Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Bourbon and Barbecue

Given that I live in Oregon, and that there's a big 'O' on this downtown building....

This must be Lexington, Kentucky. Where else?

I was asked last year to work at the 2017 NCAA East Regional Track and Field Championships; this meet is the qualifier for NCAA Championships to be held in Eugene shortly.

Sure, I'll go. Great opportunity to work in the big leagues.

My first flight was delayed. Fortunately, my mom had barely left the airport when I called her, so she circled back and we shared a nice breakfast at the local pancake house.

Flight to LAX, no problem. Flight to ORD (Chicago), a little late. With an already tight connection, I had to do my OJ imitation (sans knife) thru the concourse.

(If you don't understand the previous reference about OJ in an airport.....well, you're not intentionally making me feel old).

Final approach into Lexington was very pretty. And very green. I keep forgetting that the eastern US gets much more rain than Bend, Oregon. De-planing, I run into Rory and John,  more officials from Sacramento. And waiting at the airport was none other than Bo, the chief umpire. Nice to have a ride waiting...

Interesting airport decor...

Staying at the (very) appropriately named Campbell House. I asked for an upgrade due to my family's spotless lineage but was rebuffed. I think the clerk gave me an eye roll worthy of my daughter.... maybe that lineage isn't so spotless after all.

Pedestal sink is pretty, but lacking in counter space!

The hotel has a bourbon bar. I'm not a regular drinker, but when in Rome....

And possibly the best sea bass I've ever had.

Rory begged me to help him finish his dessert. Heck, I'm a team player...

The bigs talking shop.

Nice hotel.

Rough 10 mile run the next morning. I blame my difficulties on jet lag (and the bourbon). Later, a walkaround...Did I mention Lexington is horse country? This town has stables like other towns have Starbucks: one on every corner. You can tell by the white fences.

This one looks like Ikea. (Red Mile, a harness racing track)

Big officials meeting where we get our marching orders and swag.

Some rebel showed up...

(gotta represent, you understand)
9 hours sleep that night. I must be sick. Or tired.

Next morning: sideways rain dumping on us. I have to run three easy miles to get my legs back, and the treadmill is calling my name. But it's warm outside...and it's only rain. Grinning, I saddle up and hit the streets for an amazingly spry recovery run. Dodging puddles, snappy cadence, soaking wet, and grinning like a fool. Nice tour of the UK campus.

Did you say 'red velvet cake?' I thought you did.

Nice to hang out with distinguished friends:

Fellow umpire Audley from Louisville had visited the Northwest years back: his collegiate runner wife was a last minute ringer for a Hood to Coast relay team, and poor Audley was conned into duty as the driver of Van #2: I hope the tips were good.

(Hood to Coast is one of those crazy 200 mile relays; 12 runners, 2 vans, no sleep. Pure insanity, and stupid....I've done it twice). Oh btw...I coincidentally brought an HTC shirt with me, so I took this picture for him).

I'm good friends with the starting line clerk. He's the one who gathers the athletes prior to each heat, gets them into their lanes, and gives them any last minute instructions. I just happen to be roommates with said clerk (not by accident). He is cold-blooded efficient and yet funny as heck at the same time. Some examples:

(to next heat of runners patiently waiting): "Ok, you fabulous student athletes....future leaders of the world."

(to female runners in next race): "Women listen better than men."

(to male runners in next race): "I don't care what your parents're good men!"

(in general): "Look how nice I am to you guys."   and "Are you Heat 3? Don't tell anyone, but that's my favorite heat!"

(to runners waiting while current racers are in the starting blocks): "No talking, no breathing."

(to a Clemson athlete): "Clemson, how are you doing?"
(Clemson): "Nervous."
(clerk): "Nervous? How do you think I feel?!?"

Okay, so I'm not the only one who loves track!  (for the record, this starting line clerk worked at the 1984 and 1996 Olympic Games. He didn't exactly fall off the turnip truck yesterday.

The clerk has war stories from the world of track, and I eagerly listen. He went to school at Eastern Michigan with Hasley Crawford...


(ok, if that name doesn't mean anything to you, you are hereby forgiven. But don't let it happen again). Trinidad and Tobago's Hasley Crawford won the 1976 Olympic 100m dash out of Lane 1, big upset. Possibly the first track event I ever watched.

Mr. Clerk told me of playing poker with Hasley and his island buddies; notorious card cheaters all. Clerk bought a ticket package for the '76 Montreal Games, then found out about $2 standing room only tix. So he bought those, sold his $15 tix, and drank the difference. He said he could lean over the railing and touch the steeplechase water barrier.

