Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Zimmermans are Home!

Dear Friends and Family,

We got back to Baton Rouge on Tuesday, August 5 after a 600+ mile car trip from Tennessee. We spent the last four days of our vacation there after my sister-in-law had surgery on July 29. She came home on Saturday, August 2 and is resting and recuperating well.

The unplanned trip to Tennessee cancelled our RV trip to Sanibel Island, FL. It may be just as well, as the weather was scorching and no one had to connect and disconnect the sewage hose. I did make a day trip there in July with my parents.

Our trip was an unforgettable experience, most so for reconnecting with family and friends that I hadn't seen in far too long. I highly recommend doing this--don't procrastinate--just make plans to get together with long-lost loved ones.

On the tourism side, I particularly enjoyed my boyhood home of central NY in midsummer, by far its best time of year. I also loved Boston, though I don't think I'd go back for 4th of July fireworks on the Charles River. I know now why Bostonians are so proud of their city. The National Holocaust Museum in Washington was a jarring place. The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum let me enjoy a museum with on the lighter side. Savannah was beautiful as always, and St. Augustine looks like a place one could spend an interesting day.

I can't say as much for Pigeon Forge, TN. If you're heading for the Smokeys,
spend the extra money and stay in Gatlinburg, or better yet, plan ahead and camp in the National Park.

We ate a lot of good food along the way. Maybe the best overall was at Enzo's in Brooklyn, where we ate a family-style Italian dinner with our granddaughters. Afterwards, I had the treat of taking Annabelle down the street for ice cream. I also enjoyed eating lobster on Cape Cod--a great hands-on experience.

Weather and traffic were generally benign. The worst traffic we encountered was on the Washington Beltway (no surprise there) and driving through a rush-hour rainstorm heading into Orlando. I hope never to encounter again vehicles driving in the breakdown lane, as I did heading into Boston. Rain threatened our family photo in Sylvan Beach, NY, but a nearby gazebo saved the shot.

If you're ever in DC on a Sunday, I recommend the All Souls UU Church. We enjoyed the most energetic and inspirational church service there of all we attended.

I wish that I could have done better in the National Scrabble Championship, but lack of studying and desire to succeed probably had something to do with my poor showing. Still it was fun to see "Scrabble friends" from near and far, especially a woman from California who I've been playing for at least six years online -- we finally met face-to-face and even played a couple of live games across my mom's dining room table.

Now that we're home I'll be heading to Houston on August 19-21 for more scans and an appointment with my oncologist, in preparation for starting chemotherapy in September. I'll send another e-mail update after the appointment and post about it on my private blog Let me know if you want to become a reader of this blog.

My photos from the trip (the good ones anyway) are all on

My narrative is at

Now that the trip is over, I'll be heading back to my regular public blog I may do some reorganizing there and start separate blogs on my favorite subjects of sports, traffic and baseball.

I hope that everyone had a great summer. Thanks for the many messages of interest and support sent to us along the way.

I look forward to seeing my Baton Rouge-based friends very soon.

Love to all,


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Day 59 - Headed Home

My almost two-month long odyssey ends today, weather and traffic permitting, as we return to Baton Rouge from a four-day stay at my sister-in-law's house in Tennessee.

Monday, August 4, 2008

NSC Diary Day Four - When Will This End?

Day Four - After finishing Day Three with three straight wins, I started Day Four with renewed enthusiasm, but soon found myself thinking (like you as you read this, I suspect), "when will this end?"

Game 22 was with Lila from New Orleans, one of the women I saw at the reception. I've played Lila several times at tourneys in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Houston. I don't have the stats at hand, but I think we're about even during those games. I know I won our last game--one that I should have lost. This game began in hideous fashion--I exchanged seven twice; there was no score above 22 until Lila made JAYS for 36. Even so, I was only down 144-122 when she played PASsION. My next two turns included another exchange, this time only three tiles. By the time I finally played my bingo, KNItTERS, she was up 291-146. My bingo scored a juicy 86, but only reduced the margin to 59. She smartly blocked my outbingo, STROBILE. I settled for the non-bingo BROTHEL for 15 and lost by a 285-381 score. Overall record, 8-14, -577. The NSC scorekeepers found 20 points for me between Day Three and Day Four, kind of like finding an open deck chair on the Titanic. I forgot to mention that Game 22 found me on Table 58, out of the back row. I figured that more play like this would take me back home.

Leprechaunlike Dan from Virginia was my next tormenter in Game 23. I had to exchange six from my first rack, but recovered with MAIZE for 37. Dan responded with TALKIEr. Later his lead ballooned to more than 200 points when he played ADVISER. Desperate for a bingo, I tried ANNULERS*, which is no good with either one or two Ls. Final damage report - 237-448, a difference of 211 points, my second worst game of the tournament. Overall, well let's skip that.

Game 24 matched me with Tim from Massachusetts. He answered my opening bingo of ANNOyER with ABATING. We played along with his lead seemingly expanding with every turn. It mushroomed to 105 points after he played SPLICES. Unexpectedly for both me and him, he set me up for FLOATERS while thinking he was blocking my bingo. No matter, his remaining tiles made UnTIMED for a bingo to go out. Final score, 375-478. Overall, 8-16, -891. My three wins in a row had been negated by three losses.

Back to the back row, Judy from Houston and I matched our sad records in Game 25. Judy is one of my favorite people in Scrabble. She directs the Houston club which hosts a wonderful tournament, the Bayou Bash, every Labor Day weekend. I even played there in 2005, just a week after Hurricane Katrina, and 10 weeks after major surgery. I was "lucky" enough to draw both blanks early and found ToRNaDIC. After I played ICKY for 42 to open a 37-point lead, she answered with OUTAGES. I got RELENTED to eke out a 1-point lead, but RUSTING put her back in front. I despaired. Her last five tiles were OHIAA. There was no way I could stop her from putting the H on top of OMBRE to get enough points to win. I decided to make my best play otherwise, VEENA for 28 and see what happened. Not seeing HOMBRE, she tried the H in front of ICKY to make HICKY*. My only hope was to challenge. To my delight and her dismay, the play was UNACCEPTABLE - X. Off it came. I played AS to go out and win by 30, 396-366. I was too excited to get the score right, though I knew I had won. Judy had to remind me that the 23 points she got for HICKY didn't count. Overall, 9-16, -861. Another afternoon like Monday would leave me with some sense of respectability and a better record than the 12-19 I managed in New Orleans.

