Las Vegas. A desert oasis that sprang from the sand and tumbleweeds as the vision of a group of "gentlemen" of a particular sort of venture that would be considered, well, how do you say it…? Illegal? Yes sir, they had indeed found a place to run their particular "investment schemes" in relative safety from the law. And one of them was named Bugsy, so how can you argue with their motives?
Now, those original "developers" have been pushed out and mega-companies that own multiple casinos and resorts own and run the place. And even though I've been relatively lucky on the slots throughout my Vegas career, they don't build places like Bellagio or Paris because they expect you to win. In the end, the house always wins but every now and then a lucky sap like me hits two sevens and double bonus and I get to walk away with slightly more money than I came in with. Perhaps this is why I never have a penthouse suite waiting for me when I check in.
Of course, lately we've been staying at The Cannery on the far north side of town, away from The Strip and all the bright lights (but way closer to The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway) and they don't have a penthouse suite, so that settles that. Over the years we've stayed at the old Imperial Palace, Monte Carlo, the Alladin, MGM Grand, Paris, Mandalay Bay, and probably a few other places I can't (or don't care to) recall. It's all kind of a blur, actually.
The first time I ever visited Las Vegas I had flown over there from my home in Dana Point, Calif. (I bet you didn't even know about that one) to see my good friend and former roommate Pete Delkus, who was playing Triple-A level minor league ball in the Minnesota Twins organization. He was a submarine relief pitcher (he threw "submarine" style, he didn't pitch aboard a submarine, that would be silly). Pete's Portland Beavers were in Vegas to play what was then the Las Vegas Stars, who are now the more inventively named Las Vegas 51s (Area 51. Get it?).
Anyway, I guess this had to be 1990, and I was in Dana Point working for Converse Shoes while Pete was playing in the Pacific Coast League, and when they came as close as Vegas I flew over there and watched him pitch. I stayed in the same hotel as the team, and apparently the Portland Beavers were a tad cost-conscious. We stayed downtown, in old Las Vegas, at a hotel/casino by the name of the Las Vegas Club. It's still there, although from what I've read they finally closed the hotel portion but kept the casino open. For my first Vegas experience, that was one that was far different than any others I've ever had. Also it's the only time I've ever been to a baseball game in Las Vegas, or watched a buddy of mine pitch onboard a submarine. No, wait… You know what I mean.
Did you know that back in the CSK days they held their annual managers' meetings in Vegas, and the race team was always a big part of that. We stayed at the MGM Grand a couple of times and Paris once, and each year the weekend was capped off with a banquet for about 2,000, and special musical guests in concert. We had Brooks & Dunn one year, followed by Huey Lewis and The News, and finally the last time CSK held the banquet it was Earth, Wind and Fire. All great shows, but I think we all collectively had the most fun with Huey Lewis, who then went out for a drink or two with the race team after the show. A really cool guy.
And did you know that Del and Connie Worsham were married at the MGM Grand? They were. I know this because I was the Best Man.
This year, we are again at The Cannery but as I've noted here before we are starting off the festivities with a night out. Tim, Krista, Richard, Finkster, and I will be at Jersey Boys tomorrow night, and everyone is excited to be going. Even Buck Hujabre is excited, knowing that we will be in the audience. Can't wait.
Buck continues to audition for sitcoms and movies, and it's really just a matter of time before he branches out from the stage onto the screen. And I can't really say "I knew him when…" because he was already in the touring company of Jersey Boys when we finally met. Why did we meet? Because of this blog. What a great 10 years it's been.
After the show on Thursday we'll be getting down to business and I know this race is one a lot of people will be paying close attention to. That's a dangling participle right there, but this is a blog and not a thesis so it gets to dangle.
With just Vegas and Pomona left to go, the Funny Car class features a tight battle at the top, as the aforementioned Mr. Worsham (he of the MGM Grand wedding fame) leads one Rapid Jack Beckman (that's his nickname, right?) by only 38 points. Next in line is Tommy Johnson, but he's 147 points behind Del and that equals eight rounds. There are eight rounds left in the season, so you can probably see how tough that math is. It's a two-horse race, barring a miracle so great that if Tommy (or Ron Capps, or Matt Hagan) should somehow leapfrog both Jack and Del and close an eight-round gap in just two races, well nobody will probably be talking about anything else for many years and Jack and Del will be footnotes to nearly-impossible history.
Yes, with us in 10th place I'm going to have a hard time convincing anyone that I'm not pulling for the guy I stood next to when he got married. At the MGM Grand. To Connie Medina, now Connie Worsham and mother to Kate and Maddy Worsham. She's also married to Del. I know, it's all really complicated. I just hope we don't face that DHL car in round one.
