The Bus Ride From Hell

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There will come a point at the end of your life where you reflect back on things you have done, the good memories you’ve made and the regrets you have, whether it be peacefully on your deathbed, or in the seconds before you die in a horrible accident. I’m not sure how I’m going to die, but I am one hundred percent sure that when I think about the important decisions I made in my life, the good and the bad, the one that’s going to haunt me the most is the time I took the greyhound bus from Fort Pierce, Florida, to Memphis, Tennessee.

It was the summer of 2014, and a very hot one at that, but my spirits could not be dampened, because despite the misery of living under those devastating meteorological conditions, I was about to have a two week vacation. My wife and I, taking our first trip together as a married couple since our honeymoon, were going to go visit my dad in Memphis for a week, then go spend a week at the beach in Destin with my mom’s side of the family for a week after that. I was getting to spend a substantial amount of time with my family that I hadn’t seen in a while, and I didn’t have to worry about work for two weeks, so I was about to be living a pretty stress free life. I just had to get out of Fort Pierce first, and since I wasn’t confident enough to drive my car on the interstate, for fear that the speed alone with shatter it into a million little pieces, there was no way I was going to drive it across multiple states, which made the getting out of town part a little more difficult.

Based solely on the fact that it was much cheaper than flying, we decided to make our trip to Memphis via Greyhound, the bus not the dog, though I can’t imagine that riding on the back of a bony dog would have been much more uncomfortable than the reality we ended up with. Fort Pierce was only the second stop on the Greyhound’s journey through Florida that began in Miami and ended somewhere less fun, presumably, but even so, the bus was already packed by the time it arrived at the truck stop gas station by the interstate. My wife and I waited in line to board, and once our tickets were scanned and we made our way onto the bus, it was clear that there was no room for us to sit together, so she took a seat near the front, and I walked to the back, plopping down on the seat next to a guy whose head was completely under a blanket, presuming correctly that if he was sleeping then I wouldn’t have to talk to this guy for the four hour trip to Tallahassee. Unfortunately he snored most of the way, so even though he wasn’t badgering me with conversation, he still managed to make the first leg of the trip an annoying one.

It was dark by the time we arrived in Tallahassee where Leticia and I were reunited in the greyhound station that somehow smelled worse than the overnight train, the “Trenitalia,” that runs from Rome to Paris. Fortunately, we were able to sit together for the rest of the trip, which seemed like it would never end. We would ride on the bus for a few hours, then make our next stop, where occasionally we would change buses, and then start the process all over again. Shortly after four in the morning we arrived at the Atlanta bus station, which thanks to my extensive research beforehand, in an attempt to ease my nerves and make me feel better about riding on Greyhound for the first time in my life, I read some pretty horrible stories recounted by passengers passing through the Atlanta station. Like a gentleman, I let my wife exit the bus before I did, which also meant that I could kind of use her as a human shield if something were to go down, not that I was thinking such terrible thoughts.

I was carrying a bag over my shoulder as we stepped out into the muggy Atlanta night, and some guy who was just hanging around by one of the street lamps stepped up to me and asked if I had a laptop he could borrow. I told him no and then he pointed at my bag, the kind of bag that were clearly built to carry computers, and asked what was inside. Luckily I had left my laptop at home for this trip, so I was more than happy to open up my bag and show him the contents that included an extra t-shirt, my toiletries, some snacks, a book, and a notebook, none of which interested him, so he let me go inside while he went looking for his next target, and luckily, I didn’t get approached by anymore strangers for the rest of the trip.

From the time we left Fort Pierce until the time we arrived in Memphis, the trip took about a total of twenty hours, which is almost a full day that I will never get back. I feel like when you look back on bad experiences, you can find one or two positive things that happened or something meaningful you can take from the bad experience, but that’s not the case here. Not only was the trip incredibly long with a maddening amount of stops, but the whole on bus experience was awful, from the signature stench of Greyhound, which smelled to me like sadness and body odor, to the uncomfortable seats left my butt incredibly sore after only about six hours, which left me to shift every few minutes for the remainder of the trip, endlessly searching for a more comfortable position that just couldn’t be found. Sure we paid less money to take the bus rather than flying, but what we lost, all that time and our innocence, was worth way more than the money we saved. Hopefully I never find myself riding Greyhound ever again, but if it does end up happening, maybe I’ll get lucky and be stuffed inside somebody’s suitcase under the bus, because I would much rather be a decomposing corpse than to willingly ride that bus from hell ever again.

