Sunday, April 22, 2012

the decade that was: 2006

I promised about a month ago I had a “look back” at the decade that was coming … but rather than post the next great American novel, I thought I’d post it piece by piece when I felt like it.

Here then, is my look back (as best I recall it) at the best year of my life so far, the year AD 2006.  Enjoy!


“I’ll spread my wings, and I’ll learn how to fly!
I’ll do what it takes, until I touch the sky!
And I’ll make a wish, take a chance, make a change,
And breakaway …

Out of the darkness, and into the sun,
But I won’t forget all the ones that I love.
I’ll take a risk, take a chance, make a change,
And breakaway …”

Technically, that song was released as a single in 2005 … but according to Billboard, it was still charting in early 2006, so I’m taking it as the song that defines 2006 for me.  Other than (possibly) 1995 and (somewhat) 1999, no year of my life has seen more upheaval, change, and both good and bad unexpected developments than 2006.

When 2006 began, I had a relatively comfortable existence.  I worked as a compliance officer for “former employer”, I was earning more than I had ever made in my life, I had a decent social life, and Gregg and I were officially reaching that scary Chandler and Joey “wait, you’ve been roommates for HOW LONG?!?!” status.  By the time 2006 was over, I had been laid off, found a new job, the roommate was engaged, I was looking for a place to live … and I couldn’t have been happier, if that makes sense.

* 2006 began … unsurprisingly, on New Year’s Day, which was spent at Arrowhead, as the Chiefs won their tenth game of the season, routing the AFC North champion Bengals.  Unfortunately, ten wins wasn’t enough, because the Steelers won their eleventh game of the season, to earn the last wildcard slot in the AFC playoff field.  Coach Vermeil retired for the third and (presumably) final time after the game.  Even better?  A coach I will go to my grave arguing never got a fair shot in Kansas City, Herm Edwards, was hired as Dick Vermeil’s replacement.  To say 2006 started off “muy bueno” for me, is an understatement.

* Flash forward a week, to a random Friday night in the middle of January.  It was cold, it had been snowing, and (shocker) I’d spent that night actually winning at Ameristar with some co-workers.  (I hit five aces at pai gow that night.  Five aces pays at 250:1.  Score!)  I pull into the garage, happy to have survived getting home without wrecking the car in the driving snow or (worse yet) getting popped for a DUI, and when I start walking towards the door to enter the house, notice that the ceiling over Gregg’s car looks awfully low.  Keep in mind, I have been drinking, so I honestly thought “Stevo, you’re just seeing things here”.  I head upstairs, and Gregg is still up, so I say something like “I think the ceiling in the garage is f*cked up”.  Gregg heads down, and confirms my findings.  The ceiling over where his car parked is bow shaped, bubble shaped, straight downward.  Neither one of us has a clue what to do, so Gregg calls his dad, who notes “well, its probably water buildup.  You’ll need to pop the bubble and see if it’s the pipe or something else”. 

Hey now!  Gregg and I don’t agree on a lot in life, but anytime you can destroy something just because?  You have to do it.  So Gregg goes to poke a hole in this thing, and in a rare moment of sanity, I note “uum, shouldn’t you probably move your car first?”*  I honestly had no clue what was going to come tumbling out of the ceiling, but I figured he probably didn’t want his car hood getting destroyed by it.

(*: about a month later, we had to replace the garage door opener on his side of the garage.  It took us four days.  Yes, FOUR DAYS to install a garage door opener.  This in addition to the fact that after Gregg and our buddy Tim attempted to “rig” the lighting in the hot tub room on the deck, the lighting was permanently screwed – if you put a bulb in all three outlets, none of them worked.  Two bulbs in, worked at half power for each.  One bulb in?  Bright as the noontime sun.  I mention this, so that when the rest of this repair job unfolds, you’ll realize that you don’t want me and Gregg and Tim, all three of us combined, trying to “fix anything” in your house anytime soon.)

