Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Restless


In Patagonia. Bruce Chatwin. 1977. I read this whenever I get restless. Plus, it's been gray outside for over a week. I always picture Patagonia in shades of gray. Chatwin would spell that grey. He was English and they spell things that way.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Rainy Day



It's raining on the northern downs of the Texas plain.

Time to listen to Brazzaville.

Brazzaville is always a good listen on rainy days.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Cowboys Game


Yesterday, I took Jackson to his first Dallas Cowboys game. It was only my second NFL game, my first being a Chiefs game in Arrowhead Stadium in 1985.

The Chiefs were in town and some friends of ours who have season tickets were gracious enough to give us their tickets for the game.

We had a blast. The logistics worked great. We reserved parking online at a lot next to the Rangers Ballpark and schlepped half a mile to AT&T stadium. The walk wasn't too bad and allowed us to miss a lot of traffic both to the game and afterwards. We got in and out pretty quickly for a big event like that.

Our tickets were in the west end zone. We had a great view. Both Jackson and I had been to the stadium before for different events, me a U2 concert and Jackson for a stadium tour with his class last year. They had the roof closed, which is a shame since it was a beautiful day. But I'm sure they wanted to create a noisy home field advantage.

I was surprised by the number of Chiefs fans in attendance. Almost 40% of the crowd was wearing red. The Kansas City War Chant echoed through the stadium. This led to a raucous and fun atmosphere.

Yes, everything is overpriced. Yes, it is very crowded with a mass of humanity. Yes, the alcohol flows. But the crowd was decently behaved, that might not be the case against a divisional rival. But everyone was friendly and perhaps that was also due to the fact that Dallas won.

My son is a Cowboys fan and I'm glad he enjoyed his first pro football game. For me, it's not something I could do every year. Maybe every five or ten years. We had a blast. If I ever swing free tickets again, I'll go back. But man, if you're paying for the tickets, it gets expensive quickly.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

The Original Buddy Holly of Happy Days of Yore



So I figured after showing Prairie Home Companion's impromptu version of Buddy Holly I'd post the original. This video is one of the greatest videos of all time.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Free Catalunya


I only lived in Catalunya one year, but that year changed everything for me. I had an amazing experience there. The people welcomed me like family. I remain in contact with many of them. If they say they need independence from Spain, I trust them and I will entrust them with my support.

Catalunya has never wanted to be a part of Spain. Catalans speak a different language, have a unique culture and an independent political tradition. They lost their independence in 1714 in the War of Spanish Succession. They backed the Hapsburgs. The Bourbons won. Catalunya lost.

Spain brutally suppressed Catalan culture in the mid twentieth century under the fascist regime of Generalissimo Franco. Even the Catalan language was banned.

I believe that Catalunya would have been willing to remain a part of Spain if it wasn't for the steady eroding of Catalan autonomy as promised in the new Spanish constitution following Franco's death. Catalunya is the largest economic engine in Spain. And they are being over-taxed by the Madrid based government. And when the Catalans tried to vote peacefully on an independence referendum, the Spanish brought out their jack booted thugs and attacked unarmed people.

Catalunya is not like Scotland or Texas. They are genetically and linguistically distinct from Spain. They have a unique historical identity. They deserve sovereignty.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Blue Grass Buddy Holly



Here is Chris Thile and the Prairie Home Companion gang performing mine and Jackson's song request from two weeks ago. A blue grass version of Buddy Holly by Weezer. Pretty sweet. I apologize for the video quality. Just a capture with the phone.

Coincidentally, Weezer dropped a new album today: Pacific Daydream. Always a good day when a new Weezer album drops. I haven't heard the whole thing yet. Downloaded this morning via iTunes. Have yet to listen to all of it. Been at work. Different sound for the Weez. Some I dig. Some of the songs need a second listen before judgement.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Made it on Prairie Home Companion...sort of




One of my favorite fall routines is watching the live stream of Prairie Home Companion on Saturday evenings. PHC was always just available on the radio but now I can actually watch the broadcast on our TV with the YouTube app via their live stream of the show.

The show has changed quite a bit the past year. Last season was the first in forty years without Garrison Keillor as host. One of my favorite musicians, Chris Thile, took over the hosting duties last year and has done a fantastic job.

