Sunday, September 14, 2014

Western Montana Fair & Rodeo: Missoula, MT

I may have mentioned before that after moving to Montana, David became interested in photography.  I was already interested but up to this point, he was politely interested in my photographs but not at all interested in the process.  Now, we frequently go out and shoot photos together.  I thought that the fair and rodeo would provide a good lots of good subject matter for such an outing.

David and I have never been to a rodeo together.  I have suggested it in the past but his excuse always has something to do with this...

That's David.  He thinks he was around 16 when this was taken.

I think he felt he would be too nostalgic and possibly would want to try and compete again.  I played men's rules baseball once but I can still attend a professional baseball game without getting weepy.  I realize that I can't do all the things I could when I was younger and only covet the job of the bullpen catcher.  But he was resistant.  Until now.

First, we take in the fair.  I have been to the State Fair of Texas more than once, having lived in the Dallas area most of my life, and I have reasonably low expectations for the fair part due to the size of Missoula in comparison.  There are just over a million people in the whole state of Montana (the 4th largest state in size).  There are over 13 million in the Dallas metro area alone. 

But though this fair is smaller, it still has most of the things you expect at this type of event.  There are shows:  art, quilting, photography (why didn't we enter??), livestock, cooking.  There are the typical fair food vendors.  There are rides.  There is even a place to play bingo, which I talk David into doing. 

That's what BINGO looks like baby!  It cost me $2 for our cards and I won $6 (I had to split the pot with another winner) so I will take that $4 profit, thank you very much.

I need to buy David a treat with my winnings.  He didn't get very far with his card.

Treat acquired!  David's idea of a treat usually involves charred flesh of some kind.
And LOTS of mustard.

One of the most interesting things we stumbled on at the very back corner was the DockDogs competition.  Dogs would run down this platform and launch themselves to either catch a thrown baton or one suspended from a pole.  They land in a pool of water and swim back with their catch. 

If there had been any shade to sit in, we probably would have stayed here a lot longer. But we came as one competition was ending and there was a lull in the action and it was very hot that day.

And it is almost time for the rodeo.  Our plan is to watch the rodeo and then do some night photography on the midway.  We have good seats on the second row in the middle of the arena but next time I think we would try to sit slightly higher because there is a fence in front of us that was an issue for some of the shots we took (or wanted to take).  And yes, I said next time.  Despite saying it felt weird to be on this side of the arena, David really enjoyed himself.  There was some talk between him and a former rodeo teammate on Facebook about riding again when they turn 50 but I feel pretty confident that I can squash that before it becomes serious.  He still has residual knee issues (not to mention really ugly toes) from his former bull riding days.

When David got his camera, we got him a Nikon.  I use a Canon.  This wasn't on purpose but it does solve the issue of borrowing equipment.  Mostly for him since I am notorious for losing my lens caps, or leaving the house without my memory card (because I left it in my computer from our last outing), or not having my docking clip for the tripod.  A friend suggested that this would also be good from a competitive standpoint but this isn't an issue for us.  David and I can be standing side by side and the photo we will end up with is going to be vastly different. 

I asked David to pull out his 5 favorite shots from the day for this post, I think you will notice a theme:

Notice the guy in the background on this one.

All action shots from the rodeo, 3 from bull riding.  I know he liked a couple of his DockDogs photos but when pushed to give me only 5, when we took over 300 pictures EACH, this was the resulting field.

Here are my 5:

None from the events of the rodeo, unless you count the trick roper with the flaming whips, though I took several.  Normally I don't really like taking pictures of people but at this venue, that is really what was primarily available as a subject.

The fair was a little better than I expected and the rodeo was a lot of fun.  We will definitely go back.  Maybe next year, we will enter some of our photos in their contest, we have a few (hundred) to choose from.  We make good photography partners for one reason and maybe this makes us good partners in general.  We see different things even when we are sitting right next to each other.  

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Top Golf: The Colony, TX

When I lived in the Dallas area I drove through The Colony on my way to the office.  It isn't a very big town in the scheme of things but it is sandwiched among other suburbs and it isn't always easy to tell when you have exited one and entered another.  I'm not even sure what there actually is to The Colony outside of the fast food/retail area along the highway.  On this highway you find Top Golf, you can't miss it.  The first time I came back after moving, I noticed they were building some large monstrosity right on the highway and as time passed it revealed itself to be this massive 3 story driving range.