So G backs the car out of the garage (into the snow, which actually, in a second, will sound like the sane, rational decision I thought it would be), pulls out the step ladder, steps up, and (I believe it was with a crowbar), pokes a hole in the gigantic bubble that’s getting bigger by the minute.  SMASH!  CRASH!  BOOM!  Within two seconds of poking a hole in that thing, the entire right side of the garage ceiling has collapsed, along with massive amounts of water pouring out of where the ceiling used to be.  Uum, again, I’m not smarter than the average bear, but this isn’t good – I can literally see into my bathroom, that’s how extensive the rot and water damage is.  And my bathroom is a floor above where we are standing.  That is NOT bueno.

The solution?  Of course!  From the kids who never properly built the Sauder entertainment center, screwed up the lower deck wiring, actually said “f*ck this, just run wires everywhere, who cares if they’re exposed!” to setting up the DirecTV system* … comes out biggest stroke of genius yet: oh hell yes, we’re going to gut my bathroom, replace the floor, the tub, the pipes, and when it’s all done, we’ll fix the garage ceiling too!  (Yes, alcohol was involved.)

(*: this might be the funniest day of my life, when Gregg, Tim and I were trying to get the DirecTV dish to work, in addition to putting the entertainment center together.  It was 105 degrees, for some reason our a/c wasn’t working, the direction to assemble the entertainment center made zero sense, and we’re ultimately reduced to screaming at each other out the door “no signal!  No, wait, 38%!  Turn it … no the other way f*ckhead!  The OTHER way!”  And of all people, it was the one who was semi-competent (that would be Tim) who was so exhausted by the time we got a freaking signal, that rather than bury the wires, or at least try to conceal them, he came up with the brilliant “just run it down the hallway, who gives a sh*t!” idea that made the upper hallway a model in white trashiness for five years.  God I miss that house … but I do not miss our neighbor across the street.  Make that neighbors – both Taylor “and his awesome hands”, and the fat guy who always mowed his lawn with his shirt off, even if it was 50 degrees outside.  Promise me readers – if I ever approach 400 pounds, and take my shirt off, that you’ll just shoot me, please.)

The first step to this … was that we had to remove the tub / shower from my bathroom (since the pipe and plumbing issue was due to the shower).  The problem is, where do you put a gigantic tub for a couple weeks while you’re drying out the old rotted flooring, and replacing it with new, unrotted flooring?  The answer?  Of course!  You set said tub in your main room as a piece of furniture!  So yes, for three weeks, we had a gigantic bathtub basin sitting next to the small couch in the main room.  All we needed was some halfwitted kid eating grass to officially qualify as white trash.

By mid-February, we had basically completed the renovation, and my bathroom was even better than it used to be … only with one unexpected change – we’d accidentally covered the air vent.  So if you really had to, uuh, take care of business in there?  That’s why there were multiple candles and air fresheners for the rest of the time I lived there.  But – but! – we successfully overhauled a full bathroom replacement, and fixed the garage ceiling to boot!

I mention this story, because (a) it pretty much was the dominant thing in my life for the first month of 2006, and (b) if you think that story is ridiculous, in terms of “how incompetent of a home improvement person are you”?  Just wait until we get to May … and yes, May (stretching into June) is funnier and more pathetic …

* While all this ridiculousness with the bathroom was going down, I wound up going to Tampa for a week for work.  Because anytime you can leave KCI when its 28 and snowing, and land in Tampa when its 80 and sunny, you HAVE to do it.  I also mention this trip, because for the first time, it was obvious change was coming.  Big time, massive, “no doubt about it” change. 

I flew to Tampa both for my annual review (which went well enough) … and because of a complaint that was currently sitting on my desk.  A lady had purchased a VUL policy* from us a few years ago, and was now saying that she had no idea what she had purchased, that the agent had lied to her regarding what the product was, and she wanted a refund of everything she’d put into the policy (as well as cancel the policy). 

(*: VUL = variable universal life.  Basically, the premiums you pay into the policy get dumped into investments, which in this lady’s case, meant the stock market, which was starting to tank, costing her a large cash value loss.  Hence her complaint to the Arizona DOI that was sitting on my desk.)

