Sunday, November 28, 2010

We Kid Because We Love

Shortly after the LSU-Arkansas football game, my phone started buzzing. One text message said, “You career is complete. You finally made it to network TV.” I had no idea what that was about until this photo hit my inbox.

There I was, in the middle of the Razorbacks’ post-game celebration. I was standing right next to quarterback Ryan Mallett with a purpose. I was lending a hand to a couple of TV stations that were covering the game, and the winning quarterback was in demand for on-field interviews.
I guess the televising network thought he was worth showing, too.

The outcome of the game was disappointing for LSU fans, because the loss eliminated hope of the Tigers playing in a major bowl game and certainly vanquished their dim hopes of a national championship.

The trip was fun for me, though. I was in a vehicle with the television people as well as a writer for the local newspaper. Two of those guys are close friends and a third, who is from New Orleans, is someone we know and like. Seven hours in a car together lends itself to the re-telling of well-worn and often exaggerated tales of our various misdeeds.

There was one significantly younger person on the trip, and this meant a new audience for the time honored tall tales of our exploits. So, we amused one another by abusing one another.
As I’ve explained to the unindoctrinated, this is our awkward “guy way” of expressing our warm regard for one another. Or, to borrow a phrase from legendary insult comic Don Rickles, “We kid because we love.”

I ran into an old friend along the way, a veteran Arkansas fan who worked with us for many years in local TV.

We drove to the game and back and did not stay the night, which made for a long day. It was fun, though. The football was high level and so was the company. And I guess the good news is, it also means we have more stories to tell when we get together again.
And there was no way I could pass up the opportunity to add to the mascot collection.

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Friday, November 26, 2010

Silver Stars and Fleurs de Lis on Thanksgiving

As happy Thanksgivings go, 2010 rockets to the top of the rankings. The family enthusiastically indulged my lifelong desire to attend a Dallas Cowboys game on Thanksgiving Day. In keeping with the “thanks” theme, we are immensely grateful to a generous friend who invited us into a suite at Cowboys Stadium, where we enjoyed the game in high style.

The conversation was spirited, the food and drink were abundant, and the game itself was magnificent.
The Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints and the disappointing Dallas Cowboys kept the outcome in doubt until the final seconds. The Saints won by three points when a 59-yard potential game- tying Cowboys field goal attempt sailed just outside the left upright.

My daughter was fully engaged and seemed to be rooting equally for both teams.. She cheered when something good happened for either side, and I believe she was sincere. It’s nice to think she was happy in part because she knew I was happy.

My son, I think, surprised himself with how much fun he had. He was delighted to discover he had friends who were coincidentally at the game So, he walked around the stadium, took in the sights and talked with his friends.
He also identified his favorite Dallas player, running back Marion Barber. it's not barber's hard-nosed, straight ahead style of play he admires. It's his hair.
Moments after he returned from one of his stadium tours, a couple of noteworthy visitors showed up in the suite. How can a guy pass up that photo op?

This also presented an opportunity for brother and sister to spend an entire day together. They’re both out of the house now, so I can’t tell you the last time that happened. Just listening to them have adult conversation with one another was a joy in itself.

Everyone had a different highlight. My wife, dressed diplomatically in Saints gear, perked up when she realized that Keith Urban would be performing at halftime. We have seen him in concert and were impressed with his performance. So, she wrangled her way into a front row seat for the show. She was not disappointed.

Holiday memories are made, no doubt; but I suspect we’ve forgotten more Thanksgiving details than we can recall. There’s no chance we will forget this one. The drive was pleasant, the company was outstanding and the accommodations were world class. The bonus is that the game itself was great, too.

With the Cowboys out of playoff contention, it was relatively easy to see the bright side of a Saints’ victory. I have a warm spot for the saints and always have, but I was raised to be a Cowboys fan. Even though they’re having a terrible season, a real fan has to show support. This may mean surrendering your dignity at times.

It was so much fun. So, Thanks to everybody who was a part of it.

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Silver and Blue Emotion

Today, I'm getting to do something I've always wanted to do: See the Dallas Cowboys play on Thanksgiving. I've been to plenty of Cowboys' games, but never on Thanksgiving Day.

