Sep 292010

But a lost evening at Winchell’s

By Northrupp Center

The stoner walk comes early at River Hill, a dense patch of second-growth honeysuckle that huddles up to Man O War on the approach to hole two. After an opening bogey on hole one and an errant first throw, a high-sailer that was knocked down 100 feet into its flight toward basket number two, I was relieved to find a reprieve. And so I sat, passing a small hollowed out piece of wood back and forth for a few moments with a good friend, letting a couple other groups pass us by, and enjoying the clearing, finally cool skies.

Thirty minutes earlier I had been on my bike, three discs, a gram of smoke and water bottle in tow, pedaling down Fincastle to Chinoe and across Alumni toward Tates Creek High School, past Armstrong Mill onto Crosby and eventually into River Hill Park, a compact mix of public sports surfaces—ball field, basketball court, tennis courts, playground—paired with an open rolling grass field and a 9-hole disc golf course mostly cooled by a mature stand of elm, maple and oak trees.

Officially I was here for disc golf. Unofficially, it was to check out another well-used suburban Lexington park. True, whitey owned the disc golf fairways, I begrudged to my friend at hole two, but the basketball courts and baseball field—filled with neighborhood kids playing a kickball game—featured plenty of color.

“We’re all white,” my friend observed, seemingly looking at himself as a white disc golf player for the first time. “All of us. And we all drive Jeeps, four-door, for chrissake.”

“Not me,” I said. “I biked here. But never mind about that. You’ve got a tough second shot coming up, requiring a serious hyzer, to pull out a bogey for this hole.”

“Why the hell would I care about that,” my friend shot back, exhaling. “This is disc golf.”

He was right, as it turns out, and to better prove the point we each bogeyed our first three holes. Not that we minded. By the time we hit the understory canopy that shades holes four through seven, the game had shifted, as it often does with us, into a nature walk plotted according to our errant tee shots. If golf has been described by famous, serious journalists as “a good walk ruined,” disc golf provides a sane countervailing force, a good walk enlightened.

At River Hill’s short well-maintained course, my friend and I chose to be enlightened twice. By happenstance the second time round also helped improve my score from a +6 on the initial nine holes to a +3 for the final round, thanks mostly to a birdie on hole one (and no smoke break on the way to hole 2). Of course, nobody cared.

Our game done, a combined 18 holes, 2 gleaned bur oak nuts conjoined by a twig, and 1 smoked bowl in an hour and a half, I bid my friend farewell and hopped on my bike for a more passive sporting experience at Winchell’s off Southland.

Four days earlier I had bumped into my old friend Gortimer T. Spotts roaming around the CentrePointe fields, “scouting out the WEG intoxicants of choice,” as he put it then.

Among other things, Spotts is an NFL Football fan, an early season optimist if ever there was one. A Redskin fanatic from his early days watching John Riggins sucking oxygen tanks in Super Bowl XVII, on this early-season Thursday just outside CenterPointe, with Applebees cars being driven illegally along the sidewalk by lazy motherfuckers, Spotts was in good spirits. This year’s draft had gone well. That bum Jason Campbell was ruining the Raiders now, and the Skins finally had a good coach in Mike Shanahan.

Yes, things were on the up and up, Spotts assured me. The defense was strong last year, and with the new QB under center, this would assuredly be a playoff year for his team from DC.

I’ve heard the same thing from Spotts for several years running, and he’s been spectacularly wrong every time he’s promised me “the Skins have put it together this year,” but then again that’s what being a fan means: eternal, stubborn optimistic stupidity.

He invited me to Winchell’s on the upcoming Sunday to watch the Skins paste the Rams. It was a great place to be a football fan, he claimed. Camaraderie. Win or lose, at Winchell’s you were around football fans, he assured me, and that meant all the world.

He had me hooked. On my bike ride from River Hill to Winchell’s—crossing New Circle via Chinoe and then veering off onto Pepperhill, Montevista and then Landsdowne (across Tates), eventually meeting up with Jesselin Drive to cross Nicholasville Road and onto Southland—I half expected to walk into a Redskins route. I entered confidently, scanning for Gortimer and his crew.

“Can I help you?” the hostess asked. I craned my neck, looked around at the multi-colored showing of white men in colored pro uniforms, and gave in. “Yeah, I’m looking for some Skins and a Buc,” I said. She scanned the jerseys before pointing to the very front of the bar, just in front of the flat screens, to where Gortimer sat, hunched, in a heated argument with the Frugal Fisherman, a like-minded Skins fan, and Tommy Helmers, an unfortunate Tampa Bay Bucs fan. They saw me and gestured over, spilling a half-filled pint glass in the process.

Per usual, Gortimer had arrived to Winchell’s in time for the first ESPN airing of NFL Live, several hours before the first kickoff. Now nearly eight hours later, his team was losing to the Rams, his optimistic bloody mary’s giving way by now to shots of Laphroig chased with cheap light beer.

“I’m never coming back here,” Spotts greeted me. “We suck. The season’s over. If you can’t beat the fucking LA Rams, you shouldn’t be playing in the NFL.” I looked up. Third quarter, late, the Skins down 24-16 to the Rams.

“Aren’t they in Saint Louis now?” I asked. Spotts ignored me. Frugal stormed off, cussing the entire District of Columbia for being a sad sack of losers. Helmers laughed, cynically, a true Bucs fan. “Hell, we beat the Saints last year,” he said. “And look how sorry my team turned out. It’s too early to tell anything.”

“Fucking awful. Why am I here?” Spotts moaned. “I’m not doing this next week. I’m staying home.”

It was quite a flop from three days ago, so of course I had fun with it. “But you don’t have Campbell. And you’re defense. And the new coach. I thought things were on the up and up. Seems kinda early, game three, to throw in the towel and jump shit.”

Spotts looked up at me, his eyes eventually focusing on my face. “One and two. You know how many teams have a chance when they stand at one and two?”

Blank stare.

“Twenty-one point five percent. Historically. That’s how many come back to make the playoffs. My season’s fucked already, and I’m not even out of game three. How do we lose to the Rams?”

“What about the camaraderie? Tommy and Frugal and all these sports fans here.” I gestured out at the rabble guzzling beers and checking fantasy updates on their ipods. “How can you leave all this?”

Gortimer suddenly got very quiet. He righted himself at the bar and straightened his back. “Rupp, I think you should leave now,” was all he said. I shrugged, ordered another round of Laphroig and light beers for the group, and walked back out into the seventy degree day, the sun now starting to fall below the horizon.

As I was mounting my bike, Spots exited the bar for a quick smoke. “This isn’t fun,” he said. “I mean, it’s nice out here….outside. How ’bout we hit WEG next week. Do it up right.”

What could I say? Sporting fellow that I am, I agreed on the spot.

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