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The Bad Luck Bears

Last night was supposed to be great. I’d been looking forward to last night for more than a month, ever since the Grizzlies secured the second worst record in the NBA. It was a tough season to say the least, and although it was fun getting to see some promise out of a few of our young players, overall, the games were pretty tough to watch, but the silver lining was always the draft. Sure, we sucked now and lost WAY more games than we won, but at least we would get a high draft pick who might be the next franchise great for the next ten or more years, an exciting thought at the end of a lost season. Our star players now, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, are getting older, and even though we might have them together for a couple more years, our future, at the moment, looks pretty bleak beyond them. Aside from Jamychal Green and Dillon Brooks, who played really well as a rookie last year, I don’t see anyone else on the current roster who has the potential to have a long lasting positive impact on the team, and I don’t think either of those players, as much as I like them, should be the biggest stars on an NBA team. That’s why I was looking forward to last night, because all that could change with just a little luck.

With the second best odds to win the NBA draft lottery, I had already been dreaming about who the Grizzlies would select in the draft this year. They were bad for much of the year, and after the calendar turned, the team seemed to be in full tank mode for much of 2018 when it was evident that things weren’t getting better, so I watched more college basketball this year than I have in the past, watching and studying the top prospects to decide on who I hoped Memphis would have on their team next season. I was never really in on Trae Young, although he did lead his team to multiple huge wins in the first half of the season, but watching him, he just didn’t seem consistent enough. When he made the long threes he looked amazing, but it seemed, at least to me, that he missed an awful lot of those shots too, and I just didn’t have a good feeling about him. Deandre Ayton was fun to watch as a great defender and big man down low, but the consensus was that he was the most likely to be the number one overall pick in the draft, and as much as I wanted it, I just had a hard time believing that Memphis would actually get that lucky, and even if they did, he wasn’t the player in the draft that I wanted most.

Luka Doncic was playing in Europe so I never actually saw him play a live game, but I’d heard that while he has a great shot, he’s not the most athletic or quickest player, which worried me, so despite there being talks of Doncic going at the second pick, or maybe even leapfrogging Ayton to go first, I really hoped that the Grizzlies would pass on him. The guy I really like is Marvin Bagley the third, and just about every Saturday during the college basketball season, if I wasn’t at work, I made sure to tune in to watch the Duke game so I could see my favorite prospect in the 2018 draft class. Aside from being big and athletic, he can shoot from multiple spots on the floor including beyond the three point line. I think he would be a great addition to the current Grizzlies roster and would create some much needed space under the basket for Gasol, plus I can see him being our star of the future. Out of all the top prospects in this year’s NBA draft, Bagley is the one I want and the one I think has the most potential upside going forward, but I don’t think the Grizzlies would take him with the first or second pick in the draft, so I really felt that the third spot was the ideal place for Memphis to pick.

I flipped on the TV just in time for the Draft Lottery to begin, although it didn’t actually begin when it said it would, because that’s usually the annoying way that sporting events work, so I had to sit through people talking about the draft lottery and making predictions and projections, and multiple commercial breaks. If the Grizzlies didn’t have a chance to get such a high pick, there’s no way I would have continued to sit through that because it was just terrible and pretty boring, but finally the results were announced. The lowest the Grizzlies could possibly pick was fifth, so when their name didn’t get called in that spot I was ecstatic, because I wanted them to pick at number three, remember? Then they announced who would have the fourth pick, and of course it was Memphis, because good things never just happen for the Grizzlies. I’m not going as far as to say that the Draft Lottery process is rigged, but I think they should at least show the ping pong balls being drawn live to eliminate speculation about foul play in the process. It seems like a fairly easy way to end talk of a rigged system by being completely transparent in the process. Initially I was pretty bummed that the Grizzlies ended up with the fourth pick, but after listening to more speculation about the draft order, I believe there’s still a chance that Marvin Bagley is still on the board at four, so the dream, for now is still alive. Hopefully if he’s there, we’ll take him, but knowing the reputation of our general manager Chris Wallace and his affinity for screwing up the draft, I’m not going to hold my breath.

