Who am I?

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So there I was, in the grocery store, showing this photo to the butcher.

Yes, I’ve become the kind of guy who shows pictures of his dog to strangers.  How did this happen?

Even if she is the cutest puppy in existence.

Making the Most of a Monday

Mondays are typically dead for most restaurants.  People are tired and broke from the weekend and just stay home.  That’s why Monday is the traditional day off for the senior kitchen crew, and, to complete the circle of logic, is yet another good reason not to eat out the first day of the week.

But since the rent has to be paid every day, some bright restauranteurs try to find ways to break that cycle.  The Commissary, in the Presidio across the bay, has come up with a brilliant solution.

The first Monday of the month (or the second, if the first was a holiday) they are offering a “chefs dinner”, inviting innovative chefs from other restaurants to come in and cook just a single dish, to be part of a tasting menu for foodies on the prowl for something different.  Each month has a different theme–November was pumpkin, December was caviar and this month the theme was truffles.

The Commissary features a conventional dining room in front, with a second room containing a large open kitchen with a counter running around 3 sides.  You want to sit at the kitchen counter if at all possible–you get to watch the numerous chefs, who have all staked out an area for their own efforts, working together in a smooth dance to get  all the parts of the meal to guests without a hitch.

Our first dish was a deconstructed potato salad prepared by Chef Jamie Simpson, from The Chef’s Garden in Milan, Ohio.  The presentation was impressive and the flavors were spectacular.  The Chef’s Garden grows over 800 different veggies for high end restaurants around the country.

Deconstructed potato salad

Deconstructed potato salad  That’s a tiny potato in front.  The flying saucers on top are slices of black truffle.

Chef Jamie came over to introduce himself and his creation.  It doesn’t hurt that he’s very, very, very cute.  Or so all the women were noticing.

Chef Jamie Simpson of The Chef's Garden

Chef Jamie Simpson of The Chef’s Garden

 

The guest chefs weren’t necessarily from far away.  We had a very creative bean dish prepared by Chef Val Cantu of Californios, a Mexican restaurant in the Mission.

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Chef Val’s dish was “Tres Frijoles”, a concoction created of 3 different beans, none of which I recognized, prepared in ways I cannot describe, dispensed as foam from whipped cream canisters and topped with truffles.  The small serving dishes were hand made by the general manager of The Commissary in her ceramics class.  I have neither the words nor the requisite culinary training to properly describe the rich, soothing, fulfilling umami qualities of the dish ,heightened with a touch of serrano chile,  but it was the most memorable of the evening.

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The main course was prepared by Chef Dave Cruz, of Little Gem, a gluten-free small plate cafe near City Hall.  It was a piece of perfectly prepared rib steak with pureed potatoes.  Never has meat and potatoes reached such heights.

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Beef ribeye cap, charred cipolini, trumpet mushrooms, pureeed potatoes, brassicas and black truffle.

Beef ribeye cap, charred cipolini, trumpet mushrooms, pureeed potatoes, brassicas and black truffle.

I gave the mushroom to Kate, the cleaned my plate.  “Brassicas” describes an entire family of vegetables including broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbages and mustard greens.  The potato puree was much finer and looser than the traditional mashed spuds.  The dish was napped with a red wine jus Chef Dave described as similar to a bordelaise sauce.

Chef Dave Cruz (R) preparing the ribeye

Chef Dave Cruz (R) preparing the ribeye

Chef Jamie struck again with the “pre-dessert”. An absolutely stunning presentation of “churned sweet potato, crispy skin and truffle salt”.  You’ve never seen anything like this.

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A plot of Ohio dirt, a tiny shovel, a pig sunning himself and ice cream cones of sweet potato.

Sweet potato ice cream, sitting in a cone created of sweet potato skin.  The whole thing was a triumph of creativity and innovation, and shows the heights that great chefs can attain in both flavor and visual design.  We were stunned with both.

Finally, as if we needed a bit more, there was a dessert of goat cheese cheesecake with truffle roasted parsnips, prepared by Chef Kristi Gauslow of The Commissary.  I liked the cheesecake, thought the parsnips were clever merely for the sake of being clever.

