Wednesday, October 29, 2008

What? Going Out On a Weeknight!?

I drove to Charlotte tonight to meet my sister-in-law, Erica, and our friend, Eva, for an evening at the theater. They both work at the Mecklenburg County courthouse; I picked them up outside of the building, and we headed over to the McGlohon Theater at Spirit Square in uptown Charlotte. It's a beautiful and intimate little venue. The last time I was there was in 1988 with my friend Jada, and we saw Suzanne Vega perform.

"Traces" was wonderful! It's performance art, and it has a Cirque de Soleil-meets-Stomp feel to it.

I'm posting a video that I found on You Tube. Words can't describe must watch for yourself.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

My Brother, the Heavyweight Champion!

Permit me, if you will, a moment to brag about the eldest of my three baby brothers.

Firstly, here is some background: Grant is very athletic, and he loves to play. He channeled this energy for awhile by playing in a men's baseball league. However, he was forced to hang up his cleats a couple of years ago when an old childhood injury (badly broken arm that never properly healed) flared up, and he was unable to continue to play. Never one to give up and remain idle, Grant merely went out and found a new passion. Initially, he learned how to box simply as a method of working out and staying in shape. However, he ended up tapping into a natural talent that I don't think anyone knew existed. It turns out that Grant is good at boxing. I mean really good. At the age of 37, he began to fight competitively on a toughman circuit that is highly regulated by the North Carolina Boxing Commission.

In October of 2007, I attended Grant's first competitive match in Salisbury NC. He was fighting in a lighter weight class than he fights now. Frankly, I thought he looked way too thin. His weight just didn't seem to suit his 6'3" frame. He was TKO'd in his first fight; he ended up on the ground more than once, and the ringside doctor was the one who ended the fight. It was difficult to watch; not because Grant lost, but because I knew how disappointed he was. He had been working and training exceptionally hard.

In his usual fashion, Grant didn't give up. He got back up on his feet (literally and figuratively) and went about trying to figure out how to build a better mousetrap. After conferring with some guys who had been in the business for awhile, Grant decided he would bulk up and fight at a higher weight---the heavyweight class. This lighter weight simply wasn't working for him. He took some time off from fighting, and he trained. And trained. And trained.

The following January (a mere 3 months later), we all traveled to Mooresville NC to watch Grant debut in the heavyweight class. He won 5 fights over a course of 2 nights, and he won the tournament! He's been kicking ass and taking names ever since. He's weighing in now in the neighborhood of 205ish pounds.

So flash forward to this past weekend: we were back in Salisbury almost a year to the day when Grant started fighting and was soundly beaten in this very same building. Talk about coming full circle...

He won his fight on Friday night---TKO in the 2nd or 3rd round (forgive me, Brother...I can't remember which!). We all returned on Saturday night to watch him continue to move through the tournament. By the way, when I say "all", I mean Grant's huge entourage. Grant is pretty lovable, and he is loved dearly by many people. On Saturday night, his entourage consisted of his wife, our mother, another one of our brothers and his wife, our aunt, me, and several of Grant's childhood friends.

Grant waits for his TKO to be called on Saturday night

You know...I just have to say here that I am both amazed and embarrassed at how having someone I love in the boxing ring so easily brings out my inner white trash redneck. Up until Grant's fight, I was cool and calm. I applauded politely when the other fights' winners were declared. I quietly snacked on my king-sized bag of peanut M&M's while I watched other people's husbands, brothers, sons, and friends enter the ring. And yet, when my brother was in the ring and involved in a fierce battle for the heavyweight championship, I was shocked to hear "Stick 'em, Grant!!" and "Knock 'em on his ass, Grant!!" raging out of my mouth while my fists were clenched.

The championship bout was about as close as it can be. It went all three rounds, and it was a split decision. Grant was declared the winner, and we went nuts! Another trophy and another $500 prize for Grant and Erica (the deal is that Grant gets the trophy, and Erica gets the money--which is compensation for severe emotional distress caused by watching her husband fight and get knocked around). His opponent's group obbbbvioussssly disagreed with the decision, and they were quite vocal in their disappointment. At first, I took it really personally, and I wanted to challenge each of them to a slap fight. However, my cool head prevailed, and I realized that I would have been booing and scowling if the decision had gone in the other direction. They love their guy as much as I love mine, I guess. So I decided to let it drop. This time.

