Tag Archives: Entertainment

For the Birds

14 Jan

Over the holidays, my brother took his family to Orlando to visit the various theme parks. They hit all of the Disney ones – Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios. Then, they headed over to Universal to experience the Islands of Adventure in general and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter specifically. They experienced thrills and chills; waited in long lines because it was the busiest week of the year; and, saw plenty of muggles dressed like wizards. However, they all agreed (except for one) that the funniest thing happened at a concession stand.

To set up the story, I need to explain my brother’s family. It is the statistical norm with the parents and two kids. The oldest son is 17 and reminds every one of Sheldon on “The Big Bang Theory”. I realize that it sounds like bragging, but he honestly is the smartest person I know. He aces all of his classes and is line for the Ivy League. His brother is 14 and is as much a smart ass as his older brother is smart. The young one is always making wisecracks and thinks that he has a way with the women. In short, he is full of himself. With this dynamic, these two are on each other all the time.

So, there they are roaming around Universal and heading toward Harry Potter World when they spy a concession serving cinnamon and sugar on a stick. I have no idea what it looks like, but it has to taste awesome. Of course, both of them want one. They mosey up to the bar; order their sticks; and, turn to walk away. That’s when a huge bird swoops down from behind; grabs the youngest one’s stick; and, before he realizes it, is munching on the stick in the top of a tree. My nephew stands there stunned as dozens of people, including muggles dressed as wizards, burst out laughing. One kid with a wand starts saying, “No refunds! No refunds!” My brother, his wife and my other nephew all agreed that it was the highlight of the trip.

Amazingly, the concession stand workers say that was the fourth time it had happened that day. Birds hang around all of the time and steal people’s food. Despite the claims of the wand-kid, they gave him another stick which he crouched over and protected like gold. Perhaps, they should get Harry and the gang to put a spell on the birds and make them like broccoli or some other unfun food.

Nashville Nights (And Days)

12 Jan

As my last post indicated, I have been lucky enough to travel throughout the United States and struck up conversations with people from all regions and all walks of life. When I speak, they never fail to ask where I am from. I suppose it is due to my southern accent. Although I live in a suburb, I always say Nashville because most everyone knows where that is. Most everyone has a preconceived notion of it as well. Either, everyone here wears cowboy hats and sings, or everyone here wears cowboy hats and watches Hee Haw. Well, there are plenty of people here who have jobs outside of the music industry. Hee Haw hasn’t been on television in decades. And, the only people I see wearing cowboy hats are the tourists.

Obviously, Nashville, nicknamed Music City, is known far and wide for country music and it has been the driving force behind the city for decades. However, there is more to our fair city than that. It is a cosmopolitan city with a thriving scene built around art, dining, and various forms of entertainment that includes all kinds of music. I have written a couple of posts about places to which I have traveled. Now, I want to tell would be travelers what they may find around here.

What Every Tourist Must Do

People come to Nashville to discover the roots of country music and maybe see somebody famous along the way. The quest needs to begin at the Ryman Auditorium, the mother church of country music, where the Grand Ole Opry was broadcast for decades. The radio show made Nashville the country capital of the world, and a backstage tour of the music hall is essential. Behind the Ryman sits a row of Honky Tonks that have become favorite tourist hangouts. This is where you will see the cowboy hats. Each bar is essentially the same with live music and plenty of alcohol. However, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge is the destination for most. It gained fame as the place where Opry performers spent time between sets. Legend has it that Willie Nelson was so despondent about his singing career that he walked out of Tootsie’s and laid in the middle of the street. There are no famous people there now, but it is a fun place to go.

The performers of the past no longer haunt Tootsie’s, but they can be learned about at the Country Music Hall of Fame, a great museum with priceless artifacts. To find singers in their natural habitat, a trip to Music Row is required. If you are lucky, then you may be able to see someone going in or out of a recording session. More than likely, your sightings will only include some giant statues of nudes. However, I have seen more celebrities at Green Hills Mall, an upscale shopping destination, than anywhere else.

