Please excuse my extended absence on here. As the weather has gotten better, maybe even too good for April, my mood has improved. Longer days means more possible activity with a broader array of people.
Most recently, and memorably, my niece Emma and I went to Oakland/Berkeley.
Seeing the Warriors play the Blazers in person was her idea. And I wasn’t going to say no. Her basketball team, playing in school cafeterias and neighborhood centers, has gotten leaps and bounds better this season, passing, pulling down rebounds, scoring, setting screens. It has been a remarkable transformation to watch from the utter court chaos that passed for basketball amongst Emma and her peers last year. So basketball was already on her mind. Since no one else in her family is even nearly as fanatical a baketball/Warriors fan as me, she had identified me as a good candidate for the trip she wanted to make. Plus, as her mom pointed out, it offered a rare opportunity for one-on-one aunt-niece bonding time.
Emma is 12 years old, a wonderful blend of pragmatism and daydreams. She likes pop music, pizza and swimming pools. On the way south on Highway 101, I handed her a map. She looked back, as if to say, “What am I going to do with this?” I need to know where Oracle Arena is, I said. You’re going to find it and tell me how we’ll get there. You’re my navigator, I added. She picked up plenty fast on how to read the map and give rapid fire directions. I’d argue she had better corrective faculties than any GPS unit in a vehicle, but I sensed that modern technology made the exercise seem archaic. I smiled and shook my head as I heard myself say: “People used to consult this kind of map on paper (the ones that take up 2/3 of the front seat and never quite fold back up on their original creases) to get around ALL OF THE TIME before smart phones existed. Reading maps makes YOU smarter. Smart phones actually make you less smart.”
HERE IT IS, she shouted once she’d followed the bay, through the tangle of freeway interchanges, down the Oakland waterfont far enough with her finger. Here’s a pen. Circle it, I instructed her. She did, embellishing with arrows and stars. Then, she moved north on the map, closer to the home of the friends we would stay with. She had quickly identified an aquatics center and the Oakland Zoo as possible things to do, and outlined them in heavy dark ink also. The zoo won out, and good thing it did.
We walked until we got tired, stopping once for ice cream sandwiches. Then we rode the cable car to the top of the hill where the zoo is situated. We giggled and shot selfies. We oohed and ahed over lions, tigers, giraffes, zebras, camels, bison, baboons, chimpanzees, hyenas, sun cats, meer cats and even elephants (which I’m told have some of the more humane captivity conditions – if such a thing is possible.) We whiled away the afternoon.
Then we cued up in line to park outside Oracle Arena, playing rummy and go fish on the dash board while the anticipation built. The arena is supposed to move across the Bay to San Francisco in a few years to attract more and different crowds, I explained. Between that fact and the stellar season the Warriors are having, this was a good year to catch a game.
We parked near the exit, walked across the parking lot and joined the throng waiting to be admitted. Once we were in, Emma found chicken strips, garlic fries and Dip N Dots. I found a fresh barbequed pork Bahn Mi (Vietnamese sandwich). Remember, my goal was quality time with my niece, so I decided not to be much of a regulator and more of an enabler auntie. We were both in heaven. We circled the arena hall, checking out all the swag for sale and in-your-face promotional deals. It was overwhelming and fascinating, much the way I felt strolling through Latin American markets. Somewhere in our loops, I lost track of where we were in relation to our seats. Happily, Emma has been to more live sporting events than me, so she took over and steered her aunt to the right door like a pro.
As the teams streamed out onto the court through the tunnels, the place darkened and then lit with fireworks and fireballs and announcers voices. The thousands of fans undulated like sea anemones. THIS was what I was really after: the home crowd atmosphere you can only know by being there. Emma watched the jersey numbers and dance team closely. And I sat back and tried to soak it all in. The sweaty defense, turnovers and swishes/thunks below, the playbacks after every whistle, the amicable fans in gold and yellow who helped us more than once when our country mouse showed through a little, the chance to do all this with my niece.
As often happens with the Warriors, a big lead shrunk down to a small one in the last quarter, keeping us on the edges of our seats near the end. But finally, the Warriors persevered, with a 45-point performance from their star player Stephen Curry. The Roaracle lived up to its name and all the hype and fanfare of the Dubs franchise in the past few years.
Maybe most important, I lived up to my title of auntie.