Those Lowdown Kentucky Bluegrass Blues

This past weekend, Melissa & I made the nine hour drive from Raleigh to Lexington, KY where we met my Sister and Brother-in-law, Celeste & Dwayne, and Dad & Joan for the much-anticipated Carolina vs. Kentucky weekend. We met at the Lexington Double Tree where, despite making reservations months earlier, we were unceremoniously placed in smoking rooms. The kind of smoking rooms you can smell the moment the elevator door opens on your floor, some fifty yards away, and which reeks with a maloderous, penetrating  tenacity only exceeded by fetid, beer-soaked college dive bars in the dilatory minutes right before closing on Friday nights. I didn’t even know there were still smoking rooms anymore! I’ve spent upwards of 2,000 nights in hotel rooms over the past ten years and I couldn’t even tell you the last time I encountered a hotel that allowed smoking – especially an “upper middle” category hotel like the Double Tree. But after some light finagling with the front desk, we were graciously switched into non-smoking rooms at the expense of some poor S.O.B., likely a fellow Gamecock fan, who had been slated for those rooms but had not arrived yet. At any rate, the six of us gathered at the hotel bar for an innuagural libation prior to heading off to a nice dinner at the Chop House.   

Saturday morning after breakfast Melissa & I found a wonderful greenway – the Legacy Trail – where we did our requisite long run for the week, a nine miler along the rolling Kentucky hill country north of town and up toward the Kentucky Horse Park. It was one of those precious few perfect days – maybe one of fifty or so we get in an average year – where the sky is a brilliant, cloudless blue, the temperature hovers at around 72 with a gentle breeze that seems to know just when you need it, coming at the top of a hill or during a long, sunny stretch but lying dormant in the already cool shady spots. The scenery was gorgeous and faded steadily from metro Lexington into horse pastures and bluegrass as we made our way out to the 4.5 mile mark where we turned around. It was one of those ideal runs you get every so often when you feel strong and genuinely savor each mile – we soaked in the October sun on our faces, running mostly in a comfortable, contented silence, pondering the upcoming football game and realizing how fortunate we were to be able to be there at that very moment in time.

By the time we made it back to the hotel, showered and dressed it was time to meet the others and make our way over to the stadium for a little tailgating prior to the game. Dwayne had smartly and proactively purchased a parking pass for a lot no more than a hundred yards from the stadium earlier in the day and so as we rolled into the parking lot in his garnet Ford pickup, Gamecock flags flying, we got quite a few looks from the legion of blue-clad Kentucky loyalists and endured a few chants of “cock-sucker” from the already inebriated college kids. Dwayne had thoughtfully remembered to pack his 10×10 tailgating tent, which provided a nice bit of shade, though it was the unfortunate and unintended color of Kentucky Blue, which caused a bit of confusion for those around us as we sat beneath it munching fried chicken and sipping bourbon, all six of us clad in garnet & black.

By 5:15 or so we made the short walk to Kentucky’s Commonwealth Stadium where we took our seats in one of the upper decks and awaited kickoff. Carolina came out like a house afire, scoring two quick touchdowns and shutting down Kentucky on their initial attempts, looking every bit the tenth-ranked team in the country. By halftime USC was up 28-10 and everyone – especially the long-suffering Kentucky fans (who are even longer suffering than Carolina fans) expected a runaway win by the Gamecocks. Unfortunately, Kentucky reeled off 21 unanswered points in the second half for a gut-wrenching 31-28 victory – the first against South Carolina since the Clinton administration and the first in 18 tries against Steve Spurrier. So long top ten!  

We made it back to the hotel after midnight and said our goodbyes in the lobby as Dad & Joan and Celeste & Dwayne would be on the road earlier than we would on Sunday.

Sunday’s drive was a thoroughly enjoyable one, despite the outcome of the game the night before. We picked up a book on cd – a detective novel whose title and author I cannot recall, but which helped pass the time as we made the drive back south toward Raleigh. Driving through Southwestern Virginia, the views – even from the interstate – were breathtaking. It made me yearn to strap on my old hiking boots and backpack and wander off on the nearest footpath. We made plans to do just that sometime next year after all of this Iron Man madness is behind us.

We made it back into Raleigh by 7pm, had a quick dinner at Bonefish and were back home by 8:15 or so. Monday we were gone our separate ways – Melissa on a business trip to Bloomington and me to work in Wilmington for the week. It was a great weekend and could have only been improved by a Gamecock win. However, as hard life experience has taught me, you sure as hell can’t count on that, so you better find your fun and contentment in ways you can actually control. I think we did an admirable job of that.

Thanks to a particularly down year in the SEC East, Carolina is still in 1st place, despite the rare loss to Kentucky. Hopefully they’ll bounce back at Vandy this week. Until then, Go Cocks!

