Finding the Atlantic City Boardwalk Trophy

If you ever visit the Hockey Hall of Fame in downtown Toronto, look around for a place inside the facility – an area called the North American Zone.  You’ll see on display several minor league and amateur jerseys, banners, sticks, pucks and trophies.

Atlantic City Boardwalk Trophy.  Photo by Chuck Miller.
Atlantic City Boardwalk Trophy. Photo by Chuck Miller.

You’ll also find the championship trophy currently visible on the right.

This missile-shaped championship chalice was one of the top prizes earned by teams in the Eastern Hockey League, a minor league circuit that operated from 1933 to 1973.  The EHL was originally formed as the Eastern Amateur Hockey League, as a way for Madison Square Garden promoter Thomas Lockhart to have entertaining amateur hockey matches in his building.  The league did produce several stars that found their way to the NHL, including Eddie Giacomin and Dave Schultz.  But after the 1973 season, the EHL split into two leagues, the Southern Hockey League and the North American Hockey League (the latter was the seed material for the motion picture “Slap Shot“).  Eventually teams from those two leagues formed a new EHL, then later rebranded itself as the Atlantic Coast Hockey League in the 1980’s (Schenectady and Troy both had teams in that league, neither one of those teams lasted more than a few games).  Essentially, with franchise shifts and name changes, one can trace the orginal EHL to today’s East Coast Hockey League, one of the largest minor league sports circuits around.

But back to the trophy.

In 1972, the Syracuse Blazers captured the EHL championship, and with it the Boardwalk Trophy and another chalice, the Walker Trophy (an older championship trophy that can trace its provenance back to New York City mayor Jimmie Walker, who awarded it for the 1926 amateur hockey championship).  As the Blazers players skated around with the Walker Trophy – which at that time symbolized the league’s playoff champion – someone missed a step, the Walker Trophy hit the ice and shattered into a hundred unrepairable fragments.  The Boardwalk Trophy, which once symbolized the playoff championship but was later relegated to the trophy given to the regular season champion, stayed on a presentation table.  For some reason – maybe it was because the EHL was about to fold, maybe it was because someone wasn’t paying attention – the Boardwalk Trophy simply disappeared.  And since new trophies were to be struck for the two new leagues (including the Lockhart Trophy, named after EHL founder Thomas Lockhart), the Boardwalk Trophy’s disappearance wasn’t considered a major concern.

Fast forward to January of 1994.  I was halfway through my first year as a freelance writer for Hockey Ink!, a minor league hockey tabloid monthly publication.  Everybody’s gotta start somewhere, and for better or for worse, I started out with Hockey Ink!.  The publication’s print run was spotty at best, its coverage ranged from intricately detailed to horribly spotty, its cadre of reporters a broad spectrum of newspaper beat reporters, up-and-coming freelancers (like me), and anyone else willing to write for next to nothing.  And I do mean next to nothing.  The checks from Hockey Ink! had more rubber in them than a hockey puck.  I still have a framed check on my wall from Hockey Ink! – the check was unsigned and uncashable.

Anyways, at the time there were rumors that the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks were planning on moving their AHL affiliate out of Hamilton, Ont. and placing it in Syracuse.  While working on the story for Hockey Ink!, I spoke with Brian Elwell, who was at that time part of the organizing committee to bring the franchise to the Salt City.  Elwell spent four seasons as a right winger with the Blazers from 1968-69 to 1971-72, and later stayed with the team as an assistant coach when they won the championships in 1972-73.  He later became a successful bar and tavern owner in Syracuse, operating the bar Elwell’s. And during our conversation, he dropped an off-handed comment that hit like a bombshell.

“Yeah, I used to play in the old Eastern Hockey League.  I got one of their trophies, too.”

Trophies?  At first I thought he might have received a Most Valuable Player award or something.

“Naw, it was the championship trophy of the league.  I had it for a while, I put it in my bar on display.”

I asked him if it was still there.

“No.  I was afraid someone would come and steal it, so after a few years I put it in my storage shed.  And now I’m clearing out the storage shed and I don’t know what to do with it.  It really needs to go somewhere special.”