I couldn't get a good shot of the building from the other side, which is the side that faces the highway, due to the position of the sun when we were there.
The company I work for has close to 100 employees but there are only 6 of us that work for this one side of the business that includes me.  Out of the 6, three of us don't live in Dallas (two of us don't even live in Texas).  Of the remaining 3, one travels and works from her Dallas area home so it isn't very often that all 6 of us are in the same place at the same time.  So, when we are, we are trying to make an effort to get together after hours to do some team building. 
The last time we decided to team build, 5 of us went to dinner.  We spent a grand total of $60.  I think my boss might have been embarrassed for our little group since other teams frequently meet and spend a LOT more than that.  When I called him about this outing he said yes but on one condition:  we must spend a minimum of $100.  I told him we would have Marci along this time (making our full 6) and that we would make her eat $40 worth of food if needed.
Once we all arrived, all but one of us had to buy the required membership.  This cost $5 and it never expires.  When the lady was working on mine she asked if I wanted to receive email marketing from them and I said no based on the fact that there are none of these in Montana.  "We are building 40 more this year in the US and overseas."  This statement depresses me more than I can explain but either way, I tell her my answer is still no as I doubt that any of them will be in Montana.  (What I really mean is that I HOPE none of them are.)
Aside from the three level driving range, this is also a restaurant and bar so for our little team building exercise, it is a one stop shop.
We were hoping to be on the 3rd deck and we are.  That is the view out to the highway, which you cannot see because of the orange pizza place in between.
We are here at about 4pm on a Tuesday so it isn't very crowded.  There were people in the stall next to us and they grew distrustful of Linda because twice she shanked balls that came a little close for comfort. 

A woman who works the golf part of the booth comes by and says if we don't get started we will be forfeiting our booth shortly.  I explain we don't know what to do (only one of us has been here before).  She recommends a particular game and helps us get set up.

Assuming you are right handed, there are clubs right at the booth.  You pick your club and walk onto the artificial turf mat which has a tee on it.  You wave your club at the top right area and a ball comes out the chute.  Tee up and hit it.
The object is to hit it into one of those rings.  Each one gives you a certain number of points.
If you are left handed, you must request clubs.  Kawiana is left handed but starts out hitting right.  She later decides to give left a try.  It took a long time to get them to come by again and get us clubs and then they didn't set up a left tee.  She went back to hitting right. 
One mistake we made right away was to not follow the order of our names as they appear on the screen.  Before you hit (regardless of the order you choose to go in), you have to click your name, it doesn't automatically advance to the next person like it does at a bowling alley.  Some of us apparently never played baseball or softball since they can't remember who they "bat" after and need to be reminded a lot.  Some of us can't remember to click our name.  So at the end, Kawiana had a lot of extra balls to hit when the rest of us were done.  Somehow, she kept getting skipped, even though she seemed to go when she was supposed to each round.
The week before the trip, Marie and Marci and I have a text exchange about footwear for the outing. 
Are flip flops okay?  Only if you want me to laugh at you, I reply.  We aren't going shopping, this is golf.  But, as a man in the office observed, as long as you pay, you can probably wear whatever you want.  And they did.  Both of them.  The blue tennis shoes are Linda's.  But Marie and Marci weren't the only ones.  The girls in the next booth are also wearing shoes that are very impractical for playing golf including one in high-heeled wedge sandals.
Here I am getting ready to hit, wearing sensible tennis shoes.  David and I took golf lessons right before we decided to move to Montana.  I never even made it to play a full game before we moved (and I don't own my own clubs, I have my son's hand-me-downs with no bag to put them in).  I realize something very quickly...I have forgotten almost everything they taught me.
I think we are on round/hole 6 before I manage to score at all (I was the last one get off of zero).  It was about this time that Marie announced that she is done playing because she is bored.  I may think this place is a huge eye-sore but I definitely didn't think it was boring.  And she wants me to clarify here: she was bored with the golf part, not the company.  We peer pressured her into continuing while we get food and drinks.
Aside from the less than friendly and helpful woman working the golf part, our waiter for the food/bar was not the best ever.  Right away he tells us he doesn't want to be there and can't wait to go home.  He doesn't check on us regularly or refill our water.  We are barely going to make the $100 at this point which wouldn't have been a problem had he been reasonably attentive.  We ordered some appetizers to share and might have ordered more (and definitely would have had other drinks) but he couldn't be bothered.  When he passed us off to another waiter when it was time for him to go, suddenly we get good service from the new waiter.  As we are wrapping up to leave.
The big winner?  Tim, our gratuitous male, wins with a score of 105.  He wins pretty handily too with Kawiana coming in second with 70.  I end up in 4th following a comeback after being the last to score. 
Five out of Six team members might recommend Top Golf for a fun and non-boring time in the future.  Even though the service here could be better, the company was good and I personally thought the appetizers were pretty good (and despite everything, we managed to make it slightly over our $100 minimum).  I can't vouch for the drink quality since I am a teetotaler (pun intended...get it?  at a golf place?).  The golf is easy to do in whatever you happen to be wearing and they provide everything.  You don't have to play or know how to play golf either, of our 6 only Tim had ever played before if you don't count my lessons - which I don't. 
In the parking lot afterwards, Marci made a good observation about our experience at Top Golf:  It's like bowling, but golf.


