Tampa I: Gone To Carolina

Dec 30, 2022

This is as un-replied as my phone has been in a long time. I'm one who generally cleans out my text inbox, my DM inbox, and my email inboxes. I'm not like my oldest son who has this unconscionable 4-digit red number next to his texts (his TEXTS) on his phone. I like making all of those red circles disappear.

But these last few weeks, every one of those numbers has been growing. I've been doing the "go through emails and leave the ones I need to respond to unread" thing, and then I started doing that with DM's on Twitter as well. Once you start ignoring the red number it all begins to snowball and then you realize you're going to have to set aside an entire day to go through it all.

This isn't "busy" in the "I have so much on my to-do list" sense. It's just a combination of things. Let me just describe the last two weeks.

+ Two weeks ago today I got on a plane and flew to Idaho to see my son/daughter-in-law/granddaughter. It was a trip so we could see them before Christmas AND a trip to help them move into their new house. So Friday-Saturday-Sunday were moving days and Monday was a "go look at furniture" day.

+ I then flew back on Tuesday, got caught up on some things at home on Wednesday, and then left first thing Thursday (to beat the storm) for St. Louis and some basketball game that night which I never want to talk about again. Drove down (just beating the snow), ran some errands, covered the game, and then barely slept.

+ Friday was supposed to be dinner with our fourth son and his wife before Christmas since they wouldn't be at our house for Christmas this year. I've mentioned our fourth son before - oldest son's best friend growing up, ended up living with us for several years, is now 100% part of our family and we tell people we have four boys, not three. Because his wife is pregnant, they were staying home on Christmas. They've been at our house for Christmas every year the last seven years (I'm telling you, they're family - we won't even do family photos without them), so we had to set up a time to see them.

Except it wasn't dinner with our fourth son and his wife. That was all a ruse put together by my wife to lure me to a surprise party (my 50th birthday was Tuesday). I quick gif of me walking into the surprise party and being totally and completely surprised:

I have no idea how my wife pulled this off. I think of myself as this super-aware person who could sniff out a surprise party from miles away. But I had absolutely no clue (as you can tell from my reaction there). The quasi-disdain you see on my face at the end there is an immediate internal scolding. "How did you not have ANY clue about this?" Also, why did I reach for the door frame?

Anyway, great night seeing family and old friends. I was exhausted the next day just from talking and laughing.

+ Saturday and Sunday = Christmas stuff in St. Louis. This isn't anything special - everyone has Christmas stuff around Christmas. I'm just taking a very long time to tell you why there are so many red numbers on my phone.

+ Monday was Festivus. I've mentioned this before but I've celebrated Festivus (on the 26th, not the 23rd) with my high school friends since... 1997 I think? Feats of strength, airing of grievances - we do it all.

And we even have a large aluminum pole instead of a tree. Honestly, I think it's the thing that has kept this Festivus celebration going all these many years. When I was growing up, my dad had a bunch of firewood stacked up against the back wall of the garage. One end of the stack was the wall. On the other end, for a bookend of sorts, he attached a long metal pole to a big stump. Wood would then be stacked between the wall and the pole.

So Festivus was inevitable at that point. As soon as the Seinfeld episode aired calling for a "large aluminum pole", well, we had one (stuck into a big wooden base, no less) in my mom's garage. It still travels house to house for whoever hosts Festivus.

+ Tuesday was my actual birthday. Having already celebrated it, my wife headed to California for a work trip and I headed to Florida for bowl week. Which lead to my very unique 50th birthday moment:

Why drive? Because purchasing disposable tailgate tables and chairs (and the large glowing "I" you see in my Twitter photo) isn't really possible. If you want your tailgate stuff at your tailgate, someone has to drive.

I stayed in Chattanooga Tuesday night and then made the rest of the drive yesterday. Got in town in time for the bowling event and then went to dinner with Carmen before crashing in my hotel room.

