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Day 208: Cheer for the Seminoles at an FSU football game

13 Sep

This is the quintessential thing to do in Tallahassee. Locals have been raised on a steady diet of Seminole battles, but I had resisted going for years. I finally buckled when Big Brothers/Big Sisters gave away free tickets for me and my lil’ sis to Florida State University’s opening game against Louisiana-Monroe. I was intimidated by the traffic and parking headaches, but it turned out to be a cinch. I paid $7 to park at the Civic Center and took the $5 Spirit Express to the stadium. (Though if I weren’t with my little sister, it was an easy four-block walk.) I liked the pre-game festivities outside the stadium, with inflatable bounce houses, face painting and food galore. I made the mistake of not bringing enough cash, so I had to use the costly ATM once inside the stadium. Definitely bring about double the money you think you will need. The food was typical stadium fare – nachos, hot dogs, popcorn and sodas. Watching my little sister’s reaction when we first walked from the bowels of the stadium to our seats was priceless. She was awed by the sight of thousands of cheering fans decked in garnet and gold. Once seated, even a diehard Longhorn fan like me got into the pageantry of the game, from the cheerleaders and band, to the Tomahawk Chop chant and Chief Osceola and Renegade prancing on the field. The Seminoles won and I left wondering why I had waited so long to partake in this Tallahassee ritual.

Address: Doak Campbell Stadium, Stadium Drive


Day 187: Watch ’em wobble around the softball field

7 Jul

There are some sporting events at which no one, not even the hardiest fan, would be willing to pay to watch. And I’d be willing to bet that one such event is my slow-pitch softball games. During the last two summers I’ve joined office colleagues on a co-ed “state league” team that plays about once a week on the diamonds at Tom Brown Park. Starting at 6 p.m. most weeknights, the park lights up as a field of dreams for a wide range of Tallahasseans, but mostly you’ll find a bunch of struggling, middle-aged bureaucrats. The play is always very serious but not so intense that players aren’t afraid to laugh out loud at themselves when easy pop-fly catches slip out of the glove. Though free to watch, fans are few, especially on humid evenings. There are viewing stands near each diamond and a concessions desk. The city hosts slow-pitch softball leagues at both Tom Brown and James Messer Park. Team fees are affordable enough that it usually doesn’t cost each player than about $10 or $15 per season. My team, which sports light-blue shirts, is the “House of Pain” – we are all staffers in the Florida of House of Representatives. Catch our season schedule here at this link. — Mark Hollis

ADDRESS:  Tom Brown and James Messer parks

Day 171: Swing away at the Cross Creek Golf Course driving range

21 Jun

I’m a newbie golfer, so maybe I’m not fully appreciating the entire golf-range experience like I should. But my recent visit to the range at Cross Creek Golf Course lacked something…Thrill, perhaps. It was a blistering hot afternoon, so that’s my fault for choosing a bad time. But there were a few other shortcomings. It’s a golf range, so I expected to find a few clubs to borrow with my big bucket of balls. I found a scrappy collection of irons but only two woods. Again, it’s a golfing range. Can’t they provide a better offering for newcomers who don’t own clubs? The balls were pretty lifeless and some in my bucket were already shattered or deeply splintered. The outdoor carpeted bays have had a lot of wear. Several mats didn’t have tees to mount the ball. But to my liking, there were three levels of bays. The range is lighted and the place stays open until 7 p.m. The prices were reasonable, starting at $5 for a small bucket of 45 balls that you can play from the mats to $12 plus tax for a large bucket of 120 balls that can be hit off the grass. Cross Creek also offers nine holes of “executive length” golf — that’s code for Par-3 style short holes with no/few hazards and plain, straight-on fairways. Next visit, I hope to try the course. — Mark Hollis

Location: 6701 Mahan Drive (Highway 90 East)

Day 164: Watch the dust fly at R/C Racing

13 Jun

The road buggy kicks up a patch of cinders and dust as it jets down the main straightaway. At the first sharp turn, a 180, the four-wheeler jolts sharply left and nearly topples on its side. The driver recovers. He presses the throttle down. The engine again whines to a high pitch and the vehicle races toward a series of short jumps. At the last of the tiny mounds, there’s sudden acceleration as the buggy flies in the air with all four wheels lifting way off the red-clay track. After another seven or eight loops around the curvy path, at times at speeds of over 50 mph, the driver, a hefty middle-aged guy, brings the vehicle to a stop. It’s time to change the battery pack. This is remote-control car racing at Tallahassee’s Tom Brown Park. Here, behind Tom Brown’s BMX racing track, R/C cars and trucks flip, roll and perform stunts. But most days there’s hardly anyone to watch despite it being nearly as exciting to see as full-size vehicle races. These cars and trucks are about 1/10th the size of real ones and are powered by high-tech rechargeable batteries or fueled on “nitro” — that’s nitromethane gas. A driver, out here on a late Sunday afternoon practice run, tells me that there are races with big gatherings of fans and racers about once a month. The next is set for July 9. He says the event will likely bring followings from several nearby counties and out-of-state. — Mark Hollis

