A not-so-Trivial conclusion

Trivia at Manuel’s Tavern, late 19th century. That’s me on the right.
Time only goes forward, but memory goes backward. So, as the days count down to the arrival of the moving van, I’ve been trying to look forward — packing up books, throwing away paper, making preparations — while attempting to avoid a confrontation with my emotions, which are mulling over the past.

It’s been largely pointless.

I’ve been in Atlanta for 26 years, not to mention my formative college days, and emotions come with the territory. I want to be upbeat as I open the new door — it’s an adventure, right? — but I’m all too aware of the one swinging behind me.

So it’s with some dread that I approach Sunday night’s Team Trivia at Manuel’s Tavern, my final show.

I can’t overstate how much of a rock Trivia has been. I arrived back in Atlanta the weekend of April 20, 1991 — almost exactly 26 years ago — and one of the first things I was told about was this “trivia game at Manuel’s.” So I spent that Sunday evening with (in my memory) my old Emory friends Tim and Alec at the Tavern. We won, too.

A year later I was hosting, and I’ve been hosting ever since.

It’s never been more than a part-time gig, but the money was the least (and, frankly, most unnecessary) of its virtues. In the beginning, I lugged a heavy Peavey amp and a heavier Peavey speaker into the old back room, hooking up a CD player (the first I ever bought) and cassette deck through a beat-up mixer for the music. Later those devices were replaced by an iPod, which had the additional benefit of allowing me to leave my CDs at home. (Amazing to think I’ve been using the iPod longer than the CD arrangement; it sure as hell doesn’t feel like it.)

I hosted when the old back rooms overflowed with 26 teams, pretty much the maximum the place could fit, and when I was fortunate to get a handful of stragglers. (Usually when Atlanta got one of its snow “storms.”) I’ve gone through several scorekeepers, many of them high schoolers who graduated during my tenure. Given that I have no children myself, this is the closest I’ve come to actually contributing to raising a child, and I’m very proud of Dougal, now a pilot; Mara, a forensic anthropologist; Patrick, an accountant; and Ben, whose future is limitless.

I met my wife at Trivia, beginning our relationship by inadvertently offending her. I probably still do. I also owe my career at CNN to Trivia, since many network employees spent their Sunday nights playing. One of them recommended a job to me, and I was there for 16 years.

I once handed the mic to Jimmy Carter, whose presidential library is nearby, and who was accompanied by two very large men in suits, shades and earpieces. Thanks to some sportswriter regulars, I also met Pete Van Wieren and Chip Caray, not to mention some fine authors.

Trivia gave shape to my weeks — I always felt lost on Monday morning when the show had been canceled or I couldn’t make it — and Manuel’s gave joy and camaraderie to my days. (Thanks, Brian Maloof and staff.)

I have done some forward thinking as tomorrow night approaches. The questions are done and the playlist is prepared. I picked out some of my favorites, some joyful, some wistful, some bittersweet. (Anybody who knows my love of the Kinks will probably guess the cut I’ve programmed from them.)

I tell myself it’s been a good run. Hell, there have been times I’ve wondered if I’m too old for this shit. But more than one person has pointed out that if I still enjoyed it, and the players and Manuel’s still enjoyed me, why give it up?

Consider this retirement. I’ll be stepping away from the mic and I don’t expect to revisit it. But neither did Frank Sinatra. So one more time: Sunday night, 7:30 p.m., Manuel’s Tavern.

And whether it’s forward or backwards, who knows where the time goes?


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