To my surprise, I was matched with Matt from Texas in Game 26. He must have been in a slump because he usually plays a division above me. We played another tight defensive game until I found myself with both blanks, two Us, two Ns and a very tight board. I couldn't find a bingo, so I played off TUG to create another opening for my bingo. He covered the T with ZITIS for 68, taking a 111-point lead and making my position almost desperate. I replaced the U and T with I and Y. I couldn't find a bingo there either. After Matt played BRAVE to cut off two bingo lanes. I played another frustrating non-bingo of MEN with a two-blank rack (my bingo had to start with O), Matt surprised me by passing his turn. I played off a P in PAX and drew the last tile. My rack was OUTRI?? Matt blocked the O line as best he could, sticking the S in PEDS in the middle of it. To bingo out (and still not win) I had to make an 8-letter word starting with O and with the S in the sixth position or find an 8-letter word with S in the fifth position. There are none of the former, though I tried OUTRISes*, and only one of the latter, RUgOSITy, which I didn't find - I tried TROUSIng. I finally bailed out to TOURiST elsewhere on the board for 10 point, burning 50 overtime penalty points in the process. Final score, 224-386. I was wiped out, both mentally and scorewise. Overall, 9-17, -1023.

In hindsight, and at the time, Game 26 didn't upset me nearly as much as Game 27 against Roger from Ontario. Roger got ready for the game by getting a big hug from his girlfriend and installing his earplugs. I tried to shake off the horror that was Game 26. I got off to a terrible start by allowing ANALISE*, going back to my old habit of giving Division 2 opponents too much credit. I got away with PRIAM* (which is an old brand of modem, not a word) and later played FILCH for 47 to get back in the game. But things looked better toward the end as I drew the second blank (Roger played the first in QiS). Roger blocked my bingo or ORATIoN. There was an opening for RATIONeR, but I knew the word was no good, and that Roger would challenge it, given that the game was on the line. Rather than using my seven remaining minutes to keep looking for ANTeRIOR, which did play, I played off and hoped for better the next turn. Running low on time, Roger managed to go out while losing only 10 points of overtime penalty to claim the win, 369-383. When he pointed out ANTERIOR and I looked up ANALISE, I was sick. I didn't know how I'd get through the last game. Overall, 9-18, -1037.

Playing my friend Judy again (my first repeat opponent of the tourney) in Game 28 sure helped, as did drawing an early blank to play AILErON. Judy answered with FELSITe to take a 34-point lead. I played from slightly behind, catching up slowly until Judy's last rack full of consonants sunk her. I played WINTER for 30 to take a 31-point lead. She answered with PINS for 27, but when I went out with AWEE for 13 the game was mine and the tournament was over. I hope Judy didn't mind my play-by-play commentary, "And the crowd goes wild!" Final game score, 385-368. Overall record, 10-18, -1020. Fortunately, the players using my equipment back on Table 58 had finished their game, so I was able to pack up right away and leave perhaps my last ever NSC in Division Two (at least for awhile, as I lost almost 100 rating points), unless I make some kind of effort to improve my game. As they almost say on Bravo Network, we'll see what happens.

Here's a picture of NSC 2008 champion, Nigel Richards of Malaysia. Nigel now holds the singular distinction of holding both the world and US titles at the same time, even though the two tourneys are played with different dictionaries.

Thanks very much for reading to here. You are a true friend and fan of the game.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Good Afternoon From NSC Diary Day Three

INTERMISSION - The NSA and Hasbro hosted a player's reception after Day Two. Presciently, they moved the event indoors (by the 7:30 p.m. start time a cloudburst had rolled into the resort area). The Kona Islander Lager was outstanding. Hors douevres quality was mixed. The company, at least the folks I sought out, was great. I found three women from New Orleans, Rhonda, Maneck and Lila, against whom I've played in many tourneys over the years. I also found Vivienne, a wonderful 83-year-old woman from Toronto, who taught me many on-line Scrabble lessons when I first got started. We chatted about her life in Toronto--she organizes charity Scrabble tournaments--recruiting celebrities from the worlds of literature, entertainment and sports to raise money for senior citizen needs. I'd met her in San Diego in 2002. Seeing her again was one of the highlights of the event.

Game 15 was with Connie from Philadelphia, a nemesis of mine from early days of online play in 2000 and 2001. I'm not sure she recognized me with the beard, or remembered me from meeting at the New Orleans NSC in 2004. After nine tuns of this one I had the grand total of 138 points, having exchanged seven tiles on my last two turns (all vowels followed by all consonants or vice versa). When I finally got a playable rack I made DEW for 30 points. She used the new hook to bingo with ETOILES. I exchanged again--this time only five. She played AURAI* as a vowel dump--I looked hard at it, but let it go--only 18 points and it made a home for my MARKER. On the next play she faced the "block or score" challenge. She scored 22 with ENS. I was happy with her decision as I fit OUTGAIN under QUIT for 77 points. Still I was down more than 70 after she responded with VEEP for 43. ZARF for 40 was fun, but the final margin stayed at 70, 339-409. Overall record 4-11. I'll catch up with the overall spread later.

