March 7

My trip began with disappointment, as my manager strongly "encouraged" me to work on Friday, despite his indications over the past weekend, which we worked, that we would have Friday off. So I went to work, late, after picking up a hearty breakfast to help ease my sorrow over having missed the opportunity to be the first customer at the first Starbucks to open in Lubbock.

Still, I hoped to visit on the first day, which meant arriving in Lubbock by midnight. Having driven the stretch of I-20 from Dallas westward many times, I decided a few days before my trip to take US-180 from Weatherford and pick up US-84 in Snyder. I expected this would add some time to my trip, but I would have time to spare if I left before the rush hour. Which I did, around 3:30, earlier than I had expected, and for a different reason.

I had been needing a massage, which I had been putting off because I had been working heavy hours, and because of a hefty tax bill coming up. But having worked about 70 hours since the previous Friday, I figured I could spare a few bucks and enter the tournament relaxed. I managed to schedule a tentative appointment with a masseuse off I-20 just inside Ft. Worth, just a minor deviation from the most direct route. Or so I thought.

So I left 3:30 as expected, but could not get through to the masseuse to confirm the appointment. Expecting that she had booked someone else when I didn't call at 3:00, I decided to head out on I-30 instead, figuring that if she called it would only take me a few minutes extra to cut down to I-20. And if she didn't call, I would save some minutes to Weatherford. I reached 360 and still hadn't heard back from her, but I figured I'd give her some more timeby taking 360 down to I-20. But before entering the freeway I noticed that traffic was backing up so I continued down the feeder and pulled a u-turn and got back on I-30. And whaddaya know, just as I pass up the first exit, Ballpark Way, which would have allowed me to get back on 360, the masseuse calls.

My StreetFinder ends at the airport, and my EasyFinder does not contain enough detail, so I wasn't sure of the best way to get down to I-20 without doubling back to 360. I asked the masseuse, and she suggested Eastchase, which was not on my EasyFinder, which meant that I might get lost, or Cooper. Cooper was on my map, and I knew it went all the way down to I-20, so I chose that exit. Mistake.

Construction and one-lane traffic on Cooper cost me quite a bit of time, during which I was thinking "Gee, thanks, Barb! You're from Arlington and couldn't tell me about this construction. Nice." But I finally made it down to I-20, and confirmed that Barb was able to wait for me, which was good, because I now I had additional stress, DFW traffic stress, to add to my having-missed-Starbucks disappointment and my must-win-this-tournament anxiety.

But the massage was worth the hassle, and I left relaxed, albeit a bit behind schedule, for now it was 6:00 PM, and I doubted I would arrive at Starbucks by 10:00 PM to meet any Scrabblers that might take me up on my offer of a few games. And I was hungry now, but not famished. Since I didn't see any Chick-fil-a locations from the freeway out to when I exited at US-180 just east of Weatherford, I figured I'd just wait until I became really hungry.

Of course there were slowdowns through towns and traffic lights, but the drive along US-180 wasn't bad at all, and in the hour or so of sunlight that remained, I got to see some of small-town Texas--always a treat. I was of course amused when I drove through Cool. Next up was Mineral Wells, a town I had heard of but never placed on a map. I was hungry enough by then, but didn't see anything appealing. Specifically, no Burger King, which is my usual fast food choice when I'm on the road and in a hurry. As I approached the next town of any consequence, Breckenridge, I was feeling the pangs, and I really started looking around for some vittles. Nothing fast along Main Street, but I got a glimpsed of an apparent hole-in-the-wall named Pam's Diner and quickly dismissed it, figuring service would take too long. But about five seconds later I changed my mind, wishy-washy Winter that I am, abruptly pulled into a parking lot and turned around, then again to parallel park in front of Pam's, all the while hoping no cops were about that might think me drunk or a reckless teen. I put in a to-go order for a burger and fries and a Coke (in a can!!!) and ran up to the service station to gas up. When I returned to Pam's, the sign had changed to "CLOSED", and I felt lucky to have placed my order just in time.

I didn't tip. I don't tip for to-go orders. Sometimes the restaurant tacks on a additional charge for to-go orders, but I'm not sure if it's for the tip or the silverware. Either way, it doesn't make sense to me to tip for to-go orders if a tip is supposed to be for serve. Nevertheless, I always wonder if the cashier is expecting a tip. I hate tipping. Tipping sucks.

