I am done being interviewed on live Little Rock radio ("103.7 …The Buzzzzzzz!), and I am now standing with the DJs in the front of the bar. The bar is full of University of Arkansas Razorback football fans.
I've taken my shirt off.
I've taken my fez off.
My lucky fez, as I explained in the interview, because "every time I wear it, we beat an SEC team that is supposed to beat us."
I'd like to say there is no good reason I stand half-naked, plucked from the crowd to be interviewed on "103.7 …The Buzzzz!", getting to sing "On Wisconsin" a cappella for the folks back in Little Rock, but that would be a little disingenuous. When you show up at a sports bar in Orlando, Florida, around noon, wearing red shoes, red sans-a-belt pants, a beautiful red t-shirt with a puking Badger on it ("Chuck It Bucky – We Ain't Leaving Till We're Heaving") and a red fez with a Badger pin in it, and then you realize that the pub is full of Razorback fans with a local radio station broadcasting back home, well, I guess you have to anticipate something may happen.
"Man, it was a good thing that was radio," says That Awful Woman (TAW), "because your back hair is not a sight for folks in Little Rock."
"It's not a sight for us either," says Sectio (where's my n) X.
The encounter ends on a happy note, as I not only score a "103.7 …The Buzzzz!" T-shirt, but I get my own clothes back on, join the merry group of Badgers watching the televised University of Wisconsin basketball game, as the #4-ranked UW defeats the University of Georgia, 64-54, and then I walk out into the warm sunshine of Orlando on this final day of 2006.
And tomorrow is 2007 – the Year of the Pig.
It is pretty easy to drive from Madtown to the Beertown airport, which the Irish Mist (Yes!) and I accomplish this December 27. We now enjoy a screwdriver in the airport bar, waiting to meet up with TAW and her issue, the Blue-Haired One and the Hairy-haired One. We will be sharing a flight on Air Tran direct to Orlando, Florida, to watch the 11-1 University of Wisconsin Badgers play the underdog to the 10-3 University of Arkansas Razorbacks in the 2007 Tangerine Bowl. Upon meeting TAW, she gives me a belated Christmas present, Kinky Friedman's book, "The Christmas Pig: A Fable."
The Florida trip is long this year, nearly a week, and a combination family-oriented vacation and reunion of old friends, to boot. What were once obscure bowl outings attended by a few inebriated guys have become big affairs; heck, I have 19 game tickets to parse out. We are flying to Orlando, then driving down to Treasure Island, on the Gulf Coast outside of Tampa/St. Pete's, for a few days of R&R before heading full tilt into the Orlando festivities. I, of course, have overspent on renting a Cadillac to be picked up at the Orlando airport, but heck, one only travels to Florida to overspend, right?
The flight is uneventful, filled with scotch and consumption of several old NY Times Book Reviews, listening to the 70's station ("Running On Empty!") on the headphones. Upon landing, TAW calls us on her cellphone (from the same plane, about 8 rows ahead of us) to announce she is in Orlando! Isn't that FUNNY? Actually, an unscientific poll shows that 1 person (7.7% of the survey) thought this was hilarious, while a whopping 92.3 % thought it was NOT FUNNY. Indeed, TAW seems to be having telephonic issues on the trip, as she also accidentally calls OnStar on the drive to Treasure Island – and the only emergency is that she needs to find a liquor store.
We find that store on the way from Orlando to the Bilmar Beach Resort in Treasure Island, as TAW and I stop to load up on adult beverages. I do have to get a bottle of the Balvenie, which SoCal informs me is again the Official Scotch of The Tangerine Bowl. And the usual other stuff ends up totaling something like $125, but that should hold us for a day or two. The Mist (Yes!) discovers when she gets to the hotel that she bought her gin but forgot the tonic. Oh, the humanity!
Bro' Dave, the Smilin' Engineer, has arrived with his family. An uncoordinated night of unpacking is topped off by a great Mexican meal across the street at some bar called the VIP Lounge, and finally, sitting on the beach with Bro' Dave and the Blue-Haired One, sharing a few brews.
Indeed, the entire reign of King Jonjo Mayo the First might have been forgotten completely had it not been for the fortuitous intervention of a small silent boy and a pig.
