The Superbus's Thoughtpad

Archive for August, 2013

The Police State Came To Greenwich

Posted by Chris Bowen on August 29, 2013

metronorthPeople ask me why I have such a strong, visceral distrust – at best – for the police. “They’re there to help you!” “You should respect their sacrifice!” “They’re just doing their jobs!” I am told this by the people closest to me in life; the mother who was protected by the third shift police she served while waiting tables to raise me, the girlfriend who comes from a family of Irish cops, I catch flak for my stance often. “But Chris, not all cops are like that!”, I’m told. Well, I guess we’ll just put neon “bad cop” signs on the ones that aren’t.

Today showed a pretty good exhibit A on why I feel the way I do.

My daily routine includes getting on what is currently the 5:26 train from Westport, meeting up with my girlfriend on the train, dropping off in Bridgeport, and then getting on the Waterbury bound train for our destinations; her’s in Beacon Falls, mine in Derby. Today, that was shot to hell as we heard, as soon as my bus shuttle got to the train station, that the 5:26 train was delayed due to “police activity”. I later found out what it was: police searching for a bank robber. To be fair, locking down Metro North – especially with the report of an armed person potentially riding the train – was the right move. It was the way they did it that I find particularly galling:

“At one time, when the SWAT team arrived in full gear, they said, ‘Everyone get off your seat and on the ground and put your hands in the air,’” Paschos said.

(…)
“Something major going on at #Greenwich train station,” Jennifer Garcia, of Long Island City, posted. “Cops have guns drawn, searching every car on my train.”
In another tweet, Garcia said passengers were forced to keep their arms raised as police searched the cars.

Let’s review: a train full of people just trying to go home, who have no clue what’s going on, are told by armed thugs with huge guns and vicious dogs to stand up and keep their hands up, prone, until further notice.

If that doesn’t chill you to the bone, you are a special kind of coward, and deserve no security or liberty. There’s really no middle ground.

If you support having to keep completely prone and vulnerable, hands high, in full submission, assumed guilty until proven innocent, you stand for exactly the opposite of the freedom that this country was founded upon.

There’s this mindset – usually among caucasian, white collar civilians, I’ll note – that the police are infallible, and even if they make a mistake, they have to be trusted to protect you. Speaking out in opposition to this mindset brands one a troublemaker who deserves watching. This is a notion that has been systematically destroyed over the past 50 years. Police officers armed with very large guns and very bad attitudes – weather in homes, on the road, or on a train – have been treating the citizens they’re supposed to protect like an insurgent force that must be dispatched. It’s dissipated down to regular patrols, where three cops and a K9 seem to be necessary to do anything; that was the composition of the team that tied me up, before saying a single word, like a pork dumpling, with my wrists shackled to my ankles behind me, for the grievous offense of driving my car onto an unused football pitch at 1.5 MPH with the intention of using my headlights to look for a discus. This wasn’t in Bridgeport; this was in small-town Seymour, CT. I got off easy; the news is filled to the brim of people and pets who were shot and murdered by police forces – who would go on to do their utmost best to cover up their crimes – simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, moving in a subtle way that made a psychotic individual fire and forget. The most recent case is that of six cops using a taser to detain one (1) 18 year old skateboarder, and then high-fiving over his twitching body, one that would soon become a corpse. His offense? Graffiti.

These are the people who I am supposed to trust with my life? These are my “protectors”?

If one thinks that in this specific case, such an awful, fascist mindset is plausible, take yourself through the mindset of what it takes to actually acquiesce to such a degree. A SWAT team officer, a regular police patrolman, you, I, everyone, we all put our pants on the same way. Anyone not reading this from a penitentiary is a competent, fully-grown adult who is capable and expected to conduct ourselves in a way that takes care of ourselves and our own, as long as we don’t infringe upon the rights of others. In short, I am no less of a man than anyone who had those guns today. I am supposed to bear my proverbial belly just because another man says so? And to do it not only without complaint, but with a smile, safe in the knowledge that my goodness, my saviors are here to save the day? I am now officially viewed as so inferior that I am automatically a threat just by being somewhere? I am a law abiding citizen; why should I be treated like a criminal until some higher power determines that I am worthy of my inalienable rights?

My country has become an Orwellian parody.

Technically, I don’t even really have a right to complain. After all, even though I’m a large, athletic man who can do some damage in a fight, I’m still a young white man who rides in a predominately affluent area; Westport is basically Greenwich for old people. Imagine if I was black? Or hispanic? Or – God help me – of Middle Eastern origin!? It’s pretty obvious how I’d be treated.