I made a deal with Elwell.  At the time, I was getting married, and was planning a honeymoon in Toronto and Niagara Falls.  During my honeymoon, I agreed to have the trophy couriered to Canada, and would bestow it into the Hockey Hall of Fame collection.  I would also write an article about the history of the Eastern Hockey League for Hockey Ink!, and would base the article around the rediscovery of the championship trophy.  Elwell agreed that this would be the best avenue for all concerned.

Vicki Miller holds the Atlantic City Boardwalk Trophy.  Photo by Chuck Miller.
Vicki Miller holds the Atlantic City Boardwalk Trophy. Photo by Chuck Miller.

So later that month, I drove down with my fiancee (now wife) Vicki to Syracuse, and met up with Elwell.  Elwell gave us the trophy, and we drove it back to Albany.

For the few months I had possession of the trophy, I undertook a crash course on the history of the Eastern Hockey League and the birth of this trophy.  The award was originally minted by the Atlantic City (N.J.) merchants association, to honor the amateur Atlantic City Sea Gulls hockey team, as they were the champions of the Amateur Athletic Union.  When the Sea Gulls joined the EHL, the Boardwalk Trophy came with them, and eventually became the EHL’s playoff championship chalice.

As you can see by the photo on the left, the trophy was horribly tarnished and in serious need of a gallon or two of Tarn-X (although Vicki looks good, and needs no Tarn-X).  We cared for the trophy until it was time for us to take it to its new home in  Toronto.

As our plane flew into Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, the border guards looked into the styrofoam-stuffed carrier bag we had used for transporting the trophy, questioning what their X-ray equipment thought might have been a howitzer bullet inside the bag.  After some explanation, they asked to pose for a picture with the trophy.  Something about Canadians and hockey championship gear, they always treat those awards as if they were holy vestments.

Then it was off to the Hockey Hall of Fame, where the curator graciously took the trophy – we signed some papers – and as an  added treat, we got to visit behind the scenes at the Hall’s archives.  I even got to hold the hockey stick Wayne Gretzky used when he scored his 802nd NHL goal.  Sweet.

The last time I visited Toronto was in 2000, and I made a special trip to the Hockey Hall of Fame to see the trophy – it was still on display, and still looked as if it had survived 40 years of championships and cheer, although the Hall did remove a lot of the tarnish.  A two-part article about the history of the Atlantic City Boardwalk Trophy and the Eastern Hockey League is available for viewing by clicking here (Adobe PDF browser required).

As far as Hockey Ink! was concerned, I credit them with three positives.  The first was that I was able to find that trophy while working for the publication.  The second was the discovery of a long-lost important game in AHL history, which I will relate in another post.  And the third – which is the most important for any struggling writer – I was able to use my experience at Hockey Ink!, both the good and the bad, to better my writing craft and to build a resume.


Why can’t I get a good watch??

All I want is a decent timepiece that will last a long, long time, and will be able to provide the correct time to me more than twice a day.

Tag Heuer Monaco Chronograph
Tag Heuer Monaco Chronograph. Chuck's wrist not included.

Of course, if I ever won the lottery, the watch you see on the left is the only timepiece  I would want on my wrist – a super-swank Tag Heuer Monaco chronograph.  Just like Steve McQueen wore throughout the movie Le Mans.  In fact, one of my personal holiday traditions is – after I’ve purchased gifts on Black Friday at Crossgates Mall – I’ll visit Hannoush Jewelers and ask if I can try on this watch.  The counterperson will often oblige, I’ll wear it for about 30 seconds, look at the price tag, and gingerly take it off my wrist and carefully hand it back to the counterperson.  Sort of my 30-second gift from me to me.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the kind of scratch to get this watch.  So I have reluctantly resigned myself to a series of wristwatches and timepieces with such luxurious world-wide brand names as Armitron, Casio and – of course – Timex.

There was the Casio watch that could play seventeen different melodies – all of which were clearly audible any time I didn’t WANT them to be, like in the middle of a college professor’s lecture.  And the Armitron watch whose digital display faded any time the watch got wet – in other words, when they said it was “water proof,” I think they meant that it couldn’t handle being near water, and that was the proof.

I had Timex analog watches that required winding every three hours or so, and Timex digital watches whose INDIGLO light was barely three lumens above a firefly’s tail.  At one point, I even purchased a vintage Russian watch from eBay – only to discover that not only were the wristwatch brace bars on the Russian watch too big for modern wristbands, it also had a tendency to stop ticking and not tell me.