Being a historian, I must mention some locations that do not involve history. Nashville was prominent city long before the music industry existed, and several historic sites reflect this. The first would be the Hermitage, home to President Andrew Jackson. It is a good place to learn about one of our most powerful presidents and of life in the south before the Civil War. A second would be the Belle Meade plantation. Like the Hermitage, it is a pre-Civil War home with a distinction. Every Triple Crown winning horse is descended from a horse on the plantation. Our legislature, in its infinite wisdom, outlawed gambling and drove the thriving thoroughbred industry to Kentucky.

What the Locals Do

Nashville residents like live music as much as tourists do, but it may not be country or at Tootsie’s. There are several options that locals enjoy.

The Bluebird is pseudo-touristy and fun. Songwriters sit in the round; talk about their songs; and play them. Plenty of alcohol is served, but it is more of a classroom atmosphere as talking is not allowed. It is an intimate setting of the true music industry.

Sambuca, in the Gulch, is one of my favorites. A restaurant but more bar, it has a live bands of different genres throughout the week.

Bourbon Street Blues Club sits in Printer’s Alley, an area with a history of underworld mystique. For good blues and fabulous guitar playing, this is a great place to go.

However, the Schermerhorn Symphony Center is my favorite place to listen to music. A state of the art music hall, it is home to the Nashville Symphony and hosts performers, both classical and otherwise, from all over the world.

Of course, Nashville has a lot of watering holes where live music is not played, but they are cool hangouts nonetheless. Many of these are located in Midtown. Losers. Winners. Broadway Brewhouse. South Street. The list goes on and one. Taylor Swift also lives in the area, so a sighting could take place.

Up the street, there are other great hangouts such as Tin Roof and Whiskey Kitchen.

What Locals Do for Non-Music Entertainment

Obviously, man cannot live on music and liquor alone, and Nashville provides other forms of diversion as well. Small art galleries dot the city map, but the Frist Center remains the center of Nashville’s art community. Housed in the old post office, it hosts collections from the best museums in the world. Cheekwood Mansion also hosts artistic and historical collections and currently houses an exhibition of western artifacts from the Buffalo Bill Cody Museum.

Nashville is also home to many parks, the most famous of which is Centennial Park. Created during the city’s centennial celebration, it is home to an exact replica of the Parthenon in Greece. Why is the Parthenon in Nashville? Because the city has another nickname, Athens of the South, due to the number of universities in the area.

However, for a really good time, go to the Belcourt Theater, an old movie house that has been refurbished. It now serves as a viewing room for independent films, documentaries and movie classics. Also, there is a stage for intimate musical performances by some very famous people.

Where the Locals Eat

Visitors to Nashville can always eat at the Hard Rock Cafe, Margaritaville, or Cracker Barrel, which was founded in my hometown. However, to get a true taste of the city people should branch out. The following are a few of my favorites.

Bricktop’s – Americana food with a little flair. It is a great local hangout with a cool bar.

Virago – The best sushi in the city and a porch/bar with a great view of downtown.

Tayst – Serves organic food produced by local farmers. The best dish is the bread pudding made from a Krispy Kreme doughnut.

Rotier’s – Legend says that Jimmy Buffett wrote “Cheeseburger in Paradise” about this place. Enough said.

Pancake Pantry – Nashville’s favorite breakfast spot. Be ready to stand in line.

Eastland Cafe – Americana food with a lot of flair.

I Dream of Weenie – Any kind of hot dog you want served out of a 1960s mini-van.

There you have it – a guide to the Nashville experience from a person who has been around Nashville all of his life. Nashville has changed a lot in my lifetime, and it keeps changing for the better. Everyone is always welcome, and they can even bring their cowboy hats if they want.

For the Love of Post Apocalyptic Movies

30 Dec

I love post apocalyptic movies, and I am not sure why. The entire premise involves the destruction of life as we know it and the decimation of the human race….wait, maybe that’s it. The theme invokes a fantasy of solitude that we can never truly reach and also offers a do-over for the mistakes that the human race has made. Many of us are fascinated by this genre, and it just occurred to me that it could be because of a hidden message. Post apocalyptic movies are not just about the end but also about a new beginning. They can also be classified as futuristic westerns (which is my other favorite genre) since they inherently create a new frontier.

But, enough philosophizing about movies and their hidden themes and attractions. Here is the list of my favorite post apocalyptic movies. Like other lists on this blog, there is no particular order.

