Friday, May 31, 2013

No. 370 – Echo

Performer: Joe Satriani
Songwriter: Joe Satriani
Original Release: Surfing with the Alien
Year: 1987
Definitive Version: Time Machine, 1993

Like I mentioned, I was introduced to Joe Satriani through Steve and Garry on the Loop. At some time after this album came out, they began to use Always With Me, Always With You as the show closer and this song as the show opener. I liked the sound of both, which led me to eventually buy the album, like a lot of other people in the Chicago area.

March 1988 was a crazy month at Harbor Country News. Advertising wanted to do a section that was centered around the bed & breakfast community. Editorial, meaning me, would produce the content. OK. I asked Advertising what it had in mind for the section, but they just said it was up to me. Fine. I came up with a few ideas of what to write about and began to assign stories.

When we closed out the regular paper two weeks before the Inns section was due, I went home and didn’t come in Thursday as was usual. Sometime late in the morning, I got a frantic call from my boss wondering where I was. Advertising is wondering what’s going on with the Inns section, because they put the layouts on my desk and the to-press deadline was in a week.

Wait … what? It’s due in two weeks. It’s for the last issue in March. No, they wanted an early press run, so it was due a week from tomorrow. This was, in fact, the first I had heard of this deadline.

With no warning, I was driving to Michigan City. I had to call my correspondents and tell them that they had to have everything to me Wednesday, not Sunday as originally had been assigned. That wasn’t fun, but the correspondents were good eggs, so they all agreed. I also had to call Bob and have him get to a few inns to shoot the art, as in now.

Then I had to call sources for the stories I was going to write—on southwest Michigan tourism and Michigan B&Bs. I also had to pick up a story from a correspondent who had a scheduling conflict. She set up the interview with an innkeeper; I just had to conduct it and write the story.

I worked nonstop into the weekend, driving to Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo to conduct a couple of interviews. Then it was time to start work on the regular section for the week before the Inns section was due. Advertising helpfully sold more ads than the week before, so that required more work to fill the pages.

Then it was back to the Inns section. I wrote my stories, edited those of others, selected the art, which wasn’t Bob’s best work, and frantically pushed everything out. Then it was right back into the regular section. This was right after River Valley’s basketball team made a run to the state finals, which I had to cover for my paper and the Michigan City News-Dispatch, so I had had no break since the start of March.

From the Thursday I found out my deadlines had been compressed to the Wednesday two weeks later when everything was gone, I must have worked 150 hours. I know for sure I worked 16-hour days every day the week the Inns section went out.

Somehow everything got done, more or less on time. My boss commended me for my work. Not everyone in the building was as complimentary, however. In the department notes, not in person, I learned that advertising was “disappointed” by the Inns section. Yeah, well, maybe next time you might provide more direction and maybe, just maybe, advance notice on the deadline, huh? A little planning and communication go a long way.

I was elated that I just survived the whole ordeal. Then Jin called to say she wanted to see the Georgia O’Keefe exhibit at the Art Institute in Chicago. She and a friend of hers would stay at a motel. I said I was only two hours away from Chicago, so why not stay with me and save some bucks? Really? You won’t mind? No, I was looking forward to having guests.

The storm at work that enveloped me all March was over, and I had no idea that I was about to be hit by lightning.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

No. 371 – Future Love Paradise

Performer: Seal
Songwriter: Seal
Original Release: Seal
Year: 1991
Definitive Version: None

I saw Seal twice in less than a year back in 1994-95, as I mentioned. I referred to the versions of Kiss From a Rose—how they were completely different from the studio version and each other. Well, that was each whole show in a microcosm. The first show was energized and fun; the second was buttoned-down and staid.

For example, take this song, which closed the show each time (and was performed faithfully to the original version each time). At the first show, about 50 people were down by the orchestra pit dancing, and everyone else was dancing in the aisles. At the second show, practically no one was even standing after having been successfully shouted down by chotches in the back.

I’m certain that the reaction of the crowd at the first show had a lot to do with the fact that earlier that day, Ohio State had beaten Michigan in football for the first time in eight years. Everyone was in a mood to party. There would be no shouting down by chotches that day. Seal even referred to the game during the show and how everyone was feeling happy. He had Columbus figured out to a T.

I mentioned that at one time there were only two sports in Columbus that anyone cared about: Ohio State football and Ohio State spring football. That remained true until the Blue Jackets started in 2000. Sure, those still are by far the two biggest games in town, but sports fans at least have another option now.

I used to be part of that crowd. When I was a kid, because Dad worshipped Ohio State football, I bought in, and the team always was great, but … well, my childhood was a string of bitter disappointments. From 1970, when I was six and first really beginning to understand and appreciate what was going on, to 1980, Ohio State had a shot at a national championship six times and blew all six.

The 1980 Rose Bowl, when OSU blew a six-point lead to USC and Charles White, was the final straw. I was so angry, so upset that not only they lost but lost to a running game in the last two minutes—unheard of for OSU—that I started crying openly before going upstairs to my room to cry in isolation.

Scott reminds me of this to this day, so that should tell you about what happened after that. I took a look at myself and was so embarrassed—humiliated even—that I was crying like a little girl after a freaking FOOTBALL GAME, I vowed that I would NEVER let a sporting event affect me like that again.

When I moved away and beheld the OSU experience from a different perspective, I saw what jerks Ohio State fans could be when they didn’t win every game, as obviously was entitled. I didn’t want to attach myself to that.

When Ohio State fired Earle Bruce and hired John Cooper, I was at Northwestern. Northwestern changed everything. Of course, I loved my team, and my first fall there, the Wildcats won four games. Four wins after how bad the team had been earlier in the decade was like OSU beating Michigan four times. Northwestern wasn’t supposed to win, so it was just fun.

Well, what was fun about cheering for Ohio State? If you didn’t beat Michigan or win the national championship, you had a crappy season. If you won at Northwestern—at all—it was great. Talk about some real perspective.

Soon after that, I moved to Michigan and saw the rivalry from the other side of the enemy lines. It was eye-opening. It might have been because Michigan won all the time, but the alums I knew cared more about beating Michigan State or Notre Dame than they did Ohio State. It got to be amusing to see how OSU would lose this year. By the time I moved home in 1994, I was completely cured of my OSU worship.

In 1998, Ohio State had its first real super team since 1975, and it blew a game to Michigan State that cost them the national title. The Dispatch ran a picture the next day of three guys in the stands all decked out in Buckeye gear, crying their eyes out. These were grown men, not 15-year-old boys.

I mocked them but felt sorry for them at the same time. I mean when you wrap yourself up in something that ultimately doesn’t mean anything—sports are an entertainment, period—it’s sad. I had been there, but, fortunately, I grew out of it.

