tickets.

After ensuring I had no pressing work duties at that night's Brewers-Padres game, I offered to my teammate and friend Scott Baird to come with. Scotty B. was hyped because, in addition to being a sports fan in general, he and Brees are members of the same national fraternity.

Me, I'm a member of the fraternal organization Al Tappa Keg and there is free beer at this shindig, so let's grab our blazers and go!

Rancho Santa Fe is about 40 minutes from downtown San Diego and all the wealth must be put into the mansions, because there aren't many street lights or signs. Come to think of it, there aren't many streets, just one seemingly endless trail that somehow leads to a country club. We look for a lot in which to park but all we see is a sign for valet service.

Now, normally valet is an option. At Morgan Run it's the only option. Which is kind of silly when the row of entering cars are Ferrari, Lamborgini, Jetta, Rolls Royce, Cadillac, BMW, Camry. Here's the keys to our chariot, buddy, don't scratch it.

Scotty and I walked the red carpet entering the party on the courtyard. If you've never done this, it's true - it's a carpet taped to the ground and it's red. At the end of it there was a photographer offering to snap pictures of people against a background adorned with the Cox Celebrity Championship logo. Most partygoers declined but Scotty B. and I were like, "Heck yeah!"    We smiled and posed like Lamar and Kloie. Although I'm not sure who was who.

The event was magnificent. Food and drinks and an elaborate silent auction, which is where we saw our buddy Daniel Hansen, who was furiously bidding on a signed Aaron Rodgers jersey. Spoiler alert: he lost by ten bucks and I told him the bright side was that now that $410 could go to, oh, food and rent.  My man!

As we're mingling and cradling our cups of Coors Light - in Rancho Santa Fe, this is an import beer - two constellations came as if falling from the sky. One was the greatest wide receiver of all time, Jerry Rice, and the other was Super Bowl and league MVP Drew Breesy. They didn't walk in together. That may have been too much star power for the human eye to behold.

I grew up watching and admiring Rice, the San Francisco Treat, and definitely wanted to take a picture with him. And if I couldn't take one with him, I'd take one of him. So I went into stalker mode and as fan after fan rushed up to Jerry, I figured a candid was better than nothing. Jerry eats a steak sandwich. CLICK. Jerry orders an imported Coors. CLICK. Jerry stares at Rollie Fingers' handlebar mustache. CLICK.

Then the other constellation, Drew Brees, saunters in and Scotty B. loses his mind.   I mean, loses his freakin' mind.  "Let's go, let's do it, let's meet him!"      Alright, Scott, whatever you say, but he's headed this way so let's just stop and ask him for a picture.

We do that. Brees is regaled in a shimmering silver blazer, black button-down shirt, and black slacks and a smile that can heal the world.  Now, if there's one thing I've learned is even the coolest celebrities who are approached every five seconds for autographs, are surprised by a pair of hooks. They just don't see it every day. Some are taken aback. Some probably think I'm a military veteran, which I'm not, but I'm not going to tell them that unless they ask.

Heck, in junior high I used to tell girls I lost my arms rescuing my dog Boo Boo from an oncoming car. I never had a dog named Boo Boo.

So Brees sees my hooks, never hesitates, grabs it and pats me on the shoulder. I ask if he'll take a picture with us and he magically says, "I'd be happy to", and Scotty hands my camera to a nearby "Turtle" - you know, every celebrity has a lackey nearby like Vince had Turtle in Entourage.   This is not an easy transfer because, well, Scott's hand is shaking.

Credit Scott, though, he composed himself, gave Breesy their secret fraternal handshake, and starts chatting about Sigma Chi or something. Brees was earnestly into it. Me, I was staring down Jerry Rice nearby. I see you, Jerry.

Brees was awesome. I thanked him for his work with FSF said God Bless and his thank-you was genuine.  Scotty's hand was still shaking.

We moved on to Marshall Faulk, who told me, "Picture? Uh, yeah, let me go take care of this thing right quick."  So I waited. And waited. Saw him come back to our area but was not going to ask him twice, and waited some more. We made eye contact but Marshall either forgot or just didn't want to do it. Fine. I'll go look for Jerry Rice.

We see a few other athletes - Lorenzo Neal, Andre Reed, Hank Bauer - but I was intrigued by the sight of actor Alphonso Ribeiro.  Long known for his role as "Carlton" in Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, he is one of Hollywood's funniest actors, I think. Scotty and I aproach him and a Turtle intervenes. He tells me, "Hey, man, Alphonso might take a picture with you but whatever you do, don't call him Carlton. He hates that."  He has his hand on my chest, which makes me look at this Turtle like he has just lost his marbles, and I respond, "Come on, bro, that's not my style."

So after a couple "Mr. Ribeiros", Alphonso sighs....he did NOT want to do this...turns around and I say, "Hey, man, I liked your work in 1993 with Michael Jackson in those Pepsi commercials."  Suddenly, Carlton, I mean, Alphonso, grins and says in a deep voice, "Thank you, my man, how 'bout a picture!"  GRIN. CLICK. LIKE.   I gave him a business card, which he'll never use, but that's cool, he was very patient as I struggled to remove it from my shirt pocket.