And then today was attending practice this morning and press conferences early in the afternoon. I'm now sitting down to write for what feels like the first time in a week. And as soon as I'm done writing this, it's time to go through all of the DM's and all of the emails (texts I plowed through this morning).

ALL OF THAT to say this: Carmen and I were doing some preliminary tailgate planning today. We were looking at an aerial map of the stadium and the parking lots. And as I panned up to show the stadium on the screen, it hit me: we're actually in one of the Florida bowl games. The reality of it all just hit me square in the jaw. That stadium, right there - my team will be playing there in front of a national audience on Monday. I'll be tailgating before and then attending and then tailgating after. On an 81 degree sunny day in Florida.

After I dropped Carmen at his hotel and drove back to my hotel (to write this), I was in this totally different mood. That's the wrong way to say it. The vibe had changed? That's not it either. I was... gone to Carolina in my mind? That's probably the best way I can explain it.

My trip to Idaho was a blast but it was a "I'm going to need a vacation from my vacation" trip because we were helping them move into (and set up) a brand new home. My time in St. Louis from the 22nd to the 26th was another great time (including a terrific surprise party) but when I say I was exhausted after the holidays, I was completely exhausted after the holidays. I then followed that up with a 15 hour drive to Florida (made over two days). This morning I was excited to be here but still wrapped up in all of the above.

Seeing the Raymond James Stadium on the aerial photo flipped a switch. I had this sudden feeling of being home. No, Tampa isn't my "home" in any way, but the thoughts of this weekend - my wife arrives tomorrow, two sons on Saturday - suddenly transported me to a place that the busy holidays could not. Don't get me wrong - I enjoyed the holidays, and the surprise party (some of the attendees I hadn't seen in 10 years) was amazing - but that's a different kind of fun. This... this is something I've been dreaming about for a long time.

This feels a lot more like nostalgia. As I mentioned when I wrote "Finally, Florida", I've been waiting so, so long to make one of these two bowls. We did it when I was a junior and senior in high school and we haven't been back since (and now I'm in my 50's). The full realization that I'm here now felt like being transported back to 1990. I'm filled with warm memories of specific time and place (like James Taylor and Carolina).

It's rare that we make these connections, I think. We spend all this time saying "man, I would give ANYTHING to go to the Outback Bowl just once" and then when we accomplish it, we somehow forget how badly we wanted it (and maybe even try to talk ourselves out of going). It's hard to connect "I'd give ANYTHING" with "it's happening right now".

This afternoon, that connected for me. The two crazy weeks leading up to this were the long draw on the bow. And then the photo of the stadium was somehow the release that sent the arrow flying. I've fully connected "please let me experience this some day" with "I'm here" (and tomorrow I'll connect it with "and my wife is here" and then Saturday I'll connect it with "and my kids are here"). And that sends me over the moon.

I'll have a lot to say over the next six days. Gonna do all of these bowl posts with Roman numerals just like the old days. Already can't wait to write Tampa II. It should probably be about Lovie.

For now, though, I'm gone to Carolina in my mind.

Er, Tampa.


twilson77@comcast.net on December 29, 2022 @ 10:44 PM

I must say, you could not have looked more surprised than if you were actually trying to show that you were surprised---a classic picture (and future "GIF")! As for the way you feel, I enjoyed your article and it has made me realize how much I yearn for a trip to TB to be at this game....lord knows the weather looks awesome, the Illini playing an SEC team on prime-time TV and being able to experience that is calling me....thanks for waking-up my Illini fandom about this game---gotta go!!

danielb927 on December 30, 2022 @ 08:14 AM

Love the GIF, Robert. Quit being so dang likeable.

gman on December 30, 2022 @ 08:31 AM

I had that same shock Robert on Christmas day when my son gave me 2 tickets to the bowl game for him and me to be there. Ive been waiting since 1980 for a day like this !

Efremwinters84 on December 31, 2022 @ 08:36 AM

We share the same birthday! See you in Tampa on Sunday....

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