The burger and fries were decent, better than BK for sure, though the bacon was a little on the hard side. I thought I did a pretty good job of keeping the car in my lane while chomping down on my meal. But I would learn shortly that someone had a differing opinion. After Breckenridge I drove over Hubbard Creek Lake, which was pretty cool. Then after a long stretch of road, as I approached a truck I intended to pass, I noticed far, far behind me a pair of lights scoot around another car and continue very, very quickly. I immediately suspected a patrol of some sort and decided to wait to pass the truck. After a while, the lights caught up to me, but they were not Crown Victoria lights, and I couldn't see a light-bar for the glare, so I relaxed. The lights were bright, though, so I quickly passed the truck ahead of me, and shortly thereafter reached Albany, where I had to slow down through town, though I was perhaps going 1 or 2 miles above the speed limit. I approached a traffic light that turned red on me, and I noticed a trash can to my right, so I quickly pulled the car to the curve so I could dump my trash in time to catch the green light. And the truck that had been behind me pulled over to, and I began to think that maybe this guy had a beef with me and was tensing up to bolt back to my car when he got out and I noticed the uniform.

The officer, a sherrif's deputy, was polite, and asked me if I was okay. I explained myself, and he said that I had been running a little fast, and asked the usual questions. I was very polite, and he told me to slow it down, watch out for deer, and that DPS wouldn't be as lenient. I drove on, all the while looking in my rearview mirror until I saw his truck turn.

It wasn't much further, and a smooth ride, to the US-84 junction just before Snyder, and the only town of note I passed was Anson, whose name reminds me of Ansion, the planet where Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker had to settle a tribal dispute prior to the events of "Attack of the Clones".

I turned onto US-84, and I began to feel tired and sleepy. I briefly entertained the notion of resting and picking up the rest of the drive in the morning, but I really wanted to visit that Starbucks on its first day, and I was still hoping I'd get a game or two there, and there was another factor. Traffic was moving really, really fast. I mean, like really fast. I mean, like, so fast that I had to give up on following a couple of cars, because they were exceeding 100 MPH, and my car now starts to shake at that speed. I probably need a front-end alignment, as well as new tires. But even keeping it at the relatively slow speed of 90-100 MPH, I was able to cover the 87 miles to Lubbock in a very short amount of time, and I reached the Starbucks just before 11:00, even after quickly checking my e-mail at Kinko's to see if any Scrabblers had responded. As I expected, it was damn near packed.

No Scrabblers, though, so I just got me a DoubleShot for the next morning and grabbed a table so I could alternate between studying and reading Mrs. Dalloway for the next hour. At midnight, one of the baristas uttered the overused "You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here", and I mosied on out of there and across the street to the Kinko's parking lot to find a place to camp out. It was Friday night, and the parking lot was pretty crowded, with a Blockbuster on one end and a Fox & Hound on the other. So I drove behind the build and parked behind a delivery truck belonging to some pizzeria next to the Kinko's. I got a couple of hours sleep I think, but both times I got up to answer the call, as I was getting back in my car this guy in a white pickup would pull up to the back of the business next door and go inside. The first time I didn't think it had anything to do with me, nor the second time, but why take chances?

So I moved across the street to what appeared to be an office building, or maybe a bank build. There were cars parked out in front, what looked to be overflow from the Fox & Hound. I parked far enough away from them as to avoid being hassled by drunken fools. I slept there most of the night, but later moved to the parking lot where the Starbucks was located. Not sure why. I parked next to a bush, and under a light connected to a motion sensor that could "see" me through the rear window of my hatchback. So whenever I shifted around, the light turned on. Annoying.

But I got plenty of rest, and when the sun finally rose and started to warm up the car, I was ready to go.

March 8

For the first time in my compitetive Scrabble lifetime, I had gotten enough sleep before a tournament. I got up around 8:00 feeling refreshed, ready to go, and for once, with plenty of time to spare. The DoubleShot helped.

I guess folks get up mighty early in Lubbock, because the Starbucks was already mighty busy. But the restroom was empty, and I was able to wash my face without delay. Before leaving I asked some guy sitting outside if he could recommend a good local place for breakfast, and he suggested Skillets.

