Haikyuu! is not about Hinata winning and the finale also won't be.
Since we are just a couple chapters from the series finale, many people have been predicting what they think will happen and even how they wanted the series to end if it had more chapters. Many of these predictions or wishes seem to always aim toward a final coronation for Hinata, being it a win against Kageyama or even getting to play on the Olympics and win. However, I want to argue that Hinata's ideal ending won't resume to a final victory. Even though much of the series seems to build up for such a thing, that would the story with a simplistic view that simply does not reflect what it has been depicted so far. That is due to a realistic approach that Furudate takes when writing Haikyuu. Differently from other shonen and even sports stories across all media, character's goals get a less fantasy treatment and are often changed mid-course, in a way that tells a lesson about the importance of the journey more than the ultimate victory. Let's go through some evidence. #1 - Hinata's first goal: surpassing the 'Little Giant' Since the beginning of the story and during a good chunk of it, Hinata's ultimate goal was to be worthy of inheriting the title of Karasuno's most famous ace. He not only wanted it, but the story depicted a reality favoring him: he was small as he was, entered the same high school team and even had the same shirt number. Characters would look at him and even tell some similarities between the two. This feels like a vanilla treatment most shonen give to its main protagonist, trying to imply a metaphysic connection between the main character and the goal he so desperately wants. One Piece does it with Luffy's hat, the execution scene at the site of Roger's, ex-comrades of the dead Pirate King looking at Luffy and seeing similarities. Naruto is full of such thing, since Tsunade, Jiraya, Kakashi and others look up to the kid seeing him as - almost literally - the reincarnation of previous Hokage-like figures. In the case of Naruto and One Piece, these characters do eventually hit their goals or so we hope. When it happens, it feels like the ultimate victory. The prize for so much suffering, long-awaited. Haikyuu, however, didn't take this route. Amidst the Nationals Arc, we learn that Tenma is not the big deal Hinata thought he was. Not that he was bad or wasn't good, but reaching him certainly did not feel like the win Hinata was looking for. Instead, Tenma's reveal is used to make Hinata learn to be himself, to not be ashamed of being used as a decoy. This tells us something about Haikyuu: even if a character aims for some goal and the whole story seems to bend itself in order to depict such objective as a matter of fate, it does not mean it will be reached. Or, even if it reached, its taste will not be as predicted. Not convinced yet? Ok. Keep up with me. #2 - The Kamomedai Match Let's establish something: Karasuno's loss in that match can be interpreted in two ways. The first one, which I do not think it's the right one anymore, tells that it has the narrative purpose of an obstacle in Hinata's race. A due loss, but one made so he could get back up and eventually improve in order to surpass Hoshiumi, his rival. There's some truth to this, since later Hinata goes to Brazil, plays beach volleyball for some time and is now on par with all his former rivals during the current match. However, this interpretation ignores the rest of Karasuno's team. You know, that was the last chance of Sawamura, Asahi, Sugawara and Shizumi. These guys worked a lot, during Karasuno's most desperate times and had high hopes for the Nationals. They intended to win and worked as best as they could. How come we give such a tragic end for those characters just to make Hinata a better player? The second interpretation is my favorite and the one I find most accurate: the loss there communicates that losing is fine and a successful journey isn't related to winning at the end. We hit bumps on the road, but we get back up. Or even sometimes do not, but it does not matter. This is a realistic approach to storytelling, one in which we accompany the character's story. Differently from the other interpretation, it gives a good flair to our 3rd years' ending. They've played volleyball, worked hard and that's all. #3 - Who won the nationals? You don't know, right? The Nationals of Hinata's first year was won by an unknown team, who defeated Fukorodani at the finals. Second and third Nationals were won by someone we do not know too, but it certainly was not Karasuno - since they did not even get to be there on one of those at least. This tells us something about where Furudate chooses to put in the spotlight. Not the winners, not exactly the losers too, but simply characters. People who go through achievements and breakdowns, but who are not defined by either. This is clearly transmitted by the dialogue between Bokuto and Tsukishima back at the Tokyo Training Camp. In response to Tsukki's question regarding the impossibility of being the best, Bokuto simply answers that it does not matter. The joy lives in these moments when you simply go all out and do well. What happens in Haikyuu is similar: winning is not the final dot in anyone's story, just a moment among many others. So how does Haikyuu end in my opinion? It'll probably end by stating that it continues. My problem does not consist of people telling me that Hinata will win the current match. It rather is people thinking Haikyuu ends with it or that the real coronation of his journey will be this last point. His victory may and probably will happen, but I can bet Furudate will not focus the story on it. It would betray the message of the series. As I hope to have proved, Haikyuu is not about winning and its ending also will not be. In a last effort to make you guys understand what I mean, I quote Sakusa's last words in chapter 394: "Going out with a smile, ending on a victory. Both would be nice, but I don't find either particularly necessary. All I want is to practice and train, paying proper care and attention to everything. Today, tomorrow and all the way up to the day before my last game.And, if I'm lucky, to go out thinking I could be done at any time and still be satisfied."
Seen a lot of downvotes for people being for positive about the change. I'm gonna try to give you a balanced look at it, as I have a unique viewpoint. Actually I am sure dozens of us do, as we saw this happen to our first sport. Ultimate. Thought process of why I think this can work - CBSS and ESPN3 signed on to show certain Ultimate games with the same exclusivity rights we are seeing here, and the same backlash. Most notably (my year could be off), the WFDF 2013 mixed finals. - Please note that the first step taken was accepting streaming lower level cable package sites. - But this is what happened. https://ultiworld.com/2017/08/14/ultimates-espn2-debut-draws-150k-viewers-largest-ever-live-audience/ https://www.zagsblog.com/2017/08/07/espn-shows-ultimate-live-now-can-frisbee-make-olympics/ 4 years later the mixed final from the US Open a major for utli was broadcast with basically the 2 best teams from the sport. - It then led to this: https://ultiworld.com/2020/02/27/usa-ultimate-espn-re-sign-three-year-deal/ So short term this sucks, but the sport might be playing the long game, and after Covid-19 getting more people into this game, this MAY work. Thought process of why this may not work. - Ultimate and DG are 2 completely different sports. The reason ultimate works as a live product is because it takes the highlight making plays of football and turns it up to 11. Ultimate is the 'Ultimate' highlight sport. You consistently see Ulti in SC top ten. Which brings me to my next point. - Post produced coverage being parred down is like ultimate coverage. We are getting the 'highlights'(not really, but we're getting the main plays) in 30-90 minutes depending on how many holes. And disc golf live coverage is not equal to ball golf live coverage. Ball golf has cameras everywhere so we get action from the 8th or 9th card. That is just not feasible right now. The one thing I implore all of you to do. Give it one week, and then listen to the The Upshot podcast. I know some of you hate it. But the main host Charlie, also hosts the Ultimate one. He has a lot of ties to the media and will know WAY more than I will. I'm betting that episode will be illuminating.
[OC] An insight in the world of football kits - 454 teams that play in the most unusual colors
I would like to start with a humble warning, that this will be a longer than "usual" post. Hopefully, it will compensate with the amount of information you might deem as interesting. :) After finishing my first journey into the world of colors in football, by counting which teams play in red & black color combination, I decided to pursue my next curiosity: How many football teams in the world play in unusual colors? By this, I was thinking of teams which have a “main” color that is rarely used (grey, brown, purple, pink, etc.) or use an uncommon color combination. Because of this coronavirus madness that is going on, I was able to spend more hours for this project than I planned, so in the end I was able to go into almost every single league in the world. I checked teams from over 400 divisions, of different tiers, from all continents. Although it’s not an official list, I tried to include as many clubs as possible on it. Now, you're probably asking yourself "How do you measure how rare or how common is in football a color / combination of colors?" An exact answer is impossible to give, so I started the study using my own experience as a football supporter, finally finding an useful purpose for the thousands of hours spent on watching football games. Therefore, I used a subjective point of view and excluded the color combinations that I, personally, considered to be the most common in football teams, namely:
One-color kits: white, black, red, blue, yellow, green
Most 2-color combinations that contain white or black: white-blue, white-red, black-yellow, black-green, etc.
Other combinations: red-blue, red-yellow, blue-yellow, yellow-green.
An exception was the color orange, where I excluded only the orange+black combination, which is much more widespread than all other combinations that include orange.
The selection criteria for the teams were as follows:
The team should have their main kit in colors which are different than the ones enumerated above;
The team must have played or been associated with the colors for several seasons;
The team should be currently active (dissolved clubs were not included).
But enough introduction, let’s jump straight into the list of the most uncommon kit colors in the world of football:
CATEGORY I - Teams with 1 main color
1.Purple(includes purple+white or purple+black) - [73 clubs] Notable teams: Fiorentina, Anderlecht, Toulouse, Austria Vienna, Real Valladolid. Other teams (by conference): UEFA (photo gallery here) - CE Carroi (Andorra), SV Austria Salzburg, Austria Klagenfurt (Austria), K Beerschot VA (Belgium), Etar Veliko Tarnovo (Bulgaria), NK Dubrava (Croatia), Daventry Town FC (England), Istres (France), VfL Osnabrück, Erzgebirge Aue (Germany), Ujpest, Békéscsaba 1912, Kecskemet TE (Hungary), ACD Legnano, AS Ostia Mare, Gioiese, Casoria Calcio 1979 (Italy), St. Andrews FC (Malta), FC Argeș, ASU Politehnica Timișoara, ACS Poli Timișoara (Romania), FK Graficar (Serbia), KFC Komarno (Slovakia), NK Maribor (Slovenia), Real Jaen, Alameda de Osuna EF, CD Becerril, Atletico Guadalajara, CD Guadalajara, CD Liendo, CD Santurtzi, CD Palencia, La Baneza (Spain) (Spain), Afjet Afyonspor, Hacettepe, Orduspor (Turkey). Rest of the World (photo gallery here):
COMNEBOL - Club Villa Dalmine, Sacachispas FC, Club Atlético Quiroga (Argentina), Deportes Concepcion, San Antonio Unido (Chile) Defensor Sporting, CA Fenix (Uruguay), Metropolitanos FC (Venezuela).
CONCACAF - Orlando City, Louisville City FC, Oakland County FC (USA), Pacific FC (Canada), CD Chalatenango (El Salvador).
CAF - Mountain of Fire and Miracles FC (Nigeria), Mbeya City FC (Tanzania), AS Denguele Foot (Ivory Coast), Fovu Baham FC (Cameroon), AS Sonabel (Burkina Faso).
AFC - FC Anyang (South Korea), Kyoto Sanga, Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Fujieda MYFC (Japan), Heilongjiang Lava Spring (China), Hanoi FC (Vietnam), Nagaworld FC (Cambodia), Persita Tangerang, Persik Kediri, PSGC Ciamin (Indonesia), Al-Ain (UAE), De Abasin Sape (Afghanistan), Perth Glory (Australia).
OFC - AS Manu-Ura (Tahiti).
2.Burgundy (includes burgundy+white, or similar shades: maroon, claret, dark red, wine red) - [74 clubs] Notable teams: AC Torino, Metz, Sparta Prague, CFR Cluj. Other teams (by conference): UEFA (photo gallery here) - FK Sarajevo (Bosnia), Chelmsford City, FC Northampton Town (England), JJK Jyväskylä (Finland), Dynamo Berlin (Germany), AEL Larissa (Greece), UM Selfoss (Iceland), Galway United (Ireland), Reggina, Cittadella, Salernitana, Trapani, Livorno, US Pontedera, Arezzo, Reggio Audace FC, Fano, US Capistrello, AC Morrone, AC Locri, ASD Bovalinese, Borgosesia Calcio, Milano City FC, Union Clodiense Chioggia, USD Breno, Olympia Agnonese, ASD Travestere Calcio, AC Nardo, ASD Citta di Acireale (Italy), FC Džiugas Telšiai (Lithuania), Nardo FK (Norway), CD Fatima, Clube Oriental de Lisboa (Portugal), Rapid Bucharest, Viitorul Ianca (Romania), AC Libertas (San Marino), Heart of Midlothian FC, Stenhousemuir FC (Scotland), NK Triglav Kranj (Slovenia), Independiente de Vallecas, CD Cenicero (Spain), Hatayspor, İnegölspor, Bandirmaspor, Elazigspor (Turkey), Cardiff Metropolitan University FC (Wales). Rest of the World (photo gallery here):
COMNEBOL - Lanús (Argentina), Jacuipense, Ferroviaria, S.E.R. Caxias do Sul (Brasil), Deportivo Liberacion (Paraguay), Club Atletico Torino (Peru), Carabobo FC (Venezuela)
CONCACAF - Sacramento Republic FC (USA), Valour FC (Canada), Deportivo Saprissa (Costa Rica)
CAF - Manzini Wanderers FC (Eswatini), Generation Foot (Senegal), Moroka Swallows FC (South Africa)
AFC - Vissel Kobe, FC Ryukyu (Japan), Al Wahda (UAE), Al Markhiya (Qatar), Shahr Khodro FC (Iran), Al Nasr SC (Kuwait), PSM Makassar (Indonesia), Nejmeh SC (Lebanon)
OFC - Matavera FC (Cook Islands), FC Guadalcanal (Solomon Islands).
UEFA - HNK Sibenik (Croatia), Blackpool (England) SV TEC (Netherlands), Hapoel Rishon LeZion (Israel), Pistoiese (Italy), FK Banga Gargzdai (Lithuania), Bruk-Bet Termalica Nieciecza, Zagłębie Lubin (Poland), CD Burgos Promesas (Spain), AFC Eskiltuna (Sweden), Alanyaspor, Adanaspor (Turkey), FC Mariupol (Ukraine).
COMNEBOL - Nova Iguaçu FC (Brazil), Cobresal, Cobreloa (Chile) Envigado FC (Colombia), Universidad César Vallejo (Peru).
