Take light rail to Sacramento’s new arena? There’s a lot to learn first

Taking a light-rail train may reduce your hassle.

Riding a light-rail train may reduce your hassle.

Sacramento city officials hope thousands of Kings fans and concertgoers will use Regional Transit to get to the new arena downtown. Improvements and station cleanups have been made to lure new users.  But I have my doubts about the prospects for success. Learning how to use Sacramento’s light-rail system isn’t easy.

That’s what I discovered when I volunteered to chart a path for my wife to the new Golden 1 Center. She was planning to go with two friends to the Jimmy Buffett concert last week. I figured my experience as a New York City subway rider would make the job a snap. Not so. Figure on spending two hours to unravel Regional Transit’s mysteries. Even then, there may be glitches.

Carol and I live in Land Park just three blocks from a light-rail station and less than three miles from the arena. Taking the train made far more sense that dealing with the traffic mess downtown. But neither of us had ridden light rail in years.

Whether you use RT’s text-only site or you dare to click on a flashing invitation that shouts “YOUR VIP LINE TO GOLDEN 1 CENTER,” you’ll have to plod through a mass of details on lines, schedules, fares, park-and-ride stations and ticket-buying procedures.

Along the way, you will probably discover a smartphone app for buying RT tickets. It’s called RideSacRT and is available via iTunes or Google Play. I downloaded the app and found it a convenient way to buy advance tickets, although learning how and when to activate them was not clear.

Perusing the RT system map, I learned the Blue Line operated in my neighborhood. I felt confident telling Carol to get on at the 4th Avenue stop near our house. But where should she get off and where reboard the train to return home? Despite a college education and decades as a map-reading copy editor, I couldn’t figure out those details.

Not wanting to leave anything to chance, Carol and I walked to the nearby 4th Avenue station and took a test ride. I realized my map confusion was related to the fact  one-way streets are the norm in downtown Sacramento. This means light-rail riders do not exit and reboard trains from the same stop. In our case, we needed to get off at 9th and K and return home from the 7th and Capitol station. (The 7th and K station, closer to the arena, has been closed).

On the evening of the 8 p.m. Buffett concert, Carol and her friends decided it would be prudent to drive to the light-rail station rather than walk. Although the 4th Avenue stop, like most stops in the central city and nearby neighborhoods, lacks a parking lot, Carol thought she could easily find street parking.

Unfortunately, the city, because of its need for increased parking revenue to pay off arena debt, has put a squeeze on street parking. Meter fees have jumped and parking restrictions have been extended.

Rather than risk a ticket, Carol and her friends returned to our house. Given the time, they gave up on taking light rail and called a car service. A driver arrived quickly and deposited them reasonably close to the arena. After the concert, they used light rail and had a quick, uneventful trip.

For Carol and myself, light rail will be our vehicle for getting to and from the arena. But given the time, effort and logistics involved in utilizing the system, how much company will we have?

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Bill for playing basketball adds up with age

Bright color, modest price.

Bright color, modest price.

In my youth, it didn’t cost me much to play basketball. Several pairs of cheap Thom McAn sneakers and one outdoor basketball would get me through a year on the asphalt playgrounds of Queens. When I got holes in my sneakers, I stuck cardboard in them. T-shirts and long pants were standard attire. No one wore shorts, even in 90-degree heat. Fifty-dollar jerseys didn’t exist.

My high school provided a pair of classy Converse sneakers to all varsity players, along with a stern warning from the coach not to use them outdoors. Our home and away uniforms had to be washed and returned at the end of the season. I don’t recall any special fees.

Now, it’s a very different ballgame. I don’t run up to the neighborhood park for a quick game of three-on-three. I rarely play outdoors because my elaborate warmup routine benefits mightily from an initial soak in a hot tub. Exercise machinery is useful for getting the rust out of my creaky body.

