Flashback Friday: Nothing to do today but smile

It’s 11 p.m. If I get this post up in a hurry I’ll slide a Flashback Friday in just in time. Tonight marks the start of my weeklong summer vacation: two days of weekend, two days of staycation, four days of actual vacation and one more day of weekend. Yes, please and thank you.

For the vacation part of the week, the Modern Love Machine and I will be heading to NYC during which time we will eat and drink well, catch a museum and a Mets game (and unintentionally, a Nas concert) and wander the city. After hardly a vacation day since my January journey to the other side of the world, I am more than ready for this little break.

Even though we’re flying, the timing of it all and the fact that this is playing the role of my “big summer trip” this year makes me think of summer road trips from days gone by. My parents and I always got away for a trip or two each summer. The soundtracks of those journeys were the Modern Dad’s mixtapes. The MD graduated high school in 1968, and his taste in music didn’t age much beyond that, which should explain everything about why my own taste in music is deeply rooted in ’60s tunes.

So in honor of both the upcoming NYC jaunt, the MD’s mixtapes and summer vacations of yore, I present three New York-themed Flashback Friday songs, none of which are “New York State of Mind;” “New York, New York” or “Empire State of Mind.” Because those would be way too obvious, right?

This first one, well, it is so cheesy and saccharine you might not be able to get past the first few lines. It’s by B.J. Thomas, better known for “Hooked On a Feeling” and “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” (and if you haven’t seen Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, well, too bad for you). This song is somehow about New York City without sounding at all like it is about New York City. I don’t get it, but then I’ve never claimed to understand the ’60s.

Not that this song sounds any more like it belongs to New York City. Though it was written by Harry Nilsson, whose “Everybody’s Talking” and “Coconut” I adore, it was the cover by Sinead O’Connor from the You’ve Got Mail soundtrack I fell in love with.

And finally, “The Only Living Boy in New York,” which sounds much more to me like it is of New York. Simon and Garfunkel were one of my emo musical acts of choice during my teenage years. As a bonus, this song includes my favorite lyric pertaining to being on vacation: “I get all the news I need from the weather report.” Indeed and amen.

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Flashback Friday: I didn’t get to sleep at all

I’m writing this at 2:45 a.m. having been visited by my old pal insomnia. Even after reading a fourth of Khaled Hosseini’s new book and watching four episodes of 30 Rock, I’m still wide awake. I blame the wad-up ball of emotions and stress that has taken up residency inside me thanks to the launch of the app my team and I have been working on for nearly a year. (Authors and graduate students, I get it. I totally understand what it’s like to dedicate so much of your time to a pursuit only to put it out there and pray that it’s either universally praised or that no one sees it.) Here’s to hoping that ball of stress unwinds itself now that the app is out there.

Anyway, being wide awake at the moment perfectly sets me up for a Flashback Friday, which the Modern Love Machine gently reminded me a week ago is something I haven’t done in a while. Specifically he said, ‘You haven’t done a Flashback Friday in a while,’ but I know he meant I hadn’t blogged in a while, and thank you for that reminder, dear husband.

The MLM and I will be celebrating our second wedding anniversary on Tuesday, and as I lay awake in bed just a bit ago, my mind went directly back to the hours leading up to our wedding day.

As you’re preparing to actually live your wedding day, you’re well aware of the fact that it’s going to be a very, very, very long day (in a good way, of course). Obviously getting a good night’s sleep ahead of that is a very, very, very good idea. Because insomnia and I have been bedfellows regularly enough, I knew heading into the eve of our wedding day that I did not need to leave a good night’s sleep to chance, so I opted for some Tylenol PM — generally my sleep aid of choice — but threw in a melatonin for good measure.

No, it did not work. I can count on one hand the number of nights in my life where I got not even a single minute of sleep. Three of them involved participation in my college’s 24-hour Dance Marathon fundraiser. One involved a trans-Atlantic flight. The other was the night before my wedding.

Usually at some point during a night of insomnia, I get up, grab a cold drink of water or milk and then try to read somewhere that is not my bed in an effort to short-circuit my brain a bit. For some reason, I just completely gave into the insomnia that night and laid awake thinking, mainly getting hung up on the notion that I was living one of the biggest milestones of my life, one of those days that is forever being made the subject of rom-coms and dramas. You know that scene in Father of the Bride when Brad Paisley’s wife and Steve Martin are outside in the middle of the night shooting hoops? I was wide-awake, lying in my childhood bed, living that night, except without Steve Martin or basketball.

