Look Out. It’s Wedding Night in America.

goats

None of this is true.

All names have been altered to protect wills from being changed to exclude the writer.

Got it straight?

Totally fictional. Wink, wink.

***

First question. Been to any wedding?

Second question. Did you have any fun?

Third question. (especially crucial answer here) Were any family members involved, either in the ceremony or the reception?

Is it just the weddings I go to, but are they mostly affairs that tend to bring out the same traits in friends and fellow members of your family? Holidays and weddings. The two most statistically ripe times for drunkenness, erratic behavior and bad old habits.

Allow me to cite examples.

Instead of taking in a killer concert this past Saturday night with the Why Store, and Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies, my wife Amy and I were guests a wedding for one of my cousins.

Oh man. Life’s scariest cliches spring to life. Recognize any?

Let’s start from the beginning, shall we.

We pull up in the driveway of the First Church of the Unlimited Giving in Indianapolis, and are greeted by a rent-a-cop decrying all compact cars carrying fewer than three people must park on the other side the lot, which can only be reached by getting back on the interstate and reentering the lot via the dirt road by the down by the river.

Ok. Fine. At least we were on time. We go, park, and I get out of the car, look over and notice my wife is looking at the right front fender.

“When did you get this dent?” she asks.

Huh? What dent?

“This one that looks like somebody leaned too hard against your car.”

I got no idea. Seriously. Great start, though. Oh, and the lot has parking meters. Nice touch.

We walk the nearly two miles to the church, and are greeted my cousin Jason. The cousin who thinks dressing up means clean jeans and menthol instead of unfiltered Camels. “Menthols smell better, right?” he’s been heard to say.

“Sup?” he asks.

“Not much. How’s (Oh, God, what is her name?), uh, life treatin’ ya?” I say. “You remember Amy, right.?”

“Oh. yeah. Absolutely.”

Noticing a leering quality, I decide to push on.

Inside, we run into Uncle Bob. Uncle Bob of the eternally rock hard handshake.

“Well, there’s the kids.” Bob yells. “How we doin?”

He extends his hand. The land of no return.

Crunch.

“You kids in town for the night? Staying close by?” he inquires.

Loaded questions. Better fib.

“Nah. We need to get back to Fort Wayne tonight. Have some work to do at the office tomorrow. What are you doing?”

“Well, you know Alice. She’ll be dancing until they kick her out tonight, so were at the Ramada. Come on by later,” Bob says, volunteering his room for us to crash in, I guess.

“Hey, maybe. Supposed to be a nice reception.” I interject.

“Yeah, I hope drinks are free,” he says.

After these first two conversations, I think “me too”.

Amy and I are escorted into the sanctuary by one of the ushers from the brides side. Seems nice enough. Wonder to myself the relevance of the partially hidden ax tattoo over his right ear. . No problems though, as we walk into a nicely decorated church, with loads of white colors, live flowers and candles.

We’re seated next to by Aunt Karen. We like her. She doesn’t pass judgement on too many people, dresses nicely, at least pretends she likes us and has two daughters, my cousins, both nice and intelligent. We basically lucked out here. We could have the fate of by brother Ryan, who has to sit next to friend of the family, Betty, who has the worst smelling feet in the northern hemisphere.

At least we hope it’s her feet.

The bride is beautiful. The groom is handsome, just as they’re supposed to be.

Neither is Catholic, so no need to put extra money in the meter. Grandmas cry. Nobody passes out. I do. I do, and we’re done in less than 45 minutes.

And the race is on. Who knows the shortcut to the reception hall? Heck, who knows the short cut to our car? Disneyland has a tram for people parked as far away as we are.

Needless to say, we aren’t the first ones to the reception, held at a sweet little country club in the middle of nowhere. On the walk up the driveway, I notice the guys who were earlier serving as the ushers double-fisting beers. I take it as a good sign. Looks to be a party.

Relegated to a back table because of our arrival time, we do get a prime seat to survey the scene. Christmas, reunions, weddings, funerals. The cast of characters is always the same. Anybody look familiar to you?