For Del, it's really simple. Win as many rounds as Jack and you'll be the Funny Car World Champion, earning that trophy to be a bookend with the one you got in Top Fuel. That would be cool. I like Jack a lot, and he's always been great to me, but I was not his Best Man, so there's that. And he wasn't with us the night we went out with Huey Lewis, so there's that, too.
Down at the bottom of the Countdown group, there's also a lot at stake when it comes to final finishing position. Where you finish in the playoffs determines where your driver will stand on the stage at the NHRA Award Ceremony on the Monday night after Pomona, in Hollywood. While that's important, because you don't want your driver standing in the wrong spot, what's equally as important (who am I kidding?) is the different dollar amounts on the checks that correspond with every position. For a group like Team Wilk, that's important.
Going into the race, Wilk is in 10th place but he's only one point behind Robert Hight, six points behind Cruz Pedregon, and 11 points behind Alexis DeJoria. That means one round of racing is all that separates all four drivers. John Force is 69 points ahead of Wilk, so that's out there as a target, as well. We need to win some rounds, and it would be okay with me if we did it ourselves by knocking off some of those drivers we're competing with for the various spots on the stage, but if we win some rounds via any method at these last two races, I suspect we'll move up and we could move up multiple spots.
Also, as a completely unrelated side-note, Las Vegas is the place where the band Saliva did a video in our CSK pit area. I'm just sayin'… Lots of unique and crazy things happen in Vegas, and with it being Halloween weekend again, we'll get to see even more unique and crazy things, I suspect.
But, Saturday night is the night we get an extra hour's sleep, so that's a total bonus! And Saliva was in our pit many years ago. And I once lived in Dana Point, Calif. All unique and crazy.
Here in Liberty Lake, autumn is really in the air and the leaves are either at their peak of color or just slightly past it. We had a windy day over the weekend, which means many of the leaves were forcefully relocated from their respective branches to the ground. I feel for anyone who decided Friday was a good day to rake.
And how about this news… According to USA Today this morning, as much as half of the salmon sold in restaurants as "wild" or "Alaskan" may not be either wild or Alaskan. Harumph. During peak season, according to the story, as much as 87 percent of salmon served in restaurants will be correctly labeled, but once you get out of that May to September season, odds are that what you're eating isn't what supposed to be. Never let the facts get in the way of an attractive menu!
Grocery chains apparently do a much better job of labeling their salmon correctly, which is a good thing, but that means I would have to cook it myself and I'm not saying I'm lazy but having it brought to me with attractive and delicious veggies and potatoes, while it's also seasoned and cooked just right, is my way of enjoying salmon. So I guess I'll just have to maximize my enjoyment when the Copper River salmon are running and being flown in fresh. The rest of the year I'll just eat junk. Plus bacon.
And here's your weekly update on the transition to the new blog.
I've made contact with the woman who created and built our TPGF family website, where my current "Bob On Baseball" resides, and she's swamped right now so it will probably be a week or so before we can change it over and get it going. I was struggling with finding a new name for it, until one popped into my head out of nowhere the other day. Barbara was working at the dining room table, and I walked out of my office to say "What if I call my new blog Bob Tales?" Wait, didn't Bob Frey actually use to use that as the title of his National Dragster column? Hmmm. Well, I'll keep thinking. Bob's Tales? Wilber Wonderings? The Bobinator Word Generator? Bob's Blog? Life According to Wilber? I'll figure it out
I just want it to be an accurate description of what it will be about. Lots of NHRA stuff, but just like this blog there will be a lot of other miscellanea as well. Like Huey Lewis. Or salmon.
And if you've never checked out Bob On Baseball, here are a few installments you might enjoy as a prelude to the new version.
Just go here:
The most popular installments (which are also the ones that are most popular with my NHRA readers) are:
"One Remarkable Day" which chronicles the one day I wore a big league uniform in a big league stadium
"The Twin Connection Runs Deep" which recounts my lifelong relationship with the Minnesota Twins.
"The Lost Art Of Wearing A Uniform" which is timely, considering the World Series started last night.
"1981 - A Year Beyond Comprehension" which details one particular year in my scouting career that seems to have created a decade's worth of memories
And many others, but there's a special place in my heart for one of the first ones I wrote.
"The Journey Began At Fred's Field" is about my childhood, during simpler times when kids would simply gather and play, without supervision or coaches, and certainly without smartphones. It was an idyllic time, but like all eras it came to an end.
Some Jersey Boys, anyone? That would be Buck in the middle
And like I wrote above, keep an eye on this blog to learn about the launch of the new one. It's "Coming Soon" to a blog page near you.
The plans for my book are coming together, and I've actually already dabbled with writing a few bits for it. It's a fascinating, daunting, intimidating, yet exhilarating feeling to be sitting here at the keyboard writing what very well may be the first chapter in an actual book that I will write. I guess you could say I've been waiting my whole life to take on this adventure. The first time I was ever published in a real magazine was my sophomore year in high school, when I wrote a story about being the batboy for my father's Denver Bears team (the Triple-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers, back then in the dark ages). So, getting this book written has been on my agenda for a very long time.