What Would You Do for a Barbecue Sandwich

Imagine standing in a dirty restaurant with cracked floors and water marks on the ceiling. If there’s ever a that can depress you instantly by its aesthetic, it is here. I’m standing next to the counter awkwardly, trying to stand close enough to it so that I’m out of the way of the customers who walk past me talking loudly, but not so close that I’m basically in the kitchen. It’s really a fine line, and unfortunately I wasn’t so great at toeing it. I was basically face to face with the sweaty woman in the kitchen who was making my food, which was fittingly disgusting, just like the restaurant in which she was working. She looked up at me, wiped the beads of sweat off of her forehead with the back of her gloved hand, the same gloved hand that was preparing my dinner, and then, realizing she’d just made a mistake, uttered an expletive and then began to apologize, only it wasn’t an apology for the completely unsanitary act of drying her sweat with the same glove that was making my sandwich. No, she apologized because she forgot that I wanted the brisket on the sandwich sliced instead of chopped. At this point I didn’t care, I was just ready to get out of there as quickly as possible.

It all started about an hour previously. I was at home watching pre-draft coverage of the NFL draft that was taking place that evening. I always love the first round of the draft, because there’s just so much excitement and hope that whomever your team picks might be the one to lead them to a Super Bowl. With about an hour to go until the draft officially began at seven, my wife and I began to discuss dinner, and what we were going to eat. Neither one of us the most decisive person, it took us a good twenty minutes to decide on getting sandwiches from Top’s Barbecue, which is right down the street from where we lived. That being the case, I waited until about 6:35 to go and get the food, leaving plenty of time to get back in time for the start of the draft. I pulled into the drive-thru, which is where I normally order when I go to Top’s, because of the previously mentioned depressing aesthetics of the restaurant, and it makes me feel better about eating the food from there when I don’t have to actually go into the restaurant and see where the food is made.

I was sitting in the drive thru line for five minutes without moving forward at all, so when the car behind me and the one in front of me both gave up and drove off, I was free to do the same, only instead of leaving like they did, I just pulled to the front of the restaurant and went inside. There was no line, but there might as well have been for how long I had to wait at the counter for someone to come and take my order. Someone acknowledged me as soon as I walked in, which was nice, but it took several minutes for someone to come and ask what I wanted. I ordered two of the jumbo brisket sandwiches, with coleslaw on the side. She asked if I wanted the brisket chopped or sliced, and looking at my phone, realizing it was nearing ten minutes to the start of the draft, I chose sliced, because that seemed like the quicker option so they wouldn’t have to spend time chopping it up. I waited and waited at the counter, and still my food was not done, which is when I sent my wife the eloquent text message, “Top’s sucks,” but I should have waited another minute to send it so there would have been adequate sentiment left to express how I really felt about the person making our sandwiches wiping her forehead with her hand and going back to work without changing gloves.

It was after seven by the time I finally left Top’s with the two sandwiches I had ordered more than fifteen minutes earlier, but luckily by the time I got home, the boos being hurled up at the stage at NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, had lasted several minutes, so the draft was just now starting. For all the time spent getting those sandwiches, I vowed that this better be the best freaking barbecue sandwich I’d ever tasted, and it turned out not to be so bad. I just tried not to think about whether the meat was moist from barbecue sauce or employee sweat. Take it from me, food is much easier to swallow when you don’t know the answer to that question

The Best Thing I Ate This Weekend

This past weekend was the Southern Hot Wing Festival in  Memphis, and while I would love to tell you about all the different varieties and which wings were the best, I can’t, because I didn’t go. It’s not that I didn’t want to go; the day before, I was pretty convinced that I was going to go Saturday afternoon when I got off work, but plans always seem better before you actually have to go through with them, and it turned out Saturday was no exception. It was a beautiful day outside with the sun shining, and I knew if I wanted to do anything outside this weekend, Saturday was the day to do it because there were storms predicted on Sunday, but after work I just wanted to go sit in my apartment with the air conditioner turned on high and watch NBA playoff basketball, so that’s what I did. Of course, watching sports is great, but it’s even better accompanied by great sports watching food, so I decided to pick up some wings, which is the probably the best food to munch on while watching sports in my humble opinion, and even though I wasn’t going to Hot Wing Fest, I was still craving some delicious chicken.