Then a funny thing happened: I became an Ohio State fan again. When Cooper was axed, I advocated hiring Jim Tressel. Most people said I was nuts: Tressel was from Division I-AA; he can’t handle a big program. Instead, they said, OSU should hire Glen Mason, who had taken over poor Kansas and Minnesota programs and made them mediocre. All Tressel had done was win four national championships—on the field in playoffs, not through some convoluted computer formula.

OSU, of course, hired Tressel, and despite how his tenure ended, I doubt anyone would argue that it was the wrong move. I was right, and it was gratifying to see Ohio State beat Michigan every year and win every other bowl game for the first time in a long time.

Sure there were disappointments, like Florida and LSU in 2007 and 2008, but aside from losing $10 in Vegas on the Florida debacle, it didn’t bother me. It wasn’t how it used to be for me, thank goodness.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

No. 372 – Pain Lies on the Riverside

Performer: Live
Songwriters: Ed Kowalczyk, Chad Taylor, Patrick Dahlheimer, Chad Gracey
Original Release: Mental Jewelry
Year: 1991
Definitive Version: None

Before everything went dark in my relationship with Dad’s side of the family, there was one final confrontation in 1995. I had announced, as was proper given the information, that Debbie and I were moving in together. Obviously, my Dad should have my address.

Dad and Laura took this as their opportunity to take one final shot at getting us to see the error of our ways, as if anything they would say would affect anything. I agreed to a meeting, because I thought it would give us one more chance to explain ourselves, as if anything we would have to say would affect anything. In retrospect, I should have just said thanks but no thanks.

They came over to my apartment in German Village in June 1995, and I set up chairs in which Debbie and I would sit—not together so as to not incite anything. I didn’t want anyone to react emotionally. While I was at it, I might as well have wanted to win the lottery that week. I would have had about as much of a chance at success.

So, yeah, the whole thing went over like the Hindenburg. Our conversation consisted entirely of Laura reading a letter and us not being able to respond to it in any way. Debbie at one point asked to see the letter, and Dad shut her down forthwith, saying we weren’t going to get into it. Seeing there was no reason to continue the meeting if we weren’t going to be able to speak, it broke up soon after that with nothing resolved other than we still were moving in together and Debbie would never be included in anything family related.

Debbie ripped into me afterward, saying I didn’t defend her, and for a while after, she reminded me of that. I did, no question, but I didn’t to the extent that she wanted. I could see her point—she was supposedly the bad girl in all of this, which was ridiculous.

But I was in a pickle. I was trying to walk the tightrope to produce a favorable outcome, when in reality, there was no chance of that. After I realized that, I was just as mad that I didn’t react more strongly. If Dad and Laura were just going to blow up any attempt at building a bridge anyway, why not just burn it down first?

So began the nuclear winter in my relationship with my Dad’s side of the family. I went over to their house once a year—for Christmas—as I mentioned. And I stopped going to Torch Lake. Why should I if a huge part of my life not only wasn’t invited but couldn’t even be mentioned? The last time I went to Torch Lake until 2001 was for a family wedding in September 1995, shortly after Debbie and I saw Live do this song at Polaris.

It was a miserable time. Here’s how much fun I had at my cousin Amy’s wedding to Ted, who were firmly Team Dad & Laura: I don’t even remember where it was held. My memory was in Traverse City, but Scott and I talked recently, and he said it was in Elk Rapids. I remember nothing about the ceremony itself or the reception other than feeling isolated. I know I was there, but I attach nothing to it.

But I didn’t care. Debbie and I had just moved into our new apartment, and we were about to head to Northern California for the first time. Our relationship was going great, and I was certain I had made the right decision. One door was closed on me, but the sun was shining through another door, and I willingly walked through it.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

No. 373 – Moon Song

Performer: America
Songwriter: Dewey Bunnell
Original Release: Homecoming
Year: 1972
Definitive Version: None

I always liked this song from the first time I heard it when I was 8. It was a little bit different from the typical America song—more spacey and mysterious. It makes me think of my first little league baseball game, not so much for the game itself but for what happened after.

Yes, my first baseball game in April 1973 was auspicious all right. I would be 9 that June, so I was eligible to play little league baseball at Northam Park. I had had no preparation—no T-ball, nothing, just some kickball and playing in backyards.

The league was known as Cub Scout baseball, and it allowed players up to 11 to play. All the teams took names of Native tribes, and my team was Comanche. We had a pretty good team but not because of me. Not only was I unable to hit; I was too afraid to swing the bat. These 11-year-old kids threw HARD. Funny thing was I ended up with an OBP of .600, because I walked all the time. They threw hard but wild. Our 11-year-olds threw strikes, which is why we won.

Anyway, my first game, we played Ottawa. League rules dictated that every kid play at least one inning in the field or bat once, and I batted late in the game and watched with bat locked on shoulder and knees knocking in my baseball pants as three strikes quickly went by.

In the bottom of the sixth as storm clouds rolled in, Ottawa tied the game 2-2 and within minutes everyone was scurrying for their cars as a thunderstorm washed out the game. It was a heck of a thunderstorm, too, and before long, my family was heading to the basement, because a tornado warning had been issued.

I assume we had weather sirens back then, but I don’t specifically remember them. Typically, Dad had a radio tuned to the right channel to hear about watches and warnings. The first night I ever was aware of a tornado warning was soon after we moved to Upper Arlington. Suddenly Mom and Dad were scrambling out of bed late at night and grabbing us to head down to the basement—a funnel cloud had been spotted at Don Scott Field, which was about five miles from where we lived.

After that, tornadoes scared the crap out of me. They also fascinated me. Tornadoes are both awesome and terrifying, and the evening of my first little league game, I saw one.

We were in the basement, and Dad was upstairs monitoring the situation, when he called down to me to come up. There’s a tornado; you have to see this.

What, are you nuts? I’m not going anywhere but under the pool table. But he assured me it was OK—the tornado wasn’t going to come to our house—and I still was young enough that I trusted him, so I went upstairs to the second floor of our house.

I could see that the thunderstorm in question was well past us to the southeast. In fact, there still was a bit of light in the sky from the setting sun. And then I saw it: A tornado near the end of the thunderhead directly south of us was roaring across the landscape.

Our vantage point was perfect: We had no tall trees in our subdivision, and the windows in Mom and Dad’s master bedroom closet area were situated between the two houses behind us, so I could see the tornado perfectly if not in its entirety. Dad gave me the binoculars as he grabbed his movie camera.

My fear gone, I watched in utter amazement. It seems unlikely, but I want to say that I was able to hear the tornado, that it did sound like a train whistle, like they always said. At one point, the tornado hit something, and sparks flew up in the air. Then moments later it hit something else, causing a big flash. The tornado then went back up into the thundercloud as I could hear fire-engine sirens in the distance.

Dad and I ran downstairs and out into the backyard as the sirens continued. The thunderhead raged spectacularly. Lightning flashed constantly within and around the cloud, like a fireworks finale, but there were no more tornadoes.

