Wednesday, September 28, 2011

There Is No Place Like Nebraska

When we got married, we never thought that college football would come between us. In fact, I would wager to say that Jon liked the fact that I am a football fan. However, for the third time in the span of a year, we found ourselves at odds with one another.

Last September, my family descended on Seattle with thousands (I'm not exaggerating) of Nebraska Cornhusker fans. The sun shone down on a healthy mixture of purple and red as my beloved Huskers laid a beating on Jon's Washington Huskies. Thankfully we did not sit with each other, and I was free to display my exuberance at each sucessive Husker touchdown and Blackshirt hit.

Fast forward to December. Due to a loss in their final Big XII championship game (and because they were jumping ship for the Big 10, I think), the Huskers slipped in the polls and were invited to play in the Holiday Bowl...against Washington. While it is absolutely no excuse for such a shoddy performance, Nebraska played like a team that oozed disappointment from every pore. They had been hoping for a more prestigious bowl and were playing a team they had trounced several weeks prior. Not exactly where they envisioned their season ending. Washington, on the other hand, was a team heading in the opposite direction. Their conference season had been successful enough to make them bowl-eligible for the first time in years. Their coach had brought a new excitement to the team and to the fans, and when taking all this into account, it is really no surprise that Washington won (or rather, Nebraska lost) the re-match.

I know I can't blame him for supporting his team, but it was beyond annoying to hear that Husky Stadium siren Jon played from his iPod as he snarfed down stinky smoked oysters. All this while at my mother's house surrounded by loyal Cornhusker fans. At least he had the decency to stay out of the "Red Zone," a family tradition involving a red Herbie Husker blanket in front of the TV that no one is allowed to walk through.

So, needless to say, I was ready for redemption this fall. My grandpa has had season tickets at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln for as long as I can remember, and while he and my grandma stopped going years ago, he kept his tickets for my immediate family to use. I have been to several games this way, and I can honestly say that Memorial Stadium on a game day is the most special place for a college football fan to be. (Yes, I'm biased.) People in Nebraska live and die with the Huskers, and it should come as no surprise that Memorial Stadium is the third most populous location in the state when there is a game. Seriously.

Way back when we found out about the Nebraska-Washington series, we put in a request for tickets with my grandpa. Not only did he honor said request, he also played the role of host to a "T." He baked us a pie--which he tried to serve us when we finally rolled in after midnight--and even bought four different types of milk because he couldn't remember which type we preferred. Even though there is a zero percent chance that Grandpa will read this because doesn't have--or want--a computer, we would like to publicly thank him for his hospitality.

But back to the game. Saturday morning dawned overcast and chilly. Thinking back to the year previously, it was a bit ironic that the game in Seattle was sunny and warm, while the game in Lincoln was drizzly and cool. Apparently, the faithful Washington fans brought their weather with them. Undaunted by the threat of storms, Jon and I headed out early to join my cousins at a tailgate several hours before kick-off. I love my family tremendously (duh), and it was so great that the whole group was able to come out at various times during the day. Jon left for a bit to attend a Washington Alumni party but was back in plenty of time for some more good-natured teasing. Actually, I think he found all of the Nebraska fans--both related and unrelated to us--to be quite courteous. good
About an hour before game time, we headed into the stadium and up to our seats. Every time I enter Memorial Stadium, I get that special feeling...and no, it's not just that my hunger is abated by the runzas and Valentino's pizza. I think Jon felt it, too, although I doubt he would admit it. I was just excited for him to experience the whole thing. I'm well aware of the fact that my vague descriptions are not doing Memorial Stadium and Nebraska football justice, but for those of you who have been there, you know what I'm talking about.

At any rate, when the game started, we both began cheering our respective teams. I confess that it was slightly awkward at times sitting next to each other, and I was conscious of not being too obnoxious. But when chants of "Gooooo Biiiiiggggg Reeeeeddddd" rippled through the crowd, I did what any self-respecting Nebraska fan would do and echoed in reply: "Go Big Red!" Other than shouting encouragement for the players on the field, though, we were pretty quiet. Our only real communication was exchanging the binoculars for every offensive possession.