Poor Ann, a 1600+ player from Texas with just two wins in 15 games was next in Game Sixteen. Our game almost sent her over the edge. She opened with TORSADE. I responded with SOLANGE*. She let it go--I'm not sure what I was thinking of. I should have played TANGELOS using the T in TORSADE. A few plays later I made the beautiful find of POTPIES, which I played with some concern whether this was one or two words. She came right back with tWINIER. PIQUE for 32 helped me get the lead temporarily, but she got both PIQUET for 46 and PIQUETS for 53. I thought I was doomed. I had a blank, but no opening for a bingo. To her own despair, Ann provided an opening with VINIER. The V stuck out into open territory perfectly for me to play GOVErNED and go out. Final score, 472-427. Overall record, 5-11, -603. Ann didn't get much sympathy from her husband, who thought her call was the hotel wakeup call. He hung up three times before answering--probably the saddest story of the tournament.

Game 17 matched me with Dan from California. I'd seen him lingering in the back row and figured it was just a matter of time before we met. I could have waited as he opened with RELEAsE and followed two turns later with PROVIDER to take a 66-point lead. His next bingo was STRAITED*, a phony that I didn't challenge (STRIATED from the same tiles is good--and the word set up a 50-point QUIDS for me). I never really got a toehold in this game and lost 333-401. My overall record dropped to 5-12, -671.

I've played David J many times in my life, but not the David J from Illinois who was my Game 18 opponent. My DJ, an 1800+ player, moved from Louisiana to Oregon a couple years ago. He missed the 2008 NSC because of an interfering yacht race in the Pacific Northwest. In this one I made the first bingo, NEATENs to take a small lead, but David got the last one, an unblockable SiLVERS to post a narrow win, 331-349. My overall record reached its NADIR at 5-13, -689.

After a morning of three losses and a gift win, I was ready for lunch, although I knew it wouldn't be very exciting. Rather than go out (no transportation as my mother dropped me off each morning) or walk to the hotel and spend $20 on the buffet (too lazy and too cheap), I ate a half-sandwich, bag of chips and a Coke each day from the canteen set up near the playing room. I also used the time to take advantage of the hotel's outstanding free wireless network, primarily to work with my vacation pictures. Back at my mom and dad's I've been struggling with a connection made through my daughter's cell phone--sort of a dial-up, wireless hybrid. On Saturday and Monday I bought a big cookie to use for an energy boost in that last game before lunch, generally one of my weaker efforts.

Lunch brought the metaphorical afternoon sun out for me. In Game 19 I faced Francis from North Carolina, a civil engineering student from NC State. I wished him good luck with his (and our) bridges. This was a close, high-scoring and fun game throughout. We matched bingos with SATIETY and RAREFIES (I almost played ZINCY before I saw the bingo). He got the next bingo with RUTTIEST and followed with DHOW for 43. Another loss loomed until I drew the Q and played QAT and QI for 45 to retake the lead. The Scrabble gods allowed me to pull both blanks, denying him a chance for a late comeback. My game, 453-413. Overall 6-13, -649.

I played another backrow denizen, Erica from Pennsylvania, in Game 20. I learned that she was rooming with Vivienne. We talked about what a wonderful person she was and about the joys of the Delaware Valley. I got a bingo, PETTERS, on turn two. She made LOrDLIER a couple of turns later, but still trailed by 54. GUANO for 8 seemed to sum up the rest of her game, though she did make XENIA for 51. A second bingo of cLEARING sealed the win for me, 447-338, one of my smoothest games of the tournament. Two wins in a row! I didn't know quite how to act. Overall I improved to 7-13, -540.

Game 21, the last of Day Three, was with Shah from Virginia. I drew well and played SATINET on the opening play. A couple of turns later he tried VARANDAS*, which I recognized as a misspelling and challenged off. Later I foolishly opened the board with NARK. He pounced with MINERALS to pull within 20 and then PIX to get within 7. At that point he was overwhelmed with consonants and I pulled away to a 375-316 win. Three in a row! A winning day (4-3)! Improvement day-by-day (one, then three, then four wins)! A "decent" overall record possible with a big Day Four. The serotonin was really flowing. Overal, still a dismal 8-13, -481 but it could have been (and would become) a lot worse. But I didn't know that when I fairly skipped (oops, I forgot, I don't skip anymore) out of the Royal Pacific Ballroom.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

NSC Diary Day Two - Famine or Feast

I mixed up my GLB racks. It turns out that my opening rack in this game was the one that spelled GHIBLIS. I played GLIB. My Game Eight opponent, Cynthia from California (I had my days mixed up too - Connie from Philadelphia starts Day Three), bingoed with ARrOWING. I came right back with HALIDES. CHAFE for 48 put her back in the lead while I exchanged seven. A few turns later I played SOONERS, a word I knew was good because of the discussion that surrounded my play of SpOONER the day before). Cynthia challenged and lost her turn. I next played the appropriate REJOICE to open a 59-point lead. The lead shrunk to six by the end, partly because I allowed LEON*, knowing I could win even though I was about 99% sure it was phony. Final score, 402-396. Overall, 2-6, -233.

In Game Nine I played Luise from Nevada. She whipped me in New Orleans at the 2004 NSC. The outcome this time was much the same. I tried SEMIOTE* to open. (SEMIOTIC is good.) She challenged it off, but still I led 87-38 after she exchanged five. On her next play, an 80-point bingo of LIBRATeS gave her a 118-87 lead and she never looked back. She followed with VARIANCE and OsTEOID to build her lead to 326-179. I played enough U's and E's to get 300, but lost 309-473. Overall record, 2-7, -407.

The lopsided final score of Game Ten against Adrian from Illinois belied it being another potential giveaway on my part. The first nine turns were a defensive struggle. I got by far the best play with ADOZE for 77 and held an 18 point lead when Adrian played SHAD after a long spell of thinking. While Adrian had been thinking I decided "no matter what" that I would play QAT to block the top row. SHAD set up EDDY for 30, and I foolishly abadoned my strategy to take the points. Of course, Adrian bingoed across the top with AIRLINEr for 74. To amplify my pain, he then bingoed out with LODeSTAR and a 428-272 final score. Overall, 2-8, -563.

