Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Long Way from T-Pain to Mulberry Mountain

At one moment last weekend, the four members of the immediate family were engaged in wildly divergent forms of entertainment. I was, of course, at a football game. My wife was at an Eagles tribute show with her mother. Our daughter went with some friends to a concert featuring prominent rap/ hip-hop artists Chris Brown and T-Pain.

And our son was on Mulberry Mountain in Arkansas for a bluegrass festival.

Bela Fleck and the Flecktones? Yonder Mountain String Band? Cornmeal? Railroad Earth?
Those were just a few of the featured groups at the Harvest Festival.

At least I’ve heard of Chris Brown and T-Pain. Mr. Bluegrass was the last to find his way home. He asked his parents to go to dinner so he could regale us with tales of his extended weekend in the Ozarks. Not only did he and his companions enjoy several days of music in a festival atmosphere, but they also went on a lengthy strenuous hike through the foothills that left them huffing and puffing, but smiling.

They stayed on the grounds, sleeping under the stars or in a tent. Apparently, there weren’t many showers involved. But there was plenty of music, all day and into the night.

He was wowed by these gizmos called sky lanterns, essentially small hot air balloons that were launched into the night, creating the appearance of new constellations, if not a fire hazard.

I think my favorite part of the story was their departure. They knew it was a six-hour drive and the festival grounds closed to cars at midnight. So, what time did they leave? 6:05. That’s superior planning and execution right there. When they arrived about 12:40, they were turned away; but everything worked out. They found a riverbank and slept beside it. A father likes hearing these things after the fact, because then he doesn’t have to worry about flash floods and that sort of thing.
They arrived safe and dry, just in time to settle in the back of this crowd for a session with one of the Groups I Never Heard Of.

I’m glad they had a good time. Maybe somehow we can homogenize our collective creative energy to find something we can all to together next time.

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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Living Large on Good Ol' Rocky Top

“Are they a bathoom sumwhar up in thar?” When I heard that question, I knew I was in Tennessee.
For the record, they were a “bathoom” up in thar. And to be fair, that was the most extreme accent I heard during my first trip to Knoxville and the legendary Neyland Stadium at the University of Tennessee.

The traveling companions and I got to watch LSU dominate the Volunteers in front of more than 101,000 fans.

Best as I can recall, that’s the biggest football crowd I’ve seen. The people I know who are Volunteer fans expressed regret that I didn’t get the full Rocky Top experience because the fan base is engulfed in a cloud of gloom due to the current state of the athletic program there. They’re in a rough patch, let’s put it that way. But, still: more than 101,000 people showed up, and that tells you something.

It’s always fun to put eyeballs on things you’ve only seen in photos or on TV. We walked along the Tennessee River for a while and saw the Vol Navy, dedicated fans who liven things up with a water-based version of tailgating. Their yachts, skiffs, barges and speedboats lend an aristocratic air to the game day experience.

Along the way, we stumbled across a high-end steak place on the riverfront. The timing was convenient. It was the noon hour and kick-off for the game was scheduled for 3:30, so we had the time for a nice lunch. On a perfect October afternoon, we sat on the upper level of a two-tier terrace with a view of the river and ate like kings. The traveling companions rounded up a few friends and for an hour or so, we lived the high life. We agreed that the meal will be one of the things we remember most about the trip.

We also will not forget the trip home. We didn’t set out for this to be a high-roller adventure; but from the outside looking in, it must seem like it was.
Somehow, we found ourselves on a private plane. This was a real luxury, especially since we could do a same-day turnaround. We were feeling good about ourselves in the evening, on the plane ready for the flight home, taxiing to the runway. Then the plan began to shake…rattle, even. The one thing it couldn’t do well was roll. Trembling just a little, our pilot eased his way back to the terminal as our takeoff was aborted.
There was a problem with the nose gear, but happily it was repaired rather quickly. I have to admit, though; there was more than a little suspense on landing back in Louisiana. We made it home a little later than planned, but all in one piece. The equipment issue is just about the only thing that kept the trip from earning an A+ grade. Well, that and the fact that it got a little uncomfortable in the plane toward the end of the journey. We ate right before we took off, you see. The one drawback of flying on a small private plane is they ain’t no bathoom up in thar.

