Wednesday, October 31, 2012

No. 582 – White Mountain

Performer: Genesis
Songwriters: Tony Banks, Peter Gabriel, Anthony Phillips, Mike Rutherford
Original Release: Trespass
Year: 1970
Definitive Version: Just a Pool of Tears, 1976

When I went to New Jersey in the summer of 1987 to do the story on the Plainfield YMCA, I laid a little groundwork for future Mom’s-side-of-the-family get-togethers—very near future, it turned out. Aunt Sally invited Jin, Scott and me to come to New Jersey for the week after Christmas that year.

Betsy would be home from college and Tom and his girlfriend also would be in town. It sounded like a great time and in fact was. I thought it would be cool to be in New York between Christmas and New Year’s.

We flew in to Newark on the 26th in the late afternoon. Betsy picked us up at the airport and drove us out to the swamps of Jersey. That night we had a take-home Indian feast, and that was the first time I ever had Indian food. It also would be the last for more than a decade, until newspaper duties forced me to give it another try … and discover how much I liked it.

Anyway, the next day, all the young adults headed into New York City to knock around for the day. Betsy drove, and what was most memorable about the commute was we entered New York City by the World Trade Center where Betsy almost got us all killed when she made an illegal turn in front of an oncoming truck. Who needs amusement-park rides for thrills?

We made our way to Little Italy for lunch. I don’t remember the name of the place where we ate, but I remember we sat in what seemed to be an enclosed heated outdoor area and had excellent red-sauce pasta. I also seem to remember we were the only ones in what seemed to be an otherwise-closed restaurant.

And that’s kind of how the rest of the day went. It was like the entire city shut down for the holiday (as opposed to Hurricane Sandy). It was cold and windy that day—it certainly was gray—but I don’t remember it as being anything outstanding that would completely clean the streets.

After lunch, we went to Greenwich Village to do some post-Christmas shopping—well, the women did—and we split off in groups of two. I was paired with Scott, of course, and we quickly found a cool record store. You know what that means, right? It sold bootleg recordings.

Scott made a beeline for the Genesis records and pulled out Just a Pool of Tears, which he bought on the spot. I didn’t find anything that suited my tastes, although I can’t recall now whether I even looked for anything in particular. At the time, my heavy rotation included Genesis, Peter Gabriel and Steve & Garry.

Scott and I then hiked around the neighborhood further until we found ourselves at Washington Square Park, by the arch. And, like everything else that day, the park was mostly void of human existence. If Scott and I weren’t the only ones there, there couldn’t have been more than a half-dozen other people at the arch. It actually was kind of cool to be somewhere so well-known and feel as though we were the only ones there.

At that point, everyone met up and we headed home to beat rush-hour traffic. I don’t remember what we had for dinner that night, but I remember the wine was flowing and the dinner conversation turned to topics such as how old each person was when he or she did it for the first time and if you could have any ability, what would it be.

Tom’s was to play jazz piano like Keith Jarrett, which I thought was pretty cool. My ability would be to hit a major-league curveball, because if I could hit a major-league curveball, I could hit a major-league fastball, and I thus would be in the majors. Later, we all ended up in the hot tub with more champagne despite the snow on the ground, but that’s another story.

But before dinner, Scott and I went out to the coach house garage to play his new album. This song particularly stood out, because it was the only one on the album I had never heard before. I liked it right away, and now when I hear it, I can see that coach house with its large open living room in the dying afternoon sun.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

No. 583 – Flight Response / The Real

Performer: Days of the New
Songwriter: Travis Meeks
Original Release: Days of the New (II)
Year: 1999
Definitive Version: None

As I write this, the World Series just wrapped up. My team didn’t win it, which makes 22 straight years that my team—the Cincinnati Reds—didn’t win it.

I suppose I can take solace in the fact that the team that beat my Reds—the San Francisco Giants—won it all. In other words, the Reds lost to the best. That the Reds blew a 2-0 lead, however, tends to lessen any good feelings.

I wasn’t around for the playoff debacle, and being in Italy definitely lessened the blow, but even so, any disappointment quickly turned to disinterest. This probably has more to do with the fact that I wasn’t fully emotionally invested in this team this year even given its success.

I mean, it wasn’t like 1999. That year was easily the most involved I ever was in a pennant race—more so than in 1995, even more so than in 1990, the last time the Reds last won it all. Why? Living in Columbus at the time and being close enough to get to games regularly had something to do with it, sure. But more important, the 1999 Reds were just a fun team to follow.

The 1999 Reds weren’t supposed to do anything that year, and they started out playing like that. But they starting winning in May and got hot in June, and before anyone knew what was happening, the Reds were in first place. From then on, the Reds almost never led or trailed the way more heavily favored Houston Astros by more than 2 games at any one time. So every game was crucial—and many of them were nail-biters that the Reds pulled out in spectacular fashion.

It was easy for me to get roped in, but the bandwagon that I was driving wasn’t very full. Oh sure, Debbie was on board, and Scott had completely committed to the Reds—the first time the team was any good since he had moved to the city at the end of 1995.

But the lack of support reached the point that when playoff tickets went on sale in September, I got right in for the first game at Riverfront Stadium with no trouble. It was as though most Cincinnatians were saying, I don’t believe this, so I’m not buying into it. I bought into it and drove the bandwagon all the way to the end.

The second to last weekend before the season ended, I was planning to drive to Flint. Dave had scored tickets to the final game at Tiger Stadium, and, well, after all the time we spent there, we HAD to be at the last game.

But I couldn’t leave that Saturday until the Reds game was over. I had been watching since the beginning—the Reds needed a win to pull a half-game back of the Astros, who were being routed—and the game was going into extra innings. The Reds loaded the bases in the 11th and got nothing. ARGH! Then in the 12th, the Cardinals took a lead only to have the Reds rally … again, winning on a home run. Incredible! I called Dave and told him I was on my way.

But then, right at the very cusp of winning the division and completing a dream season, the Reds woke up. The backbreaker was a Friday night game at Milwaukee.

The Astros had already lost, and the Brewers were so-so. A win would give the Reds the division lead and all but assure them of a playoff spot. The Reds had Denny Neagle pitching. Neagle, who had been hurt earlier in the season, had won six in a row while pitching great and quickly was staked to a 3-0 lead. Things were looking good.

Neagle gave up a run in the sixth to make it 3-1 but still seemed to be in control. However, manager Jack McKeon pulled him in the seventh for a pinch hitter. To this day, I still remember watching the game at The Dispatch going no, no, NO!!!

