Handing over the keys to the Purple People Eater

It was the weekend before Memorial Day weekend in 2002. I had joined a beach house on Long Beach Island on the Jersey Shore, and it dawned upon me that I might need some sort of vehicle to transport me to LBI, among other things.

The Purple People Eater, after one last car wash.

The Purple People Eater, after one last car wash.

After what looked to be a fruitless day of car shopping, I stopped at one last lot and, buried behind cars that were way above and beyond my means (BMW, Audi, Mercedes), I spotted a 1997 Honda Accord.

The good news: The car was exactly what I was looking for. Hondas are reliable stalwarts, and I was looking for something 1997 or newer, because insurance was cheaper for cars of that age at the time. And it was within my price range, or, more accurately, at the very top of my price range. The bad news: It was purple (really dark purple, not Grape Ape purple, but still purple), with gold trim.

However, when shopping for used cars, you have to make sacrifices, so, despite the fact that the gold trim made me want to hurl all over the hood, I drove the 1997 Honda Accord home to Hoboken that day, and it remained with me until Martin Luther King Jr. Day of this year, when I finally traded it in.

All relationships have their highlights and lowlights, and my relationship with the Purple People Eater was no exception. So, without further ado:

The good:

  • The Accord got me down to LBI for several summers, where, among other things, I relaxed on the beach, drank until I forgot how much I hated the planet, met several people who are now close friends, and got to know the future Mrs. 9.
  • The Accord was also my primary mode of transportation to Brendan Byrne Arena/Continental Airlines Arena/Izod Center, former home of the New Jersey Nets, during the glorious run with Jason Kidd that included consecutive trips to the NBA Finals.
  • And the Accord got myself and several teammates to many Bar None and Big Easy football games. We won the championship of our league in 1996, before the Accord was even born, but we had a successful and fun run, with multiple playoff victories, and the Purple People Eater carried many of us to Randall’s Island, or Grand Street and the FDR Drive, and to the bar afterward for wings and liquid refreshments (only two for me, thanks, I have to drive, and NO shots!).
  • The Accord was part of many a tailgate in the Giants Stadium parking lot prior to glorious shows by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, and other shows at other venues, including my favorite band, Rush, at the PNC Bank Arts Center and Jones Beach (most uncomfortable, hottest show I’ve ever sat through).

The bad:

  • The brakes on the Accord always sucked, no matter how many times I had them adjusted, and how many different mechanics looked at them. Even though I drove the car for 11 years, I never got used to that nervous feeling whenever I had to stop quickly. And I feel bad for people who were passengers in other cars I drove, because years of having to push down as hard as humanly possible on the Accord’s brakes constantly caused me to slam on the brakes of other cars and send everything within those cars spiraling forward.
  • This was obviously not the fault of the car (or of the driver, I might add), but back in 2008, the Accord met Pothole-Zilla, and the Accord lost, badly, to the tune of two new tires, a new radiator, a new radiator cap, two new hoses, and more than $800 of hard-earned Benjamins.
  • The following year, my transmission died, and I have been driving on a rebuilt transmission since. It worked fine, for the most part, except that I was strongly advised to let the oil temperature rise for a few minutes before driving the car, and I have the same patience level as most native New Yorkers, which is basically zero.
  • The gold H. Many have perished in pursuit of it.

    The gold H. Many have perished in pursuit of it.

    Around the same time, I noticed a spot on the roof where the paint had begun to wear away. Over the next few months, this spot began to spread like an STD through a Hoboken bar, to the point where I feared that the roof would rust over and cave in one day. While I love convertibles, this wasn’t quite what I had in mind. So, in the interest of selling or trading in the car somewhere down the line, I spent about $2,000 on a complete repainting and detailing. The only good thing to come out of it was that part of the process included removing the God-forsaken gold trim and replacing it with a traditional chrome trim that made the car much less of an eyesore. I kept the gold H from the grill as a souvenir, and I may mount it on a gold rope chain one day so I can sport my very own hip-hop necklace.

  • The motor that drives the power windows needed replacing. The windows would go down, but I would have to jiggle the switch hundreds of times until something connected and the windows would roll back up.
  • The controls for the air conditioning/heating and defroster only worked if you punched the console Arthur Fonzarelli-style, and even then, only about one-half of the time.
  • And just in case I had any lingering doubts as to whether I was making the right move, when I started the Accord for the final time to drive it to the dealership and turn it in, I noticed that only one headlight was working due to a short.