Dad found out that the tornado had touched down in Grandview, which was about four miles from us. I don’t recall how much damage there had been, but I do remember that it hadn’t killed anyone.

Seeing that tornado was—and is—one of the most incredible things I ever saw. And if I live to be 100, I hope to never see another one. Tornadoes are fascinating, and they still scare the crap out of me. After what just happened in Moore, Okla., I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who feels that way.

Monday, May 27, 2013

No. 374 – Whole Lotta Love

Performer: Led Zeppelin
Songwriters: Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, John Bonham, Willie Dixon
Original Release: Led Zeppelin II
Year: 1969
Definitive Version: Live Aid, 1985. This song alone probably was the reason why Led Zeppelin didn’t allow their performance to be included on the Live Aid DVDs, but I love it. It’s loose and jammy; it’s rock and roll, and it’s why this song even is on this list at all.

I particularly love Plant’s introduction: They had just played Rock and Roll, and everyone was stunned that Led Zeppelin—or some reasonable facsimilie—had reunited. The Philadelphia crowd’s roaring, and Plant asks, “Any requests?” before they rip into this song.

Beth hated this song. I mentioned that she hated Zeppelin; well, she particularly hated this song. She thought it was disgusting. I played it all the time my senior year at Wabash.

The athletic highlight of any school year at Wabash is the Monon Bell game—the annual football game between Wabash and DePauw, wherein the winner takes home the coveted Monon Bell until the next year. When I was at Wabash, Dad always came over to partake of the rivalry—particularly after I started doing the radio. He’d be in the stands with his transistor and earphone on.

My senior year, 1985, he brought everyone with him—Laura, Jin, Scott and Beth. My brother Matt stayed home with a babysitter. He got two rooms at the Holiday Inn north of Crawfordsville—one for he and Laura and one for Jin and Beth (which is why she was able to come). Scott would spend the night at my apartment. (My roommate Matt was visiting his girlfriend at Earlham.)

As you might imagine, this was a bit problematic. It was easy enough to get rid of the adults and Jin at the end of the night, but Scott was going to be with me. How could I possibly produce some much needed alone time with Beth?

Scott was 15; it wasn’t like I could send him off to a house party. Worse yet, he wanted to hang out. As I found out later, he was going through a rough patch at home, and he just plain didn’t want to be sent packing so his older brother could sex up his girlfriend.

So I used the time-honored method of making something happen when people are making it difficult for you: I paid off Scott. I gave him $20, which was a huge amount for me at the time, and told him to go play video games at the student center, maybe get a burger at the Scarlet Inn. Come back in two hours.

He wasn’t keen to go, but with the promise of free Dig Dug, Galaga, Centipede and Tempest dancing in his head, that seemed like an acceptable deal. Off he went, and when Scott had gone, off Beth and I scampered to my bedroom.

We were preparing for round two when I heard Scott on the front porch coming in the door. I looked at the clock; only three minutes had gone by. Just kidding. It was about 40 minutes, I think, not yet an hour. I didn’t give Scott a key, so I had to let him in. Beth and I scrambled to get dressed.

When I opened the door, Scott was steaming. What happened? The video-game room and the Scarlet Inn were closed. Closed? No way! It wasn’t even 10, on a Saturday. Both stayed open till midnight on weekdays. Well, they’re closed now.

Scott said he watched some TV for a while in the student center, but nothing was on, so he got bored. He couldn’t even get a Coke out of a vending machine, because he couldn’t make change for a Twenty.

Feeling like the world’s worst brother, which at that moment I was, I told him to keep the money. “Oh, I’m definitely keeping the money; that’s not a question.” The question undoubtedly was how do I get back into his good graces. I’d figure that out after I took Beth back to the hotel. Obviously, she was understanding that our night ended a bit prematurely. (Insert your own joke here.)

Well, the good news is all it took to get back in Scott’s good graces was a good night’s sleep. He was fine the next day, and by the next weekend when Scott and I talked again, we joked about it—with me as the fool of the drama, as was richly deserved. Hey, we’re brothers. That’s just how we roll.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

No. 375 – Oh, Me

Performer: Nirvana
Songwriter: Curt Kirkwood
Original Release: MTV Unplugged in New York
Year: 1994
Definitive Version: None

Part of being in the newspaper game was checking the live AP news wires. You had to see whether anything was breaking late that required getting into the paper. This was a necessity in sports in Flint, less so in business in Columbus. But I always checked the feed just the same—sometimes purely for entertainment or information value.

One of my favorite things during baseball season would be a bulletin saying so-and-so is throwing a no-hitter. The bulletins started after the sixth inning and continued until it either was complete or it ended. AP also sent bulletins, if, say, someone was going for his fourth home run of the night.

I was at The Dispatch when the bulletin that the Big Unit, Randy Johnson—one of my favorite players—had 14 strikeouts through six innings (meaning he had a chance to break the record for most in a game). I quickly turned the TV on to the Reds game and watched as Johnson tied the record with 20 … and then was taken out after the ninth inning, because it was a scoreless game.

Those bulletins were always fun. Then there were the bulletins that weren’t so fun—disasters, war, the election of George Bush. The first time I encountered such a bulletin like this that hit home was in 1990 shortly after I arrived in Flint.

A bulletin came over one morning in August alerting people to a helicopter crash involving parties associated with Eric Clapton’s tour. Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Robert Cray were flying from Alpine Valley to Chicago for a show, and apparently one of the helicopters went down. There were no details, but within minutes, another bulletin came over announcing deaths, but no names were released pending notice of the families.

I spread the news in the back shop to silence. Chuck and I concluded that it was Clapton. That was why it was taking so long to confirm, because they had to call England. We were sure it had to be Clapton. Then I got the next bulletin: It was two members of Clapton’s road crew, the pilot … and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

At the time, I, like everyone else in the backshop was sorry about Stevie Ray but relieved it wasn’t Clapton. Within two years, however, after I had been more properly introduced to Vaughan’s music—most specifically Texas Flood—I came to realize the extent of the loss musically. It’s ghoulish, I know, but from a musical standpoint, it would have been better if it HAD been Clapton. It became apparent in the Nineties that Clapton had nothing more to offer—“God” was dead. Stevie Ray, it seemed, still had a lot left in the tank.

Another bad day was the overnight shift when Sam Kinison, perhaps my favorite comedian at the time, was killed in an ironic car crash—he was sober, the other driver wasn’t. But by far the worst was the morning of April 8, 1994.

The first bulletin came over just as we were starting to send pages to the backshop: There was a report of a body found at the home of Kurt Cobain.

Well, that was odd, and a bit distressing. I had just learned the day before that Nirvana had pulled out of Lollapalooza. That was a big bummer, because I had been looking forward to going and seeing them along with Smashing Pumpkins. (Not to mention, I turned down a chance to see Nirvana in fall 1993, but then I just mentioned it. Actually I mentioned it almost two years ago on this here list.)

