Engineering Marvel

I will apologize in advance for the plethora of puns that are inherent in that title. And by “apologize” I mean “not apologize in the least because puns are awesome”.

This weekend was an absolute blast. From Friday at five ‘til Sunday at closing time (to quote a John Michael Montgomery song) it was non-stop good times to be had in the land of Paul Gillespie. Of course those who know me know that “good times to be had in the land of Paul Gillespie” isn’t exactly something that’s rare – I prefer to choose to have a good time with (almost) whatever I’m doing instead of the alternative so most of my weekend are goodness…even when they’re not.

Anyway, back to the weekend at hand.

Because I have awesome friends and because Thursday was my birthday Friday morning was a rather rough morning (but well worth it – thanks to everyone who came out to celebrate!). Throw in a couple of conference calls I had to cancel last-minute because I lost key participants and it had all the makings of a less-than-stellar start to the weekend. But I had lunch with a buddy of mine who’s jumping ship and headed to a small Salesforce consulting company – a great opportunity for him – and then knocked out a couple of large things I’d been working on, making the end of the workday a plus.

When I got home it was time to take my birthday present out so I rolled out my 2007 Honda Shadow 750 Spirit into the cul-de-sac and fired her up. Since I’m used to driving an automatic and it’s been a few years (since my Mustang) since I’ve driven a clutch it took me a little to get the timing down, and because I didn’t exactly have an extensive runway (I’m not street legal yet – I take my test on the 20th – so I didn’t want to try taking it out on the main streets with some of the crazy drivers than inhabit my neighborhood) I had to limit it to getting used to the controls vs. turns, figure 8s and fast braking. She started right up with the low purr I was expecting. Everything works as expected although apparently the clutch is a lot more sensitive than I was used to.

Friday night after getting used to the bike was a Magic draft tourney. Nothing to speak of there – I tried a different approach that failed miserably, but I did walk out with a Akroma’s Memorial from the draft and a Geralf’s Messenger plus a Russian Demolish from a trade I made. Poor performance, but got a few items I can leverage for future decks so I won’t complain too much.

Saturday arrived and we had our monthly Spicy or Mild business meeting at RC’s (we sell sand socks). We got some good stuff covered and even though not all the news was good news I think we have a good future set out in front of us – hard to argue with that. After that I decided I’d try my Ultra Fog deck out at Spanky’s for the standard tournament. Another major failure for me, although this time it was in how I constructed it not how it played (it would have played fairly competitively IF I hadn’t shorted myself on mana accidentally).

But while I always enjoy hanging out at the card shop playing, the real fun this past Saturday took place at my home away from home – Volleyball Beach. It was the fifth annual Engineers Without Borders Sandtastic (seeing where the title is a pun yet?). A friend of mine organizes this particular event, and it is always an absolute blast. Last year we had a relay race with a gigantic inflatable beach ball if that gives you any indication of the side-events she likes to put on coupled with the well-run tourney. There was also a best costume and a best team name competition as well as some pretty dang awesome raffles.

I was playing with my “normal” competitive team – Amy, Jane, et. al. The “et. al” this time was Ashley, Jeremy (from The Mullets) and Jim. The competitive division was a little light this year – only five teams in it – but it was still as fun as ever. Our first match we were up against The Setting Ducks who on top of having won the “Best Team Name” competition had some pretty cool shirts (camo t-shirts with crosshairs over a duck on the front; the injured member of the team even had a band-aid on her duck). Both teams took a bit to get warmed up but we ended up taking the first one pretty solidly and the second one by just a couple of points as they got ramped up and into their groove.

The next matchup was against “The Superhero MF’ers” – Katie, Katie, Blake, Erick, Mike and Laura. A solid team, to be sure, but even more solid (and dominating) because they were dressed up as Marvel superheroes (and the pun is complete). And they did an AWESOME job. An incredible job. A simply spectacular job. I don’t think I could underscore just how great of a job they did with their costumes, but if it’s any indication you knew before you walked into the bar to get out to the courts which team was going to win the competition. It was so clear I’m pretty sure they already started writing their award acceptance speech as soon as the idea popped into their head. Amid getting blocked by the Hulk, dug by Miss (Captain) America and spiked on by Iron Man we ended up dropping both games to even our record to 2-2.

After that we played pretty solidly; the next two matches we won both games on in pretty good and consistent form giving us a 6-2 record and an almost certain second seed in the tourney (unless somehow the Superheroes managed to drop a couple of games to someone else). We spent the next 30-45 minutes or so hanging out on the deck, eating Twizzlers and Cheez-Its, drinking some beer and doing the raffle thing. Sammy won a basket of tea but his pulling-the-winning-ticket-for-his-dad-and-team skills have apparently dwindled substantially over the last few months – he didn’t even pull his own ticket for the Whopper Hopper bounce house rental for a day despite between Joshua, Sam and I having put in probably 75% of the tickets in there.

Next up was the single-elimination tournament. Best-of-three to 21. Because only four of the five competitive teams made the tournament we started in the semi-finals, meaning that two wins would put us in the finals. We were matched up against our third-round opponent (which was technically the fourth-round since the second round was a bye for us). We played pretty well, finding all the right spots to give us a two-game win and put us in the finals.

Our opponent: none other than the Superheroes. They had bagged the Setting Ducks (feel free to groan, but that there is good humor) in a couple of games and now were faced with their ultimate challenge – at least two more games against We Dig Engineers (that’s us).