1. Damnation Alley (1977) – Nuclear war has disrupted the planet’s atmosphere and caused the skies to become a psychedelic ceiling of a disco. Giant bugs roam the desert around a distant military outpost. The survivors build awesome vehicles to move them across the barren landscape to a radio signal coming from Albany, NY.

This film provides cool 1970s special effects and acting. It has George Peppard transitioning from suave (Banacek) to his later roles as a commando (A-Team). It also has two of the great 3-named stars of the 1970s, Jan-Michael Vincent and Jackie Earle Haley.

2. The Omega Man (1971) – Charlton Heston stars as the “last” man on Earth after a virus has killed almost everyone and turned the rest into zombies that are a cross between Hippies and black robe wearing members of the Church of Satan. There is a lot to like about this movie – Heston driving through an abandoned Los Angeles and going to the movies (why would you sit in the dark when that’s where the zombies live?); Heston’s home with a balcony where he can give speeches to the zombies; the hot woman who Heston has sex with before she turns into a zombie (remember, he is that last man – not last human); the ritual/torture scene in the middle of a football stadium; and Anthony Zerbe as the news anchor turned zombie leader.

Will Smith tried to recreate this in “I Am Legend”, but how can you beat those sunglasses?

3. The Postman (1997) – In 2013 (wow, that’s not far off), the United States has collapsed after another Civil War. Kevin Costner roams the land while trying to avoid the militaristic leaders who have taken control of different regions. Think of feudalism of the Middle Ages coming to America. Anyway, Costner stumbles on some mail and begins to deliver it as a way to access fortified towns. Eventually, this becomes a unifying practice that brings hope of a rebuilding government. Feudal lords do not need a rebuilt government, so fighting commences.

The fighting mailman wins and helps repopulate the globe by impregnating another man’s wife. In the end, the United States is back and regular looking people are dedicating a statue to him. In essence, it’s like the end of civilization never happened. I just hope that Tom Petty got to keep his cool house on the dam.

4. Planet of the Apes (1968) – Charlton Heston strikes again as an astronaut that finds himself on a planet of backwardness. The apes can talk and are in charge while humans can’t talk and run around the wilderness. Unfortunately for him, he has a throat injury that hinders his speech for a while, and his surviving space mate has had a lobotomy. When Heston finally talks, the apes are stunned.

Of course, we do not realize that this is post apocalyptic Earth until the very end and the iconic scene of the destroyed Statue of Liberty. It goes to prove that if you are recruited to go on a time shifting space mission, then you should stay at home.

5. Logan’s Run (1976) – Life inside the dome is perfect. Days are filled with leisure, and everyone is attractive. If you want some private time with one of these attractive people, then all you have to do is dial one up on the computer. However, there are some pesky problems – at the age of 30 everyone must take part in Carousel (DEATH), and the ones who try to run from it are tracked down by Sandmen. Clothes (what little of them there are) are color coordinated according to age. Wearing red means your time is running out. Green means you are alright (as you can see).

Sandman Logan is given the task of investigating the rules of society. In the process, the becomes a runner with the damsel above and is chased by his former best friend. During the run, Logan escapes from the domed city and reaches a destroyed Washington, D.C., where he finds an old man living in the Capitol with a bunch of cats (I am sure they are smarter than the cats we have there now.). Logan kills his former friend and returns to the city with the old man, proof that you don’t have to die at 30. But, you can still dial up sex partners if you want.

6. Soylent Green (1973) – This must be Charlton Heston’s “end of the world” period, but I am not sure this qualifies as post apocalyptic. The world is overcrowded and food is at a premium. Only the wealthy can eat steaks and stuff. Everyone else must eat soylent green, which is supposedly made of plankton. Heston is a New York City police officer who embarks on a mystery.

At the end of his investigation, Heston discovers that “SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE!!!”. That’s one way to feed an overcrowded population. Kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. And, Edward G. Robinson, in his last movie, commits suicide and presumably gets eaten.

