My Uncle Pete, (yes, the one who was in the paper posing with a potato he grew that was shaped like a moose), sent another e-mail from his summer homestead in Alaska. This time, it's a photo.
"Eagles last winter at our city dump. They stay there til the salmon start running upstream to spawn. Then off to the rivers and inlets for their summer feast."
It's the sound of the Devil Rays only 4 1/2 games behind the Red Sox.
Remember, it's not baseball. It's RAYSball.
I was cruising through the grocery store the other day when I saw this display:
Candles by D.A.R.E.?
The irony here, of course, would be if a kid bought one and then lit it to mask the smell of pot in his room.
My family and I had the opportunity to spend the weekend at Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios theme parks. We had a grand time and stayed at the lovely Royal Pacific Resort on the theme park's property. Easy to say, a large time was had by all.
But I'm here to tell you, not everything was full of fun and joy. Once again I realized - as I do any time I'm in a public place with a large gathering of fellow human beings - that there is a vast array of people on this little marble we call Earth. And not everyone has pulled things together.
Something about a theme park makes people want to display themselves in ways they wouldn't in any other setting. It really is remarkable when you step back and reflect upon the less than appealing choices I saw made over that two day span of time.
To wit, I humbly submit:
Clearly she is enamored of her back tat. That much is certain. The rolled-down waistline of her (alleged) pants and the bikini indicate as much. But please, tattoo mama, remember to tuck in the clothing tag. Not everyone will be so willing as I was to overlook such an egregious faux pas.
To the naked eye, this appears to be just a tableau of people passing in the afternoon along one of the corridors of Islands of Adventure.
A closer inspection reveals much more:
The sweat outline on his shirt testifies to the temperature and humidity. But letting the neck of the beer fly at half-staff? No true connoisseur of suds would ever hoist his bottle in such a cavalier fashion. Buck up, there, buckaroo. It's only 12 ounces.
Ahhhh yes, I know the equation well:
100 degrees Fahrenheit
+ 100 percent humidity
+ white-knuckle ride on The Hulk rollercoaster
= voracious need for a nicotine visit from the Marlboro Man.
This reminds me of a quote from "Urban Cowboy":
"My legs are sweatin', mama."
Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets.
Hey buddy, support can be beautiful.
I wonder if she's a real redhead?
Only her hairdresser and dry cleaner know for sure.
Who knew Cousin It was a runner?
I have no further comment at this time.
My next-door neighbor just put his house up for rent this week.
Interesting, I thought. Of all my neighbors, they're the ones we know the least. Still, I hope it all works out for them. They have a nice house, a 3-bedroom, 2-bath job with a pool.
Then I took a look at the rental sign in the front yard and saw who was listing them.
You don't think I have anything to worry about, do you?
I should get credit, really.
For what? For not jumping too quickly on the Tampa Bay Devil Rays bandwagon.
Wait a little while, I've been telling myself. It wasn't too long ago that you were beating the drum for the Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning. And it wasn't long ago that I was jumping up and down about the Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It's only been a month or so that I wrote about going to see the Rays play the Rangers in front of a very sparse crowd.
Give blog readers a break, I told myself.
The Devil Rays are now playing .500 ball for the first time this late in the team's history. They're setting records and playing good ball. It's an amazing story that a lot of people outside of Tampa Bay are talking about.
Who knows where this will lead. I just know that everyone in my department at work was talking about going to the games this weekend. ESPN.com is calling them the "Rays of Hope." There's a buzz again, just like there was during the Lightning's run. People know how to cheer on a team. There's was a pep rally in St. Pete yesterday - and that was just for winning 12 games in a row!
Imagine what will happen if the Rays catch up to the Boston Red Sox. This town will come unglued.
When I was a kid, I thought candy cigarettes were cool. I used to get the ones that looked like Lucky Strikes, because a friend of my grandmother used to smoke them and I thought he was cool, nicotine-stained fingertips and lung-clogging smoker's hack notwithstanding.
All of which is to say I got a bit nostalgic when I saw that this site has a gallery of candy cigarette packages, with, of course, the subsequent snarky things to say about what their influence might be on kids.
I was ready to give up on the site until I saw this brand:
Hell I'd be up to two packs a day if they had little sombreros on the damn things.
The Onion's A.V. Club has started a brilliant feature that makes fun of celebrity ramblings online: Hollyblog.
Even Smashing Pumpkins blowhard Billy Corgan gets skewered.
Not made up: "I even love my enemies... that doesn't mean I want to hear them speak, but as one of God's children I say I love you, too... I am on a mission, to love, to rock, to heal, and to help light the path for as many as I can."
This observation about Melanie Griffith's blog was a scream:
Bloggings she may one day regret: Pretty much all of them, but particularly "I have not overdosed on pills nor have I ever used heroin."
Nine years ago today, I got the call.
""They're going to induce,'' my wife said, barely able to get out the words through all her fear and anxiety.
I grabbed my stuff, bolted from my office and drove like a madman down I-95 to get to Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center. It would be more than a day before Brian Jeffrey Oscar Houck would show his face to the world.
I won't blabber about how our lives changed in that instant, how everything magically pulled into perspective and how I finally felt like life had meaning.
