The Volley Trolley Tour

What started as Jack and Dave's volleyball Tour in '04 has grown into VolleyTrolley Enterprises. We play beach volleyball and cruise around in a 1983 Airstream RV. It ain't terrible.

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Location: Venice Beach, California, United States

Monday, July 21, 2008

Eyes Smiling in Ireland

"Hi! We're beach volleyball players from California. We're ranked somewhere between 30-40 on the AVP Tour. We're traveling in Europe for six weeks this summer -- do you know of any tournaments we could play in?"

I sent this email to about twenty different countries' volleyball federations. Didn't realize that the paragraph above, along with this website, would be our application to be featured pros in an Irish exhibition.

For four days we were busy promoting, playing, commentating, and enjoying beach volleyball at its best. Not its highest level, mind you, but its best.

The 'beach' in Bray, 45 minutes south of Dublin, is made up of boulders, each roughly the size of a... volleyball. But inland of the 'beach' is a concrete strand, followed by a wide swath of grass. Feature Court was some great sand placed on the grass, just accross from our hotel. Not a difficult commute.

The equivilent of a 3-ring circus took place on Feature Court for the Coca Cola Volleyball Festival, run by Volleyball Ireland and the Bray Summer Festival. About every 30 minutes one match would end and another, in an entirely different format, would begin. Jack and I played in a King Of the Beach (everyone plays with everyone) with Tristin from England and Aaron from Australia. Some American friends played a Queen of the Beach: Kathleen Madden, Kirstin Olsen, Angela Lewis, and Janelle Koester. Between our games, the top Irish pairs duked it out for national honors. That's four divisions already, but as stated, this was a condensed 3-ring circus.

A couple grass courts were set up just outside the arena, and an International 6x6 co-ed tournament was concurrently underway. The finals were moved in front of the crowds on the Feature Court. Eight members of Ireland's Special Olympic volleyball team joined the 'international' beach pros for a couple games. And a bevy of Irish celebrities -- some pro athletes and some hopefully talented in other areas -- also took the court for some volleying.

Difficult to pick a highlight, but this one stands out. Eric, a 5'2 Special Olympian who split time between commentating and playing, was on my team. After a spectacular rally, ended by Eric with a nice line shot to the corner, he peeled off his shirt, flexed, then high-fived each of us on his team. Then to be fair, he crossed under the net to celebrate with each of our opponants. Then he acknowledge the crowd, now standing and screaming in support. The game was tied at this point. But with that kind of momentum, the final point was just a formality. Each male player on our team was now Brandi Chastained and celebrating in solidarity.

That was a highlight. But so was taking on six of the Irish celebs with our co-ed team of professional players. None of the celebs were famous for their volleyball skills so we naturally had to even things out by running plays. One play called for a six-person I-formation serve receive. As the serve was hit, we'd randomly scatter to pass, set, and crush it down. Another serve receive involved us jogging in a circle as long as possible. I don't think the celebs took offence of our playing around (we still dominated them) but I was having too much fun to notice...

Here's the 'official' coverage about it:

Monday, July 14, 2008

Piestany Pressure

I'd researched some hotels and smaller places (called Pensions) to crash in. The few alongside the center court were pricey or full, so we grabbed a taxi. Over the next 90 minutes, we had popped into over a dozen places, finding them either pricey or full. We ended up getting dropped off exactly where we'd hailed the cab, which the driver found pretty amusing. We checked into a pricey hotel for the night, and had reserved a nice Pension a lovely 5-minute walk across the river from the main court for the following three nights. The town of Piestany is world-famous for its thermal mud, spas, massage -- we were going to stick around regardless of performance. And the dollar goes further in Slovakia than even in Czech Republic.

We didn't talk much about our prospects in the qualifier. There wasn't much point: if we lost again in the qualifier there'd be no reason to even find out what prize money we'd missed out on. The Tournament Director Shaff picked us up the following morning and drove us 10 minutes to an abandoned cross between a Medevil Times restaurant and a prairy farm house. After the meeting, held in Slovak, we again got in the car and headed to a different site to our court. Three out of twenty teams in the Qualifier would advance. Since our location had only one court, our bracket of eight teams would only produce one Qualifier. Yikes.

In our first game we were as focused as could be -- I hardly realized until after the match that our opponants were high school aged and not super strong. We badly needed the vic.

