Monday, May 23, 2011

Vice Squad, Open Up!

During my college years I had the bright idea of recording books on cassette tapes.  It was actually a good idea and the timing was right since Eight Tracks were being replaced with cassettes.  I pursued my dream by recording a number of books.  I was helped in this venture by my best friend, Callahan Burke. In my humble opinion, he is the best reader ever.  When he reads he not only changes his voice but his facial expression for each character in the story.  I have listened to numerous books on tape in the last few years and I still think Cal is the best.  Anyway, we were a team.  He read and I recorded and edited.
The only complication was that Cal also worked as a bartender and kept really late hours.  One of my jobs was to wake Cal up so we could work on the recordings during the day.  I would typically show up at his apartment around ten o'clock each morning to get him up.  Since we didn't get paid for doing these recordings we would typically grab some breakfast before getting started. 
Cal's apartment which he shared with a guy name Benny was in the attic of an old house in the Midtown area of Atlanta, Georgia.  His room was all the way in the front of the attic facing the street.  Unfortunately, the door to the apartment was right in the middle of one of the sides.  Keep in mind that we did not have cell phones back then so there was no way for me to give him a call.  For me to wake him up I would literally have to pound on the door and it usually took a while to arouse him.  This was sort of a regular routine and I just got use to it. Benny, his apartment mate, had a day job at one of the local banks and was always gone by the time I got there.  Benny was also a pot head. 
One notable day, I showed up as usual and wasted no time in pounding on the door.  I was not really paying attention to anything at the time.  For some odd, impulsive, thinking I was funny, reason I added a loud shout to my next set of pounds, "VICE SQUAD, OPEN UP!  I actually repeated this a number of times.  As I said before, it could take a while to arouse Cal so I was not expecting an instant response.  I finally heard some timid steps coming down the steps.  I figured Cal was hanging on to the hand rail and trying to wipe sleep out of his eyes.  To help wake him, I pounded again with the same shout, "VICE SQUAD, OPEN UP! 
The door slowly opened and a guy I had never seen before peeked out from the other side.  He had very long and not all that clean hair along with a full beard.  I knew Benny, slightly, and this was not him.  I had moved to enter the door as soon as it started to open believing it to be Cal so I just kept going.  What happened was totally unintentional and certainly not planned.  It really was not my fault at all.  As I entered and walked up the stairs with this guy following me I asked him, “How's it going”?  When I got to the top I found Benny.  Playing on my vice squad joking, I looked at Benny and stated that I had heard somebody up here had been reported reading a Playboy.  It wasn't that clever but all I could come up with at the time.  The funny thing was that both Benny and this other guy looked like a deer in headlights.  Their eyes were wide open.  I asked if Cal was there and Benny shook his head, NO.  I really don't think either of them said a word the entire time I was there.  I told Benny to tell Cal I had dropped by and I exited without a care in the world. 
Okay, obviously something was terribly wrong.  Only I did not see it.  Cal called me later, laughing hysterically, and said I couldn't come over for a while.  He explained that Benny and his buddy had flushed all their pot down the toilet because of my little prank.  It really wasn't my fault. How was I to know?   I do remember the water draining through the pipes as I walked up the stairs but I just figured nature had called one or both of them.  Needless to say, Benny and I were not ever going to be good friends after that.  I heard from Cal that Benny was going to make me pay for what they had flushed but Cal let him know it would not be a good idea.

Eat My Brother, Not Me!

This goes back to my first year in college and concerns my brother Mark.  It was an astounding realization at the time, but, like everything, a learning experience.  I preference this by explaining that Mark was one of the toughest persons I have ever known and I absolutely loved him.
We were interested in buying this old school bus we had seen behind Bagley Park in Buckhead, Georgia.  Bagley Park was where we played Little League baseball as kids and was near North Fulton, our high school.  I was already in college while Mark was in his senior year at North Fulton. 

It was a Sunday and the park was empty.  Mark and I wanted to look at the bus to see what condition it was in.  It was parked out beyond the outfield fence.  We walked around the field and saw that the bus door was standing wide open.  We checked out the exterior of the bus briefly and then entered the bus.  I sat in the bus driver's seat and started studying the gauges and playing with the various controls.  It had the old lever that opened and closed the door and I proceeded to play with it. 
We had not been on the bus long when Mark suddenly jumped off without saying a word and started frantically pushing on the door from the outside in an attempt to close it.  I had the door lever and easily prevented him from closing me inside.  After a bit of straining to shut the door, he took off running across the field and began scaling the outfield fence.  I had no idea what he was up to.  I stood up, and watched him through the windshield wondering what was going on.  It was then that I heard a slight noise behind me and turned to face the largest dog I had ever seen.  It was a very large long-haired German Shepherd and he was heading down the aisle straight toward me.  I just had time to jump off the bus and turn to face the monster.  I stood perfectly still as he exited and, fortunately, bounded the opposite way as me.  I like to think he was as scared as I was but that is probably not true.
I looked toward Mark and saw him peering my way safely on the other side of the six foot high fence.  I can attest that Mark would stand his ground against anyone in the school and was tough as nails.  But I learned he could be spooked and sent into a panic by anything unexpected.  I let Mark know how I felt about being offered as supper just to save his hide.  He had no excuse and was very embarrassed.  He just panicked.  