What I will say is how proud I am to be his dad.
I love you, Brian.
If anything can tell you about what kind of kid he is, I'll relay this story from a year ago:
Brian was about to take a dose of nuclear-pink antibiotic fluid. He was fighting a wicked bout of strep throat.
He took the small, see-through cup in his right hand, tossed it back until the pink ooze dribbled into his mouth and then took a huge gulp. He hated taking those. The taste was awful.
Nevertheless, without missing a beat, he wiped his mouth with his forearm like a cowboy in a saloon and said, "Set me up with another one."
Now, here are a few photos of my little cowboy.
... your moment of Zen.
*Taken on approach to Tampa International Airport on 6/19/04
After a week away, all I wanted on Saturday was to get home.
So much so that I got to Baltimore/Washington International at 1 p.m. for a 4 p.m. flight. You know, so I could beat the swell of Father's Day travelers. And that security check. Madon'!
So I goofed around in the glorified mall. I looked at magazines I would never ordinarily pick up in the terminal book store. I studiously examined every Maryland-themed trinket in an effort to determine it's intrinsic value. I used the lavatory in a leisurely manner. Multiple times.
And still, that only got me to about 3 p.m.
So once boarding began at 3:40 p.m. at gate 26D, I was more than happy to get onboard US Airways flight 1073 to Charlotte. I waited my turn and then walked all the way to the back, second to last row, middle seat.
To my left was an exercise physiologist named Brandy from Phoenix. On my right, a large man named Dontrell who was on his way to Las Vegas.
We get situated in our cramped confines and settle in. We do our Baby Census, in which we try to identify every potential crying infant before the cabin door shuts and the pressurization begins.
"I counted three,'' Brandy says.
"Damn, I only saw two,'' I tell her.
"You got on before I did,'' she explains.
And then we waited for the door to close. Four o'clock comes. Four o'clock goes. Nothing. So much for taking off on time.
Then comes 4:15 p.m.
"A cop car just pulled up under the wing,'' Brandy says.
"I've never seen that before," I tell her.
Five minutes later, another cop car.
"Folks, this is your captain speaking."
Oh, this ought to be rich.
"We're about to be boarded by a K-9 unit so they can do a security check. Once that's completed, we should be underway shortly.''
Great, I think. Someone's trying to hide some ganja on the plane.
A few moments later, a rather tall man dressed in all black walks down the aisle. I can't see his dog, but I can hear the cavalcade of, "Awwwwwwww"s from women as the animal passes their row.
The dog gets to my place on the plane and I can see it's a yellow Labrador.
Hmmmm. Beagles search for ganja. Labs and goldens look for bodies and bombs.
I'm pretty sure body smuggling is out of the question on this one.
I whip out the camera phone and digital Canon. Everyone around me sees what I've done and follows suit.
The dog is pulling on his leash like, well, a dog that can't wait to get at something. He's scrambling all over the back of the plane, putting his paws up on the counter, scratching at hatch doors. This is a dog possessed by his task.
"Here, Cujo," I joke.
He waits patiently as a flight attendant opens every latch.
He sticks his head into any compartment he can find.
He takes an unexpected lurch toward the passengers.
Great. Another shoe bomber, I'm thinking.
He alerts on one of the two bathroom doors.
I start to giggle. Just my luck that I'd be dropping a duke in there when Old Yeller comes scratching.
The dog gets in there and jams his head into the blue-tinged bowl, but finds nothing.
Not satisfied, he goes to the second john.
On this one, he spends a little more time. The dog's tail is thwacking every surface in the cramped stall.
The longer this goes on, the more anxious the passengers get. Everyone wants a look but can't see a thing.
A pilot deadheading in the seat in front of me plays it cool, reading a newspaper. What's he reading about?
Great. Super. Something related to the genre.
I then realize I'm reading this book.
"Stiff." It's a humorous look at the history of cadavers.
I'm sensing a theme here.
And then, just as abruptly, the episode ends.
The dog and the officer exit down the aisle. After 15 minutes, there are no "Awwwwww"s to say goodbye to the dog. Only heavy sighs and worried looks.
"Folks, we'll be getting underway now,'' the pilot announces. "The security situation has pretty much been resolved to everyone's satisfaction.''
It has? I don't remember being asked. And what's this pretty much shit?
"I know we're running late and many of you have connecting flights, so I'll do my best to make up for as much lost time as I can."
Yeah, that's what I like. A pilot in a rush with 200 passengers on board a plane that might have explosives.
Stewardess, I'm going to need a lot of drinks. Preferably the free kind.
Then I notice that one of Dontrell's hands is gripping the arm rest, and the other has a death lock on the magazine folder of the seat in front of him.
"You okay?" I ask.
"It's my first flight."
"Oh. Well, you're seeing things I've never seen,'' I told him.
"I knew I should have taken a muscle relaxer,'' he says in a hush.
Since I'm writing this now, you know how the story ends. Everything turned out fine.
Dontrell was in panic mode the entire flight, as well he should have been. This is not the way a man should travel on his first airplane ride. Or his second. Or his hundredth. Every bump of turbulence was a harbinger of doom for him. Every tilt of the wing needed to be explained away as normal. And then for good measure, the flight attendants spilled my drink on him and ran over his foot with the beverage cart.