Goat cheese cheesecake

Goat cheese cheesecake,  I don’t think I’m a fan of truffle roasted parsnips.

Chef Kristi Gauslow serving the dish.

Chef Kristi Gauslow serving the dish.

We consider the night an unqualified success.  The food was brilliant, innovative, creative and scrumptious.  It’s a pleasure to be able to meet the chefs and talk to them about the food and how they developed it.  At $95 the price is quite reasonable for this level of quality and brilliance.

The next chef’s dinner will be February 6, and features chocolate, fittingly for the month ofValentines Day.  Our reservation is already made.

Hypocrisy Abounds

We expect politicians to be hypocrites, albeit not necessarily to the grand heights Mitch McConnell reaches when he broadly asserts it would be wrong for the Democrats not to vote on Trump’s Supreme Court nominations.  Why don’t that mans teeth jump out of his mouth in shame?

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You expect a bit more in the way of integrity from a hospital, though.  I was surprised this morning, then, when I bought a bagel at the “Wellness Cafe” after I had my blood drawn in Kaiser, Walnut Creek.

The “cream cheese spread” in the cooler was this ghastly mix of chemicals that is either food or the embalming agent for a rhinoceros.  One suspects that even un-refrigerated, it would keep for the next 7 years without losing any of it’s synthetic charm.

Kaiser preaches healthy living, decorating the walls of the cafe with large scale photos of presumably organic fruits and veggies.  There are signs next to the elevators in the garage suggesting taking the stairs for your hearts sake. Classes on healthy living are offered at no charge.

Okay, using the cheap cream cheese substitute is probably a petty and irrelevant issue.  Mitch McConnell betrays his honor more than that every morning before breakfast.  But character is composed of a thousand small decisions every day, and  you ought to be able to get the little ones right.

Otherwise, you could end up in Congress.

Manchester By the Sea

Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges star in a quiet, moving drama

Casey Affleck and Lucas Hedges star in a quiet, moving drama, Manchester By the Sea

Gail and I always want to see the good movies, and then haven’t gotten around to actually going to one in months.  One of the nice things about being in Santa Cruz for a few days is going to the Nickleodeon, a local branch of the Landmark theater chain that always has the serious, often foreign, movies that we prefer.  And real butter for the popcorn. Ever since the Cine Arts dome in Pleasant Hill was razed, we lack a local outlet for the cinema we prefer.

Manchester By the Sea has been hailed by the critics as one of the year’s best.  It rates an impressive 97 on the tomatometer, and deserves every bit of it.

Lee (Casey Affleck) is an unhappy guy, doing grunt janitoral/maintenance work in Boston, living in a tiny room and not enjoying life.  When his brother dies, Lee has to go back to his home town of Manchester to settle affairs, affairs which include the custody of his brother’s 16 year old son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges).  This is a task for which Lee is manifestly unsuited.

Slowly, for this film has a quiet and stately pace, we find the backstory.  Lee was married, to Randi (Michelle Williams), and had 3 children.  One dreadful night, while Lee was out buying more beer, the house burned down and all three children perished.  His life shattered, his marriage destroyed, Lee left town for his life of solitude and despair.

Lee can’t stand the town, and the town isn’t very fond of him, either.  He has problems finding work, even though he is a skilled handyman. A chance encounter with his re-married ex-wife and her new baby is excruciating as she tries to express her sorrow for the dissolution of their marriage and he is inchoherent in his pain, finally running away in frustration.

Patrick wants to stay where he is, finish high school with his friends and operate his father’s lobster boat.  Lee wants to get the heck out of town, taking his young charge with him.  Drama ensues.  Patrick attempts to re-unite with his estranged mother, but it’s a disaster. A longtime alcoholic, seeing Patrick seems to make her fall right off the wagon.  A cameo appearance by Matthew Broderick as the mother’s new husband is close to comic relief, but the pain of this movie can’t be relieved that easily.

