At Cardinal Gibbons, We Played Cricket! (And Lost An Opportunity To Save The School.)


Last year, I coached the only American high school cricket team outside of New York City. It was created by a group of American kids who, without ever having played a hardball game, had already fallen in love with the sport. How did this come to pass? Well, it all started in Virginia, in April of 2008.

As a U.S. History teacher at the Cardinal Gibbons School in Baltimore, I often led field trips to the many historic sites in the area, and that April, I led a group of students on a two-day visit to Civil War sites in Richmond. Our first stop was the American Civil War Center at the site of the Tredegar Iron Works. After watching a cannon-firing demonstration, a smallish man in period clothing called out to our group, asking if we would like to play cricket. We agreed to have a look at the game, and from that point on, my life has had an added dimension.

The man was Tom Melville, an interpreter who has spent many years introducing hundreds of Americans to cricket at festivals, fairs, and reenactments in over a dozen states and Canada. He’s also the author of “Cricket For Americans” and “The Tented Field: A History of Cricket in America.” He learned cricket at the University of Wales, but he now lives in Wisconsin. We gathered around Tom, and he gave us a very simplified explanation of cricket.

Listening to Tom Melville are (from left to right) Don Erdman, Don Grey, Will Arsenault, Will Berkey and Ryan Kelly

The same group, with Tim Schmidt and myself in the photo

In this modified version, a rubber ball was pitched underhanded, but otherwise, the basic rules applied. Our group was soon split into two teams, and before long, we were playing the centuries-old game of cricket.

Student Ryan Kelly calling his shot, a la Babe Ruth.

Current UMBC Student Will Arsenault, who was the “Man of the Match”

We probably played for about an hour, and it turned out to be the most fun we had all weekend. While we were still in Richmond, the boys were already talking about finding a way to play cricket after they returned to school in Baltimore. I said supportive things, but didn’t really believe that their new infatuation would last. I was wrong.

By the time I got back to my classroom on Monday morning, a nascent cricket club had already begun to develop. All that Monday, students kept showing up in front of my desk, asking when they would be able to play cricket. At that point, however, we had no equipment of any kind, not even a ball. So I went home that night and started spending my money online – soft cricket balls, Kashmir willow tennis ball bats and plastic stumps sets all went on my credit card. I trusted that I could eventually get my money back, but honestly, I wasn’t sure if the fad would last long enough for that to happen.

Once the cricket gear came in, I took the boys to an open part of the athletic field and set up the wickets. From that point on, the game took care of the rest. The students organized themselves into teams and taught themselves the game; I mainly watched, acted as occasional umpire and collected up the gear when they were done. Soon, after-school cricket had a fairly large following at Cardinal Gibbons.

Keith Hess places a stroke to the Forward Short Leg

Keith Hess places a stroke to the Forward Short Leg

Chris Sutton makes solid contact

Every day after school, there would be a dozen or so students in my classroom, nagging me to quit working and start cricket. My history classes also became diverted by students trying to move the subject to cricket, rather than schoolwork. On rainy days, we watched the Indian Premier League on my laptop, and discussed rules, players and nations. By the month of May, there were over 50 cricket players, and they wanted something more organized. We sold polos, collected money for more equipment and uniforms, and made plans to divide the boys into four teams for a fall league.

These teams then played a ten-week intramural cricket season, on a real cricket mat, starting in August when we reconvened at school. Members of the Baltimore Cricket Club, led by Gregory Alleyne, volunteered to help teach the boys the game, which was the first time that any of them had any real coaching. It went incredibly well, and the league was even featured in a story in the Baltimore Sun.

The photograph that appeared in the Sun.

Fast bowler Don Erdman


Will Foy

After we had crowned a champion that November, many of the players weren’t content to leave it at that – they wanted to play real cricket, with real, alum coated, rock-hard cricket balls. Fortunately, the family of an alumnus, the Patidars, had a pallet’s worth of real cricket equipment shipped to us from Mumbai, so, with just one more round of contributions, we had everything we needed, except, of course, other teams to play against.