I was in the mood for a hearty breakfast, but I wanted to check out Prairie Dog Town, recommended by a coworker who grew up in Lubbock, before the temperature rose and drove the little critters back underground. As I headed up to the freeway, I passed a quick lube place and remembered that an oil change would probably be a good idea, and since one of their bays was empty, I turned around and pulled in. They had me ready in about 15 minutes as promised, barely enough time to chat with a couple of locals about breakfast recommendations. I got two--the Rooftop Cafe, and once again, Skillets. Rooftop Cafe sounded better.

Prairie Dog Town, in McKenzie park, was just a few minutes up I-27. I spotted one Lubbock Police Department car southbound, but I guess he wasn't worried about my 80 so early in the morning. The prairie dog colony was cordoned off, but I was still able to get a pretty good view of the critters, and their barks were heard loud and clear. Here's some photos... 1 2 3 4 5 6. I wanted to bring a couple back for office pets, but I didn't want to risk the fine.

Now comes the odd part. As I was talking my photos, some guy in an old beat-up car drove past the colony to the end of the dirt road and turn around, then parked right next to the colony, as if waiting for something. I figured he was just watching to make sure I didn't step over the wall. But when I went back to my car, another guy, in a bright red pickup this time, drove by me slowly and waved. Now why would there be two such "guards" on a Saturday morning. Hmmm. I started to wonder if this wasn't a local pick-up spot for homosexual activities. Then a golf ball came out of nowhere and bounced in front of me, and I noticed the practice range. I kept the golf ball. I left the park, and saw yet another creepy-looking guy sitting at a bench, and wondered what he was doing there. I guess I'll never know.

I headed back to where I had started and found the Rooftop Cafe. The biscuits were okay, but the home fries weren't the style I like, and the juice was... Minute Maid. But I felt satisfied, and I got some good studying in.

I went back to the Starbucks for another dose before heading to the tournament, and who spotted me but the manager of the Midland store, whom I had met last summer when returning from my seven-week road trip. We chatted about new and upcoming Starbucks, and he told me that the Wichita Falls store had just opened, and tried to get me the phone number in case I wanted to drop by on the way back to Dallas.

I got me some coffee, a little more studying in, and then headed over to the Ashmore Inn to register. I spotted Mike Early, just arrived, in the parking lot. Inside most of my Dallas peeps were already there--Mary, Bryan aka B-Dog, Bruce who along with Michael Chitwood got up way too early, 4:30 AM, to make the drive. I registered as ZXQKJ and had to explain to Dee that my name had been changed in the database, because she had an old ratings list. I found a spot across from Hugh and decline a game so I could resume studying. Wanted to cram every last possible work into my brain.

The turnout was smaller than I had expected, based on my experiences in Lampasas and Salado, but it was explained to me that it was in fact a little higher than usual for Lubbock. The ages of the participants definitely skewed older, and I was disappointed that I did not see any of the younger cuties from the first two tournaments, one in particular whom I was hoping to put the moves on, even as I administered an ass-whupping as revenge for our game in Salado. But it looked like I would be able to focus wholly on Scrabble this time around.

We began play maybe around 12:30.

My first game, against Robin Bowles, who turned out to be male, was a true squeaker. After losing a lot of ground while looking for a bingo, and losing even more ground when I challenged PRICY, I found myself over 100 points down. I abandoned my plans to bingo and just started playing for points, and amazingly enough caught up by the final turn. I ended up winning in part because Robin had miscalculated my score, giving me 20 fewer points. He thought he had a comfortable lead and didn't spend too much time trying to squeeze out every last point. So when we recalculated the scores, on my turn with me holding one tile, I could see his heart sink as the scores came out even, and he knew that my going out, which I did, would win me the game.

That first game left me a nervous-Nellie going into my second game with the top-rated player in Division 3, Nora Poulos. But I drew amazingly well, and combined with a couple of successful challenges of 3s, which surprised me (DAX and ECO), I won by 259 points, which got my spread off to a good start after the last game's narrow victory.