With the book in mind, I'll continue to have some photos taken in Vegas and Pomona. Mark J. Rebilas is the photographer I've hired to shoot the cover and some other things, and our plan is to shoot that cover, with the LRS Funny Car, at the track in Vegas. There will be other props involved. You'll just have to wait to see it (as will I). It's going to be interesting to pack for this race, considering I have to bring some "other things" along in my suitcase. No, I'm not packing any salmon. They're out of season right now.
So I'm pumped to get down there to Sin City. We'll have fun at the show (of that I am certain) and then we'll try to win some rounds and move up in the standings. Plus it's going to be Halloween, which does beg the question "How would you even know, in Las Vegas?" That's a legit point.
Okay, so for a while there the classic movie Back To The Future II was almost the most prescient and magical film ever made. But then the Cubs got swept by the Mets in the NLCS instead of winning the World Series, as seen by Marty McFly when he visited yesterday (October 21, 2015) in the movie and saw the future. And we still don't have hover boards either. What's the hold-up on that?
Anyway, apologies for being a little late this week. If you thought a guy who has already announced his departure would be coasting and not earning his paycheck in these final weeks, you would've been wrong in my case. We are actually really busy right now, and I'm not just wrapping up my final season of PR work and preparing all of my Year In Review binders for Dick Levi and LRS, but we're also seeing a strong uptick in the amount of interest potential sponsors are showing right now.
Yesterday I produced a couple of new proposals and got them out in a FedEx box by the end of the day, and I have a sneaky suspicion that I'll stay this busy until the day I turn in my Team Wilk American Express card and call it a career. But that's a good thing. If I had an employee who had given his notice with time to spare, I'd want that person to work at full power until the last day was over, and my number one goal before I leave here is to give Tim and the team more resources to work with in the future.
I think the economy is healthy enough now, and the new TV package is attractive enough, that companies are taking a fresh look at NHRA team sponsorships, and our group is often on the radar for the marketing execs who are looking for the best return on investment and the most efficient programs. We'll keep pitching and working in the hope that we can put something new together before I'm an ex-Team Manager. Fingers crossed, as always.
I also had a fairly long and busy (and self-inflicted, since I made the plans) travel schedule for the Dallas race, in which I did my now common overnight in Woodbury on either side of the event. So when the race ended (and I did stay to the end to see if my buddy Del won or not - Way to go Del!) I took B2 and Richard with me to the airport to drop them off for their Sunday night flights. Then, I turned in my rental car and took the shuttle bus back to the airport, where you can get off at Terminal C and walk to the Hyatt that's on the other side of the parking garage there. That's more efficient than just standing on the curb for 20 minutes waiting for the Hyatt shuttle to come by before it takes you on a roundabout tour of all the DFW terminals at that sprawling enormous gigantic mind-blowing airport. The only problem is that there are about four flights of stairs you have to maneuver, with your suitcase, to make the short walk. And the signs are a bit confusing. But five minutes later I was checking in at the front desk.
Monday morning, since I had to go to Terminal E for my Delta flight, I got on the hotel's bus and took the ride. I was way early so I went to the new Delta Sky Club on the new little satellite concourse they're in, separated from the rest of Terminal E and only accessible by a tunnel, and there was my good buddy Nelson "Nellie" Jones waiting for the same flight.
Nellie and I have flown together many times over the years, because he lives in Winnipeg and always has to connect at MSP. We don't see each other nearly as much anymore because of a couple of reasons. He doesn't work at the starting line anymore, but is instead usually up on the top of the tower or on a riser beside the track instead of carrying his hand-held camera down there with us, and because our Spokane home means I only go through MSP myself when we are racing in that part of the country. Add it all up and it was just great to see him there and catch up.
Like me, he's down to his final two NHRA races as a camera operator. He's on the staff at ESPN, so they'll just assign him to other events next year, plus he still has the gig as a camera operator at Winnipeg Jets home games during hockey season. We traded all of our info so that we can stay in tough.
I was back in Woodbury by about 5:00 that evening. Then, I had some appointments on Tuesday around the Twin Cities, which meant I had to take the the night flight back to Spokane, and that doesn't even land at GEG until 9:00 p.m., so I wasn't home to Barbara and the boyz until about 10:00 on Tuesday night. Seemed like a long and drawn out way to get home from Dallas, but there were solid reasons to do it that way and I got everything accomplished.
Yesterday was pretty jam-packed with marketing stuff, so where we are on Thursday. I'm a day late and a dollar short…
Dallas was great in a "visiting Dallas" sense and not so great in terms of how we did on the track. What's interesting is that we ran great on Friday, but once again the competition was so stout all we did was qualify eighth. Incredible, really, how this season has been.