Clerk also told me of attending NCAA Indoor Championships at Detroit's Cobo Hall as a high schooler. Back then, meet management would allow athletes to take a few warmup laps on the track before each race, so our young clerk and his buddy showed up wearing nondescript sweats and slipped onto the track. Monday morning, his coach called him on the carpet and demanded an explanation. None needed (or offered).

Shaking my head. I love track!

The officials' chairman is Kentucky born and Kentucky bred, welcoming us to 'the Center of the Universe.' I compliment the host school's generosity, nothing that they were quite welcoming to me. Heck, they even named their showcase basketball arena after one of Oregon's finest.

Ok, so he came around a few years before Galen...

Two guys in the stands behind me are wearing West Point gear, and one of them is quite shaggy.

Me: "Are you two cadets?"
Them: "Yes sir."
Me: "Did West Point outlaw haircuts?"

The groomed kid cracks up. The other one sheepishly replies that he's actually a future cadet. I'm an Annapolis grad, so I look sympathetically (and disapprovingly) upon them.

The evening's last race is the men's 10,000m. I notice a Navy jersey in the mix, so obviously I have to root for the kid. He's running in the front third of the pack, hanging tough. Top 12 advance to the finals in Eugene....Navy doesn't have strong track teams, because it's very hard to run two hours a day with the military obligations going on. But this kid is right up there with a mile to go, hanging on for dear life. He'll get dropped by the horses, right?

Wrong. He sticks his nose into it, busts the final straight, and takes 3rd. He's going to NCAA Championships. And oh by the way, he's on a plane back to Annapolis in 8 hours for his graduation ceremony.

Once he recovers (only about a minute after finishing), I bump fists with him and ask how he felt. "To be honest, sir, I was excited just to be in the mix."  He didn't look excited, just cool as a cucumber. He's going to be a Marine pilot.

I paused. Marine pilot, Navy grad, runner. Willie McCool had the same resume, and added Space Shuttle Pilot on the ill-fated Columbia. RIP Colonel McCool. And great job, Midshipman Stalnaker! See you in two weeks at the Championships.

At breakfast...
Yo Pittsburgh!!
Nearby is Keeneland Farms, home of a world-renowned track and thoroughbred auction where ponies and breeding rights run into the millions of dollars. Went on a tour this morning...very pretty place. Seeing a horse at full speed from ground level is a sight to behold.

Keeneland was the site of several film shoots, including Secretariat and Seabiscuit. I thought it looked familiar!

same scene from Seabiscuit!

The tunnel leading from the stalls to the track

Perfect, because grandstanding is a habit of mine...

A yearling once sold for $13.3 million here...and didn't win squat. Neither did his kids...someone lost money on that deal.

Bob Baffert is a world-renowned trainer (you've seen him).

Here's his seat at the auction house...

Glare notwithstanding

This guy doesn't look too happy

Original stalls from 1938

His mother was a mudder...his father was a mudder

Really, dude? A cellphone?

These two were going at three quarter pace, plenty of gears left. This video could have been in the movie!

The winner's circle
The Keeneland Room...I imagine reservations costs a buck or two.

I just had to get this shot, because why not?

Jockey's Quarters = Caddy Shack

Fellow umpire Karen, right before she was nearly banned from the track (because she wanted to look at the horses....our tour guide was a bit overzealous).

Lloyd had a rental car and made a quick 200 mile round trip to see Churchill Downs in Louisville, home of the Kentucky Derby. He even put a bet down...and lost.

I need a mint julep, but I limit myself to one a year on the first weekend in May.

Saturday morning is another 10 miler. At 6:21am, it was 71 degrees and muggy like a wet blanket. UGH!! I ran through downtown and then continued north. Passing a couple of guys, I get this: "Hey man, where your shirt at?" I pointed to the thing wrapped around my hand as his buddy laughed.

On my iPod: "Amish Paradise", by Weird Al Yankovich. Great song, better video. "Don't be vain, and don't be whiney, or else my brother I might have to get medieval on your hiney!"

Found the minor league baseball stadium and took a loop around. I was surprised to see a woman and her two young girls standing outside the gates with sleeping bags. ????  At 7am?? Tim Tebow's squad is coming to town, but really....Nope. There were tents all over the field; it was Girl Scout Camping Night. The mom said they watched The Incredibles on the big scoreboard until 3am. I bet the neighbors were thrilled. Cool outing!

Coming around the stadium, I see a mural of a track runner. It's Trinity Gay....sigh. The 15 year old daughter of World Champion and Olympian Tyson Gay was shot and killed last year at a local restaurant.

Onward thru the fog (and downtown Lexington)...

