Sunday, June 21, 2015

Spy Museum; Washington DC

I learned a few things by visiting the Spy Museum in DC last week.  Primarily I learned I am not suited to be a spy.  And either the people I went with aren't either or they ARE spies and are really good at it.

The museum has 3 attractions and me and my two friends and colleagues, Marci and Kawiana, did all three.  First up, the museum.  There are a lot of different areas, many that are interactive displays.

You are taken in an elevator to a room where you can select a new identity.  I think there were only 8-9 different ones and I selected Greta only because she was the closest in age to me.  You are supposed to memorize the details while you wait for the next door to open.  They tell you that you will be quizzed on this information later.

Not much later.  And I expected this to be a little more interactive.  An interrogation maybe.  Sweat me under the lights.  Instead, it is a computer terminal where you answer multiple choice questions.  I hope if I am ever detained for any reason, I am given the option of multiple choice.  Makes things a LOT easier.  So far, my cover is intact.

Next I receive my "Mission Details".  These are absolutely meaningless for the rest of the day, other than at the computer terminal at the end, where I am once again given a multiple choice quiz.  There are a pair of eyes at the top of the screen and as you answer incorrectly, they narrow at you.

I don't do as well.  I can't leave but I am not detained?  Seems like pretty shoddy counterintelligence work on the part of the English to me.

To be fair, there was a lot more to see after learning my mission details and the final quiz than there was between getting my identity and the first quiz.   There are exhibits on gadgets, surveillance, ninjas, code breaking, the works.  There is a hang bar where you try to hang longer than 007 did and the bar rotates as you hang.  The line is filled with people under 14.  There is also a large exhibit on the villains from all of the James Bond movies.

This section on disguises was interesting.  I may have to get a wig and try out some new identities on David.

At the end of the museum part, all three of us had the same thought.  Too crowded.  All of DC was crowded, everywhere we went, even during the day in the middle of the week.  LOTS of teenagers.  Probably my least favorite segment of the general population after mean people.  There are tons of school groups everywhere in town.  This museum is not in short supply.  It is frequently difficult to get up to an exhibit to read the information and/or look at the items.

I was sitting at that computer terminal trying to identify my "suspect" at the airport.  I was given his photo (still on the screen) and was watching "real time" footage.  I am supposed to click on him when I see him.  This little girl walks up and without even knowing what she is looking at she clicks my screen and ends my session.  She accidentally picked the right guy.

As with all museums of this type, there is a large gift shop filled with shirts, gadgets, magnets, personalized key chains, the usual.  This one also has a large bookstore.

Not even close to all of the books, there were more around the corner.  Spying is big business in literature apparently.

I don't always buy souvenirs for David.  If I see something that speaks to me, I get it but I don't force it.  He has everything so what can I get him at this kind of place that he will need or want?

Tempting...I am pretty sure he doesn't have one of these.  I ended up getting him a t-shirt.  Seeing him wear the same one from the Alligator Farm I went to in Alabama 2 years ago is starting to get old.

Next up was Operation Spy.  This is a one-hour "interactive" game that we are grouped with about 12 other people for.  Our group contains about half teenagers, half adults.

As far as I can tell, her whole job is walking people upstairs to hand them off.  No photos were allowed during this part.

A young man comes and is our guide or handler or whatever you want to call him.  He is "in character" and it is his job to help us find a "trigger" that has been stolen, allegedly by the Energy Secretary in Kandahar.  I thought this would be like the Escape Game in Nashville but it wasn't.  There isn't much to do.  We watch this woman, code name Topaz, in a hotel but it is prerecorded and nothing exciting.  We are supposed to break into 4 groups and watch but only one person can do the controls so the other people just stand around.  Our guide tries to get us to tell the other groups what is going on when she is on the sector we are responsible for.  

Next, we go into the Secretary's apartment.  Half of us are on the "trigger" team looking in a safe for the trigger and half are on the "documents" team.  Again, not a lot to do.  One of our team has a fake document scanner.  The other team gets the safe open but we need a key we don't have.  At this point the Secretary is coming home so we have to go.  We load in the back of a fake truck and are bounced around and finally let out near a tunnel.  This is where the problems begin.

If you read the post about the Escape Game you may remember that I mentioned one of the people that I invited was worried it would be dark.  That was Marci.  It is about to get dark.  We end up on a fake elevator and it goes completely dark so I reach out to grab her hand and she is squeezing so hard her fingernails are digging into my palm.  Later she almost climbs over Kawiana's back to get into a more lit area.  At one point while we are standing in the dark, I stood behind her with my hands on her back so she would know I was right there and no one else could be behind her and I can hear her hyperventilating.

We finally make it to a room and we are supposed to administer a lie detector test to Topaz who is in another room.  Our guide asks us to come up with some questions back in the truck to prepare for this and one of the young teenage girls blurts out "are you in a relationship with the Secretary?".  He tries to get her to be more specific and I think we are treading dangerously close to someone adding "sexual" to that statement.  During questioning it is clear some people don't know the meaning of a yes or no question.  They end up asking her if the Secretary wears boxers or briefs.  The guide mentions at this point that none of my group of 3 has contributed to the questions and he says I look like a bodyguard and mimics my stance with my arms folded across my chest.