After a while, another bulletin came over the wire: A dead body HAD been found inside Cobain’s home, and the body resembled that of the Nirvana singer. Oh no …, no, no, no, no. NO!

I wasn’t yet 30, but I had been in the newspaper business long enough to know that this dead body wasn’t anyone but the Nirvana singer himself. It just doesn’t happen that a story like this ends up being a fake. (This was pre-Internet and pre-hacked social media, mind you.)

I was trembling, and I felt a pit in my stomach unlike anything I had felt before. I had just fallen in love with Nirvana. Now it was … all gone. At that time, the only bulletin that would have made me more upset would have been if it had been Eddie Vedder instead.

Word was sweeping through the newsroom when the inevitable bulletin came in shortly before I left: The dead body was identified as that of Kurt Cobain. I knew it was coming, so the final blow didn’t hit as hard. I didn’t cry that day—I don’t cry easily—but I felt empty and couldn’t think of anything else, except sadness.

What I didn’t know at the time, although I had some inkling, was that the most important era of music of my lifetime had just ended. (I don’t count the Sixties, because I was a kid then and didn’t know all that was going on around me.)

That’s the loss I mourn now.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

No. 376 – Martha

Performer: The Jefferson Airplane
Songwriter: Paul Kantner
Original Release: After Bathing at Baxter’s
Year: 1967
Definitive Version: None

This song might have been the one that put me over the edge when Laurie and I saw Tributosaurus become The Jefferson Airplane in 2010. That is to say, after I heard them do this one, I decided, OK, that’s it. I have to get more Airplane on my playlists. By the time our anniversary rolled around that year, I had several Airplane tunes on my computer, including, of course, this one.

That year, Laurie and I decided to have a staycation to celebrate six years since my first visit to Chicago to see her. It wasn’t the first time we spent a night in a hotel in our own city, but it was the first time we had a full-fledged weekend getaway without actually going anywhere.

Laurie had won at a silent auction a night at the Four Points hotel, and we added a second night to make it a full weekend. The weekend turned out to be all about food at new places—new to us, that is. The first night, we took a cab downtown to maintain the illusion we were somewhere else and got dudded up to go to Naha, which was just a couple blocks from the hotel.

Naha is fairly expensive by regular standards—not bad by downtown Chicago standards—and it’s clientele is hipper than thou. Laurie wasn’t the only woman in the joint wearing a dress, but I almost certainly was the only dude who wore a tie (I went full suit) and didn’t have any product in his hair. I felt out of place.

Well, whatever. I’m here, and we found that Naha certainly had earned its good reputation. I got scallops that were good, but the revelation was the ribeye that Laurie ordered. Chicago is home to Lawry’s Prime Rib and Gene and Georgetti’s and about a dozen other classic steakhouses, but the best steak I ever had in my life is the ribeye at Naha. Hokey schmokles! It’s so tender and buttery. I knew in an instant I ordered the wrong thing, and, as I write this, I have a jones for Naha’s steak that must be satisfied sometime in the near future.

After dinner, we hiked to the Peninsula Hotel, which if it isn’t the toniest hotel in the city, it’s in the top three. And talk about being a scenester’s delight! I mean Bradgelina stay there when they come to Chicago. Nuff said.

Typically, whenever we tried to stop at the Peninsula bar for a drink, we left because it was too crowded, but on this night, we got a table right away where we could have an after-dinner bev—Laurie had champagne, I had a chocolate martini for dessert—and then another.

Apparently, we had one too many, because it ended up being a short and not so romantic rest of the night. What’s interesting is that when you’re an older couple, one night doesn’t seem to matter as much. There’s always the next night.

The next night, after a light lunch and a day touring the modern wing of the Art Institute, we had dinner at Mercat a la Planxa, which if anything is even nicer than Naha. Tim from the Ratpack crew had a huge gift certificate and invited Laurie and I, Timm and Eva and Eva’s sister for a gala bash. We worked it out so the gala would be that weekend.

Mercat is part of the Blackstone hotel, and it’s a cool space. You start in the 1960s style bar—dark wood with black and orange accents—on the ground floor before walking up the wide spiral staircase past the cascading fountains (I told you it was Sixties style) into the restaurant. The room looks like it was a bank at one time—regal, open and huge.

Mercat is a tapas joint, and when they started bringing out the plates, Laurie and I realized we had a new place in our top 10. Everything was amazing, and it was fun to be there as part of a big group of friends. We had a great time, but Laurie and I were on our own after the suburban crew headed back to points west. So Laurie and I went to check out the new Buddy Guy’s Legends.

About a year or so before, we went to the original location and had a great time. I drank Tres Generaciones tequila and got a lesson in the blues courtesy of Lurrie Bell. We knew it was going to be a totally different night when we arrived at the new place and saw that the layout (more open), lighting (brighter) and furniture (fancier) were totally different. The old place was a bit of a dive, which is what you want in a blues bar. You can’t feel the blues in a fern bar, fer crissakes.

And you definitely can’t feel the blues when it’s being played by a bunch of white guys in hipster beards. I know I’m stereotyping here, but it was pretty clear from the first note that the only thing these guys had to feel blue about was that they weren’t being paid in bottled PBR. The main act was Magic Slim and the Teardrops, who is, or was (he died this year), legit, but Laurie and I weren’t feeling it, so we called it a night. After all, we had a romantic night back at the hotel to make up for.

We ended our anniversary staycation with a trip for brunch at Eleven City Diner, which is a very popular diner just south of the loop. My man Steve Dahl says the pastrami sandwich, which is named for him, was the best he ever had. That was enough of a recommendation for me Laurie and I got the soup / half-sandwich combo—homemade chicken noodle soup and the pastrami—and it was at least as good as advertised. Fully sated, we hiked back to the hotel, grabbed our bags and cabbed it home.

Too often I, like a lot of people, find myself not really venturing to tourist attractions in my own city. I live here; I can go anytime I want. And then it turns out that you never do. We did that weekend and were glad we did.

Friday, May 24, 2013

No. 377 – Presto

Performer: Rush
Songwriters: Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Neil Peart
Original Release: Presto
Year: 1989
Definitive Version: None

After my car broke down during my trek through New York in 1990, I was a day behind on my travels. Originally, I had intended to head north to Lake Ontario, but I didn’t have time for that. I had to head straight to Cooperstown because of my reservation at the archives.

Less then a mile down the road on U.S. 20, I came upon a large shopping center, so I really wasn’t out in the middle of nowhere as I had thought. Not leaving well enough alone, I pulled over to get a snack. The car started again, thank goodness.