I argued the lady was full of it – if you’re competent enough to realize you’re hemorrhaging money now, you’re probably aware of what you were investing in three years ago.  My boss felt the complete opposite, that somehow our agent had misinformed her regarding what she was purchasing.  After a couple weeks of research and interviews and investigation, I felt my stance was completely correct.  My boss felt her stance was correct.  And, well, when its someone who’s been in the job for four months facing off against someone as established in the industry as my boss was?  You lose every time.  A couple weeks later, when the first round of layoffs came to “former employer”, I was part of said layoffs.  I can’t say I was surprised.  And to my boss’ credit, she could have tried to screw me out of my annual bonus (which hadn’t been paid out yet) but she didn’t, and I got a very fair severance package as well.  Of course, every employee at “former employer” was dealing with the same situation less than a year later, but yeah, I was in the first wave to hit the pavement.

On St. Patrick’s Day to boot.

* And what a monumental day of “change” St. Paddy’s Day 2006 would prove to be.  St. Patrick’s Day was on a Friday in 2006, and wouldn’t you know it, KU played the late game, an opening round contest against Bradley.  They lost, marking the second straight year KU crapped out on day one of its tourney run, and no doubt leading many Mizzou fans to buy Bradley t-shirts.  (Lest you think Bradley was a fluke, they weren’t – I argued on Selection Sunday KU was in serious trouble, and Bradley actually reached the Sweet Sixteen (as a 13 seed) before losing down the stretch to Memphis.  That was a damned good Bradley team, in a year the Valley sent 4 teams to the tourney, and one of the ones excluded (Missouri State) remains the highest RPI team to never reach the field as an at-large to this day (they were 16 in the RPI.  Why did they miss the field?  Only God knows.  Because the committee has no rational reason for excluding them.)

So I spend my Friday “celebrating” being unemployed, “celebrating” KU losing, “celebrating” the holiday, by doing what I do best (drinking) … meanwhile, the roommate is up in Topeka at a wedding for (I believe) our buddy Brent’s cousin … and, well, I said St. Patrick’s Day 2006 was the biggest game changer day of my life.  I’d say, between losing your job, and the roommate meeting the future Mrs. Roommate, yeah, that’s some hope and change of a day that President Obama can only dream of accomplishing.

That night, at the reception, Gregg met Ashley.  Five months later, they were engaged.  A little over a year later, they were married.  And now, they have kid number two on the way.  I’d say that turned out pretty good.

* So, take it from me: if you ever find yourself unemployed?  The PERFECT time to be unemployed, is in the spring and early summer.

The weather is perfect, and it’s a perfect time to take vacations, weekend getaways, and other assorted fun things.  It also means you are available for “various projects”, the first of which was repainting my folks back deck.

My dad had just retired from the post office, and had knee replacement surgery, and my mom was counting down the days to her retirement after thirty plus years of teaching.  Essentially, the deck repainting fell on me.  And (go figure), what should have been a 2-3 day project, was well into week three when the next story went down.  (Yes, alcohol was involved … along with “Maury”.  Why my dad and I should never have nothing to do: dad would watch “Springer”, I’d watch “Maury”, and we’d wind up spending three hours debating which trashy talker was better that day, rather than do what we were supposed to be doing, painting the deck.  Uum, yes, alcohol was involved.)

So, its now mid-May, and I’m at home that afternoon (I believe it was a Wednesday, but might have been Thursday), and as I’m sitting watching TV, I get a phone call from my dad, that basically goes like this:

(stevo) hello.
(dad) what are you doing.
(stevo) watching TV, nothing special.
(dad) can you come over here for a minute?
(stevo) sure.  Anything wrong?
(dad) uuh … no.  But I need your help.
(stevo) ok, I’m on my way.
(dad) oh, and when you come?  Pull up in the back yard.
(stevo) what?
(dad) you’ll understand when you get here.

I lived about 10 minutes from my folks in 2006, 7 minutes if you hit the stoplights on Shawnee Mission Parkway and Midland right.  So I hop in the Blazer, drive over there, pull up in the backyard … and see there’s a ladder down on the ground, and dad’s laying next to said ladder.  Yeah, panic ensues.

