Tuesday, August 30, 2005

I'm alive!

Here's how it looked on the water near Pensacola:

Feel free to laugh at me. I kept almost falling over.

Monday, August 29, 2005

In the midst of it

Last night there was hardly anything on TV but hurricane news. That's good and all, but after like hour twelve of coverage, it gets pretty repetitive, and you start hearing the newscasters tell stories about their dogs' reactions to past hurricanes, slow reenactments of the face they made that morning when they woke up and saw the increased windspeed rating, and they take phone calls from people who are sitting at home speculating what may or may not happen- usually "looks like a lotta rain over here." Every so often they interrupt all of the channels to put on a tornado warning.

So part of the news coverage included this woman last night who explained that after the hurricanes of last year it was discovered that there was a "non-English speaking community" near Mobile who didn't get any weather service in their native tongue. She went on to explain repeatedly that they wanted to help out the "hispanic speaking" community and they had gone to great lengths this year and found this genius miracle of a woman: someone who spoke "hispanic". Once as she was introducing this miracle-of-modern-science that is a bilingual person, she accidentally almost said "Spanish" and corrected herself, "Spa-Hispanic speaking." As they introduced the woman who gave emergency instruction in Spanish, both the newscaster and her co-host stared at the translator as though she'd ridden up on a unicorn and successfully demonstrated the main principals of astrophysics through interpretive dance. Afterward the station was really self congratulatory on their thorough 20-second spot dedicated to the "Hispanic speaking" community.

Here's how it looks in our backyard at this moment:

We're heading out to take pictures. I know that sounds stupid but we're really not that close to the actual action.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

She's a maniac

Big and bad, she's on her way. It looks like N'awlins is going to take the brunt of it, which is a bummer because those hurricane drinks might seem less funny afterward.

Looking scary

We're probably going to ride it out, so if you're in NoFlo and the power goes out and you want to play cribbage by candlelight and drink warm root beer with us, drop me a line.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Stormy weather... part deux

Is anyone else tired of this?


Does this look eerily similar to the Dennis one last month?

Dennis the Menace

I'd just like to point out the fact that the only two times I have a solid, scheduled plane ticket back to Hawaii in hand... a hurricane strikes at that precise moment. I was scheduled to leave the monday that Dennis hit, and then I rescheduled to this Sunday. Is the universe telling me something?

Looks like I'll be here for a while longer. Look for more adventures on the continent in the coming month, unless Katrina picks us up and carries us to Oz. Isn't that what happened to Dorothy?

I don't yet know if we'll be evacuating, but the gas stations are already running out of product. I'll keep y'all posted.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005


I am accustomed to spending my leisure time in coffee shops, but there's only one tiny one in the teensy town I've been staying in, and... the coffee is flavored. Obviously, I had to find a new hobby.

What could the people of this town do for fun?

In my drives around town I've seen one kind of entertainment establishment more than any other: bingo halls. I had to find out what the excitement was about, so on a Saturday evening we decided to investigate. There are a few close to the house, but they start the games at 4:30, so we sought out one with a "late night" game that started at 6:45. It was a magical place.

Bingo Magic
But not quite magical enough to keep the neon lights on.

I was a little nervous. Neither of us had ever played real bingo before. Would it be easy to learn? Would people be welcoming? We assumed so.


We tentatively pushed the door open and found:

A fluorescent lit room. Dead silence, save a woman on a little platform slowly calling out numbers.
The players nearest the entrance whipped their heads around to stare at us. We had obviously broken their concentration. There was no indication where we needed to go or what we needed to do to join in the game, and no one was giving us any help. After a painfully long couple of minutes, the bingo caller took pity on us and pointed to a door. We went through.

Inside was a little side room with a big desk full of different colored tablets of bingo cards. The Bingo Magic employee working the desk exclaimed, "Y'all missed the beginning!"