I spoke about loving national parks yesterday. Well, it isn’t a national park, but U.S. 20 east of Rochester belongs on the list. In 1990, I hit the absolute peak of fall season in upstate New York, and the drive was an endless series of hills and turns past a progression of trees awash in red, orange and yellow.

It was like a reward for all the troubles—the night in my car, the two nights in a fly-by-night motel in Bloomfield. If I live to be 100, I’ll never forget it, and I suppose I’ll never undertake a more scenic drive. (By comparison, the drive along the same route in 1996 was almost all green, alas.)

It was getting dark when I finally arrived at my destination, and I was pleased by what I saw: multihued tree-lined streets, quaint old houses, little traffic or even signs of city life. Cooperstown, on first blush, was just as idyllic and frozen in time as I always hoped it would be.

My plan was to go to my hotel, check in and then go into town and get dinner. I wasn’t planning to go to the Hall of Fame that day, because I knew I’d need more time to see everything I wanted. That would be two days later due to the aforementioned reservation.

Well, plans change. I rolled down Main Street and was surprised to find that the Hall is right there on the street, as in here’s the street, the sidewalk and the front door. Every other tourist attraction I’d been to, you have a huge parking lot in front or some stately walkway or path. In Cooperstown, the Hall of Fame is just a building smack in the middle of town, like it always had been there.

I had dinner at the Tunnicliff Inn, almost right across the street. It would be my one extravagant dinner of the vacation, and it was, I guess. I wasn’t nearly the gastronaut that I’ve become, so I probably didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have, but I didn’t really have food on my mind.

No, all I could think of was THE Hall of Fame was right across the street. Any thought of delaying the inevitable quickly was obliterated. I had to go in, even if it was just for an hour, and I felt giddy as I walked through the big wooden doors.

I stuck to the first floor, which, of course, meant the actual Hall itself. I made a beeline for the Johnny Bench plaque and noted with some degree of pleasure that the alignment of plaques made it so the one to Bench’s to the right was the one for Joe Morgan. Big Red Machine together forever.

The next day, a fairly rainy day, I made my way to the archives around back from the museum. Back then, it was a separate building, cramped and open. People could go into the stacks and pull out 100-year-old guides or notebooks or whatever. That’s long since changed, because morons took advantage of that openness and stole pictures and entire files in some cases.

I mostly wanted to look around, but I had a couple of research goals. One thing I wanted to look up were box scores from my actual birth day—June 4, 1964—to see who had the best day that day. Frank Robinson hit two homers to lead my Reds to 6-3 victory, but the big game was by Sandy Koufax, who threw a no-hitter against the pre-collapse Phillies.

The other research goal was to look up the records of a former work colleague whose father played in the minor leagues. I think I found a few things, but I wasn’t sure whether it was the right person or someone else. I still took down the information of what I found and sent it along when I got home.

After my brief visit the previous night, I didn’t have to go to the Hall that day, so I spent the rest of the day wandering the streets of Cooperstown. It would be an exaggeration to say that every store in town was a baseball card or memorabilia store. Some stores, such as the Newberry’s department store, merely sold baseball cards and memorabilia in addition to other items. No kidding—every store sold some sort of baseball-related paraphernalia. When you’re in Baseball Valhalla, it’s almost required.

Finally, I took the full tour of the museum. Believe it or not, no one had to kick me out. I spent a good four or five hours looking at everything and taking a ton of pictures. Back then, a huge series of windows where the sun could shine through formed the end of the Hall room. With the sun beaming into the Hall, the place really looked like a shrine.

When I had my fill, I left heading West past James Fenimore Cooper’s Lake Glimmerglass, then south and west for a swing through Utica—the site of Good Enough to Dream. I spent the night in the area. Next stop: Toronto.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

No 378 – In God’s Country

Performer: U2
Songwriters: Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr.
Original Release: The Joshua Tree
Year: 1987
Definitive Version: None

I always have been a big fan of parks—national parks, state parks, local forest preserves—it’s all good. So when Jin invited me to participate in my first Ratpack Vegas outing, I had but one request: If we’re going to be that close, I would love to see the Grand Canyon.

Of course, by close, I mean within reasonable driving distance, because the Grand Canyon isn’t really close to Las Vegas at all. It looks close on the map, but It’s about a four-hour drive away.

It didn’t matter. Jin had never seen it either, so we decided on the plan where I’d fly to L.A., hang out there for a while, then drive over to the Grand Canyon and spend a day there before turning around and heading to Vegas. We booked a room at a motel in Flagstaff, Ariz.

The drive over was cool, because, it was something new for me. I had never been through Death Valley, so that was more new terrain to explore, although we didn’t go to the national park, nor did we stop to pay homage to the joshua tree. I did, however, have Hunter S. Thompson careening through my head when I saw the highway sign that noted Barstow.

It was close to dark by the time we arrived in Flagstaff, so the park was closed already. We wouldn’t have been able to see much anyway, so that was fine. Our motel—I can’t remember the name—was an independent, wagon-wheel-themed joint that was clean.

It also had its own restaurant, which ended up being a huge benefit, because we couldn’t find anywhere else that appealed to us. Jin didn’t want fast food, and I prefer to go somewhere I can’t go at home when I’m on vacation. The menu was basic down-home food, and it, like the motel, was acceptable.

The next day we got up early and headed to the Grand Canyon. I had flown over it, so I actually had seen it before, but this would be the real deal. We drove into the park, which was about an hour from our motel, parked at the main tourist lot and hiked to the south rim.

The Grand Canyon, of course, is awesome in the original sense of the word. If anything, however, I was surprised that it wasn’t as overwhelming as I might have been expecting. I mean, it didn’t grab and thrash me the way that, say, the first time I saw a redwood tree did. It was awesome, but I wasn’t overwhelmed.

Jin and I hiked around a bit on the rim. I wanted to hike into the canyon, but Jin said we didn’t have the hiking equipment for such a feat. Besides, by the time we got very far, we’d just have to turn around and come back anyway before making the drive to Vegas. Nevertheless, I burned through four rolls of film. (I bought the last consumer film camera just as digital was starting to take off.)

My experience at the Grand Canyon might have been the first time I was aware of my vertigo. As I recall, there weren’t a lot of sections that didn’t have sturdy steel railing that you’d have to purposefully climb over before plummeting over the edge. But here and there, there were open ledges. At one point, I felt this knot in my stomach when I looked down and had to physically back away from the edge before it went away.

Jin, meanwhile, was at one with the land, and even though it wasn’t part of the original plan, she was glad we made the side trip. All things considered, it probably was good that we visited God’s Country before pitching headlong into Satan’s Domain: Vegas, baby!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

No. 379 – Once Upon a Time in the West

Performer: Dire Straits
Songwriter: Mark Knopfler
Original Release: Communique
Year: 1979
Definitive Version: Alchemy: Dire Straits Live, 1984

I suppose it's true in every profession, but I certainly have worked in my share of places that had disgruntled employees—I’ve even been one. Even though I’ve been in the news game and read about my share of office shootups, I haven’t been afraid that that might happen to me. It’s one of those things that’s like nuclear war—you have to acknowledge its possibility and simultaneously put it out of your mind to get through the day.