After the first ten games I was in no mood to apologize for my good fortune in Game 11 vs. Joe from Pennsylvania. After Joe bingoed with PINTOES, I came back with the double-double (a word covering two double word score squares) bingo MISBRAND for 102 points. My draw was terrible. I threw it all back and two turns later made SERENELY for 86. Joe fired back with WeTLANDS for 86 of his own. The next post-bingo draw was much better. I found HOsIERY and hooked it to MISBRANDS for another 95. Joe's cylinder was empty; I still had FYCE (48), RAW (31), another bingo RAGOUTS (63) on my next three plays and closed with TOPH for 48, which Joe inadvertently left open while trying to minimize my score. Final score, 565-412, my highest score ever in an NSA-sanctioned tournament game (or club game for that matter - I've made 597 on line). Overall, 3-8, -406.

A Californian, Mary Aline, was my opponent in Game 12, but my hot "streak" ended at one game. She made two easy bingos, ATTIRED and RENTING. I fought back with words like QUEUED and JOIS(t), but fell 19 points short, 376-395. Overall, 3-9, -425.

I still bear the healing bruises of Game Thirteen vs. Stan ("The Man") from New Mexico. The game resulted in the extreme longshot sight of two non-Philly-area-based players wearing Philadelphia sports gear (my Phillies cap; his Eagles jersey) at a Scrabble board in Orlando. Stan said he just liked the Philly teams. He didn't even know where the Delaware Valley was. He knew how to play Scrabble, bingoing on three straight early turns with PIASTER, WIsEMEN*, and RAVENiNG. I tried ROOTINGS*, but Stan challenged it off. After the run of bingos, Stan continued a barrage of 30-plus point plays. I held on, june bug versus hurricane, to quote Lucinda Williams. Final score, 270-512. Overall, 3-10, -659--possibly my low point of the tournament. I stopped checking the standings well before this game.

Game Fourteen, the last game of Day Two, was with Larry from Florida. I had my big game in New Orleans vs. him, so I felt pretty confident, despite the recent thrashing from Stan. Things went my way early as Larry challenged PRETOLD, which is good. Later I played CLAImING. Larry found URANOSE, but I carried the game to win 417-334. Overall record after two days of play, 4-10, -576. Three wins on the day offset by three trouncings wasn't great, but it was a far sight better than my Day One record. On to Connie and Day Three.

Friday, August 1, 2008

NSC Diary - Day One - Descent to the Back Row

The 1500+ rating I built through modest success in Scrabble tourneys in Louisiana and Texas put me squarely in Division 2 of the National Scrabble Championship in Orlando. After Day One I wished they could demote me to Division 3 or lower.

Registration on Friday preceded the tournaments start on Saturday. The walk through the giant hotel and conference center took at least 10 minutes. I was very happy to see another apparent Scrabble player heading toward me as I followed the hotel desk clerk's directions to the Scrabble venue. When I found it I offered to hug the registrar, but settled for a handshake. Registration involved filling out a W-9 form, authorizing the IRS to withhold income tax from my winnings ("ha!"). I also got a cap, T-shirt, and a new Trivial Pursuit game (Hasbro's contribution) in a canvas Scrabble bag. On the way out we found a drop-off point just feet rather than seeming miles from the playing room.

I showed up on Saturday full of enthusiasm, if not new words or recent practice in live games against top competition. My last tournament was the NAST event in Baton Rouge in February. My Game One opponent was Jack from New York. I played him at the New York City Scrabble Club on Christmas night several years ago. He wiped me out then; I did a little better on Saturday. He exchanged seven on the game's first play. The tiles he drew made AVOIDErS on his second play. I came back with TARRIERS and then PAINTeD to take a 22-point lead. Later Jack played the little word UN to create a new opening. I considered blocking, but went with ZA for 33 and a 55-point lead. Bad choice. Jack bingoed with LICENSE and SUN. I still held a 15-point lead with myn response of REVS for 30. My next play cost me the game. Jack put PRE in front of the Z to make PREZ. I considered covering the new opening, but went for ROM at the bottom of the board for 22. Down came QUA for 46 and my goose was cooked, even though LUV left me only 9 back. I had tracked the tiles and should have recognized the danger of QUA being played. Defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. Final score Jack 459; Dave 430. 0-1, -29.

My Game Two opponent was soft-spoken, gracious Wendell from Florida. I played this game entirely from behind after he found ROlAMITE on his third play. RINgERS pulled me to within 7, but my last hope died with he played VANITY on his next-to-last play. Final score - 392-406; overall 0-2, -43.

I played Elspeth (a Scottish variant of Elizabeth), also from Florida. Playing first (though I'm not sure if I was supposed to - the NSA changed to rules for this), I played the easy-to-find RELINED. Elspeth came back a few turns later with MEDIAtE. From there the game stayed with 10 points until I pulled the tiles for QUANTS for 45 and the win - 394-389, a big five points. Overall 1-2, -38.

Game Four with Judy from Massachusetts got off to a similarly auspicious start. After opening with JAMBE for 48 and following with AEDILES for 77, my lead was 151-37. Judy roared back with EROTICAL, PESTERED and WInELIKE* to retake the lead, the latter of which is phony. Having seen so many -LIKE words, I never questioned whether WINELIKE* was good. It turns out that WIrELIKE, playable from the same rack, is good. The game ended soon after my desperation play of EROTICANA, which drew a laugh from Judy as she challenged it off. I told her that it another 20 or 30 years it might make the dictionary - an eroticana being a gun-and-knife-show-like for adult sex toys. In fact, I'm going to Google that "word" and see what happens. Though I didn't get a lot of hits, the word seems to already exist to describe pornography collections. Final score - 378-431; overall 1-3, -91.

