Friday, January 30, 2009

Life's Little Twists

I spent a quarter century going as fast as I could back and forth from the Thomas Assembly Center in Ruston covering Louisiana Tech basketball. The women's team was nationally prominent and the men's team featured the likes of future NBA standouts Karl Malone, P.J. Brown and Paul Millsap. Ruston is 70 miles east of Shreveport, so to get highlights on the 10pm news, one typically drives a couple of hours to see about fifteen minutes of actual college basketball.
In my narrow view, this was often underappreciated by certain folks on campus, but I enjoyed doing it nonetheless. I've always thought it was vital to the legitimacy of local sports media as well as the athletic program at Tech for those games to be covered on a regular basis.
All of that philosophical blather is moot now since I no longer have a stake in the local media game, but I still feel strongly about it. I remember getting into a huge war of words with a news director and a general manager who were looking for ways to trim expenses. I was told in an unmistakably condescending tone, "You're going to have to cut out your little trips to Ruston." I stood my ground and continued to cover La. Tech's sports quite consistently. I wound up doing it myself, rather than assigning someone. This meant leaving after the 6:00pm news, driving an hour for a game that starts at 7:00pm, getting the end of the first half and turning right around to drive back. I had a major conflict with a campus cop one time when I arrived at a game with two minutes left in the first half and he didn't want me to park and run in. The idea that I would be leaving at halftime meant nothing to him. I have to admit my feelings were profoundly hurt that evening.
Against that backdrop, we frame this photo:
This has nothing whatsoever to do with me personally. I was representing an organization at the game. But, there I was at center court with Karl Malone looking on from the front row. Tech presented the organization with a basketball autographed by the team. The crowd applauded politely, as the warm folks of Ruston are inclined to do. I enjoyed a self-indulgent moment, thinking of things like forgiveness.
I realized again how much fun it can be to take in a game at your own pace, without a deadline hammering you. I might go back and sit in the stands one night. Isn't that what most people do?

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Leftovers From the Road

Somehow, I became confused and disoriented in Prescott, Arkansas. On the way home from a weekend in the minor mountains, we stopped at a travel plaza to fill up the car and grab some lunch. It was one of those places with three or four fast food franchises under one roof. The sandwich artist at the Subway counter was in full-blown ADD mode, keeping two or three conversations going at once. His boss had told him he had to step up his game, we were informed. His boss might have served customers better by asking the guy to bathe more often, but that's another story.
Already dizzied by the tempest behind the counter and his inability to focus exclusively on assembling my double-stack BMT, I went to fill my drink cup. That proved to be a challenge because the drink dispenser had not been filled with ice. So much for stepping up his game, right? A disheartened trickle of Five Dollar Footlongers wandered through the intellectual desert until we found ice over by Sonic.
Somewhere between eating my Doritos and buying a box of Whoppers for the rest of the trip, my wife and daughter disappeared into a vortex that from the outside appeared to be a ladies' room. It might as well have been the Bermuda Triangle because they were gone for an alarmingly long time. They were gone so long, in fact, that I forlornly loped to the vehicle, Whoppers in hand, figuring they would show up eventually. I made it to the driver's side door when I heard a familiar female voice beckoning, siren-like, from under an awning. Dancing on the wind came a request: "Can you come pick us up?" It's a long way from the Prescott Void to the parking lot, apparently.
I spotted them briefly, dreamlike faces in the distance, flushed in the cold and yearning for curbside service. Yet, like the apparitions they seemed determined to emulate, they simply vanished as I made my way across the vast paved wasteland. I pulled to the curb and they were nowhere to be seen. Frustrated and bewildered, I simply found my way into another parking spot and waited. Moments later they appeared, complaining of the cold but finally corporal again. They slipped into the car as if nothing unusual had occurred and we were on our way, the vagaries of Prescott becoming but a memory in the rearview mirror.
I had a massage while I was in the Resort with the ladies. My therapist was named Bea and she was perfectly nice. About midway through the process she asked "You don't relax very often, do you?" Maybe not. I guess I need more massages. It was maybe my third. I'm not really sure what usually happens, but I feel like I need to send Bea flowers or something.
We had a hot tub on the deck outside our condo. The air temperature was freezing cold and the hot tub was well, hot. So, the combination was soothing. Every time I get into a hot tub I think of buying one. Then, I wonder how many times a year I would actually use it and talk myself right out of it.
For the trip, I randomly selected the book "In an Instant" by Lee and Bob Woodruff. It's about the ABC World News Tonight co-anchor who was gravely injured by an improvised explosive device (IED) while covering a story in Iraq. It hit me as I sat there that I was reading the book on the 3rd anniversary of the incident. I'm glad he's okay.

