I keep thinking it’s got to be a terrible, horrible hoax. But it seems to be real. My friend Doug Pappas, baseball writer, researcher, and Bud Selig’s nemesis, has died at the far-too-young age of 43, of heat prostration while vacationing.
I met Doug (online) in 1990 on CompuServe. Not because of baseball. Because of music. We both hung out in RockNet, where we spent time talking about all things rock and roll, and trading tapes called TATUs — Tapes Around The Universe — mix tapes that we would send, round-robin, to CI$ RockNet members all around the world. Of course, we also had the baseball thing in common, and a liking for the great old-fashioned road trip.
Doug, being a lawyer with a somewhat flexible work schedule, could take time off a few times a year and road trip all over the US. He used to send me big piles of photographs of places he visited. I still have them: pictures of neon signs and roadside museums and canyons and badlands, usually accompanied by a lengthy list describing each photo. Eventually he started sending the photos out digitally; each night of his road trips (and he’d take at least a couple of them every year) he’d send out a photo and a trip report to a large mailing list of friends.
A couple of times he made it out to Seattle and we saw a Mariners game. The first time was at the Kingdome in 1991; the last — last! — was at Safeco Field, last September, the night the lights went out at the ballpark because somebody ran into a power pole in SoDo.
I got my last trip report from Doug on Tuesday morning. He talked about visiting, of all places, Tombstone, Arizona, and his plans to visit Big Bend. Here is the complete trip report:
“Greetings from Alpine, Texas, proud home of Sul Ross State University. ‘Alpine’ and ‘Texas’ don’t really belong in the same sentence, but compared to most of the state, this is Switzerland. Where the day began, though, it’s always the Old West, circa 1881.
“My first stop for the day was Tombstone, Arizona, which bills itself as ‘The Town Too Tough to Die.’ Alas, the same can’t be said for many of its early residents, who lie buried in the suspiciously photogenic Boot Hill Cemetery on the edge of town. The piles of gravel marking each grave are just a little too neat, the headstones have been repainted a different color since I was here 11 years ago, and some of the inscriptions are just a little too cute.?’Here lies Lester Moore/Four slugs from a .44/No Les no more’ is bad enough, but the grave of a man ‘hanged by?mistake’ in 1882 reads: ‘He was right, we was wrong, but we strung him up and now he’s gone.’ But the cemetery unquestionably LOOKS like a Boot Hill should look, and puts visitors in the mood for a stop at the historic district.”
“Several blocks of downtown Tombstone have been restored to look as they did (or as modern eyes think they should have looked) in the town’s heyday, the early 1880s. Several Quainte Shoppes offer Western garb for sale or rent: cowboys for the men, the ‘working girl’ look for the women. (Fashion tip, ladies: if you want to look like a prostitute, modern garb will be much more comfortable in the desert heat than its billowing, multilayered 1880s counterpart.)
“Tombstone is now almost as proud of its prostitutes as its gunmen. Every bookstore sells the history of the local ‘soiled doves.’ ‘Soiled’ is an understatement: one display recounts how on paydays at the local mines, one girl might service up to 80 paying customers, at 25 cents to $1 apiece. That’s one gent every six minutes for eight hours.?Ick. But the local men also found plenty of time to drink, gamble and shoot one another, sometimes all three in one night. The Bird Cage Theatre, which opened around 1880 and didn’t burn when most of the rest of the town did, still has over 100 bullet holes in its walls.
“Tombstone is best known for the ‘Gunfight at the OK Corral,’ fought in 1881. The Corral has been reconstructed, with statues of the gunmen where they stood as they shot — so close together that if they hadn’t had guns, two steps forward would have produced a nine-man tangle of arms and legs. The Gunfight is reenacted every afternoon for visitors, while each Sunday another group of locals stages its own crowd-pleasing gun battles in the streets. Wholesome family entertainment for one and all!
“From Tombstone, I continued southeast to Bisbee, home of the Lavender Pit Mine in the photo, then down to the border town of Douglas. Near the New Mexico line, what appears to be a giant concrete sombrero marks the spot where Geronimo surrendered to the U.S. Army in 1886.
“Immediately after merging onto I-10 heading east, I was greeted by signs warning of possible dust storms for the next 30 miles…followed by signs warning that if the dust got too thick to see, motorists should be sure to pull over, not to stop in the middle of a lane. About every 40 miles, the thickest sight on the road was a barrage of billboards urging drivers to visit one of the Bowlin Company’s fine tourist trap…er, trading posts. Their best is in eastern Arizona, where ‘The Thing?’ awaits.
“The Thing? advertises itself as the ‘Mystery of the Desert.’ ‘The Inevitable Awaits You,’ it beckons. But what IS it? There’s only?one way to find out. Enter the gift shop. Pay the cashier. Proceed?through the back door (no cameras allowed), following the painted footsteps to three steel exhibit sheds. The Thing? itself occupies?the third shed, and it is… oh, go see for yourself.
“As for me, I headed east as fast as traffic conditions would allow. I passed Deming, NM, which boasts about its racing ducks; El Paso, one of the ugliest metropolitan areas I’ve ever seen; and miles of west Texas so empty that local ranches have direct access to the Interstate via what amount to cross streets. As the centerpiece of this vacation, I’m spending most of the next two days in Texas’ Big Bend National Park.
“I visited Big Bend over a long Washington’s Birthday weekend in 1991,?loved it, and wanted to come back — the problem has been finding an opportunity to come back. Big Bend’s not near anything, or on the way to anything. Tucked along the Mexican border in southwest Texas, where the Rio Grande makes a 90-degree turn, the park is over 300 miles east of El Paso and over 400 miles west of San Antonio. It’s even 100 miles from?the nearest hospital and nearest?fast food restaurant.
“I’ll be staying at the park lodge tomorrow night — a lodge with no phones or televisions in the rooms. As a result, I’ll have plenty of time to write tomorrow’s trip update, but no opportunity to send it until Wednesday night, when I’ll be back to more normal surroundings.
“Catch you then!”
Goodbye, Doug. I promised to show you the old Sick’s Stadium site if you ever got back to Seattle (not that it’s all that exciting). I hope you can see it from where you are now.