Sunday, October 31, 2010

Silver Anniversary of a Great First Date

October 30, 1985: I finally managed to go to dinner and a movie with the pretty nurse I had meet a few weeks earlier. Getting the date arranged had its challenges. I was entangled in an old-school juggling act of dating; The newspaper reporter one night, the girl from the ad agency another night, the assistant manager at the apartment complex the next, occasionally going to the movies with the nice girl I’d met in college…Who needed to be tied down?
Plus, she was busy, working crazy hours in the neonatal intensive care unit: two weeks of nights, two weeks of days.

I was a weekend sports anchor. She was seeing a preppy lawyer and that tall guy from the hospital. Everybody was having fun, but we had hit it off the night we met. The follow-up phone calls were increasingly revelatory and romantically encouraging. Finally: common ground. It was a Wednesday and we both had the night off from work.
We got along well, to say the least. By Christmas, everyone else had disappeared into the abyss. I remember she signed her first Christmas card to me “Fondly,” which after 25 years together I still think is funny. It was too early to declare love for one another, so what was she to do? She gave me wine glasses. I think I still have them.

Mid-morning, October 30, 2010, it dawned on us that it was a big day. We were in the car on the way to Conway, Arkansas where I had a TV assignment for a college football game. There was no going back, so we celebrated our milestone at Estes Stadium on the campus of the University of Central Arkansas.

It was a beautiful day and the game was competitive, so we can’t complain. It was fitting, in a way. Over 25 years, the pretty nurse has spent an extraordinary amount of time in football stadiums. Looking back on it, maybe one of the reasons we hit it off so well back in the fall of ’85 is because she was comfortably conversant in football. Pretty, smart, patient, professional, football fan…what more could a guy ask for? Not much, so despite my eccentricities we are still happily together.

We were in a hurry to get home, so we left Conway and headed south. We were hungry, so we stopped at an amusing spot in Benton, Arkansas: Brown’s Country Store & Restaurant, Home of the 100-foot buffet.
We didn’t take full advantage of the 100 feet of food, but supper was hot and fast. What more could we ask for? Well, on a big anniversary, probably a lot more. But, it’s okay. That sort of thing just comes with the territory. She’s such a good sport. She has been for twenty-five years and I have no reason to think that will change.

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Face That Frightened Houston

(Houston) – I was going about my business on the floor of Reliant Stadium. In the closing moments of a tight football game between Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston State, strategy was necessary. We were on live TV and the task at hand was to nab the winning coach for a live post-game interview. There was a three-point difference in the score, so it was anybody’s ball game. SFA had led the whole time, but SHSU was keeping it close.

I stationed myself on the end line of the south end zone, midway between two tunnels and prepared to make my move when unexpectedly an attractive young woman in Houston Texans gear walked up to me,
introduced herself and asked “Are you the sideline reporter?” I said yes, and then she said, “Great. Here’s the microphone for the on-field trophy presentation.” Um, do what?
Well, nobody told Darrell, but stadium operations was counting on me to go all Terry Bradshaw/ Jim Nantz and hand the trophy to the coach of the team that won The Battle of the Piney Woods. I didn’t mind, of course; but it would have been nice to know ahead of time. Next thing I knew, my craggy old mug was on the JumboTrons at an NFL stadium as I was surrounded by the team that won the latest game in a storied Texas rivalry that dates back to 1923. I later discovered the proceedings were broadcast live on TV, too. Sometimes, you’ve just got to roll with it, baby.

Long ago, I gave up on the idea of making it big-time in TV sports. Maybe I got the tiniest taste of it on this trip. My pass said I represented network TV. I mean, it’s technically true. I was working for the conference’s TV network; but, you know, in that setting you think CBS or FOX or something.

We were in an NFL Stadium, so that was a little kick in the pants. This game was moved to Houston to help set it apart, and by all accounts the event exceeded expectations. Fans turned out in record numbers. The stadium operations people put on a big show, displaying all the gizmos and glitter they put to use on Sundays. They even fired the loudest little cannon you’ll ever hear whenever there was a score.

It was a fun afternoon, but I have to admit it felt a little ridiculous to be in the middle of all that post-game commotion.

It worked out, though. I figured after more than three decades of covering college football I had done just about everything I was destined to do. So, it was nice to have a new experience. I just wish I had known it was coming. That’s okay. Somehow I don’t think Jim Nantz is worried about it.

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Art of the Emergency Sandwich

(Nacogdoches, TX) - We are learning to love the smaller, less-complicated version of college football. There’s something unquestionably thrilling about LSU games and other comparable events. Going to a game where fifteen thousand or so people attend also has its rewards. If you love football, a good FCS (formerly 1-AA) game has its own appeal.