There’s Crazy Jackie, with her boyfriend at least 20 years her junior. She’s got the DJ around waist, undoubtedly trying to sweet talk him into playing “The Stripper” song during the garter toss.

There’s Uncle Steve and his wife Aunt Christy. Between them, they wear six necklaces, seven rings, have had four plastic surgeries, and six kids. Gotta love ’em, just don’t get too close to Christy. She’ll pinch your ass before you can say goosedown pillow.

Hey, there’s Aunt Mary. Probably the nicest woman here. I walk up to hug her, and she hugs me first. Good feeling when that happens.

Unlike the feeling I get when, later in the evening, I look to the dance floor and see the Johnny Travolta (circa 1978) of the family, cousin Willie, by himself, doing his knee drops and toe spins, and arm waves to KC and the Sunshine Band’s “Get Down Tonight”

Seems like the DJ, in his pink bowtie and pink suspenders, likes it though. That is, until Willie drops a little too hard on the portable dance floor, and causes the CD to stop completely.

Whoops. That’s just too bad.

I wave to Grandma and Grandpa. Grandma sees me, but I don’t think Grandpa does. And shouting will do no good. I’m sure the hearing aid went off about the time KC started singing. Or it might have gone off when Grandma told him 45 miles per hour was just too fast for the interstate.

Here comes the bride and groom, followed by a photographer who looks like he’s been run over by a car and a couple horses.

A video guy comes around with a camera and microphone wanting everybody to give best wishes to the newlyweds. I give directions to the Condoms R Us store in Daytona Beach. My wife slaps the back of my head.

I notice a lady two tables over takes a slug of her beer, and hold the microphone up to her ear like a telephone. I think about alerting America’s Funniest Home Videos that a tape is in the mail.

Some kids come running by, and head into the hallway to do a kiddie version of “YMCA”. I wonder if they know what that song was about when it came out. I sure didn’t until Jim and Tammy Bakker tried to save me by telling me all about it.

So we eat dinner, kick back, play tic-tac-toe with a one of kids sitting at the table. (I get “beat” three out of four games.) We move onto the “I Spy Game”. Again, the seven-year old kicks my butt.

Wallflower Jane, my Dad’s cousin, never moves from her spot at the neighboring table. I think her corduroy skirt has suctioned her too the chair.

A pack of high school girls I’ve never seen flit past our table wearing flowered dresses shorter than a popsicle in July. Of course, I didn’t look.

White wedding cake is eaten. A garter gets thrown. The bouquet is tossed. Some guy is on a table exhorting the crowd to do the “Country Joe and the Fish” cheer.

It’s time to go.

As we walk into the parking lot, and up the driveway, I look at Amy and smile. I mention how it’s nice the most people get married only once and Christmas with this crew is along ways away.

We grab each other’s hand and walk in silence until we get into the car.

“Have a good time?” she asks.

“Oh, yeah. Gotta love the family.” I say, starting the car.

Amy laughs.

So do I.

 

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Busted Flat in Detroit

The man, dressed in a black t-shirt, khaki pants and worn loafers, was standing in front of me. He looked rattled, as if someone had just told him a friend decided to leave town.

Yeah, left town. The friend was cash from this man=s pocket.

This gentleman, not more than 35 years old, sporting a black beard riddled with pockets of visible skin, was smoking Marlboro Lights as fast as he could breath. But he was not enjoying the leisurely drag-and-exhale rhythm of a relaxed smoker.

Nope, this man was in the suck-and-blow zone, holding the burning cigarette between his third and fourth fingers of his left hand.

A trembling left hand.

The trembling undoubtedly was related to the $1,200 he had just lost.

Lost may be the wrong word. He knew where it was, what hole it had gone into. It was in someone else=s pocket

The man in black turned and walked my direction, rushing by, going somewhere, eyes looking past me. Maybe he was headed to an ATM machine.

