Ramble With Me.

Christmas Surprise.

Nowawadays travel is easy, or at least easier than it used to be. You can use the web to look up schedules, maps, points of interest, and even estimate times–you can plan out a whole itinerary without leaving your chair. This doesn’t prevent accidents from happening or things going badly–the best laid plans of mice and travelers, you know–which is something I thought about while listening to “The Holiday Coping Mechanism Spectacular” episode of The Hilarious World Of Depression podcast. Host John Moe shares a story about the year he and his wife decided to skip seeing their families for the holidays and take their young children to Sequim, Washington, which, as soon as he mentioned it, I added to my list of places I want to go, which, admittedly, covers pretty much the entire planet, but that’s another story. The trip wasn’t exactly disastrous, but it wasn’t as happy as they hoped either. No spoilers–go listen. You won’t regret it.

And it took me back to a place I’ve visited several times–metaphorically, since I haven’t been able to go really go back since I last passed through in 1991. While I’ve mentioned the little Welsh town of Carmarthen in previous yarns about my pilgrimage to the home of Dylan Thomas I’ve never given it the space it deserves. It was purely an accident that I found myself there, and even though I was just passing through I kind of fell in love with the place.

The first time I even heard of Carmarthen it was just a dot on the map, the end of the train line but close to my intended destination. And also I’m very much a freewheeling traveler. The best thing on any trip, for me, is to be surprised, which is why I set off on so many journeys without a clear idea where I’m going. The best part of any journey is the journey itself when you don’t have a destination. So I left Swansea on a rickety train that I’m pretty sure dated back to, and may have even been built by, George Stephenson. It was dark and cloudy most of the trip and then pouring rain by the time we pulled into the Carmarthen station. It was late on Saturday night and without realizing it I’d taken the last train. It was in the train station that I found the information I’d need for my second, and more successful, trip to the home of Dylan Thomas. Still I was stuck spending that night in Carmarthen and, because everything in Wales shuts down on Sundays, I wouldn’t be able to take the train back until late the next afternoon.

On that second trip I was, of course, better prepared: I made it to Dylan Thomas’s home and then took the last bus back to Carmarthen. I struck up a conversation with a guy on the bus who informed me he’d never met an American before. We made plans to meet up later at the pub, although we didn’t specify which pub and Carmarthen, small town that it is, has about fifty pubs. And anyway when I got off the bus I stepped right into an enormous crowd. I wouldn’t be surprised if the entire town was there because it was the lighting of the town Christmas tree. The mayor of Carmarthen was there with the city council and he made a nice speech wishing everyone a happy holiday season then turned on the lights. Everyone cheered and started milling around and going to pubs. I went in to one too and spent the rest of the evening talking to several nice people who informed me I was the first American they’d ever met. Before that I shook hands with the mayor, although I didn’t get to talk to him, unfortunately, because I might have been the first American he ever met.

It was a month before Christmas but being there for the lighting of the Carmarthen tree, to be able to spend an evening with the people who lived there, to share in their holiday spirit and their pride in the little Welsh town at the end of the train line, was a fantastic gift. And the best part is I hadn’t even planned it.

Behind The Scenes.

I’ll draw the curtain:

My lord’s almost so far transported that

He’ll think anon it lives.

The Winter’s Tale, Act V, sc.3

Every summer the Nashville Shakespeare Festival puts on at least one play in Centennial Park. This summer they’re being especially ambitious with two plays: Antony & Cleopatra and The Winter’s Tale. Really they’re being extremely ambitious by putting on The Winter’s Tale in Nashville in the summer, although part of the play does take place in the summer, but that’s another—no, wait, it is the story. Never mind.

The funny thing to me is I read both of these plays in a college Shakespeare class under the tutelage of a professor who pointed out that they’re two of The Bard’s least-produced plays. Productions of Romeo & Juliet or Twelfth Night are like episodes of M*A*S*H—always on somewhere, and obviously the NSF, which put on its first play in the park in 1988, has decided there are only so many times they can do The Comedy of Errors (3), Much Ado About Nothing (3), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (3), The Taming Of The Shrew (2), or The Merry Wives of Windsor (2).