We all got off the plane late for our connecting flights, unconcerned for each other's well-being. But before running in search of our next gate, I did catch Dontrell lazily strolling in front of a sports bar in the Charlotte terminal. He had a smile on his face. We shook hands.
"Good luck in Vegas,'' I said.
"I will,'' he said. "I will.''
Okay, so I may have misled you.
I insinuated that I had access to the Web and, thereby, the ability to post to the blog.
What I lacked, in retrospect, was the will or the inclination to do so.
I stand humbly before you, prostrate in search of your forgiveness for not posting more.
Or not. But definitely one of the two.
I'll be back on the air on Sunday after I return to Florida from Maryland. Maybe then I'll have something worthwhile and/or entertaining to express.
Until that time, I am humbly in repose.
Okay, so I do have access to the Web.
As I wrote yesterday, I'm on the road on business this week in Maryland. (That's me above at at Baltimore/Washington International). I flew out of Tampa Monday morning a 8 a.m, after getting up at 5 a.m. to get ready, get in the car and get to the airport in enough time to get to the airport.
It's at this point that I reach conflict: I like to travel, but I hate traveling.
When I'm on the road alone without my family, I can't sleep. I usually eat an either an avalanche of crap or nothing at all. I'll admit it: I'm not good at it.
That said, I find it endlessly fascinating to fly these days.
First, it's safe to say that the charm of air travel does not exist any longer. No one dresses up for the ride. The traveling public is a mish-mash of business suits and jogging suits. Everyone wears a look on their face like they just found out about an IRS audit.
At the same time, most people are unfailingly polite. Bump a piece of luggage while waiting in line for coffee? My bad. Can you hand me an extra napkin? Not a problem. Help you get that bag in the overhead compartment? Absolutely.
If you haven't flown lately, the airport now is a mall with fancy transportation attached. Anything you can imagine - from vibrating lounge chairs at Brookstone to Kangol hats at the Lids hat store - can be bought at the airport.
Unfortunately, this makes every airport as generic as every mall.
Occasionally, you see signs of distinction. Charlotte's terminal features the usual extended moving sidewalk. Next to that is a long line of white, high-back rocking chairs. You might think that people were too busy to sit in a rocker, but every one of them were full and bobbing back and forth.
At the moment, I'm staying at the Marriott on the campus of the University of Maryland. It's a lovely place. Doesn't hurt that when I drove in yesterday that temps were in the low 80s instead of the dog-panting-in-your-face mid-90s I had in Florida when I left.
Note to my wife: Yes, I pulled the comforter off the bed.
Well, cowpokes, Ol' Chef Jeff is going on a business trip to the Washington D.C. area for about the next week. In the words of Patty Smythe of Scandal, pictured above, "Goodbye to youuuuuuuah."
I'm taking the laptop with me so I can refresh the Salad Bowl. I may even blog the journalism conference I'm attending. But in case I can't, I'll leave you with a few goodies.
First, I've restocked the Radio.Blog with lots of sappy songs dealing with travel and goodbyes (and, for balance, a few hello songs). I like all of the ones in this batch. "Safe And Sound" by Sheryl Crow haunted me for, like, three weeks after hearing it. So did Norah Jones' sultry "I've Got To See You Again" and Jeff Buckley's "Last Goodbye." Both of them ran on a loop in my head for close to three months.
Two remakes are also included - Bjork's "Leaving On A Jet Plane" and Dwight Yoakam's version of "Witchita Lineman." I prefer the respective versions by Peter, Paul and Mary and Glenn Campbell, but these work pretty well. Conway Twitty's "Hello, Darlin'" always used to crack me up when his infomercial would come on in the mid 1980s. No one could pull off high country cheese like the founder of Twitty City.
I continue to be a devoted Aimee Mann fan. Her song "Driving Sideways" is from the Magnolia album. And Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine" and the Allman Brothers' "Midnight Rider" are flawless records.
Speaking of goodbyes, one of my favorite sites, Very Important Things has gone toes up. The concept: taking old clip art and attaching bizarre and hilarious captions. Seems the creator, Tim Dennis, got tired of the whole shebang.
A lot of people are hitting on the site now, since it just announced there will be no more new art featured, but I preserved my favorites.
Take a look:
I'm a PC guy. And a gadget guy. Always have been.
This might be something to sway my attention toward Apple products: the new AirPort Express.
What does it do?
Lets you beam music files from your computer to your home stereo. Any song, any playlist on your hard drive can instantly play on the best sound system in your house. Or any house, for that matter.
Finally got around to creating an online gallery of photos from the Tampa Bay Lightning victory parade.
The one above of Brad Richards hoisting the Conn Smythe trophy is one of my faves.
Rommie also posted a gallery of Game 7 and post-parade pep rally shots. You can view them by clicking here.
Here's another from the Brad Richards series of pics I shot:
Gotta love the Internet for giving us something as arcane as The Candy Wrapper Museum.
So, I'm standing yesterday along the street shooting photos of the Tampa Bay Lightning victory parade through downtown Tampa. Just shooooooting away, not a care in the world.
