Hell of a Guy
I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have. - Thomas Jefferson

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Old Friends and a Weekend Retreat…

05/23/2007

Friday, May 18th…This blog seems to have turned into sort of a travel log, and that has never been my intention, but once again here’s the beginning of another piece on the travel and travails of the Hell of a Guy.

This very gray, cool morning finds me sitting at the airport in Charleston, West Virginia awaiting a flight that will eventually carry me Little Rock, Arkansas, and a final destination just outside of Hot Springs, the Brady Mountain Resort.  I am due to board the plane in about thirty minutes and I had a brilliant thought; it being, to kill the time writing of my thoughts about the trip I am to make.

The Nancy and I spent the last three days at a conference in Charleston.  She has a function she must attend at home, so I am making this trip like a big boy…all by myself.

I will be spending the weekend with some of my Millennium friends, and this will be our second reunion since completing the Millennium Workshops in Dallas back in April 2005.  I won’t go into what the program is about or how awesomely thankful I am for my daughter sharing it with The Nancy and The Nancy with me.  The website address, just in case you should have an interest in learning how to live with zest is http://www.millennium3education.com  Chec.k it out?

I am very excited to see these folks with whom I shared so much for months of our lives.  This weekend has been planned for many months and much of what will happen when we are all together will be completely unscripted, as it should be.  We know nothing of the accommodations other than the approximate location.  If fact, all we do know is that we will be in cabins near a big lake.

More to follow…

Monday, May 21, 2007:  This time finds me on a Delta jet about the size of a couple of Volkswagens.  I am jammed in a seat by a window, and oh so fortunately for me, the seat on the aisle is vacant.  I have room to stretch and this will allow me the requisite room needed to type using my three-finger method of speed typing – one in which I have trained just a few of my fat digits to nimbly work.  Actually, three fingers for the lettered keys, my thumbs for the space bar, and one to hit the delete button as my not-so-smart fingers constantly hit the wrong keys (my fingers do not move as fast as my eyes and the impulse to strike the keys fires a little too quickly).  Anyway, my afterthoughts are next.

Some of us drove and some of us flew into Little Rock and then drove rental cars through Hot Springs to our final destination.  The Brady Mountain Resort will not win any awards for luxury.  While two of the cabins were okay – one a little more than the other, my cabin appeared to have been constructed prior to the Birth of Jesus.  It was truly barely livable, but I managed.  It may have been constructed by Abe Lincoln.  Mine was a duplex cabin with the other side occupied by my best buddy and his wife.  Two guys stayed a one of the newer cabins, but not the best cabin.  Four of our ladies got the Taj Mahal cabin…well, not quite that good, but compared to the duplex, it was nearly heaven.  This was the closest I ever hope to come to camping.

The Brady Mountain Resort was the perfect venue for this reunion.  Its lack of conveniences and amenities, you know, creature comforts (TV’s that worked, though we wouldn’t have watched them, would have been nice).  Not having TV or cell phone service and other attractions or distractions, allowed us many hours of face-to-face gatherings.  We were able to reacquaint, catch up, tease, hug and coach each other.  We did nearly everything as a group, most of the time and it was nothing short of perfect.  We are already planning a weekend in 2008 – this one, hopefully, to take place on a farm near Beautiful Downtown Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, aka The Town of Bath, population 711.     

The, for want of a better descriptor, “resort” left a lot to be desired, but the nearby Lake Ouachita that stretches nearly twenty-five miles in overall length throughout rolling countryside left us awestruck.  The sunsets were incredible and the weather was perfect.  The lack of amenities did not detract from our purpose for being there, which was nothing more to recapture a moment from two years ago when we parted one April 4th.  The time flew by, but I think we all came away with renewed spirit and our love for each other has reached a new plateau.

And that is all I have to say about that…

 
Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A Night at the Troubadour

05/16/2007

The Troubadour is a honky-tonk bar you have to visit to believe.  The inside of the place reminds me of a house that has been over decorated for Christmas, Halloween, Easter and every holiday or occasion known to man, all at the same time.  It is a dizzying atmosphere with an incalculable number blinking lights of all colors hanging from anything and everything that will support them.  If a wall isn’t adorned with photographs of patrons and country music stars – past and present, and plastic things like palm trees, whatnots and illuminated beer signs (mostly mass-produced industrial swill) and,yes surrounded by blinking,colored lights, then it is plastered with some kind of hand-printed, warning signs and rules.  Lots of signs…lots of rules. 

