Monday, March 24, 2008

Sweet Caroline

No sooner had I unpacked my bags from the lovely San Antonio excursion than I was repacking them for another flight. A few weeks ago my friend Tom tossed out the idea of me coming down to North Carolina to watch the first round of March Madness (woo hoo!). Raleigh, one of the regions hosting the championship, is serendipitously where Tom had moved 1½ years ago. I looked over my calendar and my frequent flyer miles and decided to go for it.

Raleigh is great fun, at least in the way Tom presents it. We rambled, ate great food, biked, hung out with cool people – his sis and bro-in-law, and did stuff. Stuff like visiting an art museum, wandering around a WWII battleship, playing in the splashy ocean and lying on the beach watching the stars come out. [sigh…] Oh. And we watched basketball. A lot of basketball. Because even when we weren’t watching four games on Friday and two games on Sunday in person, there were a few great games happening elsewhere that we didn’t want to miss. (Go Wisconsin!)

One of the reasons Tom is one of my favoritest people: the conversations. We’d be in the car or sitting at a restaurant, and I’d say something like, “Ok, explain to me all roles on a basketball team and how they’re supposed to work because I think I have sort of an idea about them, but I’ve never really paid detailed attention to that”. And we’d be off! My favorite one was, “Ok, tell me about all the presidents in the 20th century, in order, because I know bits and pieces, but I don’t have a good picture of their sequence with key events.” And he did! Way, way cool. I can’t say I could recite it all back at this point, but I definitely learned a ton.

[Details – read on as your interest dictates!]

Wed. night: continue my recent run of (bad) luck with airlines, but somehow – after being assured it was impossible – made it to Raleigh, having ridden first class AND received a $150 voucher for my pains! Tour Tom’s “new” condo – small, but very, very cool. Tom’s a great pianist, and he finally got a piano again after not having one since leaving Appleton, so I get to hear lots of Rachmaninov, but also some Bach and Mussorgsky throughout the weekend. You really can do worse than having your very own private piano concert. Head to bed - both of us have to work in the morning!

Thurs: Tom goes off to work, and I launch a fight with his futon that outlasts the weekend. Can’t figure out how the darn thing is supposed to lock upright. Not fair that his bed doesn’t need to be folded up to enable normal room traffic flow. Then I call into work for a series of meetings that pretty much last the day. Tom gets home and we take off for a ramble-tour of Raleigh – trees are starting to bud, and many trees and flowers are already in full bloom. Life is beautiful. We get back and Matt and Mary (his sis and bro-in-law) have arrived and have an outstanding meal in the oven (and a bun! Mary’s pregnant!). Eat and play Pepper and have a great time.

Fri: Sleep in, then take off on bikes to pedal through the outdoor part of the art museum, wander through a bit of the indoor part, and head off to the stadium. Park our bikes closer than VIP parking and wander right in. Watch an outstanding game between Davidson and Gonzaga. Gonzaga loses, much to my chagrin. The other three games are great too. UNC is a class act, but the underdogs put up a great fight so the game is still a blast to watch. Have pulled pork sandwiches doused in a sweet vinegar sauce that’s to die for. By the middle of the fourth game I’m way past the limit of names and teams I can stay on track with.

Sat. Sleep in, then head off to Wilmington, which is right on Cape Fear. Wander through the USS Carolina, a battleship that saw a ton of action against Japan in WWII. Really well done exhibits with testimonials from soldiers who served on it. Fascinating stuff. Catch a good bit of the Wisconsin game at a local Applebee’s and get into a “discussion” about inconveniencing restaurant wait staff. Head to the ocean in time to swim and wander up and down Wright Beach, and then lay on the beach towels Matt & Mary lent us and “discuss” whether the lights we’re seeing are plans, satellites, stars or planets.

Sun: Easter! Hooray! Head to Matt & Mary’s, where we’re fed the I-can’t-stop-eating kind of waffles, and get to see and learn about their way-cool pets. Fish, cats, poison dart frogs, and a ball python. Then we tag along with them to church. They do a really cool thing where anyone in the audience is invited to go up and join the choir in singing the Hallelujah chorus. Head back to Raleigh and the next two games. Watch little tiny Davidson trounce big awesome Georgetown – chance in a lifetime to get to see that – and then UNC strut their stuff with Arkansas. UNC is just fun to watch because they’re so good, and Arkansas really fought it. Davidson has taken up the Neil Diamond song Sweet Caroline as their theme song and it's so fun to hear the audience sing it to them - the audience pretty much went nuts as Davidson made their comeback. Wind up at the Mellow Mushroom, a pizza joint (literally?) from the 70s, and then go back to the condo for another piano concert. [sigh…]

Monday: Tom goes to work, and after conceding final defeat to the futon (which really was comfy, so I'm not actually complaining), I work from his place for the morning, and haunt coffee shops with free internet for the afternoon. Tom picks me up and we check out this sweet little free trade store, and then we head to the airport. I’m on the first leg of the flight now, and if all goes well, I’ll be back at work tomorrow morning at 8:30!

The upshot: Raleigh --> cool. Go if you can.

More pictures HERE!