Friday, November 20, 2009

Biscuits and Okra

It's been wild lately! Lots to tell. First off, Ranger and I enjoyed a nice trip to Denver a couple of weeks ago. I actually had to attend a workshop there, but that was fine. We braved the snow on the Front Range and had a lovely time.

My favorite moment was the Saturday morning before we hit the road. We took our lazy time moving that morning. He went downstairs and returned with all kinds of breakfast goodies. We sat on the cozy bed, watching TV and munching away on breakfast sandwiches, juice, and coffee. It was a peaceful moment to the two of us, before facing the real world.

I saw the surgeon yesterday. He explained the procedure they'll do on my spine, then sent me to the hospital for pre-op testing and all. I'm in terrible pain this week, though. Had to resort to morphine to get through the night. The surgery can't come fast enough, in some ways.

A lot of yesterday's pain was brought on by traveling. Last week, I attended that conference I love to go to every fall. The one I know Vince from. This is my seventh year to attend. I'm on the Board. So, I have many friends I look forward to seeing each year.

Just for the record, SC was not there again this year. A couple of people asked about him, but all I could say was last time I heard from him was about 3:00 AM when he was having dating trouble, which happens when you date your ex-spouse.

My co-presenter, my friend Cathy, made all kinds of noises when I said we needed to be at the airport at 5:30 AM on Wednesday. She grumbled to her husband all the way there that morning. "Blogget better be here," she said. "Making me get up so early...."

I was there and already checked in when she got there. Ha!

We had a decent layover in Dallas on the way to Montgomery, Alabama. It was 9:30 in the morning, and Cathy wanted pizza. All right, I thought. What the hell? We had pizza for breakfast, at the DFW Pizza Hut. As we're leaving, Cathy points. "What is that doing here?"

One condiment bin was filled with...grape jelly.

At a pizza place. WTF?

That kind of set the tone for the day.

Once we arrived in Montgomery and made it through the cabbie we couldn't understand, we settled in at the Renaissance Hotel in the downtown area. Love, love, love this hotel, by the way. You gotta love any place that has the Star Wars Cantina Band song among the tracks in their Jazz selection in the lobby.

I spent a little time working on the research report for the conference. We conduct an annual survey of distance programs, and I'm in charge of it this year. A database glitch caused me to get some of the data late, so I was still compiling the report upon arrival. Cathy checked her email, then we headed out to kill some time.

Montgomery has this great trolley system. Two routes take you on a tour of the downtown area, for a quarter per ride. So, for a whole dollar, we both rode on both routes to get an overview of things to see in Montgomery.

Wow. This is what blew me away on this trip. This town is not only rich in history, but it's also history that happened in layers. I mean, on top of each other. And the issues are so entwined. It's completely amazing. And I never left the downtown area.

This one pales by comparison to the historical sites in Montgomery, but our hotel was across the street from the Hank Williams Museum. The trolley recording told us that they have the car he died in. So, knowing nothing about his death and being a morbid person, I looked it up. I expected a car accident, but's a much more bizarre story. I won't retell it here, but go to this page on The Death of Hank Williams to read it.

All I can say is it's a pathetic story. How sad is it that someone can be such a drunk that no one notices he's DEAD for hours? I mean, people with him, driving around his dead body, thinking he's just passed out again. Wow. His driver even got pulled over, given a ticket, drove into the next town, went to see a judge, paid his fine, and got back on the road....all without noticing his passenger was dead. I mean, really?

On our last day there, a bunch of us visited his grave. Someone had left a nearly-empty bottle of Crown Royal at the grave, with cups they'd used to drink to him. How ironic. Here's a pic -- note the bottle and cups on the ground:

But it's the rest of the history of Montgomery that fascinates me. Here's the spot where Rosa Parks caught the bus that fateful day:

By the bus stop is the building that was the Confederate Post Office. Close by is the building where the telegram was sent to clear the Union troops from Fort Sumter, starting the Civil War.

Walk about a block and a half from that spot, and you're standing where Rosa Parks was arrested. The museum with her name on it stands there now. The theater that used to be there was where Hank Williams won his first music contest. It's also where the slave markets once stood.

Go a few blocks in the other direction, and you're standing in front of this church.

This church is significant for its former pastor, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. See those lower doors? That's the room where the bus boycott was planned, and became the headquarters for the civil rights movement. While I was in my Board of Directors meeting the following day, Cathy went on the tour of this church. She was the only person there, so she was allowed to stand at MLK's pulpit and sit at his desk. Wow. I was so jealous....