Kona, Gamecocks’ Big Win, etc…

The Iron Man World Championships took place this past weekend in Kona, Hawaii. The participants in this event truly represent the greatest athletes the endurance sports world has to offer. I was awe-struck reading the event recap – specifically by how men’s winner  Chris McCormack completed the initial stages of the marathon at a blistering sub-six minute pace! This is, mind you, after completing the 2.4 mile swim and 112 mile bike portions of the event. To put that into perspective, the slowest sub-six minute pace (5:59/mile) would result in a 2:36 marathon finish. The world record marathon finish is 2:03:59 set by Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia in the 2008 Berlin Marathon. We’re talking about a paltry margin of 32 minutes over the course of 26.2 miles – and I can promise you Mr. Gebrselassie never even remotely considered donning a wetsuit or mounting a bike before his marathon. By contrast, my PR for the 26.2 mile distance is 4:20:17, which equates to a 9:55/mile pace – meaning that the elite marathoners could run their marathon, drink a beer, have lunch, enjoy a 60 minute massage, and be considerably well on their way home before I stumble, bug-eyed and gasping across the finish line – on my best day! Endurance sports are nothing if not humbling.

***** 

I would be remiss if I did not mention the incredibly awesome win by my GAMECOCKS over then #1 and winner of 29 consecutive games, Alabama Crimson Tide this past Saturday. The Cocks vaulted into the top ten as a result of the biggest win in program history and the rest of the schedule seems encouraging with the next three games vs. traditional SEC doormats Kentucky and Vanderbilt, followed by a struggling Tennessee squad. However, SEC doormats are not like other doormats and Carolina will have to be at their best to keep on track for their first-ever visit to the SEC Championship game in Atlanta.

This weekend, Melissa & I, Dad & Joan and Celeste & Dwayne will make the trip up to Lexington for the game. I’ve even coaxed Melissa – a Wisconsin native and Southern College Football novice – into donning the Garnet & Black for the game. Updates to follow.

Go Cocks!

 

Growing up Gamecock

Admittedly, the Garnet & Black section of this blog will be of interest only to those hardy souls who share a life-long passion for the University of South Carolina and all things Gamecock. Those of you who share that passion with me know well the trials and tribulations, the pride and passion, the frenzied euphoria and at times, the depths of despair that come with following our beloved Gamecocks. You know what it was like when you walked through the doors of the old Carolina Coliseum – that great old building that Frank built at Blossom and Assembly – and were greeted by the familiar, wafting aroma of fresh popcorn and the squeaking of high tops on the tartan (and later, wood) playing floor. If, like me, you’re a total geek and as a young boy you studied media guides, you can still recall that the Coliseum sat 12,401 for basketball. (and, if you’re from Columbia, you likely walked across the stage at your high school graduation there). If you grew up in the 80’s, as I did, you might have named pets after Jimmy Foster and Zam Fredrick. You probably practiced your baseline jump shot like Kenny Holmes and you felt somehow cheated because you missed the McGuire era. You felt that there was no better place to be on a cold January night than with your Dad in the cozy confines of the Frank McGuire Arena. You remember how loud the place could be and how hostile for opposing teams – a truly perfect basketball venue, and no matter how shiny and new and modern the Colonial Center is – no matter how short the wait for bathrooms and how elaborate the concession stands, you genuinely mourn that games are no longer played at “The Frank” and feel sorry for those who never experienced it. (I realize, of course, that the previous sentence places me squarely in the “old fart” category – I’m comfortable with that.)

You remember the days when smoking was allowed at Williams-Brice and it seemed perfectly normal to breathe in the second hand smoke of the ancient and crotchety old bag that always sat directly behind you in Section 305, row 8 and who would complain every time you stood up because you blocked her view. But because you were 12 years old and could not sit down for long, you stood up anyway, hoping that some day she would just stay home. You remember Big George and the Fire Ant Defense and Black Magic and “If it ain’t swayin’, we ain’t playin”, and you remember gazing with muted horror across the stadium as the upper east stands visibly swayed up and down while the marching band played “Louie, Louie”. You remember the days when very few games were on TV and you would actually listen to the radio to catch road games – and of course there was no broadcaster as great as “The Voice”, Bob Fulton. You know the chills and goose bumps that arrive as the very first note of “2001” strains over the loudspeaker and it almost always causes a lump in your throat. You remember the shellacking Carolina put on FSU on national television in 1984, climbing to #2 in the polls, only to loose to Navy the following week and somehow, even 26 years later, you find yourself instinctively pulling for Army in the annual Army Navy game.

You remember the old Sarge Frye Field and Roost facilities when they were relatively new – and how nice they seemed and you remember taking pride in Gamecock Baseball long before Coach Tanner & Co.’s magical run to the CWS championship this summer.

These are sacred memories for me and in many ways they defined my childhood. There are so many more to write about. More to come.

Go Cocks!