With only a vague plan to play demonstration matches at area high schools in place, the Cardinal Gibbons Cricket Team began workouts inside the frigid gymnasium in January. There was a bit of conditioning, a bit of skills work and then a pick up game at the end of each Saturday’s practice. An eight-grader who was unsure about whether to come to Cardinal Gibbons or Archbishop Curley, Ashker Asharaff from Sri Lanka, started practicing with us, and was soon accepted as “one of the guys.” Gregory Alleyne stopped by occasionally to work with the boys, too. It was around this time that Megan Godfrey of the Baltimore Cricket Club put us in contact with Keith Gill, of the Washington Metropolitan Cricket Board, who at that moment was trying to organize a youth cricket league. A prayer had been answered.

Ashker Asharaff

Not long after, Keith visited us at practice, accompanied by Gladstone Dainty, President of the United States of America Cricket Association, which is the governing body of American cricket. Dainty watched us practice for a time, and then got involved personally, helping the guys with their technique. He really seemed to be enjoying himself. After practice, he spoke to the team, telling us how important it was for cricket to spread to kids like themselves, who had no cricketing background.

(From left to right: Justin Bruchey (manager), Gregory Alleyne, Jamie Harrison, Keith Gill, John Boland

(From left to right) Justin Bruchey, Gregory Alleyne, Jamie Harrison, Keith Gill, John Boland

Mr. Dainty & me

Don Erdman bowls to Mr. Dainty

(From left to right) Will Berkey, Gladstone Dainty, Jon Marshall, Justin Bruchey

By March, temperatures had risen enough to allow us to practice outside, and we were soon joined by two new coaches, Trevor Roberts and Mike Thomas of the British Officer’s Cricket Club of Philadelphia. Every week, the team worked out on the football field. (Which they did not destroy. This, for some reason, was a great fear of the groundskeeper, who had somehow convinced himself that cricket was harder on grass than football. Go figure.) By May, the time had come to play our first match.

Finally, the pre-game ceremony ended, the moment of truth arrived. It was time to play cricket.

The first Gibbons batters, Justin Bruchey and Will Berkey

Justin Bruchey

Will Berkey

Jeff Thornton

Keith Hess

Don Erdman

Even though we were only playing 20 over matches, we lost bad in our early matches, usually by over 100 runs. But we accepted our fate, since we were playing against experienced cricketers from cricket-playing countries. In June, we became more international, being joined by Jayson Delsing, a player from South Africa, and Quincey Samuels, from Jamaica. Later two brothers of Indian descent from Philadelphia showed up at our match, asking to play. Having added our own experienced cricketers, the gap closed considerably.

Jayson Delsing and Quincy Samuels, our “ringers”

During the year or so that we had been playing cricket, I had been working long and feverishly to generate publicity for our program. My efforts paid off rather well, I think, as we received print coverage in the Baltimore Sun (multiple times), the Catholic Review and the Press Box. We also were discussed on 98 Rock‘s morning radio program. We also got quite a bit of coverage from the online cricket media, including Dreamcricket and Cricket World. For a time, it seemed like the world was watching us.

Another thing I did to garner support was to send emails to the major test-playing nation’s governing cricket bodies. Only Cricket Australia responded, and they were absolutely fantastic.  I exchanged many emails with CA’s Rebecca Mulgrew, who put me in touch with Dave Tomlin of Western Australia’s Kent Street Senior High School’s cricket program and sent me a lot of great coaching materials. She told me how much Australia wanted to see cricket succeed in America, and while they knew it would be “tough slogging,” CA would be following us closely. Here’s a letter she sent me:

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that I quickly became Cricket Australia’s #1 American fan, and many of the boys started following Punter and the Aussies as well.

Another great experience I had was to be a part of the West Indies Cricket Board Level 1 Cricket Coaching Course, the first ever held in the United States. Windies coaches Wendell Coppin and Stephanie Power were great, and I was able to network with many of the Atlantic Region’s key people. I also spent a lot of time talking up the need to develop youth cricket in America, and how I believed that our program was just the beginning. Officials at USACA were really excited about what we were doing, and they looked forward to helping us grow.

In mid summer, it seemed like we were ready to take cricket to the next level.

For the first six months of 2009, we had been a magnet for cricket aficionados from all over the Mid Atlantic. At practices, guys from Pakistan, India, and other cricketing nations would show up to watch, talk cricket and ask about our plans. Many of these people were doctors and independent businessmen with teenagers at home who longed to play cricket. I received phone calls from investors who wanted to know if Cardinal Gibbons was interested in various “partnerships.” I began thinking about how our program might take advantage of being “the only game in town” for those in America who loved cricket.