We get a 4 out of 5.  We have no idea what that is based on and one of the teenage girls even says, "this is the same every time I bet".  The guide says no.  The score at the end is different.  And I finally realized what this reminded me of.  Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego.  My kids used to watch that when they were young.  

Last up is Spy in the City.  Another interactive game but this time we are outside and only me and my 2 girls are participating.  We are trying to stop the Russians from doing something that escapes my memory.  I have to wonder, at the Spy Museum in Moscow, are they trying to stop evil Americans?

Marci and I reflected in our tablet.  You carry this around and it gets messages.  You go from location to location gathering clues.  Once again, not that hard and not that technical.  You can mess up and it will prompt you.  We couldn't find this one place and we clicked the map and it told us exactly what it looks like.

This is the part where it became increasingly obvious the three of us would be terrible spies.  Marci already had her issues in the dark.  Kawiana got cold and we had to stop so she could put on her jacket.  I was worried about getting a sunburn and had to stop to reapply my sunscreen.

And we are starving.  It is around 4 in the afternoon and we haven't had anything to eat since breakfast.  Here I am taking a picture of Marci and Kawiana in a Subway they ducked into to get us chips.  If you could blow up the photo you would see a security guard on the far left of the photo is giving me the stink eye.

I guess that is kind of the point of this museum.  You do walk out and look at people differently. People on the phone.  People taking pictures.  People "reading" a newspaper.  They told us during a film that there are more active spies in Washington DC than in any other city in the world.  I feel a little justified in hearing that because the night before, Marci thought I was being stupid when I said I would come get her when the security guards she was talking to put her in jail.  We were walking around The White House and she went up to these two guys and says "what's in this building" about the building right next door to the President's house.  Yeah, no problem there.  And I didn't mean DC jail.  I mean Department of Homeland Security jail.  In fairness, she thought it was the FDIC.  It wasn't.  He said "it's just offices".  You don't have to be spy to know that is code for Move On Ladies.

I think of all of the things we did in DC, this was probably my least favorite outing (with Spy in the City being the best of these 3 but still ultimately not at the top of the list).  Until it was over and we accidentally ended up in a covert mission.  Earlier in the week a lady recommended the restaurant Cafe Milano in Georgetown.  We get a cab to take us there after the Spy Museum.  We are really hungry now, I think it is pushing 6 pm.  

The problem is that we have been out most of the afternoon, walking around DC in 90 degree heat with 90% humidity.  We are hot and sweaty.  We are going up the sidewalk at the restaurant and I am already concerned.  White linen tablecloths.  Lots of silverware.  Crystal glasses on the table.  We walk up to the hostess stand and I say "do you have a dress code" and she says yes that it is business casual.  I ask if they can seat us on the front patio and she says, "that might be best for us".  

Our Frenchy waiter is none to happy to see us.  He brings us water since we don't look at the wine list (and receive an eye roll) and one crusty roll each (not a basket, individually plated) which I immediately start eating.  I don't notice the problem right next to me because I have already decided on what I am going to order and I am busy trying to figure out if they will bring more rolls.

Kawiana doesn't see anything on the menu she wants to order.  So someone (Marci?) makes the suggestion that we leave.  I have eaten the bread and drank the water and someone (the Maitre D?) has scowled at us after barely cracking the door to peek at us.   Agreed.  Let's go.  But I can't go without leaving a tip, something for the bread and water (it's like paying for prison food).  So we all agree to pay a little something.  The other girls get their money out quickly but I am fumbling with my purse and Marci starts to get excited.  "Hurry up before he comes back!".  I'M TRYING.  I wasn't expecting to ditch like this.  A good spy would always be ready.

I throw my money on the table and we nonchalantly (and totally spy-like) walk off the patio.  Up to the corner and just around so they can't see us.  In hindsight, they were probably glad to see us go and I doubt they would have chased us up the street had they caught us leaving.  Now we are about to start the whole "what do you want to eat" thing over.  Marci and I tell Kawiana she has to choose since she's the one we left for.  There is a place across the street and we decide to head there but on the way end up passing Martin's Tavern.  We go in and I am so glad it worked out that way.  We had good food and the waiter didn't treat us like smelly trash that wandered into his day.  The Police and Journey sing to us while we look at the information about the various presidents who have eaten here and which booth was their favorite.

Our booth wasn't listed but I bet a spy or two has sat in these seats before because as Marci so aptly pointed out earlier at Subway...
Spies Gotta Eat.

 


Saturday, June 6, 2015

Jimmy Wayne Made Me Cry: Nashville, TN

If you are looking for a funny story, this isn't the one.  Unless you are among those that count my personal distress as funny, if that's the case, you're in luck.  This post will also have less photos and more words than my normal so be forewarned.

The country music singer Jimmy Wayne made me cry.  He was the final speaker at my company's annual conference.  That day is usually a "light" day.  All of my responsibilities are over.  I am just an attendee at this point.  We have breakfast, our customers vote on their choice for next year's venue, and we have one last speaker.  Last year it was Bob Eubanks, former host of the Newlywed Game.  The year before it was a man (can't remember his name) that was very funny.  Based on past history, I wasn't prepared.  And actually you have to go back a couple of days to see where the problems began.

