Tuesday, February 03, 2009

National Lampoons Southern Vacation (sorta) Part II

Yeah, it’s been a few months, sorry! So much going on, and so, so many Rock Bottom shows. No way I can blog about them all! We had a big change again in personnel, with Tom Ackman sadly deciding to take a break from playing. He’s burnt out. I respect that. Miss you, man! Bums me out though. I never really wanted to be “THE” guitarist, although I have been through most of my playing days. I always feel the music sounds stronger when there are two guitars, especially when playing covers where we must mimic a wide variety of styles. Just adds so much more depth and versatility to the mix. Alone, I just feel like it sounds too thin, and I don’t want the focus on me. It’s about the music, and kicking ass.

Derrick picked up the ball though, and without missing a beat brought in former Jagertyme bassist Rob (“JagerVito”), and Derrick switched back to his native instrument: guitar. Losing Tommy was a drag, but I was comfortable with Rob and Derrick, so no real big deal overall. Just another learning curve as we were basically changing TWO instruments, despite Derrick having been in the band since last February. The first couple shows were pretty smooth, and Rob sings, so the harmonies that I think help define our sound were still very, very strong! Yay!

I must say, we’ve got great fans that just keep coming out in huge numbers, and that’s not only flattering, at times it’s perplexing! I dunno what it is we’re doing that’s so right, but, I’m not complaining!

Our first night into Alton Sports Tap was greeted with a wonderful crowd! We had a group of young guys play a set before we went on who must have brought some older people in, and that just made the night a huge success! Good kids, just starting to feel their way into playing live. It was fun. I saw myself a little bit there, although I wasn’t playing quite as young as these guys were! I could drive myself to the gig the first time I played! It was also cute to see them have “groupies” wearing their band tee shirts, and I imagine they were very proud of their “men”. Just set off a neat vibe for the night, and we carried it on, rocking the house. At first, the whole group of them stayed, sitting directly on the ground in front of us as we tore into the first set. It was almost strangely intimidating. Made me pick up my “game” a bit. Like “yeah, old man, lets see what you’ve got!” Or even “wow, when I grow up, I wanna play like you!” Either way, that’s some pressure you don’t expect to feel at a show! I kicked it in the ass a touch just because.

Oh! While they were playing, I remembered a time back at Granny’s Rocker where Randy E. from Riff Raff once sent a tray of shots up to the stage, all of them a clear liquid. When sampled, we discovered they were only water! I turned to Derrick and remarked “we need to send them a tray of shots of water, like Randy did!” Derrick’s eyes lit up, and he quickly spun towards the nearest bartender, ordering up “shots” of Coke which he delivered personally to them on a tray! Twisted! Leave it to Derrick to corrupt young minds! Ok, ok. So, it was my idea!

In other news, the Eddie’s shows have been insane! Halloween rocked like you wouldn’t believe, and New Years was surprisingly excellent. I say surprisingly, because they did charge cover, at a place that never charges cover. Couple that with the fact I figured so many people avoid going out New Years in favor of partying privately to avoid driving home through DUI check points, I didn’t expect a huge turnout. I was dead wrong. It was awesome!

Following that, we’ve played Eddie’s in January and February, and the crowds have NOT let up! That astounds me! I made mention of it to Wayne that “hell! This was a bigger night that Halloween!”

“Naw!” he said in disbelief. Halloween was a tremendous night! But, a week later at our weekly poker game, he took me aside and said “you know, you were right! We had a bigger ring last Saturday than we did on Halloween! Jim (the owner) told me!”

You Rock Bottom fans are truly something else! Thanks so much!

So, back to my story about last summer’s awesome trip with my family.

We left Memphis (and the delicious Jim Neeley Interstate BBQ) and I “used the Force” to navigate across the southern suburbs turning southeast to highway US-78, which to my delight was a recently constructed four lane superhighway! The one thing I feared about this route was to find the only access from Memphis to Panama City was two lanes, taking us forever!! Instead, we zipped across Missississippi and Alabama at a strong clip, noting Tupelo, MS, Elvis’ birthplace, along the way. Not much else. I managed to catch the afternoon Cardinal baseball game driving through down there, as one is STILL in Cardinal Nation!

