Thursday, November 17, 2016

Twas the Night Before...

The day of the wedding, I had lunch by myself.  A few of us had gone go-karting and hung out in the arcade that morning, after plans for zip lining fell through.   I wound up at a little seafood joint two blocks from the beach — just me, my crawfish and my Yuengling.  My last meal as a free man.  And not a bad choice, I might add, though some collard greens and cherry cobbler would have consummated it nicely.

As the crawfish began to disappear, I wondered if I’d be consummating anything anytime soon.  That is, considering the near-disastrous events of the night before.

Rehearsal had gone well enough, highlighted by the scrumptious swine delicacies of Hog Wild BBQ.  I was most excited about our recessional song (the Baja Men wedding classic, “Who Let the Dogs Out”) and my reception “mixtape.”  It was obvious (to me) that the old deejay hadn’t lost his touch.

Sure, one groomsman had been an hour late, and one bridesmaid missed the whole thing after getting lost in Mississippi.  (She looked like the lone survivor at the end of a horror movie as she avowed, “People think Alabama and Mississippi are the same.  They’re not.  Mississippi is way scarier.”)  But I figured if that’s the worst thing that happened, we were in good shape.

It wasn’t.

LJ and his wife invited us out to the Flora-Bama afterwards.  I should interject here that I may have given Fiancee Bone the impression that we would not go out after rehearsal.  I did this by telling her, “We will not go out after rehearsal.”  After all, we still had our vows to write!  (Procrastination being the mother of…. No wait, procrastination being the tie that… Eh, whatever, I’ll finish that line later.)

But we (I) was feeling guilty and trying to fit in as many friends and family as we (I) could.  After all, almost everyone had driven a minimum of five hours to get here.  So we (I) agreed (volunteered us) to go.

We rode with them and left Fiancee Bone’s car in the parking lot of the Gulf State Park Pavilion.  Our only instructions were to be cleared out by midnight because that’s when the gate would be locked.

The Flora-Bama was sprawling and historic, if uneventful.  It seemed the sort of place you really had to be inebriated to enjoy.  We got back to the Pavilion by 11:30. The gate, naturally, was locked.

After a few minutes of hemming, hawing, and investigating the situation, I decided there was space enough between the gate and a nearby utility pole to fit the car.  Perhaps you already have some idea where this is going?

As I navigated the five-speed, front-wheel drive German sedan towards the seemingly ever-shrinking gap, I looked at the three of them — LJ, my best man and friend of twenty-plus years; Mrs. LJ, well-intentioned if uber-panicky; and Fiancee Bone.  The skepticism was palpable.

I pressed on, determined to skillfully maneuver Fiancee Bone’s car through the opening, across a sandy threshold and into our future together.  Hero, thy name is Bone.

(I believe it was Gordon Lightfoot who once sang, “Heroes often fail.”)  My mistake was being too careful.  Not wanting to damage Fiancee Bone’s vehicle, I took it too slow.  The front-wheel drive, rather than working to pull me out of the sand (did I mention I was driving through sand?) only served to dig me in deeper -- literally and figuratively, I was thinking about this time.

I scanned Fiancee Bone’s face, trying to gauge her, um, enthusiasm.  On a scale of “I’m leaving and driving back home tonight” to “I love you forever,” it was a solid “I may not be speaking to you for awhile.”  We’d be fine.  Let’s face it, she’d surely put up with way worse than this in our time together.  I was inexplicably optimistic.

The three of us — LJ, Fiancee Bone and myself — got out to try and push.  Mrs. LJ got back into her own vehicle, presumably to panic some more or hide from the police that we all assumed would be arriving any minute.

Though buoyed by Mrs. LJ’s constant declarations of “This is never going to work,” pushing was a no-go.  The front wheels were nearly half-buried by now, thanks to some excessive gassing it earlier by yours truly.  The thought crossed my mind that no girl should have to be pushing a car from a stuck position the night before her wedding.  But in some way, it made me love her even more.   I looked at her again, and in that moment, I felt pretty confident she was not having similar thoughts about me.

