EVANS, Ga. - Room 616, 3:10 a.m.
I'm a Tuesday/Thursday literature guy. To be exact, 8:55 a.m. to 9:50 a.m. literature.
It said "Lit," on my college schedule. And truthfully, some days I tried hard to be just that ... lit.
We read authors I understood and some I didn't. We wrote stories I understood and others I didn't.
I passed. Even graduated magna cum laude in understanding most, but not all.
And taking my training in "Lit," I went out into the world and wrote stories you understand ... and some you don't.
That right there is the value of a college education - taking exactly what you sat through in 50-minute bursts and applying that knowledge directly to life.
But I must say this, if you are in college, about to be in college, paying for someone else in college or getting junk mail in your house addressed to "alumni," you need to know this: Success in life can pretty much be based on one thing ... a sugar high.
At least that's so in my case. Pretty much anything I've written that you understand (or not), boils down to exactly this: jelly filled and black with four sugars.
This is a column that started one day and finished the next, fueled in part by a "shameless bribe," given to me by a BASS official named Deb — to whom I may or may not have agreed to protect her identity — and which consisted of exactly this: 10 Piggly-Wiggly glazed sour cream "artificially-flavored cake donuts," the eat-by date unknown.
It's 3:07 a.m. ... and only a few of the 10 are left and I'm starting to eye the Starbucks across the street.
You need to know all of this stuff, especially if YOU happen to be some sort of BASS bigwig, because what you are about to read is a quintessential column about bass fishing, and except for one tiny little detail, there's nothing about bass fishing in the column.
That's what happens when you start covering the WBT tournament BEFORE the WBT tournament actually starts.
When stuff like that happens, my getting to a place before the STORY gets to the place, this is what I do: Lots of donuts and coffee.
That allows me to tell you what happens when your assignment is pretty much to just "hang around" and write about "whatever."
And so I shall write about what happened in the 1.5 days I was here before there got here.
Some of which I understand, but most of which, I do not.
Shrimpless in Augusta
I try not to eat bait.
Just a personal choice, but I think bait should be left to the bass.
Shrimp medley is NOT an entrée. It's bait. Cocktail sauce does not make it dinner, it just makes it spicy bait.
But when BASS tournament officials invited me to go to dinner with them, I had no idea dinner would be seafood, even though I had a menu for the local joint in my hands.
All I could focus on the menu was sweet Tea. Sweet tea is db bait.
So I went, following people with fish logos on their shirts as they headed off to eat fish. That's eatin' synergy right there.
(Because I don't have a logo on my shirt, I'm pretty much free to eat anything.)
But I don't eat bait.
We pull up to this local joint (I do know its name, but when I start referring to an establishment's menu and specials board as mainly featuring bait, all the ESPN/BASS attorneys seem to sleep much better when I'm not overly specific naming things that can sue) and park in the only unpaved urban parking lot this side of Newfoundland.
Being a writer about the outdoors, I like this outdoor touch of walking through dirt before I eat. One of the fish-wearing people holds the door open, making it easier for the other fish-eating people to get to the fish, then suddenly everything jams up.
I'm thinking this must be some sort of dam, it wasn't, just some lady who was damn mad, "They won't let me get my shrimp ... THEY won't let me get my SHRIMP."
Naturally, I get alarmed, what with strangers pretty much shooting mad bubbly spittle everywhere, and, more important, with hearing the word, shrimp.
I'M IN A SEAFOOD JOINT! I write about that stuff, I don't eat it.
And as the fish-wearing people shuffle past the spittle-shooting stranger, the spittle lady looks directly at me, the only guy in the place who could care less about her shrimp problem, and spits/yells my way, "They won't let me in, because I don't have proof. I didn't bring my wallet."
The fish-wearing people seem oblivious to this, focused as they are on eating fish, while I'm thinking, "Good God, must be some local law that not only do you need a license to FISH, but you need one to eat FISH," when the lady behind the counter, the shrimp gatekeeper, says to the spittle shrimp lady and those in the fish shirts, "No one gets inside without showing me a picture ID that has their date of birth on it."
"SEE," comes my way, laced with some stranger bubbles.
And then it dawns on me ... the spittle shrimp lady yelling about proof ... is talking PROOF! Being-of-legal age proof ... and I panic, because I know the people with the fish on their shirts want to eat seafood — especially SHRIMP — and I have no idea what the legal shrimp-eatin' age in Georgia is ... and I'm pretty sure they don't know, either.
I do believe, though, that we have a fairly decent shot at being of legal shrimp-eatin' age, since between the five of us, we have a combined eatin' age experience of around 282 YEARS (mean age being 56.4 years of eatin').