Oh, and one more bonus: My first Tennessee game meant a chance to add another mascot to the collection!

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Puppy, a Pumpkin and Various Weapons

While all around town, college kids have come home for fall break, there has been no sign of our daughter. She chose to travel west during her free time to what was described as a ranch.
I don’t know much about it, but I have seen the pictures. A couple of her roommates, another constant companion or two and a few wild card group members posed well-armed for a photo in front of the, um, ranch house?

I know most of these young people and they don’t need high-end lodging to have a good time. They are perfectly comfortable to, as my daughter puts it “just love each other and play.” I guess the availability of various weapons helped. I’m kind of afraid to ask questions after seeing the arsenal at their disposal. A slingshot is scary enough, particularly at close range.

If that didn’t have enough destructive potential, there was always archery.

And, of course, what would a days-long symposium on weaponry be without an opportunity to brandish a shotgun? I can’t say I’m comfortable with all this. I’m just glad it’s coming to light for me after the fact. Of all the things that remain unclear and unsettling, the central question remains: what was she shooting at? Also, did she get a proper and thorough safety briefing? Did she wear hearing protection? Is everybody okay? There was some four-wheelin’, too, from what I can tell. And based on what I’ve seen, this involved mud ridin’. I guess there might have been a hootenanny down at the barn, but who knows?

Knowing this crew, there was an abundance of tomfoolery to go along with tree climbing.

And the tire swinging.

Also involved in the shenanigans, somehow, were a puppy and a pumpkin.

I guess it was a healthy escape, a good ol’ down and dirty old fashioned good time out on the Texas plains. I can only imagine what the food was like. They probably got some fatback from the chuck wagon. Maybe they rustled up some venison along the way. Or, antelope chili? All that was left of whatever animal it was were the antlers.

And I’m guessing they had to be careful what they consumed on Saturday night, because out there in lawless country, there was just one iron-clad rule, which was conspicuously posted.

The best news, for me at least, is that everybody made it back to school in one piece. And today presumably they showered and shed all the mud and gunpowder residue.
If you can't mess with Texas, it's pretty clear you can manage to make a pretty big mess in Texas if you have all the right tools.

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Sunday, October 09, 2011

The Gumbo That Made Me Cry

Having spent a couple of years distracted by our recent infatuation with TCU football, my wife and I were thrilled to find our way back to Tiger Country. It felt like going home, even in ways that could not have been anticipated.

From a perch high in the west upper deck of Tiger Stadium, we saw LSU maul the Florida Gators. The seats were actually pretty good; and on a mild breezy day we had a great view of Baton Rouge.

As we walked toward the stadium, naturally we had to weave our way through several square miles of tailgate parties. We stopped for a few minutes at a friend’s low-key affair, which gave me a chance not only to eat and rest a few minutes, but also to reflect on the remarkable contrast in fan sensibilities we witnessed in just one week's time.

You just can’t explain to TCU people what LSU is like. Frog fans are pleased with their game-day experience, possible because it’s so understated in comparison to many SEC schools. As I navigated a profane, besotted sea of purple and gold, it hit me: Game day at TCU is like a James Taylor concert. At LSU, it’s like Bonnaroo: a giant festival that coalesces into a celebration of the senses. The sights, sounds, tastes, smells and feel of the place are just remarkable.

Because the game was played in the afternoon, we decided to drive home afterward. Lafayette is about an hour west of Baton Rouge, so we planned to have dinner there.
Shortly after nightfall, we stopped at Prejean’s just north of town.