Anyhow, see the woman pointing in the picture above? This is what she's pointing at:

The monument in the foreground is right across the street from the church. RIGHT there. The monument marks the spot where Jefferson Davis's inaugural parade started. He took the oath of office on the portico of the capital building, in the background. The Civil War memorial is to the left, in the trees.

See what I mean? Layers of history, in one place. Absolutely fascinating.

After our wanderings, we met the other "early birds" for dinner that evening. We went across the street to an Italian restaurant called SaZa's, run by chef Joe DiMaggio, Jr. AMAZING food! Authentic Italian that apparently outdid Cathy's Italian momma.

And who sits down next to me but Vince. I had been debating about whether or not it would be cool to bring up the review visit.

"I'm coming to see you in a couple of weeks," he said. Well, that put an end to my debate.

Vince is a wine enthusiast, so I told him it's a shame he won't have a chance to visit some of our dozen or so vineyards. He said, "Maybe you're unaware of the customary gift basket given to reviewers...." Ha!

The more we talked about where we live, the more people around us listened. Now, the debate is, when can we have the conference in Grand Junction? That would be exciting for me, to show off some of this area.

Our food began to arrive. Plates of manicotti, spaghetti, pizza, and other wonders were set in front of us. I ordered rigatoni bolognese. I didn't get a plate.

I got a big, black, clay pot. Everyone around me went gaga. "WHAT did you order?"

It had a HUGE wooden spoon stuck through the lid's handle. It was poking me so I had the big spoon in my hand when the waiter appeared again, ready to put a plate in front of me.

He eyed the big serving spoon in my hand and said, "If you want to eat it that way, you can. But I'd recommend the plate and fork." Funny boy.

He opened the pot for me. It was filled with the most incredible-looking food, with the most incredible-smelling aroma wafting out with the steam. "Good thing we have a fridge in the room," I said.

"But you don't have a microwave," said Vince. Good point.

I ate the whole dang thing. It was just too delicious to stop. I was miserable, but wouldn't have given up a bite!

Cathy and I spent part of the next morning doing some work. She answered email, and I finished compiling the research from the group's survey this year. I sent it off to the Webmaster to post online, and we were free until my Board meeting later that afternoon.

We set off down the street, to see if the baseball stadium had a shop that was open. See, Montgomery has a minor league baseball team. It's the AA affiliate for the Tampa Bay Rays. That makes it the perfect souvenir for Son. It's just that the team name is a little funky....

They had a contest to name their team. A local lawyer won, when he said, "What could be more southern than biscuits?"

Oh, yes, my friends. They are....the Montgomery Biscuits.

Intimidating, yes? Especially when you see the mascot, Monty the Biscuit:

The pad of butter in his mouth makes me laugh. Apparently, they shoot biscuits from cannons when they make a home run.

This just might be the most hilarious mascot ever. Or so I thought, until the next day....but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Lots of people at my house ended up with Biscuit souvenirs! Truly unique, and I love to make people laugh.

Vince wandered into the Biscuit store, too. Which, incidentally, is called the Biscuit Basket. He likes baseball caps, so we left him to find one and went to get lunch.

Across the street, we found Dreamland Barbecue. Oh, the smell coming from that place was heavenly! We settled in and ordered some sandwiches, and set to chatting. Someone was seated at the table on the other side of a low wall from us. They reached up and put their hat on the wall. It was a Biscuits hat. We looked at each other. Could it be....

Yup. It was Vince. He decided to join our table. He doesn't know Cathy very well, so he was very gentlemanly in getting to know her, too. We talked about the apparent differences in Texas barbecue, Kansas City barbecue, and Alabama barbecue. Soon, another good friend from Vince's school joined us. This was my dear friend who gave us the lightsabers last year. He's just arrived in Montgomery.

"You should have been at the restaurant we went to last night," Vince said.

"Was it good?" the friend asked.

"Good?" Vince said. "You should have seen Blogget! We had to pry her head out of the dish her food came in!"

"Licked it clean," I said, laughing.

Have I mentioned how much I love seeing these people every year?

At the Board meeting that afternoon, the major issue before us was the drop in registrations for the conference. We usually have about 100 people. Last year, we had 90. This year, with budgets being slashed all over the place, we had 50. Dang. We're undergoing a name change to clarify the group's purpose and attract more people in our field, but we've gotta get the ball rolling on that. People want to debate all day, but I'm soooo sick of that. Just get it done, people!