Our second opponants were two big guys who obviously played quite a bit. Probably more indoor, but it was an overcast still day -- not many beach elements to deal with. Jack and I sided out well and were at 7-all in the first game when I had a terrible, or great thought creeping into my head: 'We could lose to this team.' This team was stronger than the one we'd lost to in Pnov. We could be eliminated in the qualifier of two small land-locked countries without long histories in beach volleyball. And losing this early would mean not even getting a workout in for the day.

I decided to whack a few jump serves, and the difference between my usual fluff serve and the whacking seemed to set them off kilter. So did Jack running off the court and onto the grass to set a dig of mine. We got a couple point lead and held 'em off to take the first game.

Normally Jack serves first for us but I began game two at the service line. We got up two-nil at which point I drilled a serve into the net. But the seed was sown -- they were arguing about whose ball was whose on serve receive, and Jack took full advantage. He floated the dominant player some serves practically down the middle. With that player now crowding the middle, Jack mixed in one down the now-vacant sideline, which was foul-tipped into the not-so-nearby hedge. An earned 2-0 vic for me and Jack. No Airstream, but we were getting rolling...

Monday, April 14, 2008

Partner Selection 201 -- "Musical Partners"

I had eight and a half months to prepare for the AVP Miami. Ticket from LAX to Ft. Lauderdale? Check. Probable place to crash? Check. Partner? Partner? Well, let's not panic -- there were 15 whole hours before the Monday noon deadline.

Some players stick together. Jenny and Annette haven´t played an AVP event with anyone else throughout their careers. Some players switch it up regularly, looking for a partner with the right tools, chemistry, hook-ups, points. The whole courtship / breakup process is interesting, but one technique stands out as the most daring.

For five years I sat out the Musical Partners dance. I played with John Hribar. Perhaps we both missed out on chances to team up with upgrades in certain areas, but but we always knew who we were arriving with.

We did notice with some envy, however, that players ranked below us were occasionally picked up by a much stronger player. At times it was the Partner Domino Effect where a high-ranking individual drops out last minute and causes a chain reaction of new teams beneath. These new teams usually meant great opportunity for the ´picked up´partners with manageable damage done to the pre-domino relationships.

But there´s always someone playing Musical Partners. Think musical chairs on a dance floor: when the music stops (i.e. the sign-in deadline), you hope the numbers are even and you've made an impression on your target. It's not for the weak of stomach, especially when cross-country flights (or in my case, drives) are involved.

Now if one player decides to keep an eye out for a stray great pick-up, that´s fine. But it´s less fine for that player´s backup partner, who now must jump on the dance floor in case the wandering-eyed partner gets lucky.

My regular AVP partner has a real job. Work required him to take a trip on short notice to Portland, Oregon during the AVP Miami. Portland, Oregon is pretty far from Miami. Once he officially let me know he couldn't play, I began surveying the partners with many more AVP points. One seemed promising, and had 244 points to my 144. We'd be a top-4 seed in the qualifier where four teams get in. But he was playing the same game, and I was his back-up. He had chances to get directly into the Main Draw, so without a commitment, I chassed onto the dance floor.

On Sunday at 9pm PST, I called Florida-based Justin Phipps. He had a solid partner, but was kind enough to point out target for me. “He´s registered, but they might not have enough points to get into the Thursday qualifier,” he said. The target was Dave Dipierro, who lives with my former LA roommate, Donovan Dana. (Their house, whether they knew it or not, was my probable place to crash.) It was too late to politely call Florida, but time was ticking. I texted my former roommate who woke up Dave Diperro who then called me. I asked him to dance with 11 hours to go before the deadline.

Depierro decided to call his registered partner to ask permission to break up. He agreed they probably didn´t have the points to get into the qualifier restricted to 28-teams. Within the hour, he got permission to break up and we were registered online. We left the dance club.

Fifteen minutes after registering, I got a text from Mr. 244. He was still hearing the music. His Main Draw dreams were still leading him on. Could I wait 'til tomorrow morning to decide? I could not. I end up playing the AVP Miami Qualifier, and Mr. 244 ended up not going.

So, was it all worth it? I think reasonable people could disagree.

I had a three-day trip to South Beach. I was wined and dined by my new sponsor, Jose Cuervo on my birthday. I played three incredibly close matches and won the first two. We beat the #6 seed as the #11 seed. We won zero prize money. We feel we played hard and fair, and had a great chance to qualify.

