Father’s Day

As the sun has set on another Father’s Day, I sit in a contemplative mood. For so many years, Father’s Day revolved around my Dad. There were traditions, whereby we would go to a restaurant here in town (usually a steakhouse) that Dad would never go to on his own. We would eat and laugh, and talk about old memories and funny stuff. Then we would make the trip back home and everything was good. Those were the years before the Wheelchair.

After the Wheelchair, everything changed for all of us. We all had to learn a greater understanding of handicap accessibility and how it related to where and when we could frequent certain establishments. Winnie’s Tavern was a favorite of mine and my dad’s as well. But we couldn’t stay too long because Dad couldn’t fit in the bathroom. And if you didn’t know Dad, he never wanted to be a burden. So if we got Winnie’s afterward, I had to pick it up.

Dad tried to use his prosthetic leg, but he came across another problem. His prosthetic leg was placed on his right leg, which had an arthritic hip that could not support the extra weight of walking. So he became accustomed to being confined to a wheelchair.

The most painful day to watch was when the DMV denied his drivers license. Dad had driven with one leg after the amputation. He engineered a way to drive using a long wood slat to push the brake. When the DMV told him that he had to get the wheelchair out of the trunk, and he could not do so, that was the beginning of the end. Dad was never the same after that.

After these occurrences, Dad’s health started taking nasty turns. He was in and out of the hospital and nursing homes. We did manage to make it to Longhorn one year, and the last Fathers Day when he wasn’t in the hospital, he was right here at home. We grilled steaks and he had the best time laughing and joking with me and my wife and girls. After that, it was hospital and nursing home, then on to the twilight sleep.

My best memories of Dad were those times. Sometimes we would stay up late and drink beers and watch tv or movies. And we were occasionally too loud, so Mom would come out and casually remind us that it’s 330 in the am. And we would just laugh and drink another beer. Toward the end, Dad preferred Bud Light. I teased him, but I figured his body couldn’t do with regular/craft beer and his bourbon and Diet Pepsi’s. And besides, Bud Light isn’t so bad.

As I’ve gotten older, I realize that many of my peers have also lost their fathers. I guess we have finally reached the age where we no longer have dads. We are dads. I appreciate my two girls every day, and will help them in any way. I am sure that my peers feel the same way about their children, to help them along the way and keep them from making our mistakes.

So Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there. Stepdads, grandfathers, and even fur baby dads. Dogs and cats need love too. And to all the dads in Heaven, including my wife’s and several friends’ dads, enjoy the silence while you can. We will be there, just not too soon I hope. And to you, Pops…we miss you, and we love you. Old Man

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Home Sweet Home

It is great to get away for awhile, maybe a few days or a weekend for vacation. Some locals even move to far-flung locales from Montreal to Denver, San Juan to Osaka. One thing unites them. When they return to town to visit relatives, they return to a few golden oldie local spots that attract tourist and townie alike.

Britt’s Donuts has been serving visitors to the Carolina Beach boardwalk for decades now. And as far as we can see, they show no signs of slowing down. The line at Britt’s frequently winds down the Boardwalk, but it’s so worth it. They make delicious hot donuts that you will need to buy 2 dozen of at minimum.

Wake and Bake Donuts are newer to the game, but they make up for inexperience with mad scientist donut experimentation. Giant donuts topped with Fruity Pebbles or candied bacon, or filled with gooey chocolate or apple pie tempt the tastebuds at this new kid on the block.

El Cazador is a Mexican joint at Carolina Beach that has authentic Mexican food. This isn’t your typical tacos and nachos fare. Great balcony seating and killer margaritas round out this tasty place.

Lazy Pirate is another relative newcomer, but it’s making waves as the place to be at the beach. It’s basically an oversized shack decorated like every Frat party you’ve ever been to. Wooden tables, flags and banners, sports on tap. The food says it all, however. Conch fritters mix with PBJ wings, amid all of your pub grub favorites. Trivia nights and other live events routinely pack this place, often filling the expansive outside seating area.

