Monday, October 26, 2009

Mississippi Blurring

(Starkville, MS) - Well, we're in Mississippi, so why not take in two schools? Tomorrow, we will get the official pitch from Mississippi State. The parents of one of our daughter's lifelong friends attended State and she knows the younger sister of a current MSU student. They love their school and they kinda don't like Ole Miss very much. We drove around the campus today and it really is pretty, although in remarkable contrast to its counterpart in Oxford.
The internet Peanut Gallery is weighing in on this one, too. Here's a typical comment: "Your clothing bill for MSU will definitely be less than it would be at Ole Miss. Overalls, jeans and boots are a lot cheaper than Polo shirts, khaki pants and Sperry topsiders." Well, that about sums it up, doesn't it?
The other side of the equation? Upon arrival, I asked a Mississippi State student "Why are you better than Ole Miss? The answer: "Well, we're not as pretentious. That's one thing." It seems there is some kind of cultural divide here.
Finding an iconic image in Starkville is a bit of a challenge. The city and the campus are abuzz about the giant video board at the football stadium. It's impressive: 111 feet of high definition, the second-largest of its kind in college football.
At Ole Miss, Rebel faithful speak with reverence about The Lyceum, the original building on campus. It is steeped in tradition and houses the chancellor's office as well as those of deans and other academic stalwarts. It is the emotional centerpoint of the University of Mississippi, essentially hallowed ground. So, yeah. The difference is noteworthy.

We made two trips to the square in Oxford, both for food. I have to say the meals were outstanding. After draping ourselves in cheese and spices at Old Venice Pizza for dinner, lunch the next day led us to the Ajax Diner just a half-block away. It's easy to see why people love the square. I just wonder if once you've been there a few times it might lose its allure. Maybe not. Love is blind. Love is often delusional, particularly if the object of your affection is highly attractive.
We drove around downtown Starkville for a while and found ourselves at the Bulldog Deli on University. There was nothing to complain about there. The State students who took our order were friendly and helpful.
The college application process is heating up. We will take some time to consider how much we warmed to the state of Mississippi and see what happens.

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Who Says This is a Good Idea?

(Oxford, MS) - We are in the midst of an emotional adventure. Our daughter is a senior in high school and we're overwhelmed with the college application process. Having visited expensive private universities, I have demanded that we evaluate slightly less costly options.
The Ole Miss contingent is weighing in, big-time. Tonight, Ole Miss alumni and parents of current Ole Miss students who know we are here have engaged in some kind of text-fest, sending messages on our phones about how fabulous this place is. One even went so far as to write "It's kind of like being a Christian. You have something that is so good you want others to have it." People who love Ole Miss love Ole Miss. I can only imagine what it's like to have a hot sports recruit on your hands. All this pressure from one school for one girl from north Louisiana!
We arrived after dark, so tomorrow we will have a better handle on what all the fuss is about. We popped over to the venerated Oxford town square, where our daughter sat on a bench with William Faulkner, legendary Oxford resident.
And if the food is any indication of what the place is like, it already has a head start. The Italian/ pizza place on the square was just outstanding. The four-cheese pie is noteworthy, but she has a clear first choice among the schools we've visited. After our day on campus here, we'll see how the Rebels stack up. I'm amazed how many of my friends are actively urging me to steer her toward Southeastern Conference schools, as if the status of the athletic departments has anything to do with her selection process. For the record, her current school of choice is not in the SEC but has a football team ranked in the BCS Top Ten. So, there!
All of this site visiting means spending an extraordinary amount of time in the car, which is made easier by modern conveniences. Satellite radio, DVD players, iPods and books on CD really help the time pass.
Our route here conveniently led us right through Mr. Wonderful's college town, so Happy Couple II had a lunchtime reunion. (Yes, his school is on her list). The look on her face spoke volumes. She was clearly happy to see him. Anything that makes my daugher happy makes me happy. I just hope a school relatively close to home (a day's drive? Is that too much to ask?) grabs her. Otherwise, I'm going to have a hard time feeling happy about anything for a while.