That fact seemed to stress her out a lot more than it did us. We said we wanted to play anyway and so she collected up the appropriate cards and handed them over. When I played bingo as a kid, you just got one card. This was a whole other league. We each got a pad of bingo cards and a bunch of other random "bonus" cards and "treasure hunt" cards. We bought in. She hurriedly explained the game in a thick accent. It didn't clarify the process all that much. We followed her advice "Y'all are gonna need some daubers!" Some what? "Some daubers!" and bought the little ink dotters from her for a dollar each.

We came back out to the game room.

Long tables speckled with players. No one talking to or looking at each other, save a couple of mother-daughter teams who would whisper under their breath and pass things back and forth. We hastily sat down at the nearest table amid some staring players.

Bingo caller
The caller droned out the numbers, and we used our daubers to mark the numbers. It sounds a lot simpler than it is.

My card
We kept our heads down and tried to catch up. It became obvious that we were newbies because the players to the left and right of us had waaaaay more cards than we did; they had bought in multiple times. Their hands moved like lightning as the numbers were called. The tension in the room was palpable. The real bingo pros had a ring of doo-dads around their playing area, pens, highlighters, and lots of different colored daubers. Stuffed animals, little figurines, keychains, photos...I couldn't imagine what they could possibly need all that stuff for. We later learned that most of them are good luck charms.

Apparently there is a whole bingo-accessory industry, because a good number of them had dauber totes, as well.
Rollicking good times at Bingo Magic
You can see one there hiding behind the massive styrofoam soda cup. There was an unmanned snack bar in the corner of the room with some coffee carafes that looked as though they'd been on the warming plates for a minimum of three days, but I couldn't imagine anyone getting up during the hours long game and missing any numbers. In fact no one did get up, even to use the restroom.

The silence and staring and frantic daubing of cards commingled with the heavy cloud of cigarette smoke.
Smoking is A-OK at bingo

It was a little scary.

We tried to keep up with the caller and the numbers, and as we got the hang of it, we realized that the numbers that had been called were all up on a lit board, accented by a live video stream of the actual bingo balls as they exited the hopper- I suppose that was so we'd know our trusty bingo caller was on the up and up.
The Bingo Board
In this photo you can see the small glassed in room at the back of the bingo hall. It was apparently a quarantine for non-smokers.

The tension of each round broke only when a meek voice would call out "bingo" from one of the tables. This was followed by the only sound the crowd made: not a congratulatory cheer, but an audible moan escaping simultaneously from the lips of every player in the room. This was accompanied by a chorus of crumpling paper as everyone wadded up their used cards in unison and chucked them in the trash bags taped to the side of every table in preparation for the next round. When a player called bingo, an employee with a fanny pack full of cash would walk over to verify the win and do a payout.
Double checking numbers

You can see the thrill of the win here:
The big bingo win

I don't know what I had expected- maybe a "Woohooo!" or something? But I never got it. The prizes went up to $550 per game, and if I'd won you darn skippy would have heard something out of me. But we were lost in the maze of cards and letters and numbers. The women sitting near us at our table would roll their eyes and begrudgingly harumph some hoarse-whispered words of advice as we clumsily moved from round to round. It didn't help that much, because we didn't speak bingoese: "No no no! You odds up the treasure hunt before we play the bonus round. Ugh! You should have rebought for a dollar. First it's layer cake and then it's fill-in."

Uh... thanks?

We obviously didn't win, but the actual game was pretty fun anyway. When the rounds were over at 9 PM, we got up to leave. The game was finished. Nobody else got up. It turned out all but about three of them were staying for the next series, which would continue until at least midnight. A lot of them had been there since midday. Three more hours of unsmiling grunting with no pee breaks? We went next door to a bar called The Palace for a beer.

When we got there the friendly bartender laughed and laughed about our experiences. She said she's never gone in to play before, even though it's right next door. Some of the other patrons explained more about bingo and what it means in this community. One woman's mother plays four days a week and has missed family reunions and birthdays... they always knew where she was when she wasn't answering the phone. She was down at the bingo hall with a menagerie of lucky stuffed animals and figurines. It started to make more sense as the woman was explaining how important the nights out were to her widowed mother. The bingo hall had indeed seemed to be 90% female. It struck me that I don't know many other places where a woman can go on her own and feel entirely comfortable and safe while having a fun night out. I can't think of anything in Oakland.