We were in a bar.  I don't normally go to bars because as a teetotaler, it really isn't somewhere you want to hang out.  Having adults pressure you to drink when you don't gets old.  Just because I don't drink alcohol and act stupid doesn't mean I am not having a good time.  All of our employees and most of our customers are at the Wild Horse Saloon.  Two of my colleagues come hand me a camera and ask me to take photos for a while because they are going across the street.  Later they reappear with plastic syringes.  Jello shot skeletons.  When it is getting near time for the last bus to the hotel to come, they are not back, so I go across the street to find them.  They aren't going back and they beg me to stay with them.  Maybe they didn't beg, they might have called me a baby.  Whatever the case, I agreed to stay and walk back with them later.

So we leave that bar and go to BB Kings down the street.  Some customers are with us and I am the only completely sober person in the group.  Some people are so wasted I am pretty sure they don't know where they are.  I am very concerned when one woman stands up certain she is going to hit the floor every time.  At one point the bartender looked over at me and was giving me a sign that I interpreted as "she is cut off" and I made a sign I hoped he would interpret as "bring me the bill".  I pay the tab and we convince everyone to go outside.  My colleagues want to continue to one more bar where the owners of our company are rumored to be.  We put the drunks that can't make the walk down there in a cab to the hotel and head out.

This bar - I don't even remember the same - is LOUD and very crowded.  You are having close personal contact with anyone in your general vicinity.  Except for me because I step inside the door and plant myself right there, conveniently next to my boss.  The rest of the group disappears into the crowd.  The music is so loud I cannot hear my boss even though he is yelling in my ear.  I can feel my spleen vibrating in my body.  And suddenly I feel like I might cry.  So much so that I step outside for a moment to get ahold of myself.

I go back in and find the two ladies I started out with to tell them I am leaving.  They have just ordered a drink and say they will come with me when they are done.  I go back to my position by the door.  The feeling that I might burst into tears persists.  Fortunately I manage to hold it down and when they come out we, along with our boss, get in a cab to the hotel.  When I got to my hotel room I had it under control but all the next day it is right there on the surface.  Waiting for a chance.

Fortunately, the next night I am off the hook for bar hopping as I had been asked to go to the Ryman and agreed.

We are way up here but it isn't that big to start with.  And let me say that Larry Gatlin is funny.  He is the host of the show and he is good at his job.  And the Gatlins sound exactly the same as they did 20 years ago.  They came out and started Houston and I couldn't believe how good they sounded.  The seats are church pews and our little group is getting pretty cozy so when no one sat behind us, two of us moved back.

I really enjoyed that show.  One of the people I was with later said, "I only knew 2 songs".  I only didn't know 2 songs.  And as it turned out he didn't know 2 because when he started talking about the "Johnny Cash song" that no one sang, he had to take his number to 1.

The next morning, me and about 200 other people present ourselves in the ballroom where Jimmy Wayne is getting ready to do his thing.  He starts by singing the Hall & Oates song Sara Smile with just his guitar.  Good.  Safe.  Then he starts to talk.  Jimmy Wayne also wrote a book called Walk to Beautiful about his horrific childhood and later walking from Nashville to Phoenix to bring attention to kids aging out of the Foster Care system.  While he is talking about his drug addict mom, abusive grandfather and step father, not having any food when school let out on Friday until they went back on Monday, I start to feel a lump in my throat.  

Normally this kind of thing wouldn't get to me.  But as I get older I am finding my ability to control my emotions, sadness/tears in particular, is leaving as quickly my natural hair color.   And as I told my boss later, this story was a little too close to home.  If I had known what he was going to talk about I might have been okay.  Most of you that know me personally know why this is.  Those of you that don't, suffice it to say there is a child I wanted to spend time with and to do that, I had to go to a Child Protective Services office and be drug tested.  The child was under a protective order and without proof that I was drug-free, I couldn't be with that child unsupervised.  So I drove to their offices on a Friday and sat in a chair in the waiting room looking at the public service posters on the wall, the rug that was twisted that I wanted to get up and fix, the Lego table that was woefully lacking in Legos.  

When I first arrived I was the only person there.  As people came in and sat down, I believed they were thinking what I was thinking...why are YOU here?  I was called back and sat across the desk from a woman who handed me what kind of looks like a square white lollipop. You have to scrub it around in your mouth while she watches.  Behind your teeth, under your tongue, in front of your teeth, the roof of your mouth.  Scrubbing and scrubbing and scrubbing.  While I sit and scrub I am angry.  I am angry that I have to be here at all.  Angry about so many things that haven't been let go of.  Some that still haven't.  

And Jimmy Wayne just keeps on talking.  I am trying not to look at him.  I look everywhere else telling myself to SUCK IT UP.  DON'T YOU DARE CRY IN FRONT OF ALL OF THESE PEOPLE.  Some of these people have known me as long as I have worked at my company, others for less and some not at all.  The man sitting next to me is a new customer that I will be working with and this week was the first time we have ever met or talked.  I do NOT want to cry in front of him.  But 2 days of holding it in start to be too much and it comes.  At first, just a few tears here and there and I try to be all subtle in wiping them.  But Jimmy Wayne will not shut up and soon the tears are flowing and I am very concerned that I am going to make a noise.  Progress to a sob.  Thankfully he finished and I was determined to get the hell out of there as fast as I could.

