Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Bop from Bud on Opening Day

Some things can only happen in Milwaukee.

Celebrating baseball's Opening Day, with the Brewers on the road in Cincinnati, my Beloved Spousal Unit and I went to lunch at Gilles Frozen Custard, our favorite burger stand. There we planned to listen to Brewers announcer and veteran funnyman Bob Uecker, the happy survivor of recent health problems, kick off the new season's radio broadcasts. Located within a pop fly of her high school, just up Blue Mound Road from Miller Park, Gilles has been a favorite indulgence of Milwaukee natives and Brewers fans for decades. Wearing my Brewers cap and blue jacket, Opening Day essentials after a long Milwaukee winter, I trundled inside to order our Big Daddy burgers and shakes.

Whereupon, I espied the Big Daddy of Major League Baseball, Commissioner Allan H. "Bud" Selig, chatting amiably with the Gilles owner while taking his lunch break. It's well-chronicled that baseball is Selig's third most favorite thing in life, after his family and lunch at Gilles. The Commish orders his daily hot dogs with relish and retreats to his Lexus to plot the destiny of the National Pastime. (You can tell it's an important phone call if the brake lights of the Lexus are lit while he's parked.)

This is roughly equivalent to FIFA President Sepp Blatter keeping England and Germany from starting a war over World Cup groupings while chowing down on a liverwurst sandwich at a Zurich Imbiß after exchanging views with the Wurstmacher. Every day.

You have to understand Milwaukee to get this: it's no big deal for a 50-year old kid, or anyone else, to greet the Commish at Gilles, even when he doesn't know you from Adam. I hailed the chief in passing, an appreciative fan at the start of a new season: "It's a great day, Mr. Selig!" Wearing my Brewers hat while I did so -- the dopey one that spells out BREWERS in block letters -- earned me a knowing smile and a bop on the arm from Bud. The man may no longer own the team he saved from oblivion at least twice, and he may still have to disclaim any trace of residual partiality, but behind the two hot dogs with relish lives an exuberant Robin Yount fan.

Like March itself, today's ballgame came in with a roar but ended baa-aa-aa-adly. Back-to-back lead-off blasts by Rickie Weeks and Carlos Gomez to start the game had Milwaukee fans all a-Twitter, a good times feeling enhanced by more solid hitting and a defensive gem by Casey McGehee at third. Sadly, a game-long comeback by the Reds, capped by a walk-off pop by Ramon Hernandez, spoiled the day for Brewers fans, with closer John Axford playing the unaccustomed role of Goat-for-a-Day. Still, in this season of rare high expectations for the Crew, featuring a handful of postseason-worthy starting aces and enough offense for a team and a half, there's every reason to believe the Brewers will compete for a division title, and maybe more.

If that happens, I'm pretty sure the brake lights on the Lexus in the Gilles parking lot will be not just lit but flashing. With relish.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

One-Ton Dooley

A highway stop, a roadhouse bar, and I was feelin' dry
Though why I had to pick that place -- I should-a driven by
A hairy, open-carry drunk was gettin' coarse and venom-y
It was my great misfortune that he took me for his enemy
The sumbitch snarled, "So, yer feelin' lucky with yer luck?"
I said a thing, I think it might-a rhymed with "pick-up truck"
Then the pushin' got to shovin', and things got a bit unruly --
Now I'm headin' for a last ride in my One-Ton Dooley.

They drove me to the sick-house with a bullet in my gut
Ridin' shotgun ain't as special when your belly ain't quite shut
The doctor told me, "I'm afraid it's way beyond some stitches,
You'll prob'ly see the afterlife, thanks to them sons-a-bitches!"
They called my next-of-kin, an' my kid brother came a-cryin'
I said, "Yer better listen up, 'cause I'm a-busy dyin' --
An' then we'll say goodbye, bro, 'cause I'll hardly hear yer Eul'y
From a Number 7 casket in my One-Ton Dooley!

"I never stand on principle, don't write no fancy verse,
I never saw the purpose of a chrome-bedecker'd hearse --
Why spend yer dough on transport when a good ol' truck'll do?
Keep the coffin lid wide open so that I can see the view.
The highway's full-a pretty sights while yer above the ground,
Just set me on a rubber mat so's I don't slide around,
Then drop me in a shady spot -- that's all I want, most truly! --
Salute me with a lawn-job made by my beloved Dooley.