Next fight is next month in Morganton NC. I'll be there with bells on.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Arizona, Day 6 - Heading Home and My Final Thoughts

The trip home went off without a hitch. There were no cancelled or delay flights. Our rental car passed inspection---no dents, scrapes, or dings.

We had a 3-hour delay in Memphis, so I got to explore the airport a little (which is something I love to do, per my nerd tendencies). As we were descending into Memphis, I started to go over in my head some of Memphis' characteristics. Let's see...there's Graceland, the NBA's Grizzlies, blues music, and BBQ. As soon as we got off the plane, I smelled BBQ!! I literally began to salivate, as I was extremely hungry. I followed my nose to the food court where I found Interstate Barbecue, and I headed towards it like a fly towards a fresh cow paddy. For around $9, I got a huge heapin' serving of sliced barbecued beef, baked beans (the best I've ever had), hush puppies, bread, cole slaw, and iced tea. I sat down in the crowded food court and inhaled every crumb and drop. The sauce was tangier than my beloved NC BBQ. I wouldn't call it better or worse...just distinctively different. It was delicious!

There was plenty of time to kill, so we walked around and explored as we headed towards our gate. There's a restaurant in the Memphis airport that features a live band playing some Memphis blues. The music was thumping! It sounded great!

We landed in Charlotte around 10 p.m., and I walked into my apartment just a few minutes ago.

Here are some final thoughts about Arizona:

1. I cannot get over how kind and friendly the people are in Arizona. And I don't mean just the people within the tourist industry who are paid to be friendly; I mean the people who work at Walmart, Circle K, Denny's, and the Arizona Diamondbacks souvenir store. I've never met a friendlier bunch. When they said "Have a nice day!", I think they actually meant it.

2. North Carolina could learn something from the Arizona Department of Transportation. If there is an interstate exit off of which there is no gas station, food, or hotels, then the exit sign is labeled "No services available". Doesn't it make sense to do this? You know to keep on going if you're looking for gas or a place to pee.

3. It's a cliche, but there really is a difference between the humidity-filled NC heat and the dry heat in AZ. While the sun is intense, the higher temperatures are much more bearable when the air around you isn't filled with oppressive humidity. I'll never again make fun of someone when I hear them say "Well, it's not the heat that makes it feel so's the humidty."

4. While much of the AZ landscape looks completely different from that in NC, I was surprised at the many forests in AZ. In my ignorance, I expected nothing except sand, roadrunners, and tumbleweeds. And maybe an armadillo.

I enjoyed my trip immensely, and it was everything I had hoped it would be; I would definitely like to spend more time there. However, the western half of the U.S. will never feel like home to me. I'm an East Coast girl through and through. It's good to be home.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Arizona, Day 5 - The Navajo Nation and Grand Canyon National Park

The view from the Denny's parking lot. I'll say again that Page AZ is surrounded by some gorgeous scenery!

We woke up this morning, and we got on the road at a fairly decent hour. We grabbed some breakfast at Denny's, and we were on the road again.

AZ Hwy 89 is beautiful in the daylight! As I suspected based on our nighttime drive a couple of nights ago, there is not much there in the way of goods and services; however, the scenery is breathtaking. I did not realize that we had driven through the Navajo nation on our way into Page.

A glimpse of the beautiful Navajo reservation
Another view of the Navajo reservation

As we were driving through, we stopped and met some Navajos who were selling handmade folk art. The pieces were gorgeous, and I was amazed that all of it was made by hand. I wanted literally every single piece that I examined. I could very easily have spent 100's of dollars at this roadside stand. Much of it had been made by a woman named Elsi; the lady who was selling her pieces was Elsi's niece. The niece shared with me the Navajo lore and history that was the inspiration for the pieces that I bought.

