Sunday, July 27, 2008

2 to win on 4

Beer. Horses. Wagering. Live music.

Can it get any better?

If so, someone please tell me.

The Sam Houston Race Park has a summer concert series that is paired with live horse racing. I had been meaning to check out the horse race park anyway, but when I found that my new favorite band Southern rockers Cross Canadian Ragweed was coming to play a show I bought my tickets right away.

So Friday night my friends Tina, John and I met up at the race park for a summer's night of entertainment. Walking up to the horse paddock where the horses are saddled and the jockeys then saddle up brought back some childhood memories of Keenland and historic Churchhill Downs where I first learned the insanity of horse race wagering. I remember my mom's strategies which included live earnings and silks colors. Mom always insisted on betting on horses whose jockey wore purple silks. Real scientific.

My friends were horse race park rookies and needed to be educated. After I quickly refreshed my memory on how to wager by skimming through the program, I share with them my limited knowledge on how to pick a winning horse. The races were short, however, only lasting between 300 and 550 yards. These Texas-bred quarter horses were sprinters. This was a major disappointment. What makes horse racing addicting is the exhilaration of watching your horse battle it out down the straight-aways and around the corners to pull ahead down the final stretch to Win, Place or Show glory. It's the anticipation. The races I witnessed were over just as quickly as they started. It was better than nothing.

The concert stage is on the in-field where more of the partying takes place. Sound familiar? You get there by walking through a tunnel that goes under the track. Along its walls are banners advertising upcoming shows. Dierks Bently and Billy Ray Cyrus stuck out the most as I passed by. Once in the in-field I saw some of the most beautiful women I have ever seen in my life. True blue Texas cowgirls. Cut off jean shorts, cowboy boots, long hair blowing in the gentle summer evening air. I though I had died and gone to cowboy heaven. By this time I had a few beers in me and I had drowned my frustrations and sorrows from the previous work week. It was a Friday night and in the words of Alan Jackson I "was ready for a good time."

In my opinion, Cross Canadian Ragweed is the Lynyrd Skynyrd of my generation. Their sound is the perfect mix of outlaw country and rock. The band utilizes the electric guitar but doesn't over do it. Perfection. CCR rocked out their best jams, or at least the ones that I know. I have to admit I haven't been listening to them very long. My friends and I sat out on the lawn so the music wasn't as loud as I would have preferred but I guess you can't have it all even on a great night of fun. Maybe its my age, a hectic work week or the lack of a truly "fratty" lifestyle, but as the show came to a close I was exhausted.

When I got home at 1am I looked forward to sleeping in.

I woke up at 8am.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

We called him Papa

On Thursday I said my final goodbye to one of the greatest men I will ever know personally. He was not great in the sense of a doer of daring deeds or accomplisher of great feats. What made this man great was that he put his family and loved ones first up until the very last day of his life. He was a loyal husband, loving father, generous grandfather, everyone's friend and friend to everyone. He was the man my fellow grandchildren and I called Papa.

So many different things come to mind when remembering Herbert Albert Fischer, Jr but what I will remember the most was his generosity. As a child of the Great Depression, Papa saved his household poor forgoing luxuries many of us take for granted so he could provide when it mattered most. As a proud graduate of Indiana University, Papa made sure his four children received a college education. But Papa's kindness did not stop there. Many years later when I was a teenager, I remember one Christmas when Papa handed each of his own kids a simple white envelope. Many of the grandkids were preoccupied ripping open boxed presents but my eyes were fixed on my mother as she opened my dad's white envelope. Her voice cracked, her eyes filled with tears, and she raised her hand to cover her mouth. Although still to this day I do not know the sum of money that was given that day- I could only imagine.

Behind his family, golf and Indiana University were a close second for the two things Papa loved most. As far back as I can remember Papa had full season tickets for both Indiana Hoosier football and basketball. Although Indiana has never been known for its football program, some of my fondest memories growing up were my dad and I getting up early on a fall Saturday to meet Papa at the Wendy's in Columbus, Indiana before driving to Memorial Stadium in Bloomington. Papa never directly told me, but I knew he was proud that I attended Indiana University for my college education. I know this because he never hesitated to send me his football or basketball tickets for a game I wanted to attend. In four years, I never once paid to see an Indiana University athletic event. Thank you, Papa. I will never forget that.

Papa loved to eat and entertain. He is the only man I think in the history of mankind who installed a pool in his own backyard even though he could not swim. Even though his own children had left the next and moved on, he still wanted his house to be the epicenter of all family functions, and at these functions there were always plenty of cookies, cheese & crackers, and shrimp cocktail. My boy scout troop once took a trip to Southern Indiana and Papa did not even think twice about opening up his backyard, grill and pantry to a group of mostly strangers. Papa even picked up one of my friends from the Indianapolis Airport so he could surprise me for my Eagle Scout ceremony when I was 16.

