February 28th, 2004

Beard

Tonight's conference dinner was held at the Hotel Seelbach, setting for Tom and Daisy's wedding in The Great Gatsby. And it looks the part. The bar where I spent several hours with Andy Doolen and his friend from Clemson is even more classic than the one in the Hotel Congress.

The highlight of the evening, however, came as I first entered the hotel and was waiting to ask where the ballroom was. A spry, elderly gentleman in front of me was inquiring whether the members of this party might already have arrived at the Oak Room -- a AAA "five diamond" restaurant -- upstairs.

While the woman helping him called to ask, the young man sharing the front desk with her came over and said, "Are you the Ralph Beard?" Perceiving a muted assent, he continued.

"You were their first All-American." The gentleman casually thrust three fingers in the air.

"How do you know who I am?"

"My grandmother had a picture of you on her wall. I have twelve family members who went to UK."

"Did you go there?"

"For two years. Now I'm at UL."

Deftly avoiding the issue of this Rick Pitino-like betrayal, Beard transformed from a somewhat hunched old man into an athlete, assuming the correct defensive posture and backed up three steps.

"I can still play."

When I got back to the room a little while ago, I looked Ralph Beard up on the internet.

Looking at his picture, I had no trouble telling it was the same man.

Beard was indeed a three-time first-team All-American at the University of Kentucky, not to mention the player of the year on two Adolph Rupp-coached NCAA championship teams, the point guard on the 1948 Olympic gold medal team along with his four Kentucky teammates and a first-team All-NBA player in 1951.

That's mighty impressive.

But the best part is the sad part. 1951 was also Beard's last professional season. No, he didn't suffer a career-ending injury. He was banned from the NBA as part of a betting scandal.

Apparently that won't matter to the Kentucky faithful. The young man at the desk was about to call his grandmother with the news.

I couldn't help thinking, though, that the story seemed strangely congruent with The Great Gatsby.

Remember Nick's wonderment when Jay introduces him to the man who fixed the 1919 baseball World Series?

The fact that Pete Rose is two hours up Interstate 71 only reinforces the point.

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East Berlin

When I went to East Berlin in 1987 I was happy to find that the rubble of the war was still laying around for everyone to see. There wasn't money or inclination to erase the past as they had in the West.

Louisville makes me feel something similar. The downtown is full of gorgeous turn-of-the-century office buildings, many boarded-up, that survive because the urban renewal that left many cities with blocks of concrete and glass was forestalled, according to natives I spoke with, by the city's poverty during the first three decades after World War II.

The wholesale demolition of whole neighborhoods that Mike Davis describes in City of Quartz, for example, did not happen in Louisville's central district. Bunker Hill is alive and well. And, while I got the impression that it's not the safest place for an evening stroll, the architectural compensations are many.

Cunningham's

Cunningham's, the restaurant on the right, has apparently been in continuous operation since the early years of Reconstruction.

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Autentica

I may be a traitor, but at least I went to a real Krispy Kreme at 3am, the kind where a stern old black lady says, "What? Are you ready? Speak up!," to her customers and where someone is puking in the parking lot.

Krispy Kreme

Wish you were here?