Monday, October 30, 2006

You Make The Call

Were we the jerks? Or not?

During our vacation, Wendy and I stayed at the Opryland Resort Hotel in Nashville. Humongous place with nearly 3,000 rooms. I wouldn’t call it a family friendly atmosphere. It was more for the high-powered corporate types whose companies would be picking up the average price of $239 a night for a room. (We got an AAA special rate ourselves)

I did some exploring and found a cavernous convention area, where appeared hundreds of business conventioneers. They seemed the pushy, salesman type to me.

While exploring, I also found a locked room with free internet connections for hotel guests. Just swipe your room key card and you’re in. Wendy and I dropped in one morning so I could check on my fantasy football team and my blogging community.

There was only one other gentleman there, who seemed part of the business crowd, very serious in his suit and tie in front of the computer screen.

Another man, also in shirt and tie, knocked at the door while we were in there. Obviously, he didn’t have his room key with him, or was not a guest at the hotel. Wendy indicated with hand gestures that he needed to use his room key. She said she had heard of sexual predators scouting for locations such as this to access the internet. So she wanted no part of letting him in without proper identification.

But the would-be intruder was persistent. He banged on the floor length glass doors even harder, several times. Then tried to collar a sympathetic passerby to let him in. Two women did not. The third did. So he was in. But he wasn’t happy.

"I hope you’re never broke down by the side of the road when I drive by," he said snottily. (Is snottily even a word? If not, it should be).

Wendy and I did not respond, but the other gentleman did.

"Don’t bitch at me. I didn’t make the rules," he replied.

"So that’s the way it is, eh," the intruder responded.

They went back and forth a few times before the intruder sat down, checked something quickly on the computer, then left with a "Cheerio. Have a nice day."

What do you think? Should we have let him in? I was even tempted to call hotel security on him for his nasty behavior. You make the call.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Sick Day

I’m nursing a sore body today. Have been for going on two weeks now. It started the week I returned home from vacation. A burning pain commenced around my back and mid-section that I attributed to muscle strain.

But this affliction did not respond to my usual remedies. Heat, bed rest, muscle salves, motrin . . . I was still hurting, enough to keep me walking around in the middle of the night.

Only after a few days did the REAL culprit become evident when I developed boils around my midriff. Herpes Zoster. Shingles! That’s a painful viral disease that erupts later in life to attack those who suffered Chicken Pox as a child. It can last weeks, even months.

My doc prescribed four medications, three of them for pain. But the aspirin I have been taking seems to work better. At least, I have my friends and family to comfort me and nurse me through all this. Right?

Well, here is what my buddy Bob wrote to me: “My brother went through the same thing a couple of years ago and it literally brought him to his knees. He was either in intense pain or drugged out of his mind. Neither was pleasant. I understand shingles can be quite painful. Horror story here, my grandmother got them on her face about a year before she passed, back in the 70s, and they covered her eye which ultimately had to be sewn shut. She ended up dying (of other things) before they had a chance to reopen it.”

Thanks, Bob.

Well, at least I have my better half to take care of me. Right? The day I made my appointment to see the doctor for this, my wife lamented that she needed a day off work too.

“Why don’t you take off from work tomorrow. I could use a little TLC,” I replied

“Ah, forget it. I’ll just go to work.”

And now, today, I read that a government panel has approved an anti-shingles vaccine for use! But only for older Americans over 60!!

Rodney Dangerfield and I could have been twins.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Meet Your Family!

Returning from our trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, we stopped in Pennsylvania Dutch country where Wendy has roots. She was born and raised just outside Philadelphia.

After finding a motel, we hunted for a restaurant that served P. Dutch. Settled on Good 'N Plenty, a rather large establishment in the heart of Amish country near Lancaster PA. They advertised family style dinners, which sounded good to me as we've enjoyed the family style chicken dinners they serve in Frankenmuth, Michigan.

But . . . we didn't really have our whole family with us. No problem. The restaurant staff took care of that for us. They brought us to a banquet room and put us at a long table that sat twelve of us strangers together. It was like we'd just walked off a tour bus. Or walked into a wedding reception. No choice either, since everyone inside was seated likewise.

It was a surprise, which some people enjoyed, but made others seemingly uncomfortable. Chicken, roast beef, dressing, vegetables, noodles, sauerkraut and sausage, rolls . . . everything was passed out in serving bowls.

But hea, hasn't this happened to you at a big family meal gathering? The good stuff ends up at the other end of the table? Well, it happened to me. The fried chicken, dressing, and gravy were with the folks over yonder while the bowls of sauerkraut, spiced cole slaw and chow-chow landed next to my plate.