"The moral of my story: Stay away from stinkin' drink!
Never hassle with an ass'le; never wrassle with a fink.
Keep yer fenders clean an' polished, keep yer tires full-a air --
Yer never know just when yer need to peel out-a there!
Don't spend yer money stupidly on luxuries and such;
Take all I got -- now on, I won't be needin' very much.
To my nephews, give my Stetsons; to my nieces, all my jewl'y --
They'll be stylin' in the way-back of my One-Ton Dooley!"

Copyright 2011 Bob Wait

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Philadelphia Story

When you stumble upon a party, it can be a good time. When you stumble upon a legend, it can be transcendent.

In Philadelphia for a software users group conference, I didn't exactly relish the thought of mingling at the post-program, organized-fun, 70's-themed bar crawl this evening, networking opportunities and hot programming tips notwithstanding. Stopped by the joint long enough to catch an unsettling glimpse of my fellow info-geeks wearing afro wigs and trying to squeeze past each other in the pub's narrow passageway. Recalled dorm and frat parties in college where I couldn't move for minutes at a time due to the unchecked crowds. Recalled not having actual "fun" on many such occasions, despite thinking that I was supposed to pretend to. Observed the substandard interpersonal distances, according to North American cultural standards. Played the "Who's In Charge Here, Anyway?" card, which I seem to deploy with increasing frequency, and hightailed it out of there.

Onto the streets; Broad Street, in particular. A cheery downtown on this night, actually, regardless of what you may have heard about Philly. Started strolling city blocks at pace, inhaling the late winter air; a terrific antidote for All-Day Hotel Meeting Chair Syndrome. Took in the early-evening sights in the theater district. Architecture, art schools, art supply stores, restaurants, theaters. Passed the Ormandy Ballroom, named for the late Philadelphia Orchestra conductor. Slowly began to incubate a notion to catch some sort of evening performance.

The Philadelphia Theater Company, down the street from the hotel? The grand opening of a promising new stage production was upcoming, but tonight, it was dark and empty. Another nearby theater, whose current offering features a post-feminist title and poster recalling certain Monologues? Nope. Just nope. The stage version of Amadeus, a few more blocks away? Intriguing, but too many notes for tonight. A large-ish building with the word "Symphony" splashed across the top? A mirage; it's a new condo project.

Then, along comes the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, an über-grand performing arts center with look-at-me lines. An amazing atrium; sweeping curves and lattices; your delighted eyes drawn up to the sky, back down and around. Not a right angle in the place. Now that's a venue! Fell in step with a slightly greying theater-district crowd, gathering with anticipation for some kind of show -- but what?

The Philly Pops, that's what, with longtime Philly Pops leader Peter Nero conducting and performing a 1950's-themed program. Much beloved in Philly, where he's invested the last three decades of his life delighting Pops audiences. Nero's 50+ years in the music trade earned him two Grammy Awards and placed him elbow-to-elbow with Sinatra, Mancini, all the greats of the post-war era.

The audience regulars were as appreciative as they were forgiving. I'd never seen so much hand-clapping and lip-syncing by seniors. Certain lightly rehearsed numbers and looseness in the cohesion of the instrumentals were beside the point, as the old-timers on stage and in the audience, both intermingled with music performers and aficionados young enough to be their adult grandchildren, gave and received a gentle, happy, slightly sloshed-sounding performance that had the feeling of one last round at the bar surrounded by the great songs of their -- anyone's -- youth.

Seeing and hearing Peter Nero play "The Way You Look Tonight" from my overhead perch in the third balcony, watching Nero's hands tease out the jazzy, swinging style from the song in that beautiful place, I felt I'd witnessed not just a performance but the curating of a priceless treasure by one who knows. A perfect martini, captured at the keyboard.

A reminder, also, that the "Who's In Charge Here, Anyway?" card is often the most valuable in the deck. My Philadelphia evening had regressed two decades, from the 1970's to the 1950's, but it took a great leap forward.


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