Of course, in the fullness of time a resolution is reached.  Lee seems to be slowly, achingly, coming out of the darkness and rejoining the world.  Patrick will stay in his school and make the life he wants.

Affleck does a wonderful job in this film, trying to convey the emotions that his character is incapable of expressing.  Lucas Hedges is marvelous as a young man bursting with the possibilities of youth.  Michelle Williams is transcendent, as always.

If you aren’t going to get to a lot of movies, this is likely the one to see.

A Brief Adventure

I’ve never been a dog person.  Don’t understand why people want to complicate their lives with the sloppy, messy things.  Wouldn’t have a girlfriend if I had to follow after her with poop bags, so why would I want a dog?

Then we went to Santa Barbara for Thanksgiving, and Gail fell in love with her son’s cockapoo, Justin.

We got home, and Gail was online instantly searching for a cockapoo puppy.  She found one in the tiny burg of Nappannee, Indiana.

The next two weeks were spent preparing for a new arrival and deciding on a name.  We chose “Claudia” in honor of the artists Claude Monet and Camille Claudel.  I texted that to the breeder so he could start addressing her properly.

When the pooch got to 8 weeks old, I was dispatched to fetch her–everyone we know is vehemently opposed to shipping dogs in the hold of an airplane.

Monday, I flew to Chicago.  We landed just after sunset, and the approach was spectacular:

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Don’t ever rent a car from Thrifty at O’Hare airport.  I stood in the 12º cold for 30 minutes while 8 Hertz buses, 8 National/Avis buses, 7 from Enterprise and 6 from Alamo passed by before one, tiny, overcrowded bus from Thrifty arrived to take me to the rental facility.

Then they gave me a Hyundai Sonata that is either badly designed or had a broken seat, because I could not move the seat back far enough to drive it.  I had to explain that they cannot rent me a car I physically can not drive.

Safely ensconced in a Toyota Camry, I drove almost 3 hours, passing through Chicago rush hour traffic onto the Indiana Toll Road and thence to Goshen, IN, the nearest town to Nappannee with a decent motel.

Way too darned early the next morning, I was up and excited and on my way through the snowy Indiana countryside to meet the breeder and my new pet.

Driving on country roads towards Nappannee, I was suddenly in traffic moving at 3 miles an hour.  Here is the reason:

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This is Amish country.  There was a big fight years ago about the red lights and triangle, which the Amish considered “adornment” and therefore unacceptable, but after a few buggies were rear ended at high speed they bowed to reality.

 

(I’ve been writing this for a week now, with the intervention of  Christmas and the constant interruptions of a new dog who needs petting.  I will finish it.  Life must go on, even with a new puppy in the house.)

The breeder turned out to be a young Amish man who has a farm and breeds pups on the side.  I turned off the road to find a large brick house, barns, silos, outbuildings of many descriptions and deep snow that made me nervous that I’d get stuck.  The man was about 35 or 40, with a beard but no moustache as is the Amish way.  He was wearing broadfall pants, which have a large flap in the front and no zipper.  He must be some version of “reform” Amish, since the house had electricity and he had a cell phone.

There were two tiny puppies playing in the office, one of whom was Claudia.  We talked for a few minutes, he gave me a starter kit of supplies, and then Claudia and I set off for O’Hare and the flight home.

Of course, I had to stop a couple of times to put her up on the dash and take photos for the folks at home.

If you want to fly with your dog, you have to make a doggie reservation, have a carrier that will fit under the seat and pay another $125.  I did all that, or at least the Travel Goddess did.  Under the seat can be crowded for older dogs, but there was plenty of room for Claudia.

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Sometimes the universe tells you you are on the right path.  This was our gate for the flight from Chicago home:

 

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I have a shirt with the America Airlines logo on it–purchased at their store in DFW.  People tend to think I am/was an employee when I wear it, and I get treated extra nicely.  That, plus the fact that I was travelling with an impossibly cute puppy, made me a hit on the plane.  The rules prohibit taking your pet out of the carrier, but that was no problem and she rode home on my lap.