I shot a photo of the video coach. I shot the goaltending coach. I shot every player. I got shots of the crowd from the 22nd floor of a skyscraper. I got them at curb level. I shot men, women, dogs, babies. I even shot Thunderbug, the team's mascot.
And then the Stanley Cup starts to appear on the horizon. It's Dave Andreychuck, the Lightning captain who won his first championship after 22 years.
The cup is gleaming in the midday sunlight. It's coming closer. It's five feet away from me. He's hoisting all 35 pounds of it like he did the night they won. And I hit the camera shutter.
"MEMORY CARD FULL"
A river of flop sweat runs down my back. I've stood in near-100-degree temps waiting for this moment and it's now riding away on the back of a convertible with my camera and it's full belly now burping at me.
I take off running, abandoning my wife, child, mother-in-law and friends.
I'm deleting pictures along the way. Button, press. Button, press. Button, press.
I only pray I'm not deleting the one of Vinny Lecavalier signing my son's hockey stick.
I run parralel through the crowd, through an office building, pushing old women and paraplegics to the ground like Lawrence Taylor mowing through an offensive line.
I will not be denied.
I attempt to run through the set of the Sunshine Network's anchor panel. I am grabbed around my ribs by a TV flunkie. I brush him off like lint and limbo under the Looma crane. I see a Hillsborough County Sherrif's Deputy reach reflexively for his waistline.
A friend from my wife's work sees me and shouts, "JEFF, THEY ALMOST SHOT YOU!!!"
I don't care.
I will not be denied.
And then I realize I'm actually a block ahead of the cup. I stop. Gather my senses and aim to get three shots off, just in case one of them doesn't come out right.
And this is one of those photos:
I will not be denied.
I will, however, post more photos tonight.
Pam Iorio, mayor of Tampa, has just unveiled a new P.R. campaign for the city to boost civic pride that uses the catchphrase, "I am Tampa!"
I think I have a better phrase, thanks to my friend Katherine and her remarkable Photoshop abilities:
"I am Andreychuck!"
In the middle of a very bad week, I had the pleasure of laughing at Will Ferrell singing the song "Afternoon Delight" from his new movie "Anchorman."
A little backstory: Ferrell plays '70s news guy Ron Burgundy -- and goofs off midday with his colleagues Brian, Brick and Champ.
God, I love stupid summer movies.
Pulled into the driveway last night to see this image:
That's right - street hockey in Florida. In 90-degree heat. With thunder clouds on the horizon just waiting to unleash an early summer downpour.
A couple of kids, mine included, were slapping a puck around on the bare asphalt. The puck? Came from a Lightning game when one of the ice guys handed my son one of the castoffs.
I came home to see him running around in his socks (his mother was pleased) chasing the puck. Other kids wore inline skates. Some didn't.
One of those who did scooted around the others and hit an amazing shot that went top-shelf on the goalie for a score.
It was an amazing thing to see for someone who grew up in Florida when there wasn't even a football team in Tampa, much less hockey.
I don't doubt these kids will be throwing the football again soon. "Kill the Carrier" remains a staple during Bucs season. My son routinely comes home with grass stains and abrasions from some sort of too-rough tackle.
But for a while, they'll play hockey in the evenings. And you have to sit back and think that something pure came from all of the hoopla this week.
Forgot to mention that I've loaded up the Radio.Blog with hockey tunes and/or songs with "lightning" or "thunder" in the titles.
Stompin' Tom Connors' "Good Ol' Hockey Game" is a traditional fave. "Me Like Hockey" by the Arrogant Worms is a crackup. Super Furry Animals' "Ice Hockey Hair" is a bit weird, but a fun listen. "The Cup Won't Go To Ottawa" overcomes it's Adam Sandler-esque ripoff roots. And although it's not a hockey song, KISS's live version of "God of Thunder" is excellent with the backing symphony.
If nothing else, you owe it to yourself to play the Tampa Bay Lightning goal horn going off. Crank it up. It's a hoot. Eh.
I took a spin through various Web sites on Tuesday to see how they were playing the Lightning's win.
Here are a few examples (Feel free to use these as wallpaper):
The Calgary Herald
The NHL section of ESPN.com
The New York Times
The Sporting News
Three days ago, I goofed on CNN for publishing Reagan's obit three year's early.
Well, in the interest of full public disclosure, I should post the story to my paper's screw-up on Tuesday in printing the wrong editorial after the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup.
Here's a photo from the press conference at which our publisher and editor apologized for the error.
Not that we needed a press conference for other people to point it out for us.
You might have heard about it throughout the day. It was reported by the Associated Press, and was on The Smoking Gun Web site. And the AP story was picked up in The South Florida Sun-Sentinel. And MSNBC, The Milwaukee Channel (whatever the hell that is), CBS11 in Dallas, CNews (whatever the hell that is), The Detroit News, The Palm Beach Post, The Gainesville Sun, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, CBS Sportsline, USA Today, Canada's Globe and Mail, (which ran a curious headline, "Tampa paper mourns Bolts' accomplishments"), Lucianne.com, (whatever the hell that is), Local 6 in Miami, ABC Action News in Tampa, (which had another interesting incorrect headline, "Tribune editorial congratulates Bolts for losing Cup series"), FoxSports.com, the San Jose Mercury News, Oregon Live, (which boldly announces itself as "Everything Oregon," as if that was possible), KDKA Pittsburgh, KTRK Houston and KATU Portland.