By the way, chow-chow is a Pennsylvania Dutch favorite, a mixture of pickled vegetables that include cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, etc. The other Dutch treat served with the meal was shoo fly pie, which is also baked by my wife Wendy. She says she prefers the way she bakes it. I wouldn't know because I don't like it.

So I asked for seconds on the fried chicken, which meant the bowl had to travel back through several sets of hands. The gentleman next to me said, "Here, why don't you take a couple pieces. You can have it all if you want. Just a few pieces in there." Some people do get grumpy when asked to pass food in the middle of eating their own dinner.

Gee, I just wanted what's coming to me. I just wanted my fair share. Never mind. I'll just fill up on the chow-chow here. Usually, I can fill up on the mashed potatoes, but it's tradition here to puree the potatoes to a texture resembling applesauce. Just didn't seem as filling nor as appetizing to me.

Afterwards, bellies full, we started chatting a bit. I learned that the couples directly around us were from Texas and New Hampshire. The ladies exchanged some pleasantries about their families and travels and the weather. Then the New Hampshire fellow had something he wanted to get off his chest.

"You know I can always tell when there's a Texan around. They're always the loudest one in the place," he said. Then he told the story of being in a classy European restaurant where a staff of waiters hovered over every table--filling glasses, carrying away dishes, meeting each diner's request instantly. But at one table, this service was too much. "Get the heck away from me," a man bellowed to the waiters. The New Hampshirite explained that this was a Texan. And he hadn't seen anything since to convince him that Texans weren't all similarly cultured.

I wanted to mention that I have some blogging buddies that are Texans who don't appear to be anything like his stereotype. But the gentlewoman from Texas spoke first. "On behalf of all Texans, I apologize," she said.

Holy cow! A bit of conflict around the dinner table? Somebody speaking his mind? A matronly type smoothing it all over? Eating too much food, even if you're not sure what it was or how it was cooked? This really WAS a family style dinner.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Still Ole, Still Grand

[For the next couple blogs, I'm reliving our recent vacation (sigh). Responding to a couple inquires from last blog, I don't surf. I meant "catching a wave" on film. Also, Doogie was okay when we returned, though he took a while to warm up to us. Our oldest son took care of him while we were gone.]

When radio was in its infancy back in the 1920s, a popular way to fill air-time was to broadcast live music by local musicians. In 1925, the year it came on the air, WSM in Nashville broadcast its first "barn dance," featuring what were called "hillbilly" musicians. Three years later the program was re-named The Grand Ole Opry.

What impressed me as Wendy and I sat in the audience of the Grand Ole Opry a week ago, was how true to its roots this program remains. The Opry is first and foremost, a radio show. There are commercials, an announcer, hosts for each half-hour segment, and a parade of musicians young and old coming on-stage to perform live.

During our two-hour program, and I imagine on other nights as well, the acts feature the gamut of what is included in country: western (with yodeling!), honky tonk, bluegrass, inspirational, old favorites and current GAC (Great American Country) top 40.

Usually, there are one or more "name acts" that even non-country folks might recognize. Wendy picked this particular night for us to go because Trace Adkins was performing. Then there are the Opry regulars, many of whom have been performing for decades there on stage. Little Jimmy Dickens, one such regular, was born the same year WSM came on the air.

I enjoyed the show very much, as it had the feel of live entertainment over the over-rehearsed, over-performed shows you might find in Pigeon Forge or Branson. The line-up for each night's show (Tuesday, Friday and two on Saturday) changes frequently as one performer cancels and another is added, right up to show-time.

My one complaint is that I could not find a post card with a scene like the one pictured above. Plenty of post cards of the outside of the building, the empty stage, the microphone by itself, and the opry plaza. Maybe there are legal encumbrances to producing such post cards. Post cards are cheap souvenirs, though, and I'm cheap.

Audience members are welcome to come down to the front of the stage and take pictures during the show. I recall one elderly lady, digital camera in hand, slowly making her way down front during the closing act. She walked right past the featured singer so she could take pictures of the four Opry regulars that sing back-up harmony (you can see them above and to the left, though they usually perform far back of the other musicians).

Whether it was because of this slight, the featured performer Johnny Lee (his big hit was "Lookin for Love" off the Urban Cowboy soundtrack) told a joke about how he entertained some residents of a nursing home.

Afterwards, he hung around to mingle and chat with the residents, most of whom voiced their gratitude for his performing. However, one lady he approached started in with some very personal comments about her relatives, her medical issues of late, her neighbors, etc. Not sure what to make of this, Lee asked, "Mam, do you know who I am?"