Sunday, August 31, 2014

Rebounderz: Hurst, TX

Now that my children are grown and gone, I generally try to avoid places that attract large herds of kids.  Truthfully, I don't even like to be seated next to children in restaurants lest they end up staring or crying or puking or driving their parents insane.  But, now that I have grandchildren, the tide is turning again and I find myself at places like Rebounderz.

Rebounderz is an "Indoor Trampoline Arena".  My son, who is in his early 20's, posted on Facebook that he had a lot of fun here with friends last time he visited Texas. So, I thought I would take my 5 year old granddaughter here and we could bounce the afternoon away while waiting on my parents to get home from work.
The timing of our visit is somewhat out of my control as I don't live here anymore and am only in town for work.  When that happens, I always work in a visit with Kendall.  I had a theory that since we were going on the last Friday before school starts and after lunch that it wouldn't be crowded.  And that was generally true (although now having been there, I can clearly imagine a weekend afternoon here in all of its hellish glory).  In fact, when we found the trampoline area reserved for those 5 and under there was no one in it.
The bored teenage employees were all in the next "ring" over and seemed put out to have to stop their personal conversation to come over and supervise Kendall & I.  The young man supervising this area says you have to be 5 or under to be in there (which clearly I am not) but he will "make an exception" since he doesn't think she wants to play by herself (Kendall has a bracelet that identifies her age range).  A few minutes later a boy of about 2 climbed in with two girls who are probably 10 or so and their presence in this restricted area is not challenged after the mother explains they are "watching him".
The individual trampolines are small and Kendall quickly grew tired of bouncing from trampoline to trampoline with me and wanted to go over to the "dice pit" as she calls it.
Kendall abandons bouncing and simply races across the trampoline into the pit.
But then she doesn't want to get out.  She wants to crawl around in the pit and starts trying to "find the bottom".  This isn't going to work because other people, including two women who are probably in their 30's, are waiting to jump in (they execute toe touches and other cheerleader style jumps on every turn they take - which was several).
And because Kendall is so small she frequently gets stuck or has difficulty managing the "dice" so the employee manning the pit keeps having to climb in and help Kendall get out.  She also tells me that I can be anywhere Kendall can go, including the ring I was just told I wasn't really supposed to be in.
I had to talk Kendall into trying the basketball area.  After she made the very first shot she basically threw the ball straight up and then covered her head to keep from getting hit.  This ring has just two goals both with the small trampolines you see here.  The other goal is higher but not by much.
Basketball rounds out the only trampoline places Kendall can go as "5 and under":  The one ring, the dice pit and basketball.  Not that many places.  There are other rings for kids of varying ages that have a lot more kids in them.  There are only a few parents/guardians/people like me who accompany the kids around or even in some of the rings but mainly there are moms (and a few dads) sitting around on benches or on the floor glued to their phones and/or tablets while trying to ignore the complete chaos around them.
When you arrive you fill out a waiver on a bank of computers if you haven't done this in advance on the website.  Several of these were having technical problems and some people were just not computer literate so there was an employee running around trying to help out.  After that you pay to jump.  Fees are by the hour and fortunately I only paid for one because she didn't stick with the bouncing for more than maybe 30 minutes.
"Get your purse, Grandma!"  She was "dying of thirst" and "pretty much starving".  I have already heard the starving comment once since I picked her up barely an hour ago.  The purple bracelet will tell them when our time is up (they make a general announcement once an hour over the loud speaker listing the color that's time is up).  The white one is her 5 and under identifier.
Ahhh, much better.  Except for the 6 televisions all playing different kid's stations, the kids running around the snack bar and the blaring rock music being piped across the entire facility.
Kendall is done with the trampolines and wants to move on the arcade which we happily have all to ourselves. 
I watch her play numerous rounds of Fruit Ninja and then this happened:  Jackpot!
Until the machine ran out of tickets.  This girl could not get it working.  Luckily another employee got it fixed and just in time too since we ran the game right next to this out while waiting.
The Grand Total

