Monday, March 09, 2009

I Feel the Magic

I just got home last night from a wonderful four-day trip to the Davis Cup tie in Birmingham, Ala., with my dear friend Greg, and I have nothing but good things to report.. (A BIG thanks to Marc Lallanilla for filling in for me while I was away. You can check out his blog HERE.) After James Blake dropped the opening match to dreamy Stanislas Warwinka, the United States had no problem defeating the Federer-less Swiss team, 4-1. (The chant of U-S-A! U-S-A! is still ringing in my ears!) My first visit to the Deep South was nothing but delightful. Birmingham has endless charm, beautiful architecture (particularly the old churches throughout downtown and the surrounding areas where we mostly were), great restaurants and friendly people. And my friend Greg was looking great and his usual sweet -- and hilarious -- self. I'm exhausted from traveling, so I'll let the (many) photos take it from here:

After attending a brief Davis Cup reception at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Center (BJCC), Greg and I did what all homos do -- we headed downtown to see what was happening. But not unlike our desert hometown, the answer was pretty much nothing. (We're the guys who used to drive downtown in college for free chips and salsa at the Matador just to be close to the half-dozen high-rises Phoenix had at the time.) Right around the time we'd given up we stumbled upon Safari Cup Coffee, a cute coffee house that was actually open on a Thursday night. Although the boy behind the counter was crestfallen when we responded negative to his greeting, "Are you here for the show?" The cookies and scones were deelish, as was the coffee, and it was enough to give us our second wind for the call-it-kismet movie that was playing down the street at the luminous Alabama Theatre -- "St. Elmo's Fire"! (Greg and I had seen it in Tempe with our friends Tina and Yuki back when it was released in 1985 and it's long been a favorite of ours.) It was Film 4 in a five-part Totally Awesome '80s Movies festival (sorry, Matt. I wasn't able to wrangle up any royalties for you on this one). "The Breakfast Club," "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," and "Sixteen Candles" were the first three (out of order, but OK). And "Dirty Dancing" is the final installment -- which totally doesn't fit in with the theme (HELLO! have they never heard of "Pretty in Pink"?) -- although I'd be hard-pressed to pick a fight with the fun queen who organized the whole thing and starts the evening off with a recital -- on a Wurlitzer theater organ!!! Get a load of this '80s classic:

Afterward, he tried to get the audience to partake in a singalong that included songs by Tina Turner and Rick Astley. While it went NOWHERE fast, I couldn't help but love his spunk.

Before and after, Greg and I were mesmerized by the gloriously restored movie palace that was built in 1927 to show silent films. So many balconies and bars on every floor. And check out the downstairs "lounge":

Back out on 3rd Avenue North, my architecture-obsessed friend was marveling at this Art Deco clock on the corner while I was equally dazzled by Kate Jackson's star on the Walk of Fame (she's from Birmingham, you know).

Then it was Friday -- Day 1 of the Davis Cup tie -- so we headed out to get some breakfast en route to tennis. Greg loved this church near the convention center ...

which was not far from the Magic City Grille, a soul food kitchen where we got some breakfast ...

and made a couple new friends, who snuck into our booth to play with my camera. (That boy on the left is quite a charmer while his cute sis is the brains of the operation!)

Then we got to BJCC just in time for the opening ceremonies. It sounds kinda corny, but Greg and I both got a little emotional during the whole thing, between the two national anthems and all the other patriotism stuff that goes with representing your country.

Then I ran into a "Friend of the (212)," Todd, who was working the event and kindly got us into some great lower-level seats that not only took care of all of my nose-bleed issues, but allowed me to see that the hunky Wawinka does have bad skin as Greg had warned me. (Stan still has the best ass in men's tennis!) You're the best, Todd!

After James Blake's four-set loss to Wawrinka, Andy Roddick defeated Marco Chiudinelli 6-1, 6-3, 7-6 (5), to even things at 1-1.

That night, Greg and I had some good Mexican food at a little dive called La Cocina over on the southside of town. Afterward, we popped by Our Place, a little gay video bar that apparently is just celebrating its first anniversary. Greg's not big on nightlife, but he humored me long enough for me to get a drink and run into blog reader Scott, a sweet native who graciously showed me the ropes of Birmingham's gay scene. (Very friendly -- but steer clear of the right-wing aerobics instructor with the nasty streak -- yikes!)

