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Lou Pickney's Online Commentary

A Visit to Evansville

Monday
February 1, 2016

Over the weekend, I took a quick trip to Evansville, Indiana to go to the Wichita State/University of Evansville men's basketball game. It was interesting to see what all had changed -- and what had stayed the same.

When I started at UE in August 1995, there was a national speed limit cap of 55 miles per hour, a relic from the gas rationing era of the 1970s and cars without the type of safety features that make faster speeds more viable. Now it's 70 miles per hour for most of the drive, meaning you can drive the limit and make it from Nashville in a little less than three hours. It makes more of a difference than you might think.

It was interesting to see how Interstate 69 has now extended through the eastern side of the city and down into Kentucky. I remember working in the ABC 25 (WEHT-TV) newsroom in the late 1990s and the talk about trying to extend the highway down into Evansville -- then I realized that was 18 or so years ago. Time flies.

The east side of Evansville has had growth, with new businesses and restaurants and hotels popping up. The old Steak 'n Shake is still there, actually next door to the Baymont Hotel where I stayed on Saturday night. For lunch the next day, I stopped a place called Wayback Burgers, which to me seemed like a fitting place to go considering the nostalgia of the return visit to the city. So, even though I don't eat much red meat anymore (more on that in a bit), I chowed down on a tasty burger. It hit the spot.

I was up in Evansville a couple of times in 2011, first to see the last home basketball game at the old Roberts Stadium and then to check out a game that fall at the brand new Ford Center. But that was with a girlfriend and wasn't me going in full-on exploring mode, as I opted to do on this trip.

Before yesterday's afternoon game, I had some time to kill after checkout time at the hotel, so I drove over to check out the house that my fraternity bro Joe Pacheco and I rented in 1999 over on Virginia Street, not too far from campus.

Perhaps sometimes you should leave the memories alone: either my standards for housing were lower back then, or they've done nothing to fix the place up in the past 16+ years. Or maybe both, but wow I didn't remember the place looking so unimpressive.

Ace Purple is a beloved mascot.

The University of Evansville's campus has changed considerably in many ways since the 1990s. When I started there, you could actually smoke in some dorm rooms. Now it's a tobacco-free campus. They have added some nice new buildings, most of which I saw in 2011, especially the student center. But it still seems odd to try to match the memories of how things were with the visual evidence of how things are now.

My old dorm, Hughes Hall, is still there. But it's strange to see the Phi Kappa Tau letters up on the old TKE house and the FIJI letters on the old Phi Tau house. It's like when there is a network affiliate switch in a TV market and FOX and CBS and ABC or whatever bump over to new stations.

The old Subway restaurant, the only restaurant I might add that I've ever been thrown out of in my life (along with a group of friends in a story far too long to share here) is now a Chinese take-out place. Pizza by the Slice is still there, but the school bookstore across the street is now back in the heart of UE's campus.

When I started at Evansville in 1995, the bookstore was located not too far from where it is now, but just about to move to a larger location. I actually ended up taking a Sociology class in that old bookstore building later in my UE tenure, which I think had a new name besides "Old Bookstore" by then, but that name escapes me.

I had hoped to buy some new Evansville merchandise while I was on campus yesterday, but the bookstore is closed on Sunday, with no exceptions for gameday, apparently. That was a bummer, especially since UE merch can be so challenging to find online, but so it goes when you attend a small university.

One sad sign of the times: they had metal detectors at the entrances at the Ford Center, something that wasn't there even in 2011. Means more expense for all involved, but I suppose it's something that I will have to accept as the new normal.

I did manage to take a great photo of a large inflatable Ace Purple that was set up inside near the stairway leading to the main concourse. It's too bad they don't have those for sale. Would be great fun to set that up in my front yard. I'm sure my neighbors wouldn't mind.

As for the game itself, I had a blast, even though the Shockers knocked off the Aces. It was a sellout with 10,000+ fans, and there was a buzz in the building that I wish had been there for the team when I was in college. The regular fans sitting near me in section 104 were marveling at even the nosebleed seats being packed. So that proved to be a worthwhile experience.

One thing that jumped out at me on the trip was how women were reacting to me, in some points going to unexpected lengths to help me. Like the female usher who went out of her way to help me find my seat, personally escorting me down the aisle to my row, which I noticed she didn't do for anyone else. I picked up on the looks I got from some of the women in the hotel lobby and later at the game -- I could see it in their eyes.

It amazing what happens when you drop 20 pounds and get a tan in the middle of winter, I suppose.

I don't write that to brag, but with my body not responding to the various high blood pressure medicines my doctor has had me try, his directive several months back was blunt: I had to cut weight to lower my hypertension. So I have. And I hate cardio, just loathe it with a searing passion, particularly since I sweat so profusely and end up drenched after 40 or 45 minutes. But it works, and hopefully my next check-up with reveal the desired lower blood pressure. We'll see.


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