***

While Las Vegas is the glittering land of opportunity, both grand and false, and all of Nevada calls casino gambling legal, Detroit is holding onto hope that casino gambling can cure one of the city=s main diseases – the lack of reasons for people to visit one of the nation=s largest cities.

Within the last 12 months, a decrepit Detroit has become home to a pair of full-fledged, land-locked, could-be-Vegas-after-a-few-drinks gambling establishments. The MGM and the Motor City Casino have invaded territory once and still crumbling, giving Detroiters a reason to believe their city may still be alive. But like Atlantic City before it, Detroit may have simply turned a couple of old buildings into places for state residents to give their money away.

While those who like the idea of casinos in Detroit point towards Canadian city neighbor Windsor as a reason to have gambling (Windsor had casino gambling for a few years before Detroit residents voted to have some too, fearing they were missing out on a giant windfall), one trip to Detroit=s slot and table establishments seems to make one thing clear.

Tourism isn=t what is winning.

No, nearly all of the auto license plates in the new Motor City Casino parking garage are from Michigan. There is no on-site hotel. Both casinos are in situated on a well-worn Grand River Boulevard, hardly a sparkling street full of pedestrian traffic.

Those doing most of the gambling on this particular Wednesday night were residents of the city, and commuters who lived close enough to drive a couple hours back home.

Not that any of the experience is wrong. Hey, it=s your money. Spend it any way you want. Only not everybody starts with the same amount of cash, and those who lose the most usually have the most.

***

Let=s wander over this way, towards the valley of the small-time gambler. The nickel slots, tucked into faraway corners of the first and second floor of the four floor Motor City Casino, are populated predominately by women, though most look like they can afford to lose a couple bucks and still be able to buy a cheeseburger or three on the way home. Coins clink into the metal slot machine trays, lot of noise signifying little profit. A top-end jackpot on these machines might net a player 1,000 nickels – 50 bucks.

Quarter slots are very everywhere, as are 50 cent and dollar slot machines. Most of the folks hopping from machine to machine don=t seem to excited to be playing, other than a twenty-something African-American fellow who spins and wins $600 on a dollar machine as I walk by.

AI=m out, dude. No kidding, I=m done,@ he tells a friend standing alongside as the machine spits out his winnings.

Really, we=re out,@ he repeats, trying to convince himself he needs to quit.

But most people playing don=t get to make that kind of decision. After a couple hours, and a hole $140 deep, I have begun searching for interesting people to watch. I have reached by self-imposed limit and it is time to find others who lose better than I.

***

Sitting at a blackjack table alongside the woman with silver hoop earrings, gorgeous jet black hair and a low cut black dress is a man who could be president. He looks like Bill Clinton, with the same coifed gray hair, similar bit of a bulb nose, and a seemingly endless supply of cash.

Sporting a denim shirt with a button-down collar, here is a guy who thinks he has it going on. While the woman is not with him, he glances at her, especially when he wins a hand. He is betting enough on each hand to make my house payment.

This guy is playing blackjack at a table marked with a A$100 minimum@ placard. He starts most deals with $300 per hand, and he is playing two hands.

He is losing, and doing it consistently.

The woman is not glancing back. Through one rack of cards, lasting no more than ten minutes, he puts more than $5,000 on the table, any is down about $2,000 in the few minutes I have been standing three steps behind him, centered between him and the lady.

Were it not for one spectacular hand that saw him win $800, he would have lost close to $5,000 as I watched. Ten minutes. Lots of green chips, worth 100 buck each, went into the

casino=s rack. Twice, when he lost both of his $300 dollar hands, the Bill Clinton look alike turned around, making eye contact with me. Like it was my fault.

And maybe it was, because it sure was compelling to watch someone lose that much money.

***

But even the thrill of success found through watching other fools Ago toilet@ with their money gets old. Four hours in a room with no clocks, no windows, and no free drinks is enough when you are not winning money. So I left.