Oh, also, Keith Olbermann on his MSNBC show "Countdown" named the Trib's editorial page editor Rosemary Goudreau as one of the three people of the day on Tuesday.
Not that anyone over-reacted or anything...
My god. So this is what a hockey hangover feels like...
I can't explain the depth of knuckle dragging I feel at this moment. It's like someone poured motor oil in my veins.
If I'm going to feel this bad, I'd better take up drinking so I can at least have the party with the pain.
That said, watching the Tampa Bay Lightning win the Stanley Cup last night was an infinite amount of fun. It's just not something I'm real verbal about at the moment.
Instead, I'll share with you some of my pics from hanging out last night at the Forum plaza outside Game 7. (I'll add more later.) I only stayed for one period - the cocktail of body odor and frat boy testosterone got to be a bit much for my middle-age sensibilities - but it was a blast all the same.
I was stunned by how tightly packed the crowd was. Must have been at least 10,000 people. And all of them were drinking cannon-sized beers.
As the sun set, the crowd grew considerably. People moved in inches at a time, not feet. It was like a packed subway car in Japan. Only more so in the 98 percent humidity.
The humanity spilled over everything. Trucks, fences. Other people.
I can only imagine how pleased the TV folks were that their mobile newsrooms were glorified orange crates for hockey-crazed drunks.
Not even the wearing of a makeshift trophy on your head gaines you any currency of mobility in this mob.
A rolling pillar of beer, however, was an immediate passport to free passage. Who knows what crisis might occur if this man is not allowed to pass!
Considering the crowd and the level of public inebriation and the reckless-tension in the air, this might be the bravest person on the face of the planet.
We again had flawless weather. By flawless, I mean, of course, that it wasn't raining. Had it been, there would have been an atomic level of bedlam. Think of Carnival in Rio with hockey pucks. I have no idea what it's like to have a festival inside an arm pit, but it would have to have been very close to what it was like Monday evening. It smelled like everyone was going through puberty at the same time on that very night.
There was almost an angry, I'm-gonna-kick-your-boyfriend's-ass-if-he-doesn't-shut-up atmosphere outside after the Lightning scored the game's first goal. Arms thrust into the air, verbal atrocities were uttered and a gutteral growl came from deep within the bowels of drunken sods.
It was not exactly a Disney crowd.
That's not cigarette smoke.
That's the hopes and prayers of an entire Canadian nation being snuffed.
Good riddance, I say. I don't want to call the Calgary Flames a bunch of fleet-footed thugs, but the Lightning was starting to run out of skin on their faces for Iginla and company to scrape against the boards, glass and ice. Martin St. Louis took a stick beating so bad, he might as well have been Rodney King.
That's not hockey. It's certainly not the hockey that the Tampa Bay Lightning practice.
And it's not the type of hockey that won the 2004 Stanley Cup last night.
But all that blood is worth it, I guess, to attain a dream.
Sometimes, words only get in the way.
They say it doesn't snow in Florida. That it doesn't get cold enough. It's what draws "snowbirds" south to live in our sunny climes.
And yet two days before Christmas in 1979, the state of Florida was pounded by a fierce winter storm that froze citrus crops and dusted the state with snow. In some places, such as in Tampa, above, there were several inches of accumulation.
And while flurries have been spotted 32 times since 1891, according to the National Weather Service, measurable snowfall has only taken place seven times.
It's a magic number.
And yet here we are in Tampa facing another fierce winter storm. This time from the Calgary Flames.
They say that the Lightning won't win the cup. That it would take a miracle.
I have one reply: 1979.
Tonight is a night of destiny for the Tampa Bay Lightning. No one knows when they'll get another chance like this.
Home ice. Stanley Cup Finals.
Athletes pray for games like this. Actually, that's a myth. They pray for four-game sweeps that leave the other team crying and debilitated. But in lieu of that, you'd be crazy not to want the deciding game to take place on home ice.
That said, there have been a few superstitions that have carried me and a group of friends along. Sure, Rommie grew his playoff beard (and then shaved most of it when things looked dire). And most of us wore some sort of trinket that had worked for the previous victory (sombreros come to mind).
But undoubtedly the luckiest tradition has been a pre-game meal at El Taconazo, a Mexican joint on Hillsborough Avenue.
We ate there when the Philly series got close. We've eaten there at various times during the finals. We'll eat there again today.
It's a must. It's what has brought this team luck. We have to believe that.
On Friday, when things looked bleak for the team and they were down 3-2, Alan and I went to the Nazo for some sort of life-sustaining grub. Al got the chicken chipotle. I got the same. We both drank a bottle of fizzy Jarritos soda.
And what happened? The team flew to Calgary that day and then whupped up on the Flames on Saturday to even the series at three games and force Game 7.
Such is the power of Nazo. It cannot be denied.