In Q2, Alexis DeJoria ran right in front of us and she put a 3.969 on the board to shatter the Texas Motorplex track record. That new record lasted about two minutes, when Wilk followed her with a 3.968 to reset the track best. And that lasted only a few minutes before the numbers kept going lower and lower and we finished the session in seventh. Wow.
Then, we stumbled. We smoked the tires at just about the same spot on the track in both Q3 and Q4 on Saturday, and it was at a spot that's far enough down there that you're just starting to think it's going to make it when it smokes the tires hard. Clearly something out of whack there, because we haven't done that much this year and certainly haven't done it like that, in such a similar fashion, two laps in a row. Then we did it again on Sunday. Same spot. That was really frustrating, and both Tim and Richard were poring over the data and the parts to try to sort that out. Must be something in the clutch department to cause that...
Off the track, we had big and enthusiastic crowds in our hospitality area on both Saturday and Sunday, so that was fun. What wasn't fun was the fact I left Woodbury on Thursday morning to fly down to DFW and left my camera and my Bose headphones behind. I have NEVER done that in all my years. Not sure where my head was on that one.
The camera thing is almost inconsequential now, because smartphone cams are so high-resolution that you can get by for a weekend without a real camera. The headphones deal, though, was a tough one. I put my headphones on the second I sit down on a plane and I generally don't take them off until we land, just so I can zone out and be in my own little world surrounded only by music instead of bizarre conversations and screaming babies. The ear buds get the music to my brain, but they don't do much of anything to block out or cancel the ambient noise. Grrr.
With no Nikon to lug around, and with an iPhone 6 in hand, I decided to go on a selfie-binge and shoot a bunch of those. I've never been much of a selfie taker, but the trip to the North Shore was full of them and I was on a roll, so why not. I took them with all of the guys (although the ones with Tim and Richard were blurry and I didn't want to bug either one of them by asking to do another one), but some of the other ones were pretty funny. They're all in the gallery, along with some others I took on Sunday and a few other shots. Amazing what you can do with a phone these days… I even took one with our LRS hospitality guests when I was wrapping up my schtick on Saturday. That was a fairly epic way of ending my hospitality hosting career. No hospitality in Vegas or Pomona.
Also got a note from one Nick Turner on Sunday morning, reminding me of the time we met a few years ago on Sunday night at the Finals, in Pomona. I was walking to my car to put another season behind me and he ran over to shake my hand and introduce himself. Nick's an accomplished drummer, and at the time he was in a band called The Asphalt. He gave me one of their CDs and it was really good. Now, he's just taken over the drumming slot with a much bigger and well-known band called The Ataris and he's really digging it. You may remember The Ataris by the cover version they did of Don Henley's "Boys of Summer" that got a lot of airplay. Cool band, and Nick is truly a cool guy. He was in Dallas Sunday afternoon and came over to see me, and I really enjoyed chatting with him about everything from drag racing to my upcoming book and from his new gig to music in general. They're off soon for a big tour through Australia and the Far East.
A lot of people were talking baseball in Dallas, although they're still feeling the sting of the Rangers not moving on in the playoffs. Lots of people were asking me about the Cubs, since I'm from St. Louis, and I made a real point of letting them know that I might be a lifelong Cardinals fan, and my dad was a Cardinal, but I have nothing against the Cubs at all and once they advanced over the Redbirds I was rooting for them to break this curse and win it all. After all, Marty McFly saw the future in 2015 and they did win it.
I really don't know where this new rivalry has come from. For most of my life the Cardinals-Cubs rivalry has always been known as one of the friendlier ones in sports, and it was never anything like Yankees-Red Sox or Dodgers-Giants, but in the recent years it's gotten more that way. And for that I am sad.
For 50 years on the planet I rarely ever heard the word "hate" describing how anyone felt about the Cardinals or the Cubs. You hear it all the time now, and I think it's just a reflection of the times we live in. There's a lot of haters out there now, and that makes the world (the real one and the sports world) less of a good place, in my opinion. It's just a game. They're just teams. People hate too easily and accept other people's viewpoints too rarely these days, whether it's sports or life. Okay, I'll get off my soapbox.
The Motorplex! Big crowds all weekend.
But I did make that point to a lot of people, and if I wasn't openly rooting for the Cubs I was certainly open to seeing them win it all. But… The Mets are a pretty good baseball team, and they can really pitch. That was an impressive sweep. Whether it's Toronto or Kansas City on the American League side, it's going to be a great World Series.
And now here's my biggest news for this blog installment.
Have a seat, take a sip of your favorite beverage, and see the future with me.
As you know, I had a plan to set up a new private blog site to keep this going and to keep you all up to date on my life and the book that I'll be writing. For some reason (because I was busy and I'm not that tech-savvy?) I had been procrastinating on that and hadn't done it yet.
