A New Perspective on Family

9 03 2010

I woke up around 10 a.m. Sunday morning. It was one of those rare mornings on the trip that Jim didn’t rouse me at the crack of dawn. And for that I was grateful.

I called Keith and he said he’d be by the hotel in about an hour to pick me up. I was looking forward to spending the day with my brother, Courtney, his loving wife and their beautiful baby girl Dillan.

Keith took me back to their townhouse in nearby Irving, a suburb of Dallas that for many years was home to the city’s beloved professional football team — the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys were my childhood favorite team and I watched many a game on Sundays after church. Dad usually watched them with me, but for some reason, he never rooted for the Cowboys. Dad always sided with the team playing the Cowboys. Maybe this was his way of establishing a rivalry between us.

Keith always rooted for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, even when they won just a couple of games. He was loyal like that. Still is.

But on this Sunday, football was far from anyone’s mind. At the townhouse, Courtney pulled out their wedding album and suddenly we were skipping down memory lane. They had been married just a few short years, but the images seemed like so long ago.

For a guy my age, I haven’t been to many weddings. Just not my scene. Maybe one day I will tie the knot. They say it’s a life changer. Much like having a child. My little brother has done both and I am very proud of him.

Looking through the photos with Courtney was a bonding experience. My mother looked so happy. It was fun dancing with her at the reception.

After looking at pictures, we went shopping in the SouthLake section of Dallas. Turns out, dining with a toddler can be quite entertaining. Dillan was well behaved but she requires a lot of attention. You gotta make sure she doesn’t put just anything in her mouth. And luckily, she didn’t throw her food at anyone. I’m pretty sure I did that as an infant.

After we were finished, Keith left a hefty tip. “We like to eat out just like everybody else,” he said.  This was a new perspective on family.

I was impressed at how well Keith navigated the stores, especially that bustling Barnes & Noble, with a loaded down stroller. It made me think about the summer in New York and noticing all those young couples pushing their baby strollers through Central Park.

Strolling through SouthLake

I remember the look on their faces. For some, it was a look of sacrifice, while others appeared downright miserable. And then, there was the couple whose smiles could light up Broadway.

That’s what I saw from Keith and Courtney. I guess you would call it joy.

That night, after baby girl was put down to sleep, Keith helped me download some songs to my I-Pod. We talked a little about the upcoming college bowl season and then it was time for me to leave.

Courtney gave me a big hug and she asked Keith to take a few pictures of us. When I left, she had a tear in her eye. I hope it was a tear of joy. I really don’t care to be pitied. It’s way overrated.

On the ride back to the hotel, Keith and I mostly talked about the economy. He said the recession was starting to creep into his health care sector and, like most of us, he was none too thrilled.

“It’s going to get better,” I tried to assure him. At that point, the entire trip’s air of optimism had taken hold, “And, we’ll all be stronger for it.”

When I got back to the room, Jim was already fast asleep. We had a 12-hour drive back to Panama City ahead of us.

And I was ready to go home.

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Dallas ReDeux

18 02 2010

Roswell to Dallas was the next leg of the trip. It was our second go-around in “Big D” and Jim, not one to detour from schedule, had us booked in the same high-rise off the interstate in Irving.

I called my brother as we got into town and we made plans to get together the next day, a Sunday. I was looking forward to seeing little Miss Dillan again.

That night Jim and I had dinner at the Black Eyed Pea restaurant. It was in the Oaklawn neighborhood, a trendy section of Dallas and fairly crowded. I think the drawing power of this place isn’t the food but it’s proximity to J.R.’s.

Erected in Dallas

After our meal, we walked down to J.R.’s for a drink. Funds were starting to run low, so Jim advised we had best order beer. During our first swing through, I had let the conversation come to me. This time, knowing it would be my last metro, urban experience for a while, I decided to get more aggressive with the patrons.

At this hour it was mostly those professional types. Guys with jobs, careers and a whole ‘lotta attitude. Challenge accepted.

As we sat with our backs to the bar, I noticed a group of guys standing around, drinks in hand, and shooting the bull. They were obviously all friends and it was nice to see. Naturally, I focused on the smallest one, a Ginger dressed in a sweater and slacks. Preppy as hell. When he made his way to the bar to order drinks, I saw my opening and introduced myself as a tourist from Florida.

“Oh, ok, welcome,” he said and smiled.

I introduced the Ginger to Jim and then he asked why we were in Dallas.

“I have family here,” I said. “My brother lives in Irving.”

The Ginger thought that was nice and must have picked up a decent enough vibe off me to introduce Jim and I to his gaggle of friends. They were all pretty swell guys. The senior statesman of the bunch was a married fellow who apparently liked to hang out with gay men. I enjoyed talking with him. Turns out it was his birthday and the guys had brought him to Oaklawn on a Saturday night to celebrate. Surprisingly, the married guy knew a lot about Panama City. Much more than the Ginger.

The Ginger was a school teacher. That explained his preppy look. He was a tad older than me, but not by much. One of his friends was an insurance adjuster and surly as hell. One of those queens that thinks he’s better than everybody else. I gave him my card, but he didn’t seemed impressed.

The Ginger, however, was very sweet. He invited Jim and I to join his group next door at the dance club. Jim had been before and was interested in seeing the laser light show. We made it in just before the cover charge kicked in, which was a good thing for a Saturday night. The place was huge, multiple levels with bars, stages and sofas everywhere.

After we walked around for a while, the group settled on an upstairs room with glass walks overlooking the dance floor. Jim took a seat up close so he could watch the lights and the people dancing below. The music was very loud and very trance like.

The Ginger took a seat by me on the sofa. He was clearly smitten and I, quite frankly, enjoyed his company. My aggressive tactics were paying off and sure enough, the Ginger invited me back to his place to spend the night.

“I have to tell you, it’s a small loft,” he said. “But, it’s close by.”

I thanked him, but declined the offer. My priority tomorrow was family and I was determined to get a good night’s sleep. This seemed to impress the Ginger even more and he gave me his number, insisting I call when I was free.

I never did.

Jim and I left the club just as the youngsters began filing in.

“So you turned him down, huh,” Jim cracked as we drove back to the hotel. He knew what was going on. The ol’ engineer wasn’t watching just the light show.

“Yeah, I guess I did,” I said.

Jim laughed and then he said something, I will not soon forget, “The hunt can be more fun than the conquest.”

Wise words indeed.