Many people who go to the Nazo might be mistaken in thinking that the allure of the place is in the price of the food. That's not to say a family of 12 couldn't eat there for, like 25 cents. It's just that to cite the price alone would be like revering Tiger Woods for his club covers. It doesn't tell the whole story.
For us, the Nazo is a vacation from reality. For a half-hour, we get to sit and eat delicious, fresh Mexican food in a place filled with sombreros. We listen to Mexican music of all varieties. We eat. We talk. We don't talk. Doesn't matter. The Nazo fills us with life force. It bonds. It heals. It propels.
We've eaten there so much in the past 6 months, the people there have begun to seem like family.
Like Pedro, who does everything from take orders to filling salsa cups.
And Monica, left, one of the owners, and Sondra, right.
The restaurant started out as one of so many taco busses that roamed through Tampa. They got such a following that they parked it behind a building and continued to use the bus for a kitchen.
Few things match the healing power that sitting in the sun and eating wonderful food provides.
It is so pleasant to sit outside, that it took us several months to venture indoors. We were rewarded by an impressive display of elaborate decorative sombreros.
We knew we had found our Mecca.
We later honored the bus and the restaurant by bestowing the ultimate accolade - The Laying On Of The Sombrero.
We keep finding nuggets of greatness in this humble building.
For example, one time when we ate indoors, I looked up over Rommie's shoulder to see the above view.
What's in the painting?
Could it be any more obvious that we were meant to find this place?
After Alan and I found this wonderful establishment, we had to recruit more disciples.
That necessitated us in bringing a cavalcade of friends:
And even Kiely, when she was eight and a half months pregnant.
Sometimes, though, we get a little overexcited. Our adulation spills over into cult-like worship. Like the time we bought a couple of the hats that were for sale inside the dining room, dubbed Monica's Cafe
What then took place there is no excuse for:
With me in my Our Lady of Guadalupe hat and Rommie in an Aztec Pride hat featuring a naked virgin being carried to the heavens by a winged warrior, we drove back to the office through the surrounding neighborhood.
"We look like bad undercover cops,'' I told him.
But if adulation is a crime, there can be only one delicious culprit:
The chicken burrito.
It is that same chicken burrito that will win bring the Stanley Cup to Tampa tonight.
Mark my words.
Flames fans, you will fear the undeniable power of The Nazo.
CNN and every other major news outlet has been reporting for 24 hours now that Ronald Reagan is dead.
Then again, CNN reported his death three years ago on their Web site, so I'd wait for confirmation.
See that face? It's the face of a dejected, dispirited, emotionally desolate Calgary Flames fan shown on international television after his team was beaten 3-2 in double overtime by the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
It's a beautiful face, if you ask me.
Why? Because everyone - including many in Tampa - had written off the team as dead after their loss on Thursday night. Once you lose Game 5, the theory goes, you might as well hand the other team the Cup.
Not this time.
But this was not an easy game to watch. If these photos are any proof:
The evening's hockey started with a hearty meal and two well-aged good luck Cuban Cohibas.
Why smoke cigars? Because they bring you this kind of peace, that's why.
A storm cell moved up from the south in the early evening. Could it have been a harbinger, a hint that the Lightning too would be moving from the south to the north of Canada to wreak havoc? Only time would tell.
Once the game started, though, it was clear that Tampa Bay brought it's A-game to the matchup. They were fast and furious and crisp and decisive. There were mishaps, to be sure. But it was an entertaining game.
That did not stop our offspring or that of our friends' children from losing their steam after three periods of regulation hockey.
The first casualty.
The second and third.
Even the most avid among us were on the ropes of consciousness.
Lucky for us, Mike and Autumn knocked on the door and roused us from our narcoleptic haze.
The southern portion of the room did its valiant best to maintain energy and excitement.
Or at least the best we could...
Certainly, no one at the Forum plaza was sleeping.
Eventually, even our son joined the dog in a prone position.
And then a miracle happened! Martin St. Louis scored the game-winning, series-tying goal. Much rejoicing was had. Yelling, screaming, high-fiving. Everything except gunfire and the gnashing of large pieces of machinery was employed in the celebration.
And Mighty Martin was feted as the hero on international television.
All to the delight of fans back home.
There was no small amount of rejoicing at the Forum, where my friend Alan shot this photo and the next.
Winnipeg Jets jersey + winning team + cute girl = gratuitous bear hug that under other circumstances might be considered a misdemeanor sexual assault.
Ultimately, though, what it meant was that we could fold up the party tent and take our children and ourselves to bed. We were tired, but it was a good kind of tired. The kind of tired that makes you want to watch more hockey, another game in fact, just not right now.
Tonight, it's do-or-die. Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
It's in Calgary. The Tampa Bay Lightning are down 3 games to 2. There is no tomorrow if they don't pull this one out.
But on Thursday, all was merry and gay. It was Game 5. The series was knotted at 2 game. And I was in possession of a ticket to the game, thanks to the benificence of Rommie, who gave me his ticket because he was leaving town on vacation.
I had never attended an NHL finals game. And since it was only the third one ever held in Tampa, I felt honored to go.