The roadside stand where I bought my Navajo folk art

My very favorite piece that I bought is my storyteller bear. According to Elsi's niece, the bear symbolizes strength and courage in the Navajo culture. It is hand carved out of clay. The art that you see on it is made with sand, and the sand is kept in place with tree sap. See the fine black lines going through it? That is horsehair art. It's hair from a horse's tail or mane, and it has been fired into the clay using a special technique.

My storyteller bear

Next, my eye caught a beautiful Christmas ornament that Elsi created, and it was also made of clay. You can see horsehair art used here, as well. The depiction of a Navajo on the horse is symbolic for "end of the line". This made me a little sad, because it represents the loss of many elements of Navajo culture through the years...the systemic and mandated elimination of their traditions and customs. Happily, the Navajo are currently working to revive many of those very traditions and customs.

My clay Christmas ornament

Finally, I found a gorgeous bracelet! It's made of silver, turquoise, and apple coral (which I had never heard of before).

My new bracelet

As we were driving across the Navajo reservation, we listened to a public radio station that serves the western Navajo nation--KGHR. They play quite a large variety of contemporary music---everything from The Archies to Van Morrison to Green Day to Los Lonely Boys. However, they also play traditional Navajo music, as well as contemporary songs about the history and plight of the Navajo people. Both English and the Navajo dialect were spoken. I thought it was quite fascinating, and listening to it as we drove made the trek through the Navajo nation feel surreal to me. I felt sad as I looked around the beautiful landscape and saw small communities consisting of shacks, campers, and trailers. It drove home the fact that we weren't merely passing through a tourist trap; these people live here. This is their home...their community. They are born here, live here, work here, and die here. I would like to visit this area again; next time, however, I want to educate myself about Navajo history and culture.

We drove through the Grand Canyon National Park again. It is much better in the daylight, I have to say. I took more pictures from various lookout points. These photos came out much better than the sunset tour, I think. Perhaps it was because we didn't have the smoky haze with which to contend this time.

I have been fascinated by all of the different countries being represented among my tourist brethren. I've heard very little English being spoken during this trip. Today, I've heard German, French, Japanese, and Arabic being spoken...and those are just the languages that I recognize. When I do hear English being spoken, it is often with a British or Australian accent.

We made it back to Phoenix around 8:30 p.m. or so. At this point, we were both pretty worn out. Although we've had a great time (except for the hospital thing), we're both ready to get the hell home. I love to travel, but I'm always ready to get back to my home base for awhile. We found our hotel with relative ease. I had my usual battle with the electronic key card (Kelley got it open on her first try...but then, she's much more patient than I), but we made it into the room. We were both craving McDonald's, for some reason. We got semi-settled, and we headed out again. I wanted to go ahead and fill up the gas tank so those rat bastards at the car rental place wouldn't charge a jillion dollars (roughly) if we returned the car on empty. The gods smiled upon us; my GPS led us to a nearby gas station...and there was a McDonald's right next door! We hit McD's first and then headed over to the gas station. As I pumped gas, Kelley started to clean the thousands of dead bugs off of our windshield. A Latino gentleman came running out of nowhere, exclaiming "Mami! Let me do that for you!" He was a kind and friendly fellow; we talked as he wiped down our car. It turns out that he's homeless. He was a construction worker and came from CA with his truck and his tools. He found work right away, and he was living a pretty good life. A few months ago, his truck and tools were stolen. He lost his job and, eventually, his home. In spite of this, however, he had such a sweet spirit and an exceptional outlook on life. He talked openly about his belief in God, as well as his approach towards life and his recent bout of rotten luck. He had virtually no possessions, yet he was one of the most generous people I've ever met. Kelley and I were running low on cash; she gave him a couple of bucks, and he accepted it humbly and gratefully.

Since we had a refrigerator in our room, we decided to buy some milk and cereal for breakfast the following morning; now we can eat a quick (and cheap) breakfast in our hotel room and get straight to the airport to catch our noon flight.

I'm exhausted. I should sleep juuust fine tonight.