Thile introduced a new segment on the show called Instant Song Request. Before the intermission Thile sends out a tweet asking for song requests that they will play about five minutes later after the intermission. They try to select songs no one on the stage has performed before.

So every week, my son and I send in our request. We've always requested Buddy Holly by Weezer. We have never thought we'd get picked.

But last week we got picked! Chris Thile, one of my musical heroes, mentioned my name on the show! They performed the song! Jackson and I were so happy!

I happened to video the moment. For some reason I thought maybe this might be the week. But I truly didn't believe. You can hear my excitement in the video. Check it out above ^ ^ ^

Pretty cool moment.

I'll post their actual version of the Buddy Holly in the next few days. So Great.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Fair Day


Yesterday we carried on our annual family tradition of going to the State Fair of Texas. Our school district gives every student and teacher a free ticket to the fair and school is out on Fair Day to allow student the opportunity to attend the fair.

We had a great time despite record heat. Pig races, magic shows, guys slam dunking basketballs off of trampolines were the some of the highlights. Terribly unhealthy food and weird exhibits make the fair great fun. We checked out some of the auto show...I've got my eyes on a new vehicle to replace my 15 year old truck. Rode some rides and browsed the markets.

Still, one day is not enough. When I retire some day I will buy a season pass and make several visits to the fairgrounds in October. I would like to just sit and watch the weird people who come to the fair.

photo: me and Little Big Tex watching guys from Hungary slam dunking basketballs off trampolines.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

New Blade Runner

So the new Blade Runner is out. Blade Runner 2049 takes place thirty years after the original.

It had been awhile since I had watched the original Blade Runner, so I dusted off the DVD of the Director's Cut and watched it this past weekend. The movie still holds up very nicely.

When Blade Runner was first released I wasn't sure what to make of it. I was nine years old when it was on theaters and I didn't get to watch it until a couple of years later when it was broadcast on TV. I was eleven or twelve before first seeing it.

I was fascinated with the scenery and the depiction of 2019 Los Angeles. I used to draw pictures of Blade Runner's dystopian vision of LA in my spiral notebook during 7th grade math class. I wasn't sure exactly what was going on in the story. Han Solo/Indiana Jones going after fake humans in a bleak future, that's about all I got. I didn't catch most of the subtext or the subtleties. The movie caught me off-guard. This wasn't the Harrison Ford I was expecting. It was dark and weird and haunting. But I liked it even if I didn't understand all of it.

This was the TV broadcast version with the later dubbed in narration which purists abhor. A happier ending was tacked on and there was no unicorn scene. The TV version was also edited for content and time. But I didn't know the difference.

Later in high school I rented the theatrical version at the video store. Then when I was in college they released the Director's Cut. I went to the theater to see it in 1992. No voice over narration, no happy ending and that weird unicorn scene. It was great. Years later I bought the DVD, which I still have. It wasn't until college that I began to appreciate the movie on a deeper basis.

I still haven't seen The Final Cut which I'm told is more about aesthetics than any real content change. My DVD version didn't hold up well in terms of High Definition on my modern flat screen TV. I might have to check out a Blu-Ray version.

I like all the versions of this movie that I've seen. What this movie really is is a classic film noir story in a futuristic setting. It has all the film noir tropes. The good guy has ambiguous moral standards, smoky dark locations, a mysterious femme fatale, a big complex conspiratorial system, and a complex bad guy. So even the hated voice over narration of the theatrical version doesn't bother me so much because that all fits the film noir tradition. I love film noir and this is a perfect example of what film noir is.

Of course it's much more than that. Sci-fi, mystery, love story...a lot in this movie. I'm nervous about this new one. I hope it doesn't screw up our ideas of Blade Runner. But of course, if it truly fits the Blade Runner narrative there will be a bunch of different cuts released over the next few years. Maybe I'll like one of those.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Tix


A friend of ours, who has Dallas Cowboy season tickets, gave two to me and Jackson for the November game between Dallas and the Kansas City Chiefs.