--Kinky Friedman, "The Christmas Pig"
Hey, Jerry Ford died. Not sure if it was yesterday or today or the day before, but we will hear about it constantly over the entire trip. It conjures up memories of that 70's room at the Ford Museum in Grand Rapids. I could have spent days in there: 8-tracks, videos of demonstrations, the Trickster going down, paisley, disco, it was a real flashback for a child of the 70s ….
Wow, what was that??!?! I snap out of my reverie to find myself at the beach café of the Bilmar, a bad place called Bazzie's (we wonder if it will rival Scrubbie's of last year's infamy), but the only place you can sit and look at the beach and the Gulf and have the waiter with a broad Bahstan accent bring you sandwiches and several screwdrivers or in TAW's case, some weird juice drink with rum. It makes the morning slip-slide away so fluidly into the afternoon.
"You know, I think your daughter is losing her hearing," the Mist (Yes!) informs me at our breakfast becoming our lunch.
"Who's losing their hair?"
"No, your daughter is losing her hearing."
"YOUR DAUGHTER IS LOSING HER HEARING! JUST LIKE YOU!"
"Oh. You know, I left my hearing aid in Wisconsin." The Mist (Yes!) just looks at me and shakes her head. Again. She does that a lot; it makes me love her even more.
The Rennebohm's down the street makes a great killing by selling beach towels at 3 for $10. I doubt they will last the week, but it saves packing them. So, now we load up the beer and water and reading material and head for the sand and sun. I hack up a loogie just as we're about to leave the beautiful Bilmar, and I deposit it in a trash can.
"Ugh, how gross!" chime in both TAW and the Mist (Yes!).
"What ?!" I remonstrate. "I spit right into the trash. What do you expect me to do?"
"Swallow it," they say.
"Swallow it? Who in the world would swallow something like …. er …uh …."
They are both looking at me with the all-knowing look that only a female can give to one's husband or brother.
"Never mind," I say.
A few minutes later, we are basking on the beach. I keep up the tradition of taking a dip in the Gulf in December. I'm reading the fiction issue of the New Yorker. A few brews, some music (Maria Muldaur singing Bob Dylan's love songs: Good, not great).
This does not suck.
The Bilmar, we are discovering, is a bit funky. The rooms are nothing special, but the windows open up to that great beach and the view of the Gulf. Bazzie's is nothing special, but we can and do gather there to enjoy Happy Hour and the sunset. The entire traveling troupe of the Monsignor family is here: Sistah Barb and the JJ's (a great name for a disco band, I think), Bro Dave with Kathy and offspring, TAW and the various haired ones, even Uncle Fenster and Tia have now arrived. I make a near fatal mistake by going back up the alcohol ladder to have a few cheap vodka gimlets and am feeling quite free as we look for a place for dinner. Here is Gigi's, billed as the top Italian place on the beach, and I talk the troupe into trying it. My lasagne is great, others' meals are OK, but the IM(Y!) is not happy. Is it the veal she doesn't like, or does it have something to do with our conversation after the meal?
"You forced us into going to that terrible place!" she tells me.
"I forced us? Tio, did I force us?"
"No, I don't think anybody forced us," says Tio.
"Well, you were loud and obnoxious!" says IM(Y!).
"Was I loud and obnoxious?" I ask.
"Sure you were," both Tio and TAW respond. "But what's so unusual about that?" Some folks head for Sloppy Joe's, the other hotel bar, but I am down for the count. I don't make it to Sloppy's. In fact, after 3 days at the Bilmar, I never get to Sloppy Joe's. Every time I try, it is closed. I suppose I should try sometime before 1 am.
It is December 29, and we have one more day on the beach of Treasure Island, before heading to Orlando. A day to spend with my bride, as we take a long walk on the beach, spend the afternoon in the sun again, get wet, and then head off late in the afternoon down the coast a few miles to see a wonderful fancy-pants resort, the Don Cesar, the great Pink Lady on St. Pete's Beach. We enjoy a cocktail while watching the sun set, explore the gaudy hotel interior, and I even make a purchase of an equally gaudy glass cutting board with a picture of the Don Cesar from the early 1960s: A perfect addition to our house.
I really do treasure these days when the Irish Mist (Yes!) and I can spend it together at our own languid pace.