The bank I work at during the week is not the same branch that I work at on Saturdays, and there’s not much that I like about the Saturday location, but it does have one perk, being right down the street from Central Barbecue. The day before, I’d heard on a podcast, people talking about their favorite wings in town and Central was on that list. I love Central, especially their barbecue nachos but in all the times I’ve been to eat there, I’d never tried their wings, but after hearing how good they were I knew that I had to try them, and after work on Saturday I picked them up on the way home.

Sometimes when you have food in your car, the vehicle fills with the delicious scent of whatever you’ve ordered, and sometimes it doesn’t smell so good and seems to linger in your car much longer than you would like, but the wings from Central didn’t really emit much of a smell, at least not one that I noticed, but when I got home, Jack, the dog, met me at the door, enchanted by whatever scent his nose was picking up. I used to trust Jack’s nose, figuring if something smelled so good that he would jump and dance around, that it would be absolutely delicious, but then my brothers came over with a bag of Wendy’s and he acted the same as when my wife cooks the homemade New York Strip with mashed potatoes, so I kind of lost all respect for his opinion after that. He was right on the money with the wings thought. They were juicy and tender and there was just enough dry rub to give them a great flavor with a little bit of heat, but not so much that it was overwhelming and enjoyable.

As far as messiest meals I’ve ever eaten, the Central Wings are number two on my list because of the dry rub that stained my hands, my face, my shorts, and the water bottle I was drinking from, but it was the by far the happiest mess of my life. They were whole wings, and probably the biggest I’ve ever seen, and by the time got to the third, I was already feeling full so I had to stop, which was okay with me because it gave me something to look forward to later in the day. For just under eleven dollars, you can get a full order of chicken wings from Central, which is not only delicious and filling, but a great value for the amount of money that you’re spending. Since it was only my first time trying the wings, and I got the dry rub that was absolutely fantastic, I can’t speak to the other flavors, but you can be sure that you won’t go wrong with the dry rub. I thought I knew Central Barbecue, and had my go-to favorites like the nachos and the ribs, but after Saturday, I have a new go-to, and a new favorite wing in town, and it was by far, the best thing I ate last weekend.

Good Memories From a Bad Year

I woke up today, which was a bit surprising because I figured the world was ending. It just seems apocalyptic that the Memphis Grizzlies, a team that has been a constant in the NBA playoffs for the last seven years, ended up with the second worst record in the league. The tragically long season came to a close last night with a loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, probably my least favorite team in the league, but it happened on a night where Russell Westbrook, easily my least favorite player in the NBA, recorded 20 rebounds which made him average a triple-double for the second season in a row, a historic achievement. Now I could go on and on about all the disappointments this season, of which there were many, but I think we’ve had enough negativity this season, so it’s time we put all that behind us and focus on the positives, so today, I want to look back at some of my favorite moments of the season, some of the fun memories that made this tough year a little bit easier.

There was a game in the first month of the season against the Houston Rockets, which I believe was a home game. I didn’t make it to the Forum that night, but I do remember sitting on the couch watching it that Saturday night with my dog Jack next to me. It was the game when Chandler Parsons, the punchline to jokes around the league, the guy who is constantly hounded on social media, the player who got booed on the home court this season when some fans got fed up with his lack of performance on the floor for much money he was getting paid, caught fire and took over the game on the offensive side of the court. He was hitting three pointer after three pointer, each one triggering a celebration by me wherein I would pick jack up on his hind legs and do a little dance that he didn’t seem to enjoy very much, and he was pulling up and making mid-range jump shots, silencing all of the haters and reminding everyone that he can still play. Unfortunately, there weren’t many games like that for Chandler Parsons, but for that night, against the Rockets, he was a hero whose back the team rode to victory.

