Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Why Can't I Be Happy!

Fall is my happy time. The wonderfully crisp air, the scent of fallen leaves, visiting the local cider mill and buying honeycrisp apples, the arrival of my favorite holiday on October 31st . . . and, of course, lots of football. And that has been going well of late. My Michigan Wolverines have turned it around after starting out with two losses, the Detroit Lions have been winning for a change, but most of all, my Revenge of the Blog fantasy football team is in first place in our ten-team family league.

Ah, life is good.

Not everyone appreciates my joy. I believe my wife Wendy thinks I spend too much time hunkered down over my computer checking the latest sports updates. I strongly suspect that some of my fellow managers in the league think I spend too much time scanning the sports columns as well, as if I could find something better to do with my time.

For them, there is a new book on the market, "Why Fantasy Football Matters: (And Our Lives Do Not)." The husband of actress Elizabeth Banks, who appeared in the movie The 40-Year Old Virgin, co-authored the book. Hmmmmm, and Christmas is coming soon. Gift idea! Elizabeth (see picture) herself is a big fantasy football fan. Wonder if she'd want to join our league next year. We haven't invited women in before but . . .

Anyway, true, I tend to "smacktalk" the other managers about my success on our league bulletin board. But what's the harm in a little ribbing between friends or relatives? Heck, I've been doing the same to my Spartan blogging buddy Bonnie for years now. She's okay with it. And I'll probably be delivering a new ribbing come this weekend after my Michigan Wolverines demolish her Michigan State Spartans there at East Lansing.

At least I'm not like my dad who threatens his fantasy football opponents with being cut out of the will. Maybe that's why he's currently a respectable sixth place. Not bad for a rookie manager.

When I'm not studying the weekly NFL stats, I'm contructing a giant Michael Jackson dummy for my Halloween yard display. I stripped some branches from a tree I cut down to form the skeleton. Then I put some old clothes on it, as well as a pull-over Michael Jackson head. It's not ready for prime time, but in the dark it might pass for a seven-foot Michael Jackson.

I'll report back later on the big dummy. Until then, happy halloween!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Homogenized Eats

In our travels while on vacation two weeks ago, I tried to avoid the chain restaurants. It wasn't easy. Though for me it was more fun try to a po' boy sandwich in Savannah or a crab chowder in Hilton Head, once I hit the expressway, it was back to the usual burger joints, pizza places and sandwich shops. Homogenized eats, I say.

I miss seeing the regional menus you might find at a mom and pop diner. Not to mention the cultural or historical ambience of eating in a restaurant that's been a local icon for a half century or more. I found out recently that The Embers in Mt. Pleasant closed after 50 years in business. When at Central Michigan University, our dormitory held a dinner there in honor of the seniors, including myself. "Thanks for the memories," it now says on their sign. Ditto here. Places like this seem to be disappearing fast.

If you stick with the usual fare in Michigan, you might miss the fried chicken at Zehnder's in Frankenmuth, or the unusual deli offerings right here at Zingerman's in Ann Arbor. I've had both. In our travels roundabout the U.S., we've sampled Chicago hot dogs, New England clam chowder in Boston, deep fried pork chops at a buffet in the south and homemade Pennsylvania Dutch scrapple in Lancaster. Mmmmmmmmm, good.

You experience the unusual too. At one out-the-way diner I tracked down, the woman running the place was short of staff, so a fellow diner, a local I presume, helped wait on us. Then there's one of my all-time favorite places--Polly's Pancake Parlor in Sugar Hill, New Hampshire. Featured in numerous articles on regional cuisine, it's a place I've been to twice. It's memorable for a toy horse on the grounds outside, with whom children for decades are obligated to have their pictures taken. That's trot-trot the horse in the picture here.

I got a chuckle out of something that happened at a restaurant down in North Carolina on our return trip home. I had been trying to find a good "southern fried chicken" place but settled for a Bojangles instead. This is a chain fried chicken restaurant, but one I've never visited before. After Wendy and I ordered a lunch, we noticed that the total price was rung up, followed by then a smaller amount which we paid.

We both figured it had to do something with a combo meal discount, but when Wendy checked the receipt at the table, a smile crossed her face. "They gave you a senior citizen discount," she said. What? This would be a first. The first time I had been given a senior discount without my asking for one, or without them asking my age.