At some point in the night I did reach for my cell phone. Maybe I tweeted something, but I know I searched YouTube until I found just the right recording of this song, which I then listened to on repeat with a few listens of “Wedding Bell Blues” and “One Less Bell to Answer” thrown in to break it up a bit. The Fifth Dimension is now inextricably linked to the memory of my wedding eve.**

The universe gave me two wedding-related gifts, for which I will always be grateful: I was not hungover after my bachelorette party when I very much should have been, and I successfully made it from the 8:30 a.m. wedding day trip to Dunkin Donuts with my BFF to the trip to Dyer’s on Beale Street with the MLM 17 hours later without so much as needing a nap. And I managed to enjoy the whole thing.

**To be clear, those songs did not represent my feelings about marrying the MLM, nor do they represent how I feel about him today. It’s just that, you get in a mellow Marilyn McCoo mood in the middle of the night, it can be hard to undo.
P.S. The outfits in the One Less Bell to Answer link are fantastic.

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Chop suey

Today is one of those days where I’m sort of stuck in the vague zone of melancholy — not so depressed I can’t actually function but still lacking the motivation to do much besides stare into space. Work feels monotonous, the usual time-wasters are missing their luster and the half-written Friday flashback just seems way too crappy to publish.

In an effort to shake the funk, I decided to forgo the packed lunch I brought to work and indulge a sudden craving for greasy Chinese food. I work in the ‘burbs and don’t really have a sense of the food offerings around the office building, so I just aimed my car toward the closest Chinese restaurant — one that did not require me to brave any of the nearby soul-sucking seven-lane intersections. I thought about calling in the order and bringing it back to the office, but I figured a solo lunch out might do my melancholy some good.

I almost laughed out loud when I noticed all seven people dining in the establishment when I walked in were dining alone. It was as if this tiny dark Chinese food restaurant in the middle of a suburban strip mall was the place where social skills go to die.

Y’all. The food was horrible. I know by definition, most greasy Chinese food is bad, but it’s generally bad in that oh-so-good kind of way. This food was just bad bad. The wonton soup had a single bland wonton with tasteless meat-like filling. The fried rice was burnt. The egg roll filling had this weird bitter taste. Also, the assortment of music playing included — but was not limited to — Katy Perry’s Fireworks and TLC’s Waterfalls.

But it was cheap and the food was ready immediately, two things I’ll never complain about. The lady running the joint was attentive enough to get the job done without hovering or really ever checking on me, which is exactly my preferred level of interaction for a lunch like that. She also gave me a to-go Diet Coke without me asking for one, and anyone who sends me on my way with a fountain Diet Coke has a special place in my heart. And I do actually like TLC’s Waterfalls.

Maybe there’s some moral to be drawn from my lunch excursion, or maybe what I really need to be doing is exploring the reason(s) for my melancholia, but, I don’t know. This notion of a dark, dingy strip mall Chinese food restaurant with bad food and diners who all roll solo just seemed significant enough to stand on its own.

Posted in food and drink, life | 4 Comments

NOLA, in pictures

It’s been a month — a month! — since I was in New Orleans. Good heavens, where in 2013 going? That means I’m more than a month behind on blog post ideas. So here goes nothing on trying to get caught up. The trip, a work excursion, was my first to the Crescent City, a crime if you consider I spent 18 years of my life (albeit all underage) living a mere train ride away. New Orleans is one of those perfect kind of destinations for me: it’s gritty and real, it’s scenic and it has really great food. Ok, and the booze ain’t half bad either.

My colleagues and I worked hard and played harder. I can’t tell all the stories, but I might have one to tell in a future post. Until then: my trip in photo form.

The best time to visit the French Quarter, in my humble opinion is on a weekday morning. You can walk without dealing with the hassle of what I would call super-drunk rookie travelers. You can obviously still get your own booze on, because the sun never goes down on the ability to drink in the French Quarter. Also, you get scenes like this to yourself.

That guy was there almost every time we walked through the French Quarter. I never got a chance to stop and find out his story, but I have a feeling the story isn’t necessary.

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Going to NOLA with a bunch of home design nerds meant architecture was high on our to-see list. Unfortunately I forgot to take my good camera, and I had only a little luck using my iPhone outside, even with all the Camera+ filters. I saw this shot when I plunked down in an old theater seat inside a junk/antique store to wait on the group, and I was enamored.