Once across the bridge, you can hit Philly Deli in several locations. The signature sandwich is the Philly Cheesesteak served in several yummy variations. Thrown in cold beer and jalapeño poppers and you’ve got yourself a meal.

One of my personal favorites is a little hole in the wall called Winnie’s Tavern. The inside is truly bigger that the outside suggests, and the food is phenomenal. They don’t stray too far from delicious burgers and chicken sandwiches. A veggie burger is about as healthy as it gets here, so pull up a chair and check out the drink specials–if you can get a spot at this routinely packed burger joint.

For some old school, try out Merritt’s Burger House. It’s a traditional drive in where the carhop comes out to take the order and then brings it out on a tray that hangs on the car door. Simple, classic food like burgers and dogs. No salads or caramel macchiatos here. And cash only. Talk about old school.

PTs Grille has that old school feel in a newer spot. They have three all over town, offering yummy burgers and chicken sandwiches along with cold beer and arguably the best fries in town. You walk in, order up front, then grab a seat. Best veggie burgers in town.

Mexican in Wilmington is down to a few spots. Don’t worry, they are all delicious. El Cerro Grande has a few locations. Zocalo is relatively new but delicious. K38-Baja Grill is also fantastic. Sombrero Azul out by Murrayville is very yummy. If you crave Mexican, we have you covered.

For Asian/sushi, you can’t go wrong with Okami. For $22 you get unlimited sushi/appetizers. And their Asian fare is also very good. If you leave hungry, it’s your own fault.

Copper Penny in Downtown ILM is my favorite spot. Their menu is full of delicious sandwiches and plates, and their specials are always top notch. Who could say no to a chicken bbq bacon cheese sandwich?

Henry’s at midtown is a little more pricey, but quality food justifies the price. From seared swordfish to tasty creme brûlée, the menu never fails to impress. Great for date night or a business meeting.

Well, now I’m super hungry, how about you? This list is by no means exhaustive, as there are 450,000 restaurants here in town. The only thing we have more of is churches. We stick to cheaper fare, so Wrightsville Beach is out for us. And La Costa Mexican food has had the distinction of giving me food poisoning. Twice. But if you like their food, by all means enjoy. Now if you’ll excuse me, I am starving.

A Memorial to Memorial Day

So once again, Memorial Day weekend is upon us. I, like most of you, take great comfort in the idea of a three day weekend. No stress, no work, and hours of grilling and drinking while hanging with family and friends is in order. While we enjoy this time off, there are a few reasons it ain’t so great.

Memorial Day used to mean something different as a youngster. It meant the end of the school year was very close, for one thing. After that came those wonderful days leading up to the return to school in August. And where we live, that meant the beach was calling us. The water was warm enough to prevent hypothermia, and the beach was filled with like-minded high schoolers. Boys and girls were out and about, the sound of legions of flip-flops hitting the pavement and the sand in a thunderous wave.

And so it went, year after year. Until that pivotal age comes where you realize that all those extra people are annoying. See, we have our own population that likes the beach. Then you add 500,000 or so from all areas of our state, country, and even the world. A collection of different license plates pass by, hunting for those elusive open parking spots unseen by the untrained eye. You see how it becomes a bit of a hassle. I can’t imagine everyone packing up and heading to the mountains or the piedmont in a mass exodus.

Number one is that there are just too many people. That sweet little spot where you and your special someone sneak to the beach in the off-season? It’s now cluttered with throngs of people. The Latinos to the left? They brought a picnic table to the beach. On the right? A mix of college kids getting hammered and sunburned baby boomers. No space on the beach is sacred in the midst of tourist season.

An obvious correlation is that there is so much traffic. The car-lined highways with stand-still traffic is a nightmare. A 10 minute car ride takes an hour. Throw in upper 90 temps and no AC, and it’s a favorable recipe for a heat stroke. But it is oh so worth it when you finally do hit the ocean.