I decided to add up how much basketball costs me annually after reading an amateur runner’s account in the New York Times of how much she spent to prepare and run in the New Jersey Marathon last May. Jen Miller’s final tally came to more than $1,600 over 18 weeks. Her three biggest expenses were $578 for gear; $235 for preparatory races; and $210 for sports massages.

My basketball activity cost me about $2,100 last year. Here’s the breakdown:

Club dues, $1,284. Although I play basketball only three days a week at the Capital Athletic Club in downtown Sacramento, I include the full $107 monthly fees because my other activities are essential to keeping me in the game. I lift weights, do core and stretching exercises, ride a stationary bike at an aerobic level and play racquetball twice a week. Each workout begins and ends in the hot tub.   

Gear, $400. I get new basketball shoes every four months in the belief good cushioning will prevent another bout of plantar fasciitis. I try to pay under $100 a pair, which is doable with enough internet searching and a disregard for outlandish colors and the latest model. My current neon-orange LeBron James Soldier 8 shoes came to $85, as compared with $130 for the Soldier 10 model. The LeBron XIII iD sells for $245. I go cheap on shorts, jerseys and socks. Target is fine with me.

Leagues, $150. My competitive zeal pushes me to test myself in games where winning counts and referees penalize me for old-school tactics. My club’s B league and a largely Asian 50-and-over league in Sacramento are suitable to my skill level.

Special training, $150. Plyometrics, also called jump training, is good for young athletes, but hard on the joints for old guys. I worked with a trainer who designed low-impact exercises that aimed for plyometric results. This year, I’m giving Pilates a try to improve my flexibility.

Physical therapy, $100. A minor but nagging leg ailment, perhaps IT Band Syndrome, required special attention.

Runner Jen Miller notes that financial experts might also factor in “opportunity costs,” defined as money-making things you could have been doing with the time and energy spent pursuing sports goals. Multiply those hours by a reasonable hourly wage and you get a hefty sum that didn’t go into your bank account.

I am disregarding that factor because, as I prefer to see things, retirement means never having to feel guilty for hanging out at the gym.

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College football coach feels entitled to kiss his players

Houston head football coach Tom Herman, right, doing his thing.

Houston head football coach Tom Herman, right, in action.

Here’s an odd thing:  a powerful man being praised for pressing kisses and hugs on young people whose hopes and dreams rest in his hands.

Hasn’t Donald Trump’s “locker-room” talk made such behavior reprehensible?

Apparently not.  A New York Times story Sunday hailed University of Houston head football coach Tom Herman for bestowing physical intimacies on his players. “Houston Coach Pecks Away at Macho Stereotype” said the headline. The 41-year-old Herman contended there was no better way to demand the painful sacrifices of the game than to forthrightly convey his affection for his players.

“How do you motivate a human being to do things against his own nature?” Herman said in an interview. “There’s two things: love and fear. And to me, love wins every time.”

A long kiss from the coach has become a status symbol, said tight end Tyler McCloskey. “Your importance to the team is directly related to the duration of your kiss. If you stay more than five seconds there, you’re a ‘dude,’ as he calls it.”

When Herman started planting kisses last season, his first as Houston head coach, the players weren’t thrilled, said Houston safety Garrett Davis. But a victory in their first game made the tactic palatable, Davis said, and a 13-1 record solidified it. The team, which plays in the American Athletic Conference, is 6-1 this season.

“A kiss on the cheek is when he shows his love for us,” Davis said, adding, “No one here is thinking, ‘Oh, I shouldn’t let him kiss me.’”

Frankly, I doubt that. College players who want to see action on the field are hardly in a position to object to a coach’s methods. They have no power, no multimillion-dollar salaries, no endorsement rights. They live in a culture of servitude. I’ve never heard a player say he longed to be kissed by his coach. I imagine many would consider such action a sign of disrespect and invasion of privacy.

Herman insists on forcing others to adopt his methods.  Houston players who score touchdowns are instructed to find an offensive lineman and hug him. “We require a two-handed embrace,” Herman said.