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The Modern Dad likes to say when driving by Protestant megachurches in the South that God is Baptist in the South. He declared God to be Catholic in Italy after visiting there, and I think it’s fair to say God is also Catholic — and French — in the French Quarter after seeing the inside of St. Louis Cathedral.

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Beale Street in Memphis once had its own Pat O’Briens, so my gateway hurricanes-and-dueling-pianos experience was many moons ago. Both are serious guilty pleasures of mine, which meant Pat O’Briens was HAPPENING, no matter how overrun with touristy tourists it was. There’s a reason they’re there. Those hurricanes go down like fruit juice, and everything is just SO MUCH FUN after that. During our first of two Pat O’s outings, the dueling pianos performed Fire and Rain, which is my all-time No. 1 favorite song. There were also people dressed as pirates.

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The last morning we were there, I hopped the streetcar to visit the Garden District. Unfortunately I was too tired and too overwhelmingly hot to fully enjoy anything but hanging out the window of the streetcar.

Well, hanging out the streetcar window and seeing these chickens in the front yard of one stately mansion.

And getting really excited about the FloJo doll I found in a Magazine Street antique store. Children of the ’80s: do you remember the FloJo doll? I remember wanting one thanks to her stylish outfit and decked-out nails. I think I entered a competition to win one but sadly was not the victor. I managed to refrain from purchasing this one, which made 7-year-old me very sad.

(RIP, FloJo)

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Really slow service aside, The Carousel Bar & Lounge was my second-favorite bar (after Pat O’s, natch). As you can see, the center of the bar is an actual center of a carousel. The bar itself and the seats around it are on a platform which rotates (very slowly) around it. I could have watched it all day long.

It sort of has that ethereal Under the Table and Dreaming album cover feeling, doesn’t it?

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This woman. We walked behind her for about six blocks. I would estimate she is in her late 50s. She had to walk with her left hand holding her skirt the entire way so as not to reveal the lady bits. But she managed to hang on to her manfriend’s hand the whole way and all while wearing 6-inch heels. Like a boss.

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We saw a classic New Orleans second line while dining at Restaurant Stanley. I wanted to jump right in.

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Aside from a hot, humid final morning in town, the weather for our trip was abso-effing-lutely perfect. Admittedly I used a filter on this photo to get that perfect glow, but let me assure you that this twilight scene did actually glow and so it’s not so far off from reality.

Posted in childhood, design, food and drink, religion and faith, travel | 1 Comment

Tackling one tree and banana oat bar at a time

My word of the year is embrace, as in, embrace the craziness that life launches at me. It’s almost funny just how much craziness the Universe has dealt me so far this year — high highs and low lows and rarely a dull moment in between. One moment my family and I were saying goodbye to my cousin, who died far too soon. The next moment, I was in India for one of those once-in-a-lifetime trips. More recently, I was indulging in the richness of New Orleans and squeezing in a Memphis adventure, only to follow with the Modern Love Machine’s knee surgery on Thursday.

I’m sure this goes without saying, but it is so, so hard to watch someone you love be in pain. You wish for the magical power of being able to take away pain, and yet the best you can do is try to minimize any additional discomfort while they work through the pain on their own. And dole out the Percocet every four hours. Knee surgery is mostly a routine thing, but that doesn’t mean it’s not painful. And the MLM apparently excelled at screwing up his knee. “Go big or go home … he definitely went big,” his doctor said post-op.

The MLM and I have spent at least one day or night away from home for four of the past five weekends. Combine that with long, busy hours at work trying to get an app launched, and I feel like I’ve barely seen my house lately. So while I was not looking forward to the MLM’s surgery so much, I was happy about being forced to stay at home for a few days, both as a postmortem to all the travel and a precursor to the crazy of getting both of us to and from work and rehab appointments when only one of us is allowed to drive.

Of course, as soon as I sat still in the quiet of the house for a few moments while the MLM napped a bit, I realized just how overwhelming the to-do list seemed. Thanks to a few weeks of neglect, the house is disgustingly dusty and a bit dirty — as in, actual dirt, not messiness. The budget needs to be balanced so that the medical bills can be paid. The contractor needs to be nudged into returning to the house sometime soon. The front flower beds need weeding, the bushes need trimming and flowers obviously must be planted for sanity’s sake. My own physical and spiritual health has been a bit neglected lately, so a trip to the gym (or a lap in my running shoes) and an outing to Mass are both overdue. And it would be nice to clean out that blogreader and actually get all the blog posts I’ve written in my head over the past few weeks typed out, but that’s obviously a luxury.