I am on the third row.  As I am trying to escape up the far aisle a customer stops me to get a hug and I am about to completely lose it.  I do the fastest hug I can and race for the back.  There is a little alcove where I am going to try and hide because there is no way to get out of the room without being stopped a lot.  A woman that I don't know finds me and says, "I am glad I am not the only one he did that too."  Great.  I am working hard to get it together when one of my friends comes to talk to me and I had to say, "Nope" and walk away.  Not ready yet.

Later, I think I am okay and I am in the lobby with the lady that hugged me.  Jimmy Wayne walks into the lobby and they are trying to talk me into taking a picture with him.  ARE YOU INSANE?  No way.  I don't even want to look in his direction.  As soon as they start talking I can feel it right there on the surface again.  Fortunately it is time for me to go.  I have to go to the airport to pick up a rental car as 4 of us are staying the night but we have to change to a different hotel.

Later that night, me and my 3 girls have plans to do the General Jackson Showboat tour.  We head over a little early and they have drinks at TGI Friday across the way at the Opryland Mall.  I don't need to drink, I already feel wasted.  

L-R:  Marie, Kawiana, Marci, Me
These ladies know me well and keep telling me it was no big deal.  Makes me more human.  But they don't know what happens yet when I get really tired.  They are about to.

When I am tired, I laugh and I can't stop.  To the point of tears and stomachache I will keep laughing and I very literally cannot stop.  Over the dumbest things.  So I thought I was done crying but I wasn't.  But now, the tears are from laughter.  If my family had been there they would have been embarrassed and/or making fun of me.  They say I laugh like Mutley the dog.  For those of you who don't know who Mutley is he was Dick Dasterdly's dog on the Wacky Racers.  Here's a link to YouTube in case you need and audio reference:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3uSTOHa4Im4

For example, how did Kawiana manage to eat only the crust from the cheesecake but keep it correctly oriented on the plate?  I don't know but I find this hysterical.  Like Marie's ponytail.  Or the fact that the half-drunk lady next to Kawiana asked her a really stupid question and we had to tell Kawiana to control her face.  Or the big blonde girl in the show that was overselling everything.

So in one day I have run the gamut of emotions from sadness and anger (the most likely reason I will cry) to uncontrollable laughter.  I need a vacation.  These three ladies leave the next morning but I am staying for 3 more days with this lady:

Me and my cousin Dawn.  Can you tell we share a little genetic material?

Dawn and I have always been close and we don't see each other enough so this is just what the doctor ordered.  We have plans to go to the Grand Ole Opry that night to see Ricky Skaggs and several other acts.  I didn't enjoy this show as much as the Ryman to be truthful.  There are four 30 minute segments and a different person hosts each part.  None are as good as Larry Gatlin was.  Some of the acts I have heard of and some I have not.  But, as anyone who has ever gone to the Opry knows, they sometimes deviate from the published schedule.  So when the 2nd host announced Jimmy Wayne, I wanted to get up and leave.  HE IS NOT IN THE PROGRAM! I AM NOT READY!

First song, we are all good.  Do You Believe Me Now is about a girl leaving him for another man and how he had predicted that very thing. Very nice job (I have downloaded his music since retuning home)  But then.  Oh no.  No No NO NONONONO!  The second song is about a little boy that just wants his dad to love him.  And he stretches his arms out and says, "I love you this much".  HOLY COW.  I have to avert my eyes.  He is getting to me again.  I won't tell you how it ends, you can find it on iTunes, that is the title of the song.  Now I am crying in front of the entire Grand Ole Opry.  Thanks Jimmy Wayne.

When my girls were teenagers and you didn't know what mood they would be in for 5 minutes at a time, they would watch movies that would make them cry on purpose.  Our oldest especially.  She wouldn't take a shower for the whole weekend and would be all ripe in her bathrobe and say, "I'm going to go cry".  Rent did it every time.  Or The Notebook.  Or any of 100 others we had on hand.  Maybe she was on to something.  

Maybe the answer all along was to let go and have the cry.  That's what I should have done that first night.  Or maybe you are thinking, seriously lady, maybe you need pharmaceutical intervention.  Already done.  Sometimes it isn't enough.  The problem is that I have spent so many years of my life trying not to cry that it is hard to give that up.  I could be home alone and I would still avoid it.  Maybe the answer for me isn't the cry.  Maybe the answer for me is sleep deprivation so instead of unhappy tears I will cry from laughter at something random and ridiculous.  It may not make me more human to others but you know what they say...

Laughter is the best medicine.




Monday, June 1, 2015

The George Jones Museum: Nashville, TN

This is George Jones' fault.

While driving to my hotel in Nashville, I passed the George Jones Museum.  I knew I had to make time to visit there no matter what happened.  Because if it wasn't for George Jones, my children wouldn't exist. 

The museum, as it turns out, hasn't opened yet.  I was really disappointed that I wouldn't be able to make the pilgrimage.  Then I found out they were opening that coming weekend - and I would still be in town.  They opened to coincide with the 2nd anniversary of his death.

