Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Getting my game back

This week marked the first time in about 15 years I have set foot on a basketball court, and after a couple of hours running and jumping and half-ass attempts at shooting, I was surprised to find that I wasn't as far gone physically as I feared.

I never played organized ball other than church league, and in P.E. classes I was obliged to take at Samford. Though blessed with height, I am terminally white when it comes to running and jumping, so even though I liked playing, I was never what I would describe as really good at it.

But skill was not what got me back out on the court this week. I was motivated by boredom, the need to get out and do SOMEthing, and the growing realization that getting back in shape is an important part of my intense continuing effort at self-improvement.

Having bought a pair of shoes and suitable apparel, I showed up at the Civic Center on Monday, bought a membership and prayed no one else would be in the gym. And thank God, no one was. My first few attempts at shots came up pitifully short, but got better as I kept at it. Then, I ran back and forth, dribbled and shot, pretending there were foes opposing me. It was enough to get my heart pumping, but not pounding, and to remind me of what I liked about playing. After a few minutes shooting free throws (I hit about half of them) I resigned myself to the straight cardio workout I knew had to be done.

The elevated track at the civic center has been updated over the years since I ran it last, which was good because it first opened when disco was big. After stretching and being disgusted with the pitiful state of my flexibility, I walked a couple laps, ran a couple, then walked a couple to cool down. I was breathing hard, but not totally winded as I had feared. My legs felt exerted, but not sore or burnt. I repeated the two-and-two run/walk routine, then to finish with flair, ran one lap all-out. THAT was when I felt the heart-pounding, lung-stretching, sweat-pumping burn, but I knew it was coming.

It was on the drive home that I got the biggest shock: I felt good after running around like that! Although I'm still not ready to play for real against guys half my age (and I bet they will be) I look forward to picking up where I left off later this week.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Alabama State Fair

Back a few years after having been unceremoniously discontinued, the Alabama State Fair was a real treat for my kids this weekend.

Although it's a shadow of what the state fair used to be, the attractions set up at the Verizon Music Center (a.k.a. Oak Mountain Amphitheater) covered all the traditional bases for fall tradition that once lit up the whole west side of Birmingham. Admission prices were reasonable (although the $5 for parking seemed a tad extortionary) and the option of tickets for the rides, or all-inclusive hand stamps was a nice one. Once inside the food and drink prices were high, but nowhere near Six Flags territory.

I enlisted Grandnan to come along and help manage the outing, and it was a good thing, although the place was not as overcrowded as I'd anticipated it might have been. There were animals on the petting zoo in place of the old agricultural contests, all good-natured and gregarious with the exception of the young dairy cattle. Carlie got to ride a somewhat sullen-looking pony, but the rest of the 'herd' seemed well-tended and happy.

All the old favorite rides were represented, including one big and one not-so-big Ferris wheel. There were the cars and boats kids could pretend to drive, a somewhat rickety-looking and decidely rough-handling roller coaster, a carousel, gallery games of skill, and one attraction that I had forgotten was far, far from being a favorite of mine when I was young: The Tilt-A-Whirl. It was only after Griffin and I had boarded did I remember the ride pushed my nausea threshold to the absolute limit. It did again Saturday, but I kept it together. Perhaps college partying and my experience with the 'I-will-not-barf' mantra paid its dividends all these many years later.

Tasty but decidely unhealthy food favorites were also well-represented, to which we paid our homage at the corn dog and nacho stands. Pondering the existence of a deep-fried Twinkie almost rekindled my weak stomach. Bur slushys and sno-cones washed it all down and kept things cool.

A rain shower coincided with us being tired and ready to say we'd seen and done enough on our day at the fair. It's still going for a few more days, and features concerts at night. Here's a link for anyone interested http://www.alabamastatefair.org/

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Rolling Stones Shine a Light

Since I am still the biggest Rolling Stones fan I know, I was a sucker for this concert film. It did not matter that it had the added draw of Martin Scorsese direction, but I figured that would be a nice touch.
I was right. The concert movie as a genre has all but vanished from cinema, and that may have been what attracted a name as big as Scorsese. His attention to detail is apparent throughout, not just with technical prowess, but with his choice of footage. You feel like you are seeing everything there was to see, and thanks to the director, you get a sense of what these two shows were like for the Stones and crew.