Or is it?

My tendency is to want to wipe out that entire list at once, lest the anxiety of it all overwhelm me. My old editor would tell me I could never see the trees for the forest, while my therapist would remind me that the only way around the forest is through it, and the only way through it is to get around one tree at a time.

So I’ve been tackling one tree at a time. Embracing each tree, if you will. I can’t exactly say I’ve been crossing the chores off my list, either. I’ve watched the Grizzlies game, played XBox with the MLM, made a quick trip to the Farmers Market while the MLM napped and sat in the sun while typing this very post. Oh, I did get the front flower bed weeded, so 10 points to Gryffindor for that.

And I’ve cooked. Not cooking for the sake of eating, but cooking things because I felt like it. Like this Asian Peanut Noodle Salad. Ok, that was more preparation than cooking, and it did feed us for dinner, but I only made it because I felt like it. It was simple and delicious, though I was short on honey so I didn’t quite have enough sauce.

This morning I woke up to beautiful sunlight and a cool breeze streaming through the kitchen window. I wanted to be making Banana Oat Bars in front of that window instead of paying bills or going to Mass (God, forgive me). Plus I had bananas that had been in the freezer for a few too many weeks, and I’d rather make something of them than throw them out. (When your bananas go bad, throw them in the freezer. When you’re ready to make banana bread or banana oat bars, pull ‘em out and let ‘em thaw and go to work). When I bake things I prefer mostly unhealthy things with lots of butter and flour and sugar, but these bars don’t have any of that, and yet, I love them. They’re also incredibly simple to make.

mushy old bananas in the sunlight

One note about the recipe: several ingredients are listed as optional. Let me assure you, they are not optional. Everything that has a pinch of sweet needs a pinch of salt, and the vanilla and nutmeg/cinnamon add depth.

banana mush with oats in the sunlight

Another note: chocolate chips should be mandatory as well. I’ve done this recipe with and without them, and chocolate chips add some necessary heft that the nuts alone don’t accomplish. I suppose you could add something else chunky, but I like the added sweetness of the chocolate. And I just like chocolate.

chocolate chips and pecans in the sunlight

I often make a double batch and throw it in a 13×9 pan. Today, I didn’t quite extract enough pulp from my way-too-old bananas, so this batch turned out a little dry and crumbly. Nothing that can’t be solved by just shoving it into your mouth a little faster. What I don’t eat straight out of the pan I cut up into squares and wrap with foil or Saran Wrap to grab for an at-work snack.

banana oat bars

Today? Maybe I’ll get around to the bills and do a little cleaning. The MLM is a little more mobile and insists on going to see Iron Man 3, so that will happen for sure. Maybe Mass, maybe some cilantro pesto will get made. Whatever doesn’t happen today, I’ll work on tomorrow.

Posted in food and drink, health and exercise, life, marriage | 1 Comment

Flashback Friday: Keep on burnin’

I spent last weekend in New Orleans at a trade show, promoting a few of the apps we’re developing at work. It was one of those work hard/play hard kind of weekends, and oh, the stories I have to tell and photos I have to share. But. They’ll have to wait. The trip coincided with the start of our big push to get one of those apps launched. I’ll be in crunch-time mode for the next two or three weeks, which means I won’t have a lot of time for anything but work, food and sleep.

On that note, I have the perfect song for Friday.

People want to SING about NOLA, and after spending five days there, I can completely understand why. It’s got an attitude, and I love a city with an attitude. You could spend all day making a playlist of songs that have a relationship with the Crescent City, but unfortunately I don’t have time to wade through all the ones I love. I’ll save that for when I go back.

John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival give the impression that they are of the Mississippi Delta. This is not the case. They are from the San Francisco area, which no doubt is gritty in its own right but is not Delta lands. Yet their second album, Bayou Country, goes a long way toward fooling people.

From that album comes a song that is high, high, high on my list. And while I like the CCR version, I will argue with anyone who wants to listen that it a song only Tina Turner can appropriately perform.**

THOSE LEGS! THAT VOICE! EPIC. I have a dream of performing this song at karaoke, but I know I would only dishonor Tina if I tried. I basically want to be her, minus the Ike abuse.

