Friday, November 25, 2005

A Good Day's Skiing — in Manchuria?

While reading a story in the New York Times about a toxic pollution coverup in Harbin, a redeveloping provincial capital in China's far northeast, I inevitably ended up following an unintended path into articles discussing what is apparently China's premier ski resort. Given that my starting position this morning was China ≠ Skiing, learning of Yabuli Ski Resort was a bit of a revelation. (I only wish the writer had taken more pictures, and posted larger versions of the ones he did share.)

Maybe it's a bad sign that resolves to a placeholder site at Netsol. However, if the US diplomat (and Oregon resident) who wrote this account is to be believed, there might be some choice trails in there somewhere. Plus, I have to admit that the idea of capping a long day on the slopes with some fire pepper chicken and cold Tsingtao could be downright satisfying.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The coldest 4.97 miles I've run yet

I put my cranberries on the line early today, joining three or four thousand other Chicagoans for the annual Turkey Trot 8K through Lincoln Park. Entering this race is always a gambler's move, weather-wise, because you just never know what the Midwest is going to serve up in late November. (The handicapper's safe pick? "Something not good.") Dawn broke clear and ridiculously crisp here today, with my in-car thermometer informing me that only 19 degrees had shown up for roll call this morning. With a blustery wind crabbing the morning cargo flights sideways overhead as I drove in, I had a feeling this would be a frigid test.

..And a test it was. My feet never warmed up properly once we left the car. A good crowd of fearless runners who all made the same commitment were all ready for action. Lots of hopping and bouncing around in the start area to reboot circulation to the extremities, even during the playing of the National Anthem (which looked hilariously out of place). I just couldn't get the blood going, and around mile 1 I mentally checked off that right toe, finally allowing myself to let go all hope of a proper, measured stride.

If you haven't run this race before and can place yourself in Chicago on Thanksgiving, you should definitely put it down for some future year. The lakefront, tree-lined course is scenic (if a little barren once the leaves have come down), the layout is very flat and fair, and there are only a few corners that become traffic pinch-points due to thin parkway paving or ill-placed cones. Like many other Thanksgiving athletic events, this one benefits a good local cause and hopefully fills lots of hungry bellies beyond those in the field of registered runners.

I see now the Tribune is calling this the coldest Thanksgiving since 1956. Damn straight.

I finished with a time of 37:10, for a 7:28 pace. Since I've been fiddling recently with the idea of qualifying for Boston in 2006, the thing that pains me is that this speed, if somehow sustained for an entire 26.2, will miss by one minute the 3h:15m qualification time for my age group. I mean, holy crap. I was going flat out in the last two miles and I think my final split was 7' even or close to it, and I didn't have much left at the line. That's great, Shobe — now get out there and run 5 more of those, and you'll punch your ticket for Heartbreak Hill. Oy. Double-oy.

That Boston issue is for some other day's aggravation, however; I'm just happy to have gotten in a good, brisk run before lots of leisurely, wanton feedbagging. Happy Thanksgiving!


Monday, November 14, 2005

The Smoking Popes Retake Chicago

This past Friday saw a lost favorite of the Chicago rock scene quite literally Get The Band Back Together. If you spent any time at Metro, Double Door, or the offices of DKA in the late 1990s, you knew the Smoking Popes. I always thought Eric's characterization of the band was dead on: Morrissey meets the Ramones (though I've decided they're at least 10% Matthew Sweet in the Girlfriend era, which is considerably more than 100% Fun.)

The 'Popes apparently put 7 years of unreconciled differences behind them, picked up the strings, and played like old times for a raucous, rapt capacity crowd at Metro this past Friday. As the Tribune's Greg Kot observed,

[This crowd was] rewarded with a performance that offered no new songs, but that essentially picked up where the band left off in 1998. That's a good place to be, because the Popes were still on the ascent, still perfecting their sound when singer-guitarist Josh Caterer quit the band to pursue his newfound Christian faith.

Whatever ill-will that departure engendered within the band appears to have long since faded. The right hands of Caterer and his brothers, guitarist Eli and bassist Matt, were mirror images of one another as they downstroked their instruments on "Before I'm Gone."

My thanks to Joe Kottke here at FeedBurner for scoring the tickets for us; word is the show sold out in 36 minutes. That's white-hot fast for a Metro show that isn't an A-list national act. Then again, most in attendance always expected the Popes would be just such a band. They played like one, cutting straight through their catalog with the crowd singing their way through every chorus. I especially liked their treatment of "Pretty Pathetic," a favorite track from Destination Failure.

If you've never seen a show at Metro, you have to add this venue to your Must Visit list. It's the perfect place to see virtually any modern rock act. No one can play too big to fit there; the space's acoustics and layout are incredibly patron-friendly (versus that "certain deathtrap" appeal of the Aragon Ballroom); and they never oversell the place to a point of total claustrophobic overload.

I trusted my P910 to capture some video from the show; it did that well enough, but you can tell its tinny microphone was no match for the amps at Metro. Hopefully these clips give you some idea of the energy they put out.

(2MB; Pretty Pathetic, plus some panoramic shots of the crowd I can't explain taking)

(976K; i mean, can you even hear the band over the crowd singalong?)

(472K; More of Pretty Pathetic, I'm fairly certain)