Turns out, dad had tried to work on the deck (since we were way behind schedule), and … well, apparently standing on a ladder barely six weeks after knee replacement surgery isn’t a good idea, because he went tumbling down.  So I had to take him to the ER to have him checked out, which led to this conversation:

(stevo) we have to call her.
(dad) no.
(stevo) dad, she’s gonna figure out something’s wrong if you’re not home in an hour.
(dad) let’s hope I’m out of here by then.

Mom had expressly said “no!” to dad doing any work on the deck by himself.  Well, an hour comes and goes, and it’s pushing 3:30, and someone has to tell her why dad isn’t home (even though his car is, we’d driven mine to the hospital) when she leaves work in a little bit.

So I call mom’s school, and the receptionist says she’ll give mom the message to call me.  As best I remember that phone call …

(stevo) hello.
(mom) what’s wrong?
(stevo) well, I want to stress, I had nothing to do with -- (cut off)
(mom) he got on the freaking ladder, didn’t he?  I knew it!  I knew it!  Where is he?
(stevo) in the ER waiting room at Overland Park.
(mom) (angry silence)
(mom) I’m on my way. 

Which led to this quick conversation …

(dad) did you talk to her?
(stevo) yeah, she’s on her way.  (pause)  Uum, so you’re ok for the next five minutes?
(dad) yeah, why?
(stevo) I’m out of here.  The woman hates me enough for the sh*t I do, I don’t need this on me to boot …

Yes, I was suffiently scared enough of my mom to bolt the ER before she got there, even though nothing that had happened was my fault.  I got a call later that night from my dad in which (I think he was joking) I was informed that I was out of the will.

Oh, and the deck?  Didn’t get done until after the roadie that’s up next on the recap of 2006.  Yes, it took 6 effing weeks to stain a deck.  And that STILL isn’t the most ridiculous home improvement project of 2006.  Trust me, when we get to it in a couple pages or so, you’ll be laughing your asses off …

* So the end of May arrives, and I’m sitting on the couch on a Tuesday, watching TV, checking email, doing whatever, and I get an email from Dusty, saying “we’re still on for Indy, right?”  DJ and I had discussed taking a roadie to Indy for the 500 at Opening Day, but I laughed it off to us being buzzed.  I mean, Dusty, God love him, is NOT a race fan (according to him).  Again, he is NOT a fan of cars going around a track in an oval (according to him).  Even though he’ll be at his second straight day of racing today, he’s NOT a race fan (according to him). 

A road trip, to my favorite sporting venue, for my favorite race, with one of my best friends in life?  Yes, please!  So we load up the Blazer on Saturday, and take off for Indy.  Turns out DJ has a family friend who lives two blocks from the Speedway, on Auburn just north of 21st.  We pull in about 5pm, too late to hit the track for the day, but just in time to start the fun.

We head over to their friend’s house (Dave and Kathy, who live just south of Crawfordsville), and proceed to show these people how to party it up right – we get the washers game going, convince Dave to get the grill fired up, we’re having a freaking blast.  And then, as best I remember it, this conversation happened:

(stevo) (looks at cooler)
(stevo) SH*T! 
(dusty) what?
(stevo) I left the Seagrams in the other cooler!  (I was on a VO and water kick at that time.)
(dusty) no big deal, we’ll walk back and get it.
(stevo) oh, ok.  good idea.

Yes, alcohol was involved.  So, we head back to Peggy’s (the lady we were staying with) to get my VO, and go figure, we wind up getting something else out of the Blazer that Dusty had forgotten to bring.  I am going somewhere with this, I swear.

So we start walking back to Dave and Kathy’s, and notice that the scene on Crawfordsville is rapidly deteriorating into something you’d see on Bourbon Street on Fat Tuesday – girls flashing, drunk college kids encouraging said flashing via tossing beads at them, good times!  When we got back to Dave and Kathy’s, Dusty is like “grab a chair”.  So we grab a couple tailgating chairs, walk the block or so back to Crawfordsville, and literally set up shop on the side of the road.