The Loot:  1 Mystery Dum-Dum, 1 mini slinky in rainbow colors and two horses, one blue and one purple.  "The blue one is for Elsa, Grandma".  If you don't know who Elsa is, you apparently don't know a single child in America.
In my opinion, the trampoline part of this place is targeted to older kids, say 10 and up, or to 20 something boys with the mentality of a 10 year old (yes, you Blake).  The music is too loud, the employees too young and wishing to be anywhere else but at work (or at work but not expected to work).  The price was reasonable for this type of venue.  I spent $14.99 for an hour and the lock, a few dollars on a blue slushy and $10 on tokens which netted us some cheap toys. 
But this is what I really paid for:
Time alone with this girl. 
One day I will be gone or too embarrassing to be seen with in public so I have to take advantage of doing things with her now.  She may not remember the blue horse or the slushy or the dice pit or even remember going to Rebounderz with me someday.  But I hope she remembers that her grandma was there to do fun stuff with once upon a time and wasn't afraid to get in there with her and jump.
Would I ever go back to Rebounderz?  No, not if I can help it.  But then again...I do have 2 other grandkids.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Naked Bike Ride: Missoula, MT

When my friend Joanne recently mentioned that The Naked Bike Ride was coming to Missoula, the immediate conversation between David and I went something like this:

Me:  We have to go.
David:  I don't think so.
Me:  How can we not go?  We have to go.
David:  No.
Me:  Hmmm, maybe it would be better if you didn't go.
David:  If you're going, I'm going.
Me:  No, I think you should stay home.
David:  I don't think so.

There was some debate both here and at David's job over what kinds of nakedness one might see.  Will this be a bunch of hard core biker hardbodies?  My opinion was no, that there would be all kinds.  You can be the judge later because, yes, be forewarned, there will be photos. 

And I should clarify now.  We did not participate in the ride.  There are two reasons for this.  1)  We don't own bikes.  2)  I don't even like it when my bra straps show so there is no way I would ever be in public in any way, shape or form, doing anything naked.

When we first arrived we went to the bridge on Higgins Street, which is in the heart of downtown.  There are a group of people gathering by the old depot with their bikes.

No nakedness yet.  A few of the men had their shirts off but that was it.  We stayed there for a while watching people in the river trying to surf and tubing.  Not much happening on the bike ride front.  This seems like it is going to be the most un-naked naked event I have ever been to.
Others start joining us on the bridge.  One man approaches us and asks what we are taking pictures of.  Really?  I am pretty sure he knows why we are here.
This guy came prepared.  Unlike me and David, I think he might be here out of more than curiosity.
So the bike riders in the parking lot take off (riding) and a new guy next to us says, "I knew they'd chicken out".  This ride happens in other cities and it was a big deal in the newspapers that it came here.  The article I read yesterday said even though the city approved it that didn't negate the ordinance against lewdness and the jurisdiction of the sheriff's department or the highway patrol inside the city limits.
This guy is the boldest we have seen in just his underwear.  I don't think that is what the man in the lawn chair was hoping for.

So we leave the bridge and go down the trail a ways thinking maybe we missed the main part.  There are other people with lawn chairs and generally loitering about so we decide to wait and see what happens.  Then we hear cheering and we see them across the river in a neighborhood.  We hurry back to the bridge just in time.
Here they come.  And there are a LOT of them.
And most of them didn't chicken out.  Most were completely nude other than shoes.
This older gentleman kept his black socks on.  And let's don't forget the ball cap.  Wouldn't want to get a sunburn on his scalp.
Some people were partially clothed, girls in tutu's, guys in jock straps.
Or "Caution" tape.  That looks really uncomfortable.
As I said, I could never do this.  I have always been excessively self-conscious about my body.  I wouldn't say I was jealous exactly but I can't help but want to say "you go girl" to women that aren't.  This lady had a sign on her bike that reads, "I am fearfully and wonderfully made." 
We did see one protester holding a sign but it was completely unrelated to this event.  Something to do with the university and curriculum.  Let's just say that no one was paying him any attention.  When we were looking his direction there was a woman bending over.  David was stressing a little, he wanted her to stop.  It was like that episode of Seinfeld.  There's good naked and then there's bad naked. 
I was more interested to see what he would do.  The answer?  Nothing.  The police around downtown appeared to be there just in case.  It didn't seem like any of them planned to get involved with any of the riders.  David saw a couple of cops on bikes early on but they had their clothes on so I didn't bother photographing them.
Probably my favorite photo from the event.  When I looked at these in the car on the way home I thought this was going to be a good one to share as it captured the good-natured spirit of the participants without fear of offending anyone.  Then I got home and brought it up on the bigger computer monitor and BOOM...there it was, staring at me from under her armpit.  Quit looking so hard.  I blurred it with editing software.
I did see this one kid and a few people, including this kid's dad, with baby carriages behind.  I said to David, "Blake (our son) would be mortified if we were naked in public for any reason".  David said, "I would be mortified if I were naked in public for any reason."
On the way home I sent Joanne a text since she declined to come with us.  I said, "That was awesome!".  She replied, "I don't believe you."
I will never look at riding a bike the same way but I'll tell you the same thing I told her:  Any event that can make a person smile and/or laugh is worth attending.  The riders and I did both.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Logger Days: Darby, MT