Above all things, Papa was a loyal husband. My grandmother had her faults and her bad habits became catalysts for her poor health, but never once did I see him become angry or bitter. Shortly after my grandparent's 50th wedding anniversary, my grandmother's health turned for the worse. She was in and out of the nursing home, before a stroke and Alzheimer's kept her there permanently. Papa was by her side the whole time. He was there waiting when the nursing home opened in the morning and stayed until they closed their doors for the night.

Papa passed away exactly one week ago to date. His death happened so quickly and so suddenly that it still has not sunk in with many of us. He had routine gall bladder surgery that went smoothly, he came out just fine, was alert and talking, and the doctors thought about having him get up and start walking, but just a few short hours later he was on full life support because his whole intestinal system had shut down. You can't restart it like the heart, nor can you replace it like a kidney. The Lord had decided it was time for Papa to go home.

I will admit, I was angry. After all, it was not supposed to be like this. Papa was not supposed to go first. But he did and it is a reminder that we are not in control despite how much we think we are. The Lord has a plan and all things happen for a reason.

In memory of Herbert Albert Fischer, Jr. 1929-2008.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Lord there ain't no place like home ...

Anyone who believes America is an economic crisis definitely did not spend any time in Houston's Bush Intercontinental Airport over Independence Day weekend. First off, the tickets prices are triple what they normally are and yet every flight was booked to every destination you could land a plane at. Even though I was trying to get there, I never thought of St. Louis as a top tourist destination, but I spent nearly 15 hours on stand-by. Never do it- trust me. In the meantime I read the entire book Into the Wild and ran into my high friend Rachel Esther who's a pilot for Continental.

This is where I come from. These are my people.

I eventually made to Saint Louis and the adventure I have been seeking I got a full dose of when my dad took me kayaking down the Meremec River Saturday morning.

Dad and I had a lot of fun and saw more of Missouri's finest than we cared to, but that wasn't the main reason for me coming home that weekend. It was the Cardinals vs. Cubs game.

Welcome to Baseball Heaven . . .

Sibling love.

"This life that I live has took me every where, but Lord there ain't no place like home ... 'Cause I can see the concrete slowly creepin'. Lord take me and mind before that comes!" ~ Lynyrd Skynyrd

Me and the two women in my life.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Company and Fish

Last weekend my parents and sisters flew down to Houston to visit yours truly. With the exception of my mom, I had not seen my dad and Thing Two since Febuary, and Thing One was my long lost sister since Christmas. Weird. Even though I was very glad to see them, my great-grand mother's wisdom rose from her grave echoing: "Company, like fish, starts to smell after three days." And an intense three days it was as I played tour-guide taking my household family from one end of the Houston metro area to the next.

They flew into Houston Hobby airport late Thursday morning. In a hurricane force downpour, I picked them up for lunch and showed them the light that is Freebirds- a burrito joint that puts all the others (Chipotle, Moe's,etc.) to shame. Lunch was brief because I had to get back to the office before heading to the stadium for the Houston Dynamo-FC Dallas Texas derby match-up. Family and my dad's old fraternity brothers experienced a great game with over 15,000 in attendance live on ESPN 2 television.

Friday, we were off to the west suburbs to have dinner my two of my dad's old fraternity brothers. After a few beers, the stories began to flow with the alcohol. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The late 70's University of Evansville Sig Eps did the same stuff the early 2000's Sigma Nu's of Indiana University. Fratty stuff. I could try to explain but you non-Greeks out there just wouldn't understand.

Saturday was NASA day. The Johnson Space Center was the only thing I could think of that was uniquely Houston, plus I hadn't been there yet. We arrived to an empty parking lot and no lines so immediately took one of the tours. The space center reminded me of an ugly college campus. The buildings looked beat-up and plain- definitely not the place that orchestrated putting a man on the Moon in the late 1960's. After the tour, my family and I were greeted by two of my least favorites things in the world: large quantities of little kids and Boston Red Sox fans. The Sox were in town to plays the 'Stros so the cult that is Red Sox nation followed. I will admit, I enjoyed walking alongside a Saturn 5 rocket that fulfilled the Apollo missions and other spacecraft. I was amazed at how small the capsuls are.

By the time the afternoon rolled around, I needed food and ibuprofen badly. Luckily I had the afternoon to unwhind. For dinner, I showed my fam. a true Bayou City delight: boiled crawfish- holding true to a Fischer tradition of eating foods with heads and torsos still attached. My dad and I struggled to learn the art of eating crawfish, but once we got the hang of it we were an unstoppable machine.

That night, I showed Thing One (who's 21) how we do things in Houston'd Midtown. We pregames at an interns kegger with a round of beer pong before rolling out to sports bar/club Pub Fiction which is kind of an upbeat place to see and be seen if you're a young working professional. I introduced her to some friends before I we walked around the corner to dueling piano bar Howl at the Moon to have her meet the work crew who's still young enough to go out and booze on a Saturday night.

Sunday was church at Houston's First Baptist, another afternoon at the poolside, before dropping the parents and sisters at the airport. The good-bye wasn't bad because I'm going up there for July 4th weekend. I have to admit, I let out a sigh of relief because things were a starting to smell.