Proud Mary is not completely about New Orleans, but at least mentions both it and my beloved Memphis. And while I might not be the washer woman John Fogerty was imagining when he wrote the song, I keep on burnin’ through work, so it is my anthem right now.

**Not to mention Tina was born in rural West Tennessee just outside Memphis and lived there until she was a teenager, so she sorta, kinda my homegal. Or at least I’m going to pretend she is.

Posted in music | 2 Comments

Flashback Friday: Boston

With all of the crazy developments in Boston in the past 12 hours, now is the time more than ever to keep yourself from getting too hooked on trying to keep up with them all. Like I said before, the news will still be there at the end of the day, and hopefully it will be clearer and better developed by then. And you will be saner.

For my friends in Boston, you’re in my mind. I hope for your sake you get some semblance of normalcy soon.

For what I hope is a pleasant distraction, here’s a Flashback Friday playlist dedicated to Boston. I have never been to Boston — though it is high on my to-do list — so I cannot claim the city as my own. And while I cannot even begin to like your sports teams, Boston, you’ve done a damn fine job of turning out music and musicians. My playlist is not meant to be a comprehensive collection of good Boston music and musicians, but in the spirit of my Flashback Friday posts, it’s just a list of songs about Boston, by musicians from Boston or beloved by Bostonians that I enjoy. The actual songs are not meant as any sort of commentary on what’s happening. Their selection is informed by what I like and what’s available on Spotify.

Everyone take care of yourselves.

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Disconnecting

When things like yesterday’s bombings in Boston or the shootings in Newtown happen, I go to this weird place of emotional detachment and just observe everything that’s happening around me. That’s not to say I don’t hurt for the people who are affected — I very much do — it’s just an entrenched defense mechanism left over from life as a reporter. You shut your emotions down so you can do your job until you have time to process it all, but my brain hasn’t yet realized I don’t have a job to do in this case.

Everyone must deal with traumatic events in their own way, and in this era of connectedness, people are trying to process their emotions more and more through social media. And as I was in my weird place yesterday I watched that happen: people questioning why someone would do such a thing, people trying to share tidbits of news, people expressing their prayers, etc. I get this. Getting caught up in every last detail of an event like this comes from the urge to find reason and meaning and comfort. We want to understand why so that we can be comforted that we would never be the cause or the effect of such tragedy.

The thing is, there is no reason to be found in irrational acts. You might get a “why,” but it won’t satisfy, and it may just make you feel angrier or more confused. And getting caught up in the manic flow of information and the noise of social media in traumatic times will make you crazy. Literally — I came out of seven years of working for a 24/7/365 breaking-news media company with a nice side of anxiety disorder.

My encouragement to all of you during traumatic times is to step away from the social media (and media in general) and breathe. Go outside and take a walk or go for a bike ride and be thankful for your life and the lives of your loved ones. Hug your family and friends in person when you can and call or Facetime/Skype them when you can’t. The news will be there at the end of the day or week, whenever you give yourself permission to look again. As an added bonus, taking a break from it will give law enforcement, reporters and everyone else involved time to straighten out the facts and sort out the fiction.

When you do follow the news, do so wisely. Turn off unnecessary noise. Limit the outlets from which you seek your news. (I recommend The Associated Press, which has some of the most rigorous sourcing standards, and the local paper of record, in this case the Boston Globe, which normally will have the best sources and most resources in these situations.) My husband chose to follow just the Globe yesterday, and he said he was glad to have a limited amount of noise while still staying informed of what was happening.

We live in a hyper-connected world where people who want to do damage can easily learn how and obtain the means necessary. We’re all sick of it, but it’s not going to go away anytime soon. That sounds like a resignation to the evil. It’s not because things can still be changed, but until we figure out how to do that on a grander scale, we need to take care of our connection to life around ourselves in the most direct way possible. The connection of social media is good until it isn’t, at which point it’s a distraction or worse.

Love on your loved ones as hard as you can until their time or yours comes. Get to know your neighbors and help them — even the crazy ones. Be kind, gentle and forgiving. Do good in the world. (As Mister Rogers and Patton Oswalt remind us) focus on the good in others. Remember that there’s good in all.

