Thursday, October 22, 2009

Family Weekend at George Mason

A while back I texted youngest son and asked "Should I come for Family Weekend or not?"

He replied back "Either way is fine." I took that as the closest I would ever get to an affirmative and made my travel arrangements.

The main event on Friday (arguably for the whole weekend) was Mason Madness -- the fall rite that officially kicks off basketball practice for the upcoming George Mason basketball season.  Unlike Texas, where football is the state religion, the eastern seaboard worships (to a much greater extent) at the altar of basketball. And George Mason (which won the 2006 Eastern Regional NCAA Championship) is no exception.

The five days preceding my trip I ran a low grade fever, hacking and coughing like death. By that Friday my fever had broken but I was but a shadow of my usual self. Note to the savvy traveler: if you've been under the weather, expecting to make it to the airport to catch a 7:00 AM flight is wildly optimistic.

After only one missed flight, I made it into DC, got my rental car and drove to Fairfax. Parking Lot K, on the southeast edge of the GMU campus, had been  designated as parking for family visitors. While adjacent to the Patriot Center (the basketball arena), it was a fairly good hike from everything else, especially if it happened to be raining. Which it did...for 2 and a half days. Temperatures never got above 45 degrees.

In the tradition of all male college students, youngest son had grown more hairy than the last time I'd seen him. We attended to the first order of business, finding an appropriate cold weather coat (all he had previously was a GMU hoody -- fashionable but a bit thin once temperatures dropped).

After a day of running errands, we eventually met up with some of his peers at his dorm and sloshed our way back to the Patriot Center, where Mason Madness was in full out crazy mode. The presence of a prominently displayed decibel meter at one end of the arena was a tipoff the evening would be loud. And the boisterous crowd did not disappoint. Average decibel level was around 90 db for the duration.

Coach Jim Larranaga was on hand to introduce this year's line ups in both the men's and women's teams. He's had a hell of a run since coming to George Mason, winning more games than any other coach at the school or their conference. The night ended with some exhibition play by the teams.

After climbing up and down arena steps, I was pretty well exhausted. "What time do you want to meet up tomorrow?" I asked youngest son.

"Two o'clock," said he.

I used this as an excuse to lay in bed until almost 11:00 the next morning (I was still recovering from a week of being sick). Before heading to campus I grabbed a cheap umbrella, since it was still raining.

We had a late lunch at the Rathskeller then checked out the new Engineering building, where youngest son will be taking a number of classes in years to come. After another shopping outing we headed back and played pool for a couple of hours and caught a 9 PM screening of UP, which I hadn't seen. We ended the evening at the Rathskeller. Before parting we decided to head to DC on Sunday, to see the Museum of Natural History.

We took the Metro and arrived around 11:00 AM. The joint was jumping. In the Hall of Mammals I learned the distinguishing characteristics of Mammals are: sweat glands, including teats (which I knew), and the presence of 2 bones in the inner ear used for hearing (which I did not know). Near this was an excellent temporary exhibit about Charles Darwin and Natural Selection.

We also checked out the Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals, which is one of the largest collections of its kind in the world. It covered the gamut: meteors and meteorites, gemstones, industrial ores and mining. Finally, we hit the Ocean Hall, which opened late 2008 and has 23,000 square feet of exhibition space.

Did I mention there is no admission to this astonishing collection?

The rain finally stopped about the time we emerged from the museum. We headed back around 3 since I had a flight to catch later that evening. I finally arrived back in Texas around 10:30 PM.

 It was a great trip. That night I found a couple of iPhone apps that should let me follow the fortunes of the GMU basketball program. I've never been much of a fan, but I guess I will be.

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