I had four tickets to the game two years ago, but I was discouraged from going because it was the first Thanksgiving after my father-in-law passed away. We didn't want to leave my sweet mother-in law, and I understand that.
Today, the wife and kids are joining me and I'm emotional about it. This is a nice gift from my son, who ironically is no parts of a sports fan.
I have great affection for the Cowboys' opponent today, the New Orleans Saints. This is the Saints' first Thanksgiving Day game and I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to witness it.
But I grew up a Cowboys fan. It's just part of who I am.

I guess this opportunity, combined with holiday thoughts of dearly departed loved ones, has evoked one of my most treasured yet painful childhood memories.
I was about six years old. My parents (pictured here, along with my brother) were planning a daytrip to Dallas. I was convinced they were going to the Cowboys' game. I was crying, pleading for them to take me with them. I loved the Cowboys. They assured me time and again that they were NOT going to the game. Finally, they convinced me.
Contentedly, I went about by kid business, but heard my parents whisper fighting in the kitchen. I didn't know what it was about, but it went on for some time. Finally, my mother lost her patience with the dispute, stomped her foot and shouted at my father "You cannot take that bottle of booze into the football game!"
I lost my mind. Heck, I've never recovered from it. Today, things even out. We had Thankgiving dinner at our house last night and Dear Ol' Dad was there. But I did not invite him to come to the game with us.
He wouldn't go anyway, but I get this moment.
Somewhere in heaven, my mother is laughing. Happy Thanksgiving.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Battle of the Broadcasting Bouches

The local airwaves may never be the same. For an unlikely hour this evening, my son and I were competing directly with one another on local radio stations. He was at the local college radio station doing his regular Wednesday night show.

I was asked to sit in for the absent host on a call-in show dedicated exclusively to LSU football.

There’s no way to know who won the Battle of the Bouches, but my show had several callers, interesting guests and trivia questions. His had a whole bunch of songs only he and his friends have heard of.
Having spent a decade and a half hosting a daily radio show, I never thought for a moment that my son would have a radio show. To be on at exactly the same time had to be a product of some kind of once-in-a-generation cosmic alignment.

I had fun in the hours leading up to the shows, saying things like “The Kid’s goin’ down” and “Police scanners will have more listeners,” but the truth is this was a happy moment for me. I think this will be a great family memory.
Plus, it worked out. He had a legitimate excuse for not listening to my show. He doesn’t give a hoot about LSU football, and so he wouldn’t tune in anyway.
And gosh, I surely hated to miss his broadcast extravaganza. I’m the fortunate one, though. His show is two hours and mine was only one. So, I got to hear the second half of what he and his co-host had to offer.
Something to be grateful for on the eve of Thanksgiving.

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Not-So-Friendly Skies

I spent a little time in the sky today, and it’s taking a while for me to recover. I was in a private plane flying at 2000 feet on a blustery day. Let’s say the ride was bumpy. The flight was short and otherwise uneventful, even though circumstances forced me to spend most of the flight in the place I’ve come to lovingly call “the seat of shame.” I like it back there, actually. When I’m in the air, I like to take photos. On this plane the seat of shame is by the only window that isn’t tinted. So, I know it well.

My son went along for the ride. He had the opposite experience, landing a spot in the co-pilot’s seat.

I know he had a good time. It’s not every day you get a view like that. I feel fortunate to be in a position to let him have that kind of opportunity.

He generally likes to play it cool, but he was obviously thrilled to hang out at the airport for part of his Sunday afternoon. He even posed for photos, which is borderline extraordinary if you know him.

As we made our final approach, there were one or two white-knuckle moments as the stiff breeze blew us noticeably from side-to-side. All things considered, things went smoothly and nobody got motion sickness.

Now, I’ll just sit still for a while and everything should be okay.

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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Standing Tall in a Sea of Purple

I suppose it’s not politically correct, but the legend of Chief Caddo lives thanks to a college football rivalry. My wife and I had a close encounter with the Chief, who has been standing tall (7 feet, 6 inches to be specific) since 1961.