If you ever wonder why the night before the Indy 500 is something everyone should experience at least once in their life?  This is why.  Both of us had “open containers”.   Both of us were smoking something that is illegal save for medicinal purposes in all 50 states and the District.  Cops walking right past us, and let’s be honest – said medicinally legal herbal product has an undeniable smell.  And the cops walked right past us, enjoying the scene for what it was, just like we were.  God, I so want to relive that roadie at least one more time in my life.

Sunday, race day.  I’m wide awake at 5:30ish (even though we’d crashed at about 2am).  I quickly shower and head out to go buy the Indy Star program (if you’ve been to Indy, you’ll understand why) and a t-shirt … and then, at exactly 6am … BOOM!  BOOM!  BOOM!

The cannon goes off, to signify that the greatest day in motorsports is officially underway, and open for business.  And what a day it was – it was 80 degrees (in late May) at 6am, with an expected high in the upper 90s.  The 500 is a total crapshoot when it comes to weather – some years (like 2005 and 2006), its perfect.  Others (like 2007), it’s 50 and raining.  Happily, 2006 was perfect.

I eventually wander back to Peggy’s, where the folks staying there are beginning to wake up … and we enjoyed a breakfast of biscuits and gravy, sausage, bacon, eggs … and Bud Light.  Yes, I hate Bud Light with a passion … but it goes shocking well with a loaded breakfast.

Finally we head for the Speedway, and … well, I tried to prep Dusty for what to expect, but even then, he had no idea what was coming.  I think he kind of grasped he was in for a "wow, did I live through this?!?!" kind of day, but still.  The conversation as we entered in turn one as best I remember it:

(dj) look at that!
(stevo) what?
(dj) that!
(dj) (points to college kids, about ten guys, literally wheeling in a dolley stacked with cases of beer)
(stevo) (beaming with pride at said college kids)
(stevo) welcome to Indy, champ!

DJ went off to experience the Speedway on race day -- walked the infield, took in the sights at various locations, even tried to tour the Museum.  Me?  I’ve been there, done that – I settled into our seats in turn two (southeast vista) for the race of a lifetime.  In the last five laps, you had three lead changes, two resulting in a cursed Andretti taking the lead … and resulted in the closest finish in Indy 500 history, as Sam Hornish passed Marco Andretti in the final 100 feet to eke out the win.  I was on the phone with our buddy Brett for the final couple laps (the biggest racing fan I know), and all of us afterwards were in utter shock at what we’d just seen.  Greatest finish ever … save for maybe when Kasey Kahne somehow edged out Greg Biffle at Kansas eight months earlier, a race all of us were there for, and led to me melting down in tears as the 6 Ragu pasta sauce car was declared the winner.

After the race?  More partying, more (DJ kicking my ass playing) washers, and yes, Kasey Kahne won the Coke 600 that night, edging out Jimmy Johnson.  Party on!

* Once the Indy roadie was over, it was back to real life, which for me at that point, consisted of doing various projects for friends and family, working on the tan every afternoon, and … well, that was about it.  Which led to the project of a lifetime.

I hang out every chance I get in the summer at “the pool”, at Russ and Mona’s.  Spring of 2006, it was time to replace the pool liner*, and we figured that surely, between the three of us, we could install a pool liner.

(*: the pool liner about to be explained below, is likely getting replaced in a week or so.  At least we know what we’re doing now.  Allegedly.)

The deck also needed to be stained, so I agreed to work on staining the deck during the day, and we’d get the liner installed when it arrived.  Knock out two birds with one stone, so to speak.

I had the deck done pretty quick, but the pool liner, that’s a different story.  It arrived almost at the same time I finished the deck (perfect timing), and so one Tuesday night (during the NBA Finals, which involved Dallas that year), we set out to install said pool liner.

After a couple hours, we couldn’t figure out what we were doing wrong.  It’s a pool liner!  How hard can it be to install?  By the time we reached the “f*ck it, we’re done” moment for the night, we’d gotten three corners installed, but couldn’t get the thing to stretch to fit a fourth corner.

