HAGERSTOWN, Md. -- It's tough out there. I mean, it's tough where I live too, a state with one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation. There are more houses for sale on my block than there are residents. But it's the sharp contrast between home and the road that really throws it into sharp relief. In three days of circulation, talking to people from other places, dealing in small transactions with desk clerks and retail functionaries, it's hard to ignore the fatigue and hopelessness.
It's little things, like the downcast eyes and slumped shoulders of a pretty checkout girl; it's larger trends, too. Sitting on a bench a crowded mall in Colonie, New York on a Sunday afternoon with a Subway sandwich, I counted pants. From a random sample of 100 passersby, 36 were wearing sweat bottoms. It's acceptable in public now. Don't bother changing out of your pajamas, America, this is all just a bad dream.
The first person I met on my road trip was a man at the rental car company at Providence T.F. Green Airport. He followed me to my car, wielded a clipboard and did a 15-point visual check of the Japanese economy model I'll be driving for the next two weeks. It used to be that they gave you the keys and a carbon damage slip to fill out, but now they've installed one last line of defense against consumer refusal of the Loss-Damage Waiver. He went through a script about liability and danger, and as I barreled through a hole in his charm to change the subject to the weather, I learned that he had moved up from Virginia to Rhode Island to take the job. "It was all that was available," he said, shrugging.
And that's where we're at. A key job skill in the 2010s is to mask desperation, to maintain dignity and pride despite the presence of their direct opposites. It's hard to tell what a job is anymore. When there are hired swindlers that receive a low wage and "point bonuses" for upsells, it's difficult to know what work means these days. And the only alternative is to go it alone and risk everything. The big guys are ahead, and they've convoluted the game to such a point that in order to play on, folks have to ignore the fact that there's virtually no chance of winning.
But in our little world, closed and full of symbols and colors, it's still possible to reach past the divide and take something from them, something that matters.
Red Line Upsets
Stetson 89, at Wake Forest 79 [Fri.] - Let it go down in history that the Hatters were first. They took control in the second half, forced the tempo to TAAC warp speed, and took down an ACC school that was once physically moved to better serve the children of the tobacco industry. It's triply-surprising, because I think everybody had Stetson picked last in the Atlantic Sun. I know I did, when I did the Prospectus previews.
It's been almost three years since the last time I was in DeLand, Florida. It was February, which means it was warm, and I profiled Stetson superfan Gus, who does a crazy dance in the second half at home games. (There's a long-suffering Hatter fan who had to have been happy about this win.) It's an inland town, very green, surrounded by long tree-lined roads. It's on the very outer southeastern edge of the Ocala National Forest, a deep sticky woods. On the northwestern side is Gainesville. That's where Tom Petty is from.
Princeton 78, Rutgers 73 (OT) [Fri.] - One of the RLU's that came at the expense of an old friend. Mike Rice jumped from the NEC to the Big East after winning two consecutive league titles (and nearly taking out Villanova in the NCAA first round last season). Princeton played from ahead for most of the game, then slipped behind, and the Tiger-Men were a little fast and loose with the ball (15 turnovers in 70 possessions), but they survived in overtime because they made their free throws and threes. And, of course, the #omgRLUdunx that inspired an animated GIF.
Southern Mississippi 60, South Florida 53 [Fri.] - Just another reminder that Conference USA is one of us this year, and it's not as if anybody talks about any teams in the league other than Memphis anyway. A quick refresher: yes, Larry Eustachy is still the coach, yes he did that thing with the young ladies and the hoop booz, and yes the ex-Metro Golden Eagles have been startlingly mediocre in recent years. They won six of 14 road games in 2009-10, and that was the highest total since 2000-01. Now, they have as many roadies as they did all of 2008-09.
Temple 62, Seton Hall 56 [Fri.] - The reigning Atlantic One opened its season with a comfortable win that got uncomfortable late. Temple, a team stocked with tough Philly-area kids, are fully expected to beat a team like Seton Hall, but the Red Line is the Red Line and a good team effort and all-around defensive shutdown (The Hall shot 30 percent) is always a treat. And then, of course, the Pirates went back home and took their frustrations out on Cornell two days later.
North Carolina-Asheville 70, at Auburn 69 (OT) [Fri.] - Miracle at Auburn! The Bulldogs came back from 12 points down with four minutes to go and dumped a football school in its shiny new basketball building, Auburn Arena, with its shiny new coach, Tony Barbee. It was also the largest financial discrepancy of the RLU's this weekend: Auburn spends $87 million on athletics, and somehow can't buy a basketball team, and UNC Asheville spends $3.5 million and somehow can put together a basketball team that beats SEC schools. The Fightin' Biedenbachs also took out South Carolina two seasons ago.
After a full week and weekend of play, the Other 25 are 6-for-89 against the Big Seven. That's one RLU behind where we were last season on this date. By why are you listening to this blog about such matters? Check out the front page of the site, where there's a running counter that's updated in real time.
We're still digging out from the weekend's annual statistical Robocalypse, and we hope you enjoyed it, but if you put in an order for a Ballz in return for a scholarship, you'll be getting a purchase link shortly. There were also just nine entries, so there's still one available, just in case you were on the fence about it. The Form™ awaits.