The chief is semi-nomadic, moving back and forth between the campuses of Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas and Northwestern State University in Louisiana. His residency issue is decided annually. The winner of the game between the schools’ football teams gets custody of the Chief.
It’s the largest trophy in college football, and its pays tribute to a tale about the founding of the two cities which are home to the schools. As the story goes, a chief of the Caddo tribe who made his home on the banks of the Sabine River had two sons. He sent one traveling east and the other traveling west. Where they settled became Nacogdoches, home of SFA and Natchitoches, home of NSU.(Read more about about that here.)

Chief Caddo will reside in Texas for at least another year, because the SFA Lumberjacks won the game and earned a conference championship in the process. For the second time this season, I was pressed into duty as the on-field host for the trophy presentation.

The home team celebrated and had me surrounded. They accepted the conference championship trophy with glee, but it was Chief Caddo who had their attention.

It took about a half-dozen of them to carry him to midfield for the ceremony. His expression never changed, but as someone who has known the chief for a long time, I can tell you he was in a fine humor. He’s not getting any younger and moving can be such a hassle.

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Harry Hand for a Star Struck Sister

Here at the homestead, things are slowly returning to normal following my wife’s big New York adventure. In the dark hours of a random November morning, she and her mother jumped on an airplane and found their way to the Big Apple. Somewhere along the way, my sister-in-law showed up and the merriment began.

There’s plenty of “gee whiz” potential in New York for three southern ladies and the city did not disappoint. My wife, a loyal daily viewer of The Today Show, dutifully marched to Rockefeller Plaza on two separate occasions. Bon Jovi was playing the plaza, but that did not impress her. She was breathless as a school girl, however, because as she excitedly reported “I made eye contact with Matt Lauer!” I guess you take your thrills where you can get them.

The big moment, though, came in the form of a close encounter with Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe.

Underprepared for such an auspicious happenstance and armed only with a permanent marker,
my wife’s star struck sister had him sign her hand. I suggested she have it amputated, then pay a quick visit to a taxidermist. I offered to buy a shadowbox frame for her as a Christmas gift. I mean, it was a big thing. I guess the photo will be sufficient.

Sure, they did all the things you would expect: Broadway plays and musicals. Fancy drinks were consumed. But TV seemed to be the big thing. Fans of David Letterman are certainly familiar with the Hello Deli next door to the Ed Sullivan Theater. Its deadpan proprietor, Rupert G., has emerged as a celebrity in his own right thanks to routine appearances on The Late Show. My wife muscled her way in there, got a picture made with Rupert and immediately e-mailed it to me. I was so proud.

The highlight of the trip just might have been the amazing access they were granted to CBS. They got to sit on the CBS Evening News set, where the chair was reportedly still warm from Katie Couric’s backside.

CBS Sports was live on the air with a college football double header, and they hung out on the set with studio hosts Tim Brando and Spencer Tillman.

There were higher-minded cultural pursuits, but they did not involve close encounters with actual celebrities, so they’re probably not worth mentioning.
Not pictured, my sister-in-law’s one-on-one conversation with Broadway legend Kristen Chenowith following a performance of “Promises, Promises.”

I remember when this trip was initially planned. My mother-in-law initiated the mother-daughter adventure. She asked me if I thought the younger women would want to go. I said, “You have to ask?” She called them individually and asked them to think about it. They responded immediately and identically, “What is there to think about?”

Can you think of anything better to do over a long mid-November weekend? Well, maybe. After the trip, getting back to the house and returning to normal has its own appeal despite a shocking absence of celebrities.

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Sunday, November 07, 2010

Eating Our Way To and From the Hill Country

Let me help you understand why I consider myself one of the luckiest married men alive. My wife traveled with me to San Marcos, Texas so I could participate in a live television broadcast of a college football game.

San Marcos, home of Texas State University, boasts two of the most magnificent outlet centers in the south. Shoppers salivate when they think of weekend trips to Prime Outlets and its near neighbor, Tanger Outlets.
Game time came and my wife did the expected: she dropped me off and set out with a goal of getting all of her Christmas shopping done. God bless her, she was back by halftime. She was sick of shopping and was not happy that she had decided to skip the game.