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

A Chill in the Air

(While Joe College and the Mighty Guard Dog keep the homefront secure, the ladies and I are on the road again.)
(Mt. Ida, AR)- My wife got a surprise sprung on her for her birthday. We brought her to a lodge on the shore of Lake Ouachita in in appropriately named Ouachita Mountains. We caught some kind of break with the weather. What kind of break, I'm not sure. A cold front moseyed through overnight and there's a persistent breeze here at the higher elevations. The detriment: it's cold! But, hey, it's January. What should we expect? The benefit? The lake is whitecapping, which means waves are lapping up onto the shore. So, we have sunshine, cool breezes and the soothing sound of moving water. That's a pretty nice combination.
The was set up to be a no-stress "chill" weekend and it's working out so far. The loft which we are renting is exactly what we expected. Our easily-entertained 17-year old is recovering from a weeklong sickness that has rendered her academically and socially useless. A change of scenery and a chance to sit around in serenity should really work to her benefit.
We have gone on long walks along the lakeshore, finished books and started new ones. There was a a nice, long hot tub session on the deck last night.We actually skipped stones for a while in the evening. Later today, the real reason we brought the birthday girl here: spa day! She has a massage, facial and pedicure lined up. The goal is to relax her. If this doesn't do it, nothing will.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

The D's: Big and Daddy

(Dallas) - It's kind of goofy. It's a little bit funny. It's a tradition now. It had to happen. The mascot photo. I've simply become shameless with this thing, even though essentially it amuses only me. You have to take life's little pleasures where you can get them.
The day trip to Dallas certainly was one of them. I saw my first NHL game and had a prime spot for the Mavericks' game against the Utah Jazz. Both contests were closely contested and the home team won each time, so what more can you ask?
The Mavericks game was much more lively than the Stars'. That's no doubt because there were significantly more people there. Plus, my new buddy Mark Cuban places a premium on his Mavericks games being a total entertainment event. Like him or not, he puts on a show.
I kid around about Cuban because we passed in the hall and spoke briefly, but we actually do have a mutual friend. I thought about pausing for a moment to make the connection with him. But, all kidding aside, it was game day and that seemed inappropriate. Since it's unlikely we will ever be in a social setting together, I guess the hello in the hall with a affable nod will suffice.
I thank him for making NBA games interesting. This was my first Mavs' game since they moved from Reunion Arena, so that says something about how high they are on my list of sports priorities. Still, I'm glad I went and I appreciate my friend Roy for asking me along.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Big D Afternoon

(Dallas) - The frigid weather of the past week is a memory now and this January afternoon in north Texas was spectacular. With several hours to pass between our hockey-basketball double dip, my buddy Roy and I decided to walk through Dallas' trendy West End.
Did I say walk? Yes! we had a fantastic parking space at the arena, so why give it up?
If you're in this part of Dallas with some time to spend, there are a couple of things you can do: visit a restaurant or a club, or go see where JFK was shot. Well, we did both.
At Roy's insistence, I had a photo taken at the legendary grassy knoll and it felt perfectly silly. I was surprised at the number of people who were there, though. Most had cameras or video cameras. Forty-five years after the fact, the Kennedy assassination endures as one of the most compelling periods in American history.
So, the grassy knoll it is.
We are here for basketball, though. We walked right past the Dallas Mavericks' larger-than-life owner, Mark Cuban. That was a celebrity sighting for me. He's a rich guy and a famous guy. So, I'm pretty sure he qualifies as a celebrity.
I did not ask to pose with him for a photo. He's an owner, after all...not a mascot.

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Ice in the Afternoon

(Dallas)- Certainly, I've been blessed over the years to witness high-level sporting events. However, until today I had not been to a National Hockey League game. When presented with an opportunity to attend an NHL-NBA doubleheader, how could I refuse? So, off we go to American Airlines Arena to watch the Dallas Stars. The Stars and their opponents, the Los Angeles Kings, are among the lowest-scoring teams in the league. Hockey purists, if there are any in Texas, will surely enjoy great goaltending and tenacious defense. If that makes them happy, at least they got their money's worth.
Having seen my share of minor league hockey, I know a little about the game but I'm no expert. If every player at this level is more athletic, quicker, faster and a better skater than what we minor league afficiandos are accustomed to, then so be it. I take it on faith, because all things being relative it apepars to me to be the same game.
Who am I to say? I'm just grateful for the chance to see it. Tonight, arena workers will plop a court on top of the ice and many of us will reconvene. Sounds like fun.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Happy Reunion