This meant the Reds were going to Scott Williamson. Williamson had pitched brilliantly all season but was struggling down the stretch and seemed to be unreliable for two innings of work, which is what he would have to deliver that night.

It all depended on the first batter. If Williamson got him out, he’d roll through the inning, no problem. If he didn’t, you might as well pull him right then and there, because he was going to cave in. I’ve never researched to see whether that was really true, but it sure seemed to be true at the time.

Williamson allowed the first runner to get on base in the seventh and somehow got through a very rocky inning. OK, the Reds survived; come get him, Jack. Bring in Graves now. He didn’t. In the eighth, Williamson walked the leadoff batter and this time there was no rescue: Williamson blew up. When McKeon finally summoned Graves, the score was tied 3-3.

At that point, I saw the handwriting on the wall: The Reds were going to blow it. The Astros and Mets had refused to lose, so now the team that was going to falter was going to be my beloved Reds. I fell into a deep funk, and nothing could console me. After the wild and merry chase the whole year had been, this was how it was to end, in bitter defeat in Milwaukee?

Unfortunately, yes. The Reds lost that game 4-3 in 11 innings, lost the next day to lose the division and then won Sunday with their best pitcher to force a one-game playoff for the wild card, which was a very anticlimactic loss to the Mets. I say it was anticlimactic because I knew the Reds were going to lose. Two batters into the game, the Mets had all the runs they’d need.

I didn't even care about the playoffs. Just getting there would have painted the season an unquestioned success, but, of course, they didn't make it. The 1999 Reds remain the only team since the advent of the wild card in 1995 to have won 95 games—in fact, they won 96—and not made the playoffs.

As far I was concerned, the Reds missed out on the playoffs not against the Mets in their one-game showdown, but the previous Friday in Milwaukee. They had the game in their hands and let it go. It’s a game to which Scott and I now refer to only as “a certain Friday night,” and I don’t feel like talking about it any more …

Monday, October 29, 2012

No. 584 – Dreams

Performer: Fleetwood Mac
Songwriter: Stevie Nicks
Original Release: Rumours
Year: 1977
Definitive Version: Live, 1980

Of the four home runs I hit in little league baseball, the third one—in 1978 after I finally succumbed to the hype surrounding Rumours and found that it was a pretty excellent album after all—was easily the highlight of my little league years.

After I had had an excellent year in 1976, I was certain I was on my way to the majors. The next step was to make the Hastings Junior High team the following spring.

As I mentioned, I was a boisterous 12-year-old when I entered junior high. At that time, I had supreme confidence that I would succeed, and I suppose I made it known beyond the bounds of decency. So, naturally, the other kids had to knock me down at least 40 pegs through their mockery.

One crew was particularly relentless. And it wasn’t just my baseball playing that was the target but also my appearance (I was going through puberty at a very early age), clothes and grade-school antics, made known by an insider, which were potentially embarrassing to a junior-high boy.

Pretty soon, not only had I been cowed into silence, but I also was so intimidated by the taunts that I didn’t even try out for the Hastings team that spring. I didn’t care to embarrass myself by trying and failing, so I didn’t even try—an unfortunate life lesson. Of course, it’s ALWAYS better to try and fail than to not try at all, because you can’t succeed if you don’t try.

I had a brutal season in 1977, tumbling into a hitting slump that lasted almost all spring. (We played until July 4.) I finally broke out of it at the end of the year and made the league all-star team as the result of an injury, so it wasn’t all bad.

By 1978, my confidence was somewhat restored, although still not enough to try out for the Hastings team. I had a good year, and I was fortunate to play for a great team—the Hoosiers. Early that year, I had been moved to center field so another kid could play first, and I anchored the outfield with running catches and throwing out runners on the basepaths (twice, a rarity in this league). We roared through the 12-team Big 10, losing two games, because, well, you can’t win them all.

The second to last game of the regular season was against the Boilermakers, and it was a showdown. The Boilermakers also were 12-2 entering the game, and the winner would clinch the division and the first-round bye in the double-elimination tournament that would decide the champion. A lot was on the line.

We had our best pitcher going, and pitching for the Boilermakers was J.B. Shank. What you need to know about J.B. Shank was he was part of the crew that had made my life miserable the previous year.

When our teams met, I was intimidated again—not because of the situation, but because Shank, who played on the Hastings team, was a good pitcher who threw hard. Any hard thrower was intimidating to a (soon to be) 14 year old. I was nervous the first time up, and my nerves seemingly were justified when the first pitch nailed me in the left side.

Looking back, of course, Shank wasn’t trying to hit me. He didn’t respect me enough to send anything like a message, and—more important—it was a big game. No one wants to intentionally put someone on base if he doesn’t have to. It was a pitch that got away.

However, a funny thing happened: It cured me of my nervousness. Getting hit with the baseball is a scary thing, because you know how much it’s going to hurt. Well, the worst had happened—I got hit—and I lived to tell the tale. It stung, sure, but it wasn’t so bad.

I still was a bit skittish the next time up, but I popped one into center field that went for a double due to the outfielders playing me deep. Hey, maybe I CAN hit this guy.

The third time I came up, I was so loose that I walked to the plate without a batting helmet. Sheesh! I went from being afraid of being hit to being so unconcerned (or distracted) that I hadn’t noticed I wasn’t wearing a helmet. After sheepishly donning the protective headgear, I stepped to the plate with no nerves at all—despite the fact that it was the fifth inning of a seven-inning game, the score was tied 3-3 and two were on with two out.

Believe it or not, I don’t remember the count—I want to say it was 2-1—but I’ll never forget the sound and feeling when the ball hit the bat and I saw it rocket off to left field. As I rounded first, all I could think was, “Oh my God.” And I must have said that out loud, because the first base coach said, “just keep running.”

I whirled around the bases, the head coach gave me the pinwheel sign at third, and then the catcher started to step away from home plate, which indicated no throw was coming.

I believe most people, if they look back on their life, could identify several moments that were perfect moments, where everything lined up just right and they wouldn’t change a thing for all the money in the world. Sometimes, if you’re really lucky, you realize the perfect moment as it’s happening.

When I saw the catcher move out of the way, it hit me like a cool breeze on a 100-degree day: I was going to hit a tie-breaking home run … in the most important game of the season … against the guy who had made my life miserable in seventh grade … while his girlfriend watched from the sidelines.

In my day, we didn’t show others up on the athletic field. It’s not that it wasn’t condoned; it just wasn’t even a consideration. But as I reached home, I slowed up and leaped into the air to make a double-foot plant on home plate and yelled “YEAAAAHHHHH!!” at the top of my lungs as my team mobbed me. We now led 6-3.