Outside of Birmingham, AL the highway did reduce to two lanes, and we hit some traffic around 5PM. I was surprised how many gentle hills the terrain held down there! Nothing like the flat prairies of home, I guess. The two lane stretch through Birmingham proper was a minor jaunt, and before long we hit I-65 to Montgomery, AL. From there we peeled off the Interstate to US-231, which would take us straight into Panama City, FL. Made us feel like we were almost there! But, we weren’t.

The road tended to alternate between two lane to four lane in the more urban stretches. Night had fallen, and this started to be the more adventurous part of the day. Once it gets dark and you’re in unfamiliar territory, minutes and hours seem to stretch out. How much farther?? Small towns would appear out of the darkness, the highway would widen, then the darkness would consume us again as the road narrowed back to two lanes. Over, and over again.

We wanted to stop to grab dinner, but I’m just so into local places I eschewed stopping at any nationally named places I recognized around Montgomery. Probably much to the chagrin of my family riding along, who just wanted to stop, rest, and get some food!

Finally, somewhere around Troy, AL, I found steakhouse not unlike the Logan’s Roadhouse chain, or Colton’s in Poplar Bluff, which I make a point to dine at every time we play there for the biker rally. The Santa Fe Cattle Co. A western motif adorned the walls, and very, very crowded; Saturday night. Probably the best spot in Troy AL. Or for miles around! Still, everyone agreed to wait; we grabbed some drinks at the bar, a cold draft beer for myself, and some fruity, girly drinks for Beck and Mom, and we sat patiently munching peanuts from an old barrel next to our oak stained waiting bench, tossing the discarded shells on the floor. I LOVE these kind of places!!

The wait wasn’t unbearable, especially with a cold beer in hand, and after a great steak, some rest, a couple more frosty draft beers, and a nice time bonding with the girls, we took off down the Alabama highway once more, anxiously anticipating our arrival in “sunny” Florida. Well, of course, it’s not very sunny at 10PM! But, very unceremoniously, we crossed the Florida state line somewhere in the darkness, and the road led on. And on. It was quite a drive!

Around midnight, we arrived in Panama City, and using the “Force” again, I navigated us to Panama City Beach, and finally the resort, Edgewater, where we checked in, and made our way to the condo. It was a nice apartment style villa which had only one drawback, a flight of stairs to carry our luggage. Apart from that, we had nice, comfortable rooms, a kitchen, a laundry room, a balcony that exited out from both the master bedroom and the living room, and two bathrooms! This was going to be so much nicer a stay than a week in a cramped hotel room like a Days Inn! This was luxury!

The next morning, we took a tool around the beach area, heading to Gulf World where we were all to meet to swim with dolphins. The strip along Front Beach Road was crowded with resort highrise buildings and shops of all kinds, mostly souvenirs. I spotted “Crazy Pete’s Sunglasses”, and declared “Crazy Pete’s off his meds!!” That became the joke of the week, with both my girls and Becca exclaiming it whenever we drove by. We all agreed to do some tee-shirt shopping soon.

With a sketch map, an address, and my J.S. Express courier experience, I managed to track down Gulf World. We arrived at 9:30 AM for the activity, but doors didn’t open until 10. Piss! With a half hour to kill, we wandered down to one of the local shops to browse, a joint called Purple Haze. We noticed more than one of these shops along the strip, as they are hard to miss. Displayed above each entrance, airbrushed in a less than elegant style hung what appeared as a giant purple cloud personified with a face blowing purple air as it exhaled. The significance escaped me for a moment, until I entered the establishment.

As Becca and I crossed the threshold, flanking each sides of the entrance stood chrome wire panels holding colorful plastic beer bongs which covered every possible square inch! Ah! Of course! This wasn’t a tee-shirt shop! It was a PARTY shop! Not so much like the “head shops” back in the days of yore in my Hoosier hometown, where one could buy records, tee-shirts, belt buckles, waterbeds, and any drug paraphernalia known to modern man. But, yeah, kind of the same thing, with a more turista flair. “Dude, where’s my car???” “Sweet!” “Dude!!!”