We’ve eaten there several times, but for some reason this particular dinner seemed just about perfect. As I dived into a bowl of spectacular seafood gumbo and enthusiastically spooned potato salad, I found myself becoming surprisingly emotional.
I thought about it for a few minutes, and then I realized what was going on. I was so happy to have such an amiable and agreeable travel partner. My wife and I have been doing this kind of thing together for more than a quarter-century and we almost always have a good time. Moreover, every bite of food I took, every sip of iced tea, evoked memories of the meals that were routinely prepared by my mother and my aunts. They’ve all been gone for so long that I didn’t realize how much I miss them, especially their cooking.

I woke up the next morning and told my wife it might actually be worth it to me on a Sunday to drive back to Lafayette just to eat. She said she felt like the whole trip, driving south and then north across the state in a day, Tiger Stadium and dinner, relegitimized her as a Louisianan.

We’re really enjoying our association with new friends in Texas; but when you get right down to it, gumbo still has the edge over barbecue and Tex-Mex. See you at dinner, and forgive me if I’m crying just a little. They’re tears of happiness.

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Sunday, October 02, 2011

Early Afternoon in Arlington

(Arlington, TX) – It’s kind of amazing how easy it is to make it to a noon kickoff for a Cowboys’ game when you’re already in town. So many times over the years, I’ve arrived at the stadium road weary after blowing west on I-20 to Irving or Arlington. Certainly, I’ve done my share of LSU-Saints weekends, but thanks to my recent allegiance to TCU, this is my first college-pro DFW two-day trip. It seems a lot easier. Geography, proximity, whatever you want to say…the Metroplex is just closer and easier to access from home than Baton Rouge and New Orleans are. And while I spent Saturday in the company of all of my female family members, Sunday is boys’ day out.

It consistently amazes me to look at the social networks while at these games and discover the number of people I know who announce their presence. I tracked down some young friends who live in Abilene. I hadn’t seen them in five years; but there they were, big as life in Cowboys Stadium.

Having been in this remarkable facility several times, I nonetheless still marvel at the spectacle on display. The national anthem, for instance, was impressive. Three Cowboys cheerleaders sang. I’m thinking pretty much everybody thought “okay, this is gonna be bad,” but their harmonies were spot on. They didn’t miss a note and looked lovely singing it.

The best news about a noon game: I’ll be home at a reasonable hour. Let’s hope there’s a decent game on in prime time. You can’t get enough football.

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Saturday, October 01, 2011

We Showed Up in the Same Place, At Least

(Ft. Worth, TX) – We showed up in Ft. Worth with an SMU alum and I guess she brought her team some luck. With my sweet mother-in-law in the stands, appropriately attired to be true to her school, the upstart Mustangs survived a furious second-half rally by the Horned Frogs to win the game in overtime.

It’s been an unusual sort of homecoming for mother-in-law as she celebrates her birthday weekend with one of her daughters and one of her granddaughters. Not only did she step completely out of character by actually attending a college football game, but she went on a brief pilgrimage to her late husband’s boyhood home. My wife saw houses where her father and grandparents lived in Ft. Worth, so the family weekend theme certainly was extended.

I stayed in the stands for a while and actually caught a glimpse of my daughter the TCU student.

But my natural environment is the sidelines, so I worked part of the game with an old Shreveport media buddy, who now works in Dallas. He had his game face on.

It was fun for me. I had to enter the zone of neutrality once I draped the media pass around my neck, and I actually enjoyed conducting post-game interviews with ebullient SMU players and their head coach. Beating nationally-ranked TCU, a traditional rival, was a milestone moment for the program.

It’s a strange weekend, in a way. I’m traveling separately from my wife and her mother; but obviously our agendas intersect significantly. There are parallel agendas in play: it’s a football weekend for me. I’m going to the Cowboys game, too. For the ladies, it’s a weekend away so they can celebrate a birthday.

And of course it was terrific to see our daughter, who as far as we know has no plans to come back to the family home before the holidays.

So, I guess I need to plan another football weekend so I’ll have an excuse to see her. Maybe I’ll let one of the ladies tag along.

P.S.: For the first time in a year or so, I actually snagged a photo with a new mascot!

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