In the sixth inning, I saved the day by making a catch against one of their biggest hitters, also with two on. It was a fairly routine play, because I had him positioned correctly. But it was big, because I was playing so deep that I was nearly in the outfield of the game the next diamond over. If I had played more shallow, the game would’ve been tied.

In our half of the sixth we got another run, and I started to worry anew: It was getting close to me batting again, and I didn’t want to bat again. The home run was so perfect that anything else—even another hit—in another at bat would’ve spoiled it. Fortunately I didn’t bat again. And when we shut down the Boilers in the seventh, we wrapped up the best record in the league and the first-round bye in a 7-3 win.

And neither J.B. Shank nor any of his cronies ever made fun of me again.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

No. 585 – Don’t Tell Me You Love Me

Performer: Night Ranger
Songwriter: Jack Blades
Original Release: Dawn Patrol
Year: 1982
Definitive Version: None

I always liked this song, even after Night Ranger drove off the edge of Wuss Cliff with Sister Christian. Not long before I started working on this list, I rediscovered it on YouTube and realized how much I liked it, so here it is.

I’ve recently rediscovered another formerly lost early 1980s song through the magic of YouTube—Silverado by The Marshall Tucker Band. The live version of that song from 1981 just smokes, and were I starting the list now, it would make it. I could A/B it here, but it wouldn’t rate this high—probably somewhere in the 700s.

Anyway, Laurie and I had talked about going to Europe on vacation, well, pretty much since we met. But after our Mexico excursion in 2008, that talk increased.

The plan always was England. After becoming a huge Thomas Hardy fan at Wabash, I had wanted to go back to England and knock around Sussex County—Hardy’s Wessex. Then, there were the Cotswolds—beautiful country that I wanted to see again.

Laurie wanted to tour the Isle of Man, and that sounded pretty good to me. And while we’re there, we got to get to Wales and maybe Scotland, and, of course, Ireland’s close by …

The England trip had turned into a Colossus, but a bigger problem existed: Neither of us had much vacation time.

I’ve had three weeks of paid vacation since I started at my magazine, and this made our mushrooming England plans all but impossible. Laurie and I knew that such a trip would require at least two weeks—and certainly we still wouldn’t be able to see everything we might want in England, let alone Scotland, Wales, etc.

But we also take annual smaller trips, such as to Wisconsin or to Torch Lake, that require time, and if we wanted a two-week British Isles jaunt, we would have to eliminate most of the smaller trips to do so.

And that pretty much was our only option, because the magazine publisher absolutely refuses to budge on granting me a fourth week of vacation. This was despite receiving annual review after annual review where my value to the company had been expressed beyond the bounds of effusiveness.

When I began my fifth year in 2010, I even offered to the editor that I would forgo a raise in exchange for a fourth week of vacation. I didn’t want to, mind you, but I had reached a point both monetarily and in life where the time was more important than (more) money. My request was denied. The publisher didn’t want to adjust company policy of three weeks’ vacation, period, on an ad hoc basis—even for an exemplary employee.

Finally, in 2011, on the anniversary of my fifth year of employment—an anniversary that had meant the receipt of at least a fourth week of vacation at  a couple of my newspapers—I made one final play: a week of unpaid time off for the purpose of a major vacation.

This offer, I thought, proved beyond any doubt that I didn’t care about the money; I just wanted the extra time off, and I was willing to sacrifice a week’s pay—about $1,000 after taxes—to get it. This offer, perhaps unsurprisingly, was accepted.

However, in the mean time, plans had changed: Laurie and I no longer wanted to go to the British Isles. I decided, as our plans grew into this overwhelming chimera, that I didn’t want a stressful vacation. Instead, I wanted something like what we had in Mexico—a cool place where we spent a good percentage of our time eating, drinking and hanging out.

Consequently, I decided there was only one place for us: Italy. To me, Italy, which, of course, had cultural destinations to burn, seemed like the place most similar to Mexico in that regard. When I voiced my new plan and the rationale to Laurie, she immediately took to the idea.

Well, then we have to go to Venice. And Florence. And Rome. And …

Here we go again.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

No. 586 – Love

Performer: The Sundays
Songwriters: David Gavurin, Harriet Wheeler
Original Release: Blind
Year: 1992
Definitive Version: None

As I’ve mentioned, Jin has tried throughout the years to introduce me to music that she loves. Sometimes it doesn’t take; others, such as with Jane’s Addiction, as I noted, it takes a while before I come around to her way of thinking.

One band, however, that I got into right away was The Sundays. In fact, I got into The Sundays so quickly after Jin introduced them to me in 1992 that she made me tapes of their two albums, Blind and Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, for Christmas.

I visited Jin a lot during the Chicago years. Any excuse to get to my favorite city was a good one as far as I was concerned. And I visited far more frequently after Jin moved into her solo apartment in 1992, because we no longer had to work around roommates for my stays.

Jin introduced me to a lot of things during this time that became mainstays of future visits, such as the Green Mill. One favorite became Penny’s Noodles, which occurred before her final Chicago move when she lived near Wrigleyville.

Penny’s was a revelation: It was cheap, plentiful and outstanding (and still is). Back then, six bucks got you a plate of pad se eu that featured sweetly marinated skirt steak, perfectly tendercrisp broccoli and thick chewy noodles. (Now, it’s eight bucks, still cheap.)

In 1992, the only location (there are five now) provided part of the charm of the place. It was a tiny pie slice of corner space tucked almost directly below the L tracks just a couple blocks from Wrigley Field. It was (and is) BYOB, and a tiny grocery—now gone—down the street sold beer by the bottle. While Jin held our place in line, I’d grab a few for dinner. I’m not sure I made a trip to Chicago thereafter for the next two years that didn’t include a Penny’s run.

Another favorite, which Jin found after her move to the Ravenswood neighborhood, was Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind.

I’ve talked about TML and taking Debbie there in 1994 just as Jin had taken me earlier, but I’ll never forget the first time I went. I really didn’t know what to expect ahead of time, but I was getting into it, when they did the play that won me over.

It started with two guys entering the stage from opposite sides and turning so their backs were to the audience. Their stance and complete lack of conversation indicated that they were standing at a urinal, although it soon became clear that they weren’t doing what one normally does at a urinal.

Soon they began to moan and thrust their hips, and the crowd began to titter: OK, guys, where are you going with this? It kept building, and their moans of pleasure got louder and louder as their hips thrust harder until the lights went out and all of a sudden the audience was hit with, well, the suggested result of such activities.