Perhaps some might argue that young people don’t know what’s good for them and have to be enlightened. The theory that women secretly “wanted it” was prevalent in the notorious locker rooms of yesterday. It’s surprising to find psychologists voicing similar nonsense in academic jargon.

“He’s disrupting a stereotype about boys and men, a notion of masculinity that says boys and men are only driven by the desire for competition and autonomy. … What we’re driven by is the desire to be in connected communities,” said Niobe Way, a psychology professor at New York University.

In her book “Deep Secrets,” Way describes how American boys migrate during adolescence from close friendships with men to fears that shows of such intimacy will stigmatize them as gay, prompting a “crisis of connection.”

Another psychologist trots out a theory of suppressed emotions. “Men struggle with the perception that they are somehow less manly when they reveal their emotions,” said Joel Wong, who teaches psychology at Indiana University. Such inhibition prevents the expression of “your full human potential,” Wong said.

Herman seems to think he is providing his players with needed emotional sustenance, especially those who grew up without fathers. “They said it was the first time they’ve ever been kissed by a man,” Herman said, “which is a shame in our society.”

Football players, like aspiring actresses and beauty-pageant contestants, deserve a say in who kisses them. All could use protection from kiss-hungry men with too much power in their big or little hands.


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Company logos on uniforms will cheapen image of Kings

blue-diamondAs bad as the Kings are, at least they are our Kings. It says so right on their jerseys. For basketball fans across the nation, the Kings are synonymous with Sacramento. They give our town, with its massive inferiority complex, recognition. We can unite around this undiluted brand and proudly ring those cowbells in the new arena.

But now, NBA greed being what it is, we face the prospect of our basketball identity becoming muddled. Beginning with the 2017-18 season, our Kings will peddle corporate advertisements on their uniforms. Blue Diamond Growers will have its corporate logo prominently displayed on the front of players’ jerseys. The Sacramento-based almond-growers cooperative reportedly will pay a $5 million annual fee to play the role of spoilsport.

Until last April, the NBA had shown some respect for fans by banning commercial advertising on uniforms. Then it succumbed to its money-grubbing mentality by adopting a three-year pilot program allowing teams to rustle up sponsors. In a related development, Nike will replace Adidas as the manufacturer of NBA uniforms, and the Nike swoosh logo will be prominently displayed.

The nation’s three other major pro sports enterprises – Major League Baseball, the National Football League and the National Hockey League – have decided the integrity of the game takes precedence over turning athletes into billboards.

The NBA realizes the tackiness of this move and is already trying to appease annoyed fans. The league will allow jerseys sold to fans to be free of corporate logos, although teams will have the option of selling a version that includes name patches.

Unsurprisingly, the first two NBA teams willing to dilute their brand are two of the league’s biggest losers – the Kings and the Philadelphia 76ers. Last season, the Kings won a mere 33 games and lost 49; the 76ers were an abysmal 10-72.

Why Blue Diamond Growers, a winner of a company with $1.6 billion in net sales and revenue in 2015, decided to team up with the Kings is a mystery. Does Blue Diamond really want viewers across the nation to see the company logo displayed on the massive chest of surly, whining DeMarcus Cousins? What about the likes of Darren Collison, Matt Barnes and Ty Lawson, all of whom have unseemly arrest records? If they’re still around next year, how would they enhance the Blue Diamond image?

Kings management is spinning this sellout as part of a plan to promote healthy eating and farm-to-fork agriculture. The Kings have been touting the fact that 90 percent of the food served at Golden 1 Center comes from a 150-mile radius of Sacramento. “We are proud of this community’s history of high-quality agriculture,” Kings President Chris Granger said in a Bee story.

Blue Diamond CEO Mark Jansen called the deal a natural tie-in between a food company trying to promote the nutritional lifestyle value of its products and a sports team that has embraced farm-to-fork agriculture at its new arena. Jansen also described Blue Diamond Growers, with roots going back to 1910, as “kind of a quiet, humble, local company,” according to the Bee.

