Column #348 The First Annual White Sands Missile Launch Darts Tournament
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
The First Annual White Sands Missile Launch Darts Tournament
To some, the eighty-four mile, hour or so long stretch along old US Highway 54 from El Paso, Texas to Alamogordo, New Mexico might seem desolate, but it’s not. At least it wasn’t for me. Travelers will typically encounter military personnel along this lonely connector strip between Fort Bliss and Holloman Air Force Base, but not me. I managed instead to meet four Border Patrol officers and several dozen RABBITS! In between, at the First Annual White Sands Missile Launch darts tournament in Alamogordo I had a regular old time, albeit just not quite as exciting an experience as I did coming and going.
It was just after crossing the New Mexico border that I saw the weigh station sign and shortly after that that I came upon the orange highway cones configured to funnel right lane traffic into the weigh station. But the left lane was open. I hesitated a moment, uncertain, decided to slow down, and began to edge my rental car along the right side of the cones and towards the weigh station. But then I reconsidered…
I don’t know why exactly, except it seemed to make sense. In my neck of the woods – hell, in every neck of the woods I’ve ever been – weigh stations are for TRUCKS. This one couldn’t possibly be different.
So cautiously I slid my car between a couple of the cones and back into the left lane and moseyed back on down the road to Alamogordo. The sameness of the brown terrain and twang of country music on the radio lulled me along. The flashing lights came as a surprise.
I was forced onto the shoulder by two cruisers. I swerved to a quick stop, nudged down my window and reached to grab my license from my dart case. Immediately four officers exited their vehicles, hands on their weapons, and surrounded my car. One of them shouted at me to drop what I was holding and put my hands on the steering wheel.
Let me be clear: I was speeding. But it seemed these guys had something else on their mind. What the…
So I asked, politely: “What have I done officer?”
“Didn’t you see the Border Patrol checkpoint?”
“I thought it was a weigh station.”
“Did you see the orange cones?”
“I did. In fact, I started to pull into the weigh station but then pulled out because I figured I’d misunderstood. I thought the place was for trucks.”
The officer asked for my license. I considered asking him if he’d shoot me if I reached for it again.
As he took my license he asked where I was coming from and heading to and if I was an American citizen. “Yes, I’m a citizen. I just flew into El Paso and I am heading to Alamogordo. Does this road go anywhere else?” He didn’t smile.
He asked why I was going to Alamogordo and since he still wasn’t smiling I figured it was best not to scream “DON’T OPEN THE TRUNK!” so I said, “Well, this may sound a little strange but I am going to a darts tournament.” What the officer said next surprised me nearly as much at the flashing lights.
“Really, I read about that tournament,” he said. And damn if this isn’t the absolute truth: we ended up having a conversation about darts!
As he sent me on my way, without a ticket and with best wishes for the tournament, he recommended that I might consider stopping the next time I came upon a Border Patrol checkpoint. I suppose this is good advice.
What he didn’t tell me about were the rabbits…
They say Alamogordo is “thirty miles from hell and three miles from water” but all I saw was beer. I did encounter some hell at the tournament however. So did my unfortunate partners: Susan “the Smiley Canadian” Delaney and Kevin Lewis from Dallas (who is the spitting image of Flip Wilson’s Geraldine). The hell they saw was my darts.
In the Friday night luck of the draw about all I could find was the triple one. In fact, I found twelve of them in a three-leg match. So my partner, Delaney, and I were sent packing and had time to talk. It turns out Delaney (along with Rani Gill) holds a unique place within the old darts lore. These are the two ladies infamous (some might say famous) for throwing chairs at Erik Bristow several years ago. So after the luck of the draw I just couldn’t help popping off an e-mail to John Lowe asking him to ask Bristow if he remembered the Smiley Canadian. The next morning his reply was on my Blackberry: “Of course Erik remembers Susan. He says to ask her if her aim has improved.”
On Saturday my luck seemed to be looking up. I managed a top-eight finish in cricket, going down to someone called “Big A” from Albuquerque, a small city somewhere in the Kalahari. I started the first leg with a six-mark on the twenties and a nineteen and the second leg by closing the twenties with my first handful and then a seven-mark on the nineteens with my next. The problem was that this is ALL I hit. Big A squashed me like a car might a bunny that appears suddenly out of the dark.