And, it was decidedly an NC-17 establishment. Some of the tee-shirts bore the raunchiest, foulest display of humor I could even think about displaying in public! There’s funny, then there’s, well, just trashy. These were decidedly the latter. Nice. Note to self: don’t bring the girls in here. Spare them the trauma!

After finally being let into Gulf World, my girls got a chance to swim with dolphins, which was really, really cool. Intelligent, playful, elegant. Incredible creatures. I was enamored with the mammals when I was my girls’ age; I couldn’t have imagined a chance to do what they were doing! But, as an adult, I was much more content to stay dry and watch my girls experience it, snapping photos like a proud parent. My youngest seemed as enamored with it, as I was at her age. My oldest, not so much. She thought it was cool, but when it came to petting at touching the creature, she was less than enthusiastic. All in all, a really neat experience, and we wandered the grounds where they had housed for exhibit all manner of creatures, from puffins to parrots. A nice family stop. Damn, I’m so domestic! Becca and I were all smiles.

Later, all the parents and team members of the Collinsville Extreme met up for the opening ceremonies, which were strangely held at an outside mall called The Pier located right off the beach, instead of the ball diamonds. Usually, these kinds of things were celebrated with a parade through the ball diamond, all the girls throwing beads or candy, what have you. They even traded gift bags with another team, in which we’d all purchased different manner of beach things. Instead of the diamonds though, the entire tournament met at the parking lot, and they paraded through the outdoor mall. Ok, whatever. At least we know where the mall is now!

I met up with Eddie, one of the rowdier parents of the bunch, and he was in very high spirits, obviously looking forward to the upcoming week. He was discussing his latest purchase with one of the other parents, Donnie. “Yeah! It’s a beaut!” Eddie said. “They had a ton of them, right when you walk in! I was, like, DAMN!” They both chuckled.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Beer bongs!” Eddie cheerfully replied with a devilish grin. Oh no! This might get ugly…

We all tried to hit Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville restaurant after the parade located at the southern part of the mall, overlooking the Gulf, but naturally there was a three HOUR wait to get us all seated. We settled for the place next door, which had excellent grub sans the whole Jimmy Buffet shtick. How many times can you hear Margaritaville in a sitting??? Overall, it became a nightmare, as nothing was really organized very well, just kind of thrown together as they could. The head coach was absent from the trip due to a new addition to her family, and the younger assistant, barely out of college, wasn’t the most adept at managing all of this, which I admit really wasn’t to be expected of her. No one else really seemed to take up the slack, though. God knows, I wasn’t going to volunteer myself!

We settled into our apartment/condo quite nicely that afternoon, making a stop at Publix, a very fine supermarket on par with anything we have here in STL. One of the advantages to keeping costs down on this adventure was the kitchen provided at the condo, so we made our own breakfast, lunches, and dinner. We loaded up, making it like home. I even brought the mini-BBQ grill, and set it up on the balcony. I found a nice cigar shop where I purchased some excellent cigars, and often spent a quiet moment on the deck, drinking a cold Bud Select and smoking a nice cigar as the sun would set.

In all, it was a very pleasant vacation/tournament. The girls played well, winning a few, losing a few. They were a young team, first year 12u for the most part, so we didn’t expect them to tear it up too much. They won their share, though. My oldest daughter played extremely well; we were all quite proud of her. She hit the ball hard for several RBI extra base hits, and made a couple great catches in the field. She’s a center fielder, and she did us proud.

I had a slight run in with the assistant/acting head coach, who benched my daughter for showing up late to a game, when we in fact showed up on time to caravan to the diamond with the team, only to learn they had changed the meeting time, and not notified all of the parents, obviously. That really pissed me off! I handled it professionally, and didn’t bring it up until the game’s conclusion, but I expressed my dissatisfaction to her and the Organization’s top administrator, who was along to help. I was livid, to say the least, because there was no reason to punish my daughter for something she had no control over. It pissed my daughter off as well, and was probably the major factor in not returning to the organization this season.