The dog and cat who live in our house can rest easy. The visitor cat has been reunited with its own family. We found out that "lost cat" signs were planned for the weekend, but it was modern communication that brought about a happy result. Better late than never, I suppose, the cat's owner sent out an e-mail blast to the neighborhood association describing the wayward kitty. Thanks to Smartphone technology, the e-mail hit my pocket and the cat was back home within an hour. I wonder what the lady was waiting for.
There was some concern that the little guy, named "Pepper" we discovered, had in fact been eaten by coyotes. Happily, he was not. The good news, for those near us who were not-so-secretly hoping he was a stray, is that he lives just a few doors down. So, he is easily visited.
One less bell to answer. One less vet bill to pay. Everybody's happy.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009


The look you see on our dog's face means "what is that furry thing that my family has brought into the house?" The answer is a stray cat, which I am forbidden to show you for reasons which are diabolically logical.
A few nights ago, I was in the back yard doing grill duty when there was a commotion in the shrubbery. I was thinking "bunny," but much to my surprise a kitten came slinking onto the patio. The little guy was skinny, starving and thirsty. I know this because I put some dog food out and it pounced. I gave it some water and it plunged face-first into the bowl. I watched it for a while thinking it would go home. It did not.
After a while, the little cat drew something of a crowd. Watching it eat became a spectator sport. It walked around and greeted everyone, so I became convinced that it is someone's cat and it has just wandered away from home. I was sure it would leave the same way it came and we would be done with it. That has not happened.
It has been abnormally cold this week, and the other people in my house would not sit idly by and watch the cat stay outside in the freezing nighttime, even though it has obviously made it this far in life without us. So, they brought it inside. I have been saying several times a day, "Somewhere there's a little girl named Emily or something who is crying herself to sleep because her kitty is gone. She thinks it has frozen to death or has been eaten by a coyote. Put it out and let it go home."
Their position is they are keeping the cat safe and warm, and if it lives nearby then Emily will put up "lost cat" signs. I say "Emily is too little to make her own signs." The counter is, of course, that Emily's parents will make signs. So far, no signs. So, I say, "Let's make 'found cat' signs." They say no, that the people at LSU Health Sciences Center will see the signs, claim the cat is theirs and take it back to LSUHSC to do live experimentation. I am not making this up.
They have not been allowed to give this cat a name. After all, Emily is out there somewhere. I've been semi-twittering about this by mentioning the cat in my Facebook status, and today I got a friend request from someone down the street whose neighbor is missing a cat. Did the internet relieve Emily's emotional pain? No. The description of the cat offered by my newest Facebook friend isn't even close.
This is why I am not allowed to show you the cat. As the thinking goes, anyone who reads the blog could claim the cat by describing it from a photo posted here. This tells you everything you need to know about the intentions of the other people in this house. The little thing is skinny and it didn't have a collar. It has been said more than once that cats adopt families, so maybe we've been chosen.
If Emily doesn't surface soon, I have another mouth to feed, another vet bill to pay and more pet hair. The population of this house is supposed to be getting smaller as the kids get older. Instead, it seems to be going in the opposite direction.
The other people here are sick of my Emily speech, so now I just drop a random sigh and say, "poor Emily." My declarations are now falling on deaf ears.
Emily, wherever you are, break out the magic markers.

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

Shiver Me Timbers!

The fine folks at Fair Grounds Field are doing what they can to resurrect significant interst in minor league baseball in Shreveport. They're bringing back the name "Captains," which is cause for celebration. For a couple of seasons, the team was known as the Swamp Dragons. That flew like a frozen turkey. When that franchise moved away, another one came to town and went way back in history to grab the name "Sports," which did very little except confuse people.
So now, with an updated logo and a mascot that looks more like a pirate than a riverboat captain, here we go again. You can take that a couple of ways. The whole Pirate thing was done in the 1990's when the Candian Football League had a team (The Pirates) in Shreveport for two seasons. It was great fun and nobody disliked the logo, so maybe this new incarnation of baseball branding homogenizes the two.
Personally, I'm rooting for this to make a difference. Some of the happiest days of my life have been spent inside that ballpark, especially when the old Captains were prominent. In fact, in 1987, we took our wedding guests to a game so we could relax and enjoy one another's company.
A lot of people are saying "it's about time" on this move. The club's ownership had an "aha!" moment in 2008 when they did a "turn back the clock night," featuring throwback uniforms. They threw back to the Captains and it was their best-attended game of the season.
Oh, and for the record: they're hoping to tie in both communities by expanding the name to "Shreveport-Bossier Captains." Both mayors spoke at the announcement. Hey, it can't hurt.
It seems that people really don't care about the quality of baseball. Winning makes a difference in attendance for the other minor pro franchises in town. It's just more fun if you win Arena Football or hockey games, but baseball is a different kind of experience. Maybe just feeling good about the team's image will help.
Let's hope so.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Awkardness and Frustration