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Know Your Audience at the Costume Party

We were invited to a "costume mandatory" party. It's Halloween season, so that was imminently appropriate. Being sports oriented, we were proud of our costumes. We went as suspended Southeastern Conference refs.
It all came together nicely, we thought. It was a Saturday night and games were being played. The officials couldn't work becasue they're suspended for two weeks. So, they were free to go to a party. Am I right people? There was no subtlety involved. I wore a wrist band that said "Suspended by the SEC." I had a sign on my pocket that said "Will Ref for Food."
The officials originally called attention to themselves by calling "unsportsmanlike conduct" penalties late in the LSU-Georgia game, so my wife brought a dry erase board with "excessive celebration" written on it. We even borrowed a real penalty flag from a high school line judge, and she sported it prominently. It lent an air of authenticity to her costume. We were so proud.
Only one person got it. One guy at the party said, "Hey are you the suspended refs?" He laughed and his wife looked at him quizzically. The rest of the time: nothing. We had to explain it. They didn't get it. They hadn't heard about it.
That's what we get for going to a party with a bunch of intellectuals. If we had gone as destitute doctors and said we were the Obama Health Plan we probably would have been a hit. That's okay, next week we're invited to another party and this time we KNOW there will be sports people there. We'll give it another whirl. Then Halloween will be conveniently behind us at the same time the refs are reinstated by the conference.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Stress of Public Address

Over the last three football seasons, I have been asked on numerous occasions to perform public address duties at local football and basketball games. I have certain standards. To me, it is vital to understand that the PA man is not a play-by-play man. The guys in little stadiums who do play-by-play over the PA speakers just don't understand how obnoxious they are. If you want to do play by play, get yourself a radio deal. This is not my point, but to me it's important to get that out there. Know your role and stick to it. PA does down and distance, penalties, player names after the play, not during it. The PA voice should be a complement to the action, not part of it. Philosophical position statement complete, on with the story.
An old friend had occasion to attend a game at which I was working. Her kid's squad was visiting the team which had hired me. She liked what she heard and asked me to perform similar duties at a special event for her child's school. I immediately agreed, thinking I would do it as a favor. She insisted on negotiating compensation with me. I insisted right back, for many days, that I would do it for her as a favor because her friendship means more to me than money. She demanded a number. I wouldn't give her one. Finally, it came down to this. I said, "I don't want to ask for money because I don't want you to think I'm unreasonable, but since you keep asking, I'll say this: I would truly rather do it for free than do it for fifty bucks. Does that make sense?" I guess it did because her organization came up with something north of fifty and I awkwardly proceeded.
If you can measure value in stress, I earned every penny.
I arrived at the venue armed with a script, other important papers and some binoculars. I was all set. This was all well organized and painstakingly planned. There had been phone calls, e-mails and even a meeting to go over every detail. We wanted to be sure every name was pronounced correctly, every child and parent was appropriately identified. We wanted to leave nothing to chance. All I had to do was read and react.
Someone else was assigned to run the music. It became obvious that great care was taken to plan that aspect of the event, as well. We were poised to work in harmony to make middle school magic! One little detail was overlooked. No one tested the sound system at the stadium. The CD player was broken. Incredibly, even though we are a decade into the 21st century, there was no way to play music from a computer. A solution was discussed: Just get a boom box, turn it up loud and hold the PA microphone up to the speakers. Good idea, but no one had a boom box.
There were frantic phone calls. There was elevated blood pressure, heaving, sighing, borderline hyperventilation. I cowered in the corner with my little microphone, content to contain myself to my announcer duties while chaos reigned supreme in the press box. Moms were getting upset!
I tried to stay out of the fray, but one wigged-out woman just would not let me. A cheerleader mom for the opposing school, she witnessed all the operational troubles which beset our event from the outset. BUT....her daughter and her friends had not been given an opportunity to perform their one minute and 37 second routine.
The fact that the home team mothers and their daughters were in full freak-out meant very little to her. She demanded that I do something about it. Her girls needed to perform!
I explained with politenness and an uncharacteristic abundance of patience that I was simply the hired help; my role was only to make announcements and I had absolutely no authority nor did I have any interest in accepting any. She didn't care. I had to do something. No, I didn't. Calmly, time and again I attempted to refer her to the proper decision-makers. She would not listen. It was an exercise in personal discipline for me to not raise my voice. Finally, she relented and called the right person to work out the details.
With palpable tension mounting among the moms, a boom box was secured and the festivities moved forward, significantly altered but essentially complete. Our overbearing visitor's girls got to perform. Better late than never, I suppose.
The mother who was troubleshooting the music issues left the operational area to participate in her own daughter's activities. Subsequently, the overly assertive visiting cheer mom re-emerged asking to speak with her. I knew this could not be good. Oh, did I mention that the visiting kids were representing a prominent local church school? When church-school cheer mom asked for beleagured music mom, I said "Hey, she went to get a margarita." The response from the woman who witnessed all the chaos? "Really? We don't do that kind of thing." So now we are being rebuked and judged harshly.
She actually flipped open her cell phone and called someone. When her connection was made, she said "She's not here. She went to get a margarita." At that moment, three people wheeled at once and set her straight: "She did not really go get a margarita!" I think there was a "for God's sake" thrown in there somewhere, along with other suddenly appropriate exclamations. I think I said something about Jesus turning water into wine, at which point she said "He didn't get drunk." Now, we're in some kind of Catholic vs. Protestant theological spiral and it has just become preposterous. All the while, I'm just trying to say these kids' names right.
Finally, chastised and suddenly feeling unwelcome (hopefully), she just went away.
The rest of the evening went off without a hitch. It took a while for my breathing to return to normal. I'm proud to say I didn't raise my voice, but I did strongly consider going out for a margarita after the event.
They didn't pay me nearly enough to endure all that.