The game was fairly close in the first half with each team experiencing some success. Things changed in the 3rd quarter due to some big plays by Nebraska and big mistakes by Washington. The Huskers took game three by a comfortable margin, although they didn't quite make the 17-point spread. This fact, which I tried to point out tactfully at the conclusion of the game, was of little consolation to Jon. I wisely kept my celebration in check while Jon heatedly expressed his supreme disappointment.

We returned to the tailgate area after the game where many of my cousins were still hanging out. Jon was mostly out of his "Debbie Downer" funk so we had a good time there, and later at dinner. The best part of the weekend was truly the family time, so despite the outcome of the game, we're both glad we were able to make the trip. And as much fun as I've had watching these Husker-Husky games over the past year (well, 2/3 of the time), I'm just fine with returning to a football season in which we can each cheer on our own teams and genuinely be glad for one another.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Civil War Roadtrip

The first time we visited Memphis, we took the night train north to visit friends in Chicago. Jon had our playlist planned, and as the train chugged out of the city, Willie Nelson's "City of New Orleans" filled our tiny sleeping cabin. Even though I'd most likely heard the song before, I didn't pay close attention to the lyrics and was confused as to the relevancy until Jon pointed out that the song was about a train. The train we were currently riding. The route has since been reversed, but the endpoints are the same. The Amtrak City of New Orleans train travels from Chicago to New Orleans.

Having taken the train north a couple of times, I've been itching to head south to New Orleans. Jon went last winter on a work trip but didn't have a chance to explore the city. We thought that Labor Day would be our perfect opportunity to go to the Big Easy. However, Tropical Storm Lee put a damper on those plans. Literally.

Rather than brazenly move ahead with our plans in defiance of Mother Nature, we decided vacationing in a hurricane would not be much fun. Neither would vacationing in a town preparing for a hurricane. So we scaled back our travels and opted to check Alabama off our list of "states to see" on our quest for Civil War history.

Being Yankees--kind of; I'm from a border state and Jon is from a state that didn't even exist until 1889--we're at times tickled and at others disturbed by the pride of the Confederacy. Even in the "Mid-South," there remains a fierce loyalty attached to the "Stars and Bars." After all, it's a matter of states' rights (tongue firmly in cheek). Regardless, there is history in our own backyard and we were on a journey to find it, whichever way that history was slanted.

Yes, there is plenty of history in Memphis, but since we had two days remaining of a long weekend, we set out Sunday morning to Shiloh, Tennessee. There we got to watch a ridiculously out-dated movie (I swear we could hear the "dings" telling us to advance the slide projector), check out some cool historical artifacts, wander around the cemetery, drive around the battlefield while discussing military tactics, and watch an artillery demonstration.

Ready, Aim, Fire!
I learned more than I ever thought I would about the Battle of Shiloh. I certainly learned more by visiting than I did from my history textbooks. Funny how that works out, isn't it? Our admission for the National Park also got us in to the Tennessee River Museum in Savannah, Tennessee, so we made that our next destination. It, too, had a lot of interesting information and artifacts--another hidden gem in a small town.

Despite our best intentions, Lee's wrath had crept far enough north to turn our overcast day into a rainy one. Undaunted, we continued eastward toward Alabama. Being much too far from anything of significance, or at least anywhere we have heard of, our venture into the "Yellowhammer State" (I just had to look that up) was a quick one. To appease my engineer husband, we did stop at the Wilson Dam. We also--accidentally--drove through Helen Keller's hometown of Tuscumbia, although unfortunately the museum was closed for the day.

"Dam, we're in Alabama."
We drove through the increasingly heavy rain to our third state of the day, having made reservations at the Generals' Quarters Inn located in Corinth, Mississippi. Finally we encountered the bias we were anticipating, as the museums and visitors' centers had portrayed both sides of the Civil War as accurately as they could. This bed and breakfast really got into the theme, as this was the picture at the foot of our bed:

Jon and new friend General Beauregard
After a hearty breakfast the next morning, we headed to the Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center. Fortunately their Battle of Shiloh video was much more up-to-date. We strolled through the exhibit, gleaning even more knowledge about this strategic stronghold, but I must admit the rain that was still falling did take away from the peaceful ambience of the symbolic water feature outside.

