My family was in town the week of 4th of July. It was really nice having mom, dad and my sister in Nashville. We were able to go out a few nights, watch some fireworks and eat a lot of really good food. The family did have the pleasure of meeting some of my friends here in Nashville. Mom had met some of the folks before when she was here for SEC tennis last year, so it was nice for sis and dad to get a good feel of what's going on in my Nashville life. To me, that is one of the down-sides to being so removed from the family. Granted, it was worse when I lived in Illinois. I suppose with dad retiring and sis about to finish up grad school, I just hope to spend more time with them. There's never enough of it.
We did a little sigh-seeing, by finally going to The Parthenon and The Hermitage. I don't do nearly enough of the sight-seeing, and I live here! For the 4th, we decided to forgo the large crowds in downtown Nashville and drive to Franklin, TN. This is one of those places that just screams small-town living, in the shadows on a big city. Loved it. We brought some chairs, sat in the town square and listened to a bunch of live music. Fireworks came at the conclusion. Only bad part? You couldn't see the fireworks from the town square! We made the best of it though.
We wound the week down having a great dinner at MY favorite restaurant in Nashville, Jimmy Kelly's. Wednesday night we took our last night out on the town, hitting some of the honkey tonk bars. Always a good time. The family then left Thursday afternoon. It was nice to have my space back in the house, but sad to see them leave. Fortunately, I'll be able to see them at the end of August, when Vanderbilt opens the gridiron season at Wake Forest. Hopefully sis can pull away from her school to visit too.
The very next day began my Summer of Jay road trip. Now, some of what you are about to read may frighten or disturb you, but suck it up and read anyway.
I hit work for a few hours Friday morning and then jumped on a plane to Raleigh. When I arrived, my good bud Michael Ward picked me up and we drove to Greenville, NC. There we picked up his wife, and drove to Emerald Isle, NC. We stayed there Friday night, hung out on the beach all day Saturday, went out for a nice seafood dinner that evening, and then drove back to Greenville to spend the night. Sunday, we woke up and started our drive to Charlottesville, VA, around 1pm.
Before I go any further, I'll give a little back story. Ward, Steve Flippen and I all worked at Northern Illinois together. Flip helped me get the gig up there, as we'd been buddies from grad school. Ward attended App State and had worked at NC State. So once we were all up at NIU, we had that instant North Carolina connection. We hung out all the time, really just trying to enjoy the great white north. We would work events, go on road trips and the classic, just sit around and play video games. After we all left Illinois, one by one, we decided we'd have to go up one more time as a group. We made some good friends up there, and we thought this would be a great vacation. And it was.
. So we arrive in Charlottesville to a lovely dinner prepared by Steve's wife, Katie. After dinner, we were a little tipsy, and watched the Flippen wedding video. High comedy here folks. I'm not sure what was funnier, watching the face of the pastor as she dropped the wedding ring, or watching Ward and I make fools of ourselves while giving the camera a retro WWF interview, telling Flippen he made the right decision, "walking that aisle." Hell, we replayed the ring drop at least 10 times, even did slow-mo. In case you weren't reading the Lowe Down last August (shame on you), this was more than funny because the lady stressed to us how important it was to take care of the rings. Her face when SHE dropped it, priceless.
We woke up Monday morning and began the long trip to Bloomington, IL. Now, NIU isn't in Bloomington, but our good friends Steve and Kim Ekhoff are. Kim was out of town Monday night, so when we arrived, Steve had the cold beer waiting on us. Now, me trying to explain this house will not do it justice. It was like turning on an episode of MTV's Cribs. The house was unbelievable. Flat screen TVs every where, even in the freakin' bathroom. Are you kidding me? Kim and Steve both serve as pharmaceutical sales reps. Bastards. Every room had even the smallest detail, for instance the dining room had seven different layers of crown molding in the ceiling. SEVEN! To be honest, I don't think any of us wanted to leave that place even though we knew we'd have to.