While it was definitely time to part ways with the Purple People Eater, I had a lot of good memories with the car, and I will definitely miss it. I am now driving a dark grey 2010 Nissan Rogue, and I am sure I will grow to love this car, too. It’s in great condition, and it’s a lot of fun to drive, and I hope the memories I will create with the Rogue match up with those from the Accord, although that’s a pretty tall task.

Farewell, Purple People Eater, and thank you for the companionship and a job well done (for the most part).

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Barclays Center: A tale of two cities

I finally made it to a Brooklyn Nets game last month. I have been a die-hard New Jersey Nets fan for several years, but I hadn’t made the trek to Brooklyn yet, largely due to becoming a father and moving to Basking Ridge, N.J.

BarclaysCenter

Barclays Center

Overall, I thought Barclays Center was impressive. I have not been to Madison Square Garden since its overhaul, so I can’t compare the two buildings, but on its own merits, Barclays Center is visually stunning, and you couldn’t ask for a better location. Walter O’Malley really fucked up by moving the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, as the new Ebbets Field would have been on the same site.

Barclays Center is located in an actual neighborhood, unlike the Nets’ temporary home at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., where the area is still in the developing stages, or the Izod Center, which is in the middle of a God-forsaken swamp. The mass-transit options are plentiful, which is a good thing, because parking is not.

The overall look is modern and sleek, and the sightlines are gorgeous. The arena comes across very well both in person and on television.

However, I have one major issue with Barclays Center, which is the same issue I have with the new Yankee Stadium, MetLife Stadium, and probably pretty much every stadium or arena that opened its doors recently: The difference between the lower level and the upper level is gigantic, and Barclays Center is the most prominent example of this trend that I’ve seen so far.

All of the new facilities are following the same blueprint: Let’s cram a whole bunch of club areas and suites into the middle, and push the upper deck way up and way back. Fuck the poor and middle class!

The lower level of Barclays Center is palatial. The concourse looks like the lobby and shopping area of a Las Vegas hotel, and I’m talking about Caesar’s Palace, not Circus Circus. The concourse is well-lit and wide, with a staggering number of choices for food and beer, and a generous collection of bar tables for fans to use if they want to eat and drink prior to going to their seats.

After seeing the lower level, the upper level reminded me of the steerage section of the Titanic. The concourse was narrow and dark, and the choices were greatly reduced.

I am not a seat snob in the least. I practically lived in the upper deck of the old Yankee Stadium. I have never minded sitting higher up, as I have always been more concerned with a central location (home plate, 50-yard-line, center court).

But if someone gave me free tickets to a Brooklyn Nets game, and they were in the upper level, I would graciously decline and watch the game at home. The upper level is several feet higher and several feet further from the court, and even the best seats in the upper level pretty much suck.

My New Jersey Nets season tickets at Brendan Byrne Arena/Continental Airlines Arena/Izod Center were in the second row of the upper level, right on the center court stripe. The equivalent seats at Barclays Center were like sitting in the very top rows of the old arena. To be blunt, the seats absolutely sucked, and those were the best in the upper level.

And this is the reason why, although I am still a die-hard Nets fan, and I still follow the team religiously and watch as many games as I can, the odds of my attending more than one or two games per season are slim to none. It’s not worth going to a game unless you sit in the lower level, and the ticket prices in the lower level are beyond prohibitive.

I was fortunate enough to win my company’s tickets in a drawing. Without trying to sound like I’m spitting on a gift, the seats were decent, but certainly nowhere near the best in the house. They were about 20 rows up, which is great, but they were also behind the baseline, which isn’t bad when play is happening at the near basket, but makes it very difficult to follow action on the other end of the court. The face value of those tickets: $190 apiece. Seriously? There’s no way those tickets are worth $190 apiece. And if that’s what it takes to sit somewhere decent in Barclays Center, thank God for my 50-inch flat-screen TV.

An angrier, happier Bruce Springsteen, and an E Street Band dealing with a huge void

On Tuesday, April 3, I walked through the doors of the Izod Center for the first time since the New Jersey Nets played their final game there in April 2010, to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band for the first time since October 2009.

Photo courtesy of Backstreets.com

It was a very different experience, which I fully expected. The death of Clarence Clemons left a huge void, both musically and in terms of the band’s personality, and, while his nephew, Jake Clemons, and Eddie Manion performed flawlessly and admirably, there’s no replacing a legend.

Springsteen’s music has also branched out in several different directions for his past few albums, and Wrecking Ball is no exception. Very few of the songs on Wrecking Ball really sound like Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. This is not to say that it’s not quality music: It’s just different. It’s a very angry album, with a lot of edgy folk-type songs, and a lot of Irish influence.

