"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Monday, June 06, 2011

Travels with Charley: In Search of Marquette America

It is time to breathe some life into the endless off-season . With help from our own Mark Twain, Dr. Blackheart, today we're beginning a series of 10 essays which chronicle the author's travels and experiences with the 2010-2011 Marquette hoops team. As you'll see, these entries are not your typical blogging fare (in a very good way).

We will run two of the entries per week -- one every Monday and Friday for the next five weeks. And now, let's hit the road with Charley, courtesy of guest contributor Dr. Blackheart:

Travels with Charley: In Search of Marquette America (Chapter One)

"I am happy to report that in the war between reality and romance, reality is not the stronger."

In September 1960, a life-weathered John Steinbeck packed up a custom-made camper he named Rocinante (after Don Quixote’s horse) and his “French gentleman’s poodle” Charley and set out to “roadtrip” America. His book, Travels with Charley: In Search of America, was published in 1962 and chronicled his journey to numerous places and his observations about the “New Americans” he met along the way. In typical Steinbeck fashion, his travelogue diary reflected on the melancholic, yet he also looked for the optimistic, humoristic side of the human condition.

Exactly fifty years later, I sat in my home office pondering the newly released 2010-11 Marquette men’s basketball schedule. The ninth anniversary of 9/11 had just passed, and the many conflicts around the globe involving US troops weren’t any closer to being resolved, and were, in fact, becoming more strained and uncertain. The US economy was still in a tailspin with unemployment rates over 9.5%. Home foreclosures were at devastating levels, and government deficits were growing at double digits. After the inauguration of a 40-something, junior US senator as president (the first African American) a little less than two years prior, the upcoming mid-term elections were dominating the news (and our advertising space), and would provide the first public test to his party’s legislative agenda.

Sipping my third craft while studying the schedule it seemed to me that it might be a good idea to escape this reality around me and experience first-hand a different side of “Marquette Nation”. Glancing at the list of away games, some locations caught my interest for various reasons, so I started to chart out any conflicts on my work and personal schedules as I toyed with the idea of embarking on my own Travels.

With the details beginning to loosely fall into place in the following days, I found myself romanticizing about Steinbeck’s adventure in relation to this potential one. In the summer as a kid, my father would take me on his traveling salesman routes to small towns in Roadside America. These nostalgic childhood memories never seem to leave you even after the people do. It is always the oddity that stays with you and imparts in you what you are and what you have become. For my father, it was about spending precious time with his son, something that he never had the chance to experience with his father in his childhood years. For me, it was about getting his undivided attention--and to see the world’s largest ball of twine!

With these thoughts now on my mind, I went about definitively circling dates and making plans. As I further pondered what Steinbeck’s “wanderlust” motivations were, I was reminded of the parallels of this time in America 2010 to Steinbeck’s back then. The US economy was also moving into recession and nuclear and “Cold War” issues were at their peak back in 1960. Social and political unrest were raising their ugly heads. America was just entering into another war in Asia—its third there in 20 years. And, a 40-something, junior US senator was about to be elected the first Catholic president.

To continue with the melodrama, many of these parallels about uncertainty, conflict, experience and tests ahead could be extended to the Marquette basketball program as they entered the season: Marquette’s third conference in 20 years, a bunch of new or non-battletested players, uncertainty about the swing of power that the football schools held over conference realignment, and a young, promising head coach from the South who assumed power unexpectedly and ahead of his time two years prior, but whose impatient fanbase was just getting a feel for.

And so, the seeds of this journey to discover “Marquette America” were sown. I immediately made plans to prepare “My Rocinante.

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