Tuesday morning, we got up early to pick up the new NCAA College Football game for the PS2. Two games were played, both of which won by ME! Damn right. I'm back. After that, we grabbed some lunch and drove back to the house just in time for Ekhoff to get away from work. We ventured over to a casino boat for a few hours ... long enough for me to lose $40 and Ward to lose $60. Ekhoff did walk away a winner though. And Flip? Well, Flip is just a wuss and didn't bet. Ok, so he is smarter than the rest of us, but since when is being smart FUN??? We had a few drinks at the bar, we decided to go to a club. Now normally I don't go to these types of clubs before dark, but what the hell ... I'm on vacation. So we spent about an hour there, then made our way back to Ek's neck of the woods for dinner and then to finally meet up with Kim for drinks. We didn't plan on staying at the first bar very long, but after Bon Jovi came on the Jukebox, we knew we had to stay.
We pretty much took this place over, and there were only five of us. It gave us all time to be silly and just talk and sing and enjoy hanging out like we used to. I had some really good talks with Kim about relationships and all that mess. I've been at a loss the past few years, and just trying to make sure I know what I want has been a challenge. Kim gives good, sound advice ... probably advice I've been given before, but just need to hear again from a soothing voice.
So enough of that sappy crap. The bar was shutting down around 1:30, and before I left I got a few pictures taken with the bartender ... ohhhhh, she was soooooooo hot. We then piled out of the bar, and then I proceeded to get into a scuffle with traffic sign. Someone had the bright idea to go to another gentlemen's club, although the closest one was 30 minutes away. Kim gave us the green light, so we all piled into a cab and took off. We have the stereo turned up the entire ride and either we entertained or drove him crazy, but the cabbie appreciated our patronage. He dropped us off at the steps, and then the rest of the night turned into hell ...
As soon as we got out of the car we all started to walk in, but Kim wasn't feeling so hot. Being the good hubby he is, Ek stayed outside of the rest of us went in for a bit. Let me just say, these woman ... UGH! Terrible. SO un-entertaining, Ward and I both started to fall asleep. We ended up walking back outside to call the cabbie to come pick us up. Now, Ward and I play around a lot. We are both totally rude to each other and have been known to pretend wrestle from time to time. This night, things got a little carried away, and I've never felt more embarrassed. It all started as us just joking around and somehow my glasses got knocked off and becoming scratched. In my drunkenness, I became pretty pissed and started acting like an ass, yelling at Ward and just being totally stupid. I really don't remember what all happened, but Ward gave me a pretty good shove (although I didn't fall down, ya punkass!), and about that time I started to sober up and Ek and Flip jumped in. I remember being pissed as shit on the car ride home, furious. I woke up the next morning pissed again, but this time not at Ward. I was upset with myself. Here was this guy, who I've been friends with for almost three years, and I was acting like a complete ass the night before. Good thing for me, Ward is a good guy and we both apologized. The entire night quickly became the butt of most jokes the rest of the week.
Wednesday, we ended up in DeKalb. I'll be honest, it was strange pulling back into that town. Even more odd to walk back into the Convo Center, home to the department of athletics. I wasn't sure who to expect or what to expect, but surprisingly, everyone seemed happy to see us. We made our rounds, checking in with as many folks as we could, and we also had the opportunity to meet the new AD, Jim Phillips. Each of the three of us bitched about DeKalb and NIU from time to time while we were there, but it actually became comfortable being there again. There is certainly a different attitude around there. It was needed. I love Cary Groth to death. She was almost like my DeKalb mom when I lived there, but I believe the move which took her from NIU to Nevada was a positive move for both NIU and Nevada. She was able to take her skills to a new program, and NIU was able to almost rebirth itself. Just like any mid-major, there will still be challenges when a new regime takes over, but 90% of the time it is for the best. That's the business we are a part of and the business we love. It shouldn't be about egos or taking care of our friends, it should be about the betterment of student-athletes.