The bartender gave us some "bar bingo" cards that we could play for a prize of fifty dollars. We asked why they don't serve beer in the bingo hall, and she looked at us like we were slow. "You can't drink alcohol and gamble at the same time! That's illegal!" We shut our mouths and continued playing our (apparently) non-gambling bar bingo cards. We still didn't win.

All in all it was a nice evening out, but it didn't really compensate for the coffee shop that I am still stunned does not exist here. The bar did have this lovely sign in the ladies' room:
I don't care what you do outside

I like how the community is so small that the sheer force of will of the friendly bartender/owner of the bar would be enough to sway the users of illicit substances. It apparently worked because when we walked out to the car there was a cluster of folks loitering under a huge cloud of pot smoke in the parking lot.

Good thing Amy doesn't care what you do outside.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

My Truckin' Birthday

What is there to do in Floribama for one's birthday?

A monster truck rally, of course.

My date and I were inexperienced Monster Truck Ralliers. How does one prepare for an evening of car-crushing mayhem? We figured a trip to Wal-Mart for clothes was a good bet.

This awesome truck was in the parking lot:
Those are beer bottle cap decorations on the hat. An inspired artistic touch.

We wanted something to wear, so we poked around. Here's a classy selection from the young ladies' department:
Tube top sweatshirt. You can't make this stuff up.

From the men's, a Jesus tie:
Jesus tie

For couples, color coordinated head wrap thingies:
Head wraps, Wal-Mart style
Pictured here: Flame and Tiger styles. Not shown: "Truckers Rule" print.

Also available at Wal-Mart are garments that allow the wearer to have the look and feel of corporate sponsorship without the pesky hassle of remuneration:

In the end, we selected some three dollar fishing hats that have a slot in the front for your fishing license. We decided his was funniest with the "Place Fishing License Here" card inside, and he wrote "Birthday Girl" on mine.
Fishin' hats

Decked out in this finery we headed to Mobile, Alabama.

I noticed when we arrived was that there were a lot of kids. I had sort of thought maybe this was a beer and fried food type of event, but as it turns out it's more of a beer and tired-looking-cotton-candy type of event.

The first sign of what was to come was that every kid was a fan of the same truck: Grave Digger. There was not one kid who was a fan of any other truck, and the souvenir stand only sold Grave Digger souvenirs.
I want the shirt, dad!
Tantrum in progress at bottom left. Souvenir shirts visible in the back.

We made our way inside. The crowd wasn't what you'd call diverse, but everyone was friendly, respectful, and in good spirits.
Monster Truck Crowd

An announcer came out on the floor and spent a while naming off sponsors and getting the crowd excited for the rally using a vocal style somewhere between Foghorn Leghorn and the movie phone guy. He introduced the Subway Sandwich Man, for whom the kids went wild.

Then they brought out the flag:
The Flag
They had veterans and enlisted folks in the audience stand up and did a whole song, and it was actually kind of moving and sweet. I love my country in certain ways, but I am completely unaccustomed to this type of thing, and I had to be gently reminded to remove my hat. Whoops.

Then the truck rally began.
For anyone who hasn't been, it basically goes like this-
There are old cars:

And big trucks:
The trucks that were destined to lose

Big trucks smoosh old cars:

Big trucks "race" and "do donuts" in a "competition". Caveat: Grave Digger wins. Always.
Trucks growling at one another
Add incredibly loud music and the opportunity to boo at the top of your lungs for anyone racing against Grave Digger, and that's pretty much it.