And then it occurred to me… I ALREADY HAVE ANOTHER BLOG!
I reached out to my brother Del and ran the concept past him, and he's all for it. I'm simply going to adapt my Bob On Baseball blog to a new format and have it be very much like this one. There's some tech work to do in that regard, and Del has put me in touch with his web guru to make those changes happen, so hopefully we'll have it up and running by Pomona or shortly thereafter.
I haven't had time to contribute to Bob On Baseball lately, and with the book on my agenda I think it was safe to say that my time wasn't going to allow much more baseball stuff to be written there in the foreseeable future, so Del was excited to let me adapt Bob On Baseball into a new blog based on the same sort of nonsense this one has been about. Plus, I already know how to post there myself and put photos on it, so no new training for me!
It will probably be a few weeks until we make the transition, but I'll make sure to post the links to "Bob's Blog To Be Named Later" numerous times here before we wrap this one up. It's going to be sad to leave this long-running comedy, and I do wonder if we'll be able to see the archives in the future because, gosh, this has been a lot of work and millions of words, and I'd hate to see them all just disappear into the ether. I'm not in charge of that, though, so I guess I'll find out when things do get wrapped up.
Our home, our travels, our boyz, our friends and yes the sport of NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing will all be a part of the new blog. After all, I may be hanging up my Team Manager spurs, but I'm definitely a huge fan of the sport and I'll be staying in touch and watching just like all of you. And I'll get to some races next year, as well, so I'm looking forward to that.
I'm excited to get the new blog going, and I hope a lot of you will follow me over there for updates on life and the book. I do have to come up with a new name for it. That's priority number one for now.
See you there…
Welcome back to good old Gate 8 at Spokane International Airport. I'll be doing what's now a routine drop-in overnight trip to Woodbury before I head down to Dallas tomorrow.
Three races left. Dallas, Las Vegas, and Pomona. Just three, but you have no choice other than to take them all one day at a time. I'm not counting the days yet, but by the time I land at LAX before the last one I'm sure I will be, and before I know it that one will end and I'll be facing the overwhelming sadness of leaving so many great people, while at the same time I'll be embracing the unbelievable excitement of what comes next.
I think Pomona is kind of melancholy and sad every year because you know a lot of the people you are saying goodbye to won't be back the next year. This is a hard life and there's no getting around the fact that, every year, there are people who come to the conclusion that they need a change in their lifestyle. This year it's me.
So, I'm not going to get all morose yet. I'll have plenty of opportunities to do that as we get into November.
Here's some great news about Las Vegas, although I'm not completely sure if I've mentioned this already in a previous blog. I've only been writing this thing for more than 10 years, and they do all kind of blend together. Anyway, John Fink is coming, and on Thursday night he'll be joining Tim and Krista Wilkerson, Richard Hartman, and me at "Jersey Boys" down on The Strip. I can't wait for them to see my buddy Buck in action! They're going to love it.
As for Dallas, we have big crowds coming for our hospitality area, and it is our last race of the year with the hospitality area so there's another thing to check off as done. The groups we have in Dallas are always great, so this should be a fun way to wrap up this part of my job. Leave 'em smiling!
Now, to the present. I met a guy at a race a few years ago. His name is Kit D'Andre, and he's a really nice dude. That's not unusual, because I meet all sorts of nice people at the races, but what is unusual is that Kit is the PGA teaching pro at the golf course across the street from ours, Liberty Lake Golf Club. Now THAT is what you call a small world. He literally works across the street.
With my knees, ankles, and back hurting me so much over the last few years, I hadn't played a round of golf since we moved to Liberty Lake (Barbara and I fixed that earlier this summer with a 9-hole round) and considering my swing was always inconsistent and pretty awful, I really hadn't missed the sport too much. For my birthday in June, though, Barbara gave me a certificate for a series of four lessons with Kit, and now that I feel physically good that was a wonderful gift.
Yesterday, Kit and I had our second session together and basically what we're doing is starting from scratch. The baseball swing and the golf swing are very different, and the things that I brought to golf from baseball made my shots almost all slices, and it frustrated me to no end.
Oops. They're getting ready to board the flight. I'll finish this story and this blog from my seat at 33,000 feet… Back soon!
Okay, so here we are flying across Montana. As I sat at the gate I noticed a very large airplane parked on the other side of the airport property and my first instinct was that it was Russian. Sure enough, as we lifted off we passed it and all the writing on the sides of the plane was either Russian or something very similar. Big plane, about the size of a 747, with four engines under the wings, and the wings attached at the top of the fuselage. I'm sure somebody can tell me what it was, and I'd also like to know why it was in Spokane…
So back to golf… Kit is a great teacher, and at our first session he was very complimentary about my athleticism and natural swing, but it's full of those baseball flaws. So we started deconstructing it, step by step. This time, at the second session, we started to rebuild it and change my entire swing path. Like any sport, golf is harder when you have to think about every thing you're doing, but I'm getting there and really enjoying it when it all comes together on a swing and even the sound of the club hitting the ball is different. Now, it's just a matter of practice, trial and error, and practice. Did I mention practice? Too bad golf season is about to end where we live. Rats… These things we're working on are all individual elements of the swing, and I know what I need to do but it's all about retraining my body to make a better golf swing and then creating that muscle memory that allows you to think of strategy instead of individual elements of the swim. I think, at this age, I probably don't have to worry about my baseball swing anymore.