One of the biggest differences I noticed was Springsteen’s demeanor. I am obviously a die-hard fan, and have seen him live several times, and I am used to seeing him sing with a pained expression that looks like he’s holding back a giant dump. But he was exceptionally animated during this show, singing the angry parts of songs with legitimate anger, and smiling during the more festive material, more so than I have ever seen him do.

The set list was heavy on newer material, which was no surprise. The songs from Wrecking Ball sounded like the band had been performing them for years, and the newer sounds were quite refreshing. Naturally, some classics were sprinkled in throughout the show, as well. And continuing the Springsteen tradition of pulling at least one song out of the vaults that no one in the audience ever expected to hear, the surprise selection on this night was “So Young and In Love.”

Clarence Clemons, the late, great Big Man, was recognized twice during the show. When the band was introduced early on, Springsteen saved him for last, as usual, and said to the crowd, “Am I missing anybody?” After allowing a few seconds for cheers and tribute, he added, “If we’re here, they’re here,” repeating it a couple of times for emphasis. And during the last song of the night, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” the entire band paused after the verse, “The change was made uptown and the Big Man joined the band,” for a very long, very emotional standing ovation. Well done.

It’s a new era for the band, and for Springsteen. The classic songs will never be abandoned, but that being said, there will never be another set list like the one from Giants Stadium (R.I.P.) July 31, 2008, which was, by far, my favorite Bruce show of all-time.

However, if you leave a show with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band feeling disappointed or cheated, you just weren’t paying attention. It may be a new chapter in their history, but they are STILL the heart-stopping, pants-dropping, hard-rocking, booty-shaking, earth-quaking, nerve-breaking, Viagra-taking history-making, legendary … E-STREET BAND!

The set list, from Backstreets.com:

  • We Take Care of Our Own
  • Wrecking Ball
  • Badlands
  • Death to My Hometown
  • My City of Ruins
  • So Young and In Love
  • E Street Shuffle
  • Jack of All Trades
  • Seeds
  • Prove It All Night
  • Easy Money
  • Waitin’ on a Sunny Day
  • The Promised Land
  • Apollo Medley
  • American Skin (41 Shots)
  • Because the Night
  • The Rising
  • We Are Alive
  • Thunder Road
  • Encore:
  • Rocky Ground (with Michelle Moore)
  • Out in the Street
  • Born to Run
  • Dancing in the Dark
  • Land of Hope and Dreams
  • Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out

There used to be a ballpark, part II

Anybody who knows me already knows quite well how I feel about the destruction of the real Yankee Stadium. While the new Yankee Stadium has definitely grown on me, watching the old ballpark being torn down feels like losing a family member. I still can’t digest the idea that Box 611 no longer exists.

What was left of the real Yankee Stadium on Opening Day

When you’re younger, you think everything will last forever, including ballparks. Then as you move on in life, you come to the sad realization that nothing is forever.

The wounds of Yankee Stadium are still fresh. Even though the Yankees christened the new ballpark with a World Series championship, the skeletal remains of the real ballpark are still looming.

The past couple of weeks have brought the beginnings of a new baseball season, but also two more endings related to my favorite teams: Texas Stadium, the former home of the Dallas Cowboys, was imploded (see below). And while the building isn’t going anywhere just yet, the New Jersey Nets played their last game at the IZOD Center (formerly known as the Continental Airlines Arena, Brendan Byrne Arena and the Meadowlands Arena), as the team is finally taking my advice and moving to Newark, allegedly for two years while the Barclays Center in Brooklyn is being built, but, as I’ve said repeatedly, I’ll believe the team is moving to Brooklyn when I see a building.

The New Jersey Nets thank all 27 of their fans

Neither building means anywhere near as much to be as the real Yankee Stadium did.

I only went to two Cowboys games in Texas Stadium and, as magnificent as the new Cowboys Stadium looks on TV, it’s still weird not seeing the ugly but familiar building I grew up watching on TV.

And while the New Jersey Nets’ best two seasons as a franchise came at the IZOD Center (then Continental Airlines Arena), the building itself had very little character and, thanks to the Nets’ piss-poor fan base, even less atmosphere.

Still, it’s bizarre to see three buildings that were part of my fabric as a sports fan disappear (I know the IZOD Center is still standing, but Disney on Ice is not a sport, and the Devils, Nets and Seton Hall are all gone). Nothing is forever and, sometimes, change is good, but that doesn’t make it any less jarring or weird.