Currently I’m rocking a Casio watch that can’t decide if it wants to provide the time in regular or military format – and that was a replacement for the Wal-Mart watch I bought a year ago, whose wristband somehow completely ripped out of the brace bar and gouged the back of my hand.

I can’t say that I’ve had completely horrible luck with wristwatches.  There was once a time where I actually had a decent timepiece – a watch that, for a few short years, actually did more than I asked of it, and outlasted any support the company provided for it.

Timex DataLink 150.  Photo Credit: ricardo /
Timex DataLink 150. Photo Credit: ricardo /

It was a Timex DataLink 150, similar to the one you see on the right.  Not only was it a decent wristwatch, it also had a very special feature.

To transfer data and information to the wristwatch – phone numbers, birthdays, contact information – you placed the wristwatch in front of your computer monitor, and the data would download directly through the photoelectric cell at the top of the watch face.

This was the best watch I ever had – who needed a Palm Pilot when you could go to your watch and call up your buddies’ phone numbers, secret-agent style?

I had this watch for about maybe four years.  Then Timex started to make the watch obsolescent.

The photoelectric cell, for example, only worked on old-style VGA cathode-ray-tubed computer monitors, not the modern LCD flat-screen units of today.  To countermand that, one had to purchase a serial data port connector that interfaced (sometimes) with the watch.  After years of use, the manual control buttons along the watch’s perimeter started to corrode and stick.  I took the watch to my local Timex store, and was informed that – to my shock – Timex was no longer supporting the DataLink 150, and that if I still wanted the functions provided by the DataLink 150, I would have to invest in an Ironman sport watch, and that the DataLink software I carefully tweaked and cultivated over the years was not compatible with the new Ironman model.

I asked if I could just get another Timex DataLink 150.  I was told no; that model was no longer supported by Timex.  They did, however, give me a little cardboard mailing box.  “Put your watch in this mailing box and send it to Timex,” the Timex Store owner said.

“What will happen?  Will you repair the watch?  Will I get a replacement?”

“No.  We’ll recycle the watch parts.”

Granted, Timex is still making DataLink watches, but in my opinion they don’t have the same style as that classic DataLink 150.  So until Timex starts making those DataLink watches in the classic style – with an upgrade to allow maybe USB connectivity or monitor-to-wrist connectivity, I guess I’m stuck with whatever wristwatch I can get.

A true story to wrap up this blog about my watch woes – as a freshman in college, I purchased that noisy Casio watch, and had bragged to one of my college friends, Dave Lawrence, about its many functions and melodies.  He politely noted that I did indeed have a very powerful watch – but then said his watch could do one thing that mine couldn’t.

“What was that?” I asked.

“My watch can tick,” he replied.

The Merger of Marvel Comics and Walt Disney

Background.  I love Walt Disney films.  Always have.  Always will.  I used to love Sunday evenings in front of the television, watching classic Disney cartoons and live-action movies.  Here, reminisce with me for a couple of minutes.

That was the original Disneyland TV show opening credits, as aired on ABC in the 1950’s.

By the 1960’s, Disney’s Sunday night show moved to NBC, where it started out as The Wonderful World of Color (as seen above), and then went under different names like The Wonderful World of Disney, Disney’s Wonderful World, and the Disney Sunday Movie.

And as for Disney’s filmed output, several of the studio’s movies are on my all-time favorite list, including Fantasia, TRON, and several of the Medfield College comedies like Now You See Him, Now You Don’t, and The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes.

I also used to love reading comic books.  My favorites were Marvel Comics, and I poured ravenously through pages of such books as Fantastic Four, Amazing Spider-Man and Captain America.  I must have had about 500 comic books as a kid; I knew that Tuesday afternoon the new comics would show up at Alpert’s Drugstore on Central Avenue in Colonie; with at least $2 in my pocket I could buy five or six comics that week and read them over and over again.

I watched the TV shows, too – was a big fan of The Incredible Hulk, loved the Fantastic Four cartoon series, you know what I’m talking about.  It was an adoration of superhero fantasy that lasted even after my Aunt Dolores, behind my back, took my entire comic book collection down to Latham Circle Mall, where a comic book convention was in full swing, and sold the entire lot of comics to a dealer for $15.