For a quick pause here, you know I play in a lot of tournaments. In fact this year, cross your fingers, I’ll have played in every available tournament out at Volleyball Beach – something I’ve only come close to one year prior (last year, when I technically missed Fall Tourney of Champions, even though I played in it as a sub for a few games). And, save for a few of them I’m usually playing on pretty competitive teams that rarely miss making it to the semis or finals (or win it all!). And because of that I generally like to win. I don’t get pissy or throw a fit or make snide comments to people or anything if we don’t, but I do enjoy the thrill of victory more so than the agony of defeat (like most sane people).

But playing in the finals the Superheroes was a little different. If there was one team out there I would have been just fine having taken second to it would have been them. If I knew I gave it my all and still we ended up runner-ups (or is that runners-up?) it would have been Blake, Katie, Laura, Katie, Erick and Mike. Maybe it’s because they’re friends of mine, maybe it’s because they reminded me of The Mullets (a scrappy team playing while all dressed up in costume), maybe it’s because they were just a fun team to play in a fun tournament. Whatever the reason you can be damn sure I came to play, but the outcome of the finals match was much less of a concern than it normally is.

The first game was intense. We gave up a run at the outset (we were down something like 8-3 before we really got started) but managed to battle back. I wasn’t much help on the front side – I completely screwed up two passes over the net (as in I bumped them right into the net instead of over). But once I got out of that spot I seemed to do fine – my serving was pretty solid and I had a couple of good hits. My passing was also (for the most part, anyway) fairly solid. With all that we were down 15-18 before finally winning the first game 21-19.

We swapped sides and had virtually the same thing happen. We didn’t end up down by five early on, but we did find ourselves at a 3-point deficit a number of times. Before we knew it the score was 16-20 and we were in danger of pushing the finals match out to the dreaded game three (dreaded for us since we held a 1-0 lead; welcome for the Superheroes since no third game would mean no first place trophy for them). After a couple of great serves and volleys it was 18-20 and we were in the middle of a great volley (on both sides) when everyone started shouting “stop!”. I let the ball fall and turned to see what the deal was. I saw Mike lying on the sand, arm outstretched, not moving.

Let me tell you about scary. Beach volleyball isn’t generally a contact sport, but when you have several good players (like, say, any of the dozen we had on the court at that point) working their butts off to make sure the volleyball doesn’t hit the sand you can have collisions. For the most part in a competitive league they’re pretty benign – bruises and minor cuts for the most part. Occasionally you have knee issues or maybe a sprained ankle (in rec divisions you get more simply because you have more out-of-control players). Saturday, however, there was a solid Mike sandwich between Erick and Katie, and Mike took the brunt of it. Luckily there was only a few moments of non-movement and a couple of minutes of him just lying there with a bag of ice on his jaw and his back, but it was pretty scary. It would appear that Katie got him in the jaw with her shoulder and Erick in the back with his fist. Even despite the colliding bodies they still got the ball up and over the net – that’s impressive.

(Mike appears to be OK, although apparently Sunday morning he had a little difficulty with the whole moving around thing)

After Mike got back up and Cody stepped in to take his place we got back to the game. Behind some excellent volleys we had the score tied up at 20-20. A few points back and forth and we ended up on the short end of a 24-22 loss. What made that particularly painful was that I missed a complete slam-down on a pass back over the net that would have given us a one-point advantage and if the next volley played out the same way the win, but instead I hit it out of bounds by about six inches trying to play it off Erick’s block…except he wasn’t blocking. Oops.

We regrouped and got in to the third game. We decided that we were going to buck the system and play that third game to 21 (vs. 15) because we hate 15 when you’re playing rally scoring. After digging ourselves a 4-point deficit we got back to business, and suddenly it was 8-6 in our favor and we never looked back, winning 21-17 and taking home the championship trophy along with shot-glass necklaces.

Kudos to Sarah for running the tournament so well again – she’s a master.

Sunday was another fun day if you don’t count the fact that the Chiefs managed to lose to the Bills.  I mean the Chiefs embarrassed themselves to the Bills.  There was absolutely no part of the game that wasn’t painful to watch – it was seriously that bad.

But the Chiefs game aside, I got to ride around in my best friend’s 2013 Corvette.  A beautiful car; I’m pretty sure not only will it go 0-60 in 2.1 seconds (or so it would seem) but I’m pretty sure there’s enough electronic power in the car that it could have pressed my clothes for me and made some coffee if I hit the right button.  That is one sweet ride that handles like a champ…or at least did until the clutch decided to go in and not pop back out like it’s supposed to.  Luckily she’s still under warranty, and I guess it goes to show a $40k new car has issues just like a $15k new car does.

And then, of course, it’s volleyball time.  Although I was a little late for the 5:00 games (sorry, team!) from 5 until roughly 11:30 it was non-stop good times to be had by all…like it (almost) always is.  Some of the people up at Volleyball Beach (the folks that play as well as the folks that keep it running) are the most fun bunch you’ll ever meet, and I’m really blessed to get to play with them and see them two/three/four days/nights a week for six or seven months out of the year.

That was an awesome weekend, and one that I’m going to need a rest this weekend to catch up with.  Luckily I have that – no volleyball tourneys out at Volleyball Beach, and only a garage sale to keep me occupied.  Rest, here I come.

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