Sunday, October 29, 2006

Ride the High Country

Always feel better when I head out west.

These days, that usually just happens via celluloid, which is just fine with me. There are few things better than a good ol' western.

Tonight on Turner Classics is a true classic, "Ride the High Country," an elegiac salute to the end of the genre. Randolph Scott, the man's man among B movie actors, is here in his last film, teamed up with another aging B cowboy star, Joel McCrea. McCrea is an ex-lawman, Scott his old deputy.

Together they set out on one last adventure, to bring gold back from a mining camp. But nothing is quite what it seems in this, the best of Sam Peckinpah's westerns. It's all about endings, double-cross, growing older, the passing of time. It's fun, too.

Don't know why they don't make many of these pictures anymore. They're laid-back in style, that may be why. They also aren't politically correct. That's probably why.

"High Country" is a much deserved "A" list effort for the two cowboys who toiled for years in the minor leagues. And if it never rises to the level that Scott's best picture does ("Seven Men From Now," with Budd Boetticher), it's still a fitting epitaph for two riders of the silver screen.

"Ride the High Country" is available on DVD.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The last picture show

OK, all you Halls folks out there in cyberspace. Gather round and let's toast one to Danny Wallace.

You may not know Danny's name. But I guarantee he's had an impact on you in some way. Danny, you see, brought the movies to Halls.

In 1983, Danny opened a 4-theater multiplex on Neal Drive. The first movie I saw there was a re-release of "E.T." A few years later, he expanded to 7 theaters. I lost count a long time ago how many dates, rainy afternoons and Saturday nights I spent at that place.

Alas, the picture show is no more. After 23 years, Danny has closed his doors.

He says he can't compete with digital technology. Says he held on as long as he could.

I feel like a little part of me has passed on, too.

I'll never forget the Saturday the popcorn machine caught on fire. We sent ace reporter Nick Frantz out there with a camera. He came back with a photo of the troublesome machine. Got a few quotes from some church folks who were there to see "The Passion of the Christ."

Then there was the time I dropped by one afternoon to see this girl I was madly in love with at the time. She wasn't working, but I caught the picture anyway. Hey, it's the movies.

When I drove by the theater and saw the empty marquee, I thought about Duane and Sonny and Sam the Lion, characters from Larry McMurtry's book "The Last Picture Show." And remembered this:

"It would have taken Winchester '73 or Red River or some big movie like that to have crowded out the memories the boys kept having. They had been at the picture show so often with Jacy that it was hard to keep from thinking of her, lithely stretching herself in the back row... Such thoughts were dangerous to both of them.

"It didn't look like the town it had been when he was in high school."

No, guess it's unrealistic to expect anything to stay the same. But we'll miss you, Danny. Yes, we will.

We'll miss that old picture show.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

It never burned out

Well, hello there. My, it's been a long time.

Sorry I've been away for a week or so. Trying to hold down an editor's job, write for a living, keep up two blogs and sqeeze in a social life and writing fiction doesn't leave time for much else. Sometimes the last thing you want to do after the day ends is come home and write.

But if you have a few minutes, pull up a chair and let me tell you a story.

It's about a guy who loved a woman once.Well, love is too strong a word.

Let's say he thought a lot of her. Watched her, determined she was a pretty nice person, developed a strong affection for the dear gal.

Course this was a few years ago, when the world was less complicated and such things seemed more dramatic than they really are. But try telling that to a 15 year old kid.

The kid grew up. Forgot about the girl. Moved on, like we all do, loved other girls and saw a little piece of the world.

Out of the blue she's there again. He remembers. It catches him off guard, but he's realistic. He is amused, though. Remembers a lot of crazy stuff he used to do. Laughs about it.

But a curious thing happens. The feeling doesn't wear off. It doesn't flame into a fire. Nah, more like a little puff of smoke.

Again he finds himself observing her from afar. Age and maturity gives him a different perspective.

"But those eyes haven't changed," he tells himself.

He tries to make sense of it during the wee hours, when life is still and lends itself to reflection. He marvels how the world works, that things long dormant are real again. Or at least still bouncing around inside his head..

He tells himself it's just something from long ago that never quite died. Like baseball and The Beatles, something from childhood he's still fond of.

He pretends, but the feeling won't go away. .

And the sad part? Not a thing in the world to do about it.

Except to remember. And deal with the regret.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

For the kid in all of us

Gather round, friends, and order what you'd like. Tonight, it's on me.

The boys did it! The absolutely unthinkable has happened. The Detroit Tigers are going to the World Series.

Forgive me if I don't sit down tonight. I may not even bother with sleep.

