A couple of months ago I climbed into a van with a few of my new darts buddies from Philly-land: Tommy Hill, Eddie Rodgers and his brother Al, wild-man Ed "the Kunatic" Kuhn and Donald Rumsfeld.
With Steady Eddie at the controls and to a hideous mix of AC-DC heavy metal (the Kunatic's favorite) and country music (Tommy's tunes of choice) we moseyed our way south from Philadelphia to Atlantic Beach, North Carolina. Actually, we sort of rocked and twanged...
"My baby she dang, done left me... well, it's the 'night of the long knives,' bitch... Satan's gonna carve up your ' evil soul' and stuff it in a body bag..."
The drive takes somewhere between eight and fifteen hours, depending.
I say "moseyed" because, well... that's what they do down south. I also say this because Tommy Hill does it everywhere. For example, he was moseying somewhere in the wee hours -- lookin' for his darts probably -- while the rest of us checked our watches in the icy morning air, warming our hands with Styrofoam coffee cups outside a Dunkin' Donuts. This is what I mean when I say that the drive takes between eight and fifteen hours, "depending." Tommy was an hour late.
"What the hell took your ass so long?" shouted the never calm, always ready with an opinion and hard-core Philly partisan, Kunatic, when Tommy finally edged his car between the white lines near where we huddled like hobos in the parking lot. "We're freezing our kahunas off out here!"
Tommy rolled down his window. "Huh?" he responded. "What time is it? Hey, is that Donald Rumsfeld?"
Okay, I lied about Donald Rumsfeld. The thing is, I never actually caught the real name of the sixth passenger in our van. They called him Crazy Bob. But he looked like the Secretary of Defense.
We meandered our way for ten hours through small towns and past old cotton plantations before finding Atlantic Beach. The town sort of sprawls across Carteret County southeast of New Bern along Highway 58 near the Bogue Sound. You can't miss it.
We checked into our Days Inn hotel room. I noted with bemusement that one of the tourist guides I'd grabbed from a stand in the lobby recounted Atlantic Beach's start as a "fledgling resort in the 1920's" and heralded its status today, with a population of 1,781, as a "fledgling resort of the 21st Century."
"That doesn't make any frickin' sense!" hollered the Kunatic. "A fledgling is a frickin' baby bird, for Christ sake. I know that. What's that supposed mean? People are flockin' here? Like frickin' birds? For what? There's nothin' here! I wanna cheese steak. You gotta go to Philly to get a decent cheese steak."
Perhaps so. But Atlantic Beach isn't exactly an unexciting place. For example, each June there is a kite festival. In September the town hosts a really big king mackerel fishing contest. If you toss a plastic bucket and shovel in your car and drive just a couple of green highway markers farther down Highway 58 to Pine Knoll Shores, in May you can enter the area's famous sandcastle competition.
The highlight of the Atlantic Beach calendar takes place each February. This was the reason for our road trip. At a joint called the Playtime Sports Grill the Crystal Coast Dart Association was holdin' its 5th annual "Aim for Eastern North Carolina" tournament. We headed to the Playtime straight away, instead of stopping for a sandwich first at the Subway just down the street.
"Subway!" exclaimed the Kunatic, incredulous at the thought that we might actually make such a stop. "A submarine sandwich! What's the hell's that supposed to be? You gotta have a hard roll. In Philly they've got hard rolls. And they cut the rolls, cut 'em right in half. They don't slice their frickin' tops off like some silly-ass muffin. I ain't eatin' at no Subway. Nobody from Philly eats a Subway. Get me a beer."
We arrived at the Playtime three hours before the scheduled Friday night Luck of the Draw and were greeted by some of our team mates from league back home: Tom "Honey" Mooney, Fran Ginder and Shawnee Cuthbert. We got the Kunatic a beer and locked him back in his cage. We warmed up, had a few more beers and some chili and sorted out who'd pair up for the weekend's doubles events.
Suffice it to say, except for Fran and Shawnee who edged out Charlie Daniel and Belinda Cunningham to take home the top prize in Ladies Doubles Cricket, the rest of us didn't win squat, at least shooting with each other. Fran also took home top honors in Ladies Cricket.
Tommy and the Kunatic shot great and placed in the money both as a team and individually over the course of the weekend. Tommy also drew Ray Barnette and together they more or less walked away with the first place money at the Saturday night Luck of the Draw.
Eddie drank the weekend away to "ease the pain of a sore shoulder" and Crazy Bob... well, Crazy Bob didn't even bring a set of darts! So he helped Eddie with his shoulder.
Al simply disappeared.
For my part, I drew the short straw and had to go looking for a partner from the get-go. I saw this as an opportunity and was pleased to hook up for the weekend with Charlie Daniel, easily one of the most liked shooters on the lady's circuit and a damn fine shot as well. Then -- as so often mysteriously seems to happen -- we drew each other in the Friday night Luck. But we (well... mostly me) found the wrong side of the wires, which pretty much foretold our fate for the rest of the tournament. We got sent packing quickly in each event we entered.
