Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Brad in the City; or, Where's My Exit?

I've started what will amount to a Big Cities of the South mini-tour. Went to Atlanta last weekend to cover the Mississippi State-Georgia Tech game. This week it's Baton Rouge for MSU-LSU. In October I will visit Knoxville, and in November Tuscaloosa. OK, Tuscaloosa isn't that big, but it's a college town.

I've been to all these places before – except Knoxville, just through it – but what I'm really looking forward to is taking in the game day scenes and tasting the local fare. Didn't get to do much of the latter in Atlanta, although I found a really good cup of coffee at a place next to the hotel in Buckhead. As for the game day atmosphere, it was pretty cool. First thing I saw when I got on campus was a bunch of frat boys holding a sign that said, "U honk, we drink." I honked.

Baton Rouge should be a much more, um, interesting experience. You start with LSU fans, the most obnoxious fans in the history of sports. They're angry no matter what happens, whether they beat you by 50 or lose in triple-overtime. Any excuse to lob whiskey bottles at you or yell unintelligible insults. I've actually never been to a game at Tiger Stadium, but I've heard countless horror stories and have seen beer flying onto the field on TV.

But I'm really looking forward to eating some genuine Cajun cooking. I have an affinity for it, especially gumbo. I spent nine years in north Louisiana, and while that area is more like Mississippi than south Louisiana, the people there do appreciate Cajun cuisine. So I've been asking around for good places to eat while I'm in Baton Rouge this weekend. Suggestions are welcome.

My main concern isn't the fans or finding good food, but rather not getting lost. I have about as good a sense of direction as a drunk Lindsey Lohan (is that redundant?). I got lost in Atlanta on the way to the game, on the way back to my car after the game (the parking garage was like two miles away), and on the way back to the hotel. And the next day, too, while trying to locate the Coca-Cola factory (it was closed). I still get turned around in Tupelo sometimes, and I've been living here almost six years.

So I'm leaving Friday, which will A) get me in ahead of game day traffic and all those crazy fans, B) give me plenty of time to scope out the restaurant scene, and C) give me a full day to find my hotel.

Today's (Actually Yesterday's) Redneck Moment: My youngest daughter, Trinity, finally lost her first tooth yesterday. But she didn't want the Tooth Fairy to come last night. She had to sleep with the tooth first.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Controlled Chaos; or, Drive Like an NYC Cabbie

I think it would do all Southerners good to take a trip to New York City. Seriously. Why?

To learn how to drive.

Yeah, I know. They drive like maniacs up there. I didn't actually drive in the city when we visited in July, but I rode in an airport shuttle van, and I learned a new meaning of the word 'fear' and was seriously questioning the integrity of the brakes. The Japanese guy driving was as 'psycho' as any cab driver. Or was he?

While it seemed we were on the brink of disaster every moment, after the ride, and after observing other drivers, I realized that New York drivers have mastered the art of controlled chaos. (That's what that whole city's about, right?) It might appear that these guys are nuts, but I bet they could fare quite well in a NASCAR road course race. Driving a race car is all about deft handling in tight quarters, and that's what I saw in NYC. It's a 'feel' thing.

So, since returning home, I've pulled a couple of New York moves, darting into a backed-up line of traffic or, as on the way home on the New Jersey Turnpike, making multiple-lane changes. Actually, I have a history of aggressive driving, but it was aggression minus intelligence. I've gotten better, honest.

I've actually long admired some of the New Yorkers' driving habits. Like hitting the gas when a light goes green, not when the person in front of you finally decides to go. See, if everybody gets on the gas at once, a lot more cars can beat the red.

Then there's the issue of improper lane usage. My gosh, Southerners can be clueless. Quick lesson: Granny lane to the right, hammer lane to the left. It's simple. If you're in the hammer and I'm coming up on your rear, please move. Every time I have to pass some yahoo on the right, I cast a condescending glare or shake my head.

Then there are those who try to drive like New Yorkers but instead drive like I used to. They tend to have very loud engines, which is supposed to impress me. Yeah, try that junk in New York, Jack. You'll get run off a bridge.

Today's Redneck Moment: My oldest, Deanna, walked in the door today and let out a belch. Just kept on walkin.'

Friday, September 5, 2008

Tall, Tall Weeds; or, Just Can't Cut It

I have totally lost track, but I think it's been about a month since I mowed our lawn. No joke. I cut it one day, looked real nice, and then it rained for about a week. Since our backyard holds water, I had to wait for it to dry. But before it did, it started raining again, and again. And I had craziness at work with my new beat.