LOCATION:  Tom Brown Park, 1125 Easterwood Drive

Day 162: Thumb through the pages at My Favorite Books

11 Jun

Used-book stores are inviting places to visit in any city. Predictably, they have a familiar, used-book odor, narrow passageways, and high shelves laden with a few literary greats and a greater number of throwaway novels. I consider them safe harbors away from outdoor noise, electronic gadgetry and whatever else that might be bothering you. They heighten the senses, and I like to stroll through them with a cup of coffee in hand. Tallahassee has several decent used book stores, and my favorite is properly named My Favorite Books. In business for more than 14 years, the store is in the Market Square Shopping Center. Inside the doorway are four long rows of high bookshelves, and a fancifully catalogued collection of gently used books. There are several chairs throughout the store for casual reading breaks, and in the back is a playful cubbyhole area featuring children’s books. Most paperbacks sell for half their original list, and hard-cover books are individually priced based on their condition and popularity. They buy books, offering only store credit for purchases. After casually thumbing through pages in the stores for 30 minutes or so on this hot Saturday afternoon, my daughter and I bought two sturdy hard covers for $18. They’re open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and on Sunday, the hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. — Mark Hollis

LOCATION:  1415 Timberlane Road (Market Square)

Day 151: Watch the game at Ale House

2 Jun

What do you really expect from a sports-themed restaurant other than an ample beer selection, decent menu choices, lots of monitors for game watching and eye-candy atmosphere? Miller’s Ale House on Apalachee Parkway certainly has the basics covered. With two gargantuan bartending pits, one under cover outdoors and the other inside, the Ale House can seat dozens each night. Most of its customers are around college age. There is no spot in the house that doesn’t face a TV screen and even when it’s standing room only you can watch a game. On a recent weeknight visit I wandered outside to find a stool at the bar, a simple meal and a baseball game featuring my beloved St. Louis Cardinals. Despite nearly 90-degree temperatures, cooling fans kept the area comfortable and it was quiet enough to banter with a newfound friend at the bar. The menu is better than traditional bar-food appetizers like wings and mozzarella sticks. A several-page menu lays out bountiful choices: garden salads, steak, seafood, ribs, pasta plates, and specialities such as jambalaya. I ordered the chicken nachos and the plate was HUGE. Though Ale House is a small chain with locations throughout Florida and elsewhere, it delivers a livelier atmosphere and fresher food than the national chains. The prices were about what you would expect. Two “tall” beers and my huge nacho plate were $20. –Mark Hollis

Address: 722 Apalachee Parkway

Day 107: Cheer on the Tallahassee RollerGirls

17 Apr

The best thing about roller derby is watching women doing all the things we aren’t supposed to do. The roller derby skaters weren’t celebrated for being pretty, as women so usually are. Instead the women were encouraged to shove each other, wear very little makeup, curse and scream, fall down spectacularly and ungracefully and wear skintight outfits. But above all, it’s rare to see women celebrated for their strength and general bad-assery the way men regularly are, especially when it comes to sports. The Tallahassee RollerGirls play in a warehouse building at the North Florida Fairgrounds. The shaggy building has tiled ceilings with brown water stains and the derby floor is carved out with bright blue and red tape on the floor. But the no-frills aspect of roller derby is what makes it so much fun to watch. The women wear skates, of course, and fishnet stockings with jerseys emblazoned with their derby moniker. My personal favorites were “Vaginamite” and “Wall of Gina.” It costs $14 per person at the door and you get a handy brochure that explains the rules of roller derby. The night I attended two Tallahassee-based teams, Capital Punishment and Jailbreak Betties, played against a team from Columbia, South Carolina. It’s best to get there at least 30 minutes early to snag a good seat and definitely bring your own folding chair. They do sell some food there – nachos and hot dogs – but I get the sense you can also bring your own snacks. A local band plays music during halftime and the announcer does a great job on the play-by-play. It is all ages, though the audience was predominantly 18 and up. I wouldn’t describe it as kid-friendly, as there is plenty of beer and cursing. Their season runs from March to August.

Address: North Florida Fairgrounds, 441 Paul Russell Road