"Lying there and staring at the ceiling
Waiting for a sleepy feeling ... "
Dateline: 2:37 a.m. Thursday The neon is quiet. Saw the Sonic Drive In lights go out a while ago. Every two minutes and 15 seconds the stoplight goes from red to green. The Walmart sign never blinks. A white and brown stray cat sits on a sewer cover. In the darkness of my Comfort Inn room I watch the red eye jets cross the sky. Room 320 coughs, room 220 snores.
When my wife Barb can't sleep she blames it on the 3 a.m. conference call in her head. Me, it's stories bouncing around to get out. Random thoughts looking for a theme. Sleepless in Alabama. The db/bb/rv is busted up; I'm in the Comfort Inn. The rv is behind barbed wire in a Ford Heavy Truck fixing joint. It sits waiting for the Extended Care Warranty cops to come look at it and agree it's busted up, then say who busted it up. All the brakes and everything brake-like on all the wheels are kaput ... rusted shut to the tune of $1,600. The extended care cops will rule soon as to whether the repair is covered, or, whether oxygen molecules and the process of oxidation are my own personal fault. You know how that is going to go. Sleepless in Alabama Today at the B.A.S.S. weigh-in shindig I had a teenage kid come up to me and ask me to sign his Alabama baseball cap. White cap, Crimson A, black sharpie signature scribbles all over it. No room for my db scribble so I handed it back and said, "Here how about this 'stead." And with that I pulled out a small B.A.S.S sticky label from my pocket (I keep a mess of them in there for the one autograph I may sign a year) and sign it sort of in the space around the fish, and hand it to the guy who says, "Cool, thanks dude." He moseys off a few steps and stops, turns back to me and with a face that of a question marks says, "Dude ... what's the B and A and S and S stand for again." It's late, I'm hungry, tired, no mood for test taking but as I go to answer it dawns on me I have no freakin' idea (there goes the raise from the three new dude owners whom I'm sure are very aware of what those letters stand for) so in a panic I look the kid in the eye, maybe both of them, and say this, "America dude ... it just means America." As I watched him walk away I saw him keep looking down at the sticky thing, then looking up, then back down, then back at me, as he tried to figure out how you can get B.A.S.S. to spell America. Hey kid, whoever you are, want to know how it spells America ... stand in the middle of a weigh-in and look around son, look at all those folks standing there next to you, look at all those folks up on the stage. That son, is America right there, even if that label thing don't rightly spell it out. Sleepless in Alabama. If Casey Ashley poops out for the rest of the year, don't blame him. Blame me. For writing this next bit of sleepless stuff. Casey is messing with some good juju, messing bad with it, and the juju may be messing back. Check this out ... for the first two tournaments of the year Casey tells me he's "running daddy's boat," a 2008 Triton that used to be Casey's boat. "I call it the Lucky Boat because it was in that boat that I had my best season ever." So at some point Casey gave the boat to his dad, who then went out with his tournament fishing partner, "and Daddy won a bunch of tournaments in it."
At some other point, I know how but couldn't find my notes about it, Casey's friend and roommate, Marty Robinson gets in the boat, "and gets a top 12 in it fishing the Southern Open so you see db the boat is still lucky." OK. So while waiting for his new boat to get wrapped and get to him, Casey "borrows" it back from his Dad, as only sons can "borrow" things, and fishes in it during the first two Elite tournaments this year, and gets 18th on the Harris Chain, and a 10th on the St. Johns River ... ended up 8th overall in the AOY points race. "See db, still lucky ... right." "Uh-huh." So his new boat comes, and here's where we may have good JuJu issues ... day one of the Alabama Charge and Casey comes in at 91st place. 91st. Now, me being completely aware of all stuff not being in my control of stuff and the intricate dance between the metaphysical world and the meta-db world, give Casey some fatherly gentle non-judgmental advice when he tells me of his plan to give the Lucky Boat back to his Daddy: "Whadd-ya-nuts." He gives me that country music crooner smile of his and says in the softest Carolina drawl, "The new boat, I give it two tournaments, if it doesn't come through by then db, well, Pops will have himself a brand new boat." Sleepless in Alabama. I once got stabbed in the calf with a crochet needle with that little hook thing on one end, and a button top. Once fell through a tree and got one ankle stuck in a branch and had my foot turned around backwards, the heel up front, the toes in the back. None of those issues come close to matching back pain. If you have it you know what I mean, if you don't have it take those love handles you have back there, and pull them up and over your ears ... now you might understand. So when I go up to yap with Dennis Tietje and he turns to talk to me, he makes the turn of agony, the universal howl of a back pain sufferer. "Dude ... are you alright." "db, I'm dead dude, my back is killing me," and then he lifts his jersey a couple of inches to show me the huge black back brace he is wearing. "I have a herniated disc and on the first day of practice I caught a fish and reached down to grab him ... and dropped to my knees in pain, did something and out it came ... spent an hour laying on the deck of my boat in pain, couldn't get up or move." And in my face he sees my question and answers it before I ask. "During the tournament I'm going to put the trolling motor down and just rot in one place on the lake, not move much at all." "db, I have to tell you, when you hurt and you are away from home it always hurts worse." But then he tells me this ... "You know you have good friends when they will pull on your dirty feet to help your back, and to get you back to fishing." TJ went out day one and finished tied for 76th place. But a shout out to Dave Wolak for helping a friend even when he has dirty feet. Sleepless in Alabama. So I'm standing on a rock at in the Florence, Alabama harbor, I'm watching all the anglers in the first flight come in to check in like a flight of mad hornets, and as I step off the rock and turn around I see a sight I will never forget. Silhouetted against the sun shinning off the now gentle Tennessee River I see an angler coming in for check in, but he is doing so standing on his trolling motor and fishing his way down the shore. James Niggemeyer. Never stopping trying. Fishing, COMPETING until the very last second. I watched, and even though he didn't catch anything, he caught me, an old sleepless sports journalist who has had the opportunity to cover some of the best of their game. You play until there's nothing left. Of you, or the clock. To be the best of the best, you leave it all on the field. Hey kid with the signed sticky thing, that's what B.A.S.S. means, too. Goodnight: 4:02 a.m., Thursday.
"... keeping an eye on the world
going by my window."
I'm Only Sleeping
Don Barone is an award-winning outdoors writer and a member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association and the Outdoor Writers Guild of the U.K. You can reach db at www.donbaroneoutdoors.com.