I am super stoked! I have only been to one NFL game in my life: September 13, 1985, a rare for the time Thursday Night Football Game (on ABC) between the Chiefs and the Los Angeles Raiders. Chiefs beat the hated Raiders. Since then, the Raiders have moved back to Oakland and are soon to move to Las Vegas. Life moves fast.

I had looked into buying tickets for the Chiefs-Cowboys game. Kansas City doesn't make it down to Arlington too often. But tickets are ridiculously expensive. I had decided to watch the game from the comfort of my couch. However, tickets fell from the sky.

My son has recently began to show interest in watching football. He's been to plenty of high school games and SMU games, but he really hadn't shown interest about what was going on on the field. This year he seems interested in the outcomes and understanding the game. He watches and asks questions.

I am conflicted about football. Concussions and CTE are a serious problem. NFL owners are greedy. Many college programs are corrupt. The players are often not the best role models. I know this. My son says he has no interest in playing organized football. But I want him to be able to converse with people in his life about a major topic of conversation in these parts of the United States of America. Watching football can bring people together and I don't want him excluded on the playground or later in life at watch parties.

So he's excited about going the game. He's a Cowboys fan as well he should be. Although I'm a Chiefs fan, I'm proud that he roots for his hometown team and isn't some bandwagon fan of a team that doesn't make geographic sense.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

New Bike


I love to bike, but I haven't had a decent bike in years. About fifteen years ago I bought a cheap mountain bike at Walmart, a 26 inch Next Breakpoint Pro. I retrofitted the bike with quick release wheels and a new seat. It was a real tank of a bike, heavy and durable. After several crashes and long use, it began to show its age.

So I finally bought a new mountain bike, a GT Aggressor Pro. GT is a well respected bike manufacturer known for making fast and sturdy bikes. Now, I'm not a hard core trail rider. But I didn't want a cheap bike either. I ride a lot. So I spent around $500, which believe it or not is considered fairly cheap by serious riders.

I had done my homework and the reviews were excellent...even in reviews in serious Mountain Bike magazines. The typical review said it was a great bike for amateurs and professionals, a high level bike that won't break the bank. These are magazines that usually ignore bikes under $1000. But they all loved this bike.

I was immediately impressed by the difference between the GT and my old bike. The new bike is so much lighter. Climbing is a breeze in comparison to the old bike. The gears shift so much more smoothly. The shocks have much more travel.

It took me a few rides to get used to how responsive the bike is. If I think it, the bike does it. It's like I've been running with ankle weights for years and I've been released. If anyone tells you there aren't real differences between bikes and price, they have no clue what they're talking about.

I've been riding a lot since I got the Aggressor last week. Every time I'm done with a ride, I want to immediately go back outside and ride some more. This bike is that much fun to ride.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

The Grand Tetons


After five days in Yellowstone we headed south through the Grand Tetons. We spent most of one day in the park. One day in the Grand Tetons is definitely not enough. But if you have to leave Yellowstone anyway, you might as well go through the Tetons.

The Grand Tetons are another freak of nature. They seemingly rise out of nowhere. The contrast from plain to mountains is startling and breathtaking. The morning we were there started out cool, misty and rainy. We did get hit by a sudden hail storm that lasted only a few minutes. We were in the parking lot of a visitors center at the time and the storm didn't slow us down much.

We spent the day hiking some easy trails and taking it fairly easy. After Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone we just wanted to relax and look at nature. I wish we could have spent more time in the park. It's quite a bit smaller than its massive neighbor to the north. The services are a bit more rustic. The Tetons seem more designed for real campers, hikers and fishermen. Although we saw sightseeing buses there weren't nearly as many as in Yellowstone. And the place was a whole lot less crowded.

I would love to go back there someday and give its due. Amazing scenery. I really wish I had brought my bike. Hopefully I'll get back up there and ride some trails.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Yellowstone


Yellowstone was beyond words. The scenery in some places is phenomenally beautiful. In others, the scenery is phenomenally weird...and beautiful. It was unlike any place I had seen on earth.

Favorite moments...

Old Faithful is fantastic. I watched it erupt five different times over the five days we were there. We also saw the Great Fountain Geyser and Volcano Geyser erupt. The Great Fountain is even more impressive than Old Faithful in some ways. We saw many eruptions of several geysers. It never got old.