So it was with great surprise that I discovered that on August 31, 2009, Disney agreed to acquire Marvel Comics, as well as the copyrights to all the characters created by the company.

I’m still stunned over it.  Barring any shareholder issues, Disney will now own one of the treasures of my youth.  I still can’t see what Disney would want with comic book characters that in the past have dealt with alcoholism (Iron Man), ethnic cleansing (X-Men), handicaps (Daredevil) and so much more.

Still, there are some possibilities that might work in favor of a Marvel-Disney blending.  Could you imagine if Kingdom Hearts III had Marvel and Disney characters in it?  Or if the baddest bad guys in Marvel comics (just for argument, let’s say Dr. Doom, Venom, The Red Skull and Loki) had to face off against four of the most vicious villains in Disney films (again, for argument, let’s say Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty, the Wicked Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Master Control Program from TRON and Chernabog from Fantasia).  Forget Freddy versus Jason or Alien versus Predator.  This would be a serious bloodbath.

Even so, I still have some trepidation about a Marvel-Disney collaboration.  If I see Mickey Mouse swinging from rooftop to rooftop on spider webs – or if I see Donald Duck blurt out “It’s Clobbering Time!” in that raspy AFLAC-tinged voice of his – I’m switching to DC Comics in a heartbeat.

Remembering that Great Local TV Game Show, “Pick-A-Show”

Once upon a time, back in at least the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the three major television stations in our Capital District broadcast area, WRGB-6, WTEN-10 and WAST-13 (no, those were WNYT’s earlier call letters) oftentimes produced their own five-day-a-week morning entertainment programs.  While Channel 13 had “Romper Room” (which I think every city in the United States had their own locally-produced version of this show), and WTEN had “Dialing for Dollars” (their excuse to run an old movie and call people to see if they were actually watching, if they were watching they won money), WRGB had probably the kitschiest game show I’ve ever seen – either locally or nationally.

It was called “Pick-A-Show.”  The program ran for about ten years, starting maybe in 1965 and ending around 1973 or 1974.

The program was part game show, part promotional event for the WRGB-WGY family of announcers and broadcasters and on-air talent, and it was also the chance for housewives throughout the Capital District to pick up a few extra dollars – as long as they could guess the winning answers.  And it starred David Allan, the songwriter-singer-announcer who at last report was working for WABY Radio as an on-air personality.

David Allan in front of the giant Pick-A-Show game board.  Image from The Best of Pick-A-Show, Scooter Records, 1972.
David Allan in front of the giant Pick-A-Show game board. Image from "The Best of Pick-A-Show," Scooter Records, 1972. Photo taken by Gerald Choinard.

This is most likely the only surviving image of David Allan and the giant Pick-A-Show game board, along with the giant cube of postcards and the telephone used to call contestants.

Game play was simple.  Those who wished to play Pick-A-Show sent in postcards with their names, addresses and a daytime telephone number.  Allan would reach into the bin, announce what city he would be calling, and start dialing.  The lucky caller – if he or she was home – would be asked by Allan the name of the Preview show that was announced at the start of the Pick-A-Show telecast (the “Preview show” was often an NBC primetime series like “Name of the Game” or “The Virginian” or one of the other programs WRGB, at that time an NBC affiliate, aired).  If the contestant knew the name of the preview show, then the game began.

The Pick-A-Show Game Board.  Photo from album The Best of Pick-A-Show, copyright Scooter Records, 1972.
The Pick-A-Show Game Board. Image from "The Best of Pick-A-Show," Scooter Records, 1972. Photo taken by Gerald Choinard.

If you can see the game board in the picture, you can see that on the left side of the game board are the illuminated letters W R G B.  The contestant had to guess which of the three shows on the top row of the game board had the letter “W” behind them.  Picking the “W” got the contestant five dollars, and the chance to move to the second round of play.

The second round meant choosing which of the four TV shows listed on the second row had the letter “R” behind them.  Remember, you only get two chances to find that “R”.  Finding it earns the contestant another $5.

Gameplay continues down to trying to find the letter “G” among five television shows, and the letter “B” among the bottom row of six shows.

