Like A Machine

3 01 2011

In the beginning, the campaign was tough. Very tough.

I was a political novice, taking on the establishment. In those early days, I would often remark than I was, ‘going against the machine.’ It was a nice play at words and a poke at Florida’s machine vote-counting method.

Yes, I was opposing the very political machinery running Panama City. A true underdog in every sense. My opponent was a popular incumbent, whose family had a rich tradition in the restaurant business.

He was elected by a 40 percent margin and no one dared throw their hat in when re-election time came. Four years later, with the economy in shambles and having been chewed up and spit out by some of New York’s finest, I figured, quite simply, I had nothing to lose.

“Some of the best politicians are never elected, John,” Jim noted as we motored out of Monroe on a warm Thanksgiving morning.

Like the year before, we stopped at a Holiday Inn in Shreveport for the Turkey Day buffet. It was a blue haired crowd — the average age had to be hovering around 80. Some had canes, others walkers and this made navigating the buffet somewhat challenging.

Jim didn’t care too much for his peers. Most of his associates were younger. He preferred it that way. I was probably the oldest chap to make his vacation cut, for a second time no less.

And I was much wiser this go around. Knowing what to expect helps. Ever the engineer, Jim was resistant to change. We stopped in Dallas again on the second night, at the same high-rise hotel on the westside of Downtown, near Love Field. The Cowboys were playing in Arlington that day and as we checked in, the last shuttle from the hotel was departing with eager fans dressed in their best blue and white gear.

It had been a rough year for the Dallas Cowboys. Mounting losses had led to the head coach’s dismissal at midseason. There would be no playoffs this year for America’s Team. We watched the game in the room and I listened closely to Troy Aikman’s commentary. He was trying to be fair, despite his strong ties to Dallas. I admired that.

The Cowboys played well before eventually bowing to the defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints. I’m often asked about my sports writing days and I usually remark about how those were the best days and nights of my life, little did I know it at the time.

I was a young ambitious reporter then. Not content with making 20 grand a year in a small Alabama town. The bright lights and ‘live and let live’ allure of the big city was too distracting. In Texas, it would eventually consume me.

Back in the Lone Star State, eight years later, I was ready to confront those bright lights again. So Jim and I headed down the Cedar Springs highway for a visit to the “Gayborhood.” Naturally, Jim had our evening itinerary already planned out, from the parking to dining and drinking.

Like a machine, that Jim.

And I was just a cog.



Monroe Management

20 12 2010

Monroe, Louisiana the night before Thanksgiving. Not even the gay bar is open. We did manage to find a local, independent restaurant by the river, built on warehouse site with beautiful cedar interior walls and a reputation for friendly service.

Jim went straight for the bar, passing by a pretty young waitress with no tables to serve. The place was empty, sans a few of the help.  When we pulled up the stools, the waitress, ever persistent, followed, but seeing three guys behind the bar, Jim didn’t give her the time of day. He put his order in with the bartender who turned to cook, who spoke to the manager, who approved and the waitress went home. Such a pro, that Jim.

We spent dinner mostly catching up on the past year’s events in local politics. Being a Republican, Jim kept his distance from my campaign. He did, however, attend our kickoff party on the Beach, which, as luck would have it, came on one of the most rainy and nasty days of summer. I recall my points on solar power getting a few chuckles that day.

After dinner we went back to the hotel, where a friend of Jim’s was working in the lounge. He was a native of Monroe and had seen Jim make this trip many times before. We chatted briefly about the economy, the oil spill, mutual connections in New Orleans, that kind of stuff. Nothing too probing.

The lounge was full with members of a wedding party. There were a lot of guys dipping smokeless tobacco and drinking out of bottles. Some made croonin’ attempts on the karaoke machine. It was rather amusing.

Jim and I retired back to the room after just one drink. As is customary, Jim sleeps with the television on, turned up loud — Fox News still his choice for information. We talked a little bit about Monroe. Jim told me how he did a lot of business with the paper mill here and the emergence of natural gas as a major industry for the region. Then he drifted off to sleep.

I settled into my bed and did a little social networking on my I-phone. The drive to Monroe didn’t seem near as boring as last year. I think my new glasses helped. This year, I was noticing different things, seeing people through different eyes and, there was no doubt, I was a different man.

Tomorrow we would give thanks — and we both had much to be thankful for.



13 12 2010

Hello All!

Just returned from vacation again with Jim. This year we were stronger, wiser and mucho mucho happier. I feel as if I grew up emotionally on this trip. I saw Las Vegas through new ideas. I met people with different perspectives, from different backgrounds and enjoyed our discussions.

At 74, Jim managed to drink me under the table. A former pilot, he adjusted to the altitude well. The Southwest continues to amaze me. The landscape so beautiful and the natives very hospitable.

It’s a newer America, wide open spaces, visiability for miles and miles. People live on ranches with large tracks of land. We city dwellers back East tend to forget just how close our quarters can be.

Monroe, Louisiana was the first stop again. An eight-hour drive from Panama City. It was the night before Thanksgiving and the city seemed quiet. There was a wedding party at the hotel and the festivities eventually spilled over into the bar.

This is where our adventure begins.