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is unbelievable. Artist's painting of it look hyperbolic. But it really is that spectacular. We hiked the rim and just couldn't believe our eyes.

The wildlife in Hayden Valley. Bison, Elk, bears and more!

Bison and bears blocking traffic. Worth every minute of stoppage.

Hiking to waterfalls. 

The wagon ride and cowboy dinner.

The mudpots and painter's pots and all the other strange bubbling and gases and emanations of the earth. The clear, crystalline blue/green pools and springs that will scald if you get too close. The Grand Prismatic Spring. Wow.

In the park we stayed at Grant Village. Our accommodations were pretty nice. I would definitely recommend staying near Yellowstone Lake, Grant or Old Faithful area, if you can get a room.

Some of the drives were quite harrowing, steep cliffs and switchbacks. Other drives were peaceful and smooth. There were places that were crowded. But we never had a problem parking since we made it a point to be up early. Places got really crowded after lunch. We planned the popular hotspots in the morning and did our more remote hiking in the afternoons. This worked out great for us.

I know I'm leaving some great stuff out. Yellowstone was one of the most magical places I've ever seen.

Tons of photos on my flickr site

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Absaroka Mountain Lodge


Despite calling for reservations 366 days in advance, all the rooms at the Old Faithful Inn were already booked up. Almost every lodge and hotel in the park were booked up by 8:00 am when I called. I was lucky to book three nights at Grant Village before everything got swallowed up. But we wanted to spend more than just three days at Yellowstone so we booked our first two nights at the Absaroka Mountain Lodge which is just a few miles from the East Entrance to Yellowstone.

It was a wonderful place, nestled in a narrow canyon with cliff walls that towered over each side of the grounds. After exiting the highway you cross what they called a creek but what was actually a raging mountain river. There is one lodge house that serves as a restaurant surrounded by very nice little cabins. Our cabin had two rooms and two bathrooms.

It was at the Absaroka Mountain Lodge where we had one of our most memorable experiences. We got there in the early evening and headed to the lodge which was right next to our cabin to eat a nice big dinner. After dinner Jackson traipses out of the lodge looking at the ground. He did not see the grizzly bear standing by our cabin, fifteen feet in front of him.

Kim and I were about ten feet behind Jackson when we saw the bear. A young looking bear, not a cub but probably about two years old according the lodge owner's later estimate, was right there. I yelled "JACKSON STOP!" Jackson stopped. The bear stood up on his hind legs. At that moment, the owner of the lodge who was also cooking happened to see the bear out his kitchen window and burst out. He placed himself between Jackson and the bear and thrust him back toward us and gestured for us to get inside. He waved his arms and the bear ran off into the forest next to the canyon walls.

Whew.

From that moment on I carried my bear spray wherever we went.

The resort was very nice. We only stayed two nights and didn't spend much time there since we drove to Yellowstone each day. But they had bonfires each night and there were a lot of outdoor amenities that we didn't get to take advantage of. Our cabin had two rooms separated by a curtain and two bathrooms...a pretty posh cabin. I would highly recommend it if you can't get a spot in the park.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Custer State Park



We hadn't planned on stopping at Custer State Park while during our Rushmore trip. But some friends told us it was well worth a visit. They were right. Sylvan Lake is beautiful and weird. The Needles Drive through the park is a winding meandering road full of switchbacks and one lane tunnels. Many of the tunnels were built to provide views of Mount Rushmore in the distance. The drive is not for the faint of heart. Steep drop-offs and roads that actually make 360 degree turns appropriately called "The Pigtails" can really try the nerves. The amazing scenery is definitely worth it. Another place worth more than a day's visit. But we were glad to have had the time to spend there.




Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Crazy Crazy Horse Monument


The Crazy Horse Monument often provokes skepticism. I've heard it derided as nothing more than a family fundraiser for the Ziolkowski family. I've heard people say they've returned twenty years later to the monument and haven't seen discernible progress. They've been working on the sculpture for fifty years and there is no end date in sight.