You are going to quickly find that more of my stories and events are closer to home now that I am traveling a little less.  My company finally agreed to give me some help so I can say home a little more.  Ironically, I was home for a whole month this time and David was gone for 3 weeks of it.  So at the end of week two, my friend Joanne took pity on my solitude and invited me to accompany her and her visiting family to the annual Logger Days event about an hour down the road in Darby, Montana.

When I was growing up and considering possible college and/or career paths, it never even remotely came to my attention that Lumberjill (female Lumberjack) was an option.  Now I know that there are people who participate in this sport on college teams and adults who compete and are sponsored by companies that make chainsaws and axes like Stihl.  In fact, if you go to the Stihl webpage, you can find a link to their Timbersports team (suspiciously devoid of any Lumberjills at the moment).  They also had a link for "gear" but sadly this was only t-shirts and koozies, not a place to buy the chainmail toe protectors or chaps the competitors wore.

So even though I was woefully unaware of this option growing up in the city the way I did, my friend Joanne must think that I am exactly the kind of Jill they are looking for since the mentioned - twice - that we should get me signed up for next year.  I wasn't sure how to feel about that comment.  Was it a complement?  An insult?  Were the other people around me thinking the same thing?  Maybe since she has seen the machete I own first hand, she doesn't see it as a far cry for me to get an axe and some saws and go to town.

But the Jill's didn't look like either of us expected.  They looked very...regular.  None of them were very tall.  None were muscular.  Most looked like someone you would see walking through the Walmart parking lot on their way in to get groceries for the week.  And I mean even the way they were dressed.  Only one woman stood out as a competitor.  The others could have been in the stands and you wouldn't have known the difference.

The Jill to beat.  You could tell this before you even saw her do anything.  Something in the way she carried herself - very confident.  I looked her up later, Erin Lavoie.  She owns a Crossfit Gym (what else?) in Washington and holds two world records in the event pictured here:  The Underhand Chop.  She also holds the Guinness Book of World Records for the most Christmas Trees chopped down in 2 minutes.
Here she is again, I think this event was called Single Buck.  The man in the red shirt is putting something down (water, WD40?) between the blade and the wood and when she gets far enough down, he will put a wedge in.
Even most of the men looked pretty regular.  There were only a couple that were big and most were wearing pretty regular looking clothes.  The guy in the photo above in the background wearing the black tank top is a competitor.
We are regularly encouraged by the emcee to cheer but I find myself so fascinated watching them that I generally forget about that part.  I am also a little distracted because we are right in the sun and I am the kind of person who could burn sitting in the shade at midnight. 

In this event they must chop into the "tree", put this board in and climb up to stand on it and do it again.  They chop in three times and stand higher and higher (about 8 feet by the end if I remember correctly) on this platform while they chop the top off.  Most of these events are timed and there are multiple heats.
There were other people competing...this guy just happened to be in a good spot for me to take photos most of the time.  This is the Cookie Stack.  They start with their hands on the top of the column.
Then they use a chainsaw to cut "cookies", as many as they can in the allowed time.
The cookies then must be transferred - without using your hands - to the next log over.  There were two methods.  Some moved one cookie at a time and some cut a bunch of cookies and moved a whole stack.  The problem was that sometimes when they got right to the end, the cookie would go flying off.  If you had a stack of 5 they would all fly together.
Several of the women competitors had the same last name as a male competitor.  Married couples?  Brother and sister?  Mother and son?  Not sure but it makes sense that this type of sport might be a family affair.  I think I might be able to get on board with this quicker than golf.  I wonder where you can buy one of those saws?
Ax throwing.  I bet I could get David to put me a bullseye out back.  We have plenty of room and our neighbors aren't that close.
Father and son competitors.  This one was easy to figure out since they were Junior and Senior.  Junior looked pretty intimidating with his giant chest and mohawk.
Next year - yes, I would absolutely go to this again - I will be prepared with an umbrella or to sit in one of the few shaded bleachers unless of course I am in the program in which case I will wear more sunscreen and a ball cap.  I wonder if Stihl gives them out free to their Jill's?  I might have to check into that.