However, a funny thing happened on the Waterbury train. My girlfriend and I sat across from a couple of middle-aged women in business attire – caucasian, because despite our “post-racial” society, this matters – were reading the story about the bank robbery, and paid particular mind to the part about everyone having their hands up waiting for their heroes to let them go home. To them, the mindset was appalling; one even noted that it would be frightening, and that they hadn’t really thought about it before.

Everyone’s a sheep until the manger’s on fire, I guess.

Ultimately, the only real cost to my day was that I got home later than I wanted to, too late to make it to play basketball. My girlfriend missed an appointment, but it’s one she’ll be able to make in two weeks with no damage. For us, who were stops ahead of Greenwich, this was nothing more than an inconvenience. However, we need a societal upheaval against the very notion that our police can detain and completely incapacitate hundreds of people to catch one guy who’s dressed like a rejected Bond villain and didn’t even fire a shot (by the way, this would be a good time to mention that they didn’t catch him. They failed in their goal. They used a nuke to kill a fly, and the fly lived). It’s dangerous to a free society to have this mindset, and in all honesty, modern police forces have not even come close to earning this level of trust. It is everyone’s duty to try to apprehend someone who can put the lives of others in danger, but it is an equal duty to fight back against the vice of the police state.

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The Killing Road

Posted by Chris Bowen on August 20, 2013

lepricrossIn my time as a writer and as a journalist and blogger, I have taken a lot of pictures of events, people, and things. My job has largely been video games, not war photography. But I can never remember a time when I was in as much danger as when I got the shot to the left of this paragraph.

To get this shot, I had to walk along what we locally call Pink House Cove. It’s a brutal stretch of road; a 40MPH, blind curve with two way traffic. On one side of the road, you have a guard rail protecting the Housatonic River. On the other side, you have a small mountain that turns certain curves into guessing games because you can’t see what’s coming from the other end. Both sides feature virtually no shoulder, so there’s nowhere to go if something goes wrong. I walked along the inside curve of the mountain to get to this site to be able to get this picture, not being able to see where the cars were and – worse – them not being able to see me. I stayed to the inside as far as I could, but it never felt like enough; one person coming too fast, or over-correcting to the inside, could make me the middle of a crunchy sandwich. I’m a brave man who has survived a war, but I am not without feeling, and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a touch afraid for my life as I walked about 1/8th of a mile to this spot.

Despite all that, I managed to get across the street and into a good enough position, on the other side of the guard rail, to get the shot.

Why would I risk my life like this, on a notorious road at sundown? Easy: the shot is the memorial cross for Marie Lepri, who died on June 7th, 2010, killed by someone driving this very curve too aggressively. And it’s my vain hope that my own little bit of risk helps drive enough attention to this road to make sure that Marie, and the other people who have died on this road over the years, didn’t die in vain. Read the rest of this entry »

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Breaking Down Bad: The Subtle Changes of the Ageing Athlete

Posted by Chris Bowen on August 14, 2013

I’ve been involved in competitive athletics for my entire life. Be it hockey, baseball, basketball, soccer, boxing or even rugby, I’ve been athletic in some way, shape or form. I even spent my senior year as a male cheerleader1. This has been routine for me; I’m far from being a fitness warrior, but despite my weight – a shade under 260 these days, and fluctuating between 225 and 235 before getting injured recently – I have the ability to move quickly, gain speed, and have the endurance to referee multiple hockey games at a high level, one after another. Basically, at 260, I look like I’m 220, move like I’m 210, and would not look out of place on a small college’s defensive line.

However, I fear that those days are coming to an end. Not necessarily because I’m heavy – though that certainly doesn’t help my case – but just because of the creeping presence of Father Time. In athletic terms, I’m getting old, and the adjustment to that new reality is gradual enough to the point where I am constantly surprised at how the things that came easy for me in the past are coming harder now.

Since I hit adulthood, I have known my body pretty well. Not just the “stats” – how much can I lift, how far and fast can I run, what are my times in skating drills – but how my body reacts to and recovers from a serious workout. It’s hard to quantify into words, but it’s a give and take; I know generally how my body’s going to react to so much stimuli, depending on how much I’d been giving it prior. The less I’ve done for, say, a week, the more I’m going to feel it the next day after I give it a good rutting.

The only problem with that is that as I hit my mid-30s, the old rules don’t work anymore. I first noticed changes last hockey season. My feet were heavier, even if my overall weight wasn’t. My speed was down. I wasn’t getting from point A to point B as quickly. Sure, I *felt* like I was, but I felt like I had to sprint more to get to point B than I had in the past. As for agility issues such as getting out of a tight spot, forget it; there was a delay between my brain telling my body to move and my body finally getting around to it; the best athletic parallel would be to a baseball player’s bat speed slowing down, forcing him to anticipate pitches more. Needless to say, I got caught on my front foot, so to speak, more often than I was comfortable with last year. It became especially notable on a basketball court, where holes that I was used to hitting were closing a lot faster than I was used to. Are kids – I mostly play with and against teenagers or college students – getting faster, or is it me? I’ve always been big, but last year was the first one where I noticed it.