Should a contestant get to the bottom row and successfully find the “B”, they had one chance to find the “6” behind one of six different WRGB-produced programs.  The picture I scanned wasn’t in very sharp focus, but I can make out that some of the shows listed in the “6” include such programs as “TV Tournament Time,” “Answers Please” and the “6 O’Clock News.”

The $505 amount seen in the picture was a progressive jackpot; the show would add $5 for every contestant who failed to successfully complete the game.

In addition to playing the telephone game, “Pick-A-Show” also, from time to time, had guests who were performing at the Colonie Coliseum stop by – maybe they would sing a song or make small talk with David Allan.  On occasion, several announcers and/or performers from WGY would visit the WRGB studios and entertain the viewers by singing a song or playing a guitar.

David Allan left WRGB in the mid-70’s and joined WAST-13, creating a different variation of “Pick-A-Show” with the call-in game “Pitfall.”  Same style of gameplay, in that you had to find certain prizes that were hidden behind the letters P, I, T, F, A, and LL.  Not as fun as Pick-A-Show, IMHO.

As for Pick-A-Show, I believe that all the episodes of the show were broadcast live, and I highly doubt that any episodes were ever saved to videotape.  The only evidence of the show’s existence was a 1972 record album, “The Best of Pick-A-Show,” that was produced as a fundraiser for the Muscular Dystrophy Associations of America.  The record album focuses on Allan’s humorous interactions with contestants, as well as musical performances by WRGB/WGY personalities Harry Downie and Earle Pudney, as well as a vocal number by General Electric Broadcasting President Reid L. Shaw.  Sadly, the record album has very little recorded gameplay, focusing instead on Allen’s telephone calls and the musical numbers.

Hey WRGB – maybe it’s time to have a “Retro” Week where you can bring back shows like “Pick-A-Show,” “TV Tournament Time,” “Student Spectrum,” “Teenage Barn,” “Answers Please” and “The Freddie Freihofer Show” – if not the original broadcasts, then how about creating new episodes for a few weeks?  Might be kind of fun.

Or maybe somebody in the WRGB archive might have a copy of an old episode of Pick-A-Show that could be shown on WRGB’s website?  Maybe?

Signboards, Thunderstorms, and the results of my photograph at the NYS Fair

7 in the morning.  My wife Vicki and I finally get of Albany and head to the New York State Fair in Syracuse.

Rule #1 about traveling to the NYS Fair – bring comfortable shoes.  You will be walking.  A LOT.

Rule #2 – Bring some sort of rain gear, like an umbrella.  The skies will open up without warning and you will be drenched – or, alternatively, you will be forced to seek shelter in the Poultry Barn while waiting for the dove to bring back the olive tree branch.

Still, it was a great time at the Fair, I think Vicki spent about two hours just in the miniature circus museum, taking pictures of all the various dioramas and hand-crafted circus miniatures.  We also got to see several entertaining exhibits – everything from Irish step-dancers to competitive rabbit judging.  Fun stuff.

During our stay at the Fair, Vicki kept pointing at these painted cutouts – the kind where you stick your head through the hole and someone takes your picture, with your head grafted onto a goofy painting.  “Go over there, Chuck, and put your head through the sign, I want to take a picture of you as an ear of corn.”

Yeah… that’s not going to happen.

“Go over there, Chuck, and put your head through the sign, I want to take a picture of you as a cow.”

Um… no.

“Oh, come on, Chuck, I’m not having fun if you don’t at least do this for me.”

So we’re eating lunch at the Fair (which for me actually meant chicken spiedies and poutine, items I did not normally expect to find – but am glad I did).  She asks me again to stick my head in a sign board.

“Vicki,” I replied.  “I love you, but I would be too embarrassed to do something like that.  That’s for little kids.  However, I’ll make a deal with you.  We haven’t been to the Mills Art Center yet, so here’s what I’ll agree to.  If my photo wins 3rd place, I will pose in ONE signboard.  If my photo wins 2nd place, I will pose in TWO signboards.  If by chance I won first place, I will pose in as many signboards as you have camera film.  But it’s gotta win at least third place, or I don’t go anywhere near a signboard.”


When we got to the Mills Art Center, I looked around for the picture.  All the entrants – professional, amateur, youth, color, black and white, non-traditional, painting, sculpture – were all grouped throughout the second floor of the Mills Art Center.