The place blew up in shrieks of disgust and uproarious laughter, and as the lights came on, everyone saw that cast members had bombarded us with cans of silly string. Everyone applauded wildly at the outrageousness of the wordless “play,” and from then on the cast had the audience in the palm of its hand.

That play became the standard by which all future TML plays have been measured, and TML became another regular stop on my Chicago visits.

Naturally, now that I live here, I go to both Penny’s and TML far less than I used to. Since I moved here in 2005, I’ve been to Penny’s maybe five times and TML only once—in 2008. I don’t love either one less, but last night Laurie and I went to a new (to us) pizza place, for example. When you have hundreds of options, it’s easy to take old standards for granted.

Friday, October 26, 2012

No. 587 – In the End

Performer: Rush
Songwriters: Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson
Original Release: Fly by Night
Year: 1975
Definitive Version: All the World’s a Stage, 1976

My attraction to Wabash was strictly love at first sight.

Aside from the fact that I didn’t want to go to college in Ohio, I didn’t really have any idea of where I wanted to go. I half-heartedly looked at a few big schools before my junior year, but it seemed inertia would lead me inevitably to the school from which my mom, dad and grandfather had graduated—DePauw University.

In the fall of 1981, Dad took me there to get a good look at the campus. It was a gloomy, foggy Saturday morning, and I got the big tour, led by a hot freshman babe, which, of course, is perfect recruiting strategy. I had visited DePauw before, and it was fine and all, but there seemed to be something missing.

Then Dad said, well, while we’re here and this close, why don’t we drive the half-hour north and take a look at Wabash? At that time, I knew only two things about Wabash—it was DePauw’s archrival and it was all-male. I also had some inkling that it had a well-regarded academic reputation. Sure, why not?

By the time we got to Crawfordsville, the leaden sky had broken up, and we noticed that Wabash was playing a football game that day, so we went.

I had never been to a college football game away from a Big 10 stadium, so Division III was a whole new thing. It was totally informal to the point where kids would be playing in the end zone on the opposite end of the field from where the action was. Occasionally the odd dog would wander out onto the field.

The pep band played songs in the stands, and it included an older gentleman on snare drum who looked as though he was the dean of the school. (He was in fact the school president, as I later found out.)

Wabash had a good team and routed whomever it was that they played that day. (I can’t remember now.) And at various points, the cheerleaders—all male, of course—would get the crowd rolling with a chant of “Eat zucchini, eat eat zucchini,” with the Wabash mascot hefting the world’s largest vegetable. For a lifelong Ohio State fan, this was a complete WTF.

But the thing that stood out the most on that perfect fall day was the adjacent campus seen over the away-side grandstand. All the buildings were red brick and white pillars. The chapel, with its crisp white spire, dominated the skyline. All the trees between and beyond were ablaze in red, orange and yellow.

It was quite a vision. I mean if you looked in a dictionary under “college,” there had to be a picture of Wabash. On that day, it just flat out looked like all the romantic visions one has of what a college is supposed to look like.

After the game, Dad and I wandered around the campus, and we walked by the Beta House. A few guys were outside, and after introducing ourselves, one took me through on an impromptu tour.

Yes, there were no women there—the Betas went out of their way to say how women were around the campus all weekend (and I confirmed this at the football game)—but everything else felt right. I was smitten.

So I arranged to visit on a weekend shortly after that. I was going to spend a night at Wabash and then drive down to DePauw and spend a night there.

I was somewhat disappointed that Wabash set me up at Phi Gamma Delta, because I wanted to stay with the Betas after my initial experience. However, Wabash had a reason for doing it this way—the lone student from Columbus was a Fiji. In fact, it was someone I knew. The guy’s name was Tom Murray, a sophomore, and I didn’t connect the name until I arrived and felt sheepish that I hadn’t sooner.

It turns out I knew Tom pretty well. He and I had worked together the previous summer as umpires in the Upper Arlington little league baseball and t-ball games. In fact, we worked the championship game together as part of a three-man crew. Tom and I had gotten along then, and now here we were again.

Wabash was on the road the weekend I visited, and I don’t remember many details of my first Wabash visit, except for hanging out in Tom’s room with his pledge son, Tim, on the Saturday. Tom had All The World’s a Stage on the record player with this song playing while he and Tim gave me the scoop about life at Wabash.

I headed to DePauw the next day with some misgivings, because I knew the game already was over. I had no doubt: Wabash was my school—if only I could get in.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

No. 588 – I Can’t Drive 55

Performer: Van Halen
Songwriter: Sammy Hagar
Original Release: VOA (Sammy Hagar)
Year: 1984
Definitive Version: Live Without a Net, 1986—a great song made even better

After Eric Harvey and I wrapped up our semester together as the Wednesday morning breakfast club on WNDY my junior year, we more or less went our separate ways.

We had no falling out per se. It’s just he was into what he was into, and so was I. He was into the Fiji house and the Sphinx Club and wrestling and I was into radio and newspapers and living off campus.

It got so we almost didn’t see each other at all our senior year, and it was somewhat bittersweet at graduation when he introduced me to his parents … forgetting that I had met them a couple of times freshman year.

But like I said, he was the only one from the Fiji house to really remain friends with me after I depledged (story to come). Eric even helped me move into the dorms, and we still hung out a lot the next year or so.

In fact, he even tried to get me into a Fiji house party my sophomore year. Neither of us thought it would be a big deal. It had more than been a year since I left, and I was established on campus through my radio work and the fact that I was living with Jim, who knew and befriended everybody. The Fijis always had guest lists of unaffiliated folks who were allowed in, and I was now a guest.

It felt weird when I walked in the front door; it was the first time I had been in the building since I had left it a year and a half earlier, and it was weirder when Eric got me and took me up to his room. I was thinking it was for a little preparty, but he said that even though he put me on the guest list, I wasn’t welcome. I guess bygones couldn’t be bygones to some folks.

In fact, at one time, one of the actives whom no one liked because he was an ass made it a point to come into the room to tell us to pipe down and that “a lot of people didn’t like that I was there.” If I had ever doubted my decision to leave, that moment confirmed beyond any question that I made the right decision.

Eric said he would try to work it out, but I was fine with doing something else, and I think eventually after Eric brought up a few more pitchers of beer, we went out with a couple other guys to play some video games and make a Snacker run. It ended up being a fun night even though it started out badly.

Anyway, after graduation, Eric and I lost touch completely. Like I said, we really had parted company after our radio shift ended, so the fact that we lost touch was OK. Unfortunately, this is another story that doesn’t have even an OK ending.