Another great memory from this season was making some of the league’s star players lose their cool. There was the game against the Rockets, where Mario Chalmers defense against the likely MVP of the league this year, James Harden, to get mad and shove Chalmers to the floor, which resulted in Rio getting quickly to his feet and squaring up with the bearded star, ready to fight. Luckily some of the Grizzlies players had the foresight to hold him back, because there’s no doubt in my mind that he would have annihilated Harden in a fight. Then there was the game against the Golden State Warriors, where two time MVP Steph Curry got mad and threw his disgusting mouth guard at one of the referees, resulting in his immediate ejection, and unable to control himself amidst all the jeers of the hometown Grizzlies fans, Kevin Durant started talking to and taunting the crowd which resulted in his ejection from the game. What a sight it was, two former MVP’s of the league, on the team that one the Finals last year, walking off side by side to the raucous jubilation of Grizzlies fans. We one that game which was fantastic, made even better by the fact that two of the best players in the game couldn’t handle themselves that night in the Forum.

The last thing I’m going to remember from this season, isn’t a particular moment or a particular shot, it’s going to be the collection of young players that were asked to step up this season, who played hard every night regardless of the opponent or the fact that we they weren’t supposed to win the games they were playing. Not all of the young players gave their all, which was obvious and discouraging to see at times, but the ones that did, it really gave us hope for the future of the franchise. There’s no doubt that most of our young guys, had they been on other teams, wouldn’t have had an opportunity to play, so it was nice to see, that when that chance opened up here in Memphis, some of them make the most of it and play their hearts out each and every day. I’m excited about some of these guys going forward, and think they can be legitimate contributors to the team, and it’s good to know that when the going gets tough, they don’t lower their heads and sulk away, but they fight, showing us that the new generation of Grizzlies have some of that Grit and Grind coursing through their veins as well.

It was a long season, and there was undoubtedly a lot more bad than there was good, but all of that’s behind us now. We have so much to look forward to, whether it be the draft lottery coming up next month, or the actual draft in the summer where we will get one of the top picks. We can look forward to getting Mike back healthy for next season to lead our offense, and there’s hope that Chandler could be back to his old form next season and that the Grizzlies will make a great coaching hire that turns out to be the next Gregg Popovich. Maybe Dillon Brooks will take even more strides to become the next great young player. We have about six months until the season starts again, and we can speculate all we want until that time about what the 2018-’19 Grizzlies are going to look like, but the truth is, we won’t know for sure until the opening night tip off, but I’ll tell you this, I’m feeling optimistic.

It’s a Great Day

I’m genuinely excited and optimistic right now, two feelings that normally don’t come around too often for me, so I’d say it’s going to be a pretty good day. Who am I kidding? Today isn’t going to be a good day, it’s going to be a great day, and I’ll tell you why. At eleven o’clock this morning, the University of Memphis announced that Penny Hardaway as the new head coach of the basketball team, and that my friends, is why I’m feeling both excited and optimistic, a two feelings I haven’t felt together about this basketball program in about a decade, back when John Calipari was the coach and the team had a legitimate chance to make a March Madness tournament run. Back then I used to watch every game, woke up excited on game day, but it seems like when Mario Chalmers hit the three pointer to tie the national championship and send the game to overtime where Memphis would eventually lose, my passion and excitement and optimism for Memphis Tiger basketball was blown out like a candle, not to be reignited again until this day.

Sure there were years since then that I enjoyed watching Memphis basketball, but I never had any real hope for it, the latter part of this season being a prime example. At the beginning of the year, the Tigers, in my opinion, were virtually impossible to watch, with a new lineup composed mostly of Junior College transfers, but I watched most of the games anyway as bad as they were. I watched them struggle against Little Rock, then eek out a two point win against Northern Kentucky, but worst of all, I watched them take two overtime periods to get a win over Mercer. Who? Exactly. But as the season progressed, so too did the players, and the on court product definitely improved as the team became more experienced, and then there were games that were actually fun to watch, but I never felt excited and optimistic, because although the players got better, they still weren’t up to the caliber of talent that has come to be expected from the University of Memphis basketball program. The players played their hearts out and did the best that they could, and I did enjoy watching them, but there’s a higher standard here and sometimes just working hard doesn’t cut it. This is big time college basketball; if you want a feel good story about hard work and perseverance paying off, go watch Rudy.