CONCACAF - Houston Dynamo, Rio Grande Valley Football Club Toros (USA), Deportivo Achuapa (Guatemala), Cibao FC (Dominican Republic), Guayama FC (Puerto Rico)
CAF - RS Berkane (Morocco), FC Nouadhibou (Mauritania), Polokwane City FC (South Africa), Akwa United (Nigeria), Dire Dawa Kenema (Ethiopia), Salitas FC (Burkina Faso), Côte d'Or FC (Seychelles), Fosa Juniors FC (Madagascar)
AFC - Jeju United FC (South Korea). Shimizu S-Pulse, Omiya Ardija (Japan), Ratchaburi, Sukhothai FC, Nakhon Ratchasima, Sisaket FC, Kasetsart FC, Udon Thani FC (Thailand), FELDA United (Malaysia), SHB Đà Nẵng (Vietnam), Albirex FC Singapore, Hougang United FC (Singapore), Borneo FC (Indonesia), Sporting Clube de Goa, FC Goa, NEROCA FC (India), Saipa FC (Iran), Sanat Mes Kerman (Iran), Brothers Union FC (Bangladesh), Ajman Club (UAE), UMM Salal (Qatar), Al-Hala SC (Bahrain).
UEFA - CS Sedan Ardennes, US Lusitanos Saint Maur (France), Alba Adriatica, Union Feltre (Italy), Speranța Drochia (Moldova), SP Cailungo (San Marino), Amio SD, Laracha CF, Apurtuarte Club, CF Jacetano (Spain), Amed SK, Karşıyaka S.K., Diyarbakirspor (Turkey)
COMNEBOL - Club Agropecuario, Sportivo Atlético Club Las Parejas (Argentina), Portuguesa RJ, Pato Branco EC (Brazil), Boston River (Uruguay)
CONCACAF - AD Carmelita, AD Guanacasteca (Costa RIca), SV Robinhood (Suriname)
CAF - Stade Tunisien (Tunisia), MC Alger, JSM Bejaia (Algeria), Africa Sports d'Abidjan (Ivory Coast), Teichman City FC (Ghana), Canon Yaounde (Cameroon), Defense Force SC (Ethiopia), AS Pikine (Senegal), Masters Security FC (Malawi).
AFC - Lokomotiv Tashkent (Uzbekistan), Adamstown Rosebud FC (Australia).
UEFA - OFC Sliven 2000 (Bulgaria), Braintree Town FC, Mansfield Town FC (England), Lions Gibraltar FC, ASD Czarlins Muzane (Italy), Aalesunds FK (Norway), AE Roses (Spain)
COMNEBOL - Duque de Caxias (Brazil), Academia Puerto Cabello (Venezuela)
CONCACAF - FC Cincinnati (USA), Lobos UPNFM (Honduras)
CAF - Real Kings FC (South Africa), Sunshine Stars (Nigeria)
AFC - Albirex Niigata (Japan), Queensland Lions FC, Riverside Olympic (Australia), Wellington United (New Zealand), Thai Port FC (Thailand), Al Fayha (Saudi Arabia), Al Karamah SC (Syria), Homenetmen Beirut (Lebanon)
UEFA - Enosis Neon Paralimni FC (Cyprus), Scunthorpe United, Weymouth FC (England), Argja Bóltfelag (Feroe), Glacis United (Gibraltar), Cobh Ramblers FC, Drogheda United (Ireland), USD Vipo Trento, FC Rieti (Italy), Gzira United (Malta), Veles Moscow (Russia), Keith FC (Scotland), Pontevedra CF (Spain), AC Bellinzona (Switzerland), Colwyn Bay FC (Wales)
2.Blue + Yellow + White [1 club] -CA Bella Vista (Uruguay) 3.Blue + Yellow + Black [1 club] -Real Sport Clube (Portugal) 4.Blue + Green + White [1 club] -St. Louis FC (USA) 5.Blue + Orange + White [2 clubs]
2.Red + Yellow + Blue + White [1 club] -ASDC Verbania (Italy) 3.Red + Yellow + Blue + Black [1 club] -Coras de Nayarit (Mexico) Here they are. 454 teams from across the entire the world, from Feroe Island to Papua New Guinea or the 4th Italian league. This should be about it. However, if there are by any chance teams that I might have missed, please feel free to leave a comment and I will add them on the list. Thank you for reading and hope you enjoyed it!
TL;DR: Man with too much time on his hands goes deep down the rabbit hole on a concept this sub already didn’t seem that enthusiastic about. If you really want to skip ahead, CTRL+F “verdict” and it’ll get you there. Two days ago, u/MrPhillyj2wns made a post asking whether USL should launch a D1 league in order to compete in Concacaf. From the top voted replies, it appears this made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move. But I’ve been at home for eight weeks and I am terribly, terribly bored. So, I present to you this overview of what the USL pyramid might look like if Jake Edwards got a head of steam and attempted to establish a USSF-sanctioned first division. This is by no means an endorsement of such a proposal or even a suggestion that USL SHOULD do such a thing. It is merely an examination of whether they COULD. Welcome to the Thunderdome USL Premiership First, there are some base-level assumptions we must make in this exercise, because it makes me feel more scientific and not like a guy who wrote this on Sunday while watching the Belarusian Premier League (Go BATE Borisov!).
All D1 teams must comply with known USSF requirements for D1 leagues (more on that later).
MLS, not liking this move, will immediately remove all directly-owned affiliate clubs from the USL structure (this does not include hybrid ownerships, like San Antonio FC – NYCFC). This removes all MLS2 teams but will not affect Colorado Springs, Reno, RGVFC and San Antonio.
The USL will attempt to maintain both the USL Championship and USL League One, with an eventual mind toward creating the pro/rel paradise that is promised in Relegations 3:16.
All of my research regarding facility size and ownership net worth is correct – this is probably the biggest leap of faith we have to make, since googling “NAME net worth” and “CITY richest people” doesn’t seem guaranteed to return accurate results.
The most a club can increase its available seating capacity to meet D1 requirements in a current stadium is no more than 1,500 seats (10% of the required 15,000). If they need to add more, they’ll need a new facility.
Let’s pretend that people are VERY willing to sell. It’s commonly acknowledged that the USL is a more financially feasible route to owning a soccer club than in MLS (c.f. MLS-Charlotte’s reported $325 million expansion fee) and the USSF has some very strict requirements for D1 sanctioning. It becomes pretty apparent when googling a lot of team’s owners that this requirement isn’t met, so let’s assume everyone that can’t sells to people who meet the requirements.
(Known) USSF D1 league requirements: - League must have 12 teams to apply and 14 teams by year three - Majority owner must have a net worth of $40 million, and the ownership group must have a total net worth of $70 million. The value of an owned stadium is not considered when calculating this value. - Must have teams located in the Eastern, Central and Pacific time zones - 75% of league’s teams must be based in markets with at a metro population of at least 1 million people. - All league stadiums must have a capacity of at least 15,000 The ideal club candidate for the USL Premiership will meet the population and capacity requirements in its current ground, which will have a grass playing surface. Of the USL Championship’s 27 independent/hybrid affiliate clubs, I did not find one club that meets all these criteria as they currently stand. Regarding turf fields, the USSF does not have a formal policy regarding the ideal playing surface but it is generally acknowledged that grass is superior to turf. 6 of 26 MLS stadiums utilize turf, or roughly 23% of stadiums. We’ll hold a similar restriction for our top flight, so 2-3 of our top flight clubs can have turf fields. Seem fair? Capacity is going to be the biggest issue, since the disparity between current requirements for the second-tier (5,000) and the first tier (15,000) is a pretty massive gap. Nice club you have there, triple your capacity and you’re onto something. As a result, I have taken the liberty of relocating certain (read: nearly all) clubs to new grounds, trying my utmost to keep those clubs in their current markets and –importantly--, ensure they play on grass surfaces. So, let’s do a case-by-case evaluation and see if we can put together 12-14 teams that meet the potential requirements, because what else do you have to do? For each club’s breakdown, anything that represents a chance from what is currently true will be underlined. Candidate: Birmingham Legion FC Location (Metro population): Birmingham, Ala. (1,151,801) Time zone: Central Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Legion Field (FieldTurf, 71,594) Potential owner: Stephens Family (reported net worth $4 billion) Notes: Birmingham has a pretty strong candidacy. Having ditched the 5,000-seater BBVA Field for Legion Field, which sits 2.4 miles away, they’ve tapped into the city’s soccer history. Legion Field hosted portions of both the men’s and women’s tournaments at the 1996 Olympics, including a 3-1 U.S. loss to Argentina that saw 83,183 pack the house. The Harbert family seemed like strong ownership contenders, but since the death of matriarch Marguerite Harbert in 2015, it’s unclear where the wealth in the family is concentrated, so the Stephens seem like a better candidate. The only real knock that I can think of is that we really want to avoid having clubs play on turf, so I’d say they’re on the bubble of our platonic ideal USL Prem. Candidate: Charleston Battery Location (Metro population): Charleston, S.C. (713,000) Time zone: Eastern Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Johnson Hagood Stadium (Grass, ~14,700) Potential owner: Anita Zucker (reported net worth $3 billion) Notes: Charleston’s candidacy isn’t looking great. Already disadvantaged due to its undersized metro population, a move across the Cooper River to Johnson Hagood Stadium is cutting it close in terms of capacity. The stadium, home to The Citadel’s football team, used to seat 21,000, before 9,300 seats on the eastern grandstand were torn down in 2017 to deal with lead paint that had been used in their construction. Renovation plans include adding 3,000 seats back in, which could hit 15,000 if they bumped it to 3,300, but throw in a required sale by HCFC, LLC (led by content-creation platform founder Rob Salvatore) to chemical magnate Anita Zucker, and you’ll see there’s a lot of ifs and ands in this proposal. Candidate: Charlotte Independence Location (Metro population): Charlotte, N.C. (2,569, 213) Time zone: Eastern Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Jerry Richardson Stadium (Turf, 15,314) Potential owner: James Goodnight (reported net worth $9.1 billion) Notes: Charlotte ticks a lot of the boxes. A move from the Sportsplex at Matthews to UNC-Charlotte’s Jerry Richardson stadium meets capacity requirements, but puts them on to the dreaded turf. Regrettably, nearby American Legion Memorial Stadium only seats 10,500, despite a grass playing surface. With a sizeable metro population (sixth-largest in the USL Championship) and a possible owner in software billionaire James Goodnight, you’ve got some options here. The biggest problem likely lies in direct competition for market share against a much better-funded MLS Charlotte side due to join the league in 2021. Candidate: Hartford Athletic Location (Metro population): Hartford, Conn. (1,214,295) Time zone: Eastern Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Pratt & Whitney Stadium (Grass, 38,066) Potential owner: Ray Dalio (reported net worth $18.4 billion) Notes: Okay, I cheated a bit here, having to relocate Hartford to Pratt & Whitney Stadium, which is technically in East Hartford, Conn. I don’t know enough about the area to know if there’s some kind of massive beef between the two cities, but the club has history there, having played seven games in 2019 while Dillon Stadium underwent renovations. If the group of local businessmen that currently own the club manage to attract Dalio to the table, we’re on to something. Candidate: Indy Eleven Location (Metro population): Indianapolis, Ind. (2,048,703) Time zone: Eastern Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Lucas Oil Stadium (Turf, 62,421) Potential owner: Jim Irsay (reported net worth of $3 billion) Notes: Indy Eleven are a club that are SO CLOSE to being an ideal candidate – if it weren’t for Lucas Oil Stadium’s turf playing surface. Still, there’s a lot to like in this bid. I’m not going to lie, I have no idea what current owner and founder Ersal Ozdemir is worth, but it seems like there might be cause for concern. A sale to Irsay, who also owns the NFL Indianapolis (nee Baltimore) Colts, seems likely to keep the franchise there, rather than make a half-mile move to 14,230 capacity Victory Field where the AAA Indianapolis Indians play and expand from there. Candidate: Louisville City FC Location (Metro population): Louisville, Ky. (1,297,310) Time zone: Eastern Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Lynn Family Stadium (Grass, 14,000, possibly expandable to 20,000) Potential owner: Wayne Hughes (reported net worth $2.8 billion) Notes: I’m stretching things a bit here. Lynn Family stadium is currently listed as having 11,700 capacity that’s expandable to 14,000, but they’ve said that the ground could hold as many as 20,000 with additional construction, which might be enough to grant them a temporary waiver from USSF. If the stadium is a no-go, then there’s always Cardinal Stadium, home to the University of Louisville’s football team, which seats 65,000 but is turf. Either way, it seems like a sale to someone like Public Storage founder Wayne Hughes will be necessary to ensure the club has enough capital. Candidate: Memphis 901 FC Location (Metro population): Memphis, Tenn. (1,348,260) Time zone: Central Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Liberty Bowl Stadium (Turf, 58,325) Potential owner: Fred Smith (reported net worth $3 billion) Notes: Unfortunately for Memphis, AutoZone Park’s 10,000 seats won’t cut it at the D1 level. With its urban location, it would likely prove tough to renovate, as well. Liberty Bowl Stadium more than meets the need, but will involve the use of the dreaded turf. As far as an owner goes, FedEx founder Fred Smith seems like a good local option. Candidate: Miami FC, “The” Location (Metro population): Miami, Fla. (6,158,824) Time zone: Eastern Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Riccardo Silva Stadium (FieldTurf, 20,000) Potential owner: Riccardo Silva (reported net worth $1 billion) Notes: Well, well, well, Silva might get his wish for top-flight soccer, after all. He’s got the money, he’s got the metro, and his ground has the capacity. There is the nagging issue of the turf, though. Hard Rock Stadium might present a solution, including a capacity of 64,767 and a grass playing surface. It is worth noting, however, that this is the first profile where I didn’t have to find a new potential owner for a club. Candidate: North Carolina FC Location (Metro population): Durham, N.C. (1,214,516 in The Triangle) Time zone: Eastern Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Carter-Finley Stadium (Grass/Turf, 57,583) Potential owner: Steve Malik (precise net worth unknown) / Dennis Gillings (reported net worth of $1.7 billion) Notes: We have our first “relocation” in North Carolina FC, who were forced to trade Cary’s 10,000-seat WakeMed Soccer Park for Carter-Finley Stadium in Durham, home of the NC State Wolfpack and 57,583 of their closest friends. The move is a whopping 3.1 miles, thanks to the close-knit hub that exists between Cary, Durham and Raleigh. Carter-Finley might be my favorite of the stadium moves in this exercise. The field is grass, but the sidelines are artificial turf. Weird, right? Either way, it was good enough for Juventus to play a friendly against Chivas de Guadalajara there in 2011. Maybe the move would be pushed for by new owner and medical magnate Dennis Gillings, whose British roots might inspire him to get involved in the Beautiful Game. Straight up, though, I couldn’t find a net worth for current owner Steve Malik, though he did sell his company MedFusion for $91 million in 2010, then bought it back for an undisclosed amount and sold it again for $43 million last November. I don’t know if Malik has the juice to meet D1 requirements, but I suspect he’s close. Candidate: Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC Location (Metro population): Pittsburgh, Penn. (2,362,453) Time zone: Eastern Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Heinz Field (Grass, 64,450) Potential owner: Henry Hillman (reported net worth $2.5 billion) Notes: I don’t know a ton about the Riverhounds, but this move in particular feels like depriving a pretty blue-collar club from its roots. Highmark Stadium is a no-go from a seating perspective, but the Steelers’ home stadium at Heinz Field would more than meet the