Another Springsteen fix

I blame my Hebrew-school tutor for all of this. As a reward for successfully making it through the Torah portion of my Bar Mitzvah without puking on the sacred parchment or tripping up over the Hebrew words and accidentally telling the congregation to go sodomize sheep, he bought me the album — yes, the actual 12-inch, vinyl record album — of Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

Born to Run

Born to Run

At the time — the time being 1981 — I knew a few Springsteen songs, but I wouldn’t have called myself a fan. I knew “Hungry Heart” because it was all over the radio, and I knew the title track from Born to Run, but that was about it.

Then, I brought the record home and put on the first track, “Thunder Road.” I was an instant Springsteen junkie about three minutes into the song, and it’s only gotten worse.

Thank you, Mark Elber, wherever you are.

I went to see the heart-stopping, pants-dropping, hard-rocking, booty-shaking, earth-quaking, nerve-breaking, Viagra-taking history-making, legendary … E-STREET BAND at the debacle of a facility currently known as the IZOD Center last night. Between how bland the home of my beloved New Jersey Nets is and how pathetic the half-finished Xanadu God-knows-what project looks, they really should drop a nuclear bomb on that part of the Meadowlands (the two football stadiums and the track can be spared).

Anyway, for whatever reason, I wasn’t as fired up as I usually am to see The Boss. I was excited, but I didn’t have that all-day adrenalin surge. I guess part of it is that I know I always like the end-of-summer Giants Stadium shows better — speaking of which, the final concerts at Giants Stadium will be performed by none other than Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, with three shows wrapping up Oct. 3. And part of it is that things have been crazy in my life, but in a good way — working part-time, tons of visits to the new Yankee Stadium, lots of softball games and, most important, my girlfriend moving in soon.

Photo by A.M. Saddler, from Backstreets.com

Photo by A.M. Saddler, from Backstreets.com

But as usual, the boys didn’t disappoint. This was yet another fantastic show, with some songs that I hadn’t seen played live since the Born in the USA tour in 1985. Pleasant surprises included “Seeds,” “Johnny 99” and “The Ghost of Tom Joad” — it seemed like a mini-set tribute to the unemployed — and always welcome classics included “Thunder Road,” “Jungleland” and “Rosalita.” And I saw the band play one of my personal favorites, “I’m Goin’ Down,” for the first time since the previously mentioned Born in the USA tour.

I am exhausted and drained, but I will be sure to get my energy back by June 1, when tickets for the next assault on New Jersey go on sale. What a fucking great show.

The set list (thank you, Badlands.com):
Badlands
Adam Raised a Cain
Outlaw Pete
Radio Nowhere
She’s the One
Working on a Dream
Seeds
Johnny 99
The Ghost of Tom Joad
Raise Your Hand
Growin’ Up
I’m Goin’ Down
Prove It All Night
Waitin’ on a Sunny Day
The Promised Land
The Wrestler
Kingdom of Days
Lonesome Day
The Rising
Born to Run
* * *
Hard Times
Thunder Road
Jungleland
Land of Hope and Dreams
American Land
Rosalita

The Newark Nets: Why not?

I visited the Prudential Center in Newark — the new home of the New Jersey Devils — for the first time Saturday night for a kickass Metallica show, and I was very, very impressed by the arena.

Prudential Center

Prudential Center

It’s located only three blocks from a train station that serves New Jersey Transit, the PATH and Amtrak. Bars and restaurants are starting to spring up around it, including Brick City Bar & Grill, which had such good food and beer that we went there both before and after the show.

And once you get inside the arena, everything about it is comfortable. The walkways and concourses are nice and wide. There is a great selection of food and beer. The sight lines are great, and the arena has some character, instead of looking like a big bowl.

So can someone please explain why the New Jersey Nets continue to waste away at the IZOD Center (formerly Continental Airlines Arena, formerly Byrne Arena)? The place has absolutely no redeeming qualities.

The only public transportation to the Meadowlands is a New Jersey Transit bus from Manhattan. The parking situation sucks (in the interest of fairness, it’s probably not great in Newark, either, as one lot tried to charge my friend who drove $30 to park for Metallica). The food is prison-quality. The seating bowl has no character. And the building is just plain ugly.

And before anyone brings up the Nets’ “impending” move to Brooklyn, please silence yourself. This move is never, ever going to happen. There’s a better chance of a certain overweight 40-year-old under-six-foot blog-writing Jew with no basketball skills starting at point guard than there is for the Nets to ever bounce a ball in Brooklyn. The Atlantic Yards project is as dead as Sarah Palin’s political future. It would have been a fantastic move for the franchise, but it’s not happening. Accept this and deal with it.

For the love of God, please let the Nets move to Newark.