I believe that Penny is immediately going to fix the recruiting problems, because not only does he have one of the top AAU programs in the country, but the high school team he coached, the one that just won him his third straight state championship, has a top 20 player in the country in next year’s recruiting class along with James Wiseman, the number one overall prospect in 2019, that presumably he would have a decent chance of getting. I’ve heard from multiple sources, that when Penny travels with his AAU team, he is a superstar, and the kids at the tournaments flock to him, so it would stand to reason that given who he is and his popularity, he would be able to recruit some of these top players based on his name alone. The hiring of Penny Hardaway breathes new life into the Memphis program and gives me and all the other Tiger fans something to be excited and optimistic about, because if he can recruit at the level that it’s believed he can, then there’s no reason to think that we won’t be back to winning NCAA tournament games in the near future. It really is a great day.

One & Only BBQ, A Review

IMG_E4952My mom and grandmother were in town yesterday, just for the night, because they had an early morning flight out of the Memphis airport, so rather than having to leave their house in Arkansas before two in the morning to get to their flight on time, they opted to stay with my wife and I, which we were pretty excited about since we hadn’t seen them since Christmas. We were sufficiently hungry by the time they arrived at seven, so we wasted little time in the apartment before heading out to get something good for dinner. My mom had been craving barbecue nachos, and I’m always in the mood for barbecue, so we decided to check out a place that I’ve never been before, One & Only Barbecue.

With three convenient locations in the Memphis area, you are never too far away from One & Only, and about ten minutes after leaving the house, we pulled into the crowded parking lot of the restaurant on Germantown Parkway. It’s always nice to see a crowded restaurant parking lot, because it stands to reason that if the food were bad, then there wouldn’t be all of these people eating here, and with only a few open parking spaces, and a drive-thru line wrapped around the building, this seemed like a very good sign. We walked inside and were seated at a booth, giving me the perfect view of the television which was airing March Madness basketball. Without having to even ask for that particular seat, it’s like the host knew me as soon as I walked through the door, could sense that I would appreciate getting to watch the game. I belonged here; I was home.

We looked over the menu, and my mom suggested we start with some fried onion straws, which turned out to be delicious, obviously. They weren’t served with the traditional orange zesty sauce, but a ranch dressing was brought out for us to dip the fried pieces of onion in, and I’m not sure if it was their own recipe, but I really enjoyed the ranch, which was a little bit thicker than what I normally get. There were a lot of really good looking choices on the menu, but ultimately I decided on The Junkyard Dog, a one hundred percent kosher beef hot dog topped with a quarter pound of pulled pork, mild barbecue sauce, coleslaw, BBQ baked beans and French fries. If that sounds like a lot of food, it was, which was immediately evident as the full plate of food was placed before me just a few minutes later.

I wasn’t sure where exactly to start, as the hotdog was completely buried beneath the avalanche of barbecue staples, so I just submerged my fork into the pile of mayhem and shoved the clinging contents of the utensil into my mouth. It was the most delicious hot dog that I’ve ever had, and the pulled pork with the baked beans and coleslaw were texturally fantastic, and were the perfect compliments to the hot dog and bun. I don’t think I’ve ever had an entrée where the French fries were scattered on top of it, but in this instance it worked beautifully. I made sure to have part of a French fry in each bite, and the saltiness of the fried potato fit in great with the rest of the dish. It may not have been a beautifully plated masterpiece, but it was absolutely delicious, and I would recommend it to anyone going to eat there.

I know it seems strange to have a hotdog at a barbecue restaurant, but not only was it the best tasting hot dog I’ve ever had, but with the pulled pork, baked beans, and coleslaw, I definitely got my fill of barbecue at One & Only. The service was really quick, like the food came out less than ten minutes after it was ordered, and the brightly lit restaurant, full of customers laughing and talking, gave it a nice cozy feel. Out of ten, I’m giving my experience at One & Only Barbecue a perfect ten, because it was absolutely great, so great in fact, that I’m already looking forward to going back so I can try some of the other delicious looking things on the menu. I don’t think I’m going to be able to commit to them being my one & only barbecue restaurant, but they are certainly a new favorite. Do yourself a favor, and go check them out.