Still. It is a staggering achievement. And when you've seen the photos of progress from the beginning, it is astounding how far they've come. Finishing the face in 1999 was a big step. Seeing Crazy Horse's face really helps one envision the direction of the project. When you see it in person the scale of the thing blows your mind. It is much much larger than Mount Rushmore.  All four of Rushmore's heads could fit in just the head of Crazy Horse.


Now they could get this thing done much faster, if they accepted government assistance. The United States Government has offered assistance in the past and I have no doubt with taxpayer help this they could get done in twenty years. Right now there seems to be less than ten guys working on it at a time. I saw three or four working on it while we were there. The crew is small and the project enormous.


But they will not accept money from the United States Federal Government. That would defeat much of the point of the statue...to serve as a counterpoint to nearby Mount Rushmore...that these lands were Native American lands and if you're going to honor American presidents then you need to honor Native American leaders as well. And the Federal Government has a horrible record in keeping promises and treaties with Native American tribes. In fact, was there a treaty the U.S. Government ever honored or kept with the American Indians?

The museum at the base of Crazy Horse is extensive and impressive. The story of the family building the sculpture is fascinating. Korczak Ziolkowski was definitely a man possessed. His family is certainly not becoming wealthy off this project.

We ended spending half a day there. We rode a bus closer up to the base. We saw them jack hammering away on Crazy Horse's hand. We had a great time and definitely recommend paying the fee to get in. Ignore the naysayers who say to just stop on the side of the road to look at it for free. Go to the museum and visitor's center. Ride the bus up there. We really enjoyed the Crazy Horse Monument.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Mount Rushmore


We finally got to South Dakota and checked in to the Holiday Inn Express in Keystone. I recommend staying in Keystone if you wish to spend any time at Mount Rushmore. Keystone is right in the center of the action, a mile or so from Rushmore and very close to Custer State Park and the Crazy Horse Monument. Keystone is a bit tourist trappy but it's fun and our hotel was right around the corner from the main drag.


Our plan was only to spend two days in the area. But you could easily make it a longer vacation stop. There's lots to do and see. Helicopter tours, panning for gold, cave exploration...all kinds of stuff for kids and adults.


But our main objective was Mount Rushmore. I had seen it in 8th grade and yet I was still impressed. It's hip to say you were disappointed, that it wasn't as big as expected. I can't say that. It's massive and worth the trip. They've made major improvements to the base area since I visited back in the late 1980's. The observation area has been expanded and designed to spread the crowds out. The parking situation is much better with a multi-level garage system.


They have a newer trail called the Presidential Trail that takes you much closer to the sculpture since last I visited. The trail provides amazing close-up views of the four presidents. When you buy a pass to the monument, it's good for a year so you don't feel rushed (no pun intended) to move so quickly. We were able to leave and come back later in the evening for the night lighting of the presidents.


It is a bit surreal to drive up the highway and boom! there's four massive presidents looking down at you. Mount Rushmore is the ultimate American roadside attraction. We had built in a full day to visit so we checked out all the exhibits and various visitor centers at the base. We had a great time. I even enjoyed it more as an adult.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Detours in Nebraska


Last year when discussing our summer 2017 plans our son wanted really badly to see Mount Rushmore this summer. Both my wife and I had visited Mount Rushmore as kids. We decided that Rushmore would be the first leg of our summer vacation.

We decided to drive to give us more flexibility. Finding fights into Rapid City and then out of a town near Yellowstone was becoming too complicated. Getting rental cars to and from completely different locations was becoming a hassle.

So we drove. And drove. And drove some more. Our Dodge Durango was perfect for the trip and handled everything great.


We drove up north from Dallas through OKC and Wichita, hitting I-70 at Salina. We then shot north on US Highways at Hays, Kansas. We were going to sleep in Ogallala, Nebraska. As we were approaching a town called Alliance in Nebraska, my wife saw a sign for a roadside attraction called Carhenge. She said let's take the three mile detour and check it out.


I'm glad we did because Carhenge was pretty cool. Years ago, a Nebraska farmer had recreated England's famous Stonehenge with old cars. He had arranged them just like Stonehenge and painted them gray. This was worth stopping for. Talk about a classic American roadside attraction in the middle of nowhere! There were other sculptures on site as well, all made from old cars. Admission was free. We were all glad we made the unexpected stop.