Somewhere my photo was on display.  But where?

“There it is!” Vicki shouted.

I looked.  And sure enough… there it was.

My shot from last season’s Premier Basketball League playoffs… with Mook Reaves putting the ball in the hoop for Rochester, while Sammy Monroe (upper left), Sam Carey (lower left) and Marlowe Currie (lower right) can only watch.

The photo was two sets over from the winning photo in that category, a picture of a frog in a green pond.

I had won a ribbon in my first photographic competition, and I was both excited and relieved.

Relieved – I say – because I saw the color of the ribbon that I had won.

I was one of ten photographs in that category to pick up Honorable Mention honors.

While the Fair gave out a ribbon for first place, two ribbons for second, and two ribbons for third, ten ribbons were bestowed on those photos that earned serious merit and consideration – the “honorable mention.”  In other words, they didn’t win, but they were so good that they deserved recognition as well.

And Honorable Mention meant one more thing for me.

I didn’t have to stick my head in any signboards whatsoever.

Still, we had a fun time at the rest of the fair – until the rains came.  We took shelter in the poultry building, where we got to watch everything from rabbits being judged and receiving their own winning ribbons, to various displays of roosters, chickens, pigeons and cavies.  Really fun stuff.  And it was great to see my wife, who has an aversion to anything that looks like an animal, happily taking pictures of all the entrants.

It was a long day, and just as we headed back to our car to drive back to Albany, the heavens opened up again and another thunderstorm pounded our trip.  We drove safely home, but there were plenty of drivers on the Thruway shoulder, hoping to ride out the storm.  One driver (heading westbound) actually was going too fast for the weather conditions, and hydroplaned his car into a guardrail.  As we were headed Eastbound, and in the opposite lane of traffic to the accident, we could not safely pull over to offer assistance; however, I gave my cell phone to Vicki and told her to dial 911, gave the 911 dispatcher the mile marker and coordinates of the accident, and that the 911 dispatcher would send help.

It was a great time at the Fair.  Today – I’m probably just going to recover from all the walking and rain.  And a bad case of fried pickle chips.  I don’t know what they fried the pickle chips with, but I think I saw a bottle of Castrol nearby the fryolator.

How hanging from a ceiling by your toenails can get an award-winning photo

Some background.

One of the companies for which I do freelance work is the Premier Basketball League.  This minor league hoops circuit has teams spread throughout the eastern United States and Canada, and it just finished its second year of operation.

Essentially my weekends while the PBL was in session required my driving to some of the teams’ home games and get action photographs that could be used by the league to promote itself.  For me, that meant jumping into my 1991 Pontiac 6000 and driving to Buffalo’s Koessler Athletic Center on the Canisius campus to photograph the Buffalo Stampede.  It meant driving to Blue Cross Arena at the Rochester Community War Memorial to get action shots of the Rochester Razorsharks.  It meant traveling to Southern New Hampshire University for games with the Manchester Millrats.  It meant driving through the winding Vermont highways to capture Vermont Frost Heaves games at either the Barre Municipal Auditorium or the Burlington Memorial Auditorium (the team had two different venues).  It meant grabbing my passport and covering games at Centre Pierre-Charbonneau for games involving the Montreal Sasquat’ch, and then traipsing up to Quebec City to see Quebec Kebs games at Pavillion de la Jeunesse.

So last March, during a playoff game at Blue Cross Arena between the Rochester Razorsharks and the Manchester Millrats, I had an idea.  Blue Cross Arena is one of those multipurpose facilities that have ceiling catwalks and scaffolding.  After clearing my request with Blue Cross Arena security, I received special one-time permission to shoot some of the playoff action from that game from the catwalk.  I aimed straight down at the basket with my Nikon D70, using an f/2.8 lens at a shutter speed of 1/500.  Among the ceiling shots I acquired was this little doozy.

Action Under the Basket - Rochester Razorsharks versus Manchester Millrats, March 2009. Photo by Chuck Miller.
Action Under the Basket - Rochester Razorsharks versus Manchester Millrats, March 2009. Photo by Chuck Miller.

Needless to say, the photo was an immediate success with the PBL.