So much of any shared experience is defined by the company you keep and I am fortunate to be often accompanied by an extremely likeable personal assistant. (This is a technique I learned long ago from a veteran sportscaster: bring along the woman you’re currently sleeping with and call her your “personal assistant). Not only is she a good road companion, even keeping a positive attitude when forced into an extended full stop by a wreck up ahead, but she is a hard worker who seems eager to please.

We also have the benefit of longevity. She’s been assisting me personally for twenty-five years, and I’m a better man for it.
The fact that she actually enjoys coming along on my little broadcasting adventures is not to be underappreciated. It’s good to know she’s looking out for my best interests. Let’s take our most recent daytrip as an example. Having learned long ago that press box food is a hit-and-miss proposition, she packed “emergency sandwiches.” Well, wouldn’t you know it? The aforementioned long delay on the highway created a time crunch by the time we finally arrived at the stadium for the broadcast. So, the sandwiches came in handy.
The day was unseasonably warm. Your sideline reporter, swathed in a blazer and tie, started sweating. The trusty personal assistant was nearby, dutifully wiping a wet forehead.

She was also a vigilant guardian of the blazer. I only really needed it when I was appearing on-camera, and you don’t want those crazy college kids to vandalize TV man’s outerwear. Thanks to the watchful eye of the PA, Ol’ Blue was safe.

We wondered aloud how many blazers I have abused over the years in the name of broadcasting. There’s always a blazer hanging in the back of my car, usually with a necktie or two (or three, or more) draped over the lapels.
You never know when you’ll need one. You might spill nacho cheese on your coat or tie, and a blue blazer goes with almost anything in a pinch. I’ve kept some so long that the liners have ripped or the elbows have become threadbare. I’ve also “outgrown” one or two over the last quarter-century.
The blazers and the ball games have come and gone. Many have been retired; many more have probably been forgotten. The Personal Assistant has been there through them all, and I’m happy about that. It’s good to know you have someone you can count on to take care of your garments.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

(Uncertain, TX) - You never know where life will lead you. I found myself on a steam boat in a swamp!

The boat is called the Graceful Ghost and its affable captain/ raconteur guides it around Caddo Lake in East Texas for the entertainment and education of the masses.

He will tell you that his craft is the only wood-fueled, steam-driven paddlewheel guided boat left in the world. Since I have no way of verifying that, I will take his word for it.

The Ghost glides along at a brisk two and a half miles per hour, which offers ample opportunities for passengers to admire the natural beauty of the great Texas lake. The cypress trees are centuries old and there’s abundant waterfowl to be seen.
The round-trip dive to the spot where the boat is moored took longer than the tour itself, but I would say it was worth it. It was a graceful way to spend an autumn afternoon.

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tracks: Tires and Tears

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why I have a tendency to dwell on the negative. For instance, why can’t I celebrate that we just spent four warm days with our daughter while she was home for Fall Break? Instead, I’m too busy being sad that she’s gone again. She pulled out of the driveway of the family home today, returning to her new life in Ft. Worth.

Her time off from school seemed to be consistently busy, but kind of low-key. After a brief trip to Baton Rouge to visit friends at LSU, she came home for the weekend. Happily, two young ladies came along with her and another came over from Louisiana Tech for a brief reunion. This made us happy because we got to see them, too; and make no mistake about it, my wife and I miss having them around.
Still, the visits were all too brief and the image of my daughter behind the wheel of her vehicle has become distressingly familiar. We put on a happy face and said so long, sending her on her way with a hug, a kiss and a wave. There may have been a tail wag thrown in for emphasis.

Of course, I thought about how long it should take her to make it back to campus, added about fifteen minutes to the back end and then called. Thankfully, she made it back to the dorm safely. Happily as well, I suspect. Being home was great when it seemed like old times. Having her friends around for a few days contributed to that feeling. After a couple of days limited to going out to dinner and watching TV with her parents, a campus crawling with people her own age had to have a certain appeal.
As she left, I hugged her a little too long and kissed her one too many times. My thinking is, you can never get those moments back so hang on to them as long as you can. Strangely, a few minutes after she thought she was rid of me, we ran into one another at a gas station.

She laughed and graciously hugged me one more time. Then, she was on her way with a full tank of gas and a recharged spirit.
Let’s put it this way, she shed no tears when she hit the road. I wish I could say the same for myself.