We had packed picnic lunches and stopped at Chadron State Park in the Nebraska National Forest. Who knew that Nebraska had such beautiful topography. We drove up a small mountain (who knew Nebraska had mountains?) and ate lunch overlooking a fantastic forest. This was an unexpected highlight of the trip. That's one of the benefits of driving across America. You see all kinds of oddities and scenery not mentioned in the high tone tour books.

That first night we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Ogallala, although it was it's last night of operation as a Holiday Inn. A new Holiday Inn Express was set to open across the freeway and the old one was converting to the Lonesome Dove Lodge. Nonetheless we had a good night's rest before heading out the next morning for South Dakota.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Epic June


Yeah, it's been a few weeks since I last posted. End of the school year was the normal mad rush. Then in June I was only home for six days out of the thirty days of the month. And I'm leaving soon for another trip, this time to see family in Indiana and Oklahoma. 


On May 31st, I flew out for my annual trek to Salt Lake City to grade AP World History Exams. I was a Table Leader once again this year. This was my third year as a TL and tenth year (10!) to grade AP exams overall.


Had fun in SLC. This year the timing was fortuitous. The United States Men's National Soccer Team was in town to play a friendly against Venezuela. I got tickets several weeks in advance. I had seen a game at the Rio Tinto stadium, but to see the USA was something special. Back in 1993 I had actually spent some time in Venezuela so that experience made the match even more interesting. I still have a soft spot for Venezuela especially since they are going through so much turmoil.

The game ended a tie. The game experience was phenomenal. We had a lot of fun riding the train to the match. Super time.

I also once again made it to the top of Ensign Peak which overlooks Salt Lake City. It's quite a hike but well worth the view. I also saw it as high altitude training for our upcoming trip to Yellowstone.

I'll post soon about our epic trip to Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Custer State Park, Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons. It was a busy month of June. But it was an amazing ride!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

New Buds


I had been looking for new earbuds for quite awhile. The stock earbuds that come with my iPhone weren't that bad. They just kept getting loose in the ear with any kind of head movement which lessened the sound quality considerably.

I didn't want to fork over a lot of cash, but I wanted some good quality earbuds. After several weeks of research and seeing lots of good reviews I decided to give Symphonized a shot. They were only $25 so it wasn't a huge risk. 

Three months later I can say I'm very pleased with these buds. I got the Symphonized NRG 3.0 Wood In-Ear Noise-isolating Headphones with Mic and Volume Control. 

They came with three sets (small, medium and large) of silicone earbud covers to customize the fit. I spent a week switching the three sizes out before finally going with the small set. The customizable covers allow you to determine which size best seals off the ear canal for best noise isolation.

It did take me a little bit to grow accustomed to the fit. I was used to loose fitting earbuds, which was the initial gripe I had with the Apple set. My first couple of Apple stock earbuds came with cheap foam covers that worked well enough for a time. They just didn't last long. And I could never find replacements at any store. And the last couple of stock sets didn't even bother with earbud covers. 

So the tight fit of the Symphonized buds, which does provide for better sound and less annoyance because they don't fall out, did take some getting used to. And after an hour or so they could be a little uncomfortable. But that soon went away as I grew used to them. The better sound quality is definitely worth it. Now these things seemed formed to my ear. 

Yeah, they're not as good as my big Audio-Technica studio cans. But for on the go purposes, they are fantastic. The wood frame really brings the best out of the sound. 

The official specs:
  • Natural Wood Housing for Better Bass Response and Acoustic Performance
  • Soft silicone ear buds provide a super comfortable, noise reducing fit
  • Built in Microphone
  • Gold-plated 3.5 mm audio jack for premium, no-loss sound connection to your audio device.               

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

End of the Line...


This week marks the last week that our son will play baseball for the Southside Bombers. He's got a game tonight and Thursday. Then he hangs up the cleats. After five seasons with the Bombers it will be bittersweet to say goodbye.

Jackson simply wants to try something new next fall and spring. He wants to take tennis and golf lessons. He also wants to continue with his piano lessons. And of course, basketball is a must. So something had to give and he was ready for a break from baseball.