Fiancee Bone began to call family members and friends to see if there was anyone who could pull us out, while Mrs. LJ consoled her with utterances of “I’d be so upset if I were you.”  I separated from the group a bit and walked back to the car.  That’s when I saw it — wedged down in the corner of the driver’s side window — the world’s tiniest post-it note.

I held the absurdly small piece of paper in the light and read it’s once-important but now terribly untimely message:

“Gate is dummy locked.  Please lock up when you leave.”

Why?  Just… why?

First of all, notes on cars go under the windshield wiper, everyone knows that!  I'm pretty sure that's in Deuteronomy, or would have been had post-it notes been invented in 1500 B.C., right between gleanest ye not thy fields after the harvest and something something something thine brother's oxen.

Secondly, who buys the 1/2 inch by 1 3/4 inch post-it notes?  They are very hard to see!  Nothing says "I wanted to leave you a note so technically you couldn't say I hadn't, but I didn't really want you to get the message" more than this.

Now you understand, Fiancee Bone hadn’t wanted to go out in the first place.  Plus there was the little matter of the car getting stuck while it just so happened I was the one driving it.  So I was already skating on the thinnest of ice.  But this bit of news, which meant the entire misadventure could have and should have been avoided, had turned that ice to slush.

I walked back to the group — they had remained preoccupied — and did not say a word, but simply handed the note to Fiancee Bone.  My brain must have suppressed the memory of her reaction in the interest of self-preservation or something, because I cannot recall a thing that she said.

In order to put the finishing touches on my magnum opus, I strolled over to the entrance, easily removed the lock and swung open the gate.  Voila!  Well, at least I’ll know for next time?

Not more than a couple of minutes later, we noticed the headlights of a vehicle begin to slow and pull off the side of the road.  How were we going to explain our situation?  There’s no way the police would believe the truth.  More likely, they would think we’d broken in, went joy riding in the parking lot, probably smoked a few doobies, and got stuck on our way out.  I began to wonder what the Gulf Shores Jail was going to look like.

Would it be like the Andy Griffith Show?  That wouldn’t be so bad.  Or would it be more like Law & Order?  Would I get my own cell or would I be in holding with a bunch of other criminals?  I knew that regardless I would not be able to “go” in that little sink/toilet thingy with no privacy.  I’d just have to wet myself.  Of that, I was certain.

As it turns out, my toilet nightmare would have to wait.  It was not the cops.   Instead a white jacked-up truck had pulled up.  Two boys who looked to be no older than nineteen or twenty got out.  Without saying a word, one hopped into the bed of the truck and began pulling out a chain.  The other offered nothing more than a brief “Ya’ll stuck?” greeting as he began to tie one end of the chain around the front right wheel of Fiancee Bone’s car.  It was as if they had done this a hundred times before.

Displaying a prowess normally reserved for a NASCAR pit crew, they had us unstuck within three minutes.  It would have been sooner but someone didn’t realize he had the car in reverse at first.  We insisted they take twenty bucks for their trouble.

Back on the road, we saw the white truck again on the strip.  It was turning into the Hooters.   A well-deserved reward, I thought.

Meanwhile, Fiancee Bone wasn’t saying much.  Probably thinking about how to convey her undying devotion to me in her vows.

“You know, one day we’ll look back on all this and laugh,” I offered, feebly.  

From her reaction I gathered that today was not that day.

"Tomorrow we can drive around this town, and let the cops chase us around.  The past is gone, but something might be found to take its place..."

Thursday, November 10, 2016

How Old We've Gotten, How Many We've Lost

It was the spring of my discontent.  One of several.  I had been unemployed for about two months, ever since I called out one Friday night at the Food Fair so I could attend the county basketball tournament.  At the tender age of seventeen, I was on my own.  

Well, that's not entirely true.

I mean, I still lived with my parents and they fed me and stuff, and I was still in high school.  But...  I had stocked my last gallon of milk, fronted my last aisle, stolen my last grape... (What?  They're like half a cent each.  I ate like three a night.  Who amongst us hasn't absconded with a bit of produce without paying, let them cast the first stone... OWW!  Who threw that?!)