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Getting Old Is Not For Sissies

As my father moves spryly into his mid-80’s, he seems to be getting more healthy. Well, emotionally, at least. He’s a little bit sick some of the time, but for a long time he has feared his own ailments. For instance, on a recent check-up his liver enzymes were slightly elevated. This totally freaked him out. He actually said, quite seriously, “Whatever it is, I hope it takes me quick.”
The doctor explained it was probably an effect of his medicines and he should just be careful not to drink too much beer or wine.
This is the kind of thing I have faced with frustrating regularity. Not long ago, I had to take him to the emergency room at 2:00 in the morning. He was convinced he was having a heart attack. He’s never had one. He doesn’t know what it feels like. He has a pacemaker and an internal defibrillator. He’s practically bionic. His symptoms? Vomiting and diarrhea. He could not accept the idea that he just might have stomach bug. Even as we waited in an exam room, having seen the doctor, he still thought he was having The Big One. I said, “If you were having a heart attack, you would be surrounded by doctors, nurses and other emergency workers. The fact that you’re lying here quietly in the dark should tell you everything you need to know.” His response? “I guess so.”

This kind of thing has been going on for more than 25 years. I have often joked that I will make sure his epitaph reads “See? I told you I was sick.” To be fair, he does have real cardiac issues, hence the pacemaker. So, there's a foundation for concern.

I try to be the good son, especially when he has legitimate health issues. For instance, somehow he suffered a detached retina. The surgery to repair it was stressful, and the recovery was arduous. He was an extremely compliant patient, though, and his vision has been completely restored.

He is a frequent flyer to his internal medicine guy. He brings the staff doughnuts and they let him in without an appointment. It’s basically become a social outing for him once a week or so. He worries my cousins with alarming tales of his infirmities, and I am sure they are convinced I’m guilty of elder abuse by neglect. I’ve told them many times, “When there is actually something serious going on, I promise I will alert you.”

I can’t tell you how many times my phone has rung when he is experiencing some kind of discomfort. Invariably, he is fearful of a heart attack. Every time, my response is the same, “If you think you’re having a heart attack, hang up and call 9-1-1. I will meet you at the hospital.” How many times has he called 9-1-1, you ask? Zero. The naked truth is, he obviously has not believed he was actually having a heart attack.

So, imagine my reaction when he called last week and asked me to go with him for an appointment with his cardiologist. Oh, there were sure to be EKG’s and exams, protracted conversations about arrhythmia, and painstaking tweaking of multiple medications. At least, this has been the routine on myriad similar visits over many years.
So, imagine my surprise when the doctor walked into the room and said, “How are you doing, Mr. Rebouche?” He answered, “I really can’t complain. I’m feeling pretty good.” The doctor and his Physician’s Assistant just took a beat, made eye contact with one another for a moment, and then turned in unison to me. We stared at one another in disbelief for a second or two, and then someone said, “Well, okay then.”
That’s not all. Before the doctor came in, the old man was slathering a layer of charm like you wouldn’t believe. The office nurse came in to take his vital signs. As she was strapping on the BP cuff, he said, “My blood pressure’s probably going to be a little high. It happens when I get close to a pretty girl. I just can’t help it. It comes natural.” She just laughed.
When the PA (a lovely young woman herself) walked in, he said “Well, look who’s here. It’s like I just saw a rainbow.” She got the compliment about her beauty and giggled demurely.
I suppose with the tone so firmly set, we should have known a positive visit was upon us, but you never know. He could return to “normal” in the blink of an eye. It might just kill me. If it does, I hope it takes me quick.

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Thursday, October 07, 2010

There She Is, There She Goes!

It’s Fall Break in Texas, and college girls have come home!

Parents are happy about this development, no doubt; but one particular member of our family was so excited she couldn’t decide how to express herself. When the dog saw her long-lost friend, she had a look of confusion on her face. That lasted but a fleeting moment, until she apparently became convinced that IT REALLY IS HER! She’s standing RIGHT THERE. That’s when the spinning started. Yes, the dog was spinning in a tight circle and whimpering. Spin. Cry. Spin. Cry. Spinandcry, spinandcry, spinandcry. She just could not contain her glee. The feeling was mutual.

On the other hand, the Old Fat Cat was aloof. Keep in mind; these two have been close companions since our daughter was six years old. For about fifteen minutes, the cat wouldn’t have anything to do with her. Then, gradually, she decided not to punish her mommy anymore and the two were reunited. The family home was nothing but a pit stop, sad to say. Indeed, it is fall break in Texas; but not in Louisiana. So, the majority of her friends are still clustered at college. I guess the idea of staring at her parents and grandparents for almost a week was just too scintillating to bear. So, less than an hour after she arrived in the garage, she was off again, bound for Baton Rouge.

She said during the college selection process that she didn’t want to love LSU because she wanted to break away from the crowd. That’s where the crowd is, to be sure, and that’s where she plans to spend the next couple of days. I understand. I hope she has a great time. Her friends are no doubt thrilled for the opportunity to spend time with her and show her around. They have promised to deliver her home in one piece.
That’s good. She needs to get back here. The dog is confused.