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Random Story About Someone From the Past

Decades ago, I was involved in a tumultuous, doomed relationship with an intense young woman. We were together for a couple of years, about half the time exclusively. As relationships of this nature typically do, this one ended badly. Occasionally, I would run into her around town and there were a few awkward social situations involved. Then, she moved away and I completely lost track of her.
Then somebody invented the internet and I found myself one day visiting a website called "girlgeeks" for reasons I can't recall and which are not important, except that they have a section dedicated to "Women Who Inspire Us," and BING! Suddenly, she was back on my radar screen. Her story is her story and all of this leads somewhere, I promise.
It just goes to show you never know how the people with whom you enter into relationship will impact you in the long run. By crazy coincidence, it came to pass that my old girlfriend had morphed into some kind of international expert on a topic I was researching for my employer. An exploratory phone call led to a series of e-mails and proposals involving her and a couple of her associates.
Keep in mind that she is frozen in my mind as someone in her early twenties who is trying to define herself personally and professionally. The evidence is there to indicate that she certainly has made a name for herself on the world stage. She inspires women, after all. She has emerged as a leader in her industry, an author and a highly-sought after presenter at high level conferences. She has even testified before Congress.
So, my talks continue with one of her associates. She's not involved in the most recent conversation and the man on the other end of the phone can no longer contain his curiosity about my relationship with her. Apparently, he holds her in high esteem. He asks me, "So, did you work for her?" I took a beat and suppressed a chuckle. He noticed the pause and then I simply aswered, "Well, uh, no." There was some kind of follow-up question about the context in which I had worked with her in the past. Finally, I said, "Our relationship was personal."
This was his opportunity to be befuddled (which, with all respect, truly did not compute for me). He sucked in a little breath, almost gasped, then paused and said, "Well, good for you."
Really? I guess so. It was a long, long time ago. Maybe I can get on her Christmas card list.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