We return to the Bilmar to load up the Caddy for our trip into Tampa for dinner. We are meeting X and the lovely Mrs. X (who have been hiding out at the family condo in Sarasota) at Bern's, one of the top steakhouses in America. Uncle Fenster and Tia and TAW join us, and we get our own room at Bern's and proceed to enjoy the top food of the trip.
My gosh, this is great. Some oysters, crab cakes, mac and cheese, French onion soup, shrimp cocktail, salads, asparagus, Tenderloin, Delmonico and the piece de resistance, a 30 ounce Kansas City Strip, split between El Tio, X and me. When the waiter brings out that hunk of beef, it looks like the opening of the Flintstones, where the huge slab o' beef is placed on Fred's car tray.
There is no other word to describe the huge Kansas City Strip at Bern's.
We end the Bern's trip with the tour through the kitchen, learning the lock-step training the waiters go through, viewing the huge wine cellar, and then stopping upstairs for dessert.
We get back to the Bilmar at about 1 am. Like the others, I am suffering from the beef stupor, but that Irish coffee I had for dessert has me awake for another hour or so.
Tomorrow, we leave for Orlando.
I come from a town of 1,800 people, but I had 2,500 pigs on my farm.
-- Bret Bielema, quoted by Jeff Potrykus in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
On the way to Orlando, a group of us stop in Ybor City, second home to all Badger fans, and have a wonderful lunch at the Columbia House. This is authentic Cuban cuisine, and it has quite an atmosphere, also. Just for kicks, we order a pitcher of mojitos. Mojitos, like juice and rum, taste like you're drinking nothing – it is just mint and lime flavored water. Tio and IM(Y!) and I have to do most of the drinking, as Tia is not fond of this elixir, and Sistah Barb is trying a Cuba Libre. This is another good meal, black bean soup for me and the Pollo San Jacobo, a stuffed, grilled chicken breast. Others have salted steak, shrimp, snapper, scallops, all served with some variety of rice.
"I suppose I should get some memento for my Spanish class," ponders Jackson, one of the JJ's.
"Oh, your teacher would really love that," says Tia, she who formerly taught high school Espanol. Jackson recognizes the brown-nose points it may be worth, and scores a free Spanish newspaper to take home.
As we near Orlando, there is a huge accident on I-4, and we barely escape to take some back roads and get to the Sheraton Studio City about an hour later than we planned. The Mist (Yes!) heads for naptime, while I realize we are in full Tangerine Bowl mode now as more and more of the score of people in Monsignor's Traveling Salvation Show are gathering pool-side at the Sheraton.
I've put on my official t-shirt of the 2007 Tangerine Bowl, with "SNAKE" on the front and "badgerbadgerbadgermushroom" repeated on the back. Here at the pool are Chico and Laverne, Papa Duc, TAW and spawn, Bro Dave stops in as do Sistah and the JJ's, X and Mrs. X are here, too, a large contingent of drinkers and talkers. A little later, Chico goes to the airport to pick up Coach and Rayetta aka Mrs. Coach.
SoCal and the lovely Marvene eventually show up, and regale us with their trip from hell. They left Orange County yesterday, and after circling Dallas, landed in Austin, took off and circled Dallas again, and finally landed and spent last night in beautiful Shreveport, Louisiana.
We get in trouble with the rent-a-cops for bringing our own beer to the pool, but Chico sweet talks his way through it while Coach has to challenge the person in a position of authority.
"We have to buy from the pool-side bar?" asks Coach.
"Yes," says the security guy. "That's the rule."
"So this all about the profit motive??!?" queries Coach.
"Don't mind him," says Chico, "We'll be moving on after we finish this round."
There is no consensus on dinner tonight, and we end up with SoCal, Marvene, and Papa Duc at the nearby Trey Yuen's "authentic" Chinese cuisine. The waitress has a hard time taking drink orders, and we soon all switch to Tsingtao beer, which she understands.
We are definitely into football mode now, the relaxing few days on the beach behind us. So be it. The families are planning outings to Universal and Disney; the sports nuts are wondering how the Golden Chokers of Minnechoka could blow a 31 point lead. It takes a special skill to do that, and the next day, it nets Minnechoka coach Mason a pink slip.