7. Priest (2011) – This is definitely post apocalyptic, but it could be another world. Does that mean it doesn’t count? It still counts on my list. The world has been ravaged by a war between humans and vampires. The humans won by employing Priests, a team of church trained commandos, and vampires are confined to reservations. Now, the vampires are tired of reservation life and are on the rampage. They attack a homestead and kidnap the niece of a war veteran. He, along with a sidekick, go on an epic journey to save his niece (which is really his daughter) and put the vampires back in their place.

It is a typical movie, but as I watched it I got the feeling that I had seen it before. First, “savages” attack a homestead and kidnap a young girl. Second, her uncle, a hardened veteran and old “savage” fighter goes after her. Third, a young sidekick who cares for the girl travels by his side. Fourth, the uncle says he will kill her if she has turned “savage”.

This is “The Searchers” with vampires in the place of Native Americans and the Priest in the place of John Wayne. They took my favorite Western and placed it in a post apocalyptic setting.

There you have it – a short list of my favorite post apocalyptic movies. Some of them are considered classics and some of theme are considered a waste of film, but I found something to like about all of them. There are others that could have been included:

Blade Runner (although I fell asleep watching it)

The Book of Eli (a cheap knock-off of “The Road” before “The Road” could be made into a movie)

Escape from New York (call me Snake)

The Running Man (with an awesome Richard Dawson)

V For Vendetta (Remember the Fifth of November and its connection to Halloween)

Rollerball (JONATHAN! JONATHAN!)

12 Monkeys (watch out for familiar looking guys in airports)

The Road (better than Denzel’s version but not as good as the novel)

But honestly, I got tired of typing. There are so many movies in this genre that I find enjoyable that I couldn’t include them all. What is your favorite movie genre? If you like post apocalyptic stuff, then what are your favorites? And don’t forget, “The Hunger Games” are about to begin.

I Left (Some of) My Money in Tunica, Mississippi

29 Dec

For the past few days, I have been immersed in the entertainment possibilities of Tunica, Mississippi, a place to which I have been traveling with my family and friends for many years. Quite a few people in these parts go to Tunica, but you may not know that it is the gambling capital of the South. It doesn’t have the glamor of Las Vegas or the boardwalk of Atlantic City, but it has all I need to escape from the stress and worries of life – Blackjack tables.

Dominated by cotton and other crops, Tunica County was the poorest area in the state. Then, the Mississippi legislature, ahead of other states, legalized riverboat gambling. Casino owners, wanting access to the growing population of the South, quickly searched for a willing municipal partner, and the leaders of Tunica were eager to take advantage of their vicinity to the Mississippi River. It wasn’t long before casinos and grand hotels were springing from the flat bottom lands. Imagine looking out of your hotel room and seeing cotton fields all around. That is Tunica.

Gambling hit northern Mississippi a few decades ago, and I have visited the area countless times since. Many of the trips have been lost from memory or have blurred together, but the first time always stands out. I went with a bunch of friends, and we spent the first night in Memphis. A member of our group had a friend that we were going to meet up with, and when we met I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. She was beautiful with jet black hair and dark eyes. Coincidentally, we had the same last name, and I started to think that will make things simple. We hit the town hard that night and headed the 30 miles south to the casinos the next day. I had just lost quite a bit of money in Las Vegas and began to brag that I was going to win all that back and more. Everybody was telling me that it was impossible and that I needed to shut up. However, she took it further. If I won more than I had lost, then she would take off all of her clothes and let me do a body shot off of her body – on any area I wanted. Game on.

When we walked into the casino, I picked out a Blackjack table and told them to get me there when they were ready to go. The table was packed with fun-loving people. We drank, laughed and gambled. I drank so much that I lost track of what I was betting (not a good idea generally). I was also distracted by the girl sitting next to me – Holly from Hope, Arkansas. We talked and flirted and bumped up against each other all night. She wanted my undivided attention, and I probably should have given it to her. But, I was on a mission. I don’t know how much time passed, but my good friend walked up and said everyone was ready. I said goodbye to Holly and went to the bank to cash in my chips without knowing exactly how much there was. With money in hand, I walked to where the group was sitting and pulled the cash out of my pocket. “Shot Girl” couldn’t believe that I had won double what I lost in Las Vegas. To her credit, she went through with our agreement, and a good time was had by all. Well, maybe not all, but I had a blast.