(Yes, THIS is the story I’ve been hyping for (looking at the page counter …) 11 pages and counting!  Good Lord, I’ve just hit June, and we’re on page 11!  Better start speeding this up …)

So after three or four tries to get this liner to fit, and we tried everything – we hosed it down, we bought additional liner support to “stretch” it out, this bad boy just isn’t gonna fit.  Couple that with the fact that it’s mid June, the pool still is out of service, and it’s frustration time.

So Russ and I hop in the car, and head back to Swim Things to figure out if we mismeasured it, or at least figure out why it won’t fit.  We get to the counter, and this is the conversation as best I remember it:

(russ) (dumps liner on counter) it won’t fit!
(pool guy) what kind of pool do you have?
(russ) (explains its an above ground, rectangular pool)
(pool guy) rectangular?
(russ) yeah, why?
(pool guy) this is an oval liner!

Yes, we’d spent a week trying to get an oval liner to fit in a rectangular pool.  The pool guy gave us the correct liner, we went back to the pool, and within ten minutes, had the thing installed and filling up with water.

The lesson?  You NEVER want me helping on a home improvement project.

* After the pool liner fiasco, it was time to get serious about finding a job … which amazingly enough, I did, with little search or effort.  I saw an ad for a reinsurance accountant in the paper in mid-June … interviewed at the end of June … and by the time I got home from said interview, there was a voicemail asking if I could take a drug test the next day.  Figuring that was a positive sign, I then remember “oh sh*t, we just went to the Dave Matthews concert two weeks ago”.  (Went with Dusty and LP, Ben (aka “Deadbeat Ex Roommate”) and Lara, and I went with a chick named Stephanie who … well, we just didn’t hit it off, at all.  Still, anytime you can spend a night with good friends and DMB (and good stuff to enjoy while with said friends and DMB)?  It’s a good night!)  Thankfully, I passed the test, and started with the company I currently work for on July 10th, which came a week after …

* Race Weekend 2006!  Saturday might have been the funnest race day I’ve ever had – it was just me and Brett at the truck race*.  It was hot as hell, not a cloud in the sky, and I think we easily polished off a handle of vodka before the race (to say nothing of what we had during said race).

(*: true story: for the first two, three years I knew Brett (met him at work), his wife thought “Steve” was an imaginary person he had invented for those times he needed a break from her.  No, that is not a joke -- she thought me, Stevo, was so unbelievably, uum, unbelievable, that she doubted I existed.  I finally met Shannon late in 2005, when Brett and I were supposed to go to a race at Adrian Speedway (but was rained out).  After we hit up a bar with his dad and brother, we headed back to his place to "prove to my wife you actually exist”.  Yes, yes I do.  Yes, yes I drink every bit as much as has been described to you.  And yes, yes I would love to take in a race with you sometime, chica.)

That Saturday night, after the race, was the annual “Gregg and Steve Blow Up the Backyard BBQ Bonanza” celebration we threw every year.  Every year we were on 53rd Terrace, we threw a massive party on the Saturday night before the IndyCar race, bought a few kegs, grilled out some good food, blew up fireworks, etcetera.  This one?  Was the last one … and the most ridiculous of them all.

It’s pushing 8:30pm.  I’m up on the deck*, watching the NASCAR race with our neighbor Chris and a couple other people, when all of a sudden, in the backyard behind us, I hear Gregg screaming “get a hose!   Get the f*cking hose!”  I turn around … and oh yeah, the backyard is ON FIRE!  A fireworks fight gone bad.

By the time we get the fire put out, the entire upper half of the backyard is black, as well as areas behind our fence.  But at least the crisis was averted.