requirements and have a grass surface that was large enough to be sanctioned for a FIFA friendly between the U.S. WNT and Costa Rica in 2015. As for an owner, Tuffy Shallenberger (first ballot owner name HOF) doesn’t seem to fit the USSF bill, but legendary Pittsburgh industrialist Henry Hillman might. I’m sure you’re asking, why not the Rooney Family, if they’ll play at Heinz Field? I’ll tell you: I honestly can’t seem to pin down a value for the family. The Steelers are valued at a little over a billion and rumors persist that Dan Rooney is worth $500 million, but I’m not sure. I guess the Rooneys would work too, but it’s a definite departure from an owner in Shallenberger who was described by one journalist as a guy who “wears boots, jeans, a sweater and a trucker hat.” Candidate: Saint Louis FC Location (Metro population): St. Louis, Mo. (2,807,338) Time zone: Central Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Busch Stadium (Grass, 45,494) Potential owner: William DeWitt Jr. (reported net worth $4 billion) Notes: Saint Louis has some weirdness in making the jump to D1. Current CEO Jim Kavanaugh is an owner of the MLS side that will begin play in 2022. The club’s current ground at West Community Stadium isn’t big enough, but perhaps a timely sale to Cardinals owner William DeWitt Jr. could see the club playing games at Busch Stadium, which has a well established history of hosting other sports like hockey, college football and soccer (most recently a U.S. WNT friendly against New Zealand in 2019). The competition with another MLS franchise wouldn’t be ideal, like Charlotte, but with a big enough population and cross marketing from the Cardinals, maybe there’s a winner here. Wacko idea: If Busch doesn’t pan out, send them to The Dome. Sure, it’s a 60k turf closed-in stadium, but we can go for that retro NASL feel and pay homage to our nation’s soccer history. Candidate: Tampa Bay Rowdies Location (Metro population): Tampa, Fla. (3,068,511) Time zone: Eastern Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Raymond James Stadium (Grass, 65,518) Potential owner: Edward DeBartolo Jr. (reported net worth $3 billion) Notes: This one makes me sad. Despite having never been there, I see Al Lang Stadium as an iconic part of the Rowdies experience. Current owner Bill Edwards proposed an expansion to 18,000 seats in 2016, but the move seems to have stalled out. Frustrated with the city’s lack of action, Edwards sells to one-time San Francisco 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo Jr., who uses his old NFL connections to secure a cushy lease at the home of the Buccaneers in Ray Jay, the site of a 3-1 thrashing of Antigua and Barbuda during the United States’ 2014 World Cup Qualifying campaign. Breather. Hey, we finished the Eastern Conference teams. Why are you still reading this? Why am I still writing it? Time is a meaningless construct in 2020 my friends, we are adrift in the void, fueled only by brief flashes of what once was and what may yet still be. Candidate: Austin Bold FC Location (Metro population): Austin, Texas (2,168,316) Time zone: Central Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Darrel K Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium (FieldTurf, 95,594) Potential owner: Michael Dell (reported net worth of $32.3 billion) Notes: Anthony Precourt’s Austin FC has some unexpected competition and it comes in the form of tech magnate Michael Dell. Dell, were he to buy the club, would be one of the richest owners on our list and could flash his cash in the new first division. Would he have enough to convince Darrel K Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium (I’m not kidding, that’s its actual name) to go back to a grass surface, like it did from ’96-’08? That’s between Dell and nearly 100,000 UT football fans, but everything can be had for the right price. Candidate: Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC Location (Metro population): Colorado Springs, Colo. (738,939) Time zone: Mountain Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Falcon Stadium (FieldTurf, 46,692) Potential owner: Charles Ergen (reported net worth $10.8 billion) Notes: Welcome to Colorado Springs. We have hurdles. For the first time in 12 candidates, we’re back below the desired 1 million metro population mark. Colorado Springs actually plans to build a $35 million, 8,000 seat venue downtown that will be perfect for soccer, but in our timeline that’s 7,000 seats short. Enter Falcon Stadium, home of the Air Force Academy Falcons football team. Seems perfect except for the turf, right? Well, the tricky thing is that Falcon Stadium is technically on an active military base and is (I believe) government property. Challenges to getting in and out of the ground aside, the military tends to have a pretty grim view of government property being used by for-profit enterprises. Maybe Charles Ergen, founder and chairman of Dish Network, would be able to grease the right wheels, but you can go ahead and throw this into the “doubtful” category. It’s a shame, too. 6,035 feet of elevation is one hell of a home-field advantage. Candidate: El Paso Locomotive FC Location: El Paso, Texas Time zone: Mountain Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Sun Bowl (FieldTurf, 51,500) Potential owner: Paul Foster (reported net worth $1.7 billion) Notes: God bless Texas. When compiling this list, I found so many of the theoretical stadium replacements were nearly serviceable by high school football fields. That’s insane, right? Anyway, Locomotive don’t have to settle for one of those, they’ve got the Sun Bowl, which had its capacity reduced in 2001 to a paltry 51,500 (from 52,000) specifically to accommodate soccer. Sure, it’s a turf surface, but what does new owner Paul Foster (who is only the 1,477th wealthiest man in the world, per Forbes) care, he’s got a team in a top league. Side note: Did you know that the Sun Bowl college football game is officially, through sponsorship, the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl? Why is it not the Frosted Flakes Sun Bowl? Why is the cereal mascot the promotional name of the football game? What are you doing, Kellogg’s? Candidate: Las Vegas Lights FC Location: Las Vegas, Nev. (2,227,053) Time zone: Pacific Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Allegiant Stadium (Grass, 61,000) Potential owner: Sheldon Adelson (reported net worth $37.7 billion) Notes: Sin City. You had to know that the club that once signed Freddy Adu because “why not” was going to go all out in our flashy hypothetical proposal. Thanks to my narrative control of this whole thing, they have. Adelson is the second-richest owner in the league and has decided to do everything first class. That includes using the new Raiders stadium in nearby unincorporated Paradise, Nevada, and spending boatloads on high profile transfers. Zlatan is coming back to the U.S., confirmed. Candidate: New Mexico United Location: Albuquerque, N.M. Time zone: Mountain Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Isotopes Park – officially Rio Grande Credit Union Field at Isotopes Park (Grass, 13,500 – 15,000 with expansion) Potential owner: Maloof Family (reported net worth $1 billion) Notes: New Mexico from its inception went deep on the community vibe, and I’ve tried to replicate that in this bid. The home field of Rio Grande Cr---I’m not typing out the whole thing—Isotopes Park falls just within the expansion rules we set to make it to 15,000 (weird, right?) and they’ve found a great local ownership group in the Lebanese-American Maloof (formerly Maalouf) family from Las Vegas. The only thing to worry about would be the metro population, but overall, this could be one of the gems of USL Prem. Candidate: Oklahoma City Energy FC Location: Oklahoma City, Okla. (1,396,445) Time zone: Central Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark (Grass, 13,066) Potential owner: Harold Hamm (reported net worth $14.2 billion) Notes: There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow and it says it’s time to change stadiums and owners to make it to D1. A sale to oil magnate Harold Hamm would give the club the finances it needs, but Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark (home of the OKC Dodgers) actually falls outside of the boundary of what would meet capacity if 1,500 seats were added. Could the club pull off a move to Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma – home of the Oklahoma Sooners? Maybe, but at 20 miles, this would be a reach. Candidate: Orange County SC Location: Irvine, Calif. (3,176, 000 in Orange County) Time zone: Pacific Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Angels Stadium of Anaheim (Grass, 43,250) Potential owner: Arte Moreno (reported net worth $3.3 billion) Notes: You’ll never convince me that Rangers didn’t choose to partner with Orange County based primarily on its name. Either way, a sale to MLB Angels owner Arte Moreno produces a fruitful partnership, with the owner choosing to play his newest club out of the existing Angels stadium in OC. Another baseball conversion, sure, but with a metro population of over 3 million and the closest thing this hypothetical league has to an LA market, who’s complaining? Candidate: Phoenix Rising FC Location: Phoenix, Ariz. (4,857,962) Time zone: Arizona Stadium (playing surface, capacity): State Farm Stadium (Grass, 63,400) Potential owner: Ernest Garcia II (reported net worth $5.7 billion) Notes: We’re keeping it local with new owner and used car guru Ernest Garcia II. His dad owned a liquor store and he dropped out of college, which is making me feel amazing about my life choices right now. Casino Arizona Field is great, but State Farm Stadium is a grass surface that hosted the 2019 Gold Cup semifinal, so it’s a clear winner. Throw in Phoenix’s massive metro population and this one looks like a lock. Candidate: Reno 1868 FC Location: Reno, Nev. (425,417) Time zone: Pacific Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Mackay Stadium (FieldTurf, 30,000) Potential owner: Nancy Walton Laurie (reported net worth $7.1 billion) Notes: The Biggest Little City on Earth has some serious barriers to overcome, thanks to its low metro population. A sale to Walmart heiress Nancy Walton Laurie and 1.6 mile-move to Mackay Stadium to split space with the University of Nevada, Reno makes this bid competitive, but the turf surface is another knock against it. Candidate: Rio Grande Valley FC Location: Edinburg, Texas (900,304) Time zone: Central Stadium (playing surface, capacity): McAllen Memorial Stadium (FieldTurf, 13,500 – 15,000 with expansion) Potential owner: Alice Louise Walton (reported net worth $45 billion) Notes: Yes, I have a second straight Walmart heiress on the list. She was the first thing that popped up when I googled “McAllen Texas richest people.” The family rivalry has spurred Walton to buy a club as well, moving them 10 miles to McAllen Memorial Stadium which, as I alluded to earlier, is a straight up high school football stadium with a full color scoreboard. Toss in an additional 1,500 seats and you’ve met the minimum, despite the turf playing surface. Candidate: San Antonio FC Location: San Antonio, Texas (2,550,960) Time zone: Central Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Alamodome (FieldTurf, 64,000) Potential owner: Red McCombs (reported net worth $1.6 billion) Notes: I wanted to keep SAFC in the Spurs family, since the franchise is valued at $1.8 billion. That said, I didn’t let the Rooneys own the Riverhounds based on the Steelers’ value and it felt wrong to change the rules, so bring on Clear Channel co-founder Red McCombs. Toyota Field isn’t viable in the first division, but for the Alamodome, which was built in 1993 in hopes of attracting an NFL franchise (and never did), San Antonio can finally claim having *a* national football league team in its town (contingent on your definition of football). Now if only we could do something about that turf… Candidate: San Diego Loyal SC Location: San Diego, Calif. (3,317,749) Time zone: Pacific Stadium (playing surface, capacity): SDCCU Stadium (formerly Qualcomm) (Grass, 70,561) Potential owner: Phil Mickelson (reported net worth $91 million) Notes: Yes, golf’s Phil Mickelson. The existing ownership group didn’t seem to have the wherewithal to meet requirements, and Phil seemed to slot right in. As an athlete himself, he might be interesting in the new challenges of a top flight soccer team. Toss in a move to the former home of the chargers and you might have a basis for tremendous community support. Candidate: FC Tulsa Location: Tulsa, Okla. (991,561) Time zone: Central Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Skelly Field at H.A. Chapman Stadium (FieldTurf, 30,000) Potential owner: George Kaiser ($10 billion) Notes: I’m a fan of FC Tulsa’s rebrand, but if they want to make the first division, more changes are necessary. A sale to Tulsa native and one of the 100 richest men in the world George Kaiser means that funding is guaranteed. A move to Chapman Stadium would provide the necessary seats, despite the turf field. While the undersize population might be an issue at first glance, it’s hard to imagine U.S. Soccer not granting a waiver over a less than a 10k miss from the mark. And that’s it! You made it. Those are all of the independent/hybrid affiliates in the USL Championship, which means that it’s time for our… VERDICT: As an expert who has studied this issue for almost an entire day now, I am prepared to pronounce which USL Championships could be most ‘ready” for a jump to the USL Prem. A reminder that of the 27 clubs surveyed, 0 of them met our ideal criteria (proper ownership $, metro population, 15,000+ stadium with grass field). Two of them, however, met almost all of those criteria: Indy Eleven and Miami FC. Those two clubs may use up two of our three available turf fields right from the outset, but the other factors they hit (particularly Silva’s ownership of Miami) makes them difficult, if not impossible to ignore for the top flight. But who fill in the rest of the slots? Meet the entire 14-team USL Premier League: Hartford Athletic Indy Eleven Louisville City FC Miami FC North Carolina FC Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC Tampa Bay Rowdies Saint Louis FC San Antonio FC New Mexico United Phoenix Rising FC Las Vegas Lights FC Orange County SC San Diego Loyal SC Now, I shall provide my expert rationale for each club’s inclusion/exclusion, which can be roughly broken down into four categories. Firm “yes” Hartford Athletic: It’s a good market size with a solid stadium. With a decent investor and good community support, you’ve got potential here. Indy Eleven: The turf at Lucas Oil Stadium is no reason to turn down a 62,421 venue and a metro population of over 2 million. Louisville City FC: Why doesn’t the 2017 & 2018 USL Cup champion deserve a crack at the top flight? They have the market size, and with a bit of expansion have the stadium at their own SSS. LCFC, you’re in. Miami FC, “The”: Our other blue-chip recruit on the basis of ownership value, market size and stadium capacity. Yes, that field is turf, but how could you snub Silva’s chance to claim victory as the first division 1 club soccer team to play in Miami? Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC: Pittsburgh sacrificed a lot to be here (according to my arbitrary calculations). Their market size and the potential boon of soccer at Heinz Field is an important inclusion to the league. Saint Louis FC: Willie hears your “Busch League” jokes, Willie don’t care. A huge market size, combined with the absence of an NFL franchise creates opportunity. Competition with the MLS side, sure, but St. Louis has serious soccer history and we’re willing to bet it can support two clubs. Tampa Bay Rowdies: With a huge population and a massive stadium waiting nearby, Tampa Bay seems like too good of an opportunity to pass up for the USL Prem. Las Vegas Lights FC: Ostentatious, massive and well-financed, Las Vegas Lights FC is everything that the USL Premier League would need to assert that it didn’t intend to play second fiddle to MLS. Players will need to be kept on a short leash, but this is a hard market to pass up on. Phoenix Rising FC: Huge population, big grass field available nearby and a solid history of success in recent years. No brainer. San Diego Loyal SC: New club? Yes, massive population in a market that recently lost an absolutely huge sports presence? Also yes. This could be the USL Prem’s Seattle. Cautious “yes” New Mexico United: You have to take a chance on New Mexico United. The club set the league on fire with its social media presence and its weight in the community when it entered the league last season. The market may be slightly under USSF’s desired 1 million, but fervent support (and the ability to continue to use Isotopes Park) shouldn’t be discounted. North Carolina FC: Carter-Finley’s mixed grass/turf surface is a barrier, to be sure, but the 57,000+ seats it offers (and being enough to offset other fully-turf offerings) is enough to put it in the black. Orange County SC: It’s a top-tier club playing in a MLB stadium. I know it seems unlikely that USSF would approve something like that, but believe me when I say “it could happen.” Orange County is a massive market and California likely needs two clubs in the top flight. San Antonio FC: Our third and only voluntary inclusion to the turf fields in the first division, we’re counting on San Antonio’s size and massive potential stadium to see it through. Cautious “no” Birmingham Legion FC: The town has solid soccer history and a huge potential venue, but the turf playing surface puts it on the outside looking in. Memphis 901 FC: Like Birmingham, not much to dislike here outside of the turf playing surface at the larger playing venue. Austin Bold FC: See the other two above. FC Tulsa: Everything’s just a little bit off with this one. Market’s slightly too small, stadium has turf. Just not enough to put it over the top. Firm “no” Charleston Battery: Small metro and a small potential new stadium? It’s tough to say yes to the risk. Charlotte Independence: A small new stadium and the possibility of having to compete with an organization that just paid over $300 million to join MLS means it’s best for this club to remain in the USL Championship. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC: When a club’s best chance to meet a capacity requirement is to host games at a venue controlled by the military, that doesn’t speak well to a club’s chances. El Paso Locomotive FC: An undersized market and a turf field that meets capacity requirements is the death knell for this one. Oklahoma City Energy FC: Having to expand a baseball field to meet requirements is a bad start. Having to potentially play 20 miles away from your main market is even worse. Reno 1868 FC: Population nearly a half-million short of the federation’s requirements AND a turf field at the hypothetical new stadium makes impossible to say yes to this bid. Rio Grande Valley FC: All the seat expansions in the world can’t hide the fact that McAllen Memorial Stadium is a high school stadium through and through. Here’s who’s left in the 11-team Championship: Birmingham Legion FC Charleston Battery Charlotte Independence Memphis 901 FC Austin Bold FC Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC El Paso Locomotive FC Oklahoma City Energy FC Reno 1868 FC Rio Grande Valley FC FC Tulsa With MLS folding the six affiliates it has in USL League One, the league is a little bit thin (especially considering USSF’s requirements for 8 teams for lower level leagues), but seems definitely able to expand up to the necessary numbers with Edwards’ allusions to five new additions this year: Chattanooga Red Wolves SC Forward Madison FC Greenville Triumph SC Union Omaha Richmond Kickers South Georgia Tormenta FC Tucson Format of Assorted Leagues – This (like everything in this post) is pure conjecture on my part, but here are my thoughts on how these leagues might function in a first year while waiting for additional expansion. USL Premier – We’ll steal from the 12-team Scottish Premiership. Each club plays the other 11 clubs 3 times, with either one or two home matches against each side. When each club has played 33 matches, the top six and bottom six separate, with every club playing an additional five matches (against each other team in its group). The top club wins the league. The bottom club is automatically relegated. The second-bottom club will enter a two-legged playoff against someone (see below) from the championship playoffs. USL Championship -- 11 clubs is a challenge to schedule for. How about every club plays everyone else three times (either one or two home matches against each side)? Top four clubs make the playoffs, which are decided by two-legged playoffs. The winner automatically goes up. I need feedback on the second part – is it better to have the runner-up from the playoffs face the second-bottom club from the Premiership, or should the winner of the third-place match-up get the chance to face them to keep drama going in both playoff series? As for relegation, we can clearly only send down the last place club while the third division is so small. USL League One – While the league is so small, it doesn’t seem reasonable to have the clubs play as many matches as the higher divisions. Each club could play the other six clubs four times – twice at home and twice away – for a very equitable 24-match regular season, which would help restrict costs and still provide a chance to determine a clear winner. Whoever finishes top of the table goes up. And there you have it, a hypothetical look at how the USL could build a D1 league right now. All it would take is a new stadium for almost the entire league and new owners for all but one of the 27 clubs, who wouldn’t feel that their property would be massively devalued if they got relegated. Well that’s our show. I’m curious to see what you think of all of this, especially anything that you think I may have overlooked (I’m sure there’s plenty). Anyway, I hope you’re all staying safe and well.
Part 1 | Part 3 Weeks went by with absolutely nothing. We tried to keep in contact with the park and the police every day, but we always got the same response. They were ‘looking into it.’ From what we were being told, they were contacting people that had been at the park and pouring over hours of security footage, but there were no new developments. We tried organizing search parties to look around the various cities surrounding Cheesy’s and hunting down employees that worked that day, but no one had any information. To say that I was frustrated was an understatement. It felt like nobody in the world cared a fraction as much as I did. People get arrested for murders where all they left behind was a single strand of hair. Yet my brother was taken from right under me, and all anybody could say is, “I don’t know?” How the hell does that make any God damn sense? Depression hit me hard. I couldn’t escape the stain of guilt Amari’s disappearance left on my mind and in my heart. My brain worked overtime to process the potential variables leading up to his disappearance. Maybe if my lazy ass had woken up earlier, he wouldn’t have been in a bad mood, to begin with. Maybe if I didn’t insist we go on that roller coaster. Maybe if I had just kept my eyes on him for one second longer. If I had done one fucking thing differently, maybe my brother might still be here. I’d get to see that beautiful smile and hug him when I came back from school. Stressful thoughts plagued my mind. I couldn’t eat, I became lethargic, and the pain of losing Amari made my stomach churn whenever I was reminded of his absence. As a result, I was unfit to attend school for weeks. When you live in a small town, word travels fast. And this was the biggest news story to happen in years. When I returned, the darting eyes and whispers surrounded me constantly. And the ever-present headlines on the local news only served to remind me of the pain. Chloe and Mark tried their best to make sure that I was okay, but, realistically, how could a seventeen-year-old ever be expected to deal with a loss like that? Especially when a lot of that loss was still a mystery. On Monday after class, I was sitting by myself at the tables just outside the library. I had taken to doing a lot of my schoolwork outside of home because I felt I could focus better without the reminder that Amari wasn’t there. Suddenly, someone walked up from behind and covered my eyes from behind. “Guess who?” Asked a playful voice. “Hm. You know? If I had to guess I’d say… Chloe?” I replied. “Aw. You couldn’t have at least given me one free wrong guess?” Chloe said, slightly disappointed. I shrugged. “What can I say? I’m pretty good at guessing the voices of people I’ve known since I was six. Call it a superpower.” I immediately noticed the girl standing next to Chloe. The two almost looked like twins outside of the fact that the girl’s hair was blonde instead of brunette, and she had no freckles. “Hey, Amber.” “Hey,” Amber replied with a wide smile. “I know you’ve been down because of everything that happened, so I wanted to maybe help cheer you up.” “Oh?” I said with an eyebrow raised. “And how’s that?” “Well,” She tossed her blonde hair over one shoulder. “There’s this college party going down on Friday a few towns over, and I know a couple of the guys in the frat so I could definitely get you in if you wanted.” I think Chloe could sense what I was going to say before I said it because she instantly hit me with, “C’mon, it’ll be fun! One night to forget about everything! Brandon, its awful seeing you hurt like this. Maybe it’ll help.” I sighed and stood up. “Yeah, right. Look, I gotta go. I’ll let you guys know when I know.” I began to make the walk home. After a twenty-minute walk, I reached my house. But as soon as I reached for the doorknob, I felt my phone buzz. Looking at the caller ID, I could see that Mark was calling. “What’s up, man?” “Brandon, dude. I heard Clo and Amber invited you to that party on Friday.” “Yup. I do recall that happening twenty minutes ago.” “And you turned them down? Amber is one of the hottest girls in school, dude!” “I said I’ll let them know.” I shrugged. “C’mon bro. She’s just trying to help. I know what you’re going through is rough. I can’t even imagine what I’d do if I lost my sister, but if you keep wallowing in pain, you’ll never feel better.” Mark’s voice lowered a bit before perking up again. “You need to do things that make you happy. And as dumb as it sounds, maybe this is the opportunity to forget for a few hours..” “Getting drunk isn’t going to solve my problems, Mark. Maybe that works for you, but alcohol isn’t bringing Amari back. Plus, what the hell would you know about dealing with trauma?” I hadn’t even noticed how much I raised my voice. “It’s great that you think you have an idea of how you would feel, but nobody really knows what this pain is like until they fucking go through it. I don’t need a damn lecture about my own feelings!” Mark went silent for a moment. I wanted to apologize for attacking him, but before I could, he started speaking again, “You know. I never told anyone that my mom’s sister was murdered. It impacted her for years, and seeing her go through that emotion was really hard. Your parents are supposed to be your rock, and when they can’t keep it together, then how do you think a child feels?” He paused again to think. “For a long time, I felt guilty for not getting to know my aunt, but in a way, I guess I’m lucky that not knowing her made the pain not as bad. But my mom was devastated, Brandon. And the only way she pulled herself out of it was trying. She made an effort to be happy, and even though she carries that pain to this day, she can still smile and be kind and enjoy life.” “Mark, I…” “Don’t, man. It’s cool. My point is. It’s natural to feel what you’re feeling. I’m sure that the other families that lost kids there felt the same pain. But you have to start somewhere no matter how much it hurts. At the end of the day, there’s still hope Amari will be found. But it doesn’t help to mope around until you get the news that’s he’s either found or… You know.” “Yeah, you’re right,” I said quietly. “I’ll figure it out. Just give me some time.” “Of course. If you need anything, Clo and I are here for you.” “Yeah. I gotcha.” I hung up, went inside, and walked up to my room with mixed emotions. Was it really as simple as just doing things I liked and pretending to be happy until I was? What was really the healthiest way to deal with this? And what about the other families? How had they dealt with it? The sudden realization hit me like a Mack Truck. The other families. I rushed to my laptop to do some research. I found a lot of news sites that had reported on the disappearances. “Child Goes Missing From Beloved Amusement Park, 1967,” “Child at Cheesy’s Never Found, 1973,” “Parents Baffled at Child’s Disappearance at Cheesy’s, 2005,” every single fucking year. It was never on the same date. No two kids seemed alike, but the one consistent thing was the age. All of them were between five and twelve. Not only was Jose right about the sheer number of cases, but he was also right about some of these stories being absolutely buried. It looked like some families had to go to really obscure sites to mention that their kids disappeared. And even then, there was never a lot of information given or any follow-up stories done. “Why weren’t more mainstream sites reporting on them?” I thought. This place had been associated with a ton of missing kids. All of the police interviews done in subsequent years, all of them had said that they were looking, but there was no clear evidence to go on. I dug further and found that the owner had only even commented on the kids once in the nineties. Most of it was typical PR jargon. But there was one quote that stuck out to me. He mentioned that wherever they were, he was sure they were happy and healthy. “What the fuck does that mean?” I whispered to myself. “Why on earth would you assume a missing child is happy or healthy?” It was a simple remark that didn’t get much play in the media and easily could’ve meant nothing. But the fact that he wanted everyone to pretend like things were okay gave me a bad vibe. Why at Cheesy’s? What the hell did he know? I couldn’t go rushing into some CEO’s house, but maybe I could talk to someone who had more knowledge than me. I dug until I found the phone number of a woman who had lost a kid at the park over two decades ago. She had been in several legal battles and even got into trouble herself for trying to stalk the owner along with breaking and entering into the park a few times. I didn’t expect her to have all the answers, but if there was anyone who could tell me something important about the park, it was her. Finding her number was easy and I immediately called her up. After only a couple rings, a scratchy voice, no doubt ravaged by years of cigarette smoke, picked up on the other end. “Hello?” “Uh… hi. My name is Brandon. Is this, Ms. Turner?” “Yes, it is. How can I help you?” Not wanting to scare her or make her think that I was some weirdo looking to connect over tragedy, I made up a lie. “I know this is gonna sound strange, but I’m a student doing a research project on some places that had an impact on us growing up. I happened to pick Cheesy’s World, and I was wondering if I could talk to you?” She went silent on the other end for a moment, and when she spoke again, I could hear a hint of stress in her voice. “Uh, Cheesy’s World? What specifically about it?” “The project has to include the history of the place, and from my research, I found that your family’s name came up in a couple of articles because of… what happened.” Another moment of silence passed before she talked again. “How old are you, Brandon?” “Eighteen,” Another lie. “Can you come to my place? I can’t talk right now, but I’ll be free at about nine tonight if you want to speak to me about what happened. But I’m only free tonight.” I hesitated. I only had my permit and no car, which meant it would be difficult for me to meet Ms. Turner. However, it was a chance I had to take. “I’ll be there.” Mrs. Turner gave me an address about a forty-minute drive away, and once we hung up, it only took me a moment to realize who I should call. I promptly dialed Chloe’s number. “Hey, Clo.” “Brandon, hey! Are you doing better?” “I might’ve found a path to that, yeah. Can you do me a favor?” “Anything, what’s up? “Can you come by at around eight and take me somewhere? It’s kinda far, though.” “Uh, yeah, I think I can get all my homework done by then. What’s going on?” “It’s… Weird. I can’t even really explain what’s happening. I’m kinda just going off of instinct here. Look, you mentioned the party on Friday, right? I promise to go and have as great of a time as you want me to have, but only on the condition that you do this for me, no questions asked.” “Of course. It doesn’t have to be ‘no questions asked.’ I’m here for you anytime.” I thanked her repeatedly and hung up. The seeds of what I was planning to do were already forming in my head. And unfortunately, I had to keep Chloe as far away from the truth as possible. I know it sounds stupid and selfish, and it absolutely was, but I didn’t want to risk Chloe getting too deeply involved in something that was my burden to bear. Not only that, if she knew I was doing research on the park, she’d also do everything in power to convince me to stay away for the sake of my mental health. Including not giving me a ride. But still, I could clearly see that my friends were really making an effort to make me feel better, and that meant the world to me. I didn’t know how I’d do it, but I needed to make it up to them somehow. I waited until about 8:15, and just like she said, Chloe was right outside. I would’ve told my parents that I was going out to catch a late movie, but they were gone. Oddly enough, there were a lot of days in the recent weeks where I completely missed one or both of them. But that was an issue for another time. Before greeting Chloe, I sent out a text to Ms. Turner, stating that I was on my way, and we began the drive over. “So, are we picking up Mark?” She asked. “Nah, he’s got a project to work on. I’m pretty sure if he doesn’t get an A, he’s gonna fail the class, and I respect that. So guess it’s just us.” “Ah. Just us like old times.” “Yeah. Back when things weren’t as fucked up.” “Stop that, Brandon. Can we not bring the mood down? It’s a long ride, and I want to keep things as positive as possible.” She let out an exasperated sigh. “Wanna know why Amber thought the party would be a good idea?” “Why’s that?” “She said she knows a girl who’s single and as a cute guy she thought…” I nearly spat snot out of my nose as I laughed at Chloe’s revelation. “Hold up! Was the party an excuse to set me up with some girl she knows? But for the record, we’re gonna get kicked out as soon as we get in. Mark would tell you that from experience.” She responded with laughter and brushed the hair out of her face. Once again, I got to see that beautiful smile. This was another moment where I really “noticed” Chloe. Every perfect feature brought together by those stunning eyes. But on top of it? We had been so close. This girl is the reason I’m not failing most of my classes. She’s been my biggest supporter at my lowest points, and the number of inside jokes we have about the dumbest things is endless. It simultaneously filled me with warmth and sadness. Here I was, around someone I cared about so much. And yet, I was lying to her. I hadn’t told Chloe about what I found or who I was meeting. I planned to leave her in the car and come up with some bullshit excuse once I got back, and it killed me. Mainly because she had done me the kindness of taking her own time to do something for me. The least I could do was keep the conversation positive. We laughed and laughed throughout the ride, and it felt like my problems were melting away. Of course, the circumstances didn’t allow me to feel completely normal, but for the moment, I felt better than I had in a long time. We drove up to a non-distinct house in the middle of a dark suburb. I searched up the address again and confirmed that this was indeed the house. Chloe started to get out, and before she could, I grabbed her arm. “What’re you doing?” She asked, confused. “I’ve gotta go in alone.” “Why?” She snapped at me. “I drove all the way here for you to leave me in the car?” “It’s really personal stuff, Clo. Remember, I said no questions asked. I promise it’s nothing too crazy. I just really need to talk to this person. I won’t be more than twenty minutes.” “And if I try and come in with you anyway?” “I’m not getting out of this car if you try to. Please just trust me.” I could tell she was grappling with the idea of leaving me to do whatever mysterious thing I had planned. Still, eventually, she relented and told me to just be quick about it. I gave her a nod and told her I’d be right back. Walking up to the house felt strange. A million thoughts about who would be on the other side of that door ran through my mind. Just after the third knock, a shorter blonde woman with streaks of grey hair opened the door. “Hi, Ms. Turner. I’m Brandon. I wanted to talk to you about my project?” She nodded and motioned for me to come in. From the moment I stepped into her home, I could feel the tension in the air. As soon as I sat down on the couch, she began to talk. “I know you’re not here about some project, Brandon.” I was bewildered at how she knew, and all I could do was fumble over my words, trying to keep up my charade. “Honestly, it was a dumb lie to begin with.” She said. I could see her start to pour a glass of whiskey and then downing it in one go. She offered me some, but I politely declined, not trusting her yet. “How’d you know I was lying?” “Because I’ve dedicated so much of my fucking time to keeping an eye on every weird thing that happens at that park ever since I lost my son, Daniel. When I heard about your brother going missing, I had a feeling you’d come looking for me. A lot of people come to me asking what steps to take because I’ve been so outspoken.” “Why were you so convinced that the park was responsible for taking Daniel?” She laughed at my question as if it was the most ridiculous thing in the world. “When kids get taken, it’s almost always by someone they know. Before I moved out here, I lived my entire life in a small town with maybe two thousand people. Never made an enemy, and I knew just about every Goddamn person by the first name. None of them wanted to take him. You figure out who that leaves.” “Crazy strangers? How would you know that the park is involved?” “Think about it, Brandon. A popular theme park wouldn’t do everything in its power to prevent people from taking your fucking kids? Cameras, Security, other people who go there for a fun time. All of that and my kid still gets snatched never to be seen again? Then they tell me they’ve found absolutely nothing for years? How likely does that sound to you?” I went silent as she continued to speak, contemplating the gravity of her words. “Every single family I’ve talked to. Every one of them said the same thing. Nobody they knew would’ve wanted to target them, and yet they had their kids taken without a trace. For most of them, it happened in a second. One moment they’re looking at a map of the place. The next, their baby is gone forever. If that doesn’t sound like something is going on, then I don’t know what to tell you.” It sounded insane. What would a park do with kids? And how could they do that without anyone seeing them? It didn’t make any sense. “Do you think the owner is involved?” I asked. “I saw that you were investigating him before. Maybe he knows something?” She shook her head. “No. I don’t think so. If anything, that park should be a burden for him. From what I’ve found, that place bleeds money every single year. It hasn’t been profitable in decades. The man hasn’t even made an appearance there since the 90s. But not only that, in one interview, he said he wished the place would just burn in a fire. I’m not sure why he chooses to keep the land, but from everything I’ve gathered, he’s not involved.” “So if you had to guess, you’d say it’s likely that the park has my brother somewhere?” “Think? No. I’m sure of it. Your brother. My son. Every single kid that was stolen since the sixties. When I managed to get into one of the on-park offices, I found a list of kids’ names and their favorite characters. That list didn’t just include my Daniel, it included so many of the poor kids that have gone missing over the decades. And some that would come to go missing in future years. If that’s not damning.” “Future years? They keep tabs on kids? Why the hell didn’t you go to the police?” “I tried!” She snapped, getting frustrated with me for not believing her. “But who’s going to listen to the crazy lady that broke into an amusement park? And who’s going to think that she didn’t just print up a list of names because she has a grudge? Look, Brandon. I know it sounds crazy, and it absolutely is. But that park is fucking evil. No one else wanted to take these kids, the last place they were seen was at Cheesy’s, and Cheesy’s denies having any evidence these kids were taken. Do the fucking math.” Her words echoed in my ears. What she was saying couldn’t be true, could it? If it was, then, unfortunately, I knew exactly where to find Amari. But the big question still was why? What would the park want with a seven-year-old? And how could they have taken him without a single person noticing? “I’m still curious why you’d agree to tell me all of this. And you never told me why we had to do this at your place.” “Because someone has to. I’m going to be honest with you. Fighting that park is impossible. I’ve tried in every conceivable way. But the one thing I can do is bring some kind of closure. As for doing this here… There are fewer rats.” With that, I nodded and walked off. I didn’t feel comfortable enough to say bye because it wasn’t like this was a friendly conversation. I had just learned that it was very likely my brother was taken by a park that I damn near grew up with. So many thoughts were bouncing around in my head that by the time I returned to Chloe, she could immediately tell that something was wrong. “Well, you kept it under twenty minutes, which is great, but you also look like someone stole your lunch money.” “It’s nothing. Just thinking a lot.” Chloe sighed. “Brandon, I can tell you’re hurting. I’ll never know the pain you’re feeling, but please, talk to me. I need you to be okay.” I wanted so badly to tell her, but all I could do was stare at the dashboard. At that time, I couldn’t bring her or Mark into it more than I needed to. Maybe after everything was done. Things were changing every second, and this rabbit hole I was determined to descend into had gone from a mysterious place to an absolutely terrifying one. Her look of anger suddenly turned to one of concern, “Please just say something…” I turned away from her, resolved to my silence. “Fine.” She said quietly. “I know that you’re scared, Brandon. But going through pain alone is the worst way to handle it.” We drove back to my place in silence. I gave a soft, “Bye.” Before getting out of the car and going back up to my room. My parents still hadn’t come back yet, which I found odd but worked out for me because I had one more call to make, and I didn’t want them to overhear me. Jose sounded half-asleep when he picked up the phone. “Hello?” “Yo, man. It’s Brandon.” “Brandon? Hey, I heard what happened I’m really s-“ “Don’t worry about it. You were the first one to mention that kids went missing from that place. That being said, I have some questions. First, how’d you know about that place?” His voice turned serious. “I’ve always been interested in urban legends. And there wasn’t a day where that place didn’t give me weird vibes. Reading about all the disappearances just confirmed things for me.” “Would you say that the park is connected to the kids disappearing?” “Oh, 100%. There’s no way they didn’t catch those kids being taken on camera. If I was a betting man, I’d say they have footage of everything going back a long time.” This piqued my interest. “That’s interesting. So if someone could get that footage, then they could expose everything, right?” “Hypothetically, yes. But you’re not hacking into the computers from the outside. I know that for a fact. And you’re not going to get remotely close enough in the day to look through their files.” “So, what could someone hypothetically do?” “Well, what you would have to do that might work is physically putting in a flash drive with spyware so that you could have access to everything. And that involves a bit of breaking and entering.” “I might know someone that can help with that. The only issue is that I don’t have a flash drive with spyware.” “And that’s where I could help you out, buddy. Meet me after class tomorrow, and I’ll let you have something.” I really wanted to ask why Jose had a flash drive with spyware on it but figured it’d be for the best to leave it alone. The most important thing was that now I had a plan. I’d go to the park, find the security office, use my lock-picking skills to get in, install the spyware, and then prove that those bastards took my brother. I texted Ms. Turner and asked her how she managed to get into Cheesy’s. She had a few questions about my intentions but didn’t push too hard when I gave her soft answers about just being curious. Once I had a basic understanding of what to do, there was one final thing to take care of. I came downstairs, nearly killing myself when I was caught off-guard by a scurrying rat that I later captured and put outside. I looked outside to see that my parents had returned and that the car was parked out front. To that point, I was still resolved to keep Mark and Chloe out of this, and I didn’t want to ask anyone else to drive me. But if I could take the car while they were asleep, I wouldn’t need to. I knew I would be a few hours, but it shouldn’t have mattered if I left late enough. Everything seemed to be coming together perfectly. I went to bed resolved with what I would do. The next day was pretty average save for Chloe being unusually quiet when she hung around me. Mark tried to pry for info, but she kept telling both of us that she was fine. He suggested that we go somewhere after class to cheer her up, but I shot down the idea telling them I had homework to do. Once class ended, I met up with Jose and he gave me the flash drive. He made it a point to stress that once I put it into Security’s computer, I’d need to log in as a guest and open up the program. He claimed that the program should run whenever someone logs in on their personal account. From there, Jose would have remote access and all of the password information. For him, having access to this info was payment enough for giving me the flash drive. Now I had spyware, a means of transportation, and the knowledge of how to get into the park. All I needed was patience. I waited until roughly one in the morning before making my move. Donning all black complete with a bandana wrapped around the lower half of my face, I grabbed my old lock-picking tools, and I was ready to go. I made sure my parents were fast asleep before hopping into my dad’s car. As I turned the keys in the ignition, I took a deep breath and tried to center myself. When I turned off my phone before taking off so that it wouldn’t buzz and give away my location, I noticed a text message. Chloe: Hey, I don’t know if you’re up, but I can’t sleep. You doing okay? It killed me to silence my phone and ignore the message, but I knew that it would be worth it once this was all over. Amari would be back, and I’d be more than okay. I’d be whole once again. I took off towards the park with a single goal in mind, which was to get Amari back home at all costs. I think I zoned out on the drive over because it didn’t feel like I was consciously doing it. I kind of just floated towards the general direction of the park. My mind was devoid of thought. It was just me and the dark road that was simply a pathway to Amari. But once I had passed the sign with Cheesy’s smiling face welcoming you to the park over that stupid fucking slogan, I knew this was it. This was when my life could finally start to be normal again. Instead of pulling into the