I hope to know who I'm playing future tournaments with a little sooner in the future. I don´t like that part of beach volleyball is making as many calls as possible to sell myself to potential partners. I hope not to find myself on the dance floor. Unless, that is, a monster blocker happens to throw a look my way...

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Obama Effect

A few months ago I was unsponsored, underemployed, and a little bit unmotivated. I was coasting.

With an interesting Democratic primary headed to California, I ventured onto the websites for Hillary and Obama. Obama´s led me directly to entering my email address which I did with some ambivalence. I checked a box indicating an interest in volunteering, but didn't think anything would come of it.

A week later, I walked into an office in Venice Beach, late for an Obama Precinct Captains meeting. It turns out the neighborhood next to mine, Mar Vista, still needed one, so I signed up and got some training. That afternoon I was on the phones, identifying Obama supporters. I made close to 150 calls -- probably more than I´d made to strangers in the last three years combined. It felt like work, but good work. I came in each day that week to make calls, and was driving around that weekend knocking on doors. That's when a phone call came in from my new employer.

My sister Andrea had forwarded me a notice that Oxnard College was looking for a head coach for its women's volleyball team. It'd be a step up in pay and responsibility, and I excitedly accepted the position. My interview had taken place the week before. I have no doubt that the practice of cold-calling and developing rapport with strangers helped me in my interview.

The following weekend I was out there again, putting on out door hangers and identifying PrObama voters. An interruption came in the form of a phone call from the Jose Cuervo marketing team. They called to offer sponsorship for my 2008 beach volleyball season. I accepted and am the happiest member of the 2008 Team Cuervo. And the Airstream got sponsored, too -- it´s getting Cuervo-logo´d up this week. I take the sponsorship as a sign that the world smiles upon action. And I'm smiling because of the sponsorship.

Have I read The Audacity of Hope? No, not yet. Have I read his plans for tax, trade, or legal reforms? No, not yet. Call me a sucker, but I fall for his messages of hope and unification. Optimistically, I jumped into a campaign with no reasonable chance for him to win in California. As he wins state after state, I feel like a fan whose team is marching through the playoffs. And I honestly feel that because I jumped into action, regardless of for whom, it helped me get some needed mojo for 2008. And while the home hasn't rolled anywhere yet, I feel like I'm on a roll.


Saturday, August 04, 2007

Skegness, England: Slightly Sweeter Than it Sounds

It’s been a wet summer in England. Pouring rain slammed our bus from Stanton Airport to London. The prior weekend’s English Volleyball Tour event had been flooded out, so the one we were headed for would be well attended.

Getting to Skegness was half the fun. Thanks to a comically strong pound, buses and trains from London weren’t an option – they’d involve arriving a day early and getting a hotel. Brother Bill's Notting Hill apartment was on the schedule and in the budget. I figured out we could rent a car at 11pm the night before and get it back 24 hours later. The catch was that the only rental place we could find still open was at Heathrow Airport, and driving in London is daunting.

In one of my best decisions ever, I shelled out the extra eleven pounds (22 bucks) for the GPS navigation system. Unfortunately, the screen went blank a few miles before reaching Notting Hill, and I had no clue where I was other than driving on the wrong side of the car, the road, and the city of London. A wrong here can mean a photo-captured ticket by mail. Heathrow Airport was easier to find than brother's apartment, so I went back to the rental counter and picked up a working charger for the GPS. By 4am I was back to Notting Hill, just in time to pick up Jack and leave for the event.

On no sleep, Jack and I checked out the tourist town of Skegness. The place is arguably nicer than its name, Skegness. With no sleep we still managed to get some pool play wins under our belts. Tough serving got us early leads in each of our playoff matches. Our opponents’ tough serving got them the first game of the final. We were dragging and needed to win in 3. Our incentive: the tournament paid its prize money in British Sterling: pounds.

Game three had very few ‘real’ points – points scored by the serving team. Fortunately we got a couple late in the match, including the final point. Jack jumped into the angle and stuffed their left-sider.

We had won some 125 pounds which would have made us a profit for the weekend. Sadly, gas in the UK is priced in pounds per liter. At over $7 per gallon, we were glad we had left the Airstream back in the USA…

Monday, July 16, 2007

Feeling Almost Elite

Our fourth match of the qualifier -- the one to get in -- was back in town on the Stadium Court. We played a team coached by the Tournament Director. Young, but big: 6'8" and 6'3". The first game we took handily but the second got close. They began using some of our gimmicks like hitting on two. We took it 21-19 and were in the Slovak Elite Tour 16-Team Main Draw. We were borderline professional athletes.