Geez, now it's time for lunch so I have to put my computer away again. When I come back, we'll finish up with some words and photos from Lake Gitche Gumee. Yes, within the first minute after we arrived last week on the North Shore of Lake Superior and met up with our friends Mary Beth and Joe, I felt obligate to sing the first line "The legend lives on, from the Chippewa on down, of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee…" just so we'd all have Gordon Lightfoot in our heads the whole time we were there. I'm a giver!
Slight delay on the lunch delivery, so one more story. I'm a very superstitious guy, thanks to my baseball days, although I don't really believe that superstitions work. I'm smart enough to know that thinking the Minnesota Wild play better when I'm not watching is just ridiculous, but if they're up 2-0 and I tune in just in time to see them give up a goal, I turn it back off.
One travel superstition I have dates from my days working in Washington D.C. for my brother Del's sports marketing agency. All of us worker bees in the office were young and indestructible, so we were traveling to see clients, all over the country, all the time. Any week when one of us didn't travel was a rarity. Well, I was known to be the unluckiest staff member, when it came to cancelled flights or missed connections. Literally, no one would fly with me. I was radioactive. I had flights cancelled for reasons ranging from mechanical issues to the pilots running the nose gear off the runway to the day a baggage handler ran his tram full of carts right into the engine right before we boarded.
Since we were always changing time zones, just like my job now, I learned to NEVER change the time on my watch until we were in the air. Changing it just once when we were taxiing and then went back to the gate was all I needed to have happen in order to understand that my watch time-change was what caused us to go back. So, yet again today I held my coolio Oakley watch in my hand, but I didn't move it two hours ahead to Central Time until we were off the ground. To the rest of the passengers on this Delta flight, I say "You're welcome!"
Back to Lake Gitche Gumee again soon. It. Was. Spec-tac-u-lar…
Back from lunch, which now that my watch is in Central Time means it was actually an early dinner, but since I didn't have breakfast or lunch before I got on the plane, I'm not sure what meal that was. Going back and forth to MSP so much, Barbara and I get used to the standard options on these flights. Today's were the hot turkey and cheese sandwich or the chipotle chicken breast with a black-bean salad. I chose the latter.
Okay, the North Shore of Lake Superior. Mary Beth and Joe bought their condo a few years back, and this was our second trip there to be their guests. The first time, as you may recall, was in the middle of winter and the epic "polar vortex" of 2014, when simply stepping outside for 30-seconds could be life threatening if you weren't properly dressed. It was fabulous then, and this time we got to enjoy it right in the middle of autumn. It was fabulous plus.
And, as much as Barbara and I thought (dreamed) we should buy a quarter-share of a condo there, at Larsmont Cottages, we just kept it filed away as a dream while our friends Scott and Barb Meehan actually did it. Scott and Barb are also from the "old neighborhood" in Woodbury, and they only had to see Larsmont and the North Shore once to make up their minds. I think we may be the next to pull the trigger. It's only two and a half hours from Woodbury, but it's a million miles away.
The condos are spectacular, and what makes them affordable is that you only have to buy a quarter share. You get 12 assigned weeks per year and they shuffle them a little to make sure everyone gets the major holidays at some point. They manage the property, rent your condo out when you're not there, and keep everything very upscale and wonderful. We'd just have to be patient to wait for someone to sell just the right unit with a "Week 1" slot so that Mary Beth, Joe, Scott and Barb would be there on the same weeks as us.
We got there in time, on Tuesday, to head over to Gooseberry Falls for a little hiking and sightseeing. Gooseberry is fed by streams that are mostly fed by melting snow, so October is when they are at their lowest but it's still a magnificent place and we loved every second of it.
When we got back, Scott and Barb walked over from their place and we had a great evening together outside, with the waves crashing into the rocks while we played bean bag games and drank some fine wine. It's pretty easy to understand why we now consider the Twin Cities as our "home" because these are the best friends we've ever made. Now we just have to get Neighbor Dave and Nichol to buy a unit up there, as well as Terry and Lynn Blake, as long as everyone gets "Week 1" when they buy. Once we do that, we'll all have the time of our lives. We'll have the band back together!