Driving is a different concept in different parts of the state. As well as the country and world, I suppose. We usually don’t get too many international visitors. People tend to stick to their region, or we get people from up north trying to thaw out six months of snowbound. We are infamous for our inability to drive. We were actually ranked worst city in N.C. for auto-related fatalities. Yet, we all seem to embrace this failure and tend to drive them same wrong way as everyone else. Toss in 500,000 more people driving a variety of different ways, and it makes getting to the beach a whole lot more interesting. You have Play By the Rules drivers, who listen to things like speed limits and use their turn signals. Then there are Let’s Just Get There drivers, who will fly past you or squeeze into a gap to get 0.0126 inches ahead. There are various sub-levels, which make it like an obstacle course to reach the beach. Assuming, of course, that they aren’t doing road work in the middle of summer.

Parking goes hand in hand with all those problems. We all would like to have free parking at the beach, but that idea is so 1996. Free parking spots are an endangered species-only a few left, and they are hunted mercilessly. So you’re trying to keep your eyes on the cars in front, behind, and to the side. And you missed that one open spot ten cars back next to the giant tree. Keep driving, and you see cars in front yards and driveways and out in the road. A tow truck comes by, all too happy to help you relocate your vehicle for a $100 donation to his kid’s College Fund.

With all that said, it is a fun experience to go to the beach. Just be ready for the whole experience. And it’s great to have tourists pumping money into our local economy, to help our town prosper. And last, but certainly not least, is the real reason for Memorial Day. It’s not about barbecues and beer and a week at the overcrowded beach getting ten shades of lobster burnt. It is about our Armed Services, those brave men and women who risk their lives every day to defend us and our way of life. You think your job sucks? Try carrying 60 plus pounds of gear up the side of a mountain and into a ied field in 120 degrees. As we enjoy our weekend, remember that many of our Service Personnel are overseas, not enjoying this holiday. If you see one out and about, thank them for their service. If anyone reading this is active or retired military, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your service.

Mother’s Day is Here Again

Mother’s Day is a great celebration of the mother. Because, biologically speaking, without them there can be no us. Unless you count test tubes in some evil mastermind’s lab, where he can clone humans and finally take over the world. Outside of Dr. Evil’s wet dream, we need moms in order to be here.

Moms are where all of our sense comes from. Think about when you were young. You always asked your dad AFTER mom said no. That’s because you were trying to catch dad before he thought about it. You knew the gig was up when he said “what did your mom say?” Oh well, it was worth a shot.

Moms get the job that never ends. They care for their boyfriend, that becomes their husband. They care for their child, that produces a grandchild. They care for the retired husband until his death. Their job never ends until their last breath is taken.

Mom is the accountant, pastor, counselor, cook, maid, and chauffeur for many families. Most of our formative years would have been different without a mother to help us along the way. No one will love you any more than your mother. So give her a shout out on this, her special day. As for me, Happy Mother’s Day to my mom and my wife. Two of the greatest mothers I have ever known, and I am blessed to have both of them

Stay (Wasting Time)

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Contrary to belief, this post is not about the Dave Matthews song. Although I do like that song, and many others by the group. This post is all about wasting time, something I am extremely proficient at doing.

Usually I could care less about wasting time. I have been a chronic procrastinator for most of my life, so later became my favorite word. I would get to it eventually, I always thought.

Recently, as you have read, both my father and my friend’s father have passed away. Death brings a certain level of perspective to any situation. You start to see all of the things that you have neglected, hence the reference to wasting time. I have wasted much of my time chasing an alcohol high that I can’t ever achieve. I have neglected duties around my home, much to my mother’s dismay. I have run off to help others and not handled things at my own home.

So for the future, my home comes first. Alcohol can take a backseat for a while. I can be here where I belong, rather than chasing the next future hangover. Like Faramir from Lord of the Rings, where does my allegiance lie if not here?

Death and How to Take it

I have been struggling to come up with something witty to say about death. About how Egyptians believed in reincarnation, and Native Americans believed that they visited the spirits of their ancestors when they passed on.