For those inclined to swoon over this folksy, humble, healthy-as-can-be imagery, a few points should be considered. Almonds were California’s No. 1 nut crop in 2014, with a production value of $5.9 billion, according to state Department of Food and Agriculture. California provides about 80 percent of the world’s almond supply. Blue Diamond Growers touts itself as the world’s largest almond processing and marketing company. Half of California’s almond growers belong to this cooperative.

Furthermore, almonds are primarily the product of large-scale corporate farming. In 2014, 17.9 million acres of almond orchards in the state were treated with 25.7 million pounds of pesticides, the California Department of Pesticide Regulation reported.  Herbicide use on almonds has increased steadily since 1995.

While the Kings and Blue Diamond may derive some benefit from their deal, I doubt fans will be ringing cowbells over this nutty arrangement.




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Memorial bench in Red Bluff brings back fishing memories

20161004_12114720161004_121155Last week, my wife  and I took a road trip up Interstate 5, spending a couple of days in Ashland, Oregon, for the theater ambience and then on to Corvallis to see friends. Before leaving California, we made what for me is a ritual stop in Red Bluff to see what had changed in the small town where I got my first newspaper job back in the summer of 1969.

I have an attachment to this place because it provided a refuge during the stormy 1960s. The federal government was slowly but inexorably bearing down on me for refusing to go to my Army induction. I left Berkeley with the smell of tear gas in my nostrils and found a rural enclave in the upper Sacramento Valley seemingly untouched by social upheaval. I didn’t realize how burned out I felt until I took up residence in this town of 8,000 where marijuana was virtually unknown, Friday night football was a community event and locals considered something called steelhead fishing a mark of manhood.

Getting off the freeway at the south end of town, I pointed out a vacant field that had been home to the Diamond lumber mill, a major employer back in the day. Stacks and stacks of huge logs used to be piled up here, and the mill was abuzz with activity. Now, a big shopping center dominated by a Walmart Supercenter is the economic draw, leaving the small shops lining Main Street struggling.  The population has risen to 14,000.

I pulled into the city park, which sits on the west bank of the Sacramento River. I had last been there in 2011 for a memorial service for Earl Hedlund, a longtime lawyer and former Tehama County district attorney. I wanted to see a bench his family had donated to the park in his name. It sits almost directly across the river from his old home, which used to be a gathering spot for Red Bluff’s tiny liberal coalition. I was a frequent visitor because Earl, old enough to be my father, had seen fit to instruct me in the ways of small-town life and the culinary arts.

It was nice to see two women making use of the bench on a warm, sunny morning. The plaque notes that Earl was a district attorney, judge, fisherman and lover of the river. Indeed he was, and I’ll take partial credit for making him into a real fisherman.

When I first expressed interest in the mysterious business of steelhead fishing, he dismissed my words with a wave of his hand. “You’re a city kid like I am,” he said. “Don’t even start. Only guys who were born in Red Bluff can catch steelhead. I grew up fishing off the piers in Long Beach. I knew how to handle a rod. But steelheading is something else. You’ll suffer nothing but frustration and despair. I tried for two solid years and looked like a jerk. I’ll never go through that again.”

Given that challenge, I eventually threw myself into pursuing the vaunted ocean-going rainbow trout. In fact, I quit my job and took up steelheading full time. I got skunked for 21 straight days while locals hooked into these silver, leaping fish with unnerving consistency. But the gods took pity on me and finally allowed me to hook and land a four-pounder that set my heart racing.

Earl was flabbergasted by my success, and his competitive fire was ignited. I think he was at a time in his life when he needed an infusion of passion. Steelheading served that purpose. We fished as much as possible through the next three months of the fall run. We had good days and fishless ones, but we never had a bad day being out on the river and creeks.

With the start of the new year, I felt I had to leave my sanctuary. I needed to replenish my finances, and a newspaper job in Hilo, Hawaii, had opened up. The war and my legal battles continued, but my spirits felt revitalized. I think Earl felt the same way, and steelheading became a permanent part of our lives in the years that followed.

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