My Game Five opponent was Glenda from Oklahoma. I've played her several times in Texas tournaments and usually won the game. In the first half of the game, she got two bingos (ANTENNAS and HASTIER) to my one (OPERATiC). Later she made a beautiful play, front-extending ZED to LIONIZED for 36. I drew the second blank, but couldn't cash it for a game-winning bingo. In fact, the search put me 9 seconds into overtime and cost me another 10 points. Final score 365-441; overall 1-4; -167.

Mike from Florida got the first bingo, ENGORGE, on his second play of Game Six. I spent the rest of the game trying to keep the board open for my own answering play. When I finally played SpOONER* (which is phony; SNOOzER and SNOOpER from the same tiles are good), it was too late. Mike let the play go because he could still win. My tracking was poor and I even let him get TZAR for 23 to go out and catch me with seven points on my rack. Final score 314-373; overall 1-5; -226.

Game Seven against the lovely Joan from New York looked like it would be my salvation for the day. This may have been the game where I landed in the back row ("death row" to some) -- the last line of tables in each division where those at the bottom of the standings battle it out with one another. Although I decided not to play GHIBLIS on the first play (was afraid of misspelling it), everything went beautifully (CURSERS for 83 being the prettiest play) as I built a 290-189 lead. Then I blocked the wrong spot and watched Joan play mANQUE for 72 and AZO for 48, the latter of which I should have seen coming, much like QUA in Game One. Joan converted the second blank into HaD for a modest 22, but enough to win the game. Score 379-392; overall 1-6, -239.

Exhaustion didn't help me much at the end of Game Seven. Almost every game was close and required a lot of thinking. With an ugly 1-6 record, I couldn't get out quickly enough for a post-game beer. Looming on the first game of Day Two would be Connie from Philadelphia, an on-line nemesis from a few years back.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Days 49 - 52 - Scrabble Struggles

July 29 - For most of the last four days I've been secreted at the Loews Royal Pacific Resort in Orlando competing in the National Scrabble Championship. Twenty-eight exciting games in four days - what could be better? Winning a few more would help. After 25 games, my record is a poor 9-16. I'll write a comprehensive report tomorrow, but until then, check for some pictures and stories.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Days 45 thru 47 - Cooling It

July 21 - 23 - I spent most of the week relaxing at my parents' house living out an expressed desire to go nowhere. I made a couple trips to the pharmacy and one to a medical clinic, but otherwise stayed at the house posting pictures, playing Scrabble online and watching Monty Python on DVD. My big trip out was to O'Shucks again for a second night of Karaoke. This time I sang four times in about three hours.
Watching Monty Python was great fun. Do you remember the Spanish Inquisition, cheese shop, Crunchy Frog and Scott of the Sahara sketches? I watched the bicycling tour of Cornwall twice. I'm still trying to find Spam and a couple others. The originals are much funnier than Spamalot on Broadway.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Day 44 - Life Without Tiger

July 20 - Despite Tiger Woods being home recuperating from knee surgery, we organized our day around watching the final round of the British Open golf championship on TV. Tiger's place in our hearts was filled in part by 53-year-old Aussie Greg Norman, a champion of 15-years past who inexplicably led after three rounds of a tournament he entered only as a tuneup for the upcoming British Senior Open that he had a realistic chance of winning.

With the action happening in England five hours ahead of us, the TV coverage started at 9 a.m. We watched just long enough to see Norman bogey the first two holes to squander his lead, then went to church to pray for the rest of his round. We got back at about 12:45 and watched the rest of the competition in wonderful DVR-delay mode. After the first nine holes, Norman's main competitor, Irishman and defending champion Padraig Harrington, had faltered a fit, allowing Norman to hold a one shot lead going into the last nine holes of the tournament. The regained lead lasted not at all as Norman made more bogeys to give the lead back to Harrington. For awhile it appeared that Englishman Ian Poulter, the self-proclaimed "next Tiger" with his own marketing company, would best both leaders, but Harrington took over on the last six holes, making three pars, two birdies and a sensational eagle on the par 5 17th hole, where he ripped his 240 yard second shot to within three feet of the hole. Our DVR tape ran out before Harrington could play the 18th, but by then he had a four-shot lead that he couldn't possibly lose. Norman finished in a tie for third, behind Harrington and Poulter, but I don't think he was too disappointed, given that his expectations ahead of the tournament were "nil", and that he could find solace in the arms of his new bride of three weeks, retired tennis star Chris Evert, who looked great for a 50-year-old woman dressed in three layers of clothes. She dressed that way because the whole tournament was played in winds ranging from 20 to 50 mph, sometimes accompanied by a cold rain, making Norman's contention and Harrington's finish even all the more remarkable.

Back to church. We attended services at the First Unitarian Church of Orlando. With their minister newly retired, the service was lay-led. A retired therapist gave an interesting talk on his life experiences with the theme of "necessary but unwelcome change". I always have a great time chatting with fellow UUs, and other congregations appreciate my hymn singing, though they included one hymn that neither they nor I knew. After the service they served a nice vegetarian lunch. We ate a bite and headed home for golf before we could learn about the program that inevitably accompanied the nice meal.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Turkey Day 43

July 19 - The girls made it back safely to Baton Rouge by late afternoon. I enjoyed a lazy day in front of the TV, watching first the British Open and then the FOX MLB game of the week between the Angels and Red Sox. In between, I took a nap.

With all that rest and a couple of meals I was ready for an early evening walk around the neighborhood. This turned out to be an unexpected delight as we encountered the neighborhood flock of wild turkeys. Two walked across the street right in front of us. Another seven or so looked on bemusedly as I took pictures. A smaller group of egrets scrounged for food on the other side of the neighborhood pond. Neighborhood lawns provided a variety of flora shots, including my mom's fruit trees, one of which has a basketful of grapefruit hanging from it.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Day 42 - So Long, Farewell and Other Songs

July 18 - Despite staying up until 2 a.m, the girls got up and out in good shape, though the desired 8:30 a.m. departure time for home got pushed back by about an hour. After the first time out of the garage, they came back at least once - to pick up Kay's cell phone and charger - and maybe a second time - to give me some cash - I'm not sure if they made it out of the driveway in between. We got a call from Kallie in Alabama at about 7 p.m. telling us that they were safely at Erin's house, where they'll spend the night before continuing on to Baton Rouge on Saturday morning.