Through the years, my trips have calmed considerably. I have taken several girlfriends, but they didn’t grasp the enjoyment of gambling. My parents like to go, and I have taken them several times. The most fun was with my uncle. He loved Blackjack as much as me, and we spent many hours sitting at opposite ends of a table trying to break the bank. He passed away last year after a decade-long battle with cancer. Whenever we walked into a casino, he would say, “I’m getting well.”

This trip was just me and my parents. We stayed at Harrah’s and did most of our gambling there. I always start slowly and build up my pace. I played some video poker with my dad while my mom worked the penny slots. Then, I found my own penny machine based on “The Hangover” and won some money. By this time, we were getting hungry and hit Paula Deen’s Buffet. I am sure Paula’s real restaurant is a lot better, but this one is a great place to eat. Plus, gamblers get to eat for free, and it is easy to get into than her original locale – or so I hear. After dinner, I tried my first foray into Blackjack on a $5 table where the players were not too bad (more on that later). The conversation was fine, but I would rather not talk to anyone. The dealer should be a robot and the other players should just play. But, this was a chatty bunch.

I was at my usual 3rd base position (the last player before the dealer), and the guy at 1st base (the first player) was having a difficult time making decisions. On one hand, the guy asked for advice, and another player told him what “The Book” says. For serious Blackjack players, “The Book” is like the Holy Grail, as it charts every situation that you’ll face and tells you the play to make. Before sitting down at a table, I highly encourage you to memorize it. However, players have a love/hate relationship with it. They follow it but complain about it when they lose. The key is to play the percentages and get the best odds on your money while understanding that the house is still the favorite. That’s why they can build big buildings and provide free rooms, food and drinks.

Anyway, the player giving advice said that the only person to make money from the book was the guy who wrote it. It’s a common line with people who lose after making the right play. I hate it.

So, I interjected that I watched a documentary about him man who developed the Blackjack chart. He was a mathematician who was approached by a gambler about helping him win. After a weekend proving his theory worked, the math whiz quit Blackjack and used his formula to gain wealth in the stock market. In return, I received a smart remark about how it must have been a long time ago because nobody makes money in the stock market now. No shit, Sherlock. How long do you think “The Book” has been out? Another thing to remember, don’t try to bring an intelligent conversation to the table.

The next day we decided to get out of the casino for a while and check out the countryside. Most people who go to Tunica think they have actually gone to the city of Tunica, but they haven’t. The casinos sit in the Robinsonville community, and Tunica is several miles down the road. Riding through the city provides clues that the city fathers did not anticipate this. There is a History of Tunica Museum, and the town center has been turned into a park-like area surrounded by shops and small restaurants. Obviously, they expected an influx of tourists that did not show up in the expected numbers. And, the people who do not venture out are missing a lot. Tunica is a nice little town with a beautiful courthouse and interesting things to look at. Also, the Hollywood Cafe is closer to the casinos than Tunica. It was one of the great music clubs where many of the great Blues artists got their start. When Marc Cohn sings “Walking in Memphis”, he includes this line:

Now Murial plays piano

Every Friday at the Hollywood

He is referencing this place. I wonder how many gamblers even know it’s there.

However, a more famous blues place is just south of Tunica on Highway 61. Clarksdale, Mississippi was also one of the great Blues locales, but one with more mysticism. According to legend, it is where Robert Johnson went to the crossroads and sold his soul to the Devil in return for being a great Bluesman. Again, I wonder how many gamblers have ventured that far away from the slot machines.

When I returned to the tables, I realized how bad it can get. I sat at another $5 table and immediately knew that I had made a mistake. No one was playing by “The Book” except me. The man next to me even asked why I was making bad decisions. The guy at 1st base agonized over every decision. This is a bad sign because if someone knows “The Book”, then there is really no tough decision. You just do what you have trained yourself to do. Play the odds instead of hunches. In short, it was terrible, so I got up and went to a $25 table. Most people who are willing to bet a minimum of $25 and probably more know how to play the game. It was wonderful. No delayed decisions. Everything by “The Book”. Splits. Double downs. Fast-paced. I lost $600.

The only person to make money from “The Book” was the guy who wrote it.