I have an elderly father, which has come to mean frequent trips with him to doctors' offices. I don't mind that part so much. It comes with the territory. Having spent an extraordinary amout of time in physicians' waiting areas recently, I have become acutely aware of a circumstance that I just can't reconcile.
People talk about their problems in these settings, strangers and eavesdroppers be damned. Throw in an old guy who just can't hear and it becomes almost ubearable for me.
On our most recent trip to the doctor, I met my father in the common area some time after he had arrived for his appointment. I asked him how long he had been waiting. He said almost an hour. I asked him, "Do you know if the doctor is even here?"
He didn't understand me. Four times, I repeated the question. There were people all around us. He still didn't hear me, although everyone else did. Heck, people in the room across the hall heard me. Not fifteen seconds after the fourth attempt to get a simple yes or no answer, an office nurse came out to assure me the doctor was indeed in the building. Innocent small talk had become something of a scene, and I was just plain embarrassed.
I suppose I shouldn't be. Sitting around there, I learned about some lady's sciatica, another one's apnea and a man's Parkinson's. I don't want to know their business, and they were not speaking to me. But they were speaking to people with them and that's a pretty wide open space. As we learned, sound carries. Even more than I don't want to know their business, I don't want them to know ours. But, like the rest of them, Dear Ol' Dad has no hesitancy whatsoever about discussing his health or just about anything else in a room full of strangers. I just don't get it.
Why can't we just sit there and read or watch the TV they provide and wait our turn? I don't mind making small talk, providing you can make it within the framework of common manners and not be forced by circumstance to shove it down other people's throats. Doctors' waiting rooms have become the most awkward psuedo-semisocial settings in my life.
There should be rules:
1. If you're going to have some kind of public conversation in this space, confine it to something of widepsread interest like the weather or LSU football.
2. Don't presume you know something about my particular health issue. You didn't go to medical school.
3. If you must speak in the common area about your personal issues, keep your voice down so that only people in a one-person arc with its midpoint being your face can hear you.
4. You are under stress. We are under stress. Otherwise we wouldn't be at the doctor. This is all the more reason for you to keep it light.

Okay, I know this sounds harsh. I'm venting and confessing here. Believe it or not, in that context I just want to kind of walk in, not call attention to myself, get my personal business done and get out of there. I wish everybody else was the same way. If we want to talk about our problems, we can go grab a cup of coffee or something after the appointment. Is that too much to ask?

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Friday, January 02, 2009

Leftovers from The Road

Here I am, Music City!
Originally uploaded by Darrell
My daughter is infatuated with Nashville. She spent three days there and loved everything she encountered. There is a healthy dose of irony in that she did not experience any country music outside of Danielle Peck performing the Star Spangled Banner before a football game. The city was clean, the people were attractive and everyone seemed to be friendly and courteous.
We spent about twenty hours on highways in five states this week. Road kill was abundant. I saw a fox and a small bear on the side of the road in addition to the usual deer, armadillos and raccoons.
I've concluded that Burger King has surrendered its standards. I've stopped in Burger King restaurants in three states over the last month. All of them were alarmingly dirty and the quality of the food and service has dropped precipitously. Given the starting point, that's saying something. Burger King, which I once really enjoyed, is dangerously close to becoming a last resort for me.
A moment from the Vanderbilt tour which confused me: a parent asked the tour guide about intercollegiate sports. The guide patiently explained that Vanderbilt has 16 sports and competes in the Southeastern Conference. If you don't care about sports, that's one thing; but if you are interested enough to ask about it, how can you not know that Vanderbilt is in the SEC?
Besides, earlier the presenter has asked for a show of hands from people who planned to go to the bowl game. How did the guy miss all that?
At breakfast the day of the game, some people in line were talking about the number of people wearing Vanderbilt gear. We were staying in the official alumni hotel. One lady asked where the game was being played. Another said, "I guess at Dudley Field..." which is Vandy's on-campus stadium. This was incorrect, because the game was in fact being played at the NFL stadium in town. Again, how can you not know that? I actually didn't say anything to them. I wonder what that lady thought when she showed up to an empty stadium that afternoon.
On the way home, we saw Kentucky and East Carolina fans driving into Memphis for the Liberty Bowl. Cars were decorated and flags were flying. College football is just a lot of fun.

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