Mom and I had a quiet day. After the family left, we watched golf until it was time to leave for her MRI appointment. The imaging center had golf on TV in the waiting room. On the way home we found a couple of locations of interest - the Royal Pacific Resort where the National Scrabble Tournament will be played, and O'Shucks Pub, home of Karaoke every night.

After the gruelling schedule of riding around and watching golf, I took a nap. We ate leftovers for dinner, nicely served at the table. At our house, leftover dinners are often "every man for himself."

We headed back out into the world a little after eight, this time back to O'Shucks for Karaoke. We didn't know what O'Shucks, located in a strip mall off International Drive, would be like, but hoped for the best, and had the backup plan of going to the Rising Star club at Universal, a clear second choice because of the $12 parking fee and long walk from the garage to the club.

O'Shucks turned out to be pretty cool, albeit smoky and eventually crowded with tourists, many from overseas. Buzztime Trivia helped kill the downtime between numbers. There were even a few regular trivia players to compete with. We got there early enough for me to be the second singer after the hostess - I opened with The Beatles "I Saw Her Standing There". Everything clicked and I got a nice hand from the small crowd. More than an hour later I got the call for my second song. I'd submitted "Wonderful World" ('don't know much about history...'), but she lost my slip (but fortunately not my place). She asked me what I wanted to sing. I switched to "Eddie" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show", the song I couldn't stay long enough to sing in Savannah. This is such a fun song because you get to sing in about six different voices. I'm not sure how many in the crowd knew it because almost no one joined in on the catchy chorus, "Eddie, when he said he didn't want his teddy / you knew he was a no good kid. / But when he threatened your life with a switchblade knife / What a guy! / Makes me cry / Und I did". The role and appearance of Eddie in the Rocky Horror Picture Show is very poorly explained, even though there's a song about him and he sings a song ("Hot Patootie" - my least favorite song in the show.) In any even, I pulled off "Eddie" pretty well and the crowd seemed to like it.

The wait for song three was long and anxious as the 1 p.m. closing time for Karaoke approached. Finally, at about ten til one, a third rotation began. I went back to "Wonderful World". It took a verse for me to figure out the accompaniment and to sing in the right octave, but the rest of the song was pretty good. Mom said I sang on key, a step up from many other singers, but then again, she's my mom, what's she going to say? I think I'll try for a midweek return to O'Shucks, after we see if our smoke-infested clothes can be reclaimed. I have six request slips already filled out and next time I might even bring a camera with charged batteries.

Day 41 - Downtown Disney

July 17 - We had another "off day" before Kay and the girls head back toward Louisiana on Friday. I watched the British Open on TV while they slept in the morning. In midday, Dad and I went out for an oil change and wash (for the CRV) and a haircut (for both of us). We got the haircut at a shop in the nearby town of Kissimmee, which so far seems to have mostly avoided the Disneyfication of the area. Its old-fashioned downtown street looked like a lot of other small Southern towns. The haircutters were barbers instead of stylists, all guys. My barber actually shaved my neck with a straight razor--I can't remember the last time that happened. All that was missing was a red-and-white barber pole. Back home we emptied the CRV and vacuumed it. It will be nice for the crew to go home in a clean car.

While we were out the girls went shopping - Kallie came back with a couple of outfits. After a lasagna dinner we all went to Ghirardelli's in Downtown Disney for a chocolate something - Kallie and my mom live for this. They do it at least once on every trip - probably more often. My chocolate milkshake was fine, but the highlight of the outing for me was taking pictures outside the Lego store. They've created a garden of Lego sculptures outside and a series of Lego dioramas in the store windows.

Kallie got her Florida driving in when we got back home - just around the neighborhood with her Grandma and Grandpa in the car. If she can pick up Alabama and Mississippi on the way home she'll have driven in 19 states - almost unique, I suspect, for a 15-year-old with a less-than-two-month-old learner's permit.

Kallie, Kay and Mom all worked on a portrait of me to submit to the National Scrabble Tournament. Here's the one we sent in.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Day 40 - Doing Nothing

July 17 - After almost six weeks on the road, we took a day off at my parents' house in Orlando. My big effort was to take a prescription to the local CVS pharmacy. The girls watched old episodes of Project Runway all day. Kay read her book.

In the afternoon we had a taste of future travel as I drove my parents' RV in a training session for our August trip to Sanibel Island. Successful driving requires taking everything nice and slow, no matter how hard the other motorists are cursing and shaking their fists. The big challenge of the campsite will be hooking up the sewer line. I'm not sure I can bend down far enough to do the job. More flexible Kallie refuses to get that close to the filth. We'll figure it out.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Day 39 - I Saw St. Augustine

July 15 - This was my last serious travel and sightseeing day, and we did a good bit of both. The girls got moving a little early. We made our exit from Savannah before 10:30 with Kallie driving. She handled a couple short stretches of limited access highway--even managing an on ramp and driving almost 60 mph at one point.

We planned all along to eat lunch in St. Augustine, FL, the oldest city in the U.S. The trip to that point was smooth, and our lunch at Conch House, which we found from a billboard, was both delicious and entertaining. The restaurant was part of a waterside resort. We were there at low tide and saw a plethora of marine creatures - crabs, pelicans, roseate spoonbills and boat-tailed grackles, the last of which scavenged the remains of diners' meals.

After lunch we tried a self-guided tour of St. Augustine. Kallie took a few pictures, but mostly it felt like we were trying to navigate all the one way streets rather than see the sights. Without a guide it's hard to distinguish the real historical buildings from the faux historical buildings. We recognized the fort and Flagler College, which was once the Ponce de Leon Hotel.