The following day Bob and Mike Bryan gave the U.S. a 2-1 lead against Switzerland by defeating Wawrinka and Yves Allegro. With the win, the twins also became the most successful American doubles team to ever play Davis Cup. That night we headed over to the trendy Five Points area that's got all these spectacular old apartment buildings and a commercial area that's filled with one-of-a-kind shops and restaurants (they still have cluttered used record stores!). We ate dinner at this good Thai place called Surin West and then had coffee (OK, that was a Starbucks).

Afterward, we drove much further than we had planned to see the male cheerleading film, "Fired Up," which was mildly amusing at times, despite the unnecessary (read: not even funny) homophobic humor and long-in-the-tooth leads (the dark-haired guy is a total stud but the blond looks like the EBN-OZN guy and is kinda gross). (Manohla Dargis keenly describes the film as "at once funnier than it should be and more witless than it should have been.")

Then before I could even develop a Southern drawl it was Sunday, with team captains Andy Roddick and Stanislas Wawinka set to battle to either win it for the U.S., or set up a decisive fifth match. The two had never met before (other than when Andy retired in Rome last summer trailing 0-3), and everyone really thought Stan had a good shot at making a match of it.

But as beautiful as his backhand was, he folded under the pressure and Roddick never even faced a break point, winning in three easy sets. The highlight of the match was when longtime TENNIS magazine writer Peter Bodo sat down in the seat next to Greg and we ended up having a fun chat with him. I told him how much we used to LOVE the Tennis annual yearbook and how Greg and I would often nearly come to blows when one would receive his copy in the mail first. And that I loved how Judith Elian would rank whoever won the French Open No. 1 no matter what else happened all year. Bodo laughed and said he used to give her grief about that same thing, and about her undying love for Ille Nastase, who could be 0-6 against all his rivals and still get Judy's No. 1 nod. ("He's the best player," she'd tell Peter!)

But then after a weekend of great tennis and a lot of laughs (not to mention Heinz Gunthardt, Tom Gullikson and Van Heflin lookalike sightings), it was finally time to say goodbye to my partner in crime. I was on a 5:40 p.m. flight to La Guardia and poor Greg had an eight-hour drive back to Mountain Home, Arkansas, in the Celery Mobile. We both fell a little bit in love with Birmingham and a lot more in love with Davis Cup. Rumor has it that the Magic City is angling to be the home to future ties, and Greg and I are hoping there's truth to this. Despite a nine-year break, the magic is definitely still in our friendship, and we both agreed we'd like to make an annual event out of this.

Old friends: Sat on their park bench like bookends


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the notes on Birmingham and for the fun coverage of Davis Cup. I watched the doubles and the Roddick matches on TV and was impressed with how well Stan was playing ... but wow, he has got like the biggest ass in men's tennis, doesn't he? Easy bigger than Andy, whom I'd always thought of as having an impressive rump ... :-) And thanks for the "take me back" on the TENNIS writing from the 80's ... those were days!

Unknown said...

Adorable. I love B'ham. Spent a couple of months there in the 70's doing a show. Great town.


Anonymous said...

Awesome recap, Kenneth. But c'mon...Wawrinka does not have the best ass in men's tennis! That honor has to go to Nadal (with Verdasco and David Ferrer coming in #2/3)

Bummer about Stan's skin.

Anonymous said...

The "dark haired guy" in Fired Up is 29-year old Nick D’Agosto who is more famously known as "Claire's flying Boyfriend" from Season 2 of HEROES....there are those that say that eliminating him from the show at the end of Season 2 was also the downfall of Heroes as a whole....he is a stud.

John said...

another great post Kenneth! enjoyed reading about the trip & all the pics, and am glad you had a great time...hope the weather was nice!

I have some friends in Alabama, who say Birmingham has a nice pride festival each year, so I knew it couldn't be that bad.

I just hope you didn't come back to NYC with that southern accent!

Castle of Stink said...

I was in B'ham last weekend, too! (For the SouthEastern Theatre Conference, if you were wondering who all those weird people were at the BJCC.) Ate at Surin West on Friday night, and Chez Fon Fon on Saturday. Both were great. Went to Safari on Saturday, but it was closed.

I totally would have recognized you had I seen you, and you would have had a blalker (did I just make that up?).

Anonymous said...

you guys look like you have tons of fun I wish I could have been there:(