One sign clearly notes that on nights with live entertainment, beer prices and other drinks increase by fifty cents.  Another states one can be barred from future entry for “using profanity,” but I don’t think it is enforced with more than a “shhhhhh!”  While still another sign lists instances in which one could be barred for “Life.”  Since this is one of just a few actual bars in the county, being barred for life carries some weight, apparently.  A very conspicuous sign posted just above the cash register advises the two bartenders, Rene and Kat, in very large print not to accept checks from two of their more notorious, less trustworthy customers.  The Troubadour is an adventure into a world of frenetic colors and fantasy, all illuminated with lights and haloed with ubiquitous cloud of cigarette smoke.  Smoke that so permeates your clothes you need to undress outside when you go home and leave your clothes hung out to let them air.

A week ago, The Nancy and I passed some time with the elite in the lounge of the W Hotel in New York City, where we were not very comfortable.  Six nights later we find ourselves at the Troubadour hobnobbing with a bunch of very real people, not prone to putting on airs of any nature – they just don’t give a hoot what people think.  I like that so much more than the haughtiness of the NYC crowd (but look forward to going back to New York because I love it, too). 

The Troubadour has about fourteen seats around three sides of a U-shaped bar.  Only four have an overhang to place your seat under.  If you sit at any other, it is as if you are seated next to a box – you have to lean forward to get your elbows on the bar.  Not real comfortable, but I don’t see it ever being renovated to accommodate my elbows or my knees.  We hadn’t been there in about six months, but, still, Rene remembered what we drank the last time we were there.  That floored me.

As we entered the Troubadour, we were greeted by the owner; a sweet man whose health is suspect, but easily guessed when he speaks with his raspy, low voice as a half-smoked cigarette dangles from his lips.  The Nancy always gives Jim a hug when we enter the place.  He reminds her in many ways of her favorite uncle.  We paid our $6.00 cover and made our way around the bar and sat down at the same spot we sat on our last couple of sojourns to the Country Music Fantasy World of Morgan County, West Virginia.  The live entertainment was in the throes of setting up huge speakers and instruments on the small stage, and was just about twenty minutes away from torturing us with a myriad of rock and roll oldies and a sprinkling of country music best heard on an unplugged radio – trust me; we won’t hear any of them on American Idol.  (I can hear Randy now, “Check it out!!!  Dawg, that just didn’t do it for me.”)

Our evening at the Troubadour began looking around the place and checking out the improvements since our last visit.  These included a number of new lights and more photographs and subtle warning signs.  We took it all in, especially the people (maybe twenty-five, but not many more), as we enjoyed – a term used loosely in this instance – a couple of the Troubadours finer beers.  I had a Heineken and The Nancy suffered through a Michelob Ultra.  Nasty stuff!  We saw some folks we recognized, not in the acquaintance sense.  We have seen them around town or at the Troubadour on previous occasions.  One is a regular there, a young man named Eric.

It became abundantly clear Eric had been in the place for a while; his speech seemingly impaired a smidge from being over served.  Eric is about five-foot ten, a tad overweight, has frizzy, long black hair, and would remind you, if you read the Harry Potter series or saw the movies, of Hagrid, but a bit shorter.  Eric was having some difficulty forming both his words and his sentences.  Checking out the room, we could see and hear a few of Jim McCoy’s other customers were having a fabulous time unintentionally doing Eric impersonations.  Eric came over and talked with us for a while; at least he thinks he did.  We were not exactly sure what he said, but I think Eric had a good idea of what he wished to convey, even if his diction and enunciation were a little off the mark.  He likes The Nancy a lot and likes to dance with her, and always asks me for permission to ask her to dance – it’s the way it is done in West Virginia.  Perhaps that was the subject and object of our conversation.  If it was, we missed it. 

At one point two of the boys probably pushed one another a little too hard in a verbal contest and an altercation nearly erupted, and as we listened and chuckled and awaited fisticuffs to begin, who appears and steps in the middle of the fray, our little frail friend, Joltin’ Jim McCoy (Google it.  Joltin’ Jim McCoy.  He has a celebrated history.)  Jim isn’t afraid of anything, or so it seems.  I think he has had some tough battles in his lifetime.  Some he has lost, but with many he came away the victor.  This time he won.  It wasn’t too long after these two guys, embolden by God knows how many Bud Lights, took their discussion of who-will-kick-who’s-ass to the parking lot, followed by none other than Jim McCoy, threatening both with being “banned for life” if they didn’t get the hell off his parking lot.  Jim is a real Hell of a Guy. 

