Shots in the Darke

We just returned from a seven-day road trip that once again confirmed that despite the differences between Americans there is so much more that binds us together. Kathy and I flew down to Dallas to pick up a new car for my son-in-law and deliver it back to the Fort Wayne area but only after wandering around the South, visiting friends and seeing new sights. The vastness of America and the friendliness of the good folks we met throughout Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia were on full display. 

Traveling over 1,800 miles gave us ample time to wonder about a myriad of things— 

Hardees and Sonic restaurants abound and evidently thrive throughout the South. What makes it difficult for them to prosper here in Darke County? Sonic is gone and Hardees appears to be headed for the same fate. 

High school spring sports are just getting underway here in the North but have been going strong down South for over a month. Good to hear the ping of both baseballs and softballs, the thwack of tennis balls against racquets, and the public address announcements of events at track meets! 

The trees, bushes, flowers, and other greenery are in full bloom down South, a good 3-4 weeks ahead of areas north of the old Mason-Dixon Line. Temperatures during our outing were in the mid-eighties for most of the week, reminding us of late June here in the Buckeye State. With the azaleas blossoming that means that the Masters golf tournament is near—the world’s finest golfers tee it up beginning Thursday of next week at the historic Augusta National course. 

Be honest now, how many of you had even one of this weekend’s Final Four teams in your brackets? One of the strangest yet most intriguing tournaments is about to take place in Houston so get ready for more Madness! 

The Interstate system is a marvel of transportation, frustration, and bonding for travelers. Just don’t hit Dallas or Atlanta during rush hours or get caught between exits when there is an accident or roadwork up ahead! Saw an elderly couple standing by the roadside in Alabama, looking forlornly at what remained of their RV following an incident on I-85—fortunately both were uninjured. 

On the flight down from Fort Wayne I sat next to a “white-knuckle” flyer who was apprehensive to say the least about cruising in an aluminum tube at 30,000 feet. We basically talked for the entire two and a half hour flight to keep her occupied and I learned her entire life history, (TMI), until touching down at DFW. Nice person, mid-50s, glad she made it without passing out!! 

What is the Ohio High School Athletic Association going to do about the dominance of private schools and so-called AAU All-Star teams at the state basketball level? The competitive  balance ruling has helped somewhat but with seven of the sixteen finalists in the boys  tournament being non-public and two others being a collection of players from outside district  boundaries it makes it hard for community schools to compete for state titles. Examples include Lutheran East from the Cleveland area (in the D-III Final Four for the sixth straight year); Richmond Heights, also from Cleveland, with starters from all over Ohio; the notorious Harvest  Prep from outside of Columbus; and even Centerville, with three starters including transfers from Chaminade-Julienne, Tecumseh, and the International Sports Academy near Cleveland by  way of Mongolia!! Have to feel sorry for schools like Ottawa-Glandorf and Convoy Crestview, Russia who bring thousands of fans to the games when some of the private schools bring maybe a few hundred or less.

Kathy and I spent a night in Vicksburg, Mississippi at a bed-and-breakfast after enjoying dinner at a tenth-floor rooftop restaurant in the downtown area overlooking the mighty Mississippi River. A great view, great food, and great Southern hospitality! Talking with the locals was enjoyable even though they thought we had funny accents! 

See where ESPN has the Reds ranked 28th of 30 teams this year as the season starts  Thursday, ahead of only Oakland and Washington. Hunter Greene takes the mound against the Pirates as the local favorites hope to improve from last year’s 100-loss debacle. On a positive note, Chik-Fil-A will be offered at Great American Ballpark this year, but never on Sundays! 

Finally, after being informed by several friends who recently have returned from Florida via I-75, we stopped at a Buc-ees truck stop near Richmond, Kentucky. Famous since 1982, the chain of convenience stores and gas stations is a marvel of marketing. The Kentucky location has 120 pumps, a “Beef Jerky Bar”, clean restrooms (where you can “potty like a rock star”), and just about anything you can imagine having in a convenience store. An experience that you have to see to believe, it was like walking into the bar scene in the original Star Wars episode with people of all shapes, sizes, nationalities, and backgrounds! 

Traveling is great but, as always, it’s best when you return home safe and sound. Nothing beats sleeping in your own bed!