By the time she got to the stadium, the game was out of hand. The home team was losing to Central Arkansas by 39 points. TSU fans were leaving the stadium in giant packs, but she amused herself by taking photos.

She didn’t walk away from the acres of stores empty handed. From what I can tell, at least two people should be pretty pleased in late December.

The enduring memory from this weekender, though, likely will be the meals. Determined not to settle for roadside fast food, we were looking for local restaurants. First stop: Timpson, Texas. There, situated prominently on the venerable town square, is Frontier CafĂ© “Home of Truely Southern Cooking.”

Catfish may be their specialty, but spelling clearly is not. What they lack in attention to detail with respect to sign painting they balance with courtesy and hospitality. The fare was just about what you would expect: fried chicken, pork chops, corn bread (and catfish!), etc. You can enjoy a buffet or order your lunch freshly prepared. In the condiment section was the best pico de gallo we’ve ever tasted. It was so good that my wife layered it onto her cheeseburger.

Following the game, we hit the road and around dinner time kept our eyes peeled for someplace appealing. The stars aligned for us when we found ourselves in Brenham, Texas just after dark. We had no idea where we were because we were faithfully following instructions from our navigation system, but we caught a glimpse of a sign: Volare Ristorante. The parking lot was packed, which is always a good sign.

We waltzed in and embarrassingly asked where we were. Duly advised that it was Brenham, we took a seat and fell in love with the place. The aroma of freshly-prepared Italian favorites accompanied by attentive service and a romantic home-like atmosphere created an outstanding dining experience. Everything we had from the bread, salad, iced tea and the pasta entrees was delicious.
We had to order dessert, there was no debating it. Brenham is most famous as the home of Blue Bell ice cream. So, what to do? When in Brenham, you simply must have Blue Bell. (The menu lists dessert options and ends with “Blue Bell, of course!”) There was an easy answer: Blue Bell spumoni!

What a great treat this restaurant was. I’m really glad the Garmin led us to Brenham.

The dinner wasn’t particularly expensive, either. I guess that means more money for Christmas shopping.

Oh, by the way...this was my first trip to Texas State, which meant a golden opportunity for a photo with a new mascot. How ya doin', Bobcat?

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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

No Time for Candy

Halloween passed our house without incident on the first such occasion we’ve had without any kids around. We didn’t even buy candy. Instead, we hopped in the car, picked up my sweet mother-in-law and went out for dinner.

Meanwhile, we observed children from afar in photos. The toddler nephew was as cute as he could be in a monkey suit. I don’t envy my wife’s sister managing a child that young, but she seems thrilled with it.
I’ll wait a few years (hopefully) and start hoping for grandkids.
My own children were too busy with high Halloween hilarity to concern themselves with much beyond the party. My son showed up as a big banana. While that’s goofy enough that you would think nobody else would do it, shockingly another dude showed up at the same party in an identical costume.

I guess when you're that age, even dressed as a banana, having naughty nurses around has a certain allure.

Quite conversely, our daughter decided to frolic around Ft. Worth dressed as a kangaroo. In another stroke of crazy coincidence, a fellow TCU freshman showed up as a hunter. That’s not so strange until you realize that the hunter lives five doors down from us back here at home.

I have to admit, the Hoppy Halloween concept was cute, made even more so by the fact that these photos was taken at an unintentionally ironic Christian Halloween party where no alcohol was served.
Evidently, it was a robust gathering. So much so that it attracted the attention of Ft. Worth’s finest. My daughter and one of her friends had a close encounter with Officer Friendly, who shined his flashlight into their plastic cups. God bless him, he was apparently trying to shut down some underage drinking. I wonder how he felt when he discovered there was nothing stronger there that root beer. (I hear what you’re thinking: “Yeah, right, Dad. Root beer). I can imagine that’s how the officer felt, too.

My wife and I had a peaceful evening and turned in early without once opening the door to a ghost or goblin. I’ve done my time. Now, the kangaroo and the banana are on their own.

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