When I was at the Daily Herald in 1989, I got into a big Dire Straits roll. I bought their greatest hits tape, and Scott made me a tape of Alchemy, so I listened to this song all the time back then. That summer was the first time I ever really thought about office violence as a possibility, because I didn’t have much choice.

I should begin by saying, in retrospect, it wasn’t a big deal. What made it a big deal was that at the time, no one knew for sure. I don’t know much of the history, but apparently one of the reporters snapped.

I don’t remember the guy’s name; he was in his 40s or 50s and had been more or less a lifer there. I don’t remember now whether he just left without telling anyone or he had been laid off or put on notice or what exactly. All I know is early one afternoon, just after the night copy desk shift started, he came into the newsroom, and the managing editor came out to see him.

Within minutes, the copy desk was told—carefully—that we needed to get up NOW from our desks and go downstairs. We were in small groups—all divided up—in various parts of the building. I was in a garage area close to the paste-up shop. (The presses were in another building, as I think I mentioned.)

About five or six of us stood around awkwardly for 15 minutes or so when someone came by and said it was safe to go back upstairs. As I returned to the pod, I could see the reporter being led to a cop car. As we continued to work, we started hearing details.

Apparently, the guy had called ahead to say he was coming in to the office, which is why the managing editor was there to greet him when he arrived. Supposedly he said to the ME, “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your savior?” The ME quickly signaled to clear the newsroom, because he had no idea what was coming next.

What came next, of course, was nothing. We never saw the reporter again, and nothing ever happened to anyone as far as I knew. Like I said, it wasn’t a big deal. It was just a guy who had lost his way, who probably didn’t mean any harm but put just enough of the fear of God into the right people to take precautions.

Nearly 25 years later, I have an appreciation for that. My magazine recently let one of our employees go. We’ll call her Rachel.

Rachel embodied the old saw about having the right tools to get the job but not the right tools to DO the job. She was overwhelmed from the beginning, fell behind and never caught up. Consequently, the magazine was late to press four straight issues, which was unprecedented and—needless to say, but I’ll say it anyway—unacceptable.

Finally, mercifully, she was fired, but like with everything else related to Rachel, the end was disorganized. She left right before deadline due to physical problems—the job exacerbated her condition, unquestionably. She was fired while she was gone but was allowed to come back to get her stuff and turn in her office key.

I don’t have to tell you what a bad idea this was. When you fire someone, first, you should do it face to face. You owe it to the person to respect them enough to do it this way, in my opinion. Besides, you make a clean cut. You drop the axe, they clean their desk and that’s that.

Giving Rachel a chance to brood about it and then come into the office … well, who knows what could happen? By the time of her dismissal, Rachel had grown sullen and withdrawn. The more I talked with other employees, the more I learned that no one really talked to her much and she never said hi to anyone.

I went to my boss and told him that we should send Rachel’s stuff to her. It would be best for everyone involved. He seemed unswayed, so I said flat out I didn’t trust her, didn’t like the fact that she could come into the office at any time and do who knows what. In the wake of Sandy Hook, all bets were off as far as I was concerned. I don’t know whether the other employees thought about this, but three people were out the first day after Rachel’s termination was announced. Draw your own conclusions.

My direct appeal worked. My boss said immediately he would take care of it and thanked me for my candor. Rachel at first protested via email, saying she wanted to come in, but after my boss refused, in a follow-up email, she seemed thankful that she didn’t have to come in. We haven’t heard from her since.

I suppose I, like my ME years before, overreacted to the situation, but I don’t regret my decision.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

No. 380 – Immigrant Song

Performer: Led Zeppelin
Songwriters: Jimmy Page, Robert Plant
Original Release: Led Zeppelin III
Year: 1970
Definitive Version: BBC Sessions, 1997

When Debbie and I went to Florida for spring training in 1998, most of our activities were in Fort Myers. Two teams—the Red Sox and Twins—trained there, and Debbie’s cousin lived there (providing us with free room and board).

We roadtripped one day—to nearby Port Charlotte, where the Texas Rangers trained. Port Charlotte was less than an hour away, but it might as well have been in the Everglades. Perhaps we missed the garden spot, but the only thing around the ballpark appeared to be swamp. There was nothing there.

But we weren’t going to Port Charlotte for the shopping but the baseball, and the park was fine. I don’t remember whom the Rangers played or even who won, although I think it was the Rangers. What I’ll never forget, though, is that I heard the greatest put-down of a heckler I ever heard.

We had box seats down the first-base line, maybe two rows from the field, and we could hear everything. Of course, you could have been in the left-field bleachers (if the park had any) and still heard this obnoxious toolhead, or OT for short, who sat to our left, one row behind us.

OT was a transplanted New Yorker and a Yankee fan, so that should tell you everything you need to know about the willingness with which he shared his opinions. Everytime a ball went into the stands, he’d holler “GIVE IT TO A KID!” lest anyone even THINK of keeping the ball for himself.

Actually, OT wasn’t too bad until the fourth inning, when John Wetteland came into the game. In no uncertain terms, OT let everyone in the ballpark—including the players—know how much he disliked Wetteland. Apparently, Wetteland had stiffed him on an autograph request when Wetteland was a Yankee, and OT wasn’t the forgiving type. He let Wetteland have it every pitch.

OT didn’t curse, but the whole park, including, most certainly, Wetteland, could hear every word. Wettleland pitched his inning, gave up a run, much to OT’s delight, and disappeared into the dugout.

In Port Charlotte, the clubhouse was down the right-field line. Players coming out of the game went into the dugout for a half-inning. At the next break in the action, they hiked to the clubhouse. This path would take the players right past us … and of course, past OT.

The next half-inning, Wetteland came strolling by. Like I said, OT was a New Yorker, so he couldn’t leave well enough alone, and he began to berate Wetteland again, helpfully explaining his little-boy slight (from two or so years ago). My favorite part was how he packed on the condescension by calling him “Mr. Wetteland” even though he was closer to being Wetteland’s father’s age. Wettleland walked over to the fence. The following dialog was verbatim:


Wetteland: (softly) “Do you have kids?”

OT: “YES …”

Wetteland (softly with a wan smile): “I feel sorry for them.”

With that Wetteland walked away, and the crowd hooted and applauded.

And it WORKED. OT didn’t say another word the rest of the game—not a single peep—and left long before it was over. Meanwhile, Wetteland signed autographs for the next two innings. You’d like to think OT learned a lesson in keeping his big yapper shut, but my guess is he was back to being his old obnoxious self the next day.

