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The Express to Heartbreak

All Gussied Up

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We decided early on in Justine’s life that we would not shield her from the downsides and disappointments of everyday existence.  After all, to experience the joys of life, one must be able to adequately appreciate the other side of the occasion, and endure the dregs that life will drag can drag you through.

To drive home this point, we decided to abandon our newborn for six hours while we were whisked away in a stretch limo to enjoy a lavish gala, and then follow it up by cramming her into the Baby Bjorn and joining the throngs of folks to witness the horror that is Syracuse Football.

Thanks to my company’s involvement, we were blessed with VIP tickets to the much ballyhooed ‘Orange Carpet’ premiere of ‘The Express,’ starring Dennis Quaid and the guy from ‘Finding Forrester.’  (NOT Sean Connery – he played Forrester – it’s the guy who FOUND Forrester.  Frankly, I don’t think Connery could pull off depicting an 18 year old American African American running back – although I bet it would be interesting to watch).  Although one might assume that a Hollywood premiere would be a black-tie affair, that was surprisingly not the case this time around.  So preparations for me included a) finding my suit (which is relatively easy since I only have one) and b) putting it on.  It was a decidedly different experience for my wife, who spent the weeks leading up to the event shopping for a dress, finding matching shoes, getting her nails and makeup done, taking ‘Hollywood’ language lessons (“Hello, Dennis.  I was reading in Variety that the Key Grips walked off of the set at your latest dramedy.  I hope this doesn’t affect the tubthumping from the praisery…”), and of course getting the requisite hair styling, complete with over 40 hair pins holding the tangle together.

Luckily, we were able to find a babysitter willing to commit to the lengthy absence we were anticipating – the premiere was at 7:30, but my boss, who had graciously rented a limo for the office, had said limo arriving at 6.  The “gala” which followed the premiere started at 9:30 and ran until 2, so we figured to be out at least until midnight.  One of Kim’s friends graciously agreed to do the job, and so when the appointed hour came, and the stretch pulled up outside, we took a few pictures, and then climbed aboard, waving goodbye to Justine for the longest stretch in her young life.

The premiere was an amazing experience.  We didn’t get to physically walk the Orange Carpet and mingle with the big stars (Bob Costas, Jim Brown, Floyd Little, the bald guy that hosts our local morning variety show) as we were unceremoniously shuffled in a side door to the theater.  The place was packed with Syracuse’s power players – state senators, city officials, SU coaches and administrators, the Queen of England, etc.  And then there was us, a ragtag bunch of misfits dressed way beyond our comfort levels who wandered about, pointing at folks and saying things like ‘I saw YOU in the paper,’ and ‘You’re that guy that got indicted!’  After mingling a bit, we took our seats.  The lights came down, the movie played, and we all watched transfixed.  I, of course, spent much of the movie looking for historical inaccuracies (‘He’s wearing Nikes!  They didn’t even form as a company until years later!’) and anachronisms (‘He’s wearing a wristwatch!  Humanity didn’t even formalize the concept of time until the 1980’s!’) so that I could appear to be smarter than everyone else.

Kim and Justine at the GameAfter the movie ended we headed to the gala which was down the street at the War Memorial, which is an ancient hockey arena in the middle of downtown, home to Syracuse Crunch minor league hockey team.  By all accounts the place is a dump.  Built in the 50s, I don’t believe there have been many major updates since then, and it shows.  Our expectations for the ‘gala’ were mixed, because we assumed Hollywood would throw a good bash but in that venue we weren’t sure how they were going to do.
Frankly, it was an amazing transformation.  You wouldn’t even know that it was a hockey rink – all of the seats were obscured by floor to ceiling curtains covered with video screens projecting scenes from the movie.  The outside edge of the rink was lined with carving stations and upscale hor dourves,  and multiple bars.  It was entirely unexpected and amazing to experience.  We had a table just a few down from the big stars, and we eventually worked up the nerve to go visit them.  Kim got a severely inebriated Dennis Quaid’s autograph, and got her picture taken with a few of the other stars.  I partook of the free booze.  It was a fun time for all.

The limo dropped us off after midnight, bringing an end to an extraordinarily long day.  Justine, as usual, spent much of the night sleeping, and was in her crib when we arrived home.  I guess we can cross ‘abandonment’ off the list of ‘Things that will cause Justine Insomnia.’  Good to feel loved.

Kim and Justine at the Game

The next day we met up with one of my coworkers who had flown in for the premiere to visit a local slaughterhouse.  The premiere was a prelude to the renewal of the much fabled Syracuse-Penn State football rivalry, and we had 4 tickets on the 50 yard line to watch the affair take place.  Since it was her first taste of SU athletics, we (naturally) dressed her up in a Syracuse cheerleading outfit (sans the pom poms, which she would undoubtedly eat).  We caught a bus to campus, and wandered to the Dome amongst the nearly sold out crowd that came to see perhaps Joe Paterno’s last game here.  And with the excitement of the movie and many of SU’s greats in attendance, there was hope, however slim, that the football team would rise to the occasion and send the Lions back to Happy Valley disappointed.

Yeah, right.

The experience was typical for a September SU game in the dome, except for the thousands of people.  These days, its usually hundreds.  Because of the mass of humanity, and the warm weather outside, it was unbearably hot in a dome that is ironically not air conditioned despite being named after a company that specializes in manufacturing air conditioners.  In addition to the heat, we were essentially jamming 6 people into four seats – Kim and I with Justine, and our friends and their one year old son.

In the StandsMy coworker and family jetted after the first quarter because their son was pretty much naked by then, shedding clothes in an effort to stay cool.  With the increased room, we lasted until half time, allowing us to get the requisite pictures, smack our heads in frustration as the defense crumbled, and for Justine to fall asleep in the stands.  It was a fun time, and sufficiently disappointing for Justine that I think she got the point – the Orange will break your heart more often than not.

As for the rivalry?  In the 1959 championship season, Syracuse beat Penn State 20-18 on their way to beat Texas in the Cotton Bowl with a young Joe Paterno an assistant coach on the sidelines.  49 years later? Paterno is still on the sideline, but with a humbling  55-13 Nittany Lion win.  Maybe next year we’ll get em when we travel to Beaver Stadium.

Yeah, right.

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