At about the same time, I was told by David Brown, the school’s principal, that due to drastic budget cuts, I was being laid off from teaching. Enrollment was down again, I was told, and 40% of the tuitions of those who were enrolled were in arrears, which made the school a budgetary disaster. For too long we had been accepting any student that applied, regardless of ability to pay, and now the Archdiocese had given the school a year to get its act together. (The Archdiocese had just announced the closing of Towson Catholic High School, and there was a somber feeling at Cardinal Gibbons, wondering if we were to be next.) I went home that night, and after having made a few phone calls, knew what to do.

I spent the next few days designing a plan that would save cricket and Cardinal Gibbons School at the same time. It seemed like an idea, that, if not perfect, was at least guaranteed to reverse the school’s enrollment conundrum.

What I proposed was that Cardinal Gibbons School become the home to the United States’ first cricket academy. We would add elective courses in cricket (we already had elective courses such as “weight training” and “Gym II”), teach the game in Phys Ed classes and generally, make cricket an important part of the Gibbons culture. By doing this, we would attract the children of expatriates, such as the doctors at St. Agnes Hospital across the street. My experience with this group of students was that they were typically high achievers from well-off families – exactly what Gibbons needed to turn around its enrollment mess (I had two prospective students’ applications already in hand). I would become a cricket student-athlete recruiter, personally visiting clubs, associations and private homes, scouring the area for likely candidates. I also proposed a plan to spread cricket to gym classes at the middle and elementary schools, which even if only partially successful, would create a ready-made feeder system for Gibbons. We would also become a magnet for the investors that had been looking for a place to put their money. This plan worked for cricket and Cardinal Gibbons – the prototypical win-win. The only thing I needed was for the school to provide the start-up money to launch.

I first pitched the plan to the Archdiocese, which after a few days, called me back to say that they endorsed the plan, and that the Archbishop was “intrigued” by its potential. Next, I spoke to the Mr. Brown, explaining the importance of changing the trajectory of the school’s enrollment, in light of what was happening to Towson Catholic. He seemed supportive, but told me that he could make no budgetary decisions without first getting the approval of the school board. A few days later I met with Jonathan Smith, President of the school board, and explained the plan. Smith seemed less impressed. He told me that the school board had decided that there would be no new investment in the school for the coming year; their entire focus was on slashing expenditures as deeply as possible, and trying to raise money to offset the budget deficit, with the goal being a balanced annual budget. He was convinced that if this was done, the Archdiocese would not close the school.

When I explained that the Archdiocese, in public comments after the closing of Towson Catholic, had made it clear that enrollment trends were a critical factor in whether to close a school, Smith seem uninterested. The school board, I was told, was certain that the only consideration would be whether or not the school was in the black by December. Anything that jeopardized that would not be considered. Plus, the board had already decided to give a private individual $3500 a month to fundraise for them. It was suggested that I ask the alumni to invest in my plan.

That July, the Alumni Association had responded to the crisis with a plan of its own, the “Gibbons Forever Endeavor,” which was a complicated attempt to reorganize the school’s fundraising database, presumably with a fundraising push then to follow. At the first meeting to announce this initiative, I was allowed to pitch my plan, but none of those in attendance, save Carmel Kelly (an early supporter), saw any value in it. Alumni I spoke to individually said that they would continue their habit of donating only to sports teams that they favored. I found this attitude mind-boggling to say the least. It was like watching people rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic.

Scrambling, I called potential cricket investors, whose enthusiasm was dampened by the idea of sinking money into a school that either didn’t care for cricket that much, or was so near to closing that they couldn’t even provide the seed money for it. I was repeatedly told that their money was contingent upon the school’s firm commitment to the academy. Exasperated, I returned to the school board, which once again rejected the plan. The Archdiocese, along with a number of parents interested in sending their kids to Gibbons, asked me how things were going – I had no good news to report.

I began to wonder if the disinterest was a result of cricket being too “foreign,” or maybe because most of the players were honor students instead of “jocks.” I know that the other sports programs at Gibbons resented the attention that cricket had been getting in the press, and that the groundskeeper had long been agitated with me for forcing the football team to share its field with us. (He actually said to me, “That is a football field, not a cricket field!”) Once, his lawn tractor that was used to mow the grass had run over a lost cricket ball, and he demanded $38 in compensation for the “damaged blade,” even though it routinely ran over baseballs with no ill effects. I paid the $38.