The truth is, there is no instruction manual for how to deal with death in a family. No handbook telling you what to do and how to feel. The reality is that you will have to experience the loss of a loved one for yourself. At that stage, you will be an island. Friends will offer to help, but you will find it best to process some grief in solitary.

For those of you that do not know, I lost my father in December of 2016 after a lengthy battle with COPD and congestive heart failure. As sad as I was to see him go, I was glad to see him not suffering any more. He was not struggling to breathe, freed from the O2 hose that had been his prison for so long. Mom and I have coped, missing him but moving on with life.

Then I get some disturbing news. My friend Brian calls me randomly on Monday. I figured he just wants to hang out, so I wait to call him back. He tells me his father passed away. Now, Brian and I go way back. Far enough to consider his dad as a father figure. I spent enough time at their house as a kid for them to deduct me off their taxes. They referred to me as their other two sons. And David was one of my dad’s best friends.

So naturally, we were all shocked at his sudden death. And for mom and me, it was like Dad dying all over again. And my heart pours out for Mary Ann and Brian, as I try to help them cope with all of this. But like I said, there’s no cookie-cutter way of dealing with death in the family. You never know how to do it until you’re already doing it.

And for David–save us a spot at the fishing hole and keep the beer ice cold. Hope we don’t see you too soon, if you know what I mean

The Magic of Karaoke

Karaoke is clearly defined in Japanese as “empty orchestra.” It means exactly what it says, to stand at a microphone and belt out a tune with no musical accompaniment. Well not live music anyway. There’s a prerecorded track that plays while you sing, so you don’t have to hit those high back notes as you squint into a monitor to see the words on the screen. It’s more fun than it sounds.

There’s a whole legion of karaoke diehards that hit every spot in town dedicated to the art of drunken singing. Not that you have to drink to sing, but it helps. You’re less nervous, and everyone else sounds a lot better. I know these things because I was one of them, once upon a time. We started our journey as spectators to the show. Our friend was attempting to let out his inner rock star, and failing miserably. It sounded like someone strangling a cat, shrieking included. Gradually we moved from the back seats to the middle seats, inching closer to the stage with every visit. Finally, my buddy put us in to sing and we loved it. We were hooked on a feeling.

Since that night, we have sang at countless karaoke bars all over the place. We have sang sober, as well as blind stinking drunk. After all, I met my wife during a chance encounter of drunken karaoke. I recommend a balance in the drinking. A few drinks to get loose, but maybe leave the Mad Dog 20/20 at the corner store.

So in honor of initiating others into the Karaoke Appreciation Club, here are three go-to songs/groups that will help those of us without any hope of singing skills.

1. Journey. I know, it’s a huge cliche. But people really do love Journey. They have a huge catalog of hits, like Lights and Any Way You Want It. Of course, the two that I use are Faithfully and Don’t Stop Believin’. These are songs that everyone knows, even people who don’t speak English. This is perfect for a song that gets the whole bar involved, because if you can’t sing, it won’t matter. Everyone will be singing at the top of their lungs, so it will mask your inability to carry a tune.

2. Bon Jovi. That should be the explanation. Men and women love Bon Jovi. It brings back those 80’s and 90’s memories. And songs like Bad Medicine, I’ll Be There For You, and Wanted Dead or Alive will be enjoyed by everyone.

3. Slower Songs. These are good if you have had a few too many, so you can keep up with the music and beat. It’s also good to warm up with a few easy songs before trying to sing Bohemian Rhapsody to a crowd of weary onlookers. I always try to mix it up. So sing a slow love song after that one guy has sang an entire Limp Bizkit album, and people need a break or else a riot and possibly murder will ensue. Good choices are Big Green Tractor by Jason Aldean, Purple Rain by Prince, and Wonderful Tonight by Eric Clapton.

After these few tips, just go with the flow. Pick songs you like, try them out, and see if it works. And despite all your urges, let’s just keep the Powerman 5000 at the house, ok?