I'm tired from staying up half of last night in a coffee fed beef stupor, so while others decide to go Howl at The Moon, I retire to have a little of the Official Scotch of the Tangerine Bowl, and fall asleep very early.
It's New Year's Eve!
The Mist (Yes!) and I are in much better shape than the stragglers who were howling late into the evening. We hear tales of sexy young women dancing on the bars, lots of money being spent to hear another round of "On Wisconsin" played on the dueling pianos, and the strange tale of TAW picking up a strange man.
Apparently, as Coach got into the car to return from Howling last night, he looked in the back seat to see TAW with a man he'd never seen before.
"Hey coach," he whispers to Chico (they all call each other Coach and Mrs. Coach -- don't ask).
"Yeah, what is it Coach?"
"TAW picked up some guy. How's she going to get him in her room with her kids there?"
Chico turns around to look at the back seat and starts laughing.
"That's no guy. That's Papa Duc. He's with us."
I've got that alluring outfit on, the puking Badger and red fez and red pants, as we go for breakfast, and as usual, it is a chick magnet, with several young things telling me it is the best shirt ever. The Mist (Yes!) is well aware of the fact that females flock to the clowniest looking guy on road trips, but she still is not sure the Chuck It Bucky! shirt should come out this early in the day.
Laverne takes one look at me and squeals, "Ooh, Mist, you are sooo lucky!"
I'm polling folks in our group, trying to answer the question that has dogged me since we left Madison last week: What was OJ's motive for (allegedly) killing Nicole? The answers now trend to the simplest human emotion, jealousy, but I do get some doozies:
"It was a barbeque accident."
"He just crazy."
"He hated that bitch."
The afternoon is spent at the Orlando Ale House, where we run into Doug W and his son, Phil and Firkin, the Guv and others, and I have that Razorback encounter of the too close kind with "103.7 …The Buzzzz!" Nice place, the Ale House.
Our New Year's Eve dinner is planned for the Salt Island Chop House, where we had a wonderful meal last year. Myles Longer and Cinco and Terry and Mrs. Terry join us, but the Salt Island is not so great this year. The service is lousy and, although my trout is excellent, the Mist (Yes!) has to send her steak back twice. And, given that the cost is close to what we paid for a great meal at Bern's, we mark the Salt Island off our list.
Now back at the Sheraton, SoCal "volunteers" [sic] his room for our greeting of the New Year. With his connections in high places (hak-kaff, I mean Marvene's skills), they have a room near the top of the tower, facing the many, many fireworks we can see, so we hoot and holler as we watch the sky and watch the Packers beat the Bears, and Brett Favre's tears, and drink some champagne and the official scotch of the Tangerine Bowl and Happy New Year everybody!
A few of us go back to the pool until we get kicked out and then are outside the hotel when the Blue-Haired One comes dragging his sorry tail back from Universal at whatever hour it is when we call it a night.
I pick up a copy of the Orlando Sentinel on January 1, 2007.
On page 2 is a photograph of a New Year's celebration from China: Pigs, jumping into a pool.
It's Game Day!
I impress on everybody that we are to gather at 9 am this morning; I'm not quite sure why, but it made sense at the time. Maybe I figure people will be late.
We're late. As I step outside the hotel about 9:15, nearly the entire troupe is waiting for me, the man with the 19 ducats, which I distribute, and we figure out who is driving with whom, as we plan to hit the Badgermaniac Tailgate, courtesy of Drunk Cloud Tours ("Set your standards low, and then don't meet ‘em!").
On the way, I comment that we will be at the tailgate about the same time we got to our tailgates in Madcity for Badger home games.
"Yes, but those were 11 am kickoffs," notes SoCal.
"What?!? What time is the kickoff today?" asks the Irish Mist (Yes!).
"Err… 1 pm ?" I offer hopefully.
"You got us up at 9 am to start partying at 9:30 for a 1:00 kickoff?!?!"
"Err …. Yes?" I offer hopefully. But the Mist (Yes!) is not amused.