So a few weeks ago, when I discovered that the Great New York State Fair had a photography contest exhibition as part of their lineup of contests (silly me, I thought the only contests for Fairs were prize goats and best apple pies), I decided to enter this picture.

The Fair required that the photo be blown up to 16×20 size and mounted on foamboard, so I couldn’t just send them the photo in a rolled tube.  Since the Fair offered a one-day physical “drop-off” period for entries, I drove the 2 1/2 hour drive to Syracuse, with this photograph mounted and sized to contest specifications, to drop the photo off for judging.

As I pulled into the Art Center parking lot on the State Fair campus, I saw other people pulling mounted, foam-boarded entries out of their cars for the same drop-off purpose.  The receivers inside the Art Center made sure that every entry had an accompanying postcard that could alert the entrants if their photo was accepted or rejected.  One of the receivers took each entrant’s photo entry, and simply said, “That’s a nice photo.”  “That’s a good photo.”  “What a nice photo.”

I handed the receiver my two entries – one photo was an etherial shot of Washington Park at midnight.  “That’s a nice photo,” she said, almost robotically.

I then handed her the photo you see in this blog post.

“That’s a nice – Oh my God, how did you get that shot???

When I heard that comment, at that moment … I knew this photo had a chance.

Flash forward a week later.  It’s a hot Saturday morning and I’m out trying to get the veldt that I call my lawn down to a manageable level.  The postman drops off our family mail.  Among the usual assortment of bills and junkmail and Valspak coupon booklets were the two postcards from the New York State Fair.

I sat down on my front porch steps and looked at the postcards.

My first entry, “Washington Park After Dark” – which, by the way, looks like this –

Washington Park After Dark.  Photo by Chuck Miller
Washington Park After Dark. Photo by Chuck Miller

received this postcard:

That box in the lower right is checkmarked “not accepted.”  That either means they have too many entries that look like my entry, my entry wasn’t among the top votegetters, or that I should sell my equipment and take up horticulture.  Who knows?

Meanwhile, my basketball photograph received this postcard –

Instead of “not accepted,” the card was checked “Accepted” – and also checked “WINNER!”

Winner – you mean my hanging from my toenails from the Blue Cross Arena ceiling last spring actually paid off?!?

I will spare you the grisly details of me dancing around the house like Cousin Balki in Perfect Strangers.

Unfortunately, being told you are a “winner” doesn’t mean you are told what you won.  The photography contest awards prize money and ribbons in the following breakdown – one prize for first place, two prizes for second place, two prizes for third place, and ten “Honorable Mention” awards.  So fifteen photos will receive ribbons of merit; but the top five will also receive money.

The only way I’m going to find out what I won is to essentially drive out to Syracuse, take in a day at the Fair, and see for myself.

Which is what I’m going to do this Saturday morning.  Load up the car – take my wife Vicki on a road trip – and enjoy a day at the Great New York State Fair.

Wish me luck.  I’ve never won a competitive photography award before.  So this will be my first.

My 10 favorite TV shows of 2008-09

Summer’s almost over, and I’m thinking back to the TV shows I started to watch with great anticipation, only to give up on them halfway through their broadcast runs. And other shows that I still continue to watch, whether they be intellectually stimulating or just electronic comfort food from the glass teat, as Harlan Ellison would say.
The following is a list of my ten favorite TV shows from the 2008-09 season. These were shows that I would make a concerted effort every week to watch, or DVR, or call my wife when I’m not home and ask her to set the DVR for me. I am listing them alphabetically, and if I’m missing your favorite shows on this list – well, that’s what the comments page is for.