I wanted to get my dad something from the gift shop but this was a little out of my price range.  I do love the vanity plates.

The only size bottles of White Lightening they have.  A little too much for the suitcase home.  And then to get it to Texas next time I go.

Just right.  Dad modeling his shirt.  I also got him a coffee cup.  An item that will be well used in his house.

And though I was able to make the pilgrimage, I didn't end up going through the museum.  It was $20.  A little more homage than I was prepared to pay.  My dad would have paid twice that.
 
When I mentioned to a customer that I needed to go to the museum because George was responsible for my children's very existence, she gave me a funny look and I realized that she might think I am saying that George Jones is the father of my children.  He's not, but he is no less responsible.

Here's how it happened.  This is my my version of the story.  Others have their own versions, that is the nature of a story.  So, to those of you who were there, I don't want to hear any comments about the accuracy of my memories, they are mine.  If your memories are different, they are wrong.

My dad was a singer in a band.  His specialty was George Jones music.  I don't actually remember him ever singing a song by anyone else, at least not on stage.  He sang all of the time at home and there he sang songs by other people.  My daughter was about 8 when she said, "Grandpa is a joyful person".  When I asked why she said that, she said it was because he was always singing.

There he is, in the green (or blue, depending on your opinion and screen) shirt in the middle.  The one with the microphone.  

So one June night in 1983 me and my friend Kim went with my parents to watch him sing.  As you can see from the curtain in the background, this was at a VFW Hall.  The guy to the right of my dad, as you look at the photo (white cowboy hat, looking away from the camera, bass player) is Alan.  He will be part of this story in a minute.

My friend Kim looked a little like Lynda Carter, the actress who played Wonder Woman.  She was built like that too.  I was resigned to my role as the ugly friend.  Not one time when I was with Kim had a boy ever noticed me.  I didn't expect this night to be any different.  Plus, in June of 1983 I have just finished the 8th grade.  I am 14 years old.  Dating wasn't a big concern of mine.  I had never been asked on one and had never had a conversation with my parents about when I would be allowed to go in the event that someone ever did ask.

When I went to the ladies room I saw a group of teenagers at a table on that side of the building.  I hadn't really paid attention to them before.  Maybe I was sitting with my back to them?  Not sure, but this was my first time noticing.  And that is all I thought, that it was a large group of older teenagers.  I didn't notice anyone in particular.  But one of them noticed me.

When dad wasn't on stage, he would sometimes dance with me.  When we were exiting the dance floor that night a young man stepped in front of me and said, "Do you want to dance later?".  I said, "Sure" or "Okay".  Something sophisticated like that.  Later, we danced.  His name was David and he was 17, would be 18 in a few weeks.  Because of his July birthday, he had just graduated from high school about a week before.  He is there with his date (he took her home early), his cousin, bass player Alan, and some other kids from his high school.

I don't remember what we talked about while we danced but I do remember the change in his face when he asked how old I was and I told him.  He recovered and not to be that easily deterred, he asks my parents if he can ask me on a date.  Smooth operator, asking the parents.  

AND THEY SAID YES.  Years later my mom would say things like "what will you do when a grown man shows up and asks your 14 year old on a date?" and he would say, "the same thing you should have said, NO."  I was mature for a 14 year old, even my mom will tell you that but still.  14 is 14.  He had a job and an apartment and this is my first date ever.  As for me, he noticed me and not Kim so what wasn't to like?  I would have said yes on that fact alone.

So the next day, a Sunday, he picked me up and we went to his friend's house swimming.  And I got my first kiss.  Something I knew was coming most of the day and was totally dreading.  Not so much today.

That first date/kiss led to this:

David's dad took this picture of us in December of 1985 (written on the back of the photo).  So I am just turning 17.  We have been dating 2 1/2 years already. 


At our wedding in March of 1987.  I am barely 18, he is 21.  I am still in high school, graduating in May.  It was the beginning of Spring Break.  I must have missed that Captain and Tennille song, You Better Shop Around.

This is late 1993 or early 1994 depending on who is having a birthday here.  We have 3 children.  I am 25.  I was 22 when our son, the youngest, was born.  What were you doing when you were 22?

It was hard.  We had the kids young and really close together (22 months and 19 months).  We didn't have a lot of money.  In that last photo we are living in a 2 bedroom apartment while David is going to school at night.  He keeps the kids during the day while I work and I have them at night.  We are only together on weekends.  The kids have no furniture in their room.  They each have a foam chair that folds out to a bed, a pillow and a blanket.  That table was a dumpster dive.  And for those of you that are super observant, that isn't an expensive stand mixer in the background.  Its an antique juice press I got when my grandpa died.  It has no monetary value.  If that wasn't the case, it wouldn't be there.  I won a TV at work during this time and we drove it directly to a pawn shop.

It got harder.  The details aren't important.  This is what's important:

We made it this far.  

In 2013 we left Texas for Montana and we love it here.  And our easiest kid, Karma, is with us.  The others have moved on, all 3 living in different states.  We have 3 grandchildren now.  And David and I are having a great time.  We are on the best part of this adventure.  

And I have two people to thank for that...

George

And dad.  Thank you for being such a joyful person.
  


Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Roller Derby: Missoula, MT

I am not sure why this always happens to me.  I think I am a nice person.  But apparently the people I know generally consider me an aggressive amazon bully.  Last summer, while attending the Logger Days Lumberjack/jill events in Darby, MT, my friend asked me if I was going to sign up to participate next year.  Even though to her knowledge I had never operated a chain saw or swung an ax in my life.  She clearly had no problem imagining I could do those things based on nothing other than her general knowledge of me.  And now, Roller Derby.  I posted a picture on Facebook the day we went and my MOTHER commented, "When will you be on a team" followed by my cousin posting, "I could see you out there". 

I have mixed feelings about all of this and I told David that I am not sure can or should take these comments as a compliment.  He says I totally should.  I can't judge by him though because every woman in his 5 (from the Friends episode) either beat up or violently killed someone in a movie.  He says he wouldn't want me to be a "girly girl".  But having people think you are going to beat them down in the parking lot just for looking in your direction only comes in handy when you are traveling to strange places alone at night.  Which I do a lot so...

I had never been to a roller derby match before and didn't watch it on TV as a kid like both David and our friend Steven said they had done.  So this means I have basically no expectation for the match but as it turns out, I did have some ideas and had stereotyped the players before we even got there.  The ladies were smaller than I expected (there were exceptions but as a group).  And I mean both shorter and lighter.  I would guess that only one woman on the home team and none of the women on the visiting team were as tall as me, though granted, I am tall for a woman at 5'10".  I think every one of  them weighed less than me.  They appear, from the distance I am at, to be generally younger than I thought they would be.  And there were fewer tattoos and wild hair and piercings and outfits than I expected.  And before you do it, David already called me out on my judgy behavior. 

The match hasn't even begun, they are still warming up, when the first injury occurs.
 
It is bad enough to warrant getting out the stretcher.  It isn't bad enough for them to transport her to the hospital in the ambulance parked behind us.  Someone came and picked her up.  I am not sure why the ambulance is from a volunteer fire department of another town rather than one from the City of Missoula or one of the two local hospitals.
 
We were given a program with the ladies derby names and we get a kick out of reading them and talking about the ones we like the best.  Like Knuckle Slambitch.  At one point during the match they called over the intercom for "Fireman Joe" and when he didn't respond after a few minutes they tried again, this time paging "Mr. Slambitch".  David makes it clear he will root for the home team (Hellgate Rollergirls) while Steven decides on the time-honored method of rooting for the team with the best looking girls.  Seems reasonable.
 
I am not sure if his "better looking" method will work.  One of my preconceived notions is completely not true.  This is no T&A show.  The girls all wear yoga or spandex type pants and a basic tank top.  Nothing revealing at all.  The girl with the red arrow (which I added people, it isn't magically following her around) is a "jammer" and she is the only one on the team that can score points (as I understood it).  There is one jammer on each team, you can tell who they are by the star on their helmet.  The "lead jammer" is the only one who can "call it" and end a "jam".
 
After the first several "jams" David and I are still completely confused about the rules.  The score is something like 11-4 and we have no idea how that happened.  The rules are outlined in the program but we didn't find that to be all that helpful.  There are young ladies running around with signs that say "ask a rollergirl" and you can ask them questions about the rules or anything you don't understand.  We eavesdrop when other people near us ask and between that and trying to watch one thing at a time, I start to get the idea. 
 
There is no way to follow all of the action, there is too much going on.  There is so much to watch that there are a LOT of referees (who also have derby names, my favorite was Jeferee).  There is one referee for each jammer and a bunch of others that watch the other players for penalties and things like going out of bounds.  I try, most of the time, to focus on the jammer for Hellgate. 
 
The penalty box - sponsored by Planned Parenthood.  Every time someone is sent there they bring this up..."Pipsqueak is going to the Planned Parenthood penalty box for a forearm foul".  Anyone can go to the penalty box - jammers and blockers alike.  Those people in the gray shirts behind the penalty box are other "officials" though I am not sure what most of them do.
 
This official takes her job very seriously.  She is very precise with her movements and she appears to be the timekeeper.  She starts each jam and notifies everyone when there is a timeout (as she is doing here).  If she ever needs another job, I think she would be an outstanding aircraft marshal.  Not the ones with the guns on the plane, the one with the batons that directs the pilot when he parks the plane at the gate.
 
Each match has 2 halves with a 20 minute halftime.  At halftime we are entertained by a group doing bicycle polo.  The best player out there was a girl wearing shorts and cowboy boots.  All-in-all we found this to be boring and simply proof that if you put a bunch of college kids together, they will find something to do.  This group practices in a parking garage at the University of Montana a couple of times a week.  All are welcome.
 
A little jam action for you.
 
This event takes place in an open-air covered building on the fairgrounds.  The seats, other than the VIP couch to the left there, are wooden bleachers.  By the time the match started, the bleachers are filled and it is standing room only. 
 
The home team won in an exciting down-to-the-last-second move.  After the match the spectators line the rink to congratulate both teams as they skate around and high-five everyone.
 
Despite the uncomfortable seats, David and I will probably go back.  The season is short with only 4 home games, 2 away games and 3 tournaments (none local).  Tickets were $10 at the door and we enjoyed a nice dinner before so, a good date night all around.