I fully expect to win my third game, against Barbara Howitt, an unrated playing in her first tournament. But this lady had some knowledge, playing words like EMIC and IXIA and BIOTA. I think she outdrew me too, but I wasn't tracking that. It doesn't matter. I have to blame myself for the loss, for challenging IXIAS, mistakenly thinking IXIA already plural. Since I only lost by 16 points when she went out first, that lost turn could very well have cost me the game.

Meanwhile, I had been getting hungry. I should have had breakfast first thing in the morning, and then lunch before starting play. A couple of cookies sated my pangs during games 2 and 3, but I had to then rush across the parking lot to the Wally Mart for some fruit and yogurt.

Game four against Hugh Benton from our club in Dallas was the closest one yet. It was a very low-scoring game--I only made more than 24 points twice--2 34s. And at the end, I was stuck with 3 Is and couldn't play. It was only because I had been pushing Hugh on the time that he was not able to find more points for his tiles, and while I was convinced I was going to lose, I managed to remain 1 point ahead when he went out.

Against Pat Oppenlander I simply drew quite well for an 180-point victory, but I was proud of finding SKEETERS with the K on the double and a TWS for 105 points.

I was feeling pretty good at 5-1 with a 400+ point spread, maybe too good, because I was thoroughly Savadged by Gertrude in game 6. Even when I upped the ante by playing RERAISE to bingo out, I couldn't catch up.

At least 4-2 was better than my 3-3 record after my first 11-gamer in Lampasas, so I had high hopes of placing.

I ran into Pat Sanchez out in the lobby checking into her room, and asked if the guys had dinner plans. Since I wasn't driving anywhere for the night like my last two tournaments, I actually had time to socialize. She told me where to find Bruce Shuman and Michael Chitwood, and I went up to their room to see what plans. Michael was planning to bring something back and watch the Mavericks, so I suggested to Bruce that I go to Kinko's and try to find some soul food, southern, or home style cooking, which sounded good to him.

Well, I went over to Kinko's, and can you believe I couldn't find a listing for a soul food, southern, or home style restaurant??? I wanted red beans and rice, though, and I find a Cajun restaurant, so I called Bruce and suggested it, but neither he nor Pat were in the mood. So I then suggested the County Line, which had the steak Pat wanted. I decided I had spent enough time and money looking for the food I wanted and headed back to the hotel and up to Bruce's room.

Initially, Bruce wasn't keen on the County Line because it was "far away", relatively speaking, within the context of Lubbock. Truth be told, there were restaurants aplenty all around the hotel. But when we got down to the lobby, where I had left the concierge looking through the phone book to try and see if he recognized the name of the soul food restaurant he was sure existed, Bruce and Pat changed their minds after he told them that County Line was worth the drive. Bruce had been to the restaurant on a previous occasion, but not dined there because the wait had been too long, and so I called to check on the wait and had our names put on the call-in list.

Even without a map, the restaurant was easy to find. Heck, the toughest part had been cleaning out my car so Bruce and Pat could fit. Oh, and waiting for Bruce to find Michael's truck so he could retrieve coats. Oh, and finding the building in which the County Line was located, after we mistakenly almost ended up in some sort of reception. I think we should have stayed and saved ourselves a few bucks. But then we wouldn't have seen the peacock.

Yes, the peacocks. I can't remember the last time I saw a peacock, but they are really cool. This one was just sitting on a railing watching us as we walked by. I wanted to pet it, but I wasn't sure if it was okay. When we entered the restaurant, I asked one of the hostesses, and she said that he probably wouldn't let me pet him. Sounded like a challenge to me.

The food was good, and Melissa the waitress was rather lovely, and quite congenital, even though she wouldn't give me permission to take a peacock home. One great disappointment was that the homemade bread had run out. I had eaten at the County Line in Austin a few times, and I seem to remember the homemade bread's being delicious. I truly was looking forward to it. I felt like snagging a peacock to help console me in my time of distress. Do peacocks coo soothingly?

As we left, I managed to pet the peacock, though as Bruce pointed out, he didn't seem too happy.

On the drive back, I had to pop a couple of pain pills to easy my headache, increasing in intensity.

I drove Bruce and Pat back to the Ashmore Inn and then headed to Starbucks, popping a couple more pills on the way as the headache was not abating. The place was packed. Mad honeys wall to wall, most too young for me, according to the State of Texas, but a few college cuties. Still, I was there to study, though it was tough because reading my list of words didn't help my headache out. But I got through a few stem bingos before calling it a night.