On the way out of the building, passing the last row of table games, I spot the man in black again. He=s must still be losing, because he is spinning his body 180 degrees just as I walk by. He must have been dealt a bad hand. His luck must still be bad, because he has the same third-and-fourth finger shaky hold on his Marlboro Light and is still sucking and blowing, as if the harder he smokes, the more quickly his money will magically reappear.

Shoot, maybe he won it all back. He was still playing as I swung the double glass doors open to a lit parking garage. Making tracks towards my car, a man in a tattered Detroit Lions shirt is standing at the end of a parking row. As I walk past him, he asks if I have a dollar. I say Asorry, not today.@

But buddy, just inside the glass doors, that=s where the money is. But most of it isn=t coming into the parking lot tonight. Or any night.

And just for fun, watch a Detroit legend….

Live Super Bowl Blog – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

 Tom Petty at Super Bowl – Here’s my riff on the Super Bowl halftime

7:31pm
Remember when the Super Bowl selection of Tom Petty was getting a bad rap early on  – a couple months ago.  Apathy or even some distaste.  (“Tom Petty?  Wha?”)  I think ‘who else are they going to get?’.  Look at the recent history: Paul McCartney, U2, Rolling Stones, Prince.  That’s the biggest of the big in classic rock.  The only one left is Springsteen, and he must have said no, because he is in the midst of his “Magic” tour. 

Tom Petty is one of the great singer-songwriters in rock music.  Ever.  Quit arguing.

Underappreciated, in an odd way. 
 
Tons of hits, and an enviable May -December fan base.  He has garnered a next-generation of fans as well as anyone in rock and roll.  “Free Fallin’ went a long way towards helping him pick up a second wave of fans.  Even though it was 18 years ago, it gives him a set of fans who are in their 30’s as well as a big 40 and 50-year old groups.
 
But still underappreciated.  He ain’t got the movie star looks for sure; more like the Florida redneck rocker he really is.  I love his integrity, his tunes, and his band.  I am looking forward to this.
 
7:56pm
I saw something on YouTube recorded from a cell phone during Friday’s Petty rehearsal.  I think “I Won’t Back Down” and “American Girl” will be in the set.  He gets about 18 minutes.  Tom said they are approaching it like a 1960’s tour, where five bands used to get about 15-20 minutes to make an impression before getting back on the tour bus and heading to a town like Erie, PA. 
 
8:03pm
Opens with “American Girl”  A song from his first record, and still one of my favorites.  Great story about Roger McGuinn, the leader of the Byrds, who heard the song from his manager  and asked “when did we record this?”  and  had to be told it wasn’t the Byrds but Petty, someone new at the time. 

Cool imagery of the giant arrow going into the heart on the field.  I like it that Petty still uses his older artwork as his branding…the band sounds really good,  though Tom a little nervous to be playing in front of 190 gazillion people, with just four songs to be great. 


FACT: The band opened with this song at Live Aid in 1985, another mega-millions audience.

“I Won’t Back Down” is second.  A nice version  yet not my fave and a little pedestrian, but also one of their more well-known songs.  I think it allowed everyone to settle in – band and crowd…

FACT: Read on a blog that the whole show/stage got set up in 7 minutes.
 
“Free Fallin'”  is third.  Probably his anthem…love it  when he plays the Fender Telecaster guitar. This song is his “Purple Rain” …Like John Fogerty, Petty’s voice is as good now as ever, and sounds more nuanced and he hasn’t lost much…..I love it too that this performance isn’t fake vocals, hidden keyboards, and prerecorded tracks.  It is a great band, playing live, and a pretty good sound mix too.  We can hear all the instruments, and the drums are loud enough to push, but don’t overpower.
 
“Running Down A Dream” comes fourth….and at this point I would rather watch a concert than the game for a while, but this has to be their last song.  Band is loose now, and smiling.    Mike Campbell, the Heartbreakers longtime guitarist, is incredible.  Responsible for much of the trademark Petty sound and is the secret weapon that many forget about.  He is on fire with his guitar work.
 