And they’ve done The Winter’s Tale before, in 2005, which makes me think the the rerun is a little early since the play itself covers a span of sixteen years.

While the plays themselves are always great I also like to go and look behind the scenes. I didn’t interrupt but I did catch some of the cast at work.

Here’s the stage still under construction. Notice that they’re using one stage for both plays, which is one of the interesting things about Shakespeare. The original productions were in a grassy area behind the Centennial Sportsplex with no sets, only a very few props, and almost no costuming. Well, the actors did wear clothes, and for that we should be grateful—Falstaff couldn’t get the wrinkles out of his birthday suit—but originally the dress code for cast and audience alike was come as you are.

And since all the world’s a stage who could resist a look behind the scenes?

My Two Cents.

There were a bunch of pennies on the sidewalk. Why someone left them there is beyond me, and I could have just left them, but instead I picked them all up. Hey, if you see a penny and pick it up all the day you’ll have good luck, right? And even though the day was mostly over and I was headed home I figured maybe it’s a twenty-four hour good luck and maybe it’s cumulative so picking up all those pennies I’d get nine or twelve days of good luck. I couldn’t use the pennies to pay my bus fare, unlike that time several years ago when I poured exact change–all in pennies–into a bus fare collector, but still pennies add up. That’s at least one reason I think the US Treasury keeps producing pennies, unlike our neighbor to the north Canada that abandoned the penny a few years ago. And that’s one of the few things Canada has done that bugs me a little. When I was a kid I was bitten by the numismatic bug, although the doctor gave me a shot and I got better. It was finding Canadian pennies in change that got me interested in coin collecting; it made me feel in touch with the rest of the world. Years later I’d get a job in a mailroom and the foreign stamps that came in turned me into a bit of a Johnny-come-philately, but that’s another story.

Coins even helped teach me some history, like when I first found a 1967 Canadian penny which, unlike the regular maple leaf penny, has a  dove. So it doesn’t bother me that my collection of Canadian pennies, large as it is, is still barely worth a loonie–even less than that, now that the pennies are no longer legal tender. It’s a shame the 2017 Canadian coins, which celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the Canadian Confederation, won’t include a penny.

Still I wish Canada good luck on the sesquicentennial. Hey, here’s a penny.

 

The Next Generation.

Source: Billiards Digest

The future of every sport depends on the kids who play it. The reason soccer has finally gotten major recognition in the U.S., after long obscurity in spite of being the most popular sport in the world, is because the kids who were driven to afternoon and Saturday games by their soccer moms have now grown up. I remember playing soccer as a kid and being asked by my friends, “What’s soccer?” And then when I met people from other countries and told them I played soccer as a kid they’d ask, “What’s soccer?” and I’d have to explain that in the U.S. we have a completely different game that has usurped the moniker “football”. Unlike what Europeans call “the beautiful game” American football players hold the ball. With their hands. But that’s another story.

As a big fan of pool and billiards I’m really excited about the 2017 Atlantic Challenge Cup that’s going on in Klagenfurt, Austria, from July 5th through 8th, that’s sort of a junior version of the Mosconi Cup, with young players representing the United States and Europe facing off against each other. Pool and billiards have been in decline since, well, they’ve had their ups and downs, more downs than ups. The days when someone like someone like self-described “Billiard Bum” Dan McGorty could travel cross-country with no money in his pocket, hustling pool in every small town for just enough money for meals, are long gone. It’s hard to find a pool hall even in a large town now, and even when you do find one it’s likely to only have standard American pocket tables. Forget balkline or other kinds of tables. A woman I used to work with told me her husband, a professional drummer, regularly played snooker.

“Where does he go that’s got a snooker table?” I asked, intrigued because I love the game.

“Oh, he goes to John Prine’s house,” she replied breezily. Only in Nashville.

And I get it. Even a single pool table requires a lot of real estate. Soccer is popular because all it requires is a field and a ball. Or a slightly round object. Or at least something that can be kicked. It’s no accident that most professional pool players are the children of pool players. It’s an expensive hobby, and the shrinking number of pool halls makes it even more expensive, with players having to go as far as, well, Klagenfurt, Austria, for matches.

