Of all the places I've ever been to in America, I love Seattle the most. Maui is a close second but my emotional connection to the Emerald City just gives it that little bit of je ne sais qoui that elevates it above everything else. It's arguably my favorite place in the whole wide world, although given the opportunity or the cash, I'd also move to London in a heartbeat.
Seattle is where I landed when I arrived in the land of plenty. It is where I spent a good bit of my formative teen years. It is where I went to high school. It is where I made my first English-speaking friends. It is where most of my family lives and it is where most of my wife's family lives. We both still think of Seattle as home, although for me that's usually qualified by "American." It is also, in a nod to Boeing, 777 miles away from here. Or 787 with a couple detours.
That's a fair bit of distance even out here on the West Coast so I don't get to visit very often. Major holidays, mostly or the occasional family crisis or wedding. Those ors are of the non-exclusive variety of course.
It was the day before Christmas when I sat down for breakfast with the parents. The table was bursting with a lovely spread of various cereals, Greek yogurts, eggs, sausages, vegetables, juices, and laptops. Actually just one laptop, seated at the place of honor, tuned to the Chelsea match.
The feast at the house was matched by the 8-0 feast at Stamford Bridge and there was much merriment. That was 139 days ago and it is the last time I set foot in the city. It was also the last time Fernando Torres scored a league goal.
Date/Time: Saturday, May 11, 12:45 BST; 7:45 A.M EDT; 5:15 P.M. IST
Venue: Villa Park, Birmingham
TV Information: Sky Sports 2 (UK); ESPN2 (USA); ESPN (India)
Speaking of last times ... this is probably the last time for a good while - if not forever - that you'll get to hear Ian Darke and Steve McManaman announce a Chelsea game. Cherish this with all the joy or sadness/anger that you've saved up over the years thanks to their pontifications.
Chelsea: We probably shouldn't expect another 8-0. And we probably shouldn't expect Fernando Torres to break his duck either. The now once again mask-less one, and our only Europa League eligible striker inexplicably got the start midweek - and did even manage to put together a good first half before drifting into uselessness - so we should fully expect Demba Ba out there for this one.
The Interim manager has also confirmed that Frank Lampard will get his one guaranteed start of the final three matches. With his future still undecided, it sure would be nice to get at least the one goal to tie Bobby Tambling's record. The other half of the Chelsea Old Guard should be providing support, in what would be just the 14th league appearance for John Terry (fewest since 2000).
Eden Hazard and Victor Moses are doubtful with injuries picked up in match and training, respectively, while Oriol Romeu is probably not quite ready just yet. Having started 17 of the last 18 matches, all the pieces to David Luiz must be found first then put together before he can play again. Meanwhile, Ryan Bertrand has some sort of knee injury.
Aston Villa: By winning five of their last eight, Paul Lambert's side has pretty much guaranteed Premier League survival. Their form, including a 6-1 hammering of Sunderland in the last home match, is good enough for fifth best in fact.
Christian Benteke scored a hat-trick in that 6-1 cakewalk has seven goals in the aforementioned last eight. Gabby Agbonlahor has six in the same span, including his 89th minute winner, his second of the day at Norwich City last weekend. Suddenly dangerous, this is surely not the same side that capitulated at Stamford Bridge.
Adding extra emotion is Stiliyan Petrov's retirement, announced yesterday. The Aston Villa captain and beloved hero has been battling leukemia for over a year now and is expected to lead the team around in a final lap of honor.
Whenever these two teams get together, chances are always good for a crazy result. The corresponding fixture last season saw the home side attempt a comeback, tying it late with two goals in three minutes before Chelsea ran out 4-2 winners. The last four reverse fixtures have seen Chelsea sandwich a 1-3 defeat with 8-0 and 7-1 victories, the secret sauce of a 3-3 draw providing extra flavor. I'd mention the 4-4 draw at Stamford Bridge from the 07-08 season, but this tasty sandwich uses only the freshest ingredients.
Clearly there's some higher power at work here. So, lacking for a Ouija board, a Magic 8-ball, or any Voodoo dolls, I've consulted my horoscope for guidance. Ahead of the 8-0, it told me that my team would be inspirational over the weekend. Now: "Today and tomorrow, clean up any messes. Take first steps toward your future."
Champions League, baby, here we come!