Years ago when I worked at a bank one of the gentlemen that worked there was truly afraid of me.  He would return to his cubicle if he saw me approaching.  I never said so much as boo to this man.  When I asked my friend about it he said, "it's probably because your walk is intimidating".  When this man broke his nose at softball practice I was there but I was behind the backstop waiting to bat and he was in center field.  That didn't stop my boss from asking him if it was me that broke his nose.

They say you should embrace who you are but is who you are dictated by what other people see you as?  I spent a lot of time at the skating rink as a kid and always liked it.  Maybe it is time to embrace the inner bruiser everyone else sees in me.  I wonder when Rollergirl tryouts are?

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Escape Game: Nashville, TN

Every year the company I work for hosts a conference.  This year, we went to Nashville.  Conference ends at lunch on Friday and the last few years some of my coworkers and I have taken to staying over to do something fun and then heading home on Saturday.  Maybe because of this blog, or maybe because I am a bossy control freak, the task of finding something fun to do usually falls to me.  But the problem is that not everyone in our little group defines "fun" the same way that I do.

While researching options, I knew I didn't really want to do the Grand Ole Opry because I already had tickets for Saturday night as I am staying even longer than the others to spend time with my cousin.  And as usual, some things aren't open at night.  Nashville seemed to be a one-trick pony (and having gone there I still feel that way), it is all about the music and bars. 

On TripAdvisor I found something called The Escape Game that sounded interesting to me and was ranked as the #3 thing to do in Nashville.  The website says you are locked in a room for 60 minutes and use cyphers, codes and clues to find a way to escape.  I am always on the lookout for something different to do and this seemed to fit the bill.  I copied their website link and sent it to my 3 coworker ladies that would be staying over with me.

The first reply I get is "Will it be dark?"  I am not sure whether this person has looked at the website or not but it doesn't appear from anything on there that this will be the case.  You have to solve clues and I am not sure how that will happen in the dark.  Nevertheless I go back to the site and look at the FAQ which has nothing about being in the dark.  I try to call them and get an answering machine.  I reply back that I don't think so and get the response, "I will have a panic attack".  Duly noted.

The next day one of the other ladies responds with "Is it scary?"  Holy cow.  I should have seen this coming.  This isn't the first time that a plan I am trying to hatch up has been met with resistance.  The trapeze class.  Indoor skydiving.  The truth is that only one of the people other than me in our group of 4-6 (depending on everyone's availability) is up for anything.

So I send the group an email.  I want to resign as Cruise Director.  I am not upset about the Escape Game or anything else but I am spending time researching and making suggestions only to run into the same problems over and over.  These other ladies should be making the suggestions I say.  My resignation is not accepted.  While this is going on, I sent my cousin the same original email about The Escape Game and she was immediately on board so I am going either way.  I tell the group this and send them alternative, and more sedate, options.  It isn't easy to get 4 people to make one decision given 5 new choices.

The Escape Game building is in a residential neighborhood and right next to a salon.  Not really what I expected.

So, having made other arrangements with the other ladies, my cousin Dawn and I head over to The Escape Game on Monday morning.  I was halfway expecting it to be just us in the room as it is 9:45 am on a work day.  When you register they tell you that unless you pay for the whole room (which varies depending on the room you do), they may put you with other people.  We have mixed feelings about this.  What if the other people don't work with us?  What if they dominate the game and we are left out?  I am really hoping it is just us but that isn't what happened.  And it is a good thing it didn't.  I think 2 people would be hard pressed to escape unless they had done this before, failed, and were trying again.

For some reason, I thought this place was relatively new.  However, based on the large number of pins on the map, that appears to be a false assumption.  There was another map that had pins for different countries.  Montana was poorly represented so I added my pin.  Dawn is from the Pensacola area and there wasn't room for more pins there.  The room to the right is the entrance to The Heist room.  There are 4 different rooms you can play.


Dawn and I are signed up for the Nashville Room which, according to the website is recommended for 2-7 people.  We are paired up with 3 men - John, John and Bill.  They explain they are brothers and a dad which truthfully didn't need explaining.  After we introduce ourselves, our "guide", Evan, has us watch a video explaining the rules.  You cannot take any photos in the room and you cannot even have your phone out (so no calculator).  A basket is provided for our purses, phones, keys.  It stays in the room but they have cameras watching us so they can see us all of the time.  They say this is to help them when they give us "clues".  The TV monitor will show the clue and a tone will tell us one is coming so we know to look. 

I don't want to give too much away in case anyone ever does this or something like it.  Basically you are in the room and you and your partners have to find clues and work on cyphers to unlock other clues, locks, etc.  For example, in one case one of us had to look at a computer monitor in one room while another person reached their hand in to a tall speaker to unlock a combination lock in the next room.  We didn't have a combination at the time but suddenly while I was wearing the special glasses and looking at the computer watching Dawn mess with the lock, I knew what the combination was and she unlocked it.  That gave us a key that went to something else.  And so on. 