Folks, I'm being carded, something that hasn't happened since the NIXON ADMINISTRATION, and like the spittle shrimp lady, my wallet is in the car, so I have to go back out the door, through the outside, to my minivan, get my wallet, and come back in to show someone younger than my SOCKS that I am of legal age to eat food I don't like.
Trust me, they never print stuff like that in the media guide.
Freshly in from the outside, I walk up to this lady, who says to me as I'm only MIDWAY into the place, "I need to see proof of age before you can get in." I pass the spittle shrimp lady, who frankly without offending her, may have been eatin' shrimp since AT LEAST the Carter administration, and I say to the shrimp gatekeeper, exactly this, "I want to see YOUR proof ... I'll show you mine if you show me yours."
(And by the way, this goes for ALL clerks out there who want to see my driver's license when I want to buy something with a credit card, I'll show you mine when I can write down where YOU live, so if my credit card info gets stolen, I can come over to your house and talk to you about it.)
I got her with that one.
db: "What year were you born in?"
Shrimp Gatekeeper: "1980."
That would be about the same year I bought my current J.C. Penney boxers.
And I didn't have to say another thing ... the lady just let me in, knowing, I think in her gut, that I was probably born a few DECADES before she was — and that if she could get in, so could I.
So I just walked in, ordered a burger in a shrimp joint, and a non-legal age needed to drink sweet tea, while still clutching the proof I brought in to prove my legal age: my AARP card, member since 2002.
True story — ask the BASS folks.
The next morning I'm getting closer to there being here.
It's registration day and 74 Womens Bassmaster Tour Pros show up at the local Academy Sports + Outdoors store, flash their fishing license, hug Bill as tries to read the license, seeing that his reading glasses are in his truck, and listen to the rules of the lake, as told by Deb.
I'm staying at the BASS hotel; the people who own it call it something totally different, but that's how I named it in my GPS, since it's where all the people of BASS stay.
If I covered the rodeo, then it would be the BULL hotel. Same thing.
It's 6:45 a.m. and I'm on my way downstairs to have breakfast with BASS.
Go to the elevator, hit "down," the only button, since I'm on the top floor; I wait, get in, squint to see what button to hit, find "1," and hit it. The doors close, it heads down, jerks to a stop at "5," and some guy gets in.
I'm already not happy. I'm now considered "public," since I'm no longer just me, but someone in a public space with the public.
(In my head, I hear my wife telling me, "be CIVIL.")
So I grunt, "UmhumphHA."
Which, if you ever hear that from me, sounds like when you are using that mouthwash that stings, as it uses alcohol to get all the smelly things around your teeth drunk enough so they leave, and you get overly involved in the swishing around part, just as you strain your head around to look outside the bathroom door to watch the highlight on "Sportscenter," and the movement causes the antiseptic mouthwash to go up your nose, looking for tooth decay in your sinus.
That would be my "civil" conversation sound.
Following my grunt, I hear this: "Why fine, thank you. And just how are you feeling this lovely morning?"
The dude is ACTUALLY TALKING TO ME. This is a serious breach of how to conduct oneself in an elevator — and ESPECIALLY how to be public while in public.
He doesn't know that, No. 1, an elevator is really A BUS, and two, when the public, me included, says to the rest of the public, be it a grunt or real words, "How you doing?" THE PUBLIC DOESN'T CARE and certainly doesn't want an answer back.
All this and the damn elevator doors haven't even closed yet.
I'm still on "5," listening to what's turning into a public paragraph.
I have no idea what to do, so I tell myself to go back to the basics and remember the fundamentals of being public ... just look straight ahead and hope if you stare real hard, the floor numbers magically speed up.
And NEVER make eye contact in an elevator/bus/subway or other place you don't own for fear of mace, or worse, conversation.
So I'm looking straight ahead, hoping maybe the public next to me is just some sort of Robotic Elevator Music Animatronics, completely possible since Disney owns BASS and this is the BASS hotel.
But being 6:45 a.m., I make a crucial mistake: I look sideways. "
"You know, it's such a dang nice day out there, I'm fixin to take a walk ... only wish my big toe wasn't all crusted up and inflamed."
"How do you do?" really has NOTHING to do with whatever it is that you may actually be doing, feeling, thinking of doing or feeling, about to do or feel, but has everything to do with LEAVE ME ALONE.
Don't feel obligated to answer, no one will be offended.
But if you do feel compelled to answer, even if you are about to take your last breath, this is what you say: "Fine."
That's how the public works: we ask each other questions we don't want to hear answers to, with a little bit of leeway allowing for the askee to answer back with a lie neither one cares about.
And if you happen to be staying in the BASS hotel with a crusty big toe, tell the people with the fish on their shirts. They're polite.
I'm just civil.
Don Barone is a member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association. Other stories of his can be found on Amazon.com. For comments or story ideas you can reach db at www.donbaroneoutdoors.com