Anyway, at the end of the game, as the Rangers came off the field, I moved down behind the Rangers dugout and called out to manager Johnny Oates.

I’ll talk more about this later, but Johnny Oates was the only major league ballplayer I knew personally. I hadn’t seen him since Baltimore in 1991, and I called out my name and that I knew him in Columbus.

He smiled and came right over. “Oh, I saw that darned Reds cap in the stands,” he said with a smile. He asked how I was doing, and I had him sign my Rangers ball, which he signed, “To Will, Best Wishes, Johnny Oates.”

It was the highlight of my spring-training trip—Debbie was impressed that the manager of the Texas Rangers actually knew who I was—and to this day, I keep that ball in a place of honor on my Baseball Shelves.

Johnny OatesMR. OATES, with no condescension whatsoeverwas the man.

Monday, May 20, 2013

No. 381 – Hoedown

Performer: Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Songwriter: Aaron Copland
Original Release: Trilogy
Year: 1972
Definitive Version: Welcome Back My Friends to the Show That Never Ends … Ladies and Gentlemen, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, 1974

I kept my budding relationship with Beth a secret at the Fiji house in 1982 for a number of reasons, as I mentioned, but when I moved out, I no longer had any reason to keep it to myself. Everyone on my floor at Wolcott knew about it. I mean, when I was a late-night regular in the phone booth—after the long-distance rates went down—you just kind of knew.

In spring, back then, Wabash had an all-campus party called Pan-Hel. All of the houses were open, and a main bash was held in the basketball court where they had a stage set up for bands to play. Inside, each fraternity and dorm would have a stand set up where house brothers and residents could drink. It was free for Wabash students and $10, I think, for everyone else. It started on Thursday and pretty much rolled through the weekend.

It was amazing to see the students show up whom you hadn’t seen all year. Wabash is a school of about 800 students, so you really had to work hard to not be noticed at some point.

Pan-Hel wasn’t quite the good time I was expecting. For one, I wasn’t much of a drinker. For two, the music wasn’t as good as it might have been. My freshman year, the Wabash student government really tried to get the Go-Gos to play—the novelty being an all-girl band plays an all-male school. I guess the cash wasn’t enough; heck, David Letterman couldn’t even afford an appearance by them back then.

But the biggest reason was Beth didn’t come visit that weekend. We had talked about it the whole second semester, and her parents OK’d a visit to Wabash, but, of course, Beth was 15. She couldn’t drive herself, and even if she did, they weren’t going to let her drive to Indiana to see her boyfriend by herself—particularly at an all-campus party.

Instead, Beth’s whole family brought her over the next weekend. It was better than nothing. I wanted Beth to see the campus, so I was glad to have her come out at all and show her around.

Beth’s family stayed at the Holiday Inn at I-74 and U.S. 231, north of Crawfordsville. I gave them the full tour and we went out to dinner on Saturday. Sunday, I went to Mass with them at the nearby—I want to say only—Catholic church in town.

We did have some alone time during the weekend, not much, but enough, I guess, all things considered. As you might imagine, that time was spent in my room, making out as much as possible. It wasn’t the best time, but it laid the groundwork for future visits, all of which were better.

The next year, my sophomore year, the family stayed at a less expensive Holiday Inn farther away on I-65 near Whitesville. They liked that one much better, because it had a Holidome. I liked it much better, because it was farther away, which made for more alone time.

After that, when Beth came to visit—always chaperoned—it was just with Beth’s mom and one of her friends. They came twice a year, and it became as a much a getaway for them as it was a way for Beth to come visit. They’d spend the day in Indianapolis, and Beth would spend it at Wabash with me.

On those trips, it was almost as though Beth were my girlfriend from another school, like any other Wabash student. The only difference was I had to take her back to the Holiday Inn at the end of the night, like a date at home. But, safely away from prying eyes, we were able to act like real college students when left alone, if you know what I mean.

That was great, of course, but Beth’s visits to Wabash provided an added bonus. It made me aware of an alternate route between Columbus and Wabash that was so much better. Instead of going through Indy and taking I-74, I’d go around the top of Indy to I-65 and take Rt. 32 across at Lebanon.

I found it shaved a half-hour off my commute, which meant an extra half-hour with Beth before I had to leave home or that I’d be in her arms again a half-hour sooner than otherwise. There was no downside to that.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

No. 382 – One Simple Thing

Performer: The Stabilizers
Songwriters: Dave Christenson, Rich Nevens
Original Release: Tyranny
Year: 1986
Definitive Version: None

This has to be one of the most obscure songs on this here list, certainly top three. The Stabilizers had a career that lasted about as long as a mayfly’s life cycle. The only reason I know this song is because Steve & Garry used to play it quite a bit in 1987. I liked it and taped it. (When Napster and iTunes came along more than a decade later, I had Scott track this track down for me.)

During the time, as I mentioned a long time ago, I was going with regularity to a Fifties bar in Lincoln Park called Jukebox Saturday Night. Cindy, as was her wont, tried to organize another office party there awhile after the time Sasha and I hooked up, but not a lot of people were available. I was game—what else did I have to do that night?

I took the L, and when I got off at Fullerton, it started to sprinkle. By the time I got to Jukebox, it began to rain for real.

Cindy and I danced a bit, and I hung out long enough to have a few beers and get a good buzz on. (Back then a couple beers was all that took.) It was starting to get late, and tomorrow was a workday, so Cindy and I called it a night around 10, I think. When we left, it was pouring. I could see out the windows, and it had been raining hard the whole time we were at Jukebox.

Because I was 23, it hadn’t occurred to me to bring an umbrella or jacket. The walk to the Fullerton L wasn’t far. I ran as fast as I could, stopping under tall trees for a breather, but I was pretty wet as I piled on to the L.

I don’t know whether it was the exertion or the alcohol or both, but when I got on the train and slumped in my bench seat, I fell asleep almost immediately. That’s not a good thing to do when you’re on the L: You’re an easy target, and you don’t know who might come up and hassle you. But, again, I was 23. All that concerned me was how tired and buzzy I felt. So I passed out on the train.

Howard—my stop—is the last stop on the red line, which wasn’t color-coded back then. I suppose I could relax, because I didn’t need to pay attention to where I was getting off. I’d get off when the train stopped. I must have slept the entire way, because the next thing I remember, the train was stopped, the doors were open, and I was the only one on the train.

And it still was pouring. By pouring I mean like someone turned on not a shower but millions of faucets. I had never seen a rain that was this hard and lasted for this long before. The only time I saw anything approach this was during a thunderstorm, but even then, the rain doesn’t come down in sheets for this long. On this night, there was no wind, and I don’t remember any lightning either. It was just water, water, everywhere.