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Sunday, October 03, 2010

She Doesn't Breathe Fire, I Promise

I spent my high school years at an all-male Catholic school. When I was a junior, the girl who many years later would become my wife attended the all-girls school. She was there for one year before her family moved to Tennessee. I did a four-year stint. She got out after her freshman year.
Now, the schools are combined, and consequently so are many alumni functions. The homecoming game was played this weekend and I decided to pop into a pre-game alumni gathering in the parking lot. We had a party to attend nearby, so it was convenient. My wife, feeling a little awkward about her cameo appearance at the school thirty-something years ago, reluctantly agreed.
We parked, stepped out of the car and took about four steps before people started screaming her name. Boom! Out of nowhere, two of her classmates were hugging her and they were laughing.
Finally, we moved toward the stadium. When we arrived at the alumni party, I got the occasional, “Oh. Hi, Darrell.” She was surrounded.

I couldn’t get close to her without fighting through a phalanx of her admirers. I saw exactly one person my age. What do you think she asked me? “Hey, I’ve never met your wife. Will you introduce me?”

We patiently waited our turn while we waded through what amounted to a receiving line of well-wishers.
The first person she saw, back at the parking space, was also with her at college. She said, “I can’t remember why we called you ‘the dragon.’” The answer was, “because you said I never came out of my cave.” Yes, as sweet and wonderful as my wife is, she has a long history of being (how can I say this?) socially reluctant. To know her is to love her. To see her in that kind of setting is a rare treat. So, it seemed everybody wanted to milk the moment.

Our daughter had a memorable weekend, as well. Not only did she have dinner with her brother, the The Girl Across the Street, a freshman at the University of Oklahoma, came to visit at TCU. She was in Dallas for the Texas-OU football game and spent the night with our daughter. Her parents, across the street from us still, shared our joy at knowing the girls were together again, albeit briefly.

While the ladies were refreshing old friendships, I contentedly kept running into basically the same fine folks I always see. I worked two football games over the weekend. I’m still doing some broadcasting for a local high school, my daughter’s alma mater (If mine called, I’d go!).

One of the radio guys for the opposing team was my man Tony, who was also working the same college game I was assigned to on Saturday. So, we saw one another in two press boxes in two cities in one weekend. It’s like we’re working a circuit or something.

All of the extra work has a purpose, and it’s not the paycheck. I’ve overcommitted myself as a mechanism to prevent us from jumping in the car to drive to Ft. Worth every weekend. My daughter doesn’t need us hovering around. A nice by-product is, rather than stay home alone, my wife is getting out more. It takes an empty cave to compel the dragon to leave.

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Saturday, October 02, 2010

Meat Pies, a Mascot and the Mother-in-law

(Natchitoches, LA) – My sweet mother-in-law spent her 73rd birthday with us on the banks of the Cane River. She and her daughter had lunch downtown at a restaurant named Merci Beaucoup. Fittingly, they went traditional with meat pies, dirty rice and French bread. You can’t do much better than that.

Coming here on a warm October afternoon might have been a good idea on its own merits, but we did have a specific purpose. I accepted another football assignment, this time to be the sideline reporter for the live TV broadcast of a great Louisiana rivalry, Northwestern State against McNeese State.

Don’t think I was not aware of other games on at exactly the same time: LSU at home against Tennessee and Texas- Oklahoma. Hey, I was just hoping folks might pop in during commercials.
Since we were all in the same car, my wife and mother-in-law took in the game from the stands. She might not have anticipated spending her birthday at a college football game, but she seemed to genuinely enjoy herself.
It certainly didn’t hurt that she knew a fancy dinner was in her immediate future. That’s kind of my thing: on any occasion, just eat! That we did, getting together at a real Natchitoches jewel, The Landing.

The atmosphere was warm and the dinner was delicious. The company was good, too. So, what more could you want?
We spent a little time along the riverfront and took in some of the sights of beautiful downtown Natchitoches, the oldest settlement west of the Mississippi River.

Meantime, in Ft. Worth, our children reunited. Our son was in Dallas for a concert and found his way westward to have dinner with his little sister. Seeing a photo of them together made us happy, even though we have precious few details about what they may have discussed. Our daughter said they had good quality time. I guess that counts for a lot. Knowing two of her three grandchildren were taking care of one another, even for just a few minutes, made my mother-in-law happy on her birthday. It was a nice day all around.

Oh, and as surprising as it may seem, given the number of times I’ve covered sporting events at Northwestern State, this was the first time I had taken the time to have a photo snapped with Vic the Demon.

Sadly for Vic, his team lost to their rivals. But, I guess my mother-in-law was the big winner. Happy birthday!

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