  1. The Big Bang Theory (CBS) – Probably the only television show about geek culture that doesn’t make geek culture seem less than appealable. The adventures of Leonard, Sheldon, Raj and Wolowitz, along with their hot-but-clueless neighbor Penny, is just great television candy.
  2. Deadliest Catch (Discovery Channel) – I don’t eat crab legs that often, but I enjoy watching the camaraderie and danger of those who work on the fishing vessels Northwestern, Cornelia Marie, Wizard and Time Bandit. It’s one of my favorite “candid” reality shows.
  3. Dollhouse (FOX) – I never got into all that Josh Whedon fanboy worship (you know, the ones that are still petitioning for Firefly to return to network television), but I really got into this series about programmable people who solve problems and then get their minds erased – sort of like “Rent-A-Solution.” The storylines keep you interested throughout the run. Plus, Eliza Dushku is Death Valley hot.
  4. Flashpoint (CBS / CTV) – Yes, it’s another procedural drama from CBS, where you can’t swing a cat without hitting a CSI or an NCIS or one of their spinoffs or clones. But Flashpoint is different, in that the show itself doesn’t always have the cut-and-dry happy ending. Characters die. Characters get hurt. And for the men and women of the Strategic Response Unit, each case has after-effects that continue throughout the series run. Plus, it’s fun to play “Spot the Canadian” – even though the show downplays its Toronto location, every so often (at least once per episode) there will be a reference to a Toronto street, neighborhood, or nearby Ontario location or local doughnut/coffee shop.
  5. Friday Night Lights (NBC / Direct TV) – How much do I love this family drama about a Texas town where high school football is all the rage? Let me count the ways. It’s a great drama series, the acting and storylines are top-notch, and I deliberately avoided any spoiler alerts (as the series was first broadcast on Direct TV, which I don’t have, so I had to wait patiently for the NBC broadcasts to air). Thankfully, the series will return for at least two more seasons.  A side note – how painful is it when three of my Top 10 were on at the same date and time (Dollhouse, Flashpoint and Friday Night Lights all aired Friday nights at 9pm).  This meant I had to watch one show live (usually Flashpoint), one DVR’d (Dollhouse) and then wait for Time Warner’s On Demand to show the rebroadcast of Friday Night Lights.  Wow wee.
  6. Little Mosque on the Prairie (CBC) – I have to watch this series through imported Canadian DVD’s and YouTube postings, but it’s both hilarious and sweet. Imagine a culture-clash sitcom featuring a Muslim neighborhood in a Canadian prairie town. It sounds offensive, but when you watch the first couple of episodes you realize it’s about as offensive as an episode of The Beverly Hillbillies. And at times, just as funny!
  7. Pushing Daisies (ABC) – One day in my life, I’ll make a list of all the shows I used to love that were cut down too early in their prime – shows like Max Headroom and Dark Angel and the like. Pushing Daisies would be on that list. Whether it’s the Tim Burton-influenced visual style or the delicate but definite wordplay, this show was fantastic. Smite the knuckleheads at ABC for not giving it a decent sendoff, although I will add a caveat in that the show did at least get a wrap-up finale of some sort.
  8. United States of Tara (Showtime) – The last time I ever saw Toni Colette in anything, she was playing the frumpy teen Muriel (or was it Mariel?) in the film Muriel’s Wedding. You know, the one that was full of ABBA songs before anyone ever heard of a Mamma Mia musical. In this show, Colette runs the gamut as a person with multiple personalities, playing every personality as if they had a life of their own – and convincingly so. A really funny show with lots of nuances.
  9. The Venture Brothers (Cartoon Network / adult swim) – My favorite late-night cartoon skewers every action cartoon cliche, throws in about 50 pop culture references per episode, and is just a complete and unharnessed riot to watch.  This show has more sensibility than most current prime-time network fare.  If you haven’t caught The Venture Brothers on Cartoon Network’s late-night adult swim block, you need to do so and fast.
  10. VH1 Dating “Of Love” Shows (VH1) – You know it’s the same dang show over and over again, whether it’s Flavor Flav or Bret Michaels or one of Flavor Flav’s rejects or one of Bret Michaels’ castoffs, or whether the castoffs are competing in “I Love Money” or “Charm School” or “Tool Academy,” these human trainwreck dating shows are completely addictive and fun to watch. It’s like going to see the freak tent at the circus – see the guys with multiple tattoos and piercings! See the girls with Goodyear-inspired floatation devices! Watch as people have emotional meltdowns one day, and then are as chipper as a squirrel with a cachet of acorns the next!

There were a lot of shows I could have included on this list, but I have to catch up on DVR episodes of Lost and Fringe, and Heroes just fell off my radar (are there people on that show that DON’T have some sort of superpower?). Plus, I could have added The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (HBO), Escape to Chimp Eden (Animal Planet) and So You Think You Can Dance (FOX), but then it would have been a Top 13 and this ain’t college football, where you can have eleven teams in the Big 10.