Just before I would move to Columbus from Flint in 1994, I got the sad news: Eric had died of carbon-monoxide inhalation due to a faulty furnace in his apartment building.

The news hit me like a ton of bricks. Eric wasn’t the first of my former friends to have died, but he was by far the closest. I bought a sympathy card for his parents, and the same day, I bought a carbon-dioxide detector for my apartment. I’ve had one ever since. So should you, seriously. They cost $20 and plug into an outlet. It couldn’t be easier.

This was one of Eric’s favorite songs—he loved Sammy Hagar—and we played it all the time on our radio show while jamming out on air guitars in the lobby of the radio station. Of course, I can’t hear it now and not think of Eric, and how he helped to make a difficult transition that much easier—and I’ve never forgotten that.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

No. 589 – The Ocean

Performer: Led Zeppelin
Songwriters: Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, John Bonham
Original Release: Houses of the Holy
Year: 1973
Definitive Version: The Song Remains the Same reissue, 2007

When I took the Harbor Country News job out of Northwestern, I spent a lot of time in Michigan City for a couple of reasons. The first was obvious—that’s where my office was, or at least where the computer where I could work was.

The other was because most of the time, the social activity took place in Michigan City. Being a newbie, I actively sought that, particularly the first few months of my tenure.

One of the first weeks I was there, a large group went out after work on a Friday. I was game to go, partly because the groups was mostly advertising department folks.

Although the Michigan City News-Dispatch advertising staff was small—no more than six people, I think—almost the entire advertising staff aside from the ad director consisted of hot females. It was something akin to my time at YMCA’s national headquarters and became a truism at all my newspapers: For the most part, the babes work in advertising and marketing, not the newsroom.

Anyway, we went to one of the larger bars in town. I don’t remember the name, but we sat at a long row of tables, like at a honkytonk. That night, the bar had a cover band that played this song.

I’ll always have burned into my brain the vision of one of the ad babes shimmying to this song during the duht-duh-dunna dunt chords. She was the oldest of the group, but under the right circumstances, she definitely could play Mrs. Robinson to my Ben Braddock. Alas, the circumstances weren’t right that night, nor any other night, but a lad could dream …

I have two other memories of going out with News-Dispatch folk to a Michigan City bar that I wouldn’t tell otherwise, so I’ll relate them here.

* One night, a few guys at the paper wanted to go to a bar—I think it was the same as the first one, now that I think about it—the night it had lingerie modeling.

If you’re not familiar with this concept, it’s like strip-club lite: Lingerie models wander through the premises wearing differing outfits. They approach you, and if you’re game, they’ll closely model what they’re wearing, which, of course, means you’re encouraged to ogle under the pretense that you might buy for your girlfriend or wife. Then you give them a little something, you know, for the effort.

At that point, I’d never been to a real strip club, and my guess was neither had any of my compatriots. The event was tame—not to mention a total sausage fest, but then I just mentioned it. I particularly fancied one model who was so over it, she might as well have been orbiting the moon, but we left pretty quickly after we arrived.

In case you’re wondering, no one bought anything.

* Another time, three reporters and I went to a bar close to the newspaper that had a pool table, and after a beer or two, we played some eight ball.

As I mentioned, I grew up around pool tables. I played pretty regularly from the time I was a kid through college, so by 1988, when I worked in Michigan City, I was at the peak of my abilities on the felt.

I wasn’t great, but that night in Michigan City, I shot out the lights in a way I never had before or since. I was playing a guy whose name has been lost to time—let’s dub him Rich—and I won, so I got to break next game. I sank a striped ball on the break and then ran the table—cleaning off all the stripeds and then the eight without a miss.

Larry was beside himself. Wow, he said, that was amazing. I’ve never seen anything like that. Honestly, neither had I, at least live and in color.

We played again, and I did it again: I sank a ball on the break and then proceeded to run the table again. Including the first game, I had sank 18 balls in a row—my record. But just when I was about to etch my name permanently into the lore of the bar, I scratched on the eight, which, of course, meant I lost the game.

And, as it turned out, I lost my focus. I don’t think I won another game that night. I was so hot, I flamed out.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

No. 590 – Deadwing

Performer: Porcupine Tree
Songwriter: Steven Wilson
Original Release: Deadwing
Year: 2005
Definitive Version: None

Deadwing wasn’t the first Porcupine Tree song that I heard. In fact, Deadwing wasn’t even the first Porcupine Tree album that I owned. But Deadwing, which leads off the album by the same name, of course, was the song that convinced me beyond any doubt that Porcupine Tree was a great—not good—band.

At about the time that that conclusion solidified in my brain, I began a big break from yoga for reasons not entirely of my choosing. I mentioned I had been searching for a new teacher after my favorite teacher moved to daytime sessions, and I thought I had found her in 2011.

Dorrie was cool. She seemed to have a good energy about her and a way of speaking, and it didn’t hurt that she provided some nice eye candy to stay motivated. She played music, which I didn’t particularly like, but her choices for the most part were suitable. In other words, her classes weren’t like spiritual aerobics, like other classes I had recently attended.

But I wasn’t a huge fan of her position flow. Some pose transitions seemed unnatural and forced. It didn’t bother me enough to change classes, and the timing of the class—10 a.m. Saturday—was good in that it wasn’t too early in the morning but early enough that it didn’t cut into the day. So for a while, it seemed I had found a longer term replacement to Paul.

However, that changed in September 2011. I remember distinctly that it was during the Pigeon portion. My practice had improved to the point where when we made the reach back for the foot after coming out of Pigeon, I could stay up on both knees without planting my opposite hand for the twist. (If you know yoga, you understand what I’m talking about. If not, it doesn’t matter.)

A side note: One of my first yoga teachers said something that stuck with me, about how yoga is not what you do but what you can do. In other words, it’s not a competition; you do what you can.

Well, I’m a competitive person—not so much with others, but with myself. When I show I can do something, I expect to always be able to do it and perhaps improve. I approached yoga the same way. I was constantly improving, almost weekly and certainly monthly, in what I could do, so I kept pushing myself to do more.

I must have reached back for a bit too much that September class, because when we moved back into down dog, pain shot through my right shoulder like someone shivved me with a hot butcher knife—to where I nearly collapsed face first on my mat.

The pain went away as soon as we shifted into the next pose, and I experienced nothing more than a slight soreness the rest of the weekend. I thought it was a momentary tweak.

But when I went to the gym the next Monday, I realized instantly when I tried to do the overhead shoulder press machine that it was no tweak. I couldn’t lift my usual weight. It’s not that it hurt when I tried; I physically couldn’t make the motion—my right shoulder was too weak. It was only when I backed off three plates (half the weight) that I could lift it with some effort.