I got back to my car and reached for my phone, and to my dismay it was not plugged into the charger. I had used it to call the County Line from the lobby of the Ashmore Inn, and then proceed straight to my car with Bruce and Pat, so where could it be? I did a cursory search of my extremely messy car, but did not find it. I then decided to ask somebody to call my phone to see if I could hear it ring. Some guy was on the phone in front of the Starbucks, and I waited for a while for him to finish his conversation, which had to do with life being hard and full of temptation, and how we should follow God's plan. It must have been a long plan, because the guy never got off the phone. So I went inside and asked this young cutie to call my phone. NUTS!!! I just realized had her number in my phone and could have called her up the next day. Missed opportunity! I went out to my car, but no ring. I thought maybe I had turned it off, or that it had run out of power. I was tired, so I figured if I had left it at the County Line there was nothing I could do until the next day, so I gave up the search for the moment and headed across the street behind the real estate office and managed to get a good bit of sleep.

March 9

Skillets for breakfast this time. A couple of locals had suggested it. One said it was a chain, but the other said that it was the last of its kind, so I figured I'd give it a shot. Not as good as the Rooftop Cafe, but not awful either.

I noticed a Sprint PCS store on the way to Skillets, which might come in handy if I couldn't find my phone.

I went to Starbucks for my obligatory fix, and asked the manager Ryan if he had managed to get the number to the Wichita Falls store. He said he would keep trying, and to check back before I left. And he seemed genuinely interested in the Scrabble tournament.

I headed up to the Ashmore Inn for the day's games, and studied a bit before play started, shortly after 9:00 AM.

Game 7 was against Jane Littleton, who had a 5-1 record to my 4-2, and thus was a must-beat. My study of 5s paid off in one turn, as I played off three letters with the A to make AGONE for four words total, and a nice score. I got lucky with STIMIES, because I had forgotten the usual spelling is with a Y, but Jane found out to her disappointment that both were acceptable, and that was pretty much the game for me.

Next up was Craig Mobley, who needed to beat me just as much as I had needed to beat Jane. After I bingoed, he managed to make up most of the points and come close, but not close enough.

6-2 now, and I was feeling pretty good. Little did I know what would come next.

Wallace Schultz is his name, though I dubbed him the Wally Champ, a reference to a member of the Wu-Tang Clan and the fact that he had only lost one game to that point. He started out with a phony bingo, UNCAGER, which I, after much deliberation, challenged off the board. In return I played HENRY, which I had learned just the previous night at Starbucks while studying a list of high first-and-last fives. We traded the lead back and forth through the very close game on a tight board, and I was sure, with two Ss in my hand (out of 3) and a couple of spots left to play them across triples, that I had the game. So I damn near had a heart attack when he busted out with ANGINAS to render the game unwinnable for me.

We broke for lunch, and I went out to my car to do an exhaustive search for my phone, to no avail. I went back into the lobby to ask the concierge to call the County Line for my lost phone, but she pointed me towards a pay phone. I knew that I might be on hold for an indefinite length of time and run out of change, so I went to the game room and asked around for the phone that I knew had to be there because it rang during play. But I forgive the owner, because she let me use it to call the County Line, and sure enough that's where I had left my phone.

Relieved, I went over to Jason's Deli for lunch, but I got screwed instead. I waited for 15-20 minutes for a turkey sandwich that was NOT dry, by which time I needed to get back to the Inn and thus had lost my chance for a good lunch. The cashier was going to make me wait for my refund until I gave him this look and told me I was going to be late, so he worked his magic and got me my money. I thought about grabbing the lemonade I had already opened and sipped from on the way out, but why compromise my integrity over a lemonade. Though they really owed me something for the time they cost me.

Fortunately, I still had a few minutes left, time enough to grab a yogurt and some fruit from Wal-Mart.

