Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Back in the USSR

This past weekend I was back to one of my favorite places to visit. Most people say they don't like being behind the Iron Curtain but I do. The reason for my trip was to take care of HS Girls Varsity Softball team. We played very well in the tournament and finished 3rd. We could have won the thing but making mental errors often brings down everyone. But in the final game against Moscow we did not make any errors. It was how I had expected them to play the entire weekend but they waited to the last game. I guess that comes with playing 7 games in 2 days.

Enough about softball. This weekend was what you could call an EMOTIONAL ROLLER COASTER. That is the best way to put it. I will try to relive it for you as painful as some of it was I will try to let you feel the pain and joy of the whole weekend.
When I arrived in Moscow after being cleared out of Warsaw Airport for a bomb scare (was and misplaced bag), I was met by my good friend Mark, the Athletic Director from AAIS of Moscow as well as other coaches from around our conference Tim and Charlie. We began the night of food, fun and festivities with some beers on the streets of Moscow and then to a fabulous restaurant where we ate until our hearts jumped out of our chests and said "enough already". So we began to have some good unfiltered Russian beer. The beer is cold dark and smooth. The brewery we went to was packed full of Russian fans cheering for the Russian National hockey team. Who later would win the final on Sunday night against the Canadians in overtime. Charlie and I could have stayed out all night but we knew we had a long day ahead of us so it was time to go. But we didn't know how to get home. We had to flag down a gypsy taxi. A gypsy taxi is just a random person driving by that you pay to take you home. Once you stop one then others cue up behind the first hoping to get the money. Each getting less expensive until finally you get the driver and price you want. This is who I got.......We had some beers, sang some songs and ultimately had a fantastic time in Moscow again.
This was my third visit to Moscow and most likely the last. I don't really see my self teaching and working in the area ever again. But that is another story. Anyway back to the weekend again. After Saturday's events on the field it was time for another meeting with the coaches but this time my good friend Solman was joining. Sorry if I spelled your name wrong Sol but I tried my best. He has lived and worked in Moscow for 6 years now. He knows the city and they know him. We met years ago in Zagreb. Oh what a time we have had over the years. Many stories I would like to share but will have to another time. We spent most of the time hanging out and talking. We didn't get to do too many of the wild things we did in the past but at least we had some fun. Sol is off to Saudi Arabia to teach and as you know if you read a previous post of mine I am off to Tokyo. We may not see each other for a while. The night ended too early and we said our goodbyes. Another goodbye, ugh. They are getting harder and harder every time i say them. BUT it has to be done in order to continue this amazing life as an international educator.

Sunday came around and this was the day that was the beginning of the pain. We started the day with the girls going around the city seeing some amazing things and having a lot of fun. We then went to the airport to head home but soon found out we were delayed. Every time I go to Moscow something like this happens. The first time one of my students, a Chinese boy, was taking away and questioned for 45 minutes without me present. I was freaking out. He was my responsibility. But all was fine. The second time one of my players left her documents in her bag and checked them onto the plane. They had to pull them off the plane and repack the plane to get her things. So again we were delayed. This time it was not a student but the plane itself. There wasn't one. It never showed up. CANCELED Some believe we were canceled because the Russians were mad at us for hosting some Chechin refugees at our school. My friend believes they held us because one of my players is the daughter of the US Ambassador. HMMM could be possible. The Russians are nasty like that.

We sat from 19:00 to 01:00 at the airport. Never once did someone offer water, food or drink of any kind. NOT once did LOT Polish airlines check to see if that could help us. There were less that 50 people who were delayed and they did nothing to help or assure us that all was going to be fine. After several hours of my girls going crazy with excitement because they were missing exams, speeches and school we had to be moved. They were making the rest of the passengers angry with their pure joy of a flight cancellation. We were finally moved to the hotel. But not the hotel originally planned. We were to go to the nice Novetel Hotel, a very nice chain. We were sent to M&M Hotel, a 2 star establishment with terrible service but comfortable beds.