The good news is that while I was going down in the quarters my partner, Geraldine, was still throwing strong. Lewis eventually lost to Mike Ramey from Roswell in the final. So not surprisingly Lewis and I were feeling pretty good about our chances in doubles and, later, in mixed trips. Of course, we were wrong. We were dispatched quickly from both events in time to order hotdogs before pretty much everyone else.
As I was woofing down mine I was approached by a kid. Sean Weeks was his name. He was seven years old and just about tall enough to have been one of the Munchkins in the Wizard of Oz. He challenged me to a match for a dollar. Easy money I figured – and it would be enough for another dog. Game on!
When we met up later I proposed changing the bet. “I’d rather play for your shoes,” I told him. Sean declined because they were “new and besides they won’t fit you anyway.” Plus he said, “I’m going to win and I don’t want your crappy-ass shoes, you grey-haired dweeb.”
Okay, he didn’t actually say that last bit but I suspect he might have had his brother, Hayden, mother and grandmother and about a dozen other relatives not been standing by.
Sean won the cork, chose 501 and back and forth we went. The little man threw up some great darts, regularly knocking down forty or fifty points and on one occasion seventy-six (after which he turned around, pumped both fists and was roundly scolded by his grandmother for hot dogging).
Unfortunately for Sean he left himself three to finish and I managed to stick double five. But I paid him a buck anyway because, had I not been throwing at the one the entire match and had the match continued until Sean tuned twenty-one, it’s just possible he may have eventually finished. I figured he’d earned the dollar if for no other reason than gumption.
So for me it was a good tournament. I won thirty-five bucks, was embarrassed in doubles and mixed triples and nearly got beat by a shrimp. I don’t usually do as well.
I pulled out of Alamogordo early the next morning to retrace my path along Highway 54 to El Paso to catch my 6:00 a.m. flight home. It was just fifteen minutes into the drive that I encountered the first rabbit.
I thought it was a piece of paper being blown across the road. But as I rapidly approached and his furry self came into focus in my headlights I realized he was what he was – that he wasn’t blowing but hopping and unless I did something – immediately – my grill would become his final carrot.
So still travelling well over the speed limit, in the pitch dark and miles from civilization where, probably rattlesnakes were waiting behind rocks to attack my car, I swerved to avoid the innocent creature, lost control, left the road, and the shoulder, and came to a stop in some weeds about twenty yards to the right of the highway.
Where I ask you are the Border Patrol when you’re being attacked by rabbits, and possibly snakes? I’ll tell you where! They’re eating damn donuts and forcing CARS into weigh stations where only TRUCKS belong. I could have been killed!
I edged my car around plants and rocks, over tumbleweeds, and back onto the road. Off I went, gradually regaining my confidence and accelerating back to full speed. Suddenly another rabbit appeared and I swerved again but held the road. Then another appeared from the other side of the road. Another dodge and another bunny’s life spared. And then another, and another.
Over the next forty miles dozens of rabbits materialized from the shadows. One by one they hopped onto the road, squinted into my headlights and, probably, thought HOLY FRICKIN’ CRAP, which is exactly what I thought as each one forced me to take my life into my hands as I maneuvered to spare its life.
But I made it to El Paso and am pleased to report that not a single bunny bit the Big One on my wild ride out of Alamogordo. Quite possibly some of them had heart attacks after I passed them by. Or more likely they were squashed by some other car on some other day because, after all, they do seem to be dummy bunnies.
The $5,000 White Sands Missile Launch is a great darts tournament. Delilah Hartmaier and her team worked long hours to put this first year’s affair together from scratch and obtain American Darts Organization (ADO) sanction – and next year’s shoot is certain to be better and more profitable payout-wise.
Plus the Alamogordo area is a unique place to visit with the dazzling White Sands National Monument and Museum of Space History close by. The later is the sad site of Ham the Chimp’s grave. Ham was cruelly captured from the wild in Cameroon in 1959 and became the first hominid launched into outer space in 1961. Of course, also close by, just a couple hours drive, is the amazing Carlsbad Caverns.
I plan to return to this tournament, that’s for certain, and I encourage others to add it to their schedules – but I do offer three bits of advice (which if you have read this far would, I think, be obvious): Beware of the Border Patrol, beware of the killer rabbits and…
Beware of a miniature hustler named Sean Weeks!
From the Field,
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