Well, the run to the Fullerton L wasn’t a big deal, but the route home from the Howard stop was going to be a chore. First, it was much longer. Second, it was wide open—no trees to partially block the rain. Third, it wasn’t the best neighborhood to be in at night, but given the weather, I was the least concerned about that aspect.

I still was a bit tipsy when I pushed out of the station sprinting for the first doorway I could find that might provide a respite. I stopped for a breather, then made my way to the next one. I don’t know why I bothered, because I was completely drenched by the time I was a quarter of the way home. It took awhile, but I finally completed the milelong walk/run home. The rain hadn’t let up the entire time.

I went into my bathroom to dry off, and it was only then that I realized I didn’t have my glasses. When I hiked to the Fullerton L, it was raining hard enough that my glasses got streaked like a windshield with no wipers. I could see more clearly if I took them off. When I got off the train at Howard, I put my glasses in my shirt pocket. When I took my shirt off, they were no longer in the pocket. They must have fallen out somewhere along the way. Oh crap!

I had a backup pair, true, but they were a backup pair for a reason—they were 6 months old. They wouldn’t be good enough to read anything on a computer screen. I had to have my lost glasses, so there was only one solution, even though it was close to midnight, and I had to be up for my YMCA gig downtown at 6 the next morning—I had to go back out into the monsoon and look for my glasses. I changed into dry clothes, put on my backup pair, grabbed an umbrella and a flashlight, jumped in my car and headed out.

Considering my condition earlier in the evening—tipsy enough to have passed out on the L—going out in my car might not have been the best idea, but I was fine. I really was. I think from the running and the rain, I had burned up all the alcohol in my system (and there wasn’t much anyway). I felt fine and alert. Besides I wasn’t going to drive far.

I went down Howard close to the station and parked on the side of the road. No one, and I mean no one, was out that night. I put up my umbrella and shined my flashlight on the ground, walking slowly. I would do this the whole route home if necessary. All the while, the rain continued to fall.

Somehow, I found my glasses almost right away—close to the Howard L stop. Apparently, they bounced out of my shirt pocket almost right away, and in my tipsiness, I didn’t notice. They were just sitting on the sidewalk, and they seemed to be fine—intact, no scratches on the lenses. No one had been out, so no one stepped on them or took them. What a break. I climbed into bed feeling I really dodged a bullet.

When I awoke, it still was raining—not as hard and heavy as the last night but still steady. I turned on the Loop, to Johnny B’s show, as I sometimes did (I wasn’t as much of a fan of his), and people were calling in saying the Kennedy and Eisenwhower were shut down; they were swimming in the pudles under the viaducts. No one was able to get to work. I shut off the radio and went to work.

The L was running—It was the L, as in elevated—even though a puddle the size of Lake Michigan had formed INSIDE the Howard station. It didn’t stop raining until long after I arrived at work to find I had been about the only one there. The office wasn’t closed, but anyone who couldn’t take public transportation couldn’t make it. Chicago essentially had been shut down.

The final tally was 9.35 inches in less than 12 hours—a record that might never be approached. I remember that people were saying that if it had been snow, we would have had 9 FEET of snow, which is ridiculous. The snow couldn’t possibly fall as fast and heavy in the same amount of time. But it was a staggering total.

A month ago, we had a huge rain in Chicago that shut down the Edens and Ike and caused large amounts of flooding in the area. I was an hour late to work and got there only because I took the train. It was a mess, but at least I didn’t lose my glasses this time. The rain in that 24-hour period: a mere 5 inches.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

No 383 – Lords of Karma

Performer: Joe Satriani
Songwriter: Joe Satriani
Original Release: Surfing with the Alien
Year: 1987
Definitive Version: Time Machine, 1993

Surfing with the Alien, as I mentioned, was the soundtrack of my desolation. Although I long before learned that the world wasn’t perfect, in the fall of 1988, I wondered whether it even worked out at all.

To sum up, I just had broken up with Melanie and still was feeling the after-shocks of that violent earthquake. Work was going bad with the whole Darlene mess. And summer was over, which meant winter was coming. It was like as soon as high-school football season started, the weather went from 90 degrees and no rain to 50 degrees and cloudy. A distinct chill was in the air.

So what would be just the thing to put the cherry on top of this poo sundae that had been created for me in Harbor Country? How about massive debt amid a meager salary? Coming right up!

I was driving on a Saturday to Michigan City on U.S. 12, only a few blocks from home, when my car, the once-Magic but now just Tragic Mazda, up and quit on me, which forced me to pull onto a side street.

This wasn’t the first time this had happened. I mentioned the problem I had with my alternator after the Joe Walsh and Steve & Garry show at Horizonfest. That was the second time my alternator crapped out. Both times, I had been driving and the car just died. Well, this will cost me a few bucks, but, worse, won’t be ready till Monday at the earliest, so this was bad.

One problem: I had power in the car. It just wouldn’t go anywhere. That can only mean one thing, as a friend said when he saw me pull over and get out of my car: It’s probably my transmission. Gulp!

I was able to get a tow truck, which took my car to a transmission shop near Michigan City that fortunately was open. The guy at the shop said he’d check it out and give me a call. A little while later, he confirmed the bad news: I needed a new transmission, and a rebuild would cost $900. He said he probably wouldn’t have the car back to me till Wednesday.

This was a major problem, not only for the cost, but the inconvenience. I had to have a car, because there was no other way to get the 20 miles to and from work. I didn’t want to ride my bike on U.S. 12 at night, and the train that went through New Buffalo and stopped close to the News-Dispatch went through town only twice a day. The only solution was I had to stay in Michigan City for the week.

I called Jim and told him of my plight, and he not only offered me the use of his sofa, he offered me the use of his apartment. His new romance was going very well, and he could stay with her while I stayed at his place. He said he could pick me up in the morning, take me to work and take me back to his place at night. It meant I couldn’t work as long as I might normally Sunday and Monday night, but I wasn’t in any position to complain. Jim was (is) a good friend, indeed.

So that’s what we did. Jim picked me up at about 6 and then I’d stay as long as I could until the shuttle left. But when I called Tuesday to inquire about the car, I was told it would take longer than expected, due to it being a foreign car—maybe Friday. I told Jim, and we extended my stay another night.

When Harbor Country News went out Wednesday, I wouldn’t need to be back in the office again until Sunday night, so I had the guy who replaced Bob as my photographer, pick me up in the afternoon after he dropped off some film and take me back to New Buffalo.

When you really have to have a car and don’t, it tends to make you edgy. I don’t know how many times I called the auto shop to see how the repairs on my car were going, but the news continued to be bad. I wasn’t able to get my car back until the next Monday, so I had to borrow Jim’s place again.

Finally, I got my car back and drove home by myself—$900 lighter and feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders. I had to get out of here … now. I placed a call to Northwestern’s job-placement office and told them I was looking and please pass along the word. The woman with whom I spoke, and with whom I’d established a good relationship said she’d get right on it.