Furthermore, recovery was a problem. After a long weekend of games, I would go home baked, and would be almost useless the next day as well. I’m used to being tired, but not drop-dead exhausted. My energy reserves weren’t what they were. The obvious answer to many people is simply to drop weight, but even that takes more work than it did even a few years ago. With almost no changes to my diet except dropping soda, I was able to drop 30 pounds years ago by simply adding some cardio to my workout. Now, I can do all the cardio I want, and I might drop 5 pounds in a month, tops. Serious changes will have to happen to my diet – my entire lifestyle – in order to facilitate what are ultimately diminishing results.

Then, I hurt my ankle. First, I sprained the right one; then, I did something to the left one while favouring the right. The resulting pain from both cost me a week’s worth of work and essentially a month off of most physical activity. Immediately, I gained almost 20 pounds, just to start. Then, the rehabilitation started, and it was brutal. I don’t stretch as well as I used to, for one, and when I started getting more into cardio-based workouts, I wasn’t getting stronger, as quickly, as before, and my ability to move, while easy to come back from before, was now seriously hampered.

If all of these symptoms hit me at once, I think I’d have an easier time adjusting, but this has come on gradually. I’ve always said in the past “I’m not as ______ as I used to be” – fast, strong, agile – but it isn’t until recently when I looked around and noticed that this was a trend and not a blip. Of course, it’s natural for this to happen; in some sports, I would be well washed up even as a professional by now. Tennis players are usually done or getting there by the time they hit 33 – Roger Federer, probably the greatest tennis player I’ve ever seen2, is on the downswing of his career at 32 – and most soccer players are winding down at this age as well. Football players that aren’t kickers or quarterbacks are almost surely finished at this age. Basketball players start to trend downward by the time they hit 30; at 33, they’re usually well into their downswing. None of this softens the blow, mind you; you never know Father Time is near you until he taps you on the shoulder and says hello.

If one could apply the five stages of grief to my realization of my athletic mortality, I would just be getting past depression and into acceptance. During the season, I denied that I was slowing down; I just need to sleep more, do this, eat that, etc. Then I got angry (“why am I having struggles keeping up!?”), and bargained my way around it (“maybe if I try this instead, or take that pill in the morning…”). The depression’s the worst; the fear that the peak of a very real, and very severe, part of life has passed and it’s all downhill from here. The fear that though we’re slowing down now, that’s going to continue, against everything we do to slow down that process, until we become too old to reasonably perform at whatever it is we’re doing. Imagine doing something for your entire life, and then losing that thing, years before you even hit what people would consider “old age”; that’s what we go through as we hit the latter half of our life, and the mere thought of it is daunting, let alone actually experiencing it.

In the meantime, all I can do is keep working. Keep trying to eat better. Keep trying to beat times from my younger days that will become farther and farther from my reach as if they were being washed out on low tide. As my body continues to show the effects of wear, tear and youthful mistakes, I’ll need to not only learn, but accept that the journey will have to become more of a joy than the destination ever was.

1 – Don’t laugh. I had more fun doing cheerleading than I’ve had in any other “real” sport.

2 – Sorry, Sampras.

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The Price Of Misguided Bravery

Posted by Chris Bowen on August 7, 2013

It’s amazing the things that will stem from a joke.

A friend from work linked me to a piece about former Patriots star Teddy Bruschi performing Rush hist. Bruschi – who I don’t care for since his whole post-career path has been to talk bad about other players on the radio – singing Rush hits is so screwed up that my next joke was as easy as it was kind of cruel: “CTE is a cruel mistress”1; a bit of a cruel joke considering the effects it has on people, but maybe a bit more authentic coming from someone who has suffered ten recorded – recorded concussions, and who knows how many more that weren’t documented. It was his next statement that got my attention: “Bruschi has a stroke, and played damn near the next day”.

For some reason, apropos of nothing we had been talking about, a light bulb went on in my head. It illuminated, like a neon Eat At Joe’s sign, something that I hadn’t said in the past, and will come across as hypocritical for those who know me best:

What a fucking idiot.

As noted above, this is a curious statement from me. I did not receive ten recorded concussions by accident. A lifetime of athletics and a few timely accidents while in the Navy were enough for me, and on a couple of occasions – particularly one incident in 2004 – I came away much worse for wear, suffering from Post Concussion Syndrome, a fate I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy.