This was a night of many contrasts.  The Troubadour is nothing but a gaudy, smoky honky-tonk frequented by a bunch of rednecks and redneck wannabes, and occasionally by this redneck “could-be” and his wife.  The Nancy and I sat at the oddly built bar, ate some of the Troubadour’s nearly famous American Fries from a menu full of epicurean delights of the breaded, fried variety – Jim don’t think much of the French, hence, American Fries.  We painfully sucked down a few Heinies for me and a few Ultras for her and took in the flavor of Troubadour in all its splendor, knowing all the while she and I will find ourselves sometime down the road in the same place, probably in the same seats and will enjoy every minute we are there.  We did have a blast this time, as we have had every time we go, and all of this for a total cost, including the cover of $21.50, which is about the cost of two beers and a tip at the W Hotel in New York City.  New York City was a neat place to visit, but it is not nearly as interesting, and never will be, as the Troubadour.  What a country!

And that is all I have to say about that

 
Wednesday, May 09, 2007

A Hell of a Guy in a Hell of of Town

05/09/2007

This past Friday The Nancy and I, with a daughter and son-in-law in tow, drove up to New York City for the weekend.  If you have ever driven in a large metropolitan area you know what kind of maniacs and sadists the residents of large cities can be when they get behind the wheel, especially those in vehicles of a commercial yellow hue. 

As we excited the Lincoln Tunnel on the Manhattan side, we found ourselves in a milieu of undaunted, city-tested drivers.  I very quickly figured out the art of driving in New York City is to see just how many hapless pedestrians and other vehicles you can successfully dodge or narrowly miss, without hitting either and still maintain control of the vehicle you are piloting.  Use of one’s horn is more than okay; in fact, it is mandatory, but nonetheless ignored by all.  I have often said I would like to open a horn replacement business in NYC. 

Our first real encounter into the New York City culture came as we attempted to make a right-hand turn from 42nd Street onto 7th Avenue, through a sea of tourists and New Yorkers making their unhurried crossing of 7th Avenue.  I was behind one of the yellow things.  The taxi driver, like Moses with the Red Sea, easily, albeit slowly, parted the mass of people and made it through just as the traffic light changed trapping me.  My car was hopelessly surrounded on all sides almost immediately by a hoard of disengaged pedestrians crossing 42nd Street like so many robots, and I was stuck there with the front end of my car extending at least halfway into the crosswalk and people walking in front and behind the car.  A less-than-sweet young lady on a bicycle pulled up next to the passenger side of the car, gave us a look to kill and loudly uttered these words…“Brilliant! You must be from Jersey!”  Had she not been so good looking I might have offered her a digital expression of my heartfelt joy of our brief encounter.  And so, we began our New York Weekend.

Here’s a quick recap of the adventure:  Checked into the Hilton at Times Square, our rooms weren’t quite ready.  It was only 3pm, so we bellied up to the bar as the Hilton’s staff hurriedly readied our suites and met John, the slowest bartender I have ever seen.  John has two hearing aids and can’t hear with either one.  I asked the night manager if John ran track in high school.  He couldn’t catch himself in a race.  He was really that slow, but he did pour good drinks!  We ate very well and often: Friday night at Carmine’s on 44th and Broadway, and Saturday at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill.  Both were terrific; the food outstanding and the service matched the food.  It is amazing what $500.00 will get you these days.  We did the Ground Zero pilgrimage and the sadness inexorably connected to this hallowed ground does hit you even as the rebuilding of the area moves forward.  We had lunch on Saturday at the Heartland Brewery – good food, great brews.  We saw the musical Chicago with “all that jazz” and loved it: The Nancy got us great seats near the center of the first balcony row.  We had drinks at a lounge in the seventh floor lobby of the “W” Hotel – very New York!  Lots of beautiful people drinking, talking and flirting as the ultra contemporary atmosphere was filled with Electric Fusion Dance Music… we felt soooo out of place, but spent about an hour hobnobbing with the elite and upper crust in NYC.  Had we told them we was West Virginians, we might have been throwed out of the place.  Sunday we drove around Central Park, did the “Top of the Rock” – 67 floors to the top of the NBC building, aka 30 Rock.  Walked all over Times Square.  Visited numerous stores, including Macy’s and Sax 5th Avenue.  We glanced at the inside of St. Patrick’s – an awesomely beautiful cathedral!  We drank most of the good beer supply on the island…well; at least I made a valiant attempt.  At nearly $8 a beer, New York City is not a place to do a lot of drinking.