parking lot, I parked just off the park’s campus at a nearby twenty-four-hour convenience store and made the walk over. I could feel my heartbeat ring in my ears as I made the silent walk through the parking lot. The ominous atmosphere and knowledge of what I was planning to do made every step towards the park feel like I was walking towards a terrifying fate. I couldn’t describe it at the time, but from everything I had learned until that point, the place just seemed off. I knew that I was afraid. My own fear of breaking into a beloved park was to be expected. And if it was true that they were holding kids captive then, of course, that was another concern. But beyond that? There was something else. Something was tickling the primal part of my brain, flashing signals that everything went so much deeper than I could ever understand. But whatever I was feeling had to wait as I walked up to those gates. I could see a large number of rats crawling out from under the entrance, which caused me to jump back in surprise. Feeling down the cold steel, I attempted to jingle the entrance open just in case. I noticed the electric keypad lock and knew that I had to resort to the actual plan. Looking over to my left, I saw that there was a set of bushes flanking the gates. From what Ms. Turner had told me, kids used to climb under those bushes to gain access into the park, but they had since installed sheets of wood to block the crawlspace. Of course, with the park operating in the red, these sheets weren’t exactly the most expensive or durable and could easily be kicked out. Normally it’d be a struggle to do this because I’d be noticed pretty quickly, but with no one there, it only took a few hard kicks to the wood for me to break it down. Once it was out of the way, I was able to army crawl under the bushes and into the second park check-point. There it was as simple as hopping a turnstile and strolling into the park. I had actually managed to make it inside. Even though I had done what I thought would be the most challenging part, it felt wrong. There was no security at the front, and I didn’t see any flashlights in the distance. I assumed I’d have to be ducking and dodging a lot, but the place almost looked abandoned. Could they really be struggling so much that they couldn’t afford security guards? Regardless of how much money they were bleeding, protecting your property is a necessity, so why wasn’t this more challenging? As I made my way through the park, I stopped a few times to marvel at what the place looked like wholly shut down. Looking for the security office was difficult. I had only been to that office once, and I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to commit the path to memory. Eventually, I conceded that I was lost and was going to resort to using the park’s online map to find where I was. Maybe I could even find a landmark to locate the general area of the office. No sooner had I pulled my phone out did I hear the very distinct sound of a can being kicked in the distance. I immediately scanned the area but saw no flashlights and heard no voices. Logically it made sense to assume it was an animal, but in the back of my mind, something was screaming that that was the wrong assumption. I continued to scan the area, and to my horror, what I saw confirmed every dark fear I had about this place. Standing in the distance and clearly facing in my direction was Ronald. He was softly illuminated under a dim pathway light so I couldn’t get a good look, but what I saw unnerved me to my core. His suit was absolutely filthy, and his ordinarily perky ears hung low. Parts of his costume were in various states of decay, and he stood hunched forward with his arms dangling lazily in front of him. For a second, neither of us moved, but then in an instant, he charged. I screamed out, “Oh shit,” and hauled ass out of there. I didn’t know where I was going, but anywhere was better than there. I could hear his footsteps quickly gaining on me. For as clumsy as I thought the costume would make him, he was coming at me like an Olympic sprinter. I knew that I’d have no chance to outrun him and that my only real option was to hide. I dove towards the Crazy Mouse rollercoaster and hid amongst the support structure, making sure to keep absolutely still against one of the beams as he raced past me. Millions of thoughts were firing in my head. Before I had even a second to process them, I looked up and saw Nina impossibly contorting her body to clutch onto the horizontal beams around her. She, too, was twisted. She was twice her regular size, and her beak was missing. In its place was a large, open hole in the shape of a smile with a few human teeth embedded around the hole’s borders. Her costume was also rotting away and in place of her pom-poms were human-like hands with disturbingly long fingers that each seemed to have more fingers growing from them. Her once sultry eyes were now bloodshot and sunken into her face. Her famous pizza shirt was gone revealing multiple patches of missing feathers. She stared down at me like a spider examining its prey, and I could see drips of saliva flowing freely from her mouth. As soon as we made eye contact, she descended upon me with lightning speed. I ran into the darkness, not caring where I ended up. For a brief moment, I looked back and saw that she was running on all fours, easily climbing over all obstacles in her path. Not only did I have to worry about Nina, but Ronald was still lurking in the darkness, and I had nothing to defend myself with. For a moment, I thought that she would surely catch me as I had no place to go. But by sheer luck, I spotted the Haunted Estate ride and figured I could at least hide in there briefly and come up with a plan to escape. But as I made a beeline towards the ride, something grabbed my ankle and pushed me to the ground. Before I knew it, I was being dragged behind a patch of bushes, and I could only look up in horror to meet my captor’s eyes. Dizzy was looking down at me. His long freezing cold fingers wrapped all the way around my head, and he made sure to keep enough pressure to make it painful. As expected, he also looked to be in a state of disarray. His muzzle hung like a deflated balloon, and his straw hat had numerous holes in it on top of his overall look of rot. I could see chunks of his costume missing in random sections, and parts of the costume seemed to hang like loose skin. Using his other hand, he reached into my pocket and pulled out the flash drive and crushed it in one motion. Then he pulled out my lock-picking kit and flung it far from where he had me pinned. He raised a long finger to the end of his drooping mouth and made a “silence” motion before getting me to my feet and looking around. He stood much taller than he usually did. Last time I saw him, he was around my height at six feet, but this version easily stood a foot taller than me, and his arms hung low to his feet. I was in utter shock, and sweat was pouring down my face. Here before me was this… monster and I didn’t know if I could run, fight, or reason with it. But it didn’t matter because I didn’t even get to choose. In the blink of an eye, he reached out to grab me and shoved me into his body through a partially open slit in the suit. In my mind, I was dead. It was pitch black and freezing inside the costume. Something was hard and small at my back, and I could feel little buglike things crawling around me. If it wasn’t for my mask, they definitely would’ve invaded my mouth. But did it matter? I had been caught, my flash drive was destroyed, and I couldn’t even make it to the security office. On top of it all, I was going to die at the hands of some otherworldly creature just because I wanted to see my little brother again. Tears began to flow liberally as I slowly resigned myself to my horrible fate. Thoughts about everything leading up to that point raided my mind. Despite every shitty thought that permeated my mind, the ones that stood out were of my friends and family. Mark. Chloe. My parents. And most of all, Amari. I’d never see them again. And why? Because I was afraid to ask for help? Because I felt that I could deal with something that I obviously didn’t even understand? The least I could’ve done was be honest. I could’ve said goodbye, or I love you. They’d at least have that closure of knowing how much I cared about them. And now, this was my punishment. I was in there for what felt like hours. But to my complete surprise, I could feel a set of cold boney hands wrap around my body and rip me from the inside of my captor. I was back outside the park. Dizzy stood over me, and I could see numerous roaches crawling in and out of the slit that I had assumed to be my tomb. I scrambled to my feet, but he didn’t move. He pointed towards the street in what I could only think was his way of telling me to go. I could see Ronald and Nina in the distance making their way towards us. To my horror, they had brought company. Numerous other deformed characters were following them, peeking out of the darkness and descending on me. Even though I was in the parking lot, I knew I wouldn’t be safe until I was completely off-campus. I didn’t know whether Dizzy had intentionally helped me escape or if this was simply their way of warning me to stay out. Maybe it was both. But before I ran off toward the safety of my car, Dizzy began to choke out something that seemed to be akin to his version of speech. “Brother. Not. Safe. Here. Deep. Soon. Go.” “What the fuck?” I thought. I didn’t have time to contemplate what he meant. I simply ran and didn’t look back until I was in the car and already speeding back home. I only stopped after I had been driving for half an hour. Finally, I pulled over to cry. It was all hitting me at once. This went so much deeper than I could’ve ever imagined. It was far more than I could’ve bargained for, and I had no idea where to even start. I pulled out my phone to check the time, and the first thing I saw were numerous missed calls and texts from my parents, asking where I was and why the car was missing. “Shit!” I yelled, slamming my fist on the dashboard. I took off towards home, knowing that a storm was waiting as soon as I pulled up. And that’s precisely what it was. A couple police officers were parked outside of my house, standing with my parents outside. I knew I was in a world of trouble. My whole world was about to come crashing down for the second time in one night. They absolutely tore into me. Though I left out that I was at the park, I tried to explain that I was out looking for Amari, but they were livid. I wanted my parents to understand that I had done this for the right reasons. I wanted them to know that I was trying to cope with it the best I could and that the reason I was out was the same reason they had also been away so much. We were all out there searching. I knew at the end of the day, they needed me to be safe. And how could I fight them on that? Especially right after losing one of their kids. I was told that I could no longer go out late or use the car. My grades had to be absolutely perfect from here on out and that I shouldn’t make any plans for the summer because I was getting a job. I had lost in a lot of ways that night, but this felt the most deflating. All I could do was nod and walk up those steps without saying another word. That night, vivid images of those creatures hunting me down made for the most terrifying sleep I’ve ever had. Despite the trauma that would burn horrible memories into my psyche for years to come, it wasn’t the creatures or my parents yelling at me that I was focused on that night. No. As I drifted off to sleep, the thought at the forefront of my mind was that as Dizzy stood over me, his name tag no longer said, “Your Pal, Dizzy the Dog.” It clearly read, “Your Pal, Daniel.”
Continuing The flight continued along as smooth as a baby’s bottom. Nary a bump or jostle. Hours later, I was playing with the in-flight entertainment system when Major Nak awoke. I toasted him with a fresh drink and asked if he felt fully functional. “Doctor?”, he asked, “Have you slept at all?” “On the flight? Nah.”, I replied, “I slept well last night. Besides, this flight’s been fascinating.” “Do you always drink like that?” he asks. “Of course not!”, I replied, indignantly, “Sometimes, I really twist off and tie one on.” “Seriously?” he asks, shocked. “Major, I’ll let you I on a little secret.”, I said in confidence, “I’m a member of a certain class of unusual creatures; I’m an ethanol-fueled carbon-based organism. Many other geologists are as well. We tend to be drawn to that particular science.” He stares at me with a look that is a cross between incredulity and “you fuckin’ with me?” “You’re not normal…”, was his only reply as he shook his head. “Not by a long shot!”, I laugh, drain my drink, and signal for another. After one arrives, Major Nak stumbles to the head. A few minutes later, the annunciator notes that we are on the flight path to Bhavnagar Airport and should be landing in 20 minutes. Another drink and beer chaser later, we’re buckled into our seats and on final approach. We land light as a feather without a crosswind, a perfect three-point touchdown. We taxi for a bit and stop out on the tarmac, next to a large non-descript gray-colored four-door sedan. We begin to deplane and I see my luggage being loaded into the sedan already. Before I get off the plane, I am asked for my passport. The steward of the flight stamps it and welcomes me to India. Off to the sedan and I see it’s larger than most usual 4-door types. It’s a minor limo of sorts, with rear and front-facing seats, like an old London taxi, except one wall is taken up with a fold-out bar. Oh, I’m going to like this job. I am instructed to sit in the back. Major Nak is sitting up front, working on papers of some sort. I am told the travel time to Alang, the place where I’ll be staying, is approximately one to one and a half hours. I am asked to please make myself comfortable and if I desire, there is a humidor on the back forward-facing seat. I am to help myself to that and the bar, and enjoy the ride. Which I did. The scenery was your bog-standard usual coastal highway sort of stuff, moderately interesting for the first 5 minutes, then it just sort of blurs together. I sampled the humidor and most of the bottles in the bar while we wound our way south to Alang. It was getting late in the afternoon, so it was decided that I would be taken to the “Raj”, the company’s corporate house for when high-ranking business types, visitors, and guests arrive for more than a single overnight. Alang is a company town, and that company is the Ship Breaker’s. It’s a fairly common sort of one-industry town; kind of shabby, kind of old, kind of desperate. It’s not horrible like some oil towns in West Siberia, Venezuela, or West Africa; but it’s no Paris, Texas either. There are some green areas, quite a slew of shops selling sea-sailing ship-sourced stuff, and a few residences. We travel along and I can smell the diesel, dejection, and desperation in the air. This place is an area of low wages, hard work, little to no environmental or HSE controls, and throngs of men wanting to work. This is going to be some kind of experience. We wheel around a well-planted and manicured corner and arrive at the “Raj”. It is a colonial-era, how can I put it? It’s a fucking mansion. Situated behind security fences on grounds of approximately 4 acres, at least. It’s an Edwardian or Georgian pile some four stories thick. There is a security shack out front and even Major Nak has to show his ID in order to enter. They take my photo, particulars, and have me sign-in. Looks like I’ll be the only VIP staying here for the duration of my contract. However, I certainly won’t be alone. There are butlers, cooks, chauffeurs, maids, and other forms of domestic help. And they are all there just to make my stay as pleasant as possible. We drive into the compound, for the lack of a better term, come to a thick security door where the driver punches in a code and we are allowed to enter the underground parking facility. There are several security vehicles parked down here, a