Some others, including one of my coworkers that stayed over, went to do this on the Friday before and she said you need more people and now I understand. There is a LOT to do.  Fortunately, the brothers were content to let us work on things alone and we did the same for them and we made for a good team.  The only time it was a problem was when we had to do a math equation.  I had the marker and was trying to work on it on this big board but the brothers were standing behind me trying to do it in their heads.  But they didn't do it silently and I couldn't focus with them saying numbers standing right behind me.  I missed the calculation by 1, which made a difference.

We didn't escape.  Time was ticking down and we had less than 1 minute and we still needed 2 numbers to open the keypad. 

Dawn, me, Bill or John, John or Bill, John the dad with our "I Almost Escaped" stickers.
 
Dawn and I had so much fun with this we considered going back the next day to try another room.  Ultimately we didn't.  In my mind the experience we had the first time would have been hard to top.  Even if we had successfully escaped I don't think it would have been more fun.  We could have bought the "I Escaped" t-shirt but I have plenty of t-shirts.  We were lucky to get paired with the people we did and we might not get that lucky again.  Or we might not get paired at all and I am not sure we could have made it as far on our own.  All in all I would do this again in another city, maybe with a group of people that I know.  This wasn't scary and we were never in the dark (one of the rooms used black lighting but it wasn't dark and was open to the fully lit room next door).
 
My boss was telling me that they have something like this in Dallas only in that game they put a zombie in the room with you.  Maybe I should try to talk my coworker group into it for our next visit to Dallas.  I might have to leave out the zombie part.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The People Watcher's Public Toilet: Sulphur Springs, TX

I have issues.  Bathroom issues.  I have been married 27 years and I get irritated if David is in the bedroom when I am in the bathroom.  And it doesn't matter what I am doing in there.  I could be curling my hair or brushing my teeth and I would still be annoyed.  I need privacy.  I not only close the door but I also lock it even when no one is home. 

But earlier this year I jumped off of a trapeze platform, something I was sure I would be afraid to do so in the continuing spirit of conquering fears, I decide to check out the unique public bathroom in the town square in Sulphur Springs, Texas.

Sulphur Springs a small town (population about 15k as of the last census) east of Dallas but it is far enough out that I wouldn't call it a suburb.  I started out the day in Plano (north of Dallas) and drove to Whitehouse where I spent the day.  On the way back to the Dallas area, I decide it isn't terribly out of the way to run by Sulphur Springs.

It isn't exactly on the way either.  But this side trip will take me down lots of back roads and I will never be required to drive on 635/LBJ which I am very happy about.  Even when I lived here I hated driving on LBJ.  It is perpetually under construction and people drive like maniacs.  I thought I would have a nervous breakdown on the way out of town this morning.  So, for me, Sulphur Springs is decidedly on the way.
 
There isn't a lot to see driving between Whitehouse and Sulphur Springs.  It is a lot like driving the back roads of Montana near where I live only it is flatter with less snow and more rebel flags.  I did pass through Lindale, the hometown of Miranda Lambert, a fact you will know they are quite proud of when you get there.  I am always on the lookout for a photo op but this route is woefully lacking.
 
I did stop to take a picture of this shining example of country ingenuity.  I bet these mailboxes don't succumb to high winds.  Or teenagers with baseball bats.
 
I am not 100% sure where the bathroom is so I have my GPS take me downtown.  Sulphur Springs is the county seat for Hopkins County.
 
There is a typical town square for this part of Texas (reminds me of Waxahachie or McKinney) with the courthouse in the center surrounded by antique shops and restaurants.  There are veterans monuments placed around the courthouse square and it is very clean and well maintained.
 
There are several places on the square to stop and have lunch or a game of chess.
 
 
Including two large chess boards on the ground.  I am slightly surprised that no one has run off with any of these large chess pieces.  While I am considering the next move, I realize I have found the bathroom.
 
That mirrored box is it.  There are actually two of them, the other one is identical and just across the square.
 
You cannot see inside from out here but I didn't consider whether someone was INSIDE watching me before I started taking pictures.  Luckily, no one was. 
 
This is the same chess set from INSIDE the bathroom.  You can see very clearly in all directions.  All the way to the courthouse steps even.
 
It is clean but industrial inside.
 
There is information on the web that says there are police monitored cameras in the square to make sure no one does anything to deface the restrooms or to do something to see inside like shine lasers or other kinds of penetrating lights.  I assume to document stolen chess pieces too. 
 
I stand around inside trying to decide.  Do I?
 
 
But then I notice this.  That is a seam between the glass door and the panel that holds it.  It has some weather stripping but still.  Someone could see through that.  It makes no difference that from both inside and outside of the bathroom I can see that there is no other person on foot in the entire square.
 
Of course that only occurs to me later - when I am well down the road - that if someone had been trying to sneak a peek I would have seen them coming well before their eyeball was trained on me through this tiny crack. 
 
I go back to my car and text David and send him pictures of the inside and outside.  "I don't think I could go in there" he replies.  I respond, "I went in there but I didn't GO in there."  No fears were conquered in Sulphur Springs.
 
Time to move along as I am due at a play in Richardson - about an hour and half away - and I have just enough time to get there.  About 30 minutes down the road I am wishing I had been a big girl and gone to the bathroom when I had a chance. 
 
Driving the Texas back roads isn't always easy for someone with bathroom issues who has had 3 people use her bladder for a waterbed for 9 months apiece.  How much further is it to Richardson?