The final leg of the trip from St. Augustine to Orlando was a driving adventure of sorts, as rain and traffic stopped our progress about an hour east of Orlando. On the radio we heard about an accident blocking two lanes of I-4. We exited about four miles too late (they took about 20 minutes to cover) and asked Sac for advice. She took us to another road that the traffic reporter said was flooded. We conferred with my mom and dad in Orlando and decided to press on and deal with the flood if we find it. We found more traffic, but never went underwater. The trip took an extra hour but we arrived in time for dinner and the Major League All-Star Game--all 15 innings of it, ending at 1:30 a.m. It would have been hard indeed to miss that one.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Day 38 - Savannah Sights

July 14 - I spent time in Savannah when I lived in Orangeburg, and on a short trip with Kay back in 1994, and knew we would enjoy another visit to this charming city. With a lot to see in one day we chose the "on and off" trolley approach. An air conditioned trolley would have been better, but we did get the full Savannah summer experience.

We boarded the trolley at about noon. As usual, our first sensation was hunger, so we got off at Six Pence, a English pub-style restaurant. Their food was great, at least my tilapia, rice and vegetables were. This was one of the best restaurant meals I've eaten on the whole trip, and I've eaten a lot of them. We got back on a different trolley, this one whose driver had a charming British accent, if somewhat corny narration style. The restored section of the city is remarkable, covering a couple of square miles, and encompassing working parts of city life, not just residences or tourist locations. The effort to preserve the city began in the 1950s, and has made Savannah a very popular tourist destination. The city has also been featured in many Hollywood films including "Forrest Gump" (our first narrator/driver had us recite the line in unison about the box of chocolates - I passed) and most prominently "Midnight in the Garden and Evil", an adaptation of a true crime novel set in Savannah.

Our second cool down spot was the St. John the Baptist Catholic Church. To their great credit, the church was open free of charge. Many other landmarks on the tour had an admission charge of $5 to $10. After The Hermitage and Independence Hall, Kallie expressed no interest in any more inside tours of historical buildings. I would have thought that the prospect of A/C would have enticed her.

After another few sights, we were ready for rehydration. We disembarked in the City Market for an iced tea, beer or dessert. I could feel the iced tea being absorbed into my cells. From City Market we rode to the end, again seeing River Street (which is especially bumpy in a trolley). Back at the Welcome Center we left the trolley for good and decided to check out the Savannah College of Art and Design as a possible college destination for Kallie. One building was locked, but the second was open. To my delight, the open building also housed a small display of 20th century photographs and of older printed materials (maps from the 18th and 19th centuries) and even older folios and pages - a few going back to the earliest days of printing in the 15th century). Kay and the girls had to be patient with me - these beautiful items inside a cool dark building were hard to leave.

Leave we did, though, heading back to the hotel to rest before dinner. I downloaded the many pictures from the day to my computer and to Photoblog, while the girls watched TV. By about 7 we were ready for dinner. We planned to eat at the Pirates' House, the most noteworthy restaurant in town, and one I remembered from previous visits as serving good food apart from its historic location.

The food met expectations for the most part - mussels cooked in garlic butter were especially yummy. We ordered in pairs - Kallie and Erin had the same food; Kay and I both ordered steaks. Kallie found chocolate mousse (both dark and white) for dessert, while I worked on a giant piece of peach ice cream pie.

Bless her heart, Kay found a restaurant/bar with Karaoke on a Monday night. We tried to take the girls, but the place turned out to be more bar than restaurant and the girls weren't welcome. We took them back to LaQuinta (Spanish for "the fifth" it turns out, though as I remember from the billboards, they say it means "free high speed Internet" or "recently remodeled") and made the eight-mile return trip to McDonough's.

It took awhile for the party to get started. A large group of young people celebrating a 21st birthday was more interested in smoking (outdoors, thank goodness) than singing, but the host and I kept things going for awhile. I opened with Bruce Springsteen's "Pink Cadillac", which I know well and is exactly in my vocal range - a definite keeper. Next came Jim Croce's "Working at the Car Wash Blues", which I've done before. Both of these are fun songs to sing. I didn't get much response - the crowd was somewhat self-absorbed, and too young to remember these numbers.

I stretched my range and sang The Beatles' "Dear Prudence" next. The first accompaniment was almost non-existent. With a second try, the host found the music I was familiar with. People knew this song, but it was a little outside my range on the high side, so I'd rate my performance as just OK. I went back to my comfortable range with Warren Zevon's "Lawyers, Guns and Money". The host really seemed to like this one, though the ending drags on a bit to accommodate a long guitar solo--there's not much for the vocalist to do beyond a few cries of "huh!"

The crowd had really filled out by this time. One girl did an amazing version of "Total Eclipse of the Heart". Her boyfriend made me laugh with "Ice Ice Baby", the original white rapper anthem. The birthday girl and a friend tried "Fat Bottomed Girls", but they were almost too drunk to pull it off. After this performance, the partiers hustled out the cake and sang Happy Birthday before the honoree passed out.

My last number was Elton John's "Candle in the Wind" (about Marilyn Monroe). This one is familiar and in my vocal range. I sang it reasonably well and got my best response of the night. I wanted to sing one more (from Rocky Horror Picture Show), but I would have been six or seven down on the list. We decided to head back to the girls. I expect to find another singing opportunity during my Orlando stay.

We head for Orlando (via St. Augustine) in less than three hours. I'll be there until August 2. The girls head back to Alabama and Baton Rouge on Friday. I don't know yet if I'll blog day-by-day after today's trip. I'll have to see if enough happens. I plan to spend a good bit of time lopping around my parents' house. A home-cooked meal and the Major League All-Star Game are on the agenda tonite.

Many more photos from the day are available at I hope you enjoy them.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Day 37 - Orangeburg Reunion

July 13 - We headed south from Myrtle Beach to Savannah, stopping along the way in Orangeburg, SC, where I lived and worked from 1977 to 1987. I showed the family my various residences and where I worked and played (softball and Frisbee golf), and we met an old friend of mine for a late lunch/early dinner. Kallie did her driving stint through rural SC between Myrtle Beach and Orangeburg. She was passed by 23 cars, most of whom were probably racing home from church to eat lunch.