I got to see the Stones live in 1989, and although I was not disappointed with that show, I came away with a sense of the Stones trying to stay young before the world, and not really pulling it off. There is none of that on Shine a Light.

Songs included in the film include nothing newer than 1983 (set list below) But, it was not full of played out radio standards. The shows (two nights at the Beacon Theatre in 2006) don't rely on fancy props or laser lights--no smoke and mirrors, literally or figuratively. You get the Stones, doing what they love, what their fans wanted to hear.

Which is not to say they don't throw in any spice or variety. You get White Stripes/Raconteurs front man Jack White doing 'Loving Cup' with Mick...with White slyly grinning and looking Mick in the eye on the line, "Well I'm stumblin'/And I know I play a bad guitar", in addition to doing a damn good young Mick voice in the first couple verses.

Then there is Buddy Guy fronting the band on Muddy Waters 'Champagne and Reefer', a combined of blues homage and reference to the young Stones rock star reputation.

Christina Aguilera slinks onstage for a duet on Live With Me, and simultaneously sexes up the stage and keeps the fans' musical palate refreshed.

The Stones have a bunch of songs they have played a million times, but they left just about all of those in the stable for these shows. I especially loved that the set list draws heavily from two of my favorite Stones albums, Exile on Main St. and Some Girls. At times, it was obvious that their voices and musicianship aren't what they used to be, but at no point do you see them trying to fake anything. The songs do not sound like the album versions, but I would have been disappointed if they had.

It was good to see the Stones aging gracefully, and I liked being reminded that their skills at what they do are still unrivaled.

Set list: Jumping Jack Flash, Shattered, She Was Hot, All Down the Line, Loving Cup, As Tears Go By, Some Girls, Imagination, Far Away Eyes, Champagne and Reefer, Tumbling Dice, You Got the Silver, Connection, Sympathy for the Devil, Live With Me, Start Me Up, Brown Sugar, Satisfaction.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Kymulga Grist Mill Park

I leaned on an old favorite haunt of mine as the pick for this weekend's trip out with Griffin and Carlie. I've had an unnaturally healthy interest in history, especially local history, for as long as I can remember. Kymulga Grist Mill Park is just across the river, is very accessible and has something for just about everybody. The kids were not disappointed, with plenty of old stuff to see, water to splash in, mud to squish and smear, rocks to throw in the creek, and sticks to wave every which way.

But this time, I went with expectation that very soon, the mill could be history, literally.

Privately built in 1864 near Childersburg (plantation country in those days) on Talladega Creek, the mill served the needs of local farmers and the Confederacy alike for about a year before Northern raiders swept through Talladega County at the tail end of the Civil War. The mill was one of their stops, but it was spared after its owner was said to have handed over all the corn meal on hand, and paid off their commander. It was kept in running condition for decades after the war, and remained in operation well into the 20th Century. The adjacent covered bridge stayed in use too, giving farmers a way over the creek.

And that's pretty much the way things stayed until modern times. It's been blessed with good luck and good people to look after it, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in the 1970s. It's owned and operated for tourism by a non-profit historical historical commission.
But even though the years have been relatively kind to the mill, time has caught up with it over the last few years with a vengeance. It's 144 years old, with a rustic look that suddenly went decrepit while no one was watching, so to speak.

The creek has eroded the earth beneath the main building with no way of putting it back on a solid footing short of partial dismantling and construction of a whole new foundation. Also, termites have done their work to the timbers supporting the mill. A structural engineer recently told the mill's caretakers the fix would cost something like $800,000. They have nowhere near that much, and no hope of raising it.

So barring intervention of some wealthy donor with a weakness for history, or a well-heeled corporation looking to invest in the community, the clock is ticking for the mill. The engineer said, a few days of heavy spring rain and the resulting fast water could very well sweep the legs out from under the mill, and take the structure down in seconds.