Arriving at SFO, I could not find my car key and thought it had been lost in the security theater in Chicago, so we came home in an Uber. (The key turned up in the dog’s carrier and I went back by BART to fetch the car then next day.)

And now came the best part, introducing Claudia to her new mom.

Mother and child reunion, revisited.

Mother and child reunion, revisited.

Our lives are totally disrupted, and we’re loving it.  We take her everywhere, and she is always the star of the show.  I’ve become one of those doofusses you see standing outside in the cold waiting for the dog to poop–which she doesn’t understand and just wants to wander around and attack leaves.  I get nothing done because I have to stop and play with the pup every 90 seconds.  I know the location of every pet store in the county, in case there is a chew toy emergency.  Our always tidy house is a wreck, and we don’t care.

God help us, I’m a dog person.

The Unit Christmas Party

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Gail and I haven’t been to a lot of Unit games lately, but didn’t want to miss the Christmas party in the new club.

The joint was jammed.  19 tables of open players and 3 tables of 199’rs.

There was plenty of food.  Lynn Sacco lined up a host of donors to bring the munchies.

The buffet table groaned, as usual.

The buffet table groaned, as usual.

Gail will forgive me if I tell you my favorite girl was the in bright Christmas colors:

How can you resist a shirt that lights up?

How can you resist a shirt that lights up?

We played so-so bridge, but I had a great time taking photos of people.  Here are the many of the people who celebrated the event today:

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Twenty-two tables is more than I thought they could get into that space, but it worked.  Grant ran a complex movement so we all played the same 26 boards, where it seemed like E/W got more than their fair share of 1NT openers.  Good thing I was West.

Jerry and Winnie took were first N/S and overall.  Brian and Gish were first E/W.  Ira Feldman and Clare Smith were the winners in the 199’r game.

Once again, the unit has celebrated a holiday season with a party for ourselves.  Now if only we could share a bit of our good fortune with some less fortunate people, things would be great. That’s what I want for Christmas.

A Day at the Racetrack

Monday in Orlando, we decided to do some sightseeing and go to Daytona to see the racetrack.  It’s an astonishing place, a stadium that seats over 100,000 people along the straightaway of a 2 1/2 mile steeply banked tri-oval.  (Tri-oval being a made up word to describe a D shaped racetrack; they pushed one side out to make the course longer and allow better views.)

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We purchased our tickets for the 30 minute tour, got loaded into trailers of bench seats towed behind a pickup truck  and set off to see the sights.

The first thing we saw was the track itself–banked 31º to allow the stock cars to roar through at over 200 mph.

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That looks like a huge gray wall, but it’s the track.

When the place was built, in 1959, they had to dig out a million cubic yards of dirt to make the banking, which created a large lake on the property which is stocked with fish and is occasionally the site of fishing derbies.

The previous day there had been a Ferrari event, and the place was still crowded with high class Italian supercars, seeming parked willy-nilly all over the joint.

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Three gold carts and a garish Ferrari. Try to explain that.

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A king’s ransom in fine Italian sheet metal

We stopped in the middle of the infield and got an clear view of the entire grandstand.

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The low point of the tour, to me, was when they trooped us all through the fan area and the pits to get our photos taken–so they could try to sell us prints.  I hate it when they do that on cruise ship or the line into Graceland, and I hated it here.

On the other hand, there was snarky pleasure in watching the tourists who fell for the cheap gambit;

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Perhaps this photo will grace the wall of a double wide somewhere.

On the other hand, the tour was billed as 30 minutes and lasted 45, so I don’t feel so ripped off about wasting time on the photo dodge.

The tour ended at the door to the museum of racing.   Yes, there was yet another guy trying to get us to pose for a trite photo, but we just walked on past, and enjoyed the cars and memorabilia inside.

Leaving the museum, one perforce goes through the gift store. Lots of shirts and caps and beer coozies with team logos and the numbers of everyone’s favorite drivers. Then I found something I cannot explain, but there it was for a mere $27.95.

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I don’t know what a ‘fan fist’ is, but now I know where to get one.