Since we had to return to reality the following day, we headed back to Memphis. We did make one more stop, however, since we were "in the area." It was kind of out of the way, but we couldn't imagine driving to Tupelo any time soon, so we headed toward Elvis Presley's birthplace. We've been living in Memphis for almost exactly a year but haven't even made it to Graceland yet. A pilgrimage to Tupelo was the least we could do. The very least we could do was not even pay to go inside the house. Rather, we just took a picture from the outside.

Elvis's humble beginnings
Having checked everything off our to-do list, we were back on the road to Memphis. Not going to New Orleans proved to be a good idea, even if we did get rained on most of the time. As we are officially in the sesquicentennial years of the Civil War, we hope to do more such historical roadtrips soon.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

No Fly Zone

We hate to fly. No, not because we get airsick or are scared of crashing (although who doesn't get a little nervous during take-off and landing?!?). Rather, we hate all of the potential ways we can get screwed over.

Sure, the idea of flying is great. It's amazing that we can wake up in Memphis and be in another part of the country--or world--in just a few hours. However, it's also incredibly frustrating, right from the beginning of the experience. Like everyone else, we are annoyed with the ever-rising cost of tickets and endless fees. I can't count how many times we've chosen an itinerary only to have the price leap hundreds of dollars by the time we're ready to commit a few days later. But, after swallowing that exorbitant expense--and in all honesty, forgetting about it--we typically reach our destination without incident. All that changed this summer.

Really, we were due for some complications. We've certainly tested fate more than enough. We've rushed through security at the last minute. We've run through the airport to make a connecting flight. We've slid into our seats as the flight attendants go over the safety precautions. So, yes we were due.

When you think of it that way, it's really no surprise that we've had a bit of, um...difficulty flying this summer. In fact, when we got bumped from our flight to Norway, we took it all in stride. Karma, right? The airline promptly rebooked us, compensated us for our troubles, and sent us on our way. When our luggage didn't arrive at our final destination, we were confident that it would only be a matter of time before we were reunited. Four days--and lots of money spent on international phone calls to resolve the matter--later, and we finally were. While Jon remained fairly calm, I was a mess, and my good-natured acceptance had been shaken.

However, we considered it an isolated incident. Just an unfortunate consequence of computer problems. After our next trip, it was hard not to believe that some evil forces were working against us. Our travels began innocently enough. It was to be a quick trip to Nebraska for a cousin wedding. We booked our tickets early enough and were able to fly into our actual destination of Lincoln, which is typically more expensive than Omaha. Security was a breeze and we boarded the plane without another thought. The plane even pulled away from the gate. Until it stopped. And pulled back in again.

It's hard to complain about safety, so there was really nothing to be said when the captain explained that maintenance was checking out a suspicious gauge. We "de-planed" (such a funny word) with the rest of the passengers until the matter could be resolved. All in all, it only took about 45 minutes to diagnose and repair the problem, so we re-boarded. However, that was just enough time to miss our connecting flight out of Chicago. We were informed we would not make our flight to Lincoln...which happened to be the last flight of the night.

With little other choice, we resigned ourselves to a night in Chicago. For whatever reason, the airline didn't have any hotel vouchers available, but luckily we were able to stay in the USO at the airport. We were booked on the first flight to Lincoln in the morning (still giving us plenty of time to make the wedding, thank goodness), which was another reason to stay so close. The USO volunteers were so welcoming to us weary travelers, and even though there were no beds, they helped us get settled in the lounge. So, there we were: me on a lumpy couch and Jon on the floor, trying to get some sleep to the soothing sounds of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which happened to be on TV at the time. All in all, we slept okay...until waking up in the middle of the night surrounded by sailors. Apparently a group of "kids" had just completed basic training and were on their way to their various training locations. They were clearly excited--especially for 3am--which frankly was a bit annoying until I realized that we were the only non-Navy personnel in the joint.

Needless to say, we didn't have a problem waking up and headed down to pass through security once again. Minus my eye twitching uncontrollably, we were no worse for the wear. Until we read the giant Departures board. Our flight to Lincoln? Cancelled. It was about this point when I started to get nervous. But we're seasoned travelers, so we quickly picked out at least three flights to Omaha that would still "get us to the church on time." Walking with purpose to customer service (again), we were informed that we were already re-booked on one of the Omaha flights. Like the best-laid plans o' mice and men, our trip had gone completely awry. But we made the wedding and had a nice story to tell.