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This was the daughter’s and son-in-law’s first real excursion into the New York City marketplace.  I think they got caught up in the fantasy that is New York City.  The scurrilous street vendors, you know the ones, they strut about with their knockoff wares in large boxes on hand trucks covered with a tarp or tucked away in attaché cases, as they look for unsuspecting, unsophisticated out-of-towners to whom they can offer their wares.  Our travel partners succumbed to the hype…daughter got a Gucci bag.  Son-in-law got a bargain, so he thoroughly believes, on a faux Rolex watch for a mere $150. 

Me, I didn’t fall for any of the scams the street vendors play.  I didn’t waste my money on trinkets or fake baubles.  I am way too smart to fall for that crap.  I weighed my purchases looking for the best bargains…like $8.00 for a 12 ounce bottle of beer.  I ain’t no fool.   

All in all, this was the ultimate weekend with one of our favorite couples with lots of laughs and lots of fun.  The weather was terrific.  The ultimate weekend ended with a The Nancy, Daughter #3 of our combined families and me walking over to Rockefeller Center at about 6am Monday morning to visit with Meredith and Matt at the Today Show.  Whoopee! 

The weekend was great, but I must say, getting back to my benign mountains, rolling landscape and the peacefulness of the farm was just as great.  Last night The Nancy and I sat out on the front porch of our country home listening to the chirping birds and the whisper of the breeze as it gently kissed the trees, and wondered how we could ever want for more.

And that is all I have to say about that…

 
Wednesday, May 02, 2007

A Nightmare in the Making…

05/02/2007

If you have been visiting here from time to time, you may have read a piece or two wherein I pontificate on my beer proclivities.  You may have picked up on the undeniable and irrefutable fact I will attempt not to enjoy any beer brewed by or connected to Anheuser-Busch, you know, the self-appointed, undisputed king of profit…I mean, beer.  My body is a temple, and I will not destroy it by putting anything as foul as a Bud or any Bud-like beer in it.

In my humble opinion (one that matches the opinion of serious beer drinkers worldwide - those who drink to enjoy the flavor, character and the sheer pleasure of tasting handcrafted beers) AB doesn’t brew beer, it brews mass-produced industrial swills.  Swill is a watered down, wimpy, girly beer enjoyed by those of limited capacity or those easily duped by continuous indoctrination via a flood of misinformation on TV and radio.  That misinformation may include statements like “Bud’s taste is satisfying” or “Bud has a crisp and clean finish.”  Yuck!  Bud is the king of advertising and profit and nothing more.  To me Bud looks like urine, and it probably tastes about the same as urine…though it won’t be me making that taste test.

One reason AB has had this huge success with its nasty beers, is because AB is buying up small breweries all over the country, thereby eliminating your choices.  My choice has never gone to the Bud route, even back when I had no idea what real beer really is and how it should taste.  To be completely fair, I also do not drink any massed produced beer, including those brewed by Miller, Schlitz, Pabst, etc.  Here in America we have a veritable pantheon of really lousy beers from which to choose.  I pray each day the beer drinkers of this country will come to their senses and shun this crap that is marketed as “beer.” 

All of this vitriolic came to mind today as I was returning to my office from a sumptuous cheese sandwich lunch.  The Nightmare in the Making” began as I rounded a corner on a two-lane road and was shocked to see an enormous Bud delivery truck taking its half of the road out of the middle.  Leaving me what seemed to be too little room between the truck and a ditch to get by.  The damn thing nearly ran over me, and that travesty would have caused chuckles throughout the Bud Drinking Universe.  Everyone knows I detest Anheuser-Busch and all the crap it passes off as “beer.”  What irony it would be for me to succumb to a “Bud” in any form.  I think AB may have a contract out on me.

And that is all I have to say about that…