The track is an amazing facility, a $400 million temple to American racing of all types–stock car, motorcycle, supercross, even boat races on the lake.  The design is impressive; over 40 escalators and dozens of elevators.  The most expensive seats are high up, so you can see the entire course.  The seat backs are a random mix of colors, so they appear to be occupied to the TV cameras even when they aren’t.   There are hundreds of camping sites for people to spend days at the track, watching qualifying, practice and then the race.

After the track, we headed out to a diner our friends knew of out in the boonies, the kind of place we find in the delta around here.  Sadly, it was closed on Monday, so we Googled and Yelped and hunted around and decided to eat at the Cracker Jack and Tiki Bar in Titusville.   It was just what we wanted:

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The Tiki Bar, a fine drinking establishment

The Cracker Jack is a simple place, serving good seafood with a very friendly staff.   I had a wrap of grouper, served Jamaican jerk style:

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Jerk Grouper wrap with housemade pasta salad.

Jerk is a spice mix peculiar to Jamaica, and I like it.  You can’t get much of it in the Bay Area, so this was a treat.

Gail and Susan decided to split the seafood boil, which was advertised as being sufficient for two.  They lied. It would feed an army.

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Shrimp, bay scallops, clams, mussels, calamari, snow crab, corn and potatoes.

This was an amazing amount of seafood.  I doubt that I could buy that much at the local grocery for the $30 we were charged.  We tried mightily, but weren’t able to finish it all.  Four ramekins of melted butter disappeared as we continued to drown crustaceans in liquid fat.

Sated with seafood, we headed back to Orlando, where we made a stop to visit the darling Frances, my blog’s biggest fan.  No trip to Florida is complete without seeing Frances.

Frances is a tiny woman of a certain age, perfectly coiffed and dressed for company.  Her lovely apartment in a retirement tower is decorated for Christmas in magnificent crystal objets d’art, but the item she treasures most is a creche she has had since buying it at F. W. Woolworth’s in 1950, when she and her husband were young and poor.

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Lovingly kept for 66 years, this creche carries the memories of a lifetime.

Every piece is carefully preserved, from top to bottom:

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Even in 1950 39 cents was pretty cheap.

Frances was, as usual, full of the zest of life, telling stories both new and old, inquiring about our trip and the tournament, being the perfect hostess.  She is just a delight.

Taking our leave before we wore our friend out, we headed home and collapsed.  We had a day of sightseeing, eating and visiting with a dear friend.  Life is good.

 

 

 

Life could be worse


As we were leaving Orlando this morning, a squall line passed over the airport. There was thunder and lightning. People do not work outside when there is thunder and lightning and large metal objects.
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As we were leaving Orlando this morning, a squall line passed over the airport. There was thunder and lightning. People do not work outside when there is thunder and lightning and large metal objects.

That meant our plane was delayed for an hour. Which means we were an hour late getting into Dallas. Ah Dallas, the city where I spend so much time and yet no time at all. American airlines already had us re-booked on the next flight. Still, we have an hour and a half to do nothing. The Admirals Club was beckoning.

The young man above was making guacamole. Custom guacamole. We might have to wait for our next flight, but at least we were waiting in style. Avocados, garlic, cilantro, onions, roasted corn and fresh lime all stirred up on the spot. Plenty of chips. If you have to miss your flight, this is the way to do it. 

Pretty soon we’ll be on our way. Full of fresh guacamole and looking forward to being home. Life is good. 

Orlando–odds and ends

It’s over.  We’re done and gone, checked out and moved into Susan’s house in downtown Orlando.

The tournament was fine, if you like playing lousy bridge.  That’s nobody’s fault but my own, but I don’t have to like it.

I noticed some flashy fingernail work on opponents, and got a few pictures:

The social side of the game becomes more important to me each year, finding friends from home at the table is alway pleasant.

Hotel prices are always inflated, just like the movie theater.  Sometime, though, they are just absurd:

 

In general, this was a nicely run tournament at a decent location.  The hotel gave us good service, and had a variety of food choices from the very cheap Picabu “buffeteria” to the very expensive Bluezoo.