By August, the cricket season was over and it was clear that my efforts to start a cricket academy had failed. I returned the few thousand dollars that had already been donated by cricketers, and called the investors to let them know. On a sad day in August, I returned to Cardinal Gibbons one last time to collect my personal belongings and return my key to the barn shed where the cricket equipment was stored, leaving the school to its fate.

And so, what may have been the last, best hope of the Cardinal Gibbons School was locked away inside a shed, never to be seen again. And that, perhaps, is the greatest tragedy of all.

Advertisements

MyUMBC Goes Ravens Purple

With the Ravens in the playoffs again, it’s neat to see everything in town going purple, like City Hall:

UMBC is getting in on the fun, too. For example, when the Ravens are in the playoffs, the top of the AOK Library goes purple:

I know in this photo it looks blue, but trust me, it's purple.

And now, the MyUMBC web portal has joined the mania:

I hope there’s a reason to keep that color up for a few more weeks, a least!

The Ravens Road-Field Advantage

Here’s the Ravens’ playoff history (road games in bold):

Jan. 10, 2010 AFC Wild Card Baltimore 33, New England 14
Jan. 18, 2009 AFC Championship Pittsburgh 23, Baltimore 14
Jan. 10, 2009 AFC Divisional Baltimore 13, Tennessee 10
Jan. 4, 2009 AFC Wild Card Baltimore 27, Miami 9
Jan. 13, 2007 AFC Divisional Indianapolis 15, Baltimore 6
Jan. 3, 2004 AFC Wild Card Tennessee 20, Baltimore 17
Jan. 20, 2002 AFC Divisional Pittsburgh 27, Baltimore 10
Jan. 13, 2002 AFC Wild Card Baltimore 20, Miami 3
Jan. 28, 2001 Super Bowl XXXV Baltimore 34, N.Y. Giants 7 (neutral site)
Jan. 14, 2001 AFC Championship Baltimore 16, Oakland 3
Jan. 7, 2001 AFC Divisional Baltimore 24, Tennessee 10
Dec. 31, 2000 AFC Wild Card Baltimore 21, Denver 3

When you look at the record, you see that the Ravens are only 1-2 in home playoff games, and haven’t won a home playoff game since Bill Clinton was president. Yet the Ravens are 6-2 (.750) all-time on the road in the playoffs. Taking it a little farther, the Ravens are undefeated in road playoff games that don’t involve going to Pittsburgh (IMPORTANT: the Steelers aren’t in the playoffs this year).

Playing at home is supposed to be a huge advantage in the NFL. Isn’t that what all of the talk is about in November and December, securing home-field advantage? For some teams, however, there’s another factor that may be even more important, and that’s playing with emotion (as was so clearly demonstrated yesterday). I think for the Ravens, playing with a chip on their shoulders in a hostile environment, knowing that in order to win they must out-physical their opponent and take the fans out of the game, is a key component to victory. Also, don’t discount the ability to more easily get focused on the road, where there are fewer distractions.

Remember Brian Billick’s fiery speech about going into the lion’s den? That speech doesn’t work if your team is the favorite. When you’re at home in the playoffs, you’re probably expected to win. It’s hard to “kick the door in and shout ‘Where is the Son-of-a-Bitch?” when it’s your door and you are the “Son-of-a Bitch.” Let’s admit it, some teams don’t need to play with emotion (Colts, Patriots). The Ravens do.

So, in the future, let’s not root for the Ravens to get home playoff games; we know the winning formula now. But here and now, I suddenly feel really good about our chances, because the road to Miami doesn’t go through Baltimore.

Irsay’s Shame Lives On As Sports Icon

In just the past week, it’s become clear that Bob Irsay’s humiliating decision to slink out of Baltimore on March 28, 1984 has evolved from a historical footnote to an iconic moment. I’ve noticed it coming up more and more often in the national press, sometimes in ways completely unrelated even to the Colts. In short, Irsay’s despicable decision is now a metaphor for something greater than even the theft of a football team. Here’s a sample from just the last few days (if you know of any others, feel free to add them by comment):

Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavericks:

“Maybe the other leagues, when it comes to supporting them, will pull a Jim Irsay and disappear in the middle of the night,” Cuban said, referring to the Colts’ move from Baltimore to Indianapolis that was actually orchestrated by Jim Irsay’s father Bob in 1984.