It's Laundry Day!! I packed lighter than usual, knowing there's a laundromat a block away. But they have no detergent for sale...the adjacent thrift store does, with the smallest bottle good for 50 loads (I have exactly one). A very loud man, unfamiliar with paid laundry, needs clear instructions. He also needs coins, but he doesn't realize that the change machine won't give him singles back (instead, he gets $20 worth of quarters, way more than he needs). Then he tells the attendant that the washing cycle should be shorter. Then he gets mad when he can't open the washer door while the cycle is still running. Then he watches a (very loud) video on his phone. Regardless, it was nice to have some down time. And in an hour, I have fresh clothes.

So nice.

As I write this, there is a bridal party taking their pictures next to the horse statue in the parking lot. Ah, the South!

Bourbon display in the hotel restaurant:

One of these would go with a nice PLT: a pork roll, lettuce and tomato sandwich where the pork roll is nice and lean (said in my best Miracle Max from The Princess Bride).  Ok, so pork roll will never be lean....

Final day: while most of my friends are at the Prefontaine Classic in sunny Eugene, I'm in a thunder/lightning delay in Lexington. So I spend my time texting friend Molly; her family is using my free tix to the Pre and is having a blast.

Displaying IMG_5270.JPG
Gorgeous day in Eugene, Oregon

In Lexington: not so much...

Waiting out the storm...notice the plastic bags over my socks? 

Still waiting...

They're waiting, too
Late in the evening, I notice a photographer scurrying around the track, and I smile. During a lull, we strike up a conversation, and she mentions that one of her targets is a girl from UNC, "where my daughter went to school." At this point, I can't contain my laughter: I most certainly know this woman's identity. I chuckle out, 'yeah, your kid's done okay.'

She is Cheryl Treworgy, professional photographer, former marathon world record holder, and mother of Shalane Flanagan, 4-time Olympian and author of the NY Times Bestselling cookbook "Run Fast, Eat Slow." Cheryl and I spend the rest of the meet discussing our favorite recipes, including the Sweet Potato Breakfast Cookies, the Salmon Cakes, and others. By the way, she highly recommends the Cous Cous and Lentils.

Sigh. I love track!

Jasmine might be the next Olympic 100m hurdles champion. Very smooth and powerful. And her mom was a year or two behind me at Somerville High School!!

As soon at the last relay handoff happens at 11:30pm, my job is over. So I do this...

A few final shots of this gorgeous hotel...

Onward! Now traveling to the Charlotte outskirts to visit Rich and Eileen, wonderful friends from my Johnson & Johnson days. If you ever wore a Band-Aid, chances are good that Rich improved the machine that made it. And Eileen was the finance guru in my department: before her arrival, financial controls were not a priority! (that's a long story)

BAT (big ass tree) across from their house...

That tree trunk is 26 feet around (I TOLD you it was big)

Did I mention the barbecue?
If this isn't Heaven, it's not very far away
Like everything in their house, Eileen's sewing room is a work of art.

Rich is a master woodworker. He literally made this clock..

And he made all these goodies...

In a fit of boredom, he cranked out these salt/pepper shakers in about five minutes, then gave them to me.

Possibly the one piece of decor that Rich didn't make. Really nice Scrabble display....and #4131 was my plebe summer room at the Naval Academy!

Rich also took a Bob Ross painting class..

Their wonderfully comfortable house
This work of art is every piece of clothing I brought with me....vacuum sealing was never done so well. Wrap every piece of clothing inside another piece, just plop it into the suitcase.

Next up: Belmont, NC, home of one of the first guys I met as a Naval Academy plebe around a hundred years ago. Ken was a prior enlisted sailor, so he was older and much more worldly than us recent high school graduates.

A few years ago at The Boat School, aka Canoe U, aka the United States Naval Academy....your tax dollars hard at work!

Older but wiser (I like to think so, anyway)

Ok, so my idea of carbo loading is a bit unconventional.

Final day of this trip, but no rest for the weary; I have another 10 miler to do. Ken plays Sherpa and motor paces me around town on his bicycle. 70F and 86% humidity makes the going tough, but the tough got going. And Ken had me laughing pretty much the whole way...

Somehow, we started talking about podcasts, and I mentioned an interview with Rob Reiner as one of my favorites. Rob talked about Spinal Tap's Nigel complaining that the bread in the dressing room was too small, a satire on the ridiculous demands that artists have. Ken asked if I knew the reason behind Van Halen's demand for ONLY green M&Ms.

Those among us who remember the band's concerts and videos will remember all the pyrotechnics and aerial stunts. If something isn't set up correctly, someone is going to get hurt. Van Halen purposely wrote the green M&M requirement into their contracts, figuring that if a venue couldn't get something small right, they would probably miss something big that would cause injury. Smart move!

That ended the adventure. A quick shower, a trip to the airport, a little sushi in the food court, and I'm off. 100F in Phoenix during my layover, but I wasn't going outside anyway. Back at the house by 9pm, and the ritual of unpacking.

From a phenomenal trip.

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