The woman hesitated for a second, perhaps dumbfounded by the question. Then she composed herself and replied, "No, but if you go to the front desk, they'll tell you who you are. Don't fret; it happens here all the time."

(By the way, Wendy and I would like to return to the Opry some day).

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Cost Of Fun

[I'm reliving my vacation from this last week (sigh) for the next few blogs.]

I’m a cheapskate even on vacation. So I found North Carolina to my liking. Entrance to their beautiful state parks, free. Hiking trail guides to Mt. Mitchell, tallest peak east of the Mississippi, free. A drive down the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway, free. Car ferry to Ocracroke Island, former hideout of Blackbeard the pirate, free. How much is all this free stuff worth to a miser like myself? Priceless.

Of course, not all fun is free. And so it was on our vacation. I paid $6 to climb to the top of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse. And $4 a head for entrance to the Wright Brothers National Memorial at Kill Devil Hills, where they made their historic first flight. We also toured the Labrot and Graham bourbon distillery near Lexington, Kentucky. Our AAA tourbook said the tour was free, but it cost $5 each. For that we got a shot of Woodford Reserve, a chocolate bourbon ball, and learned that 99 percent of bourbon is made in Kentucky though it CAN be made anywhere. And that not all corn whiskey is bourbon (Jack Daniels, for instance).

If you wanted to spend more for your fun, there is certainly opportunity to do that. We didn’t. But for $89, you could get three hours of hang-gliding instruction and five flights at Jockey Ridge State Park in Nags Head, North Carolina. The sand dunes there mimic the aerodynamic conditions that were the reason the Wright Brothers set up shop just a few miles down the coast.

If you really have some extra cash, for $1390 you can charter a boat for a day and make a two-hour trip into the Gulfstream of the Atlantic to catch some really big fish. Wendy and I saw a couple of these charter boats pull up to the dock and unload their catch (watching is free!).

What I really thought about doing was bringing a metal detector to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Since pirates frequented this area, I might just turn up some pieces of gold, or even some buried crown jewels! But a park guide explained that this was verboten before I even asked. In fact, he said that if I should happen across some washed up pirate booty, just let it be.

When I told a colleague at work about this, she said, “If I found the crown jewels washed up on shore, I think I would take the jewels and I would run.”

I think I would too.

[A couple people asked for pictures of my vacation. As I’m not as good a photographer as some, er, most, okay, EVERYBODY, the pickings are slim, but following are a few pictures we took.]

Charter fishermen display their catch, Oregon Inlet, Outer Banks, NC

I catch a wave at the beach, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, NC.

The FREE car ferry to Ocracoke Island, Outer Banks, NC

View from the Blue Ridge Parkway, NC.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Nemo's Shocking Demise

[I’m reliving some highlights of last week’s vacation (sigh) for the next few blogs.]

While in Nashville to see the Grand Ole Opry, my wife and I visited the Opry Mills mall next door to find a place for dinner. Picked the Aquarium. They advertise “eat under the sea.” Sounded like fun.

Of course, what they do is paint the restaurant interior to resemble the ocean and plant a huge saltwater aquarium in the middle of it. It was still cool. They had a large variety of fish swimming about, including sharks and rays.

Our waiter invited questions and said he would do his best to answer. “If I don’t know the answer, I’ll make something up,” he said.

Found out that there were three varieties of shark inside the tank: a large nurse shark that Wendy claimed laid on a rock and stared at her, five grim-faced black-tipped sharks that swam with a purpose, and a reef shark that hung out near the bottom. Lots of other fish too, big ones swimming in schools.

So I asked the obvious question. “Do the fish ever eat each other?”

It happens occasionally, I was told. “A couple weeks ago, one of the big yellow fish there apparently bumped one of the sharks, or said something bad about his mama. Next thing, this shark tore into the fish.”

Before you could say “feeding frenzy”, all five sharks attacked the doomed fish, leaving nothing but its head within five minutes. Now all of this was witnessed by the lunchtime crowd which, being a Saturday, included a lot of impressionable youngsters. Kids whose idea of what goes on under the sea comes from Disney cartoons. They were very distraught, the waiter said.

So the restaurant staff had to delicately answer some questions from the horrified children which included, “Was it Nemo?” and “Are you going to get another one?” Never mind that there were plenty of other healthy fish merrily (well maybe not merrily now) swimming about.

I can imagine the conversation some mothers had trying to get their charges to finish their fish sticks after that.

“No, I’m not going to eat Nemo like those sharks did.”

“OK, you don’t have to eat Nemo. Just finish your hush puppies.”

“Hush puppies??!!! Nooooooooooooooo!!!!”