Sunday, May 22, 2011

American Idol Adventures in Chattanooga

When it was down to the last three American Idol hopefuls, the contestants were sent back to their hometowns in a huge media extravaganza.  One of those contestants happened to be a super talented sixteen year old girl named Lauren Alaina from Rossville, Georgia.  Well, Deb and I are from Chattanooga which borders Georgia and the town of Rossville.  We are actually staying in Rossville right now in the Best Holiday Trav'l RV park off Mack Smith Road.  We have both enjoyed the American Idol show for a long time and I was excited and eager to support our hometown girl, Lauren.  I saw in the paper that she would make an appearance at Coolidge Park in Chattanooga so I planned to show up to support her and hoped that Chattanooga would make her proud.  I openly admit I am prejudice but I really do think she is the most talented contestant and should be the next American Idol.
It was a long and really odd day.  The plan outlined out in the paper was for Lauren to march across the Walnut Street Pedestrian Bridge in front of the Rossville High School and the nationally honored Soddy Daisy High School marching bands.  This was scheduled for 11:00 Saturday morning and I was ready and waiting at the end of the bridge along with good friends Terri and Lily. 
Oddly, the Chattanooga police started clearing the bridge.  Now I was there just to cheer on our American Idol, Lauren Alaina, but there were parents planning on seeing their kids in the marching bands.   This all seemed odd to me as I had thought they would probably want some spectators to cheer on the parade as it passed and to hear the marching band.  The police were courteous but persistent in herding the milling crowd off the end of the bridge to where it met Frazier Avenue.  My first impression was that it might be a safety issue.  The bridge is very old and perhaps they were worried it might collapse.  Better them than me, I always say.  But that was not the end of it.  They then proceeded to herd the crowd off Frazier Avenue and into the park.  Now the park was where Lauren was to end up but there would be time to walk down there after she passed.  I really did not understand this need to secretly sneak her into the park without anyone seeing her.  I mean, it was suppose to be a parade, with two marching bands. 