It got to the point where I knew there was no way my little push-mower could handle the tall, thick grass in the back. So I had a guy all set to come out early this week to cut it. And of course, it rains. Thanks, Gustav.

So we've got cattails growing in the front yard, whilst my neighbors have their lawns neatly trimmed. We're white-trashin' it, much to the neighborhood association's chagrin, I'm sure.

Heck, I might as well go all the way with this. Think I'll find an old lawn chair, plop down in it in front of our weed-infested flower bed, and sit out there in my gym shorts and no shirt, with a root beer in my hand (I'm going for effect here, so such props are allowed). I need some cinder blocks to put under my Honda, and a pink flamingo (which they're not making anymore). Drew can run around in his underwear, and Rachel can wear a tight tank top, blue jean cutoffs and mismatched slippers.

Well, maybe not. My wife is gonna kill me for posting this, though.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Grammatically Incorrect; or, She Ain't Speakin' Right

I'm torn. My inner redneck is throwing down with my inner grammarian – OK, so I don't hide either of those characteristics very well. Dadgummit.

It's my middle daughter, Charlotte. She has learned the word "ain't" and has been saying it like some people say cuss words. "I ain't gonna do that." "This dress ain't clean." "I ain't got no pink socks." Ooh, a double negative. Honestly, I ain't sure what to do.

I'm secretly proud that she's learned how to use a staple of the Southern dialect. I haven't corrected her yet, and I'm not sure I will. Although it should be noted that the late, great Lewis Grizzard's mother, who was an English teacher and hard-line grammarian, despised the use of that word. "Fixing to," though, was just fine.

I do want Charlotte to sound like the intelligent little girl she is, but I can't bring myself to fixing her grammatical errors. Heck, I still talk that way in informal settings, because it comes naturally and provides some level of comfort. Occasionally, I will drop "ain't" or some other dialectal delicacy into my writing, for effect.

I'm not sure where she picked it up. Guess it could've been from me, but since I don't talk much, she probably got it at school. Sad, yes, but she started saying "ain't" about the time school started. I know Charlotte's teacher will correct her if needed, but I think Charlotte is like me and talks that way only in casual conversation.

It could be worse. There is the Southern dialect, and then there is the Redneck dialect. To borrow from Grizzard, some common terms/phrases you'll find in the latter dialect include:

• "His'n" (his).
• "If'n" (if).
• "You got air asack?" (Do you have a sack?)
• "I ain't got nairn." (No, I'm afraid I don't.)
• "I don't reckon. (I think not.)
• "Nekkid" (Naked).
• "Buck nekkid" (Naked and drunk).
• "Possum" (As in, "Possum more beer in my mug, honey.")

There is a place for proper grammar and elocution. There is also a place for speaking in a natural manner. But Jeff Foxworthy is probably right: When we get to Heaven, St. Peter will say, "Y'all git in the truck, we goin' up to the big house."

Today's Redneck Thought: "She taught a love of words, of how they should be used and how they can fill a creative soul with a passion and lead it to a life's work." – Lewis Grizzard, on his mother, Christine

Monday, September 1, 2008

Making Change; or, Embracing the Unfamiliar

I don't like change. It's scary. The fear of it is in my blood. Like those who came before me, I prefer the way things used to be, whenever that was. I wish things were like they were 20 years ago, and 20 years from now, I'll say the same thing.

But I know that change is often necessary. Time moves forward with an annoying persistence, no matter the happy or tragic circumstances. Time has no feelings.

Change can be good, if you embrace it. I've had to do that this past week. I moved from covering high school sports to Mississippi State athletics. Yeah, cool job, but it was one of the hardest decisions I've ever made. I was comfortable where I was. I knew what I was doing. I wasn't nearly as visible as I am now, which meant less pressure.

Change meant confronting the unfamiliar, and with football season here, it meant tackling it head on. No time for dancing in the backfield; that's a good way to get flattened. So I've plowed forward.

Everybody tells me I'll be fine. Deep down, I know they're right, but I've never been a self-assured sort. Insecurities have plagued me as long as I can remember. That's another reason I don't like change – I think it will overwhelm me, or expose me as a fraud.

I need change, though. We all do. Without change, nothing ever gets better.