Our story on the return trip was not so nice. We made it out of Lincoln just fine, returning once again to Chicago O'Hare. We had a lay-over and so did what we normally do at O'Hare: head immediately to the Goose Island bar for some overpriced beer. It had started raining, but the storm was brief, so we didn't give it much thought. We headed down to the basement where the hoardes of regional economy jet peons were waiting and discovered that multiple flights had been delayed. But ours was still on time, so we settled in to wait. And wait. And wait. We got excited when the gate agent announced that our flight had arrived...and were disappointed to hear that our crew had not. We were assured that they would get to the airport soon, so after briefly debating taking the overnight train back to Memphis, we ultimately decided to wait it out. It was only 7pm, after all. Sneakily, in 30-minute increments, our flight continued to get pushed back. We grew restless. The prophetic passenger next to us predicted that by the time the crew arrived, they would have run out of flying time.

Finally, at 10:30, the dreaded announcement was made. Our flight had been cancelled. Our neighbor was correct. The crew had spent too long in the air and were mandated by law to take a break. By this time, the train had left and there was no way we could make it to the Greyhound terminal. Even the Mega Busses were about to leave. We had no other choice than to join the ever-growing line of disgruntled passengers in the customer service line. We knew that Jon would be late for work the next day (fortunately I was at the beginning of a three-week break from classes), but were upset to learn that the earliest we could get confirmed seats to Memphis was 9:30 the following day. 9:30pm. Defeated, we headed back to the USO (no hotel OR food vouchers this time).

We attempted three times to fly stand-by, even volunteering to travel separately so Jon could get back to work. Finally, a more helpful customer service representative informed us that we just needed to get out of town. She routed us through Huntsville, Alabama so that we could get back to Memphis approximately 24 hours later than scheduled. When we added up the time, we realized that we had spent more time at O'Hare than we had in Nebraska, 33 hours to 27.

With such a bad travel taste in our mouths, it was with great trepidation that we embarked on our next trip, a mere three weeks later. Another cousin wedding, but this time in Seattle. We wisely opted to avoid Chicago and flew through Denver. It felt like deja vu when the captain came over the loudspeaker and informed us that there were mechanical problems on our airplane. Murphy and his law were hard at work and the airline decided to switch aircraft. Fortunately, we had no checked baggage, so we were able to get on another flight a few gates away. But the damage had been done. We were delayed again.

Yet, we made it to our final destination and had another fun time at another wedding. Potential disaster struck again on the return trip when after Jon received his boarding pass, I received the dreaded "departure management card." Even though I had reserved and purchased a seat, it wasn't guaranteed. I will never understand this dirty airline trick. Usually, everything works out fine, but based on our recent experiences, we weren't very confident. This is precisely what had happened to us when we tried to fly to Norway. How the airline can give away a seat is beyond me. I get the fact that they don't want to fly a half-empty aircraft, but there is no excuse for such blatant over-booking. The flight was boarding and I was still on the "yellow list," not quite stand-by but not quite confirmed. I had readied myself to fly at a later time (which would have been okay since I didn't have to teach until the following Tuesday), when suddenly, my name was on the "green list" with zero explanation.

We spent another three weeks recovering from this flight before heading out of town again, back to Nebraska, but this time for a football game (see future post). Learning a little from our mistakes (which I blame mostly on bad luck), we refused to fly through O'Hare again and even found a direct flight. Since Jon has been spending a lot of his time working in southeast Missouri, he was equally close to Memphis and St. Louis. We were able to book a direct flight from St. Louis to Omaha, which left fewer opportunities for errors and delays. We certainly had to drive a lot more (I stayed an extra day on both ends in Missouri, so as to not have to make the Memphis-St. Louis drive all at once), but it was nice to not have a lay-over. Our flight out of St. Louis was only delayed 30 minutes, small potatoes these days. Once again, our trip was worth the hassle, as we had a lovely time with family.

However, we panicked briefly in Omaha on the way out when the ticket kiosk spit out not one but two "departure management cards." Apparently the airline's policy is to issue the final 15 seats at the gate. I guess we should have checked in on-line...but excuse us for staying with a relative who still has a rotary phone. Thankfully, we did get seats--crappy middle seats in the back, but seats nonetheless.

After this last adventure, we have made a pact. While we love you all dearly, there will be absolutely NO least until Christmas.