And it is over. A big jammin’ finish and stage bow.
 
I would say it was just what you would hope from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.  It sounded freakin’ terrific, they looked like old guys who can still rock.   The songs were quinessential Petty – rock radio faves for the crowd.  Will be interesting to see the reviews.  They will all be some variation of this:  Sounded great.  They looked old.  It rocked anyway.  Wished they played something else.  Crap like that.
 
Yes, “the Waiting” or “Refugee” or “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” would have been good.  But so would have “Breakdown” or “Even The Losers” or Insider” or “Name Any Song In His Catalog”. 
 
He’s Tom Petty.  It’s 30 years down the road from his first album.  I’m not to worried about saying he did Petty fans proud, and if some say it wasn’t that great, They are wrong. He delivered.  Again. 
 
FACT: I went to YouTube after writing this, and there were hundreds of people who had looked up the songs Petty had played and left comments on those pages. That’s the power of the Super Bowl translating into activity for your brand – in this case the Petty/Heartbreakers brand.  Remember too, someone doesn’t get this far without some marketing sense. Petty just announced his summer tour.  The band comes to Indianapolis July 3 at Deer Creek/Verizon Wireless Music Center.  Tickets are on sale…

Column – Endurance in Circles: Behind My Scenes at the Brickyard 400

By Rob Nichols

Quick. What are the first things that you think of when I say the word “endurance”?

Competing in a triathalon?

Running in the Boston Marathon?Try attending a NASCAR race. The hottest spectator sport in the country means many hundreds of thousands of sweaty, beer-swigging, rather loud folks whoopin’ it up.You see, now I know what going to a race is all about. When the stock car boys and their fans came to Indianapolis last week, I was there, sweating, get sunburned and taking notes.Though not the only way to do it, here’s one man’s story of jumping on the NASCAR bandwagon. Your results may be different.

7:40 am-After hearing the alarm go off ten minutes earlier, I fall back asleep for those extremely important moments of ” I gotta get out of bed but screw it” sleep. But to get to the track on time, I get up and grab a quick shower.

8:30 am- On the road for the two hour trip to Indy, I try unsuccessfully on the car phone to reach the guy who has an extra ticket for me. There will only be about 250,000 people converging on a street in front of the track. I have no idea where we’re supposed to meet. Ah, it shouldn’t be that tough, right?

9:00 am- Stop at gas station for 12-pack of Mountain Dew. Don’t really feel like hitting a liqour store yet, although was known to meet the store owner as he was turning the key to open the locks back when I was in college. Sleep? Who needed sleep when you were 20 years old. I took tests better under sleep deprivation. GPA? Sealed forever. Had to be a 3.9 something, trust me.

9:15 am -Get passed by my first of many vans with NASCAR stickers on the windows/bumpers/kid’s foreheads. This one also has a No Jeff Gordon sticker on its back end.

9:30 am- Dial car phone again. Still no luck.

10:30 am-Arrive on north side of Indianapolis, stop for a six pack of beer and a turkey sandwich for the cooler. I believe the ability to bring a cooler into the track is a major reason racing is a fan favorite. Now if only other professional sports and movie theaters would do the same.

10:45 am- Run into first traffic jam, on 38th Street, more than four miles from the track. Not good.

10:55 am- Bail out of traffic jam, running parallel streets until I either run into a dead end or find my way. Only two cul-de-sacs on this trip. Not bad.

11:15 am- Decide to park at Lafayette Square Mall, on 38th, about 16 blocks from the track. It’s free, and since my soon-to-be ex-buddy is unreachable by phone or smoke signals or drumbeats or anything, I am at the mercy of scalpers. Better save money where I can.

11:18 am- Notice my arm already hurts from carrying six beers, three Dews, a bottled water and turkey sandwich in the cooler.

11:35 am- Since the race starts at 12:15, I think everything is going pretty well, especially when I ask the first scalper I see how much he wants for his ticket. He says “Hey, great seat for forty bucks.” I say, “Ah, too much” He says “Come on fella, how ’bout 30 bucks.” I just keep walking. Tickets less than face value about two miles from the track. That’s a good sign. As my general rule says, if tickets are plentiful, the closer you are to the venue and to the start time, the cheaper the price.