couple of motorcycles that I intend to ask to borrow. Before we went underground, I saw at least two teams of security forces patrolling the grounds with huge Alsatian dogs. “Is all this security really necessary?” I asked Major Nak. “Better safe than sorry”, he bewilderingly replies. “OK”, I reply, “Thanks for the clear-cut answer.” He smiles and confides that they’ve never had any trouble here, but since it’s where VIPs and corporate shills stay, they make a brave noise to dissuade anyone with evil on their mind. Shipbreaking is big business, with receipts measured annually in the billions of rupees. Yes, I agree, better safe than sorry. We exit the sedan as two worker bees attend to my luggage. We are lead to an elevator and get in, take a quick ride due up, and exit on the main floor. “Holy shit!”, I exclaim lowly. “This place is incredible.” Full late 1800’s glory expressed in dark, thick hand-carved wood, leather, and dripping in opulence. It’s quite the sight, and it takes me a minute to realize that all this pomp and circumstance is being laid out for me. Now it’s Major Nak’s time to smile on my bewilderment. He asks me to walk with him as he needs to ‘introduce me to the staff’. But first, a young lady appears, in a traditional maid’s outfit, and asks if I require anything. “Loaded question”, I smile, “But I am a bit dry. If you could rustle me up a drink, I’d be beholden to you.” She smiles and looks to Major Nak for a translation. He speaks in Hindi and she smiles wider and scurries off. “What did you tell her?” I ask. “That you’re American and can’t be expected to speak normal English”, he laughs, “Plus I told her of your favorite drink.” “Why, thanks Major.”, I smile. “Anytime, Doctor.”, he replies. We walk along and the cute maid reappears with my drink. Major Nak is holding off and abstaining for the time being. We walk along and meet the head of the household, the Majordomo, one Mr. Kanada. We exchange greetings. “If you require anything, Doctor”, he tells me, “Please let me know. I have read your contract so when I say ‘anything’, that is precisely what is meant.” “I will do that”, I reply and give him a hearty handshake in return. Suddenly, a young male individual type appears. He looks very intent and earnest. “Doctor Rocknocker?” He asks. “Yes. And you are?”, I reply. “I am Sanjay. I am your personal assistant while you are here in India.” He smiles back. “Nice to meet you, Sanjay”, I reply, “What are your qualifications?” I’m not messing around. I’m going to have a full tour on this job. He appears quite young but does have a good handle on English. At least English that I can understand. “I hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Geology. I am going for my Master’s next semester, once this virus business is over with. I speak Hindi, Urdu, English, and some Russian. I carry a light, the time, and your favorite vodka. I am 100% at your disposal.” He smiles and hands me an airline-sized miniature of Blest Vodka; a local favorite. I look at Major Nak, “Oh, I like him. Good choice.” Sanjay beams. Major Nak smiles as well. Major Nak continues, “Sanjay here can show you the rest of the house. If you’ll excuse me, I must be off to camp”. “Most certainly, Major Nak. It’s been a pleasure.” I reply as we shake hands in a very manly fashion. “I hope to see you before you leave, Doctor. Perhaps at the yards to see your progress. “ he notes. “I look forward to that, Major.” I smile He smiles to Sanjay, and does a briskly military about-face and disappears. “Doctor Rocknocker”, Sanjay continues… “Sanjay.”, I interrupt, “Call me ‘Rock’, it’ll save everyone a lot of time.” “Oh, OK. Sure. Doct…um, Rock”, he says, as I smile back. “You must have made a big impression on Major Nak. He hardly talks to anyone he oversees.” “Oversees?”, I smile, “OK, he seemed harmless enough. Affable chap. Can’t hold his liquor worth a shit though. But you’re not to say I said so. ..” “Understood, Doc…Rock”, Sanjay smiles, “Let me show you the rest of the house. Let’s go to the basement first. “ “OK, fine. You lead and I’ll follow.” I replied. The basement was one of wonders. A large heated and chilled pool, a sauna, fairly well kitted out gym, and a game room. The game room held a snooker table, a billiards table, a ping-pong table, and a Ms. PacMan table video game and a Galaga upright game. Vintage. Sweet. There were cupboards full of ping-pong paddles, ping-pong balls, pool, and snooker cues, as well as the remotes for the sound system and large, flat-screen TV, with uncensored 7-satellite feed, hanging on one wall. There were several comfy chairs strewn around. This would be a nice place to relax after a long day of blowing the living shit out of old rusty boats. “Nice”, I noted, “But no beer cooler or bar in the rec room?” Sanjay smiled and motioned me to the elevator. “Moment.” was all he said. He did speak a bit of Russian. We go up two floors and exit the elevator. One side of this floor was taken up with a huge library, complete with a huge antique harp, a very shiny black Steinway grand piano, hundreds if not thousands of books, and several large leather chairs and a couple of leather couches and ashtrays strewn about. Another place to waste a modicum of time. Then Sanjay points me north to the other side of the floor. There was a huge bar, fully stocked, with about a dozen barstools in front. There were at least a dozen taps of Indian, British, and Indonesian beer. There were hundreds of bottles of non-repeating liquor. There was a large ice machine humming away in the corner, full bar glass set-up, wash station, and dishwasher under one corner of the bar. There were several under-bar coolers full of carbonated drinks, juices, and other potential mixers. “We have two dedicated barmen at your disposal”, Sanjay smiled, “Or you can go ahead and use it self-serve if you desire.” I look at the empty glass in my hand and decide we’ll go ahead and inaugurate it now and not bother to call the barmen. Sanjay, eager to please, runs behind the bar and asks what I’d like. “Well, since we’re in India”, I say, rubbing my chin, “Let’s start out with a nice IPA.” “Certainly”, he replies, “Light or dark?” as they had two on tap. “Oh, dark, I think.”, I said, “And since you’re back there, why not grab yourself one and get me 100 milliliters of the finest chilled house vodka.” “Yes, Doctor!”, he smiled and fetched our drinks. Sanjay and I spent an hour or two at the bar getting to know each other. Several times, house employees rolled through to see if I needed any dinner or a cigar or… “Good lord”, I say to Sanjay after the fourth one in an hour was dismissed, “They keep this up and I might take them up on something off the menu.” “I can arrange that”, Sanjay smirked. “Thank you, no. That was a joke.”, I told him, “I’ve been married 39 years to the finest partner and deadliest crack shot this side of Annie Oakley. Besides, I have no desire for any of that sort of extracurricular shenanigans. It was a joke. Seriously.” “Understood, Rock”, Sanjay said. “I’m not married, but I am engaged. I understand fully.” “Good and congratulations”, I replied, “No need to get off on the wrong foot or anything.” “Or anything?” Sanjay smirks and raises an eyebrow. “Keep that up and I might just keep you on as my assistant.” I said, “You will need a good sense of humor before this all over.” Sanjay quaffed his beer and smiled broadly. After I had him get me another beer and asked for my room as I was needing a cigar. He pulled out a phone, dialed a few numbers, and Hindi’ed directly into the device for a minute. “No worries, Rock”, he said, “One will be here directly.” “Fine”, I replied, “Now Sanjay, this job is not all skittles and beer, if you take my meaning.” “Oh, look. Your cigars have arrived.” He says, totally distracting me. An ancient butler pushing a silver tea cart appears. On the cart is a very large humidor full of many different shades, shapes, and sizes of cigars. I went to grab one when the butler stops me and tells me to make a selection. “Oh, oh, oh! Very nice.” I say and point to a likely looking Oscuro Churchill. He takes the cigar, carefully wipes it with fine cheesecloth, and asks what type of cut I like; V-cut, punch, or slant. “Oh, V-cut, if you please,” I reply. He V-cuts my cigar and with his with gloved hands, holds it out for me to inspect. “Lovely,” I reply. I jam the cigar in my yap and start digging around the pockets of my field vest for my lighter. He taps me on the shoulder and extends a lit piece of cedar bark. The ‘traditional’ British way of lighting a cigar. After all that, he tells me his direct number is 214 and that if I need anything more to have one of the staff ring him. With that, he turns heel and exits without another word. “Well”, I smirk, “That was weird.” Sanjay just smiles and tells me to get used to it. They will do everything here for you if you allow them. “Yeah, I’ll bet.”, I say, get up and pour myself a new beer. A ‘Tiger’ this time. I ask Sanjay if he’s ready for a refill and he tells me he’s good. I grab another 100 milliliters of chilled Old Fornicator Vodka and sit back down at the bar. “Now, where were we? Ah, yes. Can you be a hard ass, Sanjay? Can you tell your peers ‘no’?” I ask. “Will I have to?” he asks. “Yep.” I say, “Damn, this is a really fine cigar. But working with me, you best develop a thick skin and a hard head.” “Oh, OK”, he says, obviously confused. “Right.” I say, “Serious talk time. I’m the boss on this project. What I says, goes. No questions. Period. You’re my de facto second in command. We are here to teach 24 of your comrades how to blast boats to smithereens and how to train the next set of like-minded individuals. This is a step up for them, every one. It means more money, more security, more prestige. I need only 24 and from what I hear, there’s what, up to 30,000 workers here? Guess what? That means a lot that are going to go home disappointed. They might hold that against me and you, Me? I don’t give the tiniest shit. But I’m going to leave after a couple of weeks. You’re here for the duration and going to take over my spot. Some of these characters might get shirty and decide to tap dance on your head if you tell them no. You have to be ready for that. Can you deal with that situation?” Sanjay just sits there and looks intently at the finely polished hardwood floor. “This is old hat for me,” I tell him. “I’ve had to tell some good friends that they weren’t picked for the job or contract. It’s business. And some have been less than adult about how they handled the rejection. There have been threats, usually hollow and empty. There have been altercations, usually unimportant. There have been fights with bloodied noses, broken arms, and police reports. But in the end, I had to stick to my guns. You ready for that, young Mr. Sanjay?” “Thank you, Doctor Rock…”, he replies, “I never thought about it that way. But, yes, I think I can handle that situation if it arises. It’s business like you say and I am able to defend myself.” “That’s good”, I reply, “At least physically. What about mentally? You might have to tell a good friend to get stuffed; in a nice manner, of course.” “I think so.”, he replied, “I’ll follow your lead over the next couple of weeks. Call it ‘on the job training’.” “Mr. Sanjay”, I say, “I do think you’ll do.” We talk a bit more and I decide that after one more round of drinks, I’ll call 214, grab a couple of cigars and have Sanjay show me my room. On the way down the long hall, Sanjay is smiling in a weird sort of way. “OK, give,” I say. “No, no yet. Wait until you see your room.” He snickers. Now I’m worried. We come to a large, polished, and engraved oak door. He produces a key from out of the depths of a Stephan King novel, twists it in the lock, and the door silently swings open. “Holy shit!”, I exhale. The room is enormous. En suite bathroom where one could hold an Olympics meet in the Jacuzzi. American Standard bog, flanked on either side by bidets. Twin sinks, a shower with tropical, right out of the ceiling rainfall, or the new waterfall shower design. Or both. With steam function. Not boiling water, but live steam like any sauna. “I could get to like this”, I mutter. The room is fully carpeted with tapestries on the walls. A large, Victorian oak desk is over on one side, with a very nice dual-screen computer work station at my disposal. There is a note with my login and password in the leather-bound legal pad on the ergonomic computer chair before it. There is a huge flat-screen TV over on the other wall with the same 7-satellite feed as in the rec room. “Whoa!” I say, “Data overload.” My luggage is next to the built-in wardrobes. One houses a bespoke mini-bar. “The maids would have put your clothes away”, Sanjay explains, “But they were locked. I can call them if you’d like.” “Sure”, I reply, “Why not?” I see two of the aluminum cases that I marked “Careful: Scientific Instruments” are next to the computer workstation. Two maids presently arrive and I unlock my luggage. They set to putting it away and are tsking that it needs to be pressed first. “Perhaps later”, I said, “It’s been a day and I’m a bit knackered.” “I will turn down your bed then”, one of the nubiles remarks. Sanjay is now smiling way, way too broadly. I go through the door to the master bedroom. “Holy shit squared,” I say. There is a huge four-poster Edwardian? Georgian? bed. The carved wooden uprights are the diameter of telephone poles. I’m a pretty large person, but on this bed, I’ll need a personal transponder as its large enough for me to get lost. Easily 3x4 meters and the mattress is nice and firm, just the way I like it. On top of the bed are blankets, a comforter, a quilt, an afghan, and more feather-stuffed keep-warms than I ever saw outside of Siberia. Under those, I’d sweat away to nothingness; but it looks so damned comfy. The bed properly turned back, I thank the maid and make the noises like I want her to get the fuck out so I can get horizontal. Sanjay notes that and has her and the other maid exit. All my clothes are put away, even my field vest I discarded when we walked into the room is tutted over and hung up. “So, Rock?” he laughs, “What do you think?” “I think if I didn’t have a serious job to do, I’d come down with some damned virus that would require me to stay home and socially distance myself.” I laugh. “Sorry, but work begins tomorrow. What time would you like for me to ring you?” he asks. “Right”, I said, “About that. I want to be on the job at 0600. Not leaving here at 0600, not wheels up at 0600. I want to be ready to select my 24 candidates beginning at 0600 tomorrow. I leave that to you. When do we need to leave, so when do I need to be rung up?” “I’ll call you at… 0430…?” he cautiously says. “Fine.” I reply, “Make certain that the notices I sent were posted. I want my 100 applicants ready and on-site spot-on 0600. I’ll need a large black coffee in a travel mug. Green?” “Green?” he asks. “My shorthand for ‘are we in agreement?’” I say. “Oh, yes. Rock. Very green. See you in the morning.” He says, shakes my hand and departs; but not before leaving me the room key. I lock the door and strip down. A steamy shower and a couple of very well-appointed in-room mini-bar bourbons later, I’m going over Email. Seeing nothing that can’t wait until the next day or two, I flop into bed and immediately become a missing person. The phone cheerily chirps at me at precisely 0430. If I had my Casull, that phone would be in another dimension. As it is, I drag my carcass to vertical, grab the phone, say “Thanks” and hang up. A quick shower, a couple of shower sunrisers, and I’m feeling much better. Damn near human. I gather the day’s necessities, don my vest, and Stetson over my usual field outfit and toddle downstairs. I’m not 5 steps out of the room when the maids arrive with the intent of committing premeditated neatness in my room. I wave to them, and gargle an obligatory “Morning”, and head down to the main floor. I am greeted by Sanjay, who is holding a large metal thermal coffee travel mug for me. “You are a gentleman, scholar, and life-saver”, I say to him. He beams in the way-too-early morning light. “Breakfast, Doctor?” he