When arriving to the hotel we had planned to have the girls stay in rooms of two. They were pleased with that because they could talk and hang out throughout the night. But remember this is after 1am. They are getting tired BUT extremely hungry. They need food badly. Before I get to the food part. Let me tell you that LOT tried to match up complete strangers in rooms to save money. They were going to put grown men and women who didn't know one another into one room with one bed!!!! The Polish men and Russians were getting unbearable. I really thought the attendant from LOT was going to get his ass kicked so I positioned myself to help him if needed. It was not Vladimir's fault that LOT, his company, were being cheap bastards. He was doing his job and let me say he did a great job. He gave me his number to call anytime if there were problems and was very helpful in every way.

There was no fight and people left for their rooms then they were to meet for food downstairs after dropping off luggage. Now it gets crazier. They did not have food set up for us in the main restaurant. OH no. It was outside. Yes, outside the hotel. It was around the corner to the right and back down a dark corridor.
The wind was blowing flaps of plastic that was covering broken windows and then we walked into a cafeteria designed to feed the work staff, not guests. It was bad. The food was old rice that was hard and obviously cooked early in the day. Served on the side was white bread with a bowl of day old green beans topped with mayo. Yes, mayo. It was nasty. I was not going to let 12 students eat this food. SO i marched them out of this dirt hole back inside and got them a proper meal. We ordered and ate our food. By the time we returned to rooms it was after 3am. Sleepy time after a long day. But not over yet.

Monday comes around and all the time we were expected to be flown out at 6pm but then the calls come in from Warsaw and Moscow and......we aren't leaving til 10pm now. FUUUUUUUUUUDDDGGEEEE!!!! But there was no chocolate in sight. We had to stay at this mall for several more hours. They jerked us around so much that by the time we got a clear answer it was too late and we were stuck for hours again. We finally made it to the airport in one piece. I was mentally exhausted and wanted to go home. They girls on my teams were fantastic. I could not have asked for a better group of students to be with. They never complained, whined or bitched about anything except the food. I was very please that this was my last trip as a coach. But not because it was over. But, because it proved to me how much I really love teaching and coaching. The girls could have made it worse but they made this weekend one of the best for me as a coach.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

BBQ on the Balcony

As the weather begins to warm up in Warsaw, my Kansan blood does too. I begin to think about the smell of barbecues and the wonderful tastes of smoked ribs and chicken. Some may argue the best barbecuers are from the south or the southeast but the Midwestern taste of dry-rubbed BBQ'n is hard to beat. Barbecue gained popularity in Kansas City in the 1920s and hasn't slowed down since. The secret to Kansas City-style barbecue is that it's slow smoked for up to 18 hours, usually over hickory. One of my favorite places to eat great slow-smoked ribs is in a small town of about 500 people about 70 miles outside of KC called Williamsburg. This town is home to Guy & Mae's Tavern. I have driven 3 hours to get there and taste their lovely ribs served on foil and newspaper. It's the old-fashioned way of cooking. They use the same smoker and recipe since the 1930's.

Now the reason for this trip down memory lane is I love to BBQ. In college my roommates and I would cookout everyday. Even in the snow. Pour out the charcoal and light it up. I hate to use gas. I love the taste of charcoal with some mesquite soaked in a mix of Bourbon and water. It is hard to beat the taste. Every weekend in Warsaw, if I am in town, I have a gathering of friends at my place for some good Kansas cooking. I try to find the best cuts of meat I can in Warsaw and get them prepared for a great grill. I used the same grill for about 4 years now. It is a big iron grill with lots of flavor on it. I clean the grill before and after every cooking with a fresh onion. The onion puts the right amount of oil and flavors the on the grill to ensure great taste.
This Sunday I had several visitors. The party was in honor my good friend Karim, who is about to head out for a tour in Afghanistan. He is a Royal Marine and has been working in Poland for a few years. I decided it would be good to send him off with a nice party and good food. Cause the chances of him getting some good BBQ in the hills and caves of Afghanistan is not good. Plus he'd be eating GOAT. A lot of friends showed up and we sent him off. So here are just a few pics from the night. Enjoy. Some of the guest chomping down some grub. The cook, me and the other Kansan, Tim.