Posted in current events, health and exercise | Comments Off

A day at the races

I’m guessing that if you ask a random sampling of people what happens in Lexington, Ky., answers will split pretty evenly along University of Kentucky basketball, thoroughbred horse racing and bourbon, which is fairly accurate.

Knoxville is a mere three-hour drive from Lexington, and I spent enough time making the trip between the two for my old job and the basketball bit. A friend of mine lived there briefly, and so the Modern Love Machine and I have visited for the sole purpose of drinking with him, though more in the style of beer drinking (neither the MLM nor I are big bourbon drinkers). Horse racing, however, is something I’d never witnessed until this weekend.

We visited the aforementioned friend who was in town visiting from his new hometown in Minnesota on Saturday. He suggested a visit to Keeneland, the lesser known of the popular horse racing tracks in Kentucky, but perhaps the more attractive of the two. Considering that a trip to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby is on my Life List, I figured a Keeneland outing might be good preparation.

Outside the Keeneland grandstandoutside the Keeneland grandstands

On the surface, Keeneland’s races are a gigantic sorority/frat party. People dress UP … ish. I say ish because there were plenty of ladies wearing dresses that could be confused for shirts. The hats don’t really come out like they do at Churchill, but there’s plenty of heels, fancy jewelry, and bow ties (for the gentlemen). There’s also plenty of boozing done in the parking lot, and plenty of boozing done inside the gates.

trying to decipher the race card

Because we made a gameday decision to go, our only option was to purchase $5 general admission at the gate. The box seats, which go for as little as $10 most weekends, were sold out already but definitely would have been the way to go. The general admission section was overly crowded until the last few races of the day. I presume the crowd (which no doubt included a good chunk of Louisville basketball fans) cleared out early to catch the Final Four. General admission does offer some benches close to the action, we just didn’t score a bench until the ninth race.

Walk from the Keeneland paddockthe parade from the paddocks

Keeneland’s spring meeting runs in April, and several of the big races are precursors for the Kentucky Derby. There’s also a fall meeting in October, and any good Southerner will tell you these are the two most acceptable months to be outdoors in the South. Ten races were scheduled for Saturday, with the big race of the day — the Central Bank Ashland Stakes — running ninth. You can bet on any of the races and in many different, creative ways.

Start of race at Keenelandand they’re off

We bet a few bucks here and there on a couple of different races. The closest either one of us came to winning was on the big-money race, when the horse I put money on went for a photo finish for third place. But the photo showed that it finished fourth, and so I couldn’t even make my money back on that one.

Finish at Keenelandthis horse basically came from the back of the pack to win

Despite our nonexistent betting skills, the MLM and I agreed Keeneland would be worth the three-hour trip again with a little advanced planning on tickets and far better planning on outfit selection. And if horse racing is at all your jam, I’d recommend it to you.

Keeneland wasn’t that far from the main destination of our trip, Country Boy Brewing, where we camped out to watch the Final Four and heckle the local Louisville fans. Between two visits to Country Boy and their trip to Knoxville’s Brewers Jam last fall, I’ve found about a dozen of their beers that I like, which is unheard of for me. They introduced me to the amazingness that is peanut butter chocolate beer, which the brewer claims he will never brew again because of technical difficulties. Such is my life.

Posted in travel | 2 Comments

Flashback Friday: The Kentucky Blues

I didn’t intend for Flashback Friday to become a weekly thing, but it’s a fun, easy post. Today I have an actual story about my former life from four years ago — the last week of March 2009 to be exact — that I couldn’t share at the time.

Editor’s note: Names omitted to make this post slightly less Googleable, but Wikipedia can clarify things for you if you don’t know of whom I speak but prefer to.

I was in Memphis to cover an NCAA basketball tournament regional with a sportswriting colleague from Nashville and another from Little Rock.** This bit of March Madness featured North Carolina, Oklahoma, Syracuse and Gonzaga. Oklahoma had eventual NBA Draft first-pick Blake Griffin at the time, though his brother Taylor was more of a force in that tournament, and UNC would ultimately go on to win the championship.*** My coworkers left town after we were done with the last game on Sunday night, while I retreated to my parents’ house for what I hoped would be my first good night’s sleep in about two or three weeks and with the intention of making the long drive back to Knoxville the next day.

this was my vantage point for most of that weekend

Instead of sleeping in to my heart’s desire, I was awoken around 8 the next morning by my work cell phone. At this point, I should mention that Kentucky had fired its basketball coach four days earlier for both his inability to win a national championship (that by which all Kentucky basketball coaches are judged) and his ability to have very public personal problems. When I answered my phone, my boss told me Kentucky was trying to hire the Memphis basketball coach and asked if I had left Memphis yet. I considered saying I was already on the road, but I knew he’d just tell me to turn around. He told me to stay there and find the coach while the sportswriter located in Kentucky tried to confirm the story on his end.

