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FROM MY SEAT

Wanna get away? You can't, really, if you're a sports nut.

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LEAVING THE GAMES BEHIND

I spent last week in a little slice of paradise called Corolla, near the northernmost tip of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. After the initial shock of visiting a beach where 4-wheel-drive SUV’s are as welcome as boogie boards (there’s nothing like the smell of salt water and exhaust fumes in the morning), my family of four and twelve in-laws had a week -- almost sports-free -- that reminded me of just why James Taylor had Carolina on his mind.

This being a sports column, I’ll offer one very casually observed factoid. At least in the Outer Banks, there is a portion of the Tar Heel State that is decidedly Virginia Tech country. I’m not sure if this is a recent Michael Vick-inspired brand of loyalty, but regardless, I saw more flags with VT than I did with NC. (Nary a Duke banner to be seen, by the way.)

Even on the list of Gotta See It Once American tourist traps, the Wright Brothers Memorial at Kill Devil Hills (near Kitty Hawk) is sacred ground. (Particularly for those of us for whom powered flight has made distant loved ones ever so reachable.) Wilbur and Orville, simply put, had it going on. With federal funds, physicists, and agencies around the globe being thrown toward the mysterious frontier of manned flight, these two bicycle designers from Dayton, Ohio, found the magical key: the combined stabilization of pitch, roll, and yaw. In the right place -- with the necessary wind conditions the Outer Banks offered on December 17, 1903 -- Orville flew his Flyer (what a visionary name!) 120 feet in the first powered flight, a trip that required all of 12 seconds. Wilbur must have been positively numbed by his 59-second, 852-foot journey three attempts later. Even with this towering memorial, I’d argue the Wright brothers’ discovery/invention remains one of the most underrated of human achievements. (The Wrights would have had a curious chuckle over the equipment problem that stranded by family in Newport News, Virginia, Sunday night: a faulty wing sensor.)

Despite no fewer than four televisions in our spacious beach abode, the sports world and your cyber-journalist were on different wavelengths last week. Other than a few CNN updates of Lance Armstrong’s pedaling toward seventh heaven and a Cardinals-Cubs game Saturday afternoon in which I counted at least two St. Louis players -- John Rodriguez and Scott Seabol -- who were wearing Memphis jerseys when I headed east, the week was spent as vacations should be spent: family visits interrupted by just a little more surf, sun, and slumber than we allow ourselves at home. (And reading! I managed to finish Conrad Black’s epic biography of Franklin Roosevelt, likely the finest study of human grandeur I’ll ever enjoy. FDR . . . now there was a war president, and so very much more. Mount Rushmore is missing its fifth icon.)

The beauty of turning away from pro sports for a week is you find yourself doing some participating. I tickled the twine (though not as much as I’d like) on my oceanside community’s basketball court, played some pass-and-dive football in the waves with a brother-in-law, and survived my first set of tennis since I became a father six years ago. I learned, racket in hand, the precise measure of nine years on an athlete’s body, as a 4-0 lead over my 27-year-old brother-in-law turned into a sweat-soaked, gasping-for-breath 6-4 loss. If nothing else, I know my age-group at the next tournament.

I was ready to catch up on all the scores, standings, and trade talk (Bonzi Wells for Bobby Jackson?) as we made our way back to Memphis. But get this. The airport at Newport News is without a newsstand. (A wall of week-old magazines can be found outside the lone pub.) So you might say my vacation lasted a few hours longer than I bargained for. And it’s safe to say the sports world’s loss was my family’s gain. Now, what’s this about Tiger Woods in England?

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