There's an intermission in the middle where they come out and sweep up the broken glass in preparation for more of the same. During intermission there's a stampede towards the beer vendors and the outdoor fenced-in smoking section. Ostensibly, this is provided as a courtesy to those with small children so they needn't be exposed to wafting clouds of Marlboro-Light mist. However:
Day care? Or smoking section?
No, that's not a day care. Yes, that's the smoking section. Chock. Full. Of. Kids.

On the other hand, the charming fellow on the far left of that frame was wearing a lovely T-Shirt that we saw on four different men that evening. The text reads: "Nothing beats racking my balls at the crack of Dawn" coupled with an illustration of an attractive woman pictured from behind playing pool in a thong bikini. Despite the "cleverness" of this text, it was well beyond my suspension of disbelief to imagine that any of the men wearing this shirt would have a date with a woman as attractive as Dawn, even if she was just a drawing. Honestly, I wanted to get you all a photo of it, but it wasn't worth the risk of having to talk to him.

Other fine T-shirt selections:
King Rat

Git R Done

When the rally was over, we rushed through the gates to have a chance at a photo of the sandwich man. I found him and asked permission, which he granted with a felt-glove thumbs-up. At the precise moment that I snapped the photo, something occurred that broke my heart and proved that tacky advertising gimmicks are indeed the way to a child's heart:
Kid hugging Subway Sandwich Man
Yes. That adorable little kid gave Subway Sandwich Man a huge hug around the knees.

In line for autographs, this cutie was waving his Grave Digger flag with gusto:
Cute Gravedigger fan

And this sleepy guy scored a Grave Digger stuffed truck from his Pops:
Cute but sleepy gravedigger fan

The Rally is clearly an excellent place to win the hearts and minds of Alabama's children. If you were to hand out free t-shirts and prizes, and park a cool vehicle out front for kids to play in, you could probably convince them to join anything.
Look how fun! Army hummer!

We headed over to downtown Mobil for a birthday drink at a Brewery. It's a really sweet little town, and the streets are blocked off so that pedestrians may wander from bar to bar with only the traffic risks of colliding into one another or tripping over their own shoelaces. Amid the din of revelers and the sounds of live bands and DJs wafting out of different establishments, there was a little cluster of men with a big sign yelling about how much better it would be to be with Jesus instead of being drunk. Everyone was ignoring them.
Maybe I should have let them know they'd have better luck if they were dressed up as sandwiches.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Best Things In Life

...Are Prohibited.

This is from when I was in Hawaii, but I only just got it hosted.

This is dedicated to Heidi for telling me what to do.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Pensacola: World's Whitest Beach

It all started when I found this postcard at the local Wal-Mart:

Could it be true? Whitest beach ever?

I'll let you judge for yourselves.

Figure 1: Water tower doubling as beach sign. Painted in classic "beach ball" motif.
Pensacola Beach

Figure 2: Pronounced sunburn.
Sunburn at the whitest beach in the world

Figure 3: Pronounced sunburn paired with alcoholic beverage:
Wading and drinking

Figure 4: Bud Light.
Bud Light has a day out at the beach

Figure 5: Beach goers participating in sun, surf, and beverage simultaneously.
Swimming and drinking
Note that the gentleman in the center has the same beverage holder I used in my All American Coca-Cola experiment.

Figure 6: Shell collecting with an unprecedented amount of gear.
Shell hunting

Figure 7: The outfit.

Figure 8: More Bud Light.
Relaxing in the sun

Figure 9: Pronounced sunburn paired with Bud Light.
Drinking and sitting in the water

Figure 10: Pronounced sunburn concealed by t-shirt to mitigate the hazards of snorkeling seven feet off shore.
Snorkeling at the whitest beach in the world

Figure 11: Parasailing.
Whitest Beach in the World

Figure 12: Metal detecting. In water. Near cute girls. With a chest strap.
Metal detecting- it's not just for dry land anymore

Figure 13: Straight men play-drowing friends as a way to meet girls.
Drowning friends: This summer's newest game!

Figure 14: Bud Light. In bottles, one with a beer cozy. While swimming. With sporty, reflective eyewear.

I rest my case.