Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Checking in: New developments

I have had a lot going on since my last post, which gives me a lot to talk about here. To begin with, I have changed jobs, leaving behind the insurance services firm and joining a manufacturing company that supplies the pharmaceutical industry. Good times, indeed. This changes marks the biggest pay raise I've ever received and gives me more room for professional growth. I will be serving as a the company's credit manager before taking on more duties on down the line. This harkens back to my glory days with Big Brown, where we pulled out all kinds of guerrilla tactics to compel deadbeats to pay up.

One of my new coworkers is a diehard Ohio State fan. Unlike his compatriots in Columbus, he has yet to pelt me with garbage or tell me to f--- myself. In fact, he's a really nice guy who has already invited me to several basketball games with him. I plan on taking him up on it. For my buddy Jason in Nashville who bleeds Michigan blue, do not be alarmed. Consider my time spent in enemy territory "recon".

The new increase in pay, combined with Vandy's recent football victory over Tennessee, means an increase in my contribution to the National Commodore Club. I'm hoping for an engraved nameplate on the buffet table, where I've put in some legendary performances in my time. It will be my tribute to our unsung hero "Magic" Noori, whose efforts as Vandy's food coach and manager of the nation's finest training table are vital in the development of Vanderbilt athletes.

For those of you not in the know, Vandy's training table has been recognized by none other than Sports Illustrated as being the best in the entire country. This is hard to quantify, certainly, but you can take a tour and see for yourself. In addition to making anything available to eat at any time, Magic also develops an individual food plan for EVERY SINGLE athlete in every sport at Vandy. He works along with strength coach John Sisk to put weight on and take weight off, or to change body mass to add muscle. It's unreal how many undersized recruits we take on who look like greek gods when they leave in four years.

As for the quality of the strength and conditioning program, you can see its results in Vandy's fourth quarter comebacks this past football season. The Dores are used to wilting down the stretch as a result of having razor-thin depth. This season, we pulled out victories in the fourth quarter against Wake, Arkansas, Ole Miss, and Tennessee that we never could finish off before. Gas left in the tank, so to speak. In addition, two of our boys (OL Justin Geisinger and DL Jovan Haye) were tops in their NFL combine groups last February for bench press reps and other strength metrics.

Vandy is becoming known as a place where the coaches get the absolute most out of every player they get. I am fired up thinking about our next football season, when we bring in an entire recruiting class (2005) that has been redshirted and thus had an extra year to develop physically. This is what the football factories do that we've never been able to. In addition, our 2006 recruiting class only has a few places left with SIX WEEKS LEFT TO GO BEFORE SIGNING DAY.

Do we have the best facilities in the SEC? Far from it. That's why I'm doing my part by earmarking my contribution towards the buffet line. I encourage the rest of you black and gold faithful to share your good fortune during the holiday season with the university that makes you proud three meals a day.

Other cool stuff
I also had the opportunity last week to go on my first cruise ever to the Western Caribbean. This was a blast and a half. I won't bore you with ALL the details, but I'll try my best to cover the highlights and make a few observations:

Our cruise depated from Miami. I don't know if the Miami I saw looks the way it does as a result of Hurricane Wilma or not, but it definitely looked rundown. Still, no complaints from me in terms of weather, where it stayed in the 70s and 80s, a full 50-degree swing from my home in the Midwest.

The cruise ship we took, the Norwegian Jewel, was both enormous and beautiful. I even fit in the cabin bathroom, much to mine and the wife's surprise. Things I like (food, hot tubs, and comfortable places to read) were everywhere, as were retirees and a surprising number of children. I didn't have any negative experiences with kids though...most parents who pulled their children out of school in order to take this cruise wound up stashing them with Norwegian's babysitting crew rather than parenting them in front of me.

Our first port of call was Roatan, Honduras, whose poverty was both breathtaking and depressing all at once. Everyone there is super-nice to tourists because they have to be. Tourism props up their meager economy. We were bombarded by street hustlers who assured us that in addition to rides to the beach and tours around the island, that they could get us whatever else we needed during our stay. I didn't stick around long enough to find out the depth and breadth of their services. We shopped at some dirt-floor markets and bought a few things before heading back to the buffet and sun deck.

Next was my favorite: Grand Cayman. Took the wife on a catamaran tour of Stingray City, where we snorkeled among stingrays and other aquatic critters in a nearby reef. The tour guide and boat captain took pictures of us holding stingrays; I'm told that they are dangerous in the wild, but these are so used to tourists and tour boats that they swim right up to you and around you. Good times.

We hit Ocho Rios, Jamaica next, touring the Dunn's River Falls and tubing down the White River. Marijuana is so ingrained in the culture down there that it's unreal. The very first time I was ever approached in my life by someone trying to sell me drugs was at the bottom of the falls in Jamaica. I was standing on the beach watching the wife climb up the falls when a dude wearing a Las Vegas hat comes up and asks me if I want to do some shopping. I'm a tourist and that's what I'm there for, so I say yes and ask what he's got to sell. "Weed", he replies. Yikes. My only vice is a buffet table, I told him, and he believed me. Only later did it occur to me that he was probably working off excess inventory from Jamal Lewis's American operations.

Jamaicans love to smoke dope and sell crap to tourists, but the funniest things I saw there were carved wooden statues being sold on the side of the road. They were rasta men with cartoonishly large members, carved with frightening detail. Wife tells me that these are fertility dolls or something like that. I am reminded of my own shortcomings.

I met some interesting folks on the cruise, including an alumni officer with Kent State University named Nancy, whose notice of my Vandy gear prompted her to ask about Nashville since we meet on the gridiron in 2006. Strangely enough, her last trip to Columbus in 2002 for the Kent State check cashing against Ohio State was very different from my experiences at the Texas game this season. They were not outwardly hostile towards Kent fans. Way to go, Bucks. Insecurities come out against better competition, it seems.

I also met a very contrite Tennessee fan who stopped me to congratulate me on the big win. Folks, they are DOWN. I love it. It will never get old.

Also ran into an elderly Jewish couple from Michigan who retired to Grand Cayman and are living the dream. They were headed back to Detroit to visit their kids. I felt for them. Grand Cayman was absolutely beautiful and warm. No amount of snow could make Detroit scenic or beautiful. Throw in the bone-chilling temperatures and you've got a losing proposition all around.

Anyway, I'm sure that I will think of more things to add later about the cruise. I'm also hoping to post more as the job settles down and basketball season heats up.

Final thought
These guys get plenty of pub already, but my favorite college football blog right now is Every Day Should Be Saturday (www.everydayshouldbesaturday.com). I would abandon this blog entirely if I could write for those guys. Since that's not happening anytime soon, I'll keep plugging along here. Come to think of it, that's not such a bad compromise anyway.