OK, that’s no good. However, having the same genes as my father and grandfather meant that I didn’t do anything about it. I started by just assuming that if I just didn’t perform that one exercise or backed off during Pigeon, I’d be OK. Whatever injury I had would heal itself in time.

It never did. Although I didn’t have more pain than just a nagging soreness every once in a while, the weakness never went away. Eventually, the frequency of the soreness started to increase.

So I finally went to a doctor in March 2012 to see what was what. The doctor had me do a couple of minor physical tests and from that, she concluded I should get an MRI and see an orthopedic surgeon. Great. Now what have I done?

(To be continued)

Monday, October 22, 2012

No. 591 – The Sacred and Profane

Performer: Smashing Pumpkins
Songwriter: Billy Corgan
Original Release: Machina/The Machines of God
Year: 2000
Definitive Version: None

And now back to live blogging.

Yes, dear reader—or even readers—I haven’t written a blog entry in more than two weeks, but through the almighty power of the Internet, I was able to keep the blog rolling, albeit with the odd editing mistake here and there (since rectified), due to preposting.

What happened? Well, Laurie and I went to Italy for a two-week vacation, which, of course, was incredible. Upon return, I realized that it would take weeks, if not months, to properly sort out and process everything that we saw and did.

One way that the trip will affect things is with respect to this blog. Obviously, I’m almost halfway through the list, and every song the rest of the way is one that was chosen before the departure. Most of the time in Italy, I listened to new music that I picked out specifically so I’d have something new to listen to.

Fortunately, I worked on the song list on the almost interminable flight home from London, and I realized that I could use a few of those songs that didn’t have a particularly compelling story to mention the Italy trip, because that’s how I probably will associate those songs.

Take this song, for example. I worked on the blog entry for this song during that flight, which led me to conclude that whenever I fly more than 5 hours in a single shot, I’m never, EVER flying economy again. The savings in money isn’t worth the constriction in seating space—and subsequent inability to get anything done.

I’m not an airplane sleeper, so I have to have something to do to escape the boredom, and the cramped quarters at the back end of the 747 we took from Heathrow to O’Hare made it all but impossible to work on my computer, as is my preference.

Well, that’s enough of that. I’ve reached an age (and, fortunately, an economic standing) where upgrading despite a lack of accumulated miles is an option. And I’ve determined that my comfort level is now worth more to me than the savings of a thousand or so dollars.

Anyway, I had a full entry for this song ready to roll, but I pulled it this morning when I realized that in the future, when I hear this song, I won’t think about an event that took place when this song came out in 2000, but the flight home from Italy—the airline food, the mix of bodies around us, the turbulence from flying into a 30-mph headwind.

The entry I wrote on the plane can apply to a later song, so it wasn’t a fruitless effort. And as far as the actual vacation goes, there’s a lot more to come. I’ll just leave you with this one quick thought: If you ever have the chance to go to Italy, do it. I promise, you won’t be disappointed.


Sunday, October 21, 2012

No. 592 – O My God

Performer: The Police
Songwriter: Sting
Original Release: Synchronicity
Year: 1983
Definitive Version: Live!, 1995

As I’ve said, I’m a huge baseball fan. I’ve been to great games and seen great players have big performances, but I never really have seen a milestone performance by a player. I saw Fred McGriff’s 300th career home run in Atlanta in 1996. That’s as good as it gets.

The closest I have come to seeing a no-hitter was in 1995, and I couldn’t have been rooting harder against it happening. Allow me to explain.

I don’t remember why—it might have been to celebrate our one-year anniversary of dating—but Debbie and I went back to Chicago for a weekend in September 1995.

Debbie said she always had wanted to see a game at Wrigley Field, so I looked on the schedule and saw that the Cubs would be playing the Cardinals at home when we were there. Wrigleyville had not yet been fully transformed into party central, so tickets were available the Saturday we’d be there. I was about to buy, but to my surprise Debbie said she didn’t want to go. What she really wanted, she said, was to see the Reds play there, not just any team. OK, fine. Wait till next year.

The weekend arrived, and we had a great dinner followed by a trip to one of my aforementioned favorite places: high atop the Hancock Tower. I saw the lights at Wrigley and pointed them out to Debbie. Hey, we could have been there right now.

As we walked around the north side of the observation deck, one of the traffic centers had the game on TV. What’s the score? The Cubs were winning, 7-0, which wasn’t noteworthy, but then I caught the number underneath the H in the linescore for the Cardinals.

It was a zero.

And the Cubs had just finished batting in the eighth inning.

That’s right, dear reader, or even readers, the Cubs’ pitcher, Frank Castillo (I had checked the matchup that morning), was taking a no-hitter into the ninth inning … of the game that we had been thisclose to attending.

I turned to Debbie and announced matter-of-factly, “Frank Castillo is throwing a no-hitter.” I might as well have announced I was an ax murderer; it would have made no difference in terms of her reaction.

Well, I had to watch what happened. And with the crowd roaring, Castillo whittled away at the Cards, one out, two outs. We both were in anguish: Me for missing the game and Debbie for deciding that she (and therefore we) wouldn’t go.

Ray Lankford strolled to the plate, and Castillo started to make short work of him: one strike, two strikes. Oh man, I can’t believe I could’ve been there!

On the next pitch, Lankford ripped a line drive into the gap, PAST THE CUBS’ OUTFIELDER!!! YES! YES! YES! I danced a victory dance at Lankford’s triple that ruined Castillo’s no-hitter. Debbie merely breathed a sigh of relief.


To this day, I’ve still never seen a pitcher take a no-hitter into the seventh inning, let alone the ninth.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

No. 593 – La Villa Strangiato

Performer: Rush
Songwriters: Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Neil Peart
Original Release: Hemispheres
Year: 1978
Definitive Version: Exit Stage Left, 1982

If it seems as though this song should have an epic tale attached to it—and truth be told, I probably could so attach one—I might agree. The reality is I have a fairly insignificant event burned into my memory banks, because this song was on my car stereo at the time.

I think I mentioned this, but the back way to Wabash from the professor’s house where I spent my sophomore year was for the most part a two-lane rural road that stretched straight across open Indiana farmland. But when you got close to campus, you curved to the left and went down a hill about 40 feet to a hidden little valley before climbing the road into campus.

One snowy night in February 1984, I was heading in to either to use the computer terminals at the VAX center or to study at the library—I can’t remember which. When I came down the hill, a short line of cars formed in the valley.

