Sunday, June 19, 2011

Ghost Racers of the Ninja Apocalypse

That distinctive screaming, whirring, movie-sound-effects noise filling the air this weekend emanates from the Milwaukee Mile at State Fair Park, where the Milwaukee 225 IndyCar Series race is being run. It's kind of cool, actually, and so is the knowledge that it will go away later today.

Running errands yesterday in The Silver Zloty -- there was an old radio ad in which a happy-go-lucky doofus said, "We were just looking for some throw pillows for the loveseat in the breezeway," and my noble quest was about that important -- I meandered up National Avenue in West Allis, within livestock-sniffing distance of the State Fairgrounds, and found myself in sudden peril, chased by a pack of black-hooded ninjas on black racing bikes holding small, laser-guided handweapons, their black helmets of the latest curved design concealing their eyes as they bore down on me with extreme intent, as if in the opening sequence of a Japanese action comic. No? Well, that's what it sounded like yesterday in the vicinity of the Milwaukee Mile.

The funny part is, I was listening to golf on the car radio while being chased by the invisible ninjas. Sportscaster Sean McDonough hosted ESPN Radio's coverage of the U.S. Open from Congressional Country Club, at which young Jedi knight Rory McIlroy seeks to redeem himself in the eyes of the August Master. At the time, it seemed like a better listening option than weekend infomercials for living trusts.

Now, I've been known to give the radio medium its due. Baseball on the radio is a continuing joy. I've listened to Matt LePay's countless calls of "Touchdown, Wisconsin!" on Saturday afternoons (probably while shopping for curtain rods). I've listened to the Indy 500 on the radio in fascinated amazement at the tight broadcast production. I've even been involved in offbeat radio sports in a small way myself; back in the day, for example, I wore a highly attractive orange life preserver in a small powerboat as the remote engineer for college radio broadcasts of crew races, hanging on for dear life. (Pro tip: position yourself and your puffy vest as a noise baffle between the guy with the microphone and the outboard motor. Pro tip 2: if he falls overboard, immediately yell, "Let go of the mike!")

But, it's hard to do golf on the radio. Exactly how fascinating can the basic arithmetic of the leaderboard possibly be? How many times can McDonough & Co. describe Phil Mickelson's booming, errant drives into the next zip code and his wedge shots to 18 inches from 85 feet, and sound surprised? How critical is it whether McIlroy's proficient game stacks up to that of Tiger Woods, whose absence looms over this tournament like a ghostly apparition? Why do golf announcers whisper during the putts when they're probably sitting in a studio in Bristol, watching on the big screen like everyone else?

Yet on this day, the broadcast team provided an informative, workmanlike depiction of the sights and action from Congressional, never letting the audience wonder for a moment what Mickelson or McIlroy or their caddies might be thinking -- it seems that, according to all golf announcers throughout history, all pro golfers have "the courage of champions" -- as I sped through West Allis intersections and took hard corners trying to shake the racing ninjas in hot pursuit.

It suddenly occurred to me that I could slow down; I was not in mortal peril. The ninjas meant me no harm. It was merely Tiger and his entourage, trying to get close enough to The Silver Zloty to hear the latest updates on the leaderboard.

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