It's so funny how the world works. I've spent much of this year ignoring my first love. The old game just isn't the same anymore. And when longtime Atlanta Braves announcers Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren no longer were working the majority of Braves telecasts, I finally just said to hell with it. Time to move on.

The one exception was the Tigers. I'd catch some games here and there on Directv. Made my annual pilgrimage to Motown in July to watch this resurgent team play.

Yeah, I thought they'd make the playoffs. No, I didn't think they'd beat the Yankees.

And tonight, when Maggs hit that shot to left center, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth (who's writing this script, huh?), I leapt for joy, suddenly remembering why I love this old game so much.

Oh, this is great. That I was with my best friends to watch it happen made it that much more special. I feel like a little kid.

Come Monday, I'm taking the plunge and standing in cyberline to order World Series tickets for next Saturday night. If I'm successful, Jamie and Kristina's birthday bash scheduled for next Thursday night may have to turn into Jamie and Kristina's Birthday Bash and Jake Mabe's World Series Pregame Party.

What makes this so delicious is all the suffering Detroit fans have endured. Losing to the Twins in '87. Spending the next 18 years in mediocrity. Sparky's firing. The closing of Tiger Stadium. That pathetic 119-loss season three years ago.

Tonight the Tigers are the best team in the American League. Next week, they'll host their first World Series in 22 years.

Here's one for the kid in all of us. For those fools who still dream impossible dreams --- and for those rare days when the sun goes 'round the moon and the stars fall right in your lap.

If this is a dream, please don't ever let it end.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Lazy day in Georgia

MACON, Ga. -- Here it is Sunday morning and I'm trying to find a way to avoid the five hour drive back to Halls.

Life is slow and easy here. The weather is picture perfect for fall. Warm temperatures during the day and cool as you please at night.

Yesterday, we walked the banks of the Ocmulgee River, at what once was an outpost on the Macon Plateau.

Between 900 and 1100 B.C., a farming people known as Mississippians lived here. They were a sedentary bunch, and made a living by farming the bottomlands.

The National Park Service has reconstructed one of their earthlodges, which might have been used either as a winter temple or a year-round council house.

The sky is so blue you can almost swim in it. I sat on top of what once was a burial mound and gazed out at the expanse below. The cell towers in the distance ruined it, but it was almost like a song, anyway.

I'm already beginning to dread the drive back through Atlanta. If there's any justice in the world, Osama bin Ladin should be forced to navigate the ATL rush hour before he's executed. That is, if he's ever caught.

Where's Scotty and his transporter when you need it?

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Buck was in his own Hall of Fame

Every now and then you meet someone and think, "You know, they were put on this earth for a special reason." John Joseph "Buck" O'Neil was such a character.

He had every reason to be angry. A star Negro Leagues player and manager, O'Neil never made it to the bigs. But he was baseball's greatest ambassador. And he had a heart of gold.

When baseball had a chance to thank him, to give him the recognition he so richly deserved, they instead turned him away. Of all the Negro Leagues players and managers voted into the Hall by a special committee, surprisingly, shockingly, O'Neil wasn't among them.

He didn't care.

"Don't weep for Buck," he said.

He spent his final years promoting the Negro Leagues Museum and Hall of Fame in Kansas City. And when he came to Knoxville nearly three years ago to speak to the UT Leadoff Banquet, he was full of grace and made jokes about his age.

"Good black don't crack," he said.

When baseball asked O'Neil to deliver a speech before this year's induction ceremony, he did. But rather than talk about himself, as virtually everyone does, he talked about others.

His first order of business was to ask the assembled crowd to join hands and sing "The greatest thing in all the world is loving you."

One of our failures as a society is that so many of us look to athletes for inspiration. So many of them break our hearts.

Not Buck O'Neil. He really was that word we toss around like a salad --- a hero.

God bless ya, Buck. You never needed Cooperstown. You were in a Hall of Fame all your own.

Friday, October 06, 2006

'Somebody is watching out for you'

He made it.

David Crocker said before his 600 mile trek began that Day 3 and Day 6 would be the hardest days of his journey.

"And it kind of turned out that way," Crocker says.

Today he had more hills to climb as he made his way from Morristown to Mountain City. And he was riding his bike directly into a wind coming out of the northeast.

"It was cooler and it was just harder."

On the final day of his journey, Crocker averaged only 17.1 miles per hour, by far the slowest day. He traveled 102 miles in five hours and 50 minutes.

"Bicyclists hate the wind when it's in your face. It was unrelenting today. Worse than climbing a hill."

The wind aside, Crocker loved his journey through upper East Tennessee.