It is, of course, absolutely the correct decision. As we get to Lot B (no dead people this year) and find the Maniac gathering, I see that PLQB and dctrc and the party planners have again done a wonderful job. There is a large crowd here (I'm guessing 75 people); nametags are delivered; I see some Badger Board folks I haven't seen in a year; SoCal is called a "sage;" lots of people wonder about my kilt and fez; the traditional passing of the official scotch of the Tangerine Bowl; a brief appearance by Myles Longer; and some excellent food. I find the boombox and play the CD of "badgerbadgerbadgermushroommushroom" which goes on for about 45 minutes and a number of us do the official dance of the Tangerine Bowl. I distribute the post-season talismans, the plastic Jesae.
The Badger fans seem to outnumber the Razorbacks, although I am again impressed with how friendly the Arkansas fans are. I think we have maybe 20,000 or more Wisconsin fans here. And why not? Under first year coach Bret Bielema, the Badgers are 11-1 and ranked #6 in the nation, the only loss being an early one at Michigan. To top off the Badger season, I got to walk out of Nile Kinnick stadium in Iowa City with the UW a winner over the pig farmers. Wisconsin has a strong defense, a decent running game with PJ Hill, the Big Ten and National Freshman of the Year (1500+ rushing yards), the Outland Trophy winner and All-American in Joe Thomas, and one tough QB who seems to find a way to win, Johnny STOCCO.
But Arkansas is favored! They have a 10-3 record, and are ranked #12 nationally. It likely is an SEC bias, even though the Hawgs have skills. Running back Darren McFadden is a load, finishing second in the Heisman balloting. They also have a stout defense, and an offensive plan that is filled with trickeration.
The key play of the game occurs early on. All-everything back McFadden breaks free in the UW secondary, and seemingly is on his way to a score. But what is this?!?! Jack Ike runs down McFadden from behind, something nobody on Arkansas has ever seen. When the Badger D stiffens, the Hawgs miss a chip shot FG. Wisconsin follows up with a mini-drive (helped by a UA penalty, one of over 120 yards in penalties the Razorbacks will pile up today) and Mehlhaff boots a 52 yard FG to give the Badgers the early 3-0 lead.
The first half see-saws, with Arkansas scoring on a long run by the "other" back, Jones, but with Johnny STOCCO getting just enough time among the sacks and hurries to hit Hubbard for one score and Beckum on another. UW leads, 17-7, at halftime.
There are a few sprinkles throughout the game, with overcast skies. And the wind from the stairs is constantly blowing up my kilt. I kind of like that ….
The Badgers cannot run the ball at all, even trying hard to do so at the start of the second half. Nothing. (The UW ends up with –5 yards rushing for the day!) Bad field position and a vicious rush keeps STOCCO in check, and the third quarter is ugly. Wisconsin goes 5 straight series of 3 and out. Only a stellar performance by the defense, and more penalties by Arkansas, keep the score unchanged going into the 4th quarter. The Razorbacks drive to the Wisconsin 30, 35 and 36 in the third quarter, but get no points.
But the UW defense finally breaks, giving up a short drive and another touchdown by Jones, and it is 17-14 with over 10 minutes left in the game. Nail-biting time.
In the nick of time, the Badger offense finally gets a couple of first downs, only to have Hill fumble. The defense holds again, and gets a break on the ARK punt when there is another penalty. STOCCO and Hill, at long last, lead a mini-drive that chews up over 5 minutes and leaves the Badgers with a 4th and 1 on the Razorbacks 16 yard line, with just 14 ticks on the clock.
"OK, coach, what do you do?"
A field goal risks a block, and if good gives you a 6 point lead. A run could get you the first down and game over, and at least get rid of a few more seconds.
STOCCO rolls out, trying to use up time on a naked bootleg and get the first down, but Kemp whiffs on his block, and Johnny has to run around and get sacked again, using up only 8 seconds. Joe Thomas is screaming at Kemp. Arkansas has one last chance. The Razorbacks, never passing well today, try a desperation toss that Zach Hampton knocks down.
Wow! Wisconsin hangs on to win, 17-14! What a great defensive performance. The Badgers are 12-1, the most wins in a season for UW football. Bielema, the Boy Genius, is only the third coach in NCAA history to win 12 games his first year. He gets the Gatorade bath, and an interview by Erin Andrews.