Then my wife looked at the receipt further and the smile disappeared. They had given her one too. Her first senior discount. And she didn't even have to ask. NOW, it wasn't funny. Wendy flagged down an employee cleaning tables to ask what the age was for getting such a discount. But the worker didn't speak English. So we let it drop.

Maybe I should start singing her the song, "Silver Threads Among The Gold." Aaaaaa, better not. Our sofa's not that comfortable for sleeping.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Selling Savannah Spirits

"How many believers do we have in here?" asked Elizabeth, our ghost trolley tour bus driver (pictured above).

Only a few hands among us passengers tentatively rose in response. Nevertheless, touring the haunted sites of Savannah (supposedly the most haunted city in America) is big business. There are three separate companies offering such motorized tours, including one that rides along in a hearse. And at least that many walking tours that take visitors to cemeteries, dark mansions, and other venues of which chilling tales can be told.

Elizabeth told such tales well, whether it was a tragic end to young lives or local mysteries involving voodoo and murder--as is the subject of the well known book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. We were told to inspect the photographs we took for "orbs", little moon-like dots of light that indicate the presence of spirits. Didn't get any on my snapshots, though a fellow trolley passenger got several on his digital photo near a reputedly haunted house.

Not everyone takes such spooky stuff seriously. At one cavernous mansion, while our tour driver spoke in serious tones of a pair of twin spectres seen in the upstairs on many occasions, we passengers noticed lights flickering on the walls in the third story of that very house. Then we saw faces of kids holding flashlights. They obviously knew why our bus was parked outside. Good prank.

Later, we toured the dank cellar at The Pirate House, a restaurant where in olden times sailors were lured downstairs to be clubbed and shanghaied, dragged through underground passages to waiting ships. But other diners when they learned of our mission teased us as we passed, going, "Wooooooo, oooooooo" among titters from other diners. If I had any pirate tendencies, I would have dragged them to the cellar for a little clubbing of my own. Twerps! (That's me in the cellar here)

Even my wife Wendy didn't seem to take seriously our spook-hunting. We stayed at the Olde Harbour Inn, where the spirit Hank is supposed to reside. Our room contained a journal where previous guests wrote of their stay. The initial entry mentioned disembodied voices and shuffling footsteps outside their bedroom in the dead of night.

That didn't impress Wendy. Once, when I asked if she wanted to take a walk, she responded, "You go. I'll stay here with the ghost."

Well, Hank was a no-show, I must admit. No orbs, mists, disembodied voices, or shuffling.

Guess I'll have to make something up now to justify the money we spent. That's probably what keeps the ghost-hunting business booming there in Savannah.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

I Do Believe In Ghosts

Savannah, Georgia is reputedly the most haunted city in America. That's where my wife Wendy and I are going on vacation next week. My parents had passed through Savannah on a senior's tour about a year ago and recommended we visit there. (Never been).

So as I was doing my travel research I discovered Savannah's haunted reputation. The city was also the subject of a best-selling novel, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I don't know about you but I think that is one spine-chilling title.

Anyway, I discovered that some of the local historic inns are listed under Savannah haunts. Well, what better way to enjoy this ghostly city than to stay in a haunted hotel, especially in October just before Halloween. Right? So I made reservations for at an inn which has been haunted for some time by a ghost named Hank.

Doing a little more research, I came across this passage from a book, "Ghosts from the Coast." It describes an encounter with Hank at the Inn:

"I was standing in our room one night when the door handle inches away from my waist began to turn. My heart began going a mile a minute. I snatched that door open for whoever--but the hall was empty.

The next morning my wife was on the bed putting on her pumps when she suddenly jumped up, face white, "Russ, someone is sitting on this bed with me!"

I could see no one, but she was sure someone was there.

Is Hank the restless spirit at the Inn? No one knows, but guests write surprising notes and leave them there for the staff."

I copied that passage and e-mailed it to Wendy. Her response? "I don't believe in ghosts."

Now what fun is it to stay in a haunted house unless you believe it's really haunted. Maybe Hank will help to change Wendy's mind.

Hank, if you're reading this . . .