My sister Perris plays a softball tournament every year in Florida, a place that's home to sunshine and a lot of retirees. My dad takes a little vacation around that time every year too, masked as an opportunity to watch Perris play. Yeah, we all know the score.
Anyway, dad likes to play golf. So of course when you get out of the freezing cold in Ohio and into the sunshine of Florida you're going to play. You might think golf is boring, but you're sorely mistaken.
What happens, however; is one of the craziest Grumpy Dad stories yet.
Welcome back Grumpy Dad! We've missed you!
I miss Philadelphia sometimes. It’s a place that defined culture shock for me. That’s for sure. I had grown up in West Michigan before working in North Texas, West Texas, Southeastern Arizona and Southern California. None of those places had prepared me for the land of cheese steaks and water ice when I moved there in 1995. For five years, I marveled at the unwavering loyalty the locals showed for their city. I don’t think I’ve ever run into anyone anywhere who told me they were from Philadelphia—unless I was in Philadelphia (or South Jersey). In other words, people from Philly live and die in Philly. They spend their lives rooting for the Eagles (pronounced ‘Iggles.’) and mispronouncing “water” by calling it “wooter.” They revere Rocky (I, II, III, IV and V); Dr. J; and every member of the Broad Street Bullies (the 1970s Flyers hockey team). They would heckle their own grandmothers if they took too long in line at the grocery store. They would gladly die for their friends.
Sixteen years after leaving Eastern Pennsylvania, I drove to Clermont, Florida last month to watch my number two daughter play softball with her team from Notre Dame College. It was Monday, and the girls’ first game of the day was scheduled for 3 P. M., so I decided to play golf in the morning. I walked into the clubhouse of a course that was less than a mile from the ballpark and asked the man at the counter if he could hook me up with a group that was heading out. He told me to get down to the first tee right away because there was a threesome next up.
When I arrived, I introduced myself to Phil, Joe and Steve. They were all in their late sixties, so I was the youngest by a decade. I was also the only good player, so they were happy to invite me to play a scramble. (That’s where everybody hits a tee shot and they choose the best one and everybody plays a shot from there, etc.) They said they’d never shot as well as even par as a threesome, but that with a young, big hitter, they were hopeful. I explained that I hadn’t played since November, but that I’d do my best.
As often happens, I was very solid in my first outing of the year, having forgotten all the bad habits acquired over the previous season. As a group, we were two under par after eight holes. During that ninety-minute period, I had learned that all three of them were now living in central Florida, and that two of them were former detectives with the Philadelphia Police Department.
Since I’d been a reporter with Channel 10 in Philly for five years while they were still working, we discovered that we had many friends and acquaintances in common. Lots of stories ensued. Steve even called a reporter from the Philadelphia Fox station that we both knew and we had a nice conversation while I waited to hit a tee shot. We hadn’t spoken since 1999. What a great time I was having with my new friends from the old neighborhood. And then it happened.
There was a bit of a backup on the ninth tee. The group in front of us consisted of two men, a woman and a teenage girl who’d been getting lessons along the way from one of the men. They were slow. As we waited for the woman to hit her shot from the ladies’ tee about sixty yards in front of us, the Philly guys were bantering back and forth about something in their usual raised voices. The woman stopped her address of the ball, backed away and turned to holler, “Could you keep it down!?”
No one said anything out loud to her, but we all quietly mumbled things like, “She must have rabbit ears to hear us from that far away.” And, “Who does she think she is? Michelle Wie?”
After she hit her shot, and the men hit theirs, we waited until they had almost reached the green of the par four hole before hitting ours. Phil and I were riding in a cart together and we picked up his ball before driving to mine, which was going to be the one the group would play. Just then, we saw Steve and Joe driving all the way to the green. Both jumped out of their cart and walked up to one of the men from that group.
“What the hell?” I exclaimed. “What are they doing?”
“I have no idea,” said the former detective.
We watched from 150 yards away as Steve appeared to be taking a swing at the guy.
“Do you think we should go back him up?” I asked.
“Nah. Steven can handle it,” Phil assured me.
Steve was about 70 years old. He was only about 5’ 9” and maybe 160 pounds. He was also wearing a thick back brace and walked with a bit of a limp.
“Are you sure?” I asked. “That guy looks pretty big.”
“I’m sure,” said Phil, who stood 6’ 3” and weighed at least 250.
“What the heck was that about up there?”
Steve addressed his ball and hit it up the fairway about a hundred yards. “The son of a bitch told me to go fuck myself, so I clipped him on the chin,” said the other former detective.
“You hit him?” I asked, with a bit of misplaced astonishment.
“Hell yeah,” said Steve. “What was I supposed to do?”
We finished the nine holes at one under par. The man from the pro shop drove out and told us that considering what had happened, it might be best if we called it a day.
He gave us all a coupon for a free 18 holes. I told the guys it was great meeting them and playing with them and said we should do it again next year. They agreed.
Maybe next year I’ll miss Philly again enough to be reminded of it by my new friends.