The problem immediately became clear: The first car in the line couldn’t make it up the hill without the assistance of a bunch of guys pushing. It was a rear-wheel-drive car, and the street was slick enough that the driver couldn’t get any traction. He would drive up, come about 20 feet from the crest and slide back down the hill.

The next car had the same problem. So I got out of my car and with a bunch of other guys—all students I seem to recall—we pushed and eventually were able to get the car over the top. (And being 19, at no time did I ever think we would lose control and have the car slide back down the hill and run me over.)

Now it was my turn. The Fart was a front-wheel drive, and I figured I didn’t need any help. I gave it some gas, and on the first try I made it farther than any of the other cars … but not quite far enough. I, too, began to slide back down the hill.

There is no more helpless feeling then being behind the wheel of a car you have no control over. I slid all the way down the hill, feeling a bit embarrassed at my failure but also grasping at once the problem: I didn’t have enough momentum built up when I hit the incline. I again refused help and backed up farther, so when I reached the hill, I was moving faster than before.

This time I had no problem going up and all the way over. Ah, sweet success.

Friday, October 19, 2012

No. 594 – The Confessor

Performer: Joe Walsh
Songwriter: Joe Walsh
Original Release: The Confessor
Year: 1985
Definitive Version: None

I don’t know whether Vicky regretted making the somewhat dubious—but admittedly courageous—decision to accompany me to the Joe Walsh concert at Horizonfest in 1987. If she did I never heard anything about it, and I was happy that she agreed. I was going either way, but I was glad that the second ticket wouldn’t go to waste.

We met at Northwestern, and I drove. (As I mentioned—a long time ago now, it seems—Vicky had just moved to the area and had no car.) By the time we got to Rosemont, the carnival outside the Horizon was in full swing. Horizonfest had a full accompaniment of cheesy traveling carnival rides, and continuing our questionable judgment, we went on a couple.

The double ferris wheel ended up being much more memorable than one might expect from a parking-lot carnival ride. If you’re fortunate (or unfortunate depending on your point of view) to be in the car that’s going over the top of a smaller wheel just as that wheel is going over the top of the entire ride, you get a nice kick to the gut.

What made it even better on this particular day was that our timing was such that every other time we went over the top, a plane was coming in for a landing at nearby O’Hare. And at the Horizon, the planes are CLOSE, so each time we went over the top, it looked like a jet was coming in to lop our heads off. That’s a good ride.

The show was great. My favorite radio guys, Steve & Garry, were hilarious, and Joe Walsh was Joe Walsh: loose and jammy. It was the best seats I’d had at a show up to that time—10th row on the floor, to the side. He did not play this song, but he did play The Bomber in an all-electric set that concluded with him and Rick the Bass Player trashing the drum kit.

I don’t know whether Vicky had a good time, but it didn’t seem as though she had a bad time. Being a gentleman, I drove her home—she was staying with her aunt way up in Highland Park—rather than make her take the train. Everything was going fine when all of a sudden my car without warning went dead shortly after we turned onto her aunt’s street. The Great Lemon Car strikes again!

Because it was after midnight—needless to say—no repair shops were open, and the train had stopped for the night, so there was only one solution: I had to spend the night at her aunt’s and deal with the car in the morning. Oh, and did I mention that I had just started my new internship? One week in, and I already had to call in to say I wouldn’t be in that morning. Awkward. Vicky and I did go out again, but it’s probably no surprise that the bud didn’t bloom on that rose.

It turns out the alternator crapped out—the second one I’d replaced in two years. I had my car back later the next day, but it cost me about $300 to fix. If you add in the tickets, food and drink, that’s a pretty pricey first date. At least I can always say that I ended up going home with her …

Thursday, October 18, 2012

No. 595 – Day of Celebration

Performer: Santana
Songwriters: Carlos Santana, Chester Thompson, Freddie Stone, Linda Graham
Original Release: Supernatural
Year: 1999
Definitive Version: None

The songwriters above are the ones credited for the song The Calling on Supernatural. On the CD, it’s the 12-minute album-closing track. In reality, of course, it’s two songs—this one being an unlisted “hidden” track.

By the time this album came out, I was definitely beyond the “Clapton is God” sentiment. Two very tepid concerts will do that for you. Whatever deity he once claimed, to me, had long since fled. The Calling, which I was eager to hear given that it held the promise of Santana trading licks with Slowhand quickly gave way to boredom. Slowhand, it seemed, was no longer an opposite nickname.

So The Calling started to fade, none too soon, and then all of sudden, like a burst of fresh air in a stuffy room, this song came on. What is this? This was the first song on the album that wasn’t either in Spanish or had guest artists attached to it. The breeze became a gale by the end.

It sounded like classic Santana, like Black Magic Woman or Evil Ways. It was like this song was the payoff, the reward for the old-timers who patiently slogged their way through the overhyped collaboration tracks. I quickly made an edited recording of the song and only found out the name of it years later.

Speaking of days of celebration, the same year that I discovered this song, I learned that my job at The Dispatch was changing. I had been in charge of BT the previous five years as it shifted from being a Monday local-news catch-all to a section that was focused on small business and workplace issues.

It was proud of the work I did on BT, and I worked hard to make it the best section I could, but it was thankless. I often worked solo, not only in terms of the production, but also in the conception. No one else really seemed to know what went into the job, and few cared as long as it came out on time.

When Jerry was Business Editor, he took a keen interest in the section. Jeff’s sole interest in BT, however, was before his promotion, when he complained about having to do a weekly column—like every other business reporter had to—longly and loudly enough that eventually they all were ended.

After Jeff was installed as Business Editor, with his primary focus of doing as little managerial work as possible, it all fell on my shoulders. This was particularly true when there was a mistake or someone had a problem with my layout or story selection. The buck couldn’t be passed faster if it were on fire.

So when it was announced in 1999 that BT was going to die in favor of a Monday section that focused more on the Internet and how businesses could use this new and burgeoning tool—a section that would be overseen by Paul—I was overjoyed.

The funny thing was, when Jeff made the announcement, he prefaced it with something to the effect of how the announcement he was about to make was going to tick me off, because BT was my little fiefdom. Now, I’d be just a regular copy schlub with no extra responsibilities.

I believe my exact words in response were, “Good. I’ve had enough of being on an island by myself.”

The announcement meant that my days of working Tuesday through Saturday were over, too—more good news.

And when the final BT was sent to the printer, I didn’t feel any sadness. I guess my attitude toward BT finally matched that of the rest of the paper. Good riddance.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

No. 596 – Dark Star

Performer: Crosby, Stills & Nash
Songwriter: Stephen Stills
Original Release: CSN
Year: 1977
Definitive Version: None

Shortly after 9-11, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young announced they would tour again, a mere two years after their previous tour, which, of course, had been 26 years after their last tour. The timing, I’m certain, wasn’t a coincidence. In fact, Neil Young had just released a 9-11 song, Let’s Roll, about Flight 93.