The night ended with Frank Caliendo doing an outstanding routine on stage - see this guy do stand-up, it is terrific - and then suddenly I saw him nearby: Jerry Rice. You've evaded me all night, Jerry, perhaps because you still look like you could play. Come on, Scotty, we're going in.

We brushed past the gaggle of ladies talking to #80 and asked him for a pic. He quickly obliges.  One of the nearby ladies - Real Housewives of Rancho Santa Fe? - stops us and tucks in part of my shirt. That wasn't awkward at all. GRIN. CLICK. LIKE.  Mission Accomplished.

As the event winds down and a band starts to play, the Padres game is put on a giant projector screen. This is great! Ninth inning, 0-0, Pads load the bases and The O-Dog, Orlando Hudson, hits a screamer to right. PADRES WIN 1-0!   Me, Scott, Daniel and the entire crowd....ok, three other people...roar in unison.

What a fantastic way to end the night. I see you, Jerry.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Why I'm Proud to be an American

Slick Nick hates that I do this but I admit that I plan some of my Facebook Statuses (stati?) in advance. Some are completely top of my head but others are mentally concocted and then saved for certain occasions. Sometimes it's a hybrid of the two where I think what should my status be in the morning the way people choose their loafers or sport coats.

Last night D-Hanse was driving me home from a great dinner I had with he and his family. As we drove from Mission Gorge to Paradise Hills, my phone started buzzing in my shirt pocket but I ignored it while chatting with Dan and simultaneously thinking about the next day's Status. (Yes, I capitalize it.) Should I write about enjoying pizza with him and his wife Jenny, plus their baby and in-laws? Or maybe that I liked the Chargers draft and how they loaded up on defense and special teams?

I was still ruminating on this, seriously, when I walked inside and Mama ruined my concentration with, "Deed ju hear de nooz?"

"What news?" I deadpanned, "another royal get married?"

"No," she responded, "they got him. Bin Laden."

I froze and as my eyes swung to my nearby Sony flat-screen, my mouth dropped open. I was stunned.

For the next three hours I devoured all news concerning President Obama's ordered attack, and execution thereof, Usama Bin Laden. I couldn't get enough of it - the crowds cheering wildly, the explanations of military strategy, Obama's speech in the East Wing.

And suddenly, perhaps as a cumulative effect, tears started welling up. Then when they showed footage of the Twin Towers burning on 9/11...psssht...tears streaking down my cheeks.

For me, that's what this is all about. You see, terrorism itself didn't die with Bin Laden. The world is still full of dangerous people that hate the United States. I know that.

But when he was alive it was like a bad scar, a constant reminder of two things: the worst attack ever on American soil and our inability for ten years to capture the mastermind of that bloodshed.

And when he orchestrated the attacks on New York, and D.C., and Pennyslvania, those weren't faraway East Coast cities to me. They were in MY land, MY country, against MY fellow countrymen. I didn't lose any family or close friends (I did know a couple people loosely through college actually) but when UBL punched America, he punched me.

I'm not a vengeful type. I'm not a violent person. I have family and friends in the military but, truthfully, I hate war.  But I am an American.

And let me tell you what America means to me. It means that a boy from Colombia could be told in his home country, we're sorry, but because you are a triple amputee there's just not much we can do for you here. And America says, move here - we're not perfect or have all the answers. We have flaws; our society still caters to the rich; we have prejudices; we have inequities. But more than anything we have freedom; we have opportunity; we have a system where if you work hard with absolute determination, you can be anything you wanna be, brother.

That's what America has always told me. You're missing three limbs? We have organizations that will provide you free prosthetics. You want to go to school and learn? Step right in. You want to go to college? You can do that. You want to be an actor, a public speaker, a baseball executive, an author? Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

There are unjust people in this country, as there are in every country. I've always joked that "government intelligence" is an oxymoron. And how is it that Donald Trump gets away with that hair and mouth?

It's not a perfect country. But it is a country where you can choose any path you desire. If you're willing to work hard, push yourself, make some sacrifices, and give it your all, you can go to any school you want. You can pursue any career you want.

Furthermore, Americans are always talking about and demonstrating acts of kindness, generosity, and service. America helps more than any other country. America teaches its children to be prepared for the future.

You want to have fun? Have fun. You want to engage in serious activities? You can do that too. Like the rap group Black Sheep said in a 1992 song since appropriated by a car commercial: "You can get with this / or you can get with that. / The choice is yours."

It doesn't matter your ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, political or religious view, or physical state of being. Here, whatever you want to be, you may be.

It is a land of endless opportunity and overall peacefulness, and Bin Laden attacked that. But guess what? It's also a land of strength and although retaliation is not our preferred route, you punch us and we'll torch you. UBL clobbered us in 2001 and it took us a long time, but we are nothing if not persistent.

No, it's not a perfect country. But it's the greatest country and has been my country of citizenship since 2004. It's a country that said yes to me so I'll always say yes to it. It will outlast terrorism and terrorists. Because it is unified, strong, resolute, humbled by God, and is forever a beacon in the night. God bless the USA, baby.