Not sure if he'll come back to the game or not. He was becoming a pretty good fielder. And he regularly made contact at the plate...he just needed to work on hitting the ball out of the infield!

It's been a nice run and we had a good time with the Southside crew.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Charlie's


Back in college, in Oklahoma City, my buddies and I who dug jazz, used to hang out at an old record shop called Charlie's Rhythm and Blues. Charlie carried almost exclusively records and tapes, which by the mid-1990's were surpassed by CDs. So records stores were becoming more and more of a rarity.

We would go to Charlie's and hang out and talk jazz. Charlie had great stories about some of the giants of jazz and their visits to OKC. It was amazing to me that a place like Charlie's could stay in business, a real record store that focused on jazz, blues and R&B.

Last February, Charlie passed away at the age of 71 and many thought that would be the end of Charlie's Records. But I came across this article today in the Daily Oklahoman. Apparently Charlie's grandson is keeping the place open and carrying on his legacy.

It's nice to know some places are still around. I haven't been to Charlies in twenty years. May have to make a stop the next time I'm in Oklahoma City. I'm glad there's places keeping it real. I got good memories of that place.

HERE'S the article or direct your browser -> http://newsok.com/grandson-of-late-oklahoma-city-jazz-and-blues-record-store-owner-keeps-family-legacy-open/article/5548292

Monday, May 01, 2017

May First


May 1st was chosen in the late 19th century to commemorate the contributions of workers and labor unions. The first day of May was chosen to remember the victims of the Haymarket Massacre. 

From Wikipedia: 

The Haymarket affair (also known as the Haymarket massacre or Haymarket riot) was the aftermath of a bombing that took place at a labor demonstration on Tuesday May 4, 1886, at Haymarket Square[2] in Chicago. It began as a peaceful rally in support of workers striking for an eight-hour day and in reaction to the killing of several workers the previous day by the police. An unknown person threw a dynamite bomb at police as they acted to disperse the public meeting. The bomb blast and ensuing gunfire resulted in the deaths of seven police officers and at least four civilians; scores of others were wounded.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Tense Times


My students are nervous.

When I was a student I was often nervous. As a kid, me and my friends were convinced that we would all die in a nuclear war launched by the Soviet Union. We didn't think about it 24/7...but it was always there...gnawing at the back of our minds. We would grow very nervous any time tensions ran high between the United States and the USSR. Nothing made me happier than to see the Soviet Union fall apart in 1991.

After 1991, rightly or wrongly, fears of an existential catastrophe faded a bit.

After 2001, terrorism was on the minds of many. But for my students, terrorism was a problem far away. Even New York City seemed far away for my students. Terrorism wouldn't seem so far away for my students who enlisted and served in the Middle East. Still, there wasn't fear of a cataclysmic event that would destroy us all.

But now my students are scared.

My Muslim students are scared of being deported to nations that are not friendly to moderate Islam.

My undocumented students are fearful of being deported to Mexico and other Latin American nations. They even avoid needed medical treatment in fear of being found out.

My female students are afraid now that they have to register for a draft, being that women now have to register with the Selective Service for the first time.

Russia and Putin are scaring my students.

North Korea. My students are fearful of war with North Korea.

Super high student loan debt is scaring some of my kids from going to college.

I've been teaching for eighteen years. I've never seen my students so fearful and cynical about the future.

I try to assuage their fears and concerns. But many of their fears are not naive. These are not irrational fears. I feel badly for them. Young people should not be afraid of the future. Young people should see the future as bright with possibilities.

I wish that for them. I really wish they could see hope in the future.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Why Now?

When your approval ratings are at 35% you bomb things far away. It's what you do. Bet his ratings go up ten points by next week. 'Merica. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

quiet

I have been off of all social media for the past few weeks.

No Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.

I do respond to direct messages on those platforms. Otherwise...no social media making noise in my life.

I must admit, it has been very nice.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Zaga


My NCAA bracket was busted early. I had SMU winning the whole thing. They lost in the first round. I choose my picks with my heart, not my mind.