After the visit to the Convo, we ventured over to Fatty's, our old standard. It was dinner time, so we some dinner and KB joined us from Raaaackferd (or, better know as Rockford). After dinner, we made our way down to Mollie's for Jason Hayes' going away party. Hayes was the assistant wrestling coach while we were there and is now leaving to teach kids. What is this world coming to? Just kiddin' man. We ended the night there, just visiting with a few friends and a few drinks.
Thursday, we made our way to St. Andrews. Yes, St. Andrews is the site of the British Open, which happened to be taking place last week. However, our St. Andrews is in West Chicago. Thanks to our good buddy Brett, who apparently now is a playa' with the ladies, we took in a long but very enjoyable round of golf. We paired off, Brett and me vs. Ward and Flip. At first, I felt terrible. Brett is really damn good, and I didn't want to bring him down. I actually played the first few holes well ... and when I say well, I mean no double or triple bogies. As we progressed, we were able to find a few free drinks on the course and also ran into a Scottish dude who wasn't too happy with the speed or our play. It is people like that who make the game less enjoyable for people like me, who suck as it. We shook it off though, and after 18 holes, Brett and I walked away victorious. And you can bet your ass I milked that one for a few days.
We returned to DeKalb and drove straight to Joe Novak's house, the football coach for NIU. He was kind enough to welcome us into his house, where we discussed NIU, college football and our new jobs. Coach has always been interested in people. He could've easily not invited us over, but that is just the type of guy he is. He cares. I think I can speak for all of us and say that he was easily one of the highlights of the trip. Personally, I've always been impressed with him. He is a hell of a ball coach and an even better person. Thanks for the time, Coach.
We hit Fatty's again for dinner and drinks. This time, more of our buddies showed up. Ekhoff came back to join us one last night, as did Brad Hoey, KB and Kristie. Around midnight, Flip went home but Ek, Ward and I had one more place to hit. We ended up at Starbuster's, owned by our bud Nick. DeKalb bars normally close at 1pm on week days, but he put us in the VIP room while he was cleaning out the rest of the place. We then came back downstairs, and drank for free until 4:30. We ended up going to breakfast with the manager of the 7-11. Where else does this shit happen? I finally left the breakfast place when I saw the sun coming up.
So Friday, we were supposed to go to the Cubs game. I'll give you one guess to determine if we made it ... and you are correct, we did not. One of the main reasons for this trip was to hit Wrigley again. Well, we didn't have tickets and we were all hung over as hell, so we made the decision to go watch it on TV instead. Kim picked Ek up from the hotel, and then Flip, Ward and I met Stedman and Brett for lunch. We hung out in Sycamore for while, sobering up and watching the Cubbies beat the living hell out of the Pirates. Good move not to go. We ended up playing some more golf, this time in DeKalb. I'm slowly improving my golf game, but I still suck.
The evening rolled around, and it was one last night in DeKalb. As we were sitting at, you guessed it, Fatty's with Stedman, Kristie, Gretchen, Pontus, Hoey and KB, I felt comfortable all over again. I felt like no time had passed. I was surrounded by people who I care about, in a town where I found out a lot of things about myself. It was this town where I felt my heart beat again. It was this town where I discovered, through some frustration, what I wanted to do with my life. It was this town where I made some friends I'll never forget and always enjoy seeing. It was this small, out of the way town, where I ended up enjoying a year and a half of my life. That doesn't seem very long, I know, but it was a hell of a learning experience.
The drive home was too damn long and too damn tiring. I've got a ton of great pictures from the trip, and I'm trying to find a way to make a slide show to send out. If you are interested in seeing it, just let me know. My email addresses is below the banner on the top of this page.
So back to the grind in Nashville. I'm preparing for football and feeling good about it. I've learned how to delegate a bit more this year, which is a damn good lesson to learn. Fortunately, I have some good folks by my side helping me tackle all of these things. We may not have all of the resources, but we do a pretty decent job getting everything rolling.
So there's my long vacation update. I need a break from typing.