The next two games were king of the hill, which meant that I got another crack at the newbie Barbara. Beating her could almost ensure a place for me. So after I opened with WEB and she tacked on SALUTED, my heart sank. Drawing a blank didn't help, because I already had one on my rack, and the two blanks, though assuring me a bingo, ENTRANCE to the triple, were a waste. The game was pretty close, though I struggled through a lousy draw. I pulled four Es out of the bag at one point. But I tracked well, and I could see that all the Us were out, both blanks, and we were down to one T in my hand, along with an A. I was hoping to draw the Q to put on a triple letter and hook the T on an I, so I left it open. Not that I could have done anything, with my rackful of Es. And then she exchanged and foraged for FORAGES, and that was pretty much the game. She ended up stuck with the Q, and I used every bit of time to squeeze out every possible point, but I could only come within 12, and that was pretty much it.

I had to beat Hugh by a large spread, or a couple of other games had to be won by large spreads, for me to place 3rd. But it was a close game, and that wasn't gonna do it. But it didn't matter, because I screwed up the end game, and he got me. And I would later learn four places were awarded, so I could have come away a winner. But instead I dropping my last three games straight, quite a slap in the face.

Well, no point in sticking around, so I skeedadled out of there, stopping to commiserate with Bryan about a disappointing weekend.

But the hijinks weren't over. I stopped at Kinko's to check my e-mail, and then at Starbucks for a final dose for the trip, and to see if the manager had found that number for me. No luck. I thought about Jason's Deli again, but since they had screwed me, I decided on the Chick-fil-a I had spotted that morning instead. On the way down 82nd I passed a Bank of America and pulled into to replendish my cash reserves. I then realized Chick-fil-a was closed on Sunday. And then I realized I had left my debit card at Kinko's. So I pulled out in a hurry and immediately realized I had a spare in my glove box, and quickly pulled some scary-ass maneuver to get back to the ATM that would surely have gotten me pulled over had a cop been around. And then two cars pulled right ahead of me at the ATM. Could I possibly lose more time? So I retrieved my debit card, which was still in the beeping reader at Kinko's, and then had little choice but to go back to Jason's Deli for some food. They almost got my order right this time, giving me the pickle that I didn't ask for. I hate it when they give me the pickle.

Now came the fun part, trying to keep the beans and rice from spilling as I drove. I spilled some on my copy of The King of Torts before it occurred to me to put a face towel there. As I drove I couldn't help but think back to a news report about which foods were the most dangerous to drive with. But I managed to keep it in my lane. Mostly.

I went back to the County Line and started to curse when I saw the closed sign. But I calmed down and banged on the door, and some lady let me in. The door had not been locked. The manager was around, and he found my phone. They shut down between 2:00 and 5:00. And I got to see peacocks and more peacocks.

My business in Lubbock finally done, I picked up US-82 eastbound and settled down to enjoy the drive.

About three hours later, I rolled into Wichita Falls and pulled into a Wal-Mart gas station to ask about the Starbucks. The first gentleman I asked had heard of it, but didn't know the location, and neither did his wife. The second guy appeared to be a mullet-headed Billy-Bob type, but one should not judge a book by its cover, and he in fact knew where it was, though he seemed to think it would not open for a while. I started to wonder, but I didn't have long to wait, because it was just two lights up US-82, aka Kell, at Kemp. I would have passed it in a couple of minutes anyway. But it was in fact still under construction, and boy was I miffed. Thankfully, it wasn't that much of a detour, and it wasn't a waste, because I was able to scratch that stretch of US-82 off my list, one of my goals beign to drive every stretch of interstate and US highway in the nation.

But I still wanted my coffee, dammit, and I knew that Tulsa had a couple of stores, and was just a bit up I-44, which began in Wichita Falls. So I figured I'd check that stretch of interstate off my list and get some coffee too, so I worked my way to the entrace to I-44. On the way, I spotted a lady who didn't need a ride because she was waiting for her husband. And I did something I desparately try to avoid, but the gas station toilet was all that was available, and it was a long way to the clean bathrooms at Starbucks.

I got on I-44 and started driving northeast. But I was smart enough to call and discover the store closed at 10:00, and to arrive in time I'd have to maintain about 85 MPH. I-44 has a 75 MPH speed limit close to Missouri, but I don't know about this stretch up to Tulsa. So I came to my senses and turned around and headed back to Dallas.

I guess it's good I did so, because I started to feel sleepy after a short while, and so I pulled into a picnic area for the night, and that was pretty much the end of my trip.

Except for the rush hour traffic which I caught in the morning.

More Confessional