"Really beautiful scenery," he says. "North of Elizabethton, it was really pretty."

Crocker says the foothills area is less populated and the homeplaces are extremely well preserved.

But it was the wind -- and that cool windchill -- that caused most of the problems today.

"The last few miles were really brutal. I didn't have any extra clothes on, no arm or leg warmers. So (at the end) there was a good bit of relief and a huge sense of accomplishment.

"And it was quite meaningful. I'll have it as a memory for the rest of my life."

Crocker says if someone had asked him before the trip if he would really make the entire 600 miles, he would have given himself a 50/50 chance.

"Either because of the weather or just after four or five consecutive days, I would have a time where I just couldn't do it. But that didn't happen."

But something funny did happen. At the end of his trip, after 600 miles without mechanical problems, Crocker found himself at an intersection in Mountain City, the final stop on his tour.

His wife, Clara, was waiting in a church parking lot to take pictures and help him prepare for the journey home.

"Literally at the very end after I got off the bike, and I put it up on the rack, the tire went flat. I had picked up a little staple somewhere in Mountain City. I had thought about changing the tire the night before, but thought I could get one more day out of it. Which I did -- barely.

"You get the feeling that somebody is watching out for you. You know they say that God watches over drunks and fools. I don't think there is any doubt which category I fit in!"

As the sun sets on his journey, Crocker says he is really glad he made the trip.

"As far as the bike riding goes, I feel very good about what I was able to do. The remaining thing is I hope we get enough money to build a Habitat house in Knoxville, to see a family move in and get joy from that."

After such an adventure, it's hard to believe money will be an issue.

Donations for David Crocker's 600-mile journey across Tennessee, all of which will go toward the building of a Habitat for Humanity house in Knoxville, can be sent to David Crocker, 4815 Santa Monica Road, Knoxville, TN, 37918. Make checks payable to Habitat for Humanity, earmarked "Bike Ride House." None of the funds given for this project will be used to pay the expenses of the bike ride.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Almost home

"Keep on Truckin' " may well be the theme for David Crocker's 600 mile bicycle journey across Tennessee.

As Crocker hit familiar territory today, he says all continues to go according to plan.

Crocker traveled 112 miles in six hours and five minutes, averaging 18.6 miles thanks to a tailwind he picked up from East Knox County to Morristown.

"It sure did feel good," he says.

Physically, he's continuing to hit a groove, sore legs notwithstanding.

"My body's kind of getting used to it. I don't have as much power going up a hill as I once did, but I feel pretty good."

He says riding in familiar territory makes a mental difference.

"You're always more relaxed and feel like you know the road and how far it is until you stop. Whereas, if you don't know the road, you're wondering 'Is the place I'm going to stop over the next hill or five miles from here?' "

The curtain will fall on Crocker's journey tomorrow, as he heads from Morristown to the big finale in Mountain City. Forecasters say the wind will be coming from the north, which might make the journey a little more difficult.

"But, hey," Crocker says, "it's the last day."

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

On to Knoxville!

Is hard to say whether riding a bike across the state could ever be considered routine.

But if a routine is to be found in such an endeavor, David Crocker has found it.

Today's ride through Hamilton, Bradley and McMinn counties was fun, Crocker says, and easier than yesterday's trek.

"I've watched the Tour de France for a lot of years. I've never understood how one day could be any different from the other, that it could make that much difference. But I'm beginning to understand."

Crocker traveled 88 miles today in four hours and 50 minutes. He averaged 18 miles per hour and pedaled 18,700 strokes.

"I went through Chattanooga just fine. I talked to a local fella last night who gave me a tip on a better route that was less congested and had less traffic. Everything went smoothly. There were no incidents of any kind."

Most of today's route was flat, and Crocker says that made it a little easier. And he ate quicker after riding last night, which will improve the way you feel the following morning, and he got plenty of rest.

"Yesterday was just work. This was more enjoyable."

Crocker is glad the rain is apparently going to stay away during his journey to Knoxville and beyond tomorrow. He'll head up 11E in the morning and end up in Hamblin County.

He's three-fourths of the way through. And all, he says, is well.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Crocker reaches halfway point

He's starting to feel it.

Today wasn't so easy, David Crocker says. He's getting a little saddle sore, says he's glad to be staying in a hotel with a Jacuzzi.

But, other than the fatigue, the trip couldn't be going any better.

Today Crocker traveled 91.65 miles in five hours and nine minutes, through Lincoln, Franklin, Grundy and Marion counties. He averaged 17.6 miles per hour and accrued 21,000 pedal strokes.

Best of all, he made it up the mountain.