11:40 am- A guy carrying a cooler, walking in front of me is doing the same “OK, time to change hands” cooler carrying dance as I am. His name is Phil and he has a ticket, but not for me.

11:45 am- Getting close to the track now, I can see the Goodyear blimp in the sky, and scalpers everywhere. Still, I wait. Phil pops a top on a beer. “Only got 12,” he says. “In this heat, they’ll be gone quick.” For sure, Spicolli.

11:50 am- Crowd is immense. Beautiful sunny day. And I’m looking for one ticket. Word of advice here: when going to an event without a ticket, don’t take your family of four. Four tickets together from a scalper will drain the wallet. A single ticket is easy. Look for a fan selling, not a ticketbroker on his bike.

11:51 am- And there it is. A guy wearing a Mark Martin shirt, with his radio headset around his neck and a cooler in his hand. “Whatta ya’ have,” I ask. “One ticket, not very high up, but good seats. I’ve sat there before,” he answers. “How much,” I ask. “Twenty,” he replies. “Fifteen,” I counter. “Twenty,” he says. “Fifteen,” I say, starting to walk away. “OK, OK. Fifteen,” he gives in. I’m the man.

11:52 am- I look at the ticket I just bought. It’s a $55 dollar seat.

Noon- I’m in, eating a track hot dog with mustard. Life’s good, especially now that I get to set the cooler down.

12:10 pm- As I start down the row to my seat, I am the last person in the whole speedway to arrive, it seems. A big woman at the beginning of my row wants to know where I have been and that they have been waiting all morning for me. She’s either friendly or crazy. Or both.

12:15 pm- The race starts, and for the next three hours and fifteen minutes, I am the renter of an eight-inch strip of bleacher, with a big cooler between my legs to keep me company. Oh, yeah, plus I have a whole bunch of crazy, funny, friendly goofballs all around me. The guy who sold me the ticket is sitting next to me, and during the race eats two of the biggest ham and turkey sandwiches I have ever seen.

The 12-year old girl behind me has a straw hat in her lap that pokes me in the back for the final 100 laps. This after she drops mustard on my shirt while eating her lunch.

A guy and his brother sit on my left, with one of the men giving a detailed explanation of everything from which driver is best to why onions are good on hot dogs. Unfortunately, most of his information is wrong. Good thing I had purchased ear plugs for a buck just before I entered the track.

The woman to the left of them is teaching her daughter the nuances of needlepoint during the race. Her husband and his pal are too busy loading up on Budweiser to notice.

A woman in front of me stands up and cheers everytime Rusty Wallace’s car goes by us, meaning she stands up and lets out a whoop every fifty seconds.

Late in the race, some guy two rows behind me tries to bribe someone to throw a beer can onto the track because his favorite driver needs a caution flag to catch up. Suprisingly, no takers.

Still, most everyone is polite, not too inebriated, and watches the race. When Jeff Gordon ends the afternoon by winning, he is greeted by more cheers than boos. We all file down the bleacher steps, and try to avoid the ice and cold water shower that starts when all the people still up in the stands seem to simeltaneously empty their coolers above us.

On the way out of the track, we all walk in the direction of our cars. Some have parked across the street and have a short walk to a long wait in line to leave the lot. Others are parked in yards of homes near the track. Slowly, the crowd of thousands walking to their cars and motor homes thins out until there are only a few couples and scattered groups crossing 38th Street.

I see my car sitting in the lot, untowed. I am walking alone, feeling a bit like a hero. I’m not sure how much cash I have spent. My whole view of the race was as the cars came through turn four, nothing more. But it was real. Standing up in unison with the rest of the fans when something exciting happened. The smell of burned gasoline, hot rubber tires and track dogs. Real sights, real sounds and real smells.

And real tired.