Regardless of the reason, I was game to go again. If it were half as good as the 2000 show had been, it would be a great night. For CSNY, Dad decided to make it a family affair a la Rush in 1990. Scott and Shani would come up from Cincinnati, and then I’d meet up with them, Dad, Matt and Casey. This was to be Casey’s first concert.

That was the plan, anyway. The reality ended up being different. We met at Dad and Laura’s house for dinner, but Casey wasn’t doing too good. In short, he was having serious stomach problems. Casey NEVER got sick—no flu, no colds, no nothing. And the fact that he really wanted to see CSNY made him feel worse.

Finally, Dad told the rest of us to leave; he and Casey would catch up when they could. So we headed off downtown. The concert this time, February 2002, was at Nationwide Arena, rather than the Schottenstein Center at OSU. Another more significant difference: I wasn’t with Debbie.

Oh, she was there, all right, with my replacement—in the third row. Her new guy had ponied up the $200 per ticket for the choicest seats for her birthday. Well, good for her. We were in the nosebleeders. Although that knowledge didn’t put a damper on the whole proceedings, needless to say, it didn’t help.

The setlist for the first half was almost identical to that of the 2000 show, with some major exceptions, the first being that CSNY played all of Carry On. They also added Déjà Vu, which is never the wrong move.

The biggest change, however, was toward the end. In 2000, they played the island-flavored Faith in Me from the latest album to set up Almost Cut My Hair, my favorite CSNY song (SPOILER ALERT). This time the island-flavored set-up song was this one, of all things. Yes, it was Debbie’s favorite CSNY song. Et tu, CSNY?

The rest of the show was OK but didn’t pack the wallop of the 2000 show. For whatever reason, Neil took far more of a supporting role this go-round, blending in the background most of the evening. That made a huge difference. Still, it was a decent show overall—at least half as good. But Dad and Casey never made it, so I felt really bad for him. As far as I know, he hasn’t been sick since then. It was just one of those things—bad timing.

Fast forward four years: I’m in Chicago, and one of the tapes in Laurie’s regular rotation is CSN. This, in fact, is NOT Laurie’s favorite CSN song, although she likes it well enough, but again, hearing it in a new light with new experiences made me like it a lot more.

And this time my ex was nowhere in sight.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

No. 597 – The Pass

Performer: Rush
Songwriters: Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Neil Peart
Original Release: Presto
Year: 1989
Definitive Version: Roll the Bones Tour, 1992

As you might imagine, sleeping in your car in the middle of nowhere in upstate New York, as I felt forced to do on my journey to Cooperstown in fall 1990, made for a shall we say less than peaceful night. It could have been worse.

As I recall, only one or maybe two cars or trucks went by the entire night. When I awoke in the morning as the sun arose behind the canopy of trees that sheltered my car and realized I hadn’t been murdered in my sleep, I knew I had an indelible tale of woe from my vacation. Little did I know …

After I got my bearings, I found a nearby gas station. I filled up, grabbed a Hostess fruit pie for breakfast and headed off. My goal for the day was, well, nothing. I didn’t have to be in Cooperstown for another day, so my agenda was to drive along U.S. 20 and stop whenever I saw anything interesting to explore—kind of like my trip to Colorado Springs the year before.

I came over a hill somewhere around Bloomfield, and at the bottom, at an intersection was a Flea Market on the side of the road. Hey great. You never know what baseball cards you might find at one of those, so I decided to stop and take a look.

But first, I had to get to a bathroom. I took a left at the intersection and followed the road about a mile and came to another gas station. I parked to the side and took care of business. Afterward, I jumped in my car to head back to the flea market, and … nothing.

The car didn’t start; it didn’t turn over. It didn’t do anything. It was deader than a doornail. The Great Lemon Car had struck again!

This was a real problem, because the gas station had just gas and food, not service. Worse, it didn’t have a working pay phone, so I couldn’t call a tow truck. I noticed a motel near the intersection back out on U.S. 20, and I assumed that it had a phone I could use. So I made the long hike back out, and although they had a phone, the real problem became apparent.

When I called for the tow truck, the person on the other end of the line said he might, emphasis MIGHT, be able to get my car that day, but it wouldn’t do me any good, because the service station wasn’t open … until Monday. Monday?! Yes, Monday. Did I mention that today was Saturday?

Well, what choice did I have? I reserved a room at the motel. At least the manager had someone take me to my car, so I could get my suitcase, so I didn’t have to haul that over from my dead car, still sitting pathetically beside the service-free service station.

I went to the flea market as planned. What the heck else did I have to do? I picked up a sweet 1954 Spook Jacobs card for a buck, but that was all I had to show for stopping. Of course, my car would have died regardless of where I stopped next. It just happened to be in the middle of nowhere—and it was total luck that a motel was nearby. I don’t know what I would’ve done otherwise—slept in my car a few more nights, I suppose.

Needless to say, this blew a huge hole in my itinerary. I had to call the motel in Cooperstown where I was staying and cancel one of the nights. This also was going to affect the second half of the trip, where I wanted to follow Lake Ontario to Toronto. And God only know how much this was going to cost. What a mess!

The next day, when the towing folks said nothing was open, they weren’t kidding. The flea market was gone. Even the service station was closed. Fortunately, I had brought a few things with me, so I had cereal for breakfast and pasta salad and sandwich fixings for lunch and dinner. I watched the Jets game on TV, but because of a quirk in the schedule, no second NFL game was on any channel, leaving me to regular non-cable Sunday TV. I was starting to go stir crazy.

So, I decided to get my Walkman and hike up to my car just to try it once more. What the heck else did I have to do? I listened to my tape of Presto during that walk, so that’s when I really bonded with this album. The car, to no surprise, didn’t start.

The next morning, it was raining a soft, fall drizzle, and I was awakened at 8 a.m. by the telephone. It was the guy from the service station. He already had towed the car and found that the starter motor was the problem. Before I could wonder how long it would take to find a replacement, he said he had one and just needed my authorization to replace it. What was I going to say, no? He said he’d swing by to get me in a half-hour.

By 9 a.m., I was checked out, packed up and on the road. The car was running fine, and it cost me only $90 to fix, including the tow—a bargain, all things considered. I was back on track but way behind schedule as I resumed my odyssey to Cooperstown, which was getting odder by the mile.