"It wasn't terrible," he says. "It's not really what I would call a steep grade. But it was long, about three miles. But you just have to keep on truckin' and don't quit."

Once he reached the top, Crocker says the temperature cooled off and the trip was quite nice.

"From there, I just let it roll. I had been looking forward to this part of the ride. I didn't touch the brakes at all going down. It was a lot of fun."

Just before the trek up the mountain, Crocker rested in a little community called Cowan. It's a one red light town, he says, the kind of place where living is easy.

While there, he passed a guy riding down the sidewalk in an electric wheelchair, complete with its own sound system.

"He had a boom box mounted to the wheelchair and speakers. And blaring out of that thing was some fine country tune. He was enjoying himself and everybody else was too."

Crocker says he's enjoying seeing this part of the country for the first time.

"It's just beautiful. Really pretty territory."

Tonight he's resting in Jasper, Tenn., and says he feels like planting a big kiss on whomever invented the Jacuzzi.

"Man, it was nice," he says of his dip in the tub.

Tomorrow he'll cross over into Eastern time and will stop for the night in Athens.

"But, really," he says, "there have been no problems in any way, with directions, traffic or mechanics.

"It's all going according to plan."

Dr. David Crocker is riding his bicycle 600 miles in six days across the state of Tennessee to raise money for a Habitat for Humanity house in Knoxville. To pledge or make donations for his trip, all of which will go to Habitat, send contact info and a check made payable to Habitat for Humanity to David Crocker, 4815 Santa Monica Road, Knoxville, TN, 37918. Crocker is paying his personal expenses for the trip.

Monday, October 02, 2006

David Crocker: The journey begins

Blog Note: Dr. David Crocker is driving his bicycle 600 miles in six days, from Memphis to Mountain City, Tenn., to raise the $25,000 needed to build a Habitat for Humanity house in Knoxville. Crocker raised pledges for his journey, all of which will go toward the house.

Jake Mabe is checking in with Dr. Crocker each night this week and providing updates on his journey. A full report of the trip will appear in next week's Shopper-News. Crocker is the former pastor at Central Baptist Church of Fountain City.

For a guy who has ridden his bike 200 plus miles in two days, David Crocker sounds like he's merely taken a friendly jaunt around the neighborhood.

"I'm doing OK, considering," Crocker says on the phone tonight. "It's gone very well, about like we planned."

Yesterday, Crocker began his trek at the state line, just southwest of Memphis. He made his way through Shelby, Fayette, Hardeman, McNairy and Hardin counties, ending up at Pickwick Landing State Park.

He racked up 114 miles in 6 hours and 13 minutes, averaging 18.3 miles per hour. A computer on his bike told him he made 26,100 pedal strokes the first day.

"And I felt every one of them," he says, laughing.

Today, Crocker rode through the Natchez Trace Parkway, the historic route barge drivers once took home after navigating the Mississippi River to New Orleans.

"It's just beautiful," he says. "It was relatively flat, which was nice, sort of like the Blue Ridge Parkway, only flat."

Today's trip was 112 miles, traveled in 6 hours and 8 minutes, averaging 18.2 miles per hour and including 25,500 pedal strokes, through McNairy, Wayne, Lawrence and Giles counties. Crocker and his wife, Clara, are spending the night near Pulaski, close to the intersection of U.S. 64 and I-65.

"I've had no problems of any kind," he says. "There were some dogs, but they've not been a problem. It's been a little warm. I would like for it to be about 10 degrees cooler, but at least it's not raining. It's supposed to be dry all week."

Along the way, Crocker enjoyed the small towns and especially the man he saw riding a lawn mower -- and pulling two push mowers behind him.

"I thought, 'This guy is ingenious here,'" Crocker says. "He had a big yard and had a lot to mow. You've got to give him credit."

Tomorrow, Crocker heads for Jasper, Tenn., and says he'll ride up his first mountain -- Sewanee Mountain.

"But the mileage is lower and I'm thankful for that."

Crocker first participated in a similar journey to raise money for a Habitat house while pastoring a church in North Carolina 10 years ago.

"I've been wanting to do it again, but just never had the time. You have to spend a fair amount of time training and then take a whole week (for the trip)."

Some folks at Central Baptist had given Crocker a new bike that he wanted to put it to use in order to help someone else. The trip gave him the perfect opportunity to do so.

"It's a very fulfilling thing to provide someone with a home," he says.

After two days and 226 miles, Crocker is glad to be resting tonight.

"When you get through, you are pretty tuckered out. But really I feel pretty good. I was curious as to how I would feel this morning, but I felt OK. I hope it holds up."