William C. Rhoden in the New York Times:

Finally in March 1984, Indianapolis got its team when the owner Robert Irsay sneaked the Colts out of Baltimore in the middle of the night. Indianapolis happily received stolen goods.


Bill Michaels of WTMJ Radio in Milwaukee:

So, that said, you did see many of the starters for the entire game, you just didn’t get the outcome YOU wanted and thus, you Boo. Maybe Bill Polian will load the trucks in the middle of the night and waltz his team to a new destination. Then you’ll have something to boo about, until then, support your team and try to regain some of the class that you lost this past weekend.


Bud Poliquin of the Syracuse Post-Standard:

The management of the Colts saw fit to “throw” the game to the New York Jets by choosing to not field the team that would have given the Colts the best chance to win. I probably should have expected this from a franchise that a few years earlier had seen fit to back up its trucks in the middle of the night and sleaze out of Baltimore.

I get the feeling that my grandchildren will be throwing around a phrase something like “back the trucks up in the middle of the night” without having any idea of its origins – until I sit them down and tell them all about The Grinch Who Stole Football, of course.

The Ravens Don’t Lack Discipline

This morning there’s a lot of talk about how undisciplined the Ravens are, and how John Harbaugh’s coaching should be scrutinized for having allowed this state of affairs to go uncorrected. To all of this, I say:

Be careful what you wish for – you just may get it.

The Ravens’ love affair with aggression goes all the way back to 2000 – our beloved Super Bowl season. The team was encouraged to be nasty, to be angry, to be mouthy. The Ravens were the team that would kick down your door and shout “Where is the son of a bitch?” The organization wanted its players to be intimidators; the result was spectacular and we loved it. But, there was a price to be paid, because the NFL was paying attention, too. Soon, it became clear that the crews officiating the Ravens games were looking at the team a little more closely than its opponents. No matter, as long as the Ravens were winning games, the penalties could be tolerated.

This mindset has been passed on genetically ever since, and the result has been a team that we have grown to love for its intensity and its passion; we have also learned to expect them to take penalties that seem unnecessary and at times, ridiculous. And yes, every now and then, they have a collective meltdown (21 penalties against Detroit in October, 2005, 13 penalties for 100 yards against New England in December 2007). Still, winning solves everything.

(The Oakland Raiders were the most penalized team of the 1970s, and no one criticized them for being undisciplined. Instead they were hated and feared. Being a consistently winning organization will do that for you.)

Harbaugh accepted this position knowing the culture – a culture that has been cultivated for a decade; to expect him to eradicate that in a year or two is unreasonable and more to the point, not a good idea. Most of these same “undisciplined” players took this team to the AFC Championship game last year, and no one called them to task for over-aggression. (Remember? The big complaint last year was that the offense was one dimensional.) What’s different this year? New faces in prominent places are committing the penalties now; not because they’re undisciplined, but because they’re not as good as the individuals they’ve replaced.

The ugly fact is that offensive linemen hold when they get beat; so do defensive backs. Would you rather that the offensive lineman let young Joe Flacco get hit rather than risk a holding penalty? (For the answer to this question, ask David Carr.) Would you rather the burned defensive back just give up the big play, rather than risk an illegal contact penalty? If you want to eliminate penalties in the offensive line and defensive secondary, don’t preach discipline – get better players.

One big problem with the whole “coaching discipline” idea is that you don’t want players on the field thinking – you want them reacting. When Terrell Suggs got flagged for a block in the back on Domonique Foxworth’s interception yesterday, he was doing what he should have been doing – trying to block downfield for his teammate. The problem isn’t that Sugg is undisciplined, it’s that he isn’t a very good blocker. How much time do you want Suggs spending in practice learning how to avoid blocking-in-the-back penalties?

Yes, the Ravens are a heavily penalized team, but they’re in good company. In fact, 5 of the top 6 most-penalized teams in 2009 would make the playoffs if the season ended today. On the other hand, the Browns have committed over 30 fewer penalties than the Ravens. Do you still want the Ravens to make “discipline” a focal point of its team philosophy?

Be careful what you wish for – you just may get it.