Like with the other games here this season, the atmosphere was beyond bizarre:
On the plaza of The Forum In Tampa But Which Has The Name Of A St. Petersburg Company, thousands of people milled about. And took slapshots for fun and prizes. Nothing like playing hockey in shorts and flip-flops.
What goes best with hockey? Ice. And an ice sculpture of the Stanley Cup goes with it, too.
They're available for pony rides and gall bladder operations, too, I believe.
What could be more American than beaded helmets, ice art and desecration of the flag?
One woman who was at the game with her daughter fashioned this pair of undies into an international insult of sorts. "I made them while I was waiting to get in,'' she told me. "Calgary fans wanted to have their picture taken with them.''
The kids' portable rock climbing wall was adorned with a new goal for reaching the top this time: The Cup.
I believe the arrangement was that if you could get to the top of the wall, you could act like Mark Messier and take the cup to a strip club in a motorcycle side car.
Fans milled about with great anticipation, not the least of which was for the pre-game band of the night, Cheap Trick.
I understand Calgary will attempt to match this kind of entertainment for Game 6 with a show by the reformed members of Night Ranger.
Fans who didn't have tickets set up their folding chairs two hours in advance so they could watch the game projected on the adjacent parking garage wall. It didn't clog foot traffic one bit. Nope. Not at all. Nada.
My buddy Alan snapped a few behind-the-scenes shots, including this one of Hulk Hogan attending the game. Hulk's daughter, Brooke, is in the evening gown. Her mother is on the right. I had difficulty ascertaining which member of the family scared me most.
Alan also shot this photo of Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks and his son just before he was to come out and shout, "Let's Play Some Hockey!"
There's nothing a franchise without a championship loves more than being patronized by the members of the other franchise in town that do have a ring.
When the Bolts came out for pre-game warm-ups, they took it easy, trying not to expend too much energy.
Unfortunately, they skated with that same intensity into the first period. It was not a wise move.
The pregame extravaganza included a great light show and no small amount of hoopla, including a take-off of Thunderbug as the main character in Lord of the Rings. It was quite the hoot.
Mr. Brooks, it's time.
There was a huge amount of buzz in the mezzanine, with fans milling about adorned with great costumes and Stanley Cup accessories.
There weren't many Flames fans, but there were enough to interview, apparently. Some Tampa fans greeted them warmly with shouts of, "FLAMERS, GO HOME.'' Sadly, Calgary fans had no homophobic chant to hurl at Tampa fans.
I had a great seat for the game in section 302. First row on the balcony. I could see everything.
The opening face-off was not a success. And Calgary scored first, unfortunately.
But we scored soon after. And the "White Wave" of fans wearing white t-shirts given to them on the way in made their presence known.
You get the distinct sense that the teams don't like each other much.
And if there's anyone Tampa fans hate, it's Jerome Iginla, No. 12.
These two expressed hatred for many fans. The Commodore spoof was quite the hit among passersby during the first intermission.
I never noticed the Screech resemblence but, you know, he's right.
During the intermission, Alan and I bumped into Mary Ellen, the lady who gives away sports towels to fans who sign up for credit cards. Alan kept seeing her at every spring training event he went to this year. "I call him 'My Stalker'," she lovingly said.
The contentiousness continued through periods 2, 3, and the overtime period.
Vinnie Lecavalier had some great hist, but was a non-entity during the game, unfortunately. And we lost in overtime, 3-2.
That, of course, precipitated a hockey fight in my section.
No one was hurt, but one hellacious choke hold was put on a Calgary fan who was unaware of the percentage of retired cops in the stands.
Ultimately, a good time was had by all. If you overlook the crushing loss, of course.
We're headed out tonight again to the plaza to watch the game. Here's hoping the team puts up a better show.
For all the photos, or to just see them at full-size, click here.
When you work in a somewhat sterile work environment - compared, say to working along a highway with vehicles buzzing past at 90 mph - things that are out of the norm tend to jump out at you.
Like deformed foodstuffs.
Mitch, a colleague of mine at work, has accumulated what I would call a growing Gallery of Food Mutations.
1. A deformed jelly bean.
2. An M&M with what appears to be a candy-coated nipple.
And the latest addition, discovered yesterday in a batch of fruit that Kim had on her desk:
3. A cherry with what appears to be some sort of fruit-like genitalia.
As always, Side Salad will keep you apprised of any future additions to this collection.
One of the ramifications of having a less than conventional mother is that you're sometimes a participant in conversations like the one I had yesterday with her when she called my office:
"Jeff?"The back story on this is that a couple years ago when Loggins came to Ruth Eckerd Hall in St. Petersburg for a concert, my mom hung around afterward when she heard he was going to be signing autographs for his book. She waited patiently until it was her turn to meet him.
"I need you to do me a favor."
"I need you to find something out for me."
"I need you to find out where Kenny Loggins is staying."
"I just need to know where he is."
"Because he's playing the Taste of Pinellas. I just want to know where he's staying."
"Well, then, you call."
"But they won't tell me where he is."
"They won't tell me, either, mom."
"He's playing here and he's playing in Orlando. I bet he's staying at the Vinoy."
"If he's at the Taste, he's at the Vinoy."