I jumped up on a rock wall that was next to the sidewalk and got the attention of one of the Officers. Standing much higher than him in an attempt to project authority I stated; "I am off the sidewalk and bridge".  He was not cowed and he instructed me to go to the park.  I pointed out that it was a parade with a marching band and that many of the parents were waiting to see their kids.  I actually sort of implied that one of those kids might have been mine.  Didn't work!  I asked why they were clearing the parade route and he used the oldest cop out in the book, "I am just following orders".  That one has been used a bit too much if you ask me.  I asked him to call his boss and explain my point of view.  Didn't work!  You know, no one wants to place themselves in a place where their bosses might jump down their throats.  This was to be tested again later in the day!
At this point, the Chattanooga police pulled out the yellow police "DO NOT CROSS" tape which gave me my opening.  I quickly stated, “I will stay on the other side of that tape".  I wanted to be the force that forced them to string that "do not cross" tape everywhere.  The way they were going, I figured it would look like our house after it had been rolled with toilet paper following a big game with a rivaling school.  Fortunately, the police had no intention of doing any more than they absolutely had to.  They ran a single strand of it across the end of the bridge and that was it.  We could watch the parade. 
A rumor started making its way through the crowd that Lauren Alaina was hours away and the parade would be delayed.  The three of us decided to walk down to the park to see what was going on.  Chattanooga is a really cool place.  Coolidge Park is located along the Tennessee River across from the downtown area.  It is connected to downtown by three bridges, one of which is strictly for pedestrians and bikers.  Deb and I actually lived next to the park until we decided to head out in our RV.  As we walked down, we saw these really fun looking cars and motorized tricycles for rent.  Lily was visiting Chattanooga and I thought she would like to see the city while we were waiting for Lauren Alaina.   I rented a bright lime green modified golf cart that was street legal. 
We buckled up and headed into the park.  No one stopped us when we got to the end of the road.  They even moved the barricade aside and we headed into the city proper.  We felt like our own little parade.  We had a hearty but amusing horn and we used it liberally.  I personally made sure everyone noticed us.  We practiced our ergonomic hand waving and got fairly proficient at it.  We had one hour and we made the most of it.  When we reached the opposite end of the Walnut Street Bridge barricade, we told the police lady we were scheduled to escort Lauren Alaina across the bridge in our fun, lime green, buggy and she waved us on through!  I admitted that I was just joking and did not press my luck any further. 
I planned on getting back into the park the same way I had gotten out.  This is where things got a little dicey.  We came around from the Renaissance Park side which leads to the back side of Coolidge Park.  This was the way we exited from the park earlier.  There were a couple of cars trying to get pass the lone police officer at the top of the hill.  Both cars had kayaks on top of them and I figured they were just trying to get down to the river.  Both were turned around.   I used all my charm with the officer explaining that I had exited this way less than an hour before and that the place I rented the little green car was inside the park.  He said the road was closed due to the pending parade and rally for Lauren.  He did not think it possible for me to get into the park.  I asked if I could at least try since I had to return the car.  He said I could give it a try.  Teri and Lily were very impressed with my silver tongue and down the hill we traveled.  On hindsight, perhaps I should have laid off the amusing horn just a little.
The next challenge proved to be my downfall.  A police sergeant pointed at me from across the road and left no doubt that I was not to go any further.  I asked Teri and Lily to jump out at that point figuring I was going to have to head back and try another entrance.  I signaled the sergeant to come over so I could at least try to get through.  I don't think this was a smart move.  Begrudgingly he came over and I was actually surprised that this guy did not pummel me with his baton or something.  I heard later that the police were all volunteers and were not being paid to be there.  That was really nice of them and might have accounted for their lack of patience and overall nasty attitudes.  They were probably not fans of American Idol either.  I did explain my plight and need to return the little funny car to their location which was right past that barricade.  Didn't work and I was happy to get the heck out of there. 
Fortunately, Teri and Lilly had already gotten out of the car and I was alone heading back up the hill.  A large rotund, red-faced, officer hurried across my path with a single hand raised.  I am not sure but on reflection, the other hand may have been on his revolver.  At this point I was focused on how I would get this little funny car back to where I rented it before my hour was up.  Because of this, I did not see the landslide of trouble I had unknowingly initiated.  
This new officer was a little upset to say the least.  I was really glad I had dropped off Teri and Lily in case I had to make a run for it.  This guy proceeded to read be the riot act and I thought his big red face might explode.  He was upset because I had run the barricade, totally ignored the police blockade, tramped all over their authority and disrespected them.  I didn't mean to, really.  It turns out that the first officer had sort of bent the truth just a little bit.  Evidently this red-faced officer was his boss and he had not wanted to incur his wrath and frankly, I understood why.  The first guy had evidently informed this new red-faced chubby boss guy that I had blown right pass him as he tried to throw himself in front of my little speeding funny buggy.  I am sure that, at the time, the three of us in the lime green funny car posed a very menacing profile and he probably thought we were trying to get past so we could blend in with all the traffic in order to escape justice, or something like that.
Once I realized what was happening, I glanced up the hill and my heart when out to this poor fellow who caused this hell to be unleashed on me.  In that moment of compassion I humbly looked into that red, bloated with anger, face and expressed my undying sorrow for the misunderstanding and chocked up the entire incident to a simple (Cool Hand Luck) "failure to communicate".  If the red faced man had had mirrored sunglasses, I might have laughed.  I was actually told to, "Never show my face again".  I was finally freed to head on out of the park with my tail between my legs.  As I passed the first officer, I planned on letting him know that I had covered for him but he would not even make eye contact with me.  That said it all and I knew he was ashamed for his lack of gumption.   
My ordeal was not over.  I was now faced with a much weakened little funny car battery pack.  Chattanooga is a hilly place.  In fact, this section of the city was known as Hill City at some point in the past.  When I rented the car, I was instructed to avoid hills.  He explained that the "warp drive" on their buggies just couldn't take it.  Well, all the streets were blocked for the parade and I did not feel lucky enough to push that envelope again.  The only way to get to the other side of the park was to loop way up Market Street to nearly the highest point in North Chattanooga and head down Tremont by way of Mississippi.  It was a gamble but really my only move.  Long story short, I made it.  I guess it was about a two mile jaunt and fortunately the last half was all downhill.  When I approached the police blockade this time, I took on an extremely humble demeanor and was able to point to where I rented the little funny car.  They were far more considerate and let me through without use of batons or guns or attitude.  I returned the car with one minute to spare, no harm, no foul.   Perhaps that is not totally true, I will have to wear a hoodie from now on in Chattanooga so the red faced officer will not recognize me.  

Chattanooga did proud with Lauren Alaina when she finally arrived.  Last Thursday we found that she had made it to the final round.  Those kids who compete on American Idol all work so hard and are so talented.  They are all winners to me and I hope all their dreams come true.