Sure, I’m rooting for Team U.S. and its members like April Larson, who’s such an exceptionally talented and dedicated player she’s already made the cover of Billiards Digest–and she’s still in high school, where she maintains a 4.0 GPA. But I’m also just glad there’s a new generation keeping what I call the other beautiful game alive.

 

On The Road Again.

The last time I rode a Greyhound bus was in 2000. I recently took one to Cincinnati. It would have been cheaper to fly, but since there are no direct flights from Nashville to Cincinnati the flight would have meant stopovers in Dallas, Honolulu, and Poughkeepsie, and while I didn’t mind that my wife thought it wasn’t such a great idea. I was also looking forward to seeing what had changed.

The first change, of course, was the Greyhound station itself. The old one was dull, gray, and dingy, and filled with an assortment of drifters, grifters, and sifters. The new one, in an entirely different location, is a much brighter shade of gray and seemed to have picked up a higher class of clientele. The old black and white TV sets firmly attached to chairs that cost you a quarter for five minutes of viewing were gone, replaced with plugs for charging whatever devices you happen to be carrying. I couldn’t use any, though, because there was no sitting room. My bus was scheduled to leave at 5:05 am. I got there at 4:15, hoping to beat the crowd, not realizing that the crowd had been there since at least the day before and taken up almost all available space. Maybe recent events in the airline industry have prompted more people to stay grounded.

In the old days there’d be an announcement of departures over a crackly intercom. This time a driver stood at one of the terminal doors and, in a clear voice loud enough to be heard by everyone,  announced, “ALL THOSE DEPARTING FOR MEMPHIS, ST. LOUIS, KANSAS CITY, AND ON PLEASE LINE UP HERE!”

Needless to say this was not my bus. My bus, it turned out, was leaving from the terminal next to it, the one where the driver walked in, looked around and mumbled something to the people closest to him before leaving again. I had to ask around a bit to confirm that it really was the bus to Cincinnati because the LED sign on the front of the bus said HAPPY HOLIDAYS.

I’m not making that up. It was part of Greyhound’s War on Some Late May Holiday.

In the old days whenever I’d take a Greyhound bus there were usually a lot of seats available. This time when I stepped onto the bus every seat was taken except one. In the very back. Next to the bathroom. A woman sat in the window seat on the far right. Next to her, in the middle seat, was a man holding a baby with his legs spread so far apart his knee was in the aisle.

The only open seat was to the left of him.

I tried to make myself as small as possible and we both might have been more comfortable if he’d put his knees together. Instead he decided to complain bitterly about the bus being too crowded. And I realized that f-bombs, unlike other forms of munition, lose their strength when you drop one every other word, but that’s another story.

The woman leaned across him and smiled at me. “Excuse me sir, could you move to another seat?”

“I would if there were one.”

It was true and also resulted in the man dropping several more f-bombs, none of which, surprisingly, were directed at me. Then we got a lucky break: a bus company representative came on and offered travel vouchers to anyone who’d take a later bus. I might have taken the offer but my diaphragm was compressed by my fellow passenger’s lower thigh. Several people did, though, and I was able to squeeze out and grab a window seat.

The bus finally got underway a little after six and I settled back with approximately two days of podcasts I’d downloaded in preparation for a long trip.

The bus stopped at Louisville en route to Cincinnati. In the old days I only had to get off the bus at my final destination. Disembarkation is now mandatory at every stop, so I got to look around the Louisville station and get yelled at for taking pictures of the cop and his sniffer dog.

The Louisville station, by the way, has been updated like the Nashville one, and, in addition to a bright gray color and lack of dinginess, also boasts a gift shop and game room.

Then it was back on the bus and I was fortunately able to snag another window seat. The rest of the trip was blissfully uneventful and, possibly because the driver exceeded the speed limit a few times, we arrived in Cincinnati on time.

The Cincinnati Greyhound station has not been updated, and I’m pretty sure they even still had some of those chairs with the TVs. Next time I may opt for the flight with the stopovers, even if it does mean going to Poughkeepsie.

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