The Christmas Blizzard of 2009 at UMBC – A Pictorial

This weekend’s major snow event buried UMBC – but not so much as to keep campus from opening. Here are some images from this morning:

This is what I woke up to Sunday morning:

As A Teenager in Iceland (While The Orioles Win The Series)

The flag of Iceland, in the Flag Court at the Commons

I’ve only been to one foreign country in my entire life, and I had to miss watching the Orioles win the World Series to get there, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

In the summer of 1983, I was a nineteen-year old working in passenger service for Butler Aviation (handled today by Signature Flight Support) at BWI Airport. I was one of perhaps a dozen pax service reps, with a number of kids my age, and we acted as the on-site crew for charter flights and airlines with limited service, such as Air Jamaica and Icelandair. It was a pretty good group, mixing youth with experience and we were good at what we did. Generally, we had a great time, mixing in laughter with the work, meeting interesting people from around the world, in the easy days before international airports were high security facilities.

A lot of my most interesting memories are from this time in my life. Probably the best is when the wonderful folks at Icelandair decided to send a few of us (myself, Lisa Merkey and Debbie Hutton) to Iceland for the weekend, all expenses paid. We were informed late that summer, and since none of us had passports, we had to hustle down to an office in Washington to get them. If I remember correctly, it didn’t seem like much of a hassle at the time (except for going into Washington). We were scheduled to leave on Friday, October 14, providing our flight had open seats (being freebies, they wouldn’t let us be the reason seats weren’t sold, but this is standard airline procedure, and we understood).

As the date of departure approached, the Orioles advanced through the playoffs. My future wife and I saw games 1 & 2 of the American League Championship Series at Memorial Stadium. The Birds lost Game 1, but came back to take Game 2. It suddenly occurred to me that I might be in Iceland as the Orioles played for a championship; I was uneasy at this, but never once considered passing up the chance of a lifetime to watch baseball. What if I turned this opportunity down and they lost?

When the appointed day arrived, we arrived at the airport, luggage in tow, to work the flight that would eventually take us across the ocean. We knew from the passenger list that we would probably make the flight, unless people showed up at the last minute wanting a ticket (you could do that back then). Iceland in the fall is not a popular tourist attraction, so we felt pretty confident. (Why did people go to Iceland at all? Icelandair offered inexpensive continuing service to Luxembourg, in the middle of Europe, as long as you didn’t mind a stop in “Ísland.” At the time there was little service to Europe from the area, so this was a popular option.)

That night was also the third game of the World Series, which the Orioles won 3-2,  putting them up in the series 2-1 over the Phillies. I was a huge O’s fan, and now it seemed entirely possible that they could win it all before I got back home to see it. It was dangerous to think this way, but I was pulling for one Philadelphia win, so that the series would return to Baltimore.

The flight left late at night, and when we got on, because we were left to open seating, the three of us were scattered throughout the 707. On the bright side, however, we were given a stack of free alcohol coupons! (See the bottom right corner of the photo above.) I was feeling very grownup and worldly, so I used mine on Grand Marnier, which helped me doze off.

I woke up in the wee small hours of the morning, and looked out of the window at a vast unbroken whiteness. This was Greenland. I was too excited to return to sleep. Just before the sun rose, I snapped this photo:

A few hours later, it was Saturday morning. The plane touched down at Keflavik Airport, and the pilot announced that the temperature outside was 43°. I was shocked; I was in Iceland and that was no different than Baltimore in December. What he didn’t tell us was that the winds were blowing at about 20 miles per hour, and they cut right through you. There was no jetway, just roll up stairs on the tarmac, so the frigid air punched me in the face as soon as I stepped out of the plane.

After getting our bags, we took a van to the Hotel Loftleiðir, which wasn’t plush, but that didn’t matter, because we were in Iceland.

The view from the hotel was amazing. The countryside appeared nearly flat, except for the beautiful ice-covered mountains visible from my window. Here’s a picture I took:

We didn’t have much time, so that afternoon we went out to see the town of Reykjavik. Reykjavik is Iceland’s capital and its largest city, but of course, this is relative. To us it seemed like a quaint, small town. It also seemed as if every business was closed. (We later found out that closing for the weekend was the norm.) We walked around the small streets and took in the chilly, windy atmosphere. Soon we found ourselves at the water’s edge, where I snapped this photo:

We were hungry, and finally found what appeared to us to be a small delicatessen that was open; the shop specialized in salads and fish. I ordered a fish sandwich, and tried to tell the young lady who took my order that I didn’t want lettuce. Having left my Ensk-islensk Vasaordabok (English-Icelandic Dictionary) in my hotel room, I couldn’t come up with the word. (Icelandic is the language of the original Viking explorers, almost perfectly preserved today.The only Icelandic word I remember today is þakka þér fyrir, which sounds like “thakka thair feerer” and means “thank you very much.”) As it turned out the word was salat. Salat/salad. I felt stupid.