I'm Ready For My Close-up, But Not The Cold

Estes Stadium
Originally uploaded by Darrell
(Conway, AR) – The winding road of the Independent Broadcast Professional takes me to Central Arkansas University, where the football team played host to the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks. It’s back on the sidelines for the Southland Conference Television Network. Darrell at Estes Stadium The life of the sideline reporter has its ups and downs. The job takes less preparation than does play-by-play. You need to know interesting stories about the teams, the players and maybe the facility. Mostly, though, you make a cameo appearance at the top of the broadcast, host halftime and interview the coaches as they leave or enter the locker room, as well as immediately following the game.Halftime interview In between, you try to get the producer’s attention with your pithy observations or insightful comments. While the pampered play-by-play and color commentators sit in the cozy press box and have their minions bring them refreshments and salient statistics, the intrepid sideline reporter is relegated to relative obscurity while being openly exposed to the elements.
Conway is the northernmost outpost of the SLC and we felt it. Gone were our snazzy little network polo shirts which we jauntily donned in the hot part of the football season. As temperatures plummeted into the 40’s, I became acutely aware that I had dressed comfortably in layers from the waist up while utterly neglecting my lower extremities.
Fortunately, there wasn’t much of a breeze so the misery index stayed relatively low.Cold Camera The crew was alert enough to bundle up and even wear gloves, but the idiot on-air “talent” on the field with them planned his wardrobe with appearance in mind and not comfort.Scott on the sidelines Style over substance: it’s the TV way.
The game was a great one to broadcast. There were lead changes, dramatic comebacks and a game-winning field goal as time expired.
I get called for spot duty with this crew, filling in when the regular guy can’t make it. It’s something I look forward to. I get just enough work to scratch my broadcasting itch. In this conference, the coaches and players generally are thrilled to be on TV. Most importantly, the ladies and gentlemen in the crew are exceedingly nice and fun to work with. They always make me feel welcome.
It’s a positive experience all around. It will be even better next time, I’m sure, as long as I’m alert enough to dress appropriately for the weather.

And since this was my first trip to UCA, that meant a chance for a photo with a new mascot!Darrell and the bear

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All Dressed Up With Someplace To Go

Certainly, we are too old to go to the homecoming dance, but the event we attended Friday night had the same feel. It is football season, everybody dressed up and there was a live band in an otherwise empty giant room. The only thing missing was wrist corsages.
In the spirit of things, I snapped a few party pics and everybody seemed enthusiastic about playing along. Get a couple of drinks in some folks and they’re all just big kids, anyway. There’s really nothing wrong with that, as long as your children don’t see you acting that way.
Of course, we’ve grown so old that a lot of our contemporaries’ offspring are now adults, and some of them were actually at the party.
This was a fundraiser for the excellent downtown film center.
I tried not to misbehave, and it seems I succeeded. Once, walking down a set of stairs, I said to my wife “I know too many people here.” It felt like homecoming that way. A lady I did not know walked into the stairwell just as I said it and she kind of chuckled. A couple of hours later, on the same set of stairs, I said “I’m drinking like Dean Martin.” Eerily, unbeknownst to me, the same lady was right behind me on the stairs. At that point, having become in her eyes the king of the self-absorbed one-liner, I declined to introduce myself. I already knew enough people there, as it turns out. I hope I haven’t acquired a stalker.
Knowing my own limits, I paced myself un-Dean like and refrained from breaking into any rendition of “Everybody Loves Somebody Sometimes.” The atmosphere was festive and there was enough love to go around even without the song.
We are homebodies, kind of fuddy-duddy and we don’t get out much except for football games. This was a nice excuse to dress up and mingle with the locals. It was kind of fun. Who knows? We might do more stuff out there where the people are. We certainly know a lot of them.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Party Ends With a Thud