What's sad is that one of the people who couldn't come due to budgets was the president of the organization. Unbelievable. I had to pay most of my own expenses to get there, and I was doing essentially three presentations.

We had various committee reports. I had submitted one of our courses for an award, but it didn't win. Remember droopy-dog lady fro last year? The one who got caught trying to start gossip about South Carolina and a woman in her office? She's on that awards committee. Again, this year, she opened her mouth and some of the dumbest things I've ever heard spilled out.

"I never read those cover letters people send," she said. This made me fume because our cover letter had contained really important information about the course. "And if there's too many steps to get into the course, I don't look at it. That indicates a problem with the course."

No, it doesn't. That's a problem with the school's online system. Not the instructor's fault. They should be given points for working with a wonky system.

My good friend Mick from Minnesota arrived. We Twitter all the time, and I'd agreed to help with his workshop on using Twitter for professional and educational endeavors. Mick also sends me lots of cool Star Wars links via Twitter. We're complete geeks, and love it!

We had a opening reception that night, but a bunch of us met for cocktails in the hotel bar before that. I can't tell you how many times I heard, "Let me buy you a drink!" on this trip.

Have I mentioned yet how much I love seeing these people, each year?

One of the highlights of this conference for me is the silent auction. Everyone brings things from their school and region to be auctioned, then the proceeds go to a charity in the area where the conference is being held.

And I'm horrendously competitive at a silent auction. I apologize ahead of time, because I can and do lose control. Seriously.

So, I'm cruising the silent auction items, and lo and behold, I find out that I was wrong the previous day. The Montogomery Biscuits are not the most hilarious mascot ever. This fella is:

The Delta State University....Fighting Okra.

He's an angry little vegetable.

"Look at the pickle!" Cathy said. She was corrected. He's an okra. With boxing gloves. And a very angry face (like that makes him a scary side dish).

I bid on the Fighting Okra hat for Son. Vince was bidding against me. "You're driving up that price," he finally said to me.

"You don't understand," I said. "I'm bidding on that for my son. You're going against a Mommy here."

He gave me a level stare. "You want a good review, don't you?"

I let him have the hat. Son got the t-shirt.

Have I mentioned yet how much I really love seeing these people?

The next morning, we started with a breakfast meeting and keynote speaker. We're all sitting nicely and looking all professional. Then this happened....

Seriously. This woman stood up at her seat, during the keynote speaker's talk, and did needlepoint. While doing this marching in place thing. She even did three thread color changes on her needlepoint, while standing there as the man is trying to talk. Wow.

I ditched Twitter for this one and sent Mick a text. He had his back to this woman. It saw him do the subtle "I'm just looking around" thing, and spot her. His expression was priceless.

Now, on the marching in place thing, I gave her the benefit of the doubt and thought maybe she had a circulation issue and couldn't sit that long. But no....she sat just fine through the rest of the sessions that day. Still doing her needlepoint!

Unbelievable. People can be so weird.

At lunch, my friend from Texas - the fiery little Hispanic woman I see whenever I visit Lubbock - was getting nervous about our presentation that afternoon. "I have to go over my notes," she said. "And I keep reminding myself, 'You can't cuss. You can't cuss.'" Gotta love that!

This post is getting long, so I'll spare the rest of the details. The presentations went very well. My friends noticed the addition of the ring on my hand, and were full of questions about Ranger. More questions about my upcoming surgery.

As I do every year at this conference, I felt the love from people I admire and respect, and am humbled by their admiration and respect.

Saying goodbye is always hard. Cathy and I stood in the hall, watching the elevator doors close. The crowd inside waved and yelled goodbyes to us. "See you next week!" Vince hollered as the doors shut.

Man, I love seeing these people.


Ronjazz said...

Glad you had a good time, honey. And it's also nice to have the respect of your peers...I reach for that in my own profession constantly, I admit it.

e jerry said...

You are killing me, wench.

Now I have to go buy buttermilk and make biscuits.

Blogget Jones said...

Ron, it's reassuring to me, in a way. When Vince came for the review (which went smashingly well), he said he feels like each of us needs to get together like that periodically, just to be among others who think about our field the same way we do. I can see that.

Jerry - Haha! Go for it! Just don't shoot them from cannons.... ;o)

Walker said...

HA HA HA!!!!! The fighting Okra

Montgomery sounds like a lovely place to visit and it is packed with history.
You get to go to the coolest places for work.

Blogget Jones said...

Walker, I do.... I love that! Otherwise, I wouldn't get to see and experience these places. I am thankful!