However, it’s not the concussions so much as it is the reaction to them. Each and every time I was able to, I either got up and finished what I was doing or attempted to. When I fell 30′ off an aircraft carrier onto a small boat so hard that I cracked a bulletproof windshield, I went on watch the very next morning. Every time except 2004 that I’ve received a concussion, I’ve finished the game, or slogged through it; the last one, I finished the tournament, the only exceptions being times when medical personnel have stepped in and intervened. Ultimately, I’ve always come back too quick, or never left a game or job when I should have, and this is notwithstanding other times I’ve had serious injuries, including a badly sprained ankles – plural – that had me trying to walk around work despite the fact that I literally could not walk. And I work a desk job.

Why would I go against my own body so many times? Blame machismo, or the fear of looking weak. That fear – of being fundamentally inferior to people around you who might or might not be tougher, and working through more, and destroying your usefulness as a human being by simply being more – has driven people to do desperate things for millennia. Ultimately, no one cares if you’re injured; dispose of the weak. All that matters is performance.

Any doubts as to this are quickly shuttered when hearing a fan talk about a famous athlete who’s injured. “What? I have to get up every morning and go to work, get that asshole on the field!” Oftentimes, being called soft is one of the worst insults you can give someone, weather in athletics or outside of it. So we do whatever we can to avoid that. Take Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins for example, who was almost legally dead by the time game 6 ended. For those who didn’t click through, he had, by the end of game 6, cracked ribs, a separated shoulder, and a PUNCTURED LUNG. He needed two nerve blocks to get through it… and yet, during the last shift of the season, the last minute and a half, the most important shift the Bruins have had in any of our lifetimes, he was trying to get the tying goal.

His opposite, also in Boston, is Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz. Buchholz has been injured a bit lately, and even Dr. James Andrews is suggesting that his issues aren’t 100% physical. Due to this, the pitcher with the sub-2.00 ERA is being subjected to calls that he needs to be weeded out by the local blowhards on the radio, blowhards who say he doesn’t “fight”.

When I was younger, I would have called Bergeron a hero and Buchholz a sissy. I’m not so sure anymore.

Buchholz is basically being slammed for not pitching through pain – with a quirky motion that requires every part of his body to be working in concert, mind you – in the months of July and August. He’s actually said it’s not “do or die”, so it’s not a big deal, which doesn’t fly in Boston. And yet, isn’t Boston the last place the late Junior Seau played? That same Junior Seau who was so jacked up by concussions throughout his career with the Chargers and Patriots that he shot himself in the heart to preserve his brain? Seau was tough. Seau showed “fight”. And Seau, like Dave Duerson, Bob Probert and Chris Benoit behind them, are all dead, early, as a result of that toughness.

Answer me this, Bruins fans: is that what you want for Patrice Bergeron? Do you care if his injuries that he plays through now – and he’s had a few concussions already – come back to him in his 50s?

I’m glad that there’s finally pushback against this Neanderthal’s mindset. Writing for Yahoo!, Nick Cotsonika asked if Bergeron went too far in playing, and if the Bruins went too far in letting him on the ice, a viewpoint that is starting to see traction. While the usual jock sniffers in the Boston media were praying to the Bergeron altar, I was too chastened by the damaging effects of the “warrior” mentality – an utterly laughable idea for anyone who isn’t actually in a war where lives are at stake – to really think of Bergeron and his caretakers as anything other than fools and buffoons.

Yet having said all of that, the conditioning is very hard to eliminate. When I think back at all the times I either did myself harm, or could have, by hanging in there, including the time I finished that tournament on a concussion, when I think of doing anything differently, I flinch. The mere notion of appearing weak is stomach-turning, and even with the pain I endured, and the pain I will endure later in life, I can’t imagine going back and pulling myself from that tournament, or not going back on watch after falling off of an aircraft carrier. Even now, with hindsight being 20/20, I still have enough courage to endure tremendous amounts of pain and potentially crippling injury, but not enough courage to endure the possibility of a couple of simpletons questioning some vague notion of manliness.

I already live with the consequences of so many concussions, and so many other injuries. My time as a hockey player ended at 24 with a blown out ligament in my ankle that I never got properly fixed. My head injuries are already taking a slight toll on my life in minor ways that I have a feeling are going to add up over the years. Ultimately, I’m just a lower-level college official, in no way a professional level athlete. These guys are, and though they gain adulation and worship by people paying good money to watch them, I think it’s time we start asking if the price is totally worth it.

I’d love to ask Junior Seau if it is, but…

1 – CTE is short for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, which is basically a degenerative condition where the brain, after suffering repeat trauma, becomes more and more damaged, causing severe behavioural changes in people suffering from it. Picture a smokers’ lungs; that’s what CTE does to the human brain.

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