(Baton Rouge) – There was an electric atmosphere around the LSU campus on Saturday as the Tigers’ clash with top-ranked Florida approached. There had not been a match-up of top five teams in Tiger Stadium since 1959. The Bayou Bengals, at number four in the nation, would have an inside track toward another national championship if they won.
Sadly for the assembled faithful, the game was a lackluster affair and LSU lost 13-3. That’s right, they didn’t score a touchdown. It’s fair to say the game provided an anticlimactic thud for a finish to what had been an extraordinary day.
My trips to Tiger Stadium easily number in triple digits, but this day was different for me. Typically, I’m all about the game. My family and I aren’t big partiers and the legendary excess of Tiger Tailgating isn’t really in our repertoire. For this event, I arrived with a group of buddies seven hours in advance. It was a “blind but now I see” afternoon. We walked across campus and found a place just across the highway for lunch. The place was jammed and we waited almost three hours for a table.
I have always heard that if you spend any time walking around campus on game day you will be offered more free food than you could possibly ever consume. This is absolutely true. We could hardly take thirty steps without being tempted by any number of Louisiana delicacies from jambalaya right on up to fried or grilled alligator, even gator sausage.
We were also showered with offers of beverages, but here’s the thing: No one offered me a coke or iced tea or water. One hundred per cent of the drink offers involved alcohol: Beer, wine, booze, it didn’t matter. There was simply an undeniable assumption that you would want to drink, as if it would be some kind of social faux pas to NOT offer an intoxicant.
I’m not a prude; I accepted a beer and a Bloody Mary along the way, so I’m certainly not judging. It’s just that I started watching for this little detail and discovered a remarkable consistency. I stopped accepting those kind of offers mid-afternoon. We were there, after all, for the game and I wanted to watch it with a clear head. I certainly hoped to remember it.
As it turned out, it was probably worth forgetting.
Not really. My day as a tailgater was memorable. The campus was awash in purple and gold. There was a great concert outside the stadium. When it was all said and done, the largest crowd ever to see a game in Tiger Stadium shoehorned in there. There was a throng left wanting outside, simply enjoying the party. With the exception of the outcome of the game, I’m happy to say I enjoyed a little bit of both.
Oh! And I got a new mascot photo out of the deal, too!

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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Adventures in Eating

There are few relatively ordinary things that make me happier than a good meal. By "good," I generally mean tasty, not necessarily healthful. Food often is an event for me, and when an opportunity big and salty with gravy presents itself unexpectedly, that's a good moment.
So, this day had redemptive powers. My buddies Chris and Diego called to invite me out to eat. Of course I went and we found ourselves in a part of town I don't often visit.
I shall return! Give it up for C&C Cafe, where the gravy flows freely and the entire meal is served fresh off the stove.
It was interesting to experience. The three of us had been chattering on about a whole lot of not very much until our food arrived. Then, for what must have been a full five minutes, nobody spoke. We were too busy keeping our heads down.
One of my chief complaints about your run-of-the-mill mom and pop restaurants involves rice. Usually, it's served in some kind of clump and there's not enough of it. At C&C, the rice is long grain, loose enough to identify the grains and it's swimming in nearly perfect brown gravy. The smothered pork chops or chicken livers or chicken fried steak is really the side dish, as far as I'm concerned.
The bad news is, a bellyfull of rice & gravy expands on you about an hour later and you really need a nap. That's okay. I'll take it. Not the nap, the expanding rice.
The portions are large and the price is right. I plan to work my way down the menu.

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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Seeing Red in Ruston

We decided to be good sports and play along with our pals at Louisiana Tech, who moved one of their high-profile football games to Wednesday night so they could be on national television. With an opportunity to show themselves off, the fine folks in Ruston asked all fans to wear red. We were happy to oblige, as were approximately 19,000 of the 21,000 or so people who showed up. It makes you wonder how the redless rebels missed the message.
The reviews are in and Tech came off well.
They beat Hawai'i handily and the "red out" looked great on TV. The evening was beautiful, climatologically speaking. All in all, it was a wonderful way to spend an autumn Wednesday They might be onto something here. They even found a way to get LSU fans into the stadium. Maybe Saturday football is overrated.
Oh, and there was an incident. There is a brand new, fabulous giant video board at the stadium. They are having a lot of fun over there putting fans up on the big teevee. So, there was a contest where people were asked to dance to win a free pizza. We were all having a good time watching those crazy kids shake what they got. Based on cheers from the crowd, the contest was narrowed down to a young woman in red and a young man in red. Then, there was a "hey, wait a minute" moment. We knew the guy! It was the Tech freshman who dates our daughter. We sent her a text saying, "Hey, your man just won a free pizza!" There are no secrets in Ruston.

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