(*: the most ridiculous fight in recorded human history occurred while the fire was being put out, as Ashley started screaming at me and Chris for, uuh, “smoking” on the back deck while watching the race because “there’s a pregnant girl here!”, while she was smoking a cigarette in front of said pregnant girl.  Really chica?  Weed is worse than tobacco for the fetus to be around?  Come on.  (I’m guessing it was her "happy" time of the month.  Either that, or she really hated Chris.  Come to think of it, I’m guessing it’s the latter …)

By the time the “Bonanza” winds down come 2, 2:15am, there’s still about 10 of us there.  Me, Gregg, Ash.  Our neighbors Chris and Heather.  Ash’s brother Eric and Heather, and a couple other people I forget, but I’m sure crashed somewhere in the house for the night.  I finally have reached my breaking point – after all, I have friends arriving at 7am to head out for the race that morning.  So I head for my bedroom …

And in the greatest possible “yup, he’s drunk” moment of my life, fail to make my bed.  Somehow, I grabbed a pillow, and laid down next to my bed to pass out.  (Also amazingly?  I somehow set my alarm to go off at 6:30.  I have no idea how I managed to successfully set an alarm, yet failed to hop into bed.  Yes, alcohol was involved.)  Anyways, the alarm goes off at 6:30 … and I realize three things:

(a) I’m sleeping on the floor.
(b) I’m still completely intoxicated.  And …
(c) both Priest and Phogger have laid down next to me for the night, as if I was in my bed.

Believe it or not … that isn’t even the worst “yup, he’s hammered” moment of the day.

So I manage to stumble out to the kitchen, feed Priest and Phogger, toss them into the front yard to do their business, and our neighbor Gary (huge racing fan as well) is getting his group organized for the day.  He comes over, asks what happened to our back yards (fire!!!), and laughs it off, and we make plans to meet up for some tailgating in a little bit at the Speedway. 

I then take a look around, realize I need to get going (friends arriving in 15 minutes), so I head back inside, load up some booze, grab what’s left of the kegs, and begin to walk downstairs to throw them in the back of the Blazer*.

(*: to this day, "Mrs. Voice of Reason" claims I took her bottle of Bacardi with me, or that I polished it off the night before.  This is an abject falsehood.  How many times have you seen me drink rum?  (Answer: next to never.)  If it had been Polar Ice or Smirnoff?  A legitimate claim.  But Bacardi?  Really?  If I'm going to hijack rum, it's gonna have the word "Captain" in it ...)

Only … the Blazer isn’t in the garage.  Uum, what?  How the hell do you lose your car?  Turns out, for some reason I parked it next door in Chris’ driveway.  Anyways, I manage to somehow back it out, park it in our driveway, start loading the thing, and as my friends arrive … my phone is going crazy.  Turns out one of Ashley’s friends and I had been in some kind of serious conversation the night before (note: I don’t remember a damned thing, again, I slept on the floor for crying out loud), and somehow that led to her “forwarding” all of her calls to my phone.  It was her parents wondering where the hell she was.

And as drunk as I already was … it got worse – when Phil arrived about 7am and was beginning to throw stuff into the Blazer, I literally sat down on the street, laid back against the mailbox post … and passed out.  Yup, passed out drunk against a freaking mailbox at 7am.  THAT takes talent!

We finally get everything organized, head off to the races, have a helluva tailgate (my brother was in even worse shape than me from the night before, and I have no idea how that’s possible), and a very enjoyable day that “non-racing” fan Dusty and his dad show up to enjoy as well.  (For those keeping track at home, this marks THREE straight racing weekends DJ and I have attended a race together.  But he’s NOT a “racing fan”.  Sure …)

*I made it to the Brickyard in August, the recap of which can be read here.  More good times had in Indy.

* The other “highlight” of August … came from a random Wednesday night.  I was on the back deck watching the Royals game with our neighbor Chris, when DJ calls the house, so Gregg brings the phone out to me.  Turns out, he needed a little bit of help, and I was able to provide it, so I agreed to meet up with him at Hooters to give him some money, and in return, he had some kind of “free wings” deal we were gonna gobble down.