That not withstanding, we enjoyed ourselves tremendously! Panama City Beach is great! My Aunt and Uncle from Huntsville, AL made the trip for a few days along with my three young cousins who are all my daughter’s ages. One evening we all ate at a local BBQ place called Sonny’s, which I enjoyed almost as much as Jim Neeley’s Interstate. Two great BBQ stops so far! My Aunt, Mother, and Rebecca managed to polish off a gallon of Sangria they made back at the apartment. Crazy to watch my mother, my aunt, and my girlfriend all get a snoot full! They were hilarious!

We did our fair amount of shopping, picking up tee-shirts and what not, and did manage to eat at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville for lunch at a slower, more manageable time. Not bad. Great view! Sat on the patio, looking out at the rough seas. Double red flag days were posted much of the time we were there, which basically meant stay he hell out of the water! We did notice some emergency vehicles buzzing by now and then from the patio of Margaritaville, but didn’t know why until later that evening when we learned there were a couple drownings. People didn’t heed the warnings, went out into the surf, and were caught in riptides that swept them to their deaths! Not something to play with!

By Thursday afternoon, the Extreme had been eliminated from the USFA Nationals, and we decided that afforded us enough time to head to New Orleans on the way home! Hooray! Thursday night would be our last in Panama City, and in celebration of the final game of the season, many of the parents all discussed meeting at the larger pool of the resort located across the street from us in the Villas over at the highrise side. There was a large pool there, flanked by Jacuzzi hot tubs, and the beach out past that. Under the moonlight we drank, told stories, and relaxed, having put the season behind us. And Eddie brought out the beer bong!

We passed it 'round, and Eddie challenged me and Rebecca to a round of “chicken” in the pool. The coach, probably holding a serious grudge against me, leapt at the chance to be his partner, and we drunkenly agreed. I mean, I can hold my own, although Eddie was a pretty big guy! He was no push over! Red haired and freckled, probably about 4 years younger than me, if that, and I had some weight on him. The coach was a butch, bull dyke softball stud, but not really tall. Beck is of course almost 6 feet, and works out constantly! I figured with leverage and Becks strength, we’d take ‘em!!

I was wrong. It didn’t last long! That coach was exactly as mean and hyper aggressive as you can imagine, and “man” handled Becca, who quickly fell forward. I was strong enough to keep our balance and try to fight back, but Becca’s long legs clamped around me as my head was shoved underwater, and I was being suffocated! I felt like a terrorist at Abu Graihb!! We quickly relinquished, licked our wounds, graciously congratulated the winners, and pounded another beer bong!!!

About that time, a young, visibly inebriated college age girl approached our group, singled ME out, and challenged me to a beer bong contest! Are you kidding me? Instantly, I got it from both sides; cheers from the parents that wanted to see me race her, and jeers from the young group with her, that thought she could bury me! Really? She’s that good, huh? Let’s do it!

I poured a beer into her bong, then we poured one into Eddie’s which I used, and I had another beer in hand in which I’d taken one or two drinks from, and used it to fill my bong to its brim.

“I’ll take a little handicap, Brandi” I think her name was. Yeah, I was being sort of an arrogant prick about it. LOL! Damn, that was a lot of beer! Let’s not make a complete ass of yourself, Deron!

Someone counted three, and we released the tubes of brew into our gullets. I can remember swallowing twice, and upon the third gulp, nothing but foam reached my lips. I hurriedly blew the foam up through the tube like a horn, signaling my completion with a foamy, soggy salute! I glanced over at her, and she was still struggling to get a second gulp down!

Thrusting my fist high into the air, extending my index and pinky in the traditional “heavy metal” sign salute, I trumpeted “YOU MESS WITH THE BULL, YOU GET THE HORNS!”

Everyone erupted in laughter! There was sheer astonishment on all their faces (well, except Eddie’s, who just grinned ear to ear) that I could pound that entire bong in two gulps! Who do they think they were dealing with??? Even the young partiers patted me on the back in amazement.

“Doooooood, that was a-MAZING!”
“Two fucking gulps!”
“Holy fuck, man!”

Yeah, I must have been setting an impressive example for all the kids to see!

Don’t try this at home, kids, I’m a TRAINED professional!!!