Saturday. Game One. Stadium Court, Piestany, Slovakia. With zero seeding points, we faced the #1 seed team in the country. They crushed us in the first game. We took the second, but fell in the third down the home stretch. We were in the loser's bracket which meant we'd be back in the car to the off-site courts. We didn't, or couldn't have known how much of a treat we were in for.

The Ranc (Ranch) was the site of the prior day's meeting. With three courts and the infrastructure for a restaurant, bar, and concert stage, the place has possibilities. But it's definitely in the middle of nowhere. Abandoned farm lands surrounded us. And for some reason, in this land-locked country, the place had something we hadn't felt in weeks: wind.

It wouldn't be humble to say that we'd have finished better had the whole thing been played out here, but we would have. Three of our next five matches were there, and if there ever was a great situation to be in, playing Slovaks in the wind, for money, with Jack Quinn would be it. We marched through the bracket, making our way back to the stadium in town.

One more win would put us in the final. We had watched our opponants playing earlier in the day with some swirley weather coming in. The 6'7" blocker looked tired and a little awkward. But the air was as still as it wasn't at the Ranch, and the tall guy found his second wind. We lost a close deciding third game to put us in the bronze medal match.

With the sun out, the bleachers full, cameras rolling and clicking from everywhere, the match began. Both teams were tired -- it was our fourth match of the day after playing several the prior two. With tiredness, our style of play became even more different than our Slovak opponants'. Shots, looping serves, lots of digs -- by the crowd's reaction, the match was an interesting one to watch. We won the first game, lost the second, and were down 12-13 in the third when one of our opponants went down with a cramped-up quad. Medical time out and a great buzz going through the crowd.

He recovered and play continued -- for about another thirty minutes. I had a swing for the match after a crazy rally and went for it with foolish gusto -- into the net. They had several match points -- we kept chipping off their big blocker and hitting away from the cramping defender. Alas, the ending didn't go our way. But at least the tournament did. It was perhaps the most exciting match I'd been a part of, as I told the crowd when handed the mike before the gold medal match. Then, with some cajoling from Jack, I led the crowd in singing the Slovak national anthem. I'd learned it in high school, and it seemed appropriate. It also seemed to surprise the crowd -- especially the announcer.

So all in all, the tournament worked out. And the announcer, Juray, put us up in his apartment in Bratislava the next two nights. We had essentially won a free week in Slovakia, the opportunity to demonstrate come California beach volleyball in Eastern Europe, and some fantastic memories. We paid the next day for two hours of Thai massage, but it was absolutely worth it.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

An Irish Cell Phone Saga

I'm not wild about amusement park rides. They're usually fine, and sometimes great. I just don't go out of my way to go on them.

Part of the Bray Summer Fest is a collection of pretty good sized carnival rides. Since I was in Ireland, and since I know I normally dodge rides designed for amusement, I decided to try out the Cyclone Twister, or whatever it was called. Picture the Tea Cups. Raise them up about ten feet in the air. When the whole thing is spinning pretty good, have the floor holding all the tea cups start to tilt until it's pretty much sideways. It's a spinny ride.

That night I couldn't find my cell phone -- a really new LG thing that took decent pictures. I mentioned to Jack that it probably shot off while on that ride, and he assured me that the way centrifugul force works, the cell phone wouldn't go anywhere -- only back into it's own seat if anything. I went back to the ride and looked around for it. Nothing other than about 60 Euro cents.

Two days later, much of our group was walking past the ride and decided to get themselves sick. I kept to the sidelines, and mentioned to a couple of the high school Irish kids to be careful about putting their cell phones in their front jeans pockets. I had remembered the flip-down guard rail thing digging into my thighs the whole ride. It must have squirted my phone out like a watermelon seed.

Sure enough, one of the high school boys couldn't find his phone after the ride. We all started looking around -- I could again look for my phone under the pretense I was looking for his... We pretty much gave up and were standing around discussing dinner options when I suddenly felt the urge to duck.

After standing back up and feeling a little silly with the whole group staring at me, I saw what I saw: someone else's cell phone had shot off the ride -- from about 20 yards away -- and had flown right through the space my head had been in pre-duck. I might be without a cell phone, and stay away from the tea cups for a while...