Continuing our walk around town, we were struck by the lack of trees, shrubs and animals, which no doubt are made rare by the biting cold. Here are some pictures I snapped as we walked:

After a time, we saw this large tower on the top of a slight rise that looked like a promising tourist attraction, so we made our way to it:

As it turns out, this is a church with a statue of Leif Erikson in front of it. The statue was a gift from the United States in 1930:

The church was unlocked, and we climbed to the open windows at the top (stronger, even colder winds up there), from where I took this photo:

At this point we were frozen solid, and since nighttime, with its promise of even more frigid weather, was closing in quickly, we decided to head back. With some difficulty we hailed one of the few taxis, which returned us to the hotel. This was another strange experience. As the cab idled in front of the hotel, and we tried to figure out how much kronur we owed, the meter kept running, changing the total. Kronur is worth a lot less than dollars, so every time we looked up, the number seemed outrageously higher. Eventually we threw a bunch of Icelandic money at him and dashed out of the cab. We knew we had probably overpaid, and that we had probably been taken advantage of, but we were foreigners, and teenagers at that. What could we do?

When I got back to my small, sparse hotel room, I discovered a radio built into the wall above my bed; soon I was on Armed Forces Radio, listening to the Orioles game. I only heard a couple of innings, however, before the ladies arrived to pick me up for another cab ride, this time to the Club Broadway in Reykjavik.

The Broadway was smoky, loud and crowded, a place where people had no problem invading your personal space and putting their hands on you, which, as an American, I found very awkward. A live band was playing American music badly, and we soon found a few open seats at one of the long tables. I went to the bar and ordered a vodka and orange juice, which was made as an Old Grand Dad and orange juice. After much struggle to explain what I wanted, I settled for a gin and tonic.

When I got back to our table, I found myself seated next to a chatty Icelandic guy in his early twenty’s who considered himself a bit of an expert in things American.  He spent the next hour explaining to me that America had been infiltrated by a vast Ku Klux Klan conspiracy; he even showed me, by tearing apart his pack of Marlboro cigarettes, how they sent secret messages to each other using the colored circles on the inside flaps of the box. I listened politely before excusing myself to get another gin and tonic. After a few more hours of smoke, loud music and screaming at the person sitting right next to you, we headed back to the hotel, exhausted from our long day.

The next day we stayed close to the hotel, because we had a flight to catch. I did a little shopping at the hotel store, where I discovered, after finally figuring out how to convert kronur to dollars, that my cokes were costing me six dollars each. On the other hand, a nice wool scarf (which I still have) and a jar of caviar were dirt cheap. (I didn’t get the caviar because I was down to my last ten kronur, which didn’t buy anything. I still have it:

Finally, it was time to check out and head to the airport. Here’s my hotel tab and receipts from what little shopping I did:

And here are my souvenirs:

On the flight home, the ladies took the last two open seats and I got the “jump seat.” This is a fold-down seat located directly behind the cockpit. It wasn’t very comfortable, but I was happy to be on the plane at all. Another perk to being up front with the crew is that when we descending into O’Hare in Chicago, I was called into the cockpit. The pilot pointed out the window excitedly and said, “Loook. See-Ka-Go, See-Ka-Go!” As I peered curiously through the clouds, I began to see the entire city of Chicago, sitting on Lake Michigan and laid out before us. I thanked the captain for his thoughtfulness; it was a nice touch.

In Customs at O’Hare, I found the first American man and asked, “I’m from Baltimore. Have you heard about the World Series? What’s going on?” Gruffly, he said, “Yeah, I dink you guys won it.” And that was how I learned that the Orioles were World Champions. We got into Baltimore in time to see the buses from Philadelphia arrive at Memorial Stadium, where they were attacked by the throngs of fans who had been waiting all night. I was later told by coworkers that BWI had broadcast the end of the game on monitors around the terminal, and that when the last out was made, the concourses shook.

No matter. I had my memories of a very cool weekend in Ísland (take that however you want to), and I wouldn’t have traded it for the world, not even for the World Series.