"He is? How do you know that?"
"I don't know that. But I'd only guess that he is. Proximity, mom."
"I just want to know where he is."
"I need to know if he's out by the pool."
"Why won't you help me?"
"Wait. You're not going to help me?"
"Not only am I not going to help you, I'm actively not going to help you."
(maniacal laughter heard on the other end of the line)
"I'm not only actively not going to help you, I'm going to go out of my way to actively not help you."
(more maniacal laughing audible on the other end of the line)
What's that in the picture above? Why, it's a ticket to Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals at the Forum in Tampa That Is Named for a St. Petersburg Company.
Yep, I'm going. And so is the sombrero.
I couldn't be more stoked. I may be a bit distracted at work today.
But I won't be alone.
Albert, a friend at work who is a diehard Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan who wears at least one visible article of Bucs clothing every day, has taken it upon himself to, as he says, "Show some unity in the community."
By shaving a lightning bolt into his hair.
Other friends are taking note.
Willie Drye, author of Storm of the Century: The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935 and an avid historian of southern culture, makes this keen observation:
It's nice that the Flames have, um, caught fire in Calgary.
I'll bet a lot of people have forgotten that the team entered the NHL way back in 1972 as the Atlanta Flames. The team's name, as I understand it, came from the fire that leveled the city during the Civil War and later provided a dramatic moment in that movie starring Vivian Leigh and Clark Gable. Frankly, I've never thought that movie was worth a damn.
Anyway, the Flames burned out pretty quickly in Atlanta -- in those days, it was hard to draw fans in a part of the country where the winters were too hot for kids to play pond hockey -- and so the team blazed a trail to Canada.
It would be years before the NHL tried again to spark interest in the South. But when the league finally did decide in 1992 to re-light a fire in the southern market, the Bolts were born.
So you have two of the South's pioneer professional franchises in this year's Stanley Cup. It seems to have ignited some interest in Tampa Bay. I hope it doesn't prove to be a fleeting flash, however. That's what happened a few years ago when the Carolina Hurricanes made to the the Cup finals. The crowds were big then, but it seems they've gone with the wind since then.
J-Walk passes along this bit of disturbing corporate news.
I hear Microsoft also is patenting the "duh" in WWW.
My Muse came over the other day. He has somewhat of a morbid sense of humor. He likes to cruise the obituary pages for interesting glimpses at human behavior and relationships.
He was the one who noted a gentleman last year who was included with his nickname: "Tater Bug." He also pointed out this woman's unfortunate name. The Muse's comment at the time was, "Not surprisingly, her husband Ruben was the only one of her many male suitors who could actually find her."
Then the other day, he passed along this gem:
As a result, I've added this to my nightly prayers:
And if I should die before I wake,
please make no Lubiderm jokes at my wake.
With the NHL Stanley Cup Finals knotted at two games each, hockey fever continues to grow in Tampa.
On Monday night, I went with my son to the plaza of The Forum In Tampa Which Is Named For A St. Petersburg Company. There, he and I joined thousands of fellow fans who set up chairs and blankets in order to watch the broadcast of Game 4 projected on the wall of an adjacent parking garage.
We got there just in time to see the resulting cheers when Tampa Bay scored the game's only goal. Fans had been given "Thunder Stix" so they could whap them together at the appropriately time.
This seemed as good as any:
It was an odd sight: a forest of white plastic tubes being waved and whacked and generally thrust in a rejoiceful manner.
The overstuffed couches were a nice touch, I thought.
My boy got into the action. He looks thrilled, doesn't he?
It was a perfect night for such an activity. There was more humidity than a steam bath in hell, but the fun of the game was enough to make you forget you were panting like a St. Bernard.
It was alarming how clear the picture was on the side of the building.
But the Forum wasn't the only one to get into the projection business:
A neighbor down the street set up his PowerPoint projector in front of his garage door and invited his friends to bring their lawn chairs. They tapped a keg, propped their feet up and had a grand time as the kids scurried about. The next night, they watched the movie "Miracle" and finished the keg. They've been watching every game this way. It's great to see a neighborhood join together over something like this.
I wrote in April about how the town was getting behind the team. Now Bolts fever is manifesting itself in other ways as well:
Various banners can be seen around town. Tampa General Hospital hung this one a couple weeks ago. Even went to the trouble of illuminating it.
It was only a matter of time until makeshift souvenir stands started popping up. This one has been at the corner of Lumsden and Lithia Pinecrest for a couple weeks. During Bucs season, you can't swing a dead cat without hitting one of these tents.
And, of course, there are the ubiquitous flags flying from car windows.
Got a nice note from a guy who saw my Stanley Cup Game 2 photo album. (In 5 days it's had almost 600 hits.)
Anyway, he says:
Hello from Calgary! Great to view your album and see some enthusiasm from our gallant opponents!!! You have beautiful city and it is my pleasure to enjoy your pictures. At the same time, I would like to invite you to view some photo albums from my city, Calgary and the latest "Red Mile, Flames Fever'' Good luck to your team Lightning on Thursday, (June 3, 2004) in Tampa Bay!!!!
Friendly regards, Rafal
New band name: Drive-By Tattoo.