I did what any Journalism 101 professor would tell you to do if you really, really, really need to talk to someone: go to his house so I could knock on his door (I did not have his cell phone number to bug him from that angle). I went to his house only to find a gate around the house and his blue-painted outdoor basketball court. A couple of other reporters staked out across the street. His car wasn’t there, so I think I left to make the short trip to the Memphis athletic department building to see if the athletic director was around to give me a standard no comment. He wasn’t.

On the way back to the coach’s house I was listening to my favorite morning radio show in Memphis, Drake and Zeke. They’re not quite shock jocks, but more two deeply sarcastic guys who like to poke fun at dumb criminals and bad baby names. They’re also big Memphis basketball fans, and so this particular morning they were starting to bemoan what they figured was the inevitable departure of the coach to what would be most ambitious basketball coaches’ dream job and the presumable decline of Memphis basketball that would follow. And they played this over and over and over:

By the time I made it back to the coach’s house, word was out. There were twice as many reporters, but they were far outnumbered by the Memphis basketball fans who had shown up with signs and shakers, in hopes of somehow urging the coach not to take the job that he’d probably already agreed to take. I was instructed to remain there for the rest of the day, in hopes of the coach showing up at some point. The other reporters and I traded our best stakeout and coaching turnover stories,**** while the fans either cracked jokes with us or heckled us. (Y’all, I urge you, don’t ever shoot the messenger.) I think someone ordered pizza or takeout from nearby. The coach never showed up, and the boss let me go home around 6 p.m. or so as the Kentucky sportswriter had made enough progress to publish a story that day, I think. (Some of the details are a bit rusty at this point.)

Instead of getting to return to Knoxville the next day, I was ordered to do a drive-by of the coach’s house again (still not there) and then was sent to the city’s private airport, where I was to keep an eye out for the University of Kentucky plane and possibly a glimpse of the coach getting on it. What I couldn’t express clearly enough to the editors that day was there was no good and legal way to stake out the property with a clear sight line of the tarmac. I ended up camping out with a few TV reporters on the edge of a busy expressway with the closest thing to a view of the tarmac and then prayed to God for my immediate release from this assignment. Lunch didn’t happen that day, nor did any sighting of the coach and the plane, and I deliriously drove back to my parents’ house that night, hungry and sick from 12 hours of exposure to car and truck exhaust from the expressway.

If I remember things correctly, I saw the coach getting on the plane that night on the 10 o’clock news. He’d apparently taken off about an hour after I left the scene. I later found out that when I’d first visited his house on Monday, he was off somewhere talking to Kentucky by phone and then later getting schmoozed by the big-time Memphis boosters in their last-ditch effort to keep him. He did spend the night at his house but was gone by the time I went by the next day in order to attend morning mass at the nearby Catholic church and breakfast at the doughnut shop. (I could have been eating doughnuts!!) While I was staked out at the airport, he was informing the Memphis athletic director and his players that he was taking the job. I was basically either a few steps behind him or a few ahead of him the whole way without ever knowing it.

I ended up leaving Memphis around lunch the next day only after I spent a few hours getting confirmation that the Tennessee basketball coach was in fact not interested in the now-open Memphis coaching position.

One more time for the cheap seats in the back:

I suppose in sharing this story, I am effectively ruining any chance I might have had at becoming a professional stalker or private investigator. But when I’m vising Lexington tomorrow I just might do a drive by of the coach’s house for old time’s sake anyway.

**The company doesn’t keep a regular sportswriter in Memphis, despite there being an NBA team there. I was offered a hybrid newswriting/sportswriting gig for the company in early 2010 but didn’t pursue it as things were getting serious with the Modern Love Machine at the time. Funny how things go.
***The only thing I passionately miss about sportswriting is covering the NCAA basketball tournament. It was hard, hard work, but it was so much fun being in the middle of it. And I saw some really great basketball.
****The thing I miss the least about sportswriting is the firing/quitting/hiring of new coaches. And I had more than my fair share of those as a sportswriter.

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