On Wednesday, we decided to make it a "road trip" day by driving up to Ely, Minnesota. Ely is one of the major dropping off points for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, a vast wilderness that covers thousands of square miles in the USA and Canada. Sounded like a great way to see some colors as the woods turned red and yellow, and to see Ely (pronounced E-lee). It was a fun drive (thanks Joe, for being the chauffeur) but we discovered that the Boundary Waters are very seasonal and Ely had, by the time we got there, slowed down for the offseason. Not much going on there, but we bought t-shirts!
From there, we headed back to the North Shore and saw some spectacular autumn scenery. We headed for Lutsen, which has one of the few really good ski areas in Minnesota, a state that is usually cold and snowy in the winter but also mostly flat. When you get over there by the North Shore of Lake Superior, you actually get some good hills and Lutsen has a bunch of them. The gondola they use to get skiers up to the top of some very steep hills is used as a "ride" in the non-skiing months, and of course we had to do that. I was picturing a slow little ride between two tiny hills, but this bad-boy was straight down and then straight up, with a huge elevation change. Barb cringed every time the thing made an odd sound. Okay, I did too.
On Thursday, we chose to denote that day as our mutual relaxation and "pajamas" day. My PJ's were sweats and a t-shirt. Barb and I scheduled a "couples massage" in a cabin by the water, and we followed that up with a great dinner, a lot of laughs, and sessions in the sauna and hot tub. What a place. What great friends.
Gooseberry Falls, on the North Shore
Amazing to drive just a few hours and yet feel like you're on a vacation in some exotic location, and we got to do it with some of the best friends anyone could ever have. Now we need to find a place there, too. Serious fun!
And here's a new secret to share…
It's been my plan to not even think about "the book" until January, although it's basically impossible to not think about it. A couple of days ago, I was having lunch in Liberty Lake and an absolute storm of ideas and concepts started racing around my brain. I couldn't help it. I just stopped eating and raced home to my office, opened my laptop, and started writing.
I have the concept and format of the book fairly settled, in terms of how the chapters will weave in and out of various parts of my life, but the things that were bubbling to the surface that day were more in the "Introduction" area and I simply sat and wrote. For six hours.
It was exhilarating and thrilling and incredible, to just sit there and write what may or may not be the first chapter of my book. I almost couldn't stop, and when Barb called me during the process I'm sure I was talking a million miles per hour.
I don't know if what I wrote will actually be Chapter 1, or if this was just a test-run and an exercise to see if I can really do this, but that doesn't matter. What matters is the fact I now know that I can not only do it, but it's intoxicating to actually do. I can't wait for next year to get here.
I only shared the 5,700 words and 13 pages I wrote with two people. Barb got to see it, and despite the fact she's naturally skeptical of why anyone would want to read about my life, she loved it. I also sent it to Buck, because he sends a lot of his audition videos to me, when he's trying to land a TV or movie role, and that's the sort of trust and friendship that allows you to bare what your soul is creating and ask for honest feedback.
I think I'm on to something. The one guy whose artistic skills are beyond my wildest dreams absolutely loved it. I couldn't ask for two better critics to give me the thumbs up on this project.
This is really going to be fun. Now I have to get that new blog up and running so that we can all stay in touch while it happens.
But, in the meantime, let's go win Dallas! That sounds like a big old Texan good idea, ya'll.
Fun with headlines! So are we reading about the city of Reading, or is the city of Reading all about reading? Both are true, I'm sure.
I'm writing this on Monday, but I think both Phil and Candida were in Reading so there's a decent chance this won't get posted until Tuesday. And I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today. Thank you, Wimpy. Or maybe it won't get posted 'Til Tuesday. Thank you, Aimee Mann. But hush hush, keep it down now, voices carry. Did all of that make no sense to you? If so, you must not have been a Popeye fan or a fan of a particular '80s new-wave band.
I'm pretty sure I wrote and posted the previous blog before I received my "Get Out Of Reading Free" card, although I did pass GO but I did not collect $200. Bam, there you have it. I just went from Popeye to 'Til Tuesday to Monopoly, all in the space of just a few sentences and I never used the obvious "Take A Ride On The Reading" reference from the famous board game. I win.
Anyway, it was getting to be midweek and the weather forecasts were all pretty bad, to the point where I'm not sure I'd ever seen so many different forecasts on different websites that all universally looked horrible. There's usually one outlier we spot, and that allows us to perform the mental gymnastics of feeling optimistic. Or, as we all say, "I looked around until I found a forecast I liked, and I'm sticking with that one." There wasn't one of those for Reading, and Hurricane Joaquin was thrown into the mix as well, although fortunately that turned right and went out to sea.