I did have Xavier, Gonzaga and Kansas in the Elite Eight. Only Gonzaga made it the Final Four. But it's Gonzaga's first trip to the National Semifinals. I'm definitely rooting for them to win.

Full disclosure: I'm not even sure where Gonzaga is...somewhere in Washington...right?


Friday, March 24, 2017

Staying True


Baseball is still popular despite the fact that it's a game that has been played since the 19th century. It draws millions of fans to beautiful stadiums every year. Most of these fans don't complain about the rules. Most of these fans don't complain about the  mustiness of the game. There have been changes to the game over the years. Designated hitters, time limits between innings, wild card teams in the playoffs etc etc etc.

Yet the basic rules of the game have remained fairly intact. Despite some changes, like this year's big change of allowing a manager to call an intentional walk from the dug out, baseball looks very much like it did when I was a kid, or when my Dad was a kid. No one is calling for the removal of second base as superfluous. No one is calling for the addition of an outfielder. People seem very happy with the basic structure of baseball. That continuity is one of the things that makes baseball great. It transcends generations.

So it drives me crazy when people who wish to maintain some basic traditions of jazz are dismissively labeled as neo-conservative or traditionalist. The battle between those who wish to radically alter the definitions of what is considered jazz and those who desire to hold on to some important distinctions has been going on for decades. But I was reminded of the debate while watching the multiple Oscar winning film, La La Land.

The main protagonist, played by Ryan Gosling, is a jazz traditionalist. He has left a lucrative musical career in pop music so he can continue to play jazz the way he thinks it was meant to be played...acoustically. He is lectured by an old buddy of his, played by John Legend, that jazz was always meant to be progressive. The giants of jazz are giants because they broke boundaries and took the music in new directions is his argument. He says's Gosling's character is stuck in the past and that attitude is killing jazz.

Anyone who listens or plays jazz has been engaged with this debate. I tend to fall on what some call the traditional side. Generally I consider myself progressive when it comes to music. When it comes to Rock and Alternative music, my favorite musicians are those who play in wildly original ways. Indie Rock is my favorite genre of rock music because of its inventiveness.

But when it comes to jazz, there are those who take it so far it doesn't even resemble jazz. That's fine and that's the prerogative of those musicians. Just don't call it jazz.

There are some rules of jazz. There's nothing wrong with having rules. Without rules you have chaos...like the crappy fusion albums of the 1970's.

The rules of jazz are actually guidelines and they leave a lot for individual interpretation. That's the beauty of jazz. Some of those rules include...

Its gotta be blues based.

Its gotta swing.

It has to allow for improvisation.

There are other guidelines. People debate these all the time. You don't want to hamstring jazz with too many defining characteristics. But I think those are a start.  I personally think jazz should be acoustic although I will allow for a Jimmie Smith type organ or an electric guitar in certain circumstances on my iPod.

These guidelines allow for a lot of freedom and yet allows jazz to remain true to its roots. If, as a musician, you wish to move beyond these structures go ahead. Just don't criticize those who wish to stay true to something beautiful.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Genius Anywhere




So I'm reading this biography of Charlie Parker and the author tells a bit about the life of Buster Smith who was a huge influence and mentor to Bird. Buster Smith revolutionized how people perceived the alto saxophone. He played with everybody...Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald just to name a few. But he only recorded one album as a leader. But back in the 1930's he was huge.

But one thing stuck out in this passage. Stanley Crouch says Buster Smith was born in a small town near Dallas but didn't say exactly where. I live near Dallas so I did some quick internet research and found that Buster Smith was from Alsdorf, Texas. I had no idea where that was, had never heard of it.

Turns out Alsdorf is not too far from where I work. Right down the road less than 20 minutes away. But from what I can tell on Google Maps there's nothing really there. At it's height, it was the site of some cotton gins and had a population no more than a hundred folks. The post office closed in the 1920's and the last population data from fifty years ago has the population around 40 people. Today it is an unincorporated area halfway between tiny Rosser and Ennis.

I'd like to take a drive down that way. In its hey day Alsdorf had three businesses. I doubt there's any businesses there these days. Google Earth shows a few mobile homes and some farm homes scattered about. Pretty crazy that one of the great early purveyors of American jazz grew up in that