So we head in, and wouldn’t you know it?  It’s Trivia Night!  Pretty much every Wednesday for the next year and a half, a group of us wound up playing Team Trivia at Hooters, culminating with winning the regional title and reaching the city-wide finals

That occurred on Wednesday.  The very next day …

* My brother sends me an email that “I can’t make it tomorrow, you know anyone who can use my ticket?”  Drew and I both love – LOVE! – Ben Harper, and he was performing that Friday night at Starlight.  We’d had tickets for a couple months, and now, he has to back out.  Well, who better to share a Ben Harper concert with … than DJ?  After a couple emails and texts, he was in, and we headed out to enjoy the concert with my buddies Neeck and Ryan.

The day itself was perfect – pushing 100 degrees, not a cloud in the sky … and then the clouds started rolling in (and no, by “clouds rolling in”, I don’t mean the smoke on the concert floor) … and by the time Ben Harper took the stage, it was monsoon-like conditions.  Which took the concert from “really good” to “epic” – 90 minutes, in a pouring down rainstorm, with the “die hard fans” the only ones sticking around to hear it.  Other than Projekt Revolution, it’s the funnest concert I’ve ever been to in my life, and honestly … I hope there’s at least one more event like those at some point in my life that approaches how great those two nights were.

* The 2006 Chiefs season … is probably my second favorite season of my life, behind only the 1995 Chiefs.  So many highlights, and lowlights … but at the midpoint …

* It led to one of the funnest nights of my life.  Our tailgating crew has a few friends who live in Oregon, that are Chiefs fans.  And since the Seahawks were coming to Arrowhead on Halloween weekend, it only made sense for Verne and Kenny and Captain Gary to come in for the game.  Which lead to the seafood extravaganza the Friday before the game.

They’d caught all kinds of crab, shrimp, and other assorted fishies the night before flying in … and that Friday night, we cooked them all up for our enjoyment.  Now, I like seafood more than the average bear – if I could, I’d have shrimp scampi or crab cakes every night, with a chilled bottle of shiraz to go with it.  (Yes, I like my red wine chilled.  What can I say, I’m weird.  As if you hadn’t figured that out by now …)

This seafood fest?  Was SICK.  Crab cakes, crab legs, shrimp, grilled salmon, grilled trout, all caught less than 24 hours earlier.  Good stuff.

* For the raiders game that year, we had a pig roast.  Yes, a pig roast – Russ cooked a pig in a friggin hole, and we enjoyed what came out.  And man, was that good stuff too.

* For the broncos game … wow where to begin.  I’ve already covered this one elsewhere … but suffice it to say, when you have deep fried turkey, oven baked turkey, win “Tailgaters of the Game”, and toss in a marriage proposal to boot, while hosting a team you hate more than the devil in prime time?  You’ve definitely had one helluva tailgate!

* Also on Thanksgiving weekend (when the donkeys game went down), a group of us headed up to Ameristar to celebrate my brother’s birthday.  I got my ass whipped at the tables, and rather than keep hemorrhaging money, I decided to head for home.  (KU was playing Florida that night in some tourney in Las Vegas in hoops).  I pull into the garage as halftime is nearing a close, head up the steps … and hear wild scrambling down the hall, before “The Voice of Reason” and the future “Mrs. Reason” appear to watch the second half.  Apparently, I interrupted the floor of the main room getting broken in.  The lesson?  As always, my timing is god awful.

* The last day of 2006 … was spent exactly as the first day of 2006 was, at Arrowhead, watching the Chiefs win.  This time, that victory mattered, as it got the Chiefs into the playoffs (via a ton of help) for the first time in four years.

That night … was spent as so many New Year’s Eve’s in my life have been spent – on the couch, raising a bottle of champagne to “Strokey” Dick Clark, as the clock turned to midnight, and a new year begins. 

And honestly?  What better way to end the year, than raising a glass to “Strokey” Dick Clark, reflecting back on a year of change that rocked you to the core … and being thankful that you’re better off on December 31st, than you were on January 1st?  I wish every year could be like that.  Sadly, they aren’t.  But 2006 was definitely one of those rare times in life where when someone asks you “are you better off now than you were at this time last year?”  The answer when it comes to 2006 is not only “yes”, it’s an emphatic “hell yes!" ...

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