asks. “Just coffee. I don’t want to eat too much these first few days. ‘Delhi belly’ and all that. Too much work to do.” I remonstrate. “Understood.” Sanjay complies, “Cigar?” “Yes, it is,” I say. “I have brought along a box of them for you today,” he adds, smiling. “Outstanding”, I say and sip my coffee. Surprisingly, it is of the Greenland variety. “The driver is waiting. Anytime you are ready, Rock”, Sanjay informs me. “Give me a few minutes,” I say as I review the morning edition of the Times of India. I was actually waiting for the fine coffee to take effect. A few minutes later, we’re headed down the coast to the beach; right where the rubber hits the road. Or rather, the ships scrape the sand. Alang is the biggest ship breaking facility in the world. There are more than 400 ship breaking platforms here. They break about 1,500 ships every year. At any time about 300 people can be working on a single ship. The total workforce here is 40,000 plus. There are complaints about the treatment of workers and their service conditions. Ships are broken down crudely by hand using the minimum machinery; typically oxygen lances and welding torches. It’s a horror show. Huge, rusty, jagged pieces of ships everywhere. Puddles of every color, containing noxious chemicals of every description. Lead, organotins such as tributyltin in anti-fouling paints, polychlorinated organic compounds, by-products of combustion such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, dioxins, and furans are found in ships and pose a great danger to the environment and personnel. There is a singular lack of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) here. Thatched, woven palm-frond ‘hardhats’. Steel-toed sandals; if you grasp the irony. No coveralls, gloves nor much else. Ragged shorts, torn shirts, and car-tire soled sandals are the uniforms here. Well, if there’s one thing I can do, it’s change this. We wheel into an area containing a huge tent-like structure, a couple of Quonset huts, and a smattering of non-descript outbuildings. The place is swarming with workers. All male, all young, and all looking to be part of the chosen 24 today. We park and I’m shown into the large tent-like structure. At the head of the tent are a table, a PA system microphone, and a desk where we can sit down and tally the day’s take. “OK, Sanjay”, I say, “Time to work. Remember I sent ahead the qualifications I’m looking for in trainees?” I had cabled ahead for them to pre-select 50 candidates, 175-225 pounds, 5’ 9” to 6’ 3”, preferably unmarried bachelors, which tend to be the best kind. They must be English reading and speaking. I need the larger guys to handle the physical demands of the job. They need to be within the height requirements as those are the heights my pre-ordered coveralls will fit. They must be fluent in spoken and written English as I don’t have time to learn Hindi. There were easily 5 times that number milling about just outside. “OK, here’s the deal”, I said, “Here are 100 numbered chits. You will pass them out to the first 100 gents outside that pass initial muster. That is their ticket inside. Pucker time. Think you can handle the throng?” “I’ve got this, Rock”, he says, with a stalwart look. “OK, but if you need help, you know where I am,” I reply. I busy myself constructing a 10x10 grid on a sheet of paper. I number it 1 to 100. This will keep tabs on our candidates. Behind me, on the wall, are 24 brass tokens, ‘chits’, about the size of a US$1 Silver Bullion coin, about 1.5 inches in diameter, numbered 1 to 24. They have a flat space for a name to be engraved upon. These are the coveted chits that enable a person to graduate out of the swill and into the ranks of blasterdom and eventual teaching. Right now, they are the most coveted possession within hundreds of miles. One by one, pre-selected individuals are filtering in and finding seats. Sanjay is doing quite the job, as so far, they all fill the bill nicely. Whether they pass or fail muster will be determined in the next couple of hours. I sip my coffee and smoke my cigars. The room swells by the numbers. Soon, all the seats are taken and Sanjay rejoins me at the head podium. “Good job, Mr. Sanjay”, I say, shaking his hand. “Let’s take a couple of minutes and then we shall begin, OK?” He agrees. I head to the loo and he takes my coffee for a refill. We reappear a few minutes later and I grab the microphone for the PA system. I key the mike, “Hello! Please, everyone, quiet down and pay attention!” Very few replies much less capitulation. Sanjay stands and shouts something in Hindi. The room goes deathly silent. “Remind me to ask you to teach me that,” I say and return to the job at hand. “Gentlemen. Welcome to the selection board for Blaster’s Assistants. If you are not here for that particular position, the exit’s to the rear.” No one moves, except to shift to pay me more attention. “OK. Great. I am Dr. Rocknocker, the headmaster of this special education class. I am the boss. The hookin’ bull. The head cheese. I am the Maharaja of this project. What I says, goes. I am an American, I am a geologist, and I don’t tolerate tomfoolery or bullshit from anyone. I say jump, you say ‘how high’? I say shit and you ask ‘what color’? You will follow my instructions implicitly, without question. Are we in agreement?” I ask. There are a few feeble “Yeah’s”, and “OK’s” that drift up out of the crowd. “Gentlemen. I am an American, as I said, and I’m old, weary, and slightly hard of hearing. I don’t expect you to use your indoor voice around me. You answer so I can hear you, loud and clear. Understand?” “Yes.” Comes a few half-hearted attempts. “GOD DAMN IT! I’m the fuckin’ deaf one. DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?!?” “Yes, Doctor!” came the reply. “What? I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” “YES, DOCTOR!” came the thunderous response. “Outstanding,” I reply. There were some snickers and chuckles in the crowd. It was time to toughen up the crowd and see if I can thin the ranks early. “Gentlemen! Your attention.” I roar. I had their attention. I hold up my gloved left hand. I rip off the glove and show everyone my physical deformity. There were gasps, groans, and a couple of less hearty souls bolting for the door. “I received this in a Russian rig accident years ago. It was not from a blasting accident. I’ve never had one and don’t intend on starting now. If this bothers you, leave. This is me and I’m the instructor.” I announced. “That fact will not change.” Physical deformities here really scare some folks. I figured I’d get this out of the way straight off, and that would be one less thing to worry about. We lost three with that revelation. “Groovy,” I said as I replace my glove. “Now, we will begin the final selection. You all have your numbered tokens, one through a hundred. If you thought because you had a low number, you’d be first, forget it. I have a random number generator application on my phone, set from one to one hundred. And the first number is number…Lucky 13! Lucky 13. Come forward, front and center, and be recognized.” I say. Sanjay is seated next to me with our book of the job. He’ll be handling secretarial duties whilst I do the interviewing. “Your token?” I ask. The young gent hands me lucky number 13. “Fine.” I say, “Name?” Name go in book. “Age? Company number? Years with the company? Married? If so, children?” All data goes into the book in the proper zones. I ask a few questions about the job, to make sure they know what they’re in for. “How’s your English?” I ask. “I speaks it very goodly”, was the reply. “Marvelous.” I pick up this month’s Journal of Explosives Engineering monthly and hand it to him. “Page 22. Read the first paragraph, please.” I instruct him. He fumbles with the magazine, counts singly to page 22, and tries to read some random, but not first, paragraph. I retrieve the magazine, thank him, and tell him we’ll be in touch. Everyone and I mean everyone, chosen or not, will be personally told of their results. I mean, it’s only right and fair. It’s the way I’ve done business for 40 years and it’s worked pretty well so far. Candidates number 9, 57, and 42 results in much the same way. “Number 77!” I call. He lopes up to the podium. “Your token, please,” I say He hands it over. We gather the information and he’s unmarried and without children. How refreshing. I hand him the journal and ask him to read the last paragraph on page 52. “iRing has announced, “a breakthrough technology in ring design for underground mines” that uses a completely new blast design model. The development of this innovative blasting technique uses a unit charge and stress reflection methodology in conjunction with electronic detonators to design ring patterns with the objective of transforming underground blasting operations into primary crushing operations.” “Your name again?” I ask “I am Waazir Naidu.” He replies. “Mr. Naidu, welcome aboard,” I say as I hand him his brass token. “You are trainee number one. Do not lose your token. It is your key up out of the swill.” He smiles broadly and turns to the crowd to display his brass letter of acceptance. There are growls from the crowd, as well as a smattering of applause. “We will reconvene in Outbuilding #2 at 1300 hours. See you there.” I say and shake his hand. He’s all beaming smiles as he almost literally floats out the door. We spent the rest of the morning thinning the herd. There were some judgment calls, but by 1130 hours, we were down to two candidates and one last brass token. “Number 79!” I call. He approaches, we do the usual and get his information. “Please read paragraph three on page…oh, I don’t know, 31.” He fumbles with the magazine a while and stutters and stammers somewhat. “OK, thanks.” I say, “We’ll let you know.” “OK, number 5! The best and last number 5!” “About time!’ He scowls. “Excuse me?” I said. “You really are deaf, Yankee benchod.” He sneers quietly; but loud enough for me to hear. He figures he’s a shoo-in; last number called, last chit on the board. “Sanjay, a moment,” I ask. “This “benchod”? Not a term of endearment, I take it?” “Ah, no”, he stammers. “And it means?” I ask. “You don’t want to know.” Sanjay hopefully replies. “But, yes, I do. I insist.” I reply. “It means colloquially ‘motherfucker’. ‘Sister fucker’ literally.” He splutters. “Hmmm. OK. A new term for my dictionary. Fine. Let us continue.” Name, age, etc. all go in book. I hand him the magazine. He almost rips it from my hands. “OK, please read the ad on page 55. All of it.” I instruct. He flips the magazine to page 55. There’ a half-page ad in Russian for a new form of blasting cap super-boosters. “I can’t read that.” He complains. “Well, then me ol’ mucker; looks like you’re just shit out of luck. Good day.” I say. “Sanjay”, I say, “Go outside and find number 79. He’s our last candidate trainee.” “You said you wanted good English readers.” The rejected complains. “Yes”, I agreed, “But I also need people that can follow instructions and not have a Gibraltar size chip on their shoulder. I’m the boss, and what I say goes. And I say you go, dick cheese. Ta-ta.” He realizes his mistake and beings to entreat me with tales of woe. “If that was a loose blasting wire, we’d all be dead. I don’t need an attitude. I need people with brains enough to listen. Now, piss off. We’re done here.” I say. “Benchod fucker”, he snarls. “I keel you.” Luckily my coffee mug was nearly half empty. Otherwise, it could have really left a mark across his face where I slammed him with it. He’s down on the ground, wondering what hit him. I’m standing over him, towering and glowering. It was that kind of day. I don’t have time for monks resisting the carnival. “You get the fuck out of my sight, you sawed-off little prick. You’re lucky I’m in a good mood and don’t give you a fucking C-4 enema. Or kick your scrawny ass to death. You might still have your shit job here in the yard, but I hear from anyone one more foul oath or unkind word out of you and you’re going to be Alsatian chow back at the Raj. You diggin’ me, Beaumont” He just looked at me with eyes as wide as cheap paper plates at a windy Sunday picnic. “Get out of here, you asshole.” I snarled and puffed mightily on my cigar. He got up and scarpered. He didn’t even take the time to dust off. Sanjay arrived with number 79 just as he hit the exit. I hand number 79, one Mr. Yudhishthira Bahaiti, brass token number 24. “Welcome aboard. Sorry about the foul-up. It’s been handled. See you in building #2 at 1300 hours.” I say. “Sanjay? Lunch?” I suggest. “I could really use a fresh coffee.” After lunch, Sanjay and I are smoking away in Outbuilding #2. It’s about 1245 hours or so and already a couple of new recruits have appeared. They are sitting in one of the 24 seats which look for all the world like elementary school desks way back in the day. There are 24 locker boxes stacked along one wall. These are the new locker boxes for my recruits. These contain a number of specialty items which they will now need in the execution of their new jobs. Some of it could be considered quite pricey and there are needs for security, especially since this bunch will be dealing with high, low, and medium explosives. I’m getting that teaching vibe again. I love geology, I love blowing shit up, but I really love to teach. Especially a new crop of fresh recruits. I’ve watched Full Metal Jacket far too many times. It’s 1300 hours on the nose. All 24 recruits are assembled and in their proper numbered chair. Sanjay has made up a seating plan for me so I can get to match a name to face and locker box number. It’s showtime. To be continued…
The handicapping, sports odds information contained on this website is for entertainment purposes only. Please confirm the wagering regulations in your jurisdiction as they vary from state to state, province to province and country to country. Olympic Basketball Betting Odds For Tokyo 2020. As the odds have been released, many are looking at the Olympic basketball betting odds for Tokyo 2020 without the knowledge of how to bet them. Yes, the United States has states that have legalized sports betting, but not every state offers these services. The sites listed here are all reputable operators will several Olympic betting cycles under their belts, and they each typically provide tens of thousands of odds and lines on the Games. With the 2020 Tokyo Games still several months out, you won’t find any futures odds or other Olympic betting lines posted just yet. The best Olympic betting sites cover the games in great detail with markets on individual performances, how many medals countries will earn and even how the Opening Ceremony plays out. We’ll start today with a brief overview of the best bookmakers for betting on the Olympics and then continue the rest of the guide below. The only time the American team have not finished in the top three was when America America boycotted the 1980 Olympic games. Olympics Betting Sites: A look at Odds. We promised to bring you the best betting sites, and a sure way of telling if a bookmaker is worthwhile is by the level of Olympic betting odds they offer.
Bangladeshi Best Online Betting Site bdbazi,Bdbazi is best online betting site in Bangladesh.
Today we discuss how I managed to get banned from sports betting, but we also discuss how to implement arbitrage betting strategies to make you money! Arbitr... csgo, csgo betting, fatnoob, fatnoob csgo, csgo gambling, csgo roulette, cs go skins, gambling, betting, roulette, csgo betting profit, quadmft, csgo strong, csgo betting win, roulette betting ... 10 Sports Betting Tips to Make Better Sports Picks in 2020 If you want winning sports betting picks, betting tips, sports betting strategies, sports betting 101 and winning picks that would make ... We help you find the best online sports betting sites for your needs. At SBS we strive to provide online sportsbooks reviews, strategy, and advice for beginners and seasoned bettors, cash-out and ... We Are Provide Major Games And Online Betting ID's. ... Men's 500M Speed Skating Highlights - Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games - Duration: 6:09. olympicvancouver2010 Recommended for you.