The playing spaces were well lit, the air conditioning was well moderated without hot or cold zones, most of the cards were new and not sticky, the games started on time and with one exception ACBLLive got me results just a few minutes after the last hand was played.  I thought this was a very well run tournament from the league side.

The hotel, though, had a few glitches.We didn’t even have a car, so it doesn’t matter to me, but the parking situation was a disaster, and that has to be all the fault of the hotel.  It was taking people up to 45 minutes to get out of the parking lot after the game.  The facility has a convention of some kind every week, why haven’t they come up with a better system to get people home?  I’m sure some of the locals didn’t come back after facing the fiasco at the gate.

The league fell down, however, by pricing the national events insanely.  A regional game is $16/session, the national events were $25.  That’s $100/day for a couple to play the senior mixed pairs.  Too damned much.  Then they went overboard and decided that teams must pay by the player, not the team.  So a 6 man team is paying $150 PER SESSION to play.  I guess the theory is that billionaire sponsors won’t care, but I’m not Nick Nickell or Bill Gates and that’s an idiotic amount to charge.  The league is just trying to soak the players to pay for the ACBLScore disaster that has cost us millions, and run smack into the law of supply and demand–there is damn little demand at these prices.

The last night, we skipped play and had dinner at Shula’s with Susan.  We got creative with the menu, ordering a 20 oz Prime Rim and an 8 oz lobster to share among the 3 of us.  Three of their great side dishes completed our meal.

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Perfectly medium rare roast been, almost 2 inches thick.

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My plate with prime rib, lobster (at the top), roasted corn and creamed spinach.  We also split a huge baked potato.

Something that peeves me about good restaurants is the frequency that I finish a meal and find out that they have some wonderful dessert that takes 20 or 30 minutes to prepare.  Why didn’t they tell me this earlier?  I never want to wait that long.

Fortunately, I was aware that Shula’s has an excellent soufflé, so I ordered it with at the same time as everything else.  It was the perfect ending to an excellent meal.

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Souffle, ice cream, whipped cream and creme anglaise.

Sharing the dishes the way we did we had more than enough food and it was reasonably priced, considering the quality of both the food and the service.  A perfect way to cap off the tournament.

It doesn’t look like I’ll be at another NABC until Toronto, since none of my friends are interested in Kansas City in the dead of winter.  See you in Canada in July.

Orlando–The Future of the Game

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We all agree that the game of bridge need new, fresh, young blood.  How to make that happen is the subject of much debate

In Orlando, Susan Rowley and her unit have found a way.  They have two schools where bridge is an extracurricular activity, taught by the teachers and volunteers.  All of the students are ACBL members.  They play free at regionals and sectionals.  The unit supports them in every way possible–providing boards, bid boxes, table cards, books, a $400 annual stipend to the teacher, volunteers to help, t-shirts, regional entries and plenty of pizza.

Saturday, there were 12 table of young people playing.  They are from Bear Lake Elementary School and Teague Middle school, and have been playing as much as 2  years.

The students were quiet, serious, polite and ready to play good bridge.  The adult teachers and volunteers were there to help with bidding and play problems–there are no director calls, just issues to sort out and handle.

 

Everyone was deep in thought, then a special visitor entered the room:

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Yep, the Mouse himself came in, to polite pandemonium.

 

The kids played two (short) sessions, with a pizza party in between.  There were goodie bags and prizes.  Susan had arranged parking for all the parents, many of whom stayed the entire day.

The Orlando Unit youth bridge program is a huge success, with one school having a waiting list because they don’t have space for everyone who wants to join.  The key seems to be to get a teacher from the school interested in leading it, rather than volunteers from the unit.  The students, and the school staff, are then familiar with the leader and things go more smoothly and successfully.  Then the unit has to support the program fully, inviting the students to sectionals and regionals and making the experience pleasant for them.

The Blue Ribbon Pairs and the Reisinger may seem like the big events at a NABC, but I’d argue that this little 12 table game of non-life masters was the most important thing that happened Saturday.  Good work, Susan and Unit 240.

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Susan and her friends