Sometimes, football isn't pretty. This game is full of mistakes, turnovers, good defense and inept offense at times. The biggest mistakes are those Arkansas penalties. Johnny STOCCO, the MVP of the game, has unimpressive numbers (14-34 for 206 yards, 2TD, 2INT), yet, again, Johnny seems to will this team to victory, and he plays smart by knowing when to throw the ball away (often) and take the sack (often). I'm going to miss his attitude.
We go back to the Maniac parking lot and everybody says an ugly win is prettier than any kind of loss. We pop some more champagne, smoke some cigars, and run into some old friends from Madison. With Penn State's win over Tennessee earlier in the Outback Bowl, the Big Ten is 2-0 against the vaunted SEC.
Victories can be draining, and after the celebration, we go back to the Sheraton and take over the hotel bar. We move the sofas around to watch Michigan stink up the Rose Bowl. We order food from Zeke, the barkeep originally from Fonjulac.
The Coach asks, "I have a question for you. Which movie star do people say you look like?" Sometimes, even the Coach asks stupid questions. Toward the end of the evening, it is just Chico, the Blue-Haired One and me watching this incredible Fiesta Bowl, which Boise State wins in overtime. We are totally spent after a long, victorious day.
It's always better when you win. It's always better when you win. It's always better when you win.
It is a slow morning. We wake up in time to say goodbye to Uncle Fenster and Tia, to Papa Duc. Others we said goodbye to last night, as they have to drive to Tampa to get their flights home.
The Irish Mist (Yes!) and I had thought about going to Cape Kennedy today, but we can't get it together. She ends up sleeping after breakfast. It starts to rain seriously now, and Chico and Laverne and TAW and I are hiding under the shelter by the outdoor pool, finishing up the scotch and the beer and the wine and it is a very relaxing, enjoyable time with no security in sight, and the hotel seeming empty, and what better way to bask in a Badger bowl victory than to watch it rain on Florida while we imbibe? The Irish Mist (Yes!) comes down to see us and then we kiss and hug Chico and Laverne goodbye and it is just the family now, which splits up for various outings. I take a nap.
It's always better when you win. And better when you beat a team with a Hawg as a mascot. Later, as all are packing for tomorrow's exit, I invite my siblings to our hotel room to watch the Orange Bowl, which is boring, but we are trying to finish off some beers, and the jokes are flying. When pondering a potential romantic match for TAW, a picture of Roseanne appears on the TV, and the Irish Mist (Yes!) innocently mentions that Tom Arnold might be a good choice. "At least you know that he is very tolerant," she says to TAW.
"Oh, so you're saying that if he can put up with Roseanne, he can put up with me??!"
"Well, no I didn't mean it that way …."
Bro Dave chimes in, "Yeah, TAW, Tom Arnold's Woman!"
There was once a man from the city who was visiting a small farm, and during this visit he saw a farmer feeding pigs in a most extraordinary manner. The farmer would lift a pig up to a nearby apple tree, and the pig would eat the apples off the tree directly. The farmer would move the pig from one apple to another until the pig was satisfied, then he would start again with another pig. The city man watched this activity for some time with great astonishment. Finally, he could not resist saying to the farmer, "This is the most inefficient method of feeding pigs that I can imagine. Just think of the time that would be saved if you simply shook the apples off the tree and let the pigs eat them from the ground!" The farmer looked puzzled and replied, "What's time to a pig?"
Taking the extra day to be lazy, to recover, to enjoy those few hours watching it rain with friends and family, now that was a good idea. After all, what's time to a pig?
We almost miss the flight home, but end up next to TAW and issue, although the Blue-Haired One looks close to death. I am enjoying the last scotch until the Super Bowl, well into the year of the pig. I've finished John Roach's charming collection of columns about Madison and Wisconsin, "Way Out Here In The Middle." In some ways, given how small Madison is, and given the number of folks I know of our vintage from Edgewood, I am surprised I've never met John. Ah, well, he is famous.
Now just the flight to Cream City, and the drive home. No bad weather yet in the Badger State. We are all tired, but we come back with another Wisconsin football victory. It may not have been a pretty win.
But you know, even a pig is pretty when it is the winning pig.
-- The Monsignor
January 16, 2007
(Monsignor's past travel diaries can be found here: http://www.badgermaniac.com/monsignor.html)