That May, I landed a weekend job at the local AM radio station.  It was, um, quaint.  They still had a fifteen-minute swap-and-shop phone-in program (think of it like Craigslist on the radio) every weekday.  Each morning at 7:57 they (we) aired the funeral announcements (think obituaries on the... well, you get the idea).

It also happened to be a country station.  The year was 1990.  Up 'til then, I had not been all that keen on country music.  In fact, we were just coming out of my favorite decade of pop music, and I was pickin' up whatever Casey Kasem was countin' down.

As it turned out, my hiring coincided with a remarkable country music boom.  Garth had come out in '89, along with Clint Black and Alan Jackson.  George Strait, Alabama, and Reba were all in the long sweet spots of their careers.  Brooks & Dunn were about to break through, along with Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, and on and on.  Coincidence?  Well, as I just used the word "coincided," then yes, completely.

I still remember the first time I played/heard "Friends in Low Places."  It was on a 45 (think compact discs for old folks).  Perhaps it was because I was still a few months away from my first crippling heartbreak and had never tasted beer, but the song didn't strike me as all that remarkable.  In fact, I predicted then and there that Clint Black would indeed have a longer, more successful career than Garth.  Still waiting to see how that one turns out.

I saw the change from vinyl to CD's to mp3's.  Commercials went from carts (think re-recordable 8-tracks) to mini-discs to mp3's.  And within a couple of years, the station applied for and was granted an FM license.  Eventually, I moved to full-time working the night shift on a real FM radio station (think SiriusXM for old folks).

Anytime someone would ask about my job, the answer was always some variant of "I'm only doing this until I find something else/figure out what I want to do for a career."  I assume it was part of my Peter Pan syndrome, always waiting for some fantastical ship whose arrival was always just around the corner.  

Then one day, it was twenty-five years later.  And I had spent approximately twenty-one of those working for various radio stations filling an assortment of positions, from DJ to reporter, producer to high school football scoreboard co-host.

So why did the career-that-wasn't end?  Well, consider that except for the most recent, every other radio station I had worked for has since been bought out, changed format and moved, or shut down entirely.  I have never spoken truer words than these: Clear Channel killed the radio star.

Perhaps I'll write more about my radio days later -- I can sense the masses clamoring.  But what got me thinking about those days were last week's CMA Awards Show.  My sister texted (think Snapchat for old folks) the day after the Awards to see if I had watched.  I had not.  

The last station I worked for was classic country, '50s through '90s, which probably contributed to my being mostly abhorred by what passes for current country music.  (And while I'm at it, you pesky kids, you get off my lawn!)

She went on to inform me, due to it being the 50th Anniversary, there had been a tribute of some sort and quite a few of the old guard had appeared.  So I spent a bit of Thursday scrounging around YouTube watching clips.

Soon I found myself on the outskirts of Nostalgia-ville, cruising down a warm and fuzzy stretch of Memory Lane (one of my favorite roads as you may have noticed over the years).  There was a montage of some of the legends who have passed, including Waylon, Haggard, Cash, Keith Whitley, Tammy Wynette, and George Jones.  

I had not expected to become teary-eyed, yet there I was.

The music had played a significant role in my life, certainly that was some part of it.  I think it's fairly common to feel a connection with the people and things who share our little strip of time.  The singers and bands, actors and athletes, songs and TV shows.  In all the years of creation, these were ours.

But mostly I suppose it had to do with that old familiar reminder of time's swift and certain passage.  Watching Alan Jackson, George Strait, Dwight Yoakam, Vince Gill, Randy Travis, Alabama, and others on stage, I soon had the thought, "Wait a second.  How did they become the old guard?"

For you may be able to convince me of many things, but you will never convince me that the early '90s were twenty-five years ago.  Feels more like ten.  Maybe fifteen.  But twenty-five?  One third of an average lifespan?  A quarter of a century?  It seems as impossible as a thing can be.

I swear just the other day I was dusting off an old Charley Pride LP, placing it on the turntable, back cueing it to the start of "Kiss An Angel Good Mornin," and flipping the switch from 45 to 33 1/3...

Geez, that must have been some switch.

"If we had an hourglass to watch each one go by, or a bell to mark each one to pass, we'd see just how they fly..."