In Savannah we played a game of Scrabble by the pool and then headed to the Riverwalk for a late snack. The Riverwalk is a fun collection of hotels, restaurants and shops on the Savannah River. Musicians and artists also perform, a la the New Orleans French Quarter. A blues guitarist invited me to sing a couple of songs with him--I did "House of the Rising Sun" and "The Ballad of Curtis Loew"--neither went quite as well as they did at Karaoke in New York--there I was more familiar with the accompaniment and had help with the lyrics. Still it was fun, and Erin shot some video. Maybe I'll have the courage some day to watch it.

Check out more pictures from Orangeburg and Savannah at

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Day 36 - On the Beach

July 12 - We spent a relaxing day in Myrtle Beach at the hotel and on the beach, going out only for food - bagels for breakfast, Damon's (no trivia) for lunch, and Italian for dinner. Everyone enjoyed the break from life on the road, which will resume soon enough. We didn't do any of these pictured activities, though Kay did spend a lot of time on the beach reading, and Kallie and Erin played in the waves.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Day 35 - Pigeon Forge With Sand

July 11 - Our trip from Chester, VA to Myrtle Beach, SC was one of our best yet - about 320 miles covered in just over 7 hours. A quick lunch at Subway helped keep us moving. Kallie's driving stint took place between Fayetteville and Lumberton, NC. She got off the road just in time as the next "turn" was an on ramp. US 74 in North Carolina is setting up to become I-74.

I told the girls that Myrtle Beach was like Pigeon Forge with sand--a collection of tacky amusements and shops. I don't think I missed it by much. It hasn't changed much since we were here on vacation in the '90s.

The Holiday South hotel in Myrtle Beach is no jewel of hospitality, but it does have its good points--a balcony with an ocean view, a beautiful pool, and access to the beach after less than a 50 yard walk. Our room has a fridge, microwave and stovetop, but two days just isn't enough time to set up for housekeeping. Otherwise it's a typical older beach motel with mildewed rugs and peeling paint. Kallie was put out that both the ceiling and the walls were spackled. Decoration is not a value here. Neither is Internet access or cell phone coverage. The building is a concrete bunker of sorts, which appears to interfere with cell phone signals - kind of like living in an elevator shaft. They don't offer wireless Internet either (or wired for that matter), but the desk clerk did tell me that I could probably get a signal at the picnic tables outside, which is where I am right now. I have become enough of a fixture here for people to comment on their way in.

The girls are upstairs watching "Nancy Grace Weekend" on CNN Headline News. They've become big fans of the feisty former prosecutor/now TV host's exposes on lurid crimes. I find her a little too intense, which I suspect is mostly for our entertainment. They also saw her playing herself in the Will Smith movie "Hancock". Erin came back insisting that every movie would be better if Nancy Grace appeared in it.

Kay insisted on eating a seafood dinner in a non-buffet restaurant, a bit of a trick in Myrtle Beach. We drove about 10 miles to nearby Murrell's Inlet before we found such a place, the Inlet Crab House. We tried sitting outside on the patio to enjoy the beautiful weather and live music (a one-man band--singer, guitar and laptop accompaniment), but South Carolina's famous gnats drove us indoors as they swarmed around Kallie's crab leg dinner. Back at the hotel we crashed early. Tomorrow should be a nice relaxing day around the beach and pool.

Day 34 - Hail to Thee, Proud Delaware

July 10 - We got back on the road Thursday morning, bound for a return visit to the Wilsons in Chester, VA. I left my Phillies cap there on the way down. Allen offered its return in exchange for beer. With the unspoken promise of a night's lodging and a meal, this seemed like a no-brainer to me.

En route we drove through Delaware. In particular, I wanted to see what the University of Delaware looked like. I graduated there in 1976 and haven't often (ever?) been back since I left the Delaware Valley for South Carolina in January 1977.

The quad where my dorm was located, and the adjoining academic quad were essentially unchanged, but otherwise I could hardly recognize anyplace for all the new construction. Main Street was still the commercial district, but as you'd expect, all the business names had changed in the intervening 32 years, and many old buildings had been torn down and replaced. I saw a poster for the Deer Park Tavern, notorious watering hole for underaged drinkers in my time at the U of D, but didn't see the tavern itself.

The basketball arena and football stadium on South Campus were also easy to spot. Delaware's basketball team has produced no legends or reasons to upgrade the arena. Delaware Stadium exhibited one change--the field was named after legendary coach Tubby Raymond, who led the Fighting Blue Hen football teams through the '60s, '70s, '80s and '90s. He was also the father of Dave Raymond who was at Delaware the same time as me. He went on to fame as the first Phillie Phanatic, the greatest mascot in sports, as I've mentioned at least twice before.

Kallie drove when we left Newark, giving her the privilege of driving over Delaware's greatest physical landmark, the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, affectionately known as the "Big Ditch". The bridge was under construction, but Kallie held herself together well driving on a narrow lane with pylons on one side and a concrete barrier on the other.

Later I drove across the large and much more impressive Chesapeake Bay Bridge, which connects the Delmarva (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, get it?) peninsula to the mainland. The remaining trip through Maryland and Virginia was uneventful. We found some Yuengling Beer (brewed in Pottsville, PA) in a convenience store in Chester and were ready to go.

After dinner we watched History Channel shows about car crashes and the history of ice cream. The youngsters (now there's an old-fashioned word) went to see Will Smith in Hancock. Later on we switched to Baseball Tonight and watched Ryan Howard hit two home runs vs. the Cardinals. The Phillies won the afternoon game 4-1, and the series with the Cards two games to one.

Tomorrow the Wilsons board a plane for Florida and we continue south by CRV to Myrtle Beach, SC for a couple days on the beach.