But I also saw this as an opportunity...
As (watch out -- here comes a long, long sentence) Jerry Oakley and Vic White took the 501 Luck of the Draw... and Joe Futima and Suzanne Howie won Mixed Cricket and Joe, then, won Men's Cricket... and Shane Meeks and Lisa Malphrus emerged on top in Mixed 501... and Melissa Perrault and Deanna Miller took the honors in Ladies Doubles 501... and Shane Meeks and Bob Gargan won both Men's 501 (against some awesome up-and-coming young competitors, Jake Bullard and Will Fout) and Cricket... and as Shane (over Neal Bedworth) and Belinda Cunningham (over Charlie Daniel) emerged the winners of Men's and Ladies Cricket...
...I did what any self-respecting member of the male persuasion who's got nothing better to do with their life than rock and twang five hundred miles from home to the middle of nowhere to wander around drinking beer and throwing darts with people with names like the Kunatic and Crazy Bob. I went looking for babes.
I found Tee Ruleman sitting at the bar. Tee, an excellent darter (not that I could care), used to be a stripper or, as she puts it, an "exotic dancer." So I suavely ambled up to the bar...
"Excuse me, aren't you Tee Ruleman?"
"Hey! My name's Johnny Knoxville. I've got a dollar bill here and... "
My conversation with Tee was brief.
I spent some time with Barbara and Maxie Motin. Maxie went on with some tale about a camel. Barbara filled me in about the goings on at last year's tournament when a girlfriend, who's name I WON'T mention, had a few too many, got sick and tossed her cookies (and her false teeth) into her shoe. Or maybe she tossed her cookies and just lost her shoe and her teeth. Either way Barbara found the teeth under a table. Her account of throwing the finals with her friend's choppers shoved in her pocket was hilarious.
And apparently the teeth were good luck, as Barbara won all six events she entered last year: both Ladies Singles, both Mixed Doubles with Joe Futima and both Ladies Doubles with her friend.
Speaking of Barbara's friend...
Roxanne Bedworth and I also had a chance to talk - at just about the same time as her husband, Neal, who stomped me in 501 earlier in the day, wired a 170 out in his finals match against Shane Meeks to go down to defeat. Roxanne, who's the American Darts Organization's (ADO) Region V-4 Representative, completed the tale that Barbara started. The rest of the story is truly one that I shouldn't share.
So, I will. Apparently Roxanne did more than simply toss her cookies. Down south, to "toss one's cookies," suggests a "mere mild form" of what actually occurred. The actual "cookies" (which in southern-speak translates to: "a sort of 'chunky-spray-mix' consisting of two plates of hush puppies, a pint of Jack and a bowl of squirrel stew") found their way onto pretty much everything, including several real live darts people, within a ten-foot radius of Roxanne's tossing oche. Hence, during the next day's competition, those who were to toe the line against Roxanne came clothed in yellow rain ponchos for protection.
On Saturday night, as Shane Meeks picked up the karaoke microphone and performed a frightening rendition of the 1960's Drifter's classic, Under the Boardwalk...
"When the sun beats down... and burns the tar up on the roof. And your shoes get so hot you wish your tired feet were fire-proof. Under the boardwalk, down by the sea, yeah. On a blanket with my baby is where I'll be..."
... I was approached by Beth Hutchins who, with Karen Reid, won the Ladies 501 Doubles at the Charlotte Open in 2001. Karen politely pointed out that I misspelled her name in the column I posted about that tournament. Committed as I am to accuracy in all that I do (except when attempting the double), I promised to correct this error. So, to set the record straight, once and for all, Karen Hutchins' name is spelled: Eunice Smith.
Tommy, Eddie and the Kunatic and I rested up on Sunday night. We found a pizza. Tommy performed card tricks. Eddie told jokes. The Kunatic solved the crisis in the Middle East.
All of us agreed that the Aim for Eastern North Carolina shoot was easily one of the most enjoyable on the circuit. We will return next year.
It was in the early hours on Monday when we finally found Al who, I think, decided to go fishing instead of throw darts. Still ailing from a sore shoulder, Eddie (unwisely) handed his keys to the Kunatic, who pointed our van north for the return trip and then, approximately seven hours up the road, nearly lost a battle with a large flat-bed truck. He accomplished this by speeding up behind the truck, which was driving in the left lane, and suddenly trying to pass the truck, on the left, via the shoulder -- all due to his urgent need to catch up with a couple of young girls driving along in a sports car on the other side of the truck. Crazy Bob damn near peed his pants.
"What the f--- was that! Who the hell does that bastard think he is!? This is my lane. I'm from Philly. The whole frickin' highway is mine! We're an hour from home, baby. Damn, do I NEED a cheese steak!"
From the Field,