So, I was talking with Tim on Tuesday (I think, it's been a whirlwind lately) and we were talking about hotel rooms and flights and a terrible forecast, and he offered me the chance to skip all of that and do the PR from home. We had a short guest list in hospitality on Saturday, and if the weather was going to be brutal the list would likely even shrink from there, so we both decided it would be the best option and would save us both some money. My multi-city ticket from Spokane to Minneapolis to Detroit to Harrisburg was really expensive, but Delta let me change it and I got about 80 percent of it back in the form of a voucher, and that's with still keeping the MSP roundtrip active. Sweet!
So I flew back here to Minnesota and took care of some business here that was already on my schedule, then I just followed along on the interwebs as Friday was washed out and Saturday struggled to happen at all. My Facebook and Twitter feeds were packed with posts from other racers and my PR colleagues vividly describing how miserable the weather was, so in the interest of not making everyone mad at me I refused to post anything about the 60-degree days and the beautiful blue sky here. Meanwhile, I'm not hiding the fact that I was extraordinarily pleased to not have to make the trip.
Another reason for keeping the Spokane - MSP part of the trip is that Barbara arrived here last night and tomorrow morning we are heading up to the North Shore of Lake Superior, to spend a few wonderful days with our dear friends Mary Beth and Joe, who own a condo up there. As you may recall, we've been up there with them once before, almost two years ago, but that was in the middle of winter. It was a bit nippy, as you might imagine, so it's going to be great to do the same things, see the same sights, and have all the same fun but during a time of year when it should be the upper 50s during the day and just right for campfires at night. Can't wait!
As for the actual Reading race, the most common adjective I kept seeing (and using) was the word "crazy" and for good reason. We only got one qualifying session in, as I'm sure you know, and in that session the Funny Car class went 1-for-16, with only Robert Hight going fully end-to-end under power. What's crazier still is that Tim ran 7.71 and that landed him fourth on the ladder. Hight, though, didn't just limp it down there with a match-race tune-up. He ran 3.922 to be the low qualifier. Talk about "all or nothing"…
Sunday was finally, mercifully, a dry day and eliminations got off just about right on time, although it was still chilly and the track was "challenging" and "tricky" to say the least. From what I heard, the groove was simply very narrow but if you could keep the car in the groove you could put some good times up. Like Jack Beckman did, with another new national record, and like Tim did when he posted a 3.985 to take out Tony Pedregon in round one. From 7.717 to 3.985 in the course of two laps. What's that word again? Crazy!
Then we saw all sorts of upsets, including the fact all three JFR cars went out in the first round and John Bojec beat Matt Hagan to become our second-round opponent. Again, the track was still tricky and the tuning window between shaking the tires and smoking the tires was razor thin. We got it right in round one, but shook in round two and Wilk had to pedal the car. He got it to hook up again, but it dropped a cylinder on the right side and that moved the car in that direction. He was working hard at doing all he could to pull it back but once it got even a part of the right side drive tire out of that narrow groove, it was on a mission to just keep going that way, no matter what he did.
Had it been a qualifying run, he would've lifted. It wasn't, and he was determined to get it to the other end to win the round, but it finally got on the centerline and took out the last two timing blocks. Game over.
Bojec got the win, but it cost him. Right at the finish line his motor let go and he had quite a fire going for a while, so after looking it over they decided they didn't have the parts or the wallet to continue and they were a no-show in the semifinals. We simply had an owner/tuner/driver who was beside himself that such a thing had happened. We did, however, move back into the eighth place in the standings.
This is how I watched the race. Both warm and dry.
So now we finally have a week off after three straight races to start the Countdown. I'll plan to use some of this time to get to work on my new blog site, so that I can have that up and running before the season is over. You'll hear about it here, first.
I'm not going to do anything more than ponder the book I'll write until after the end of the season. I've got plenty to do to wrap all this up, and frankly want to take at least part of December to just decompress, refresh my brain, and hopefully take my wife on a nice vacation. Then, once the calendar flips over to 2016 my full-time job is going to be writing. I will officially be self-employed as an Author/Writer/Blogger and I'll be diligent about it.
I've been working out of a home office for 20 years, so I've been trained to do my work that way for most of that time. It's the only way I really know how to "go to work" anymore, so I'll be right at home (that pun wasn't intended, but it made me laugh). The advice I've been gleaning from most other authors is simply to "write it all, write every day, write more than you need, and only write when you're fully focused on it." Most others also say it's hard to write anything valuable for more than three or four hours a day, unless your name is Stephen King.
It's going to be a grand adventure, and I hope a lot of you will come along for the ride. Until then, let's finish 2015 strong and see if we can't win one more race before this trip is done. I'm all for that!
Short one today, but with the North Shore trip happening in the morning I wanted to get this done and fired off. Tomorrow, it's a not-too-lengthy drive up I-35 to Duluth (or "Da-Loot" if you're from there) and then a quick trip around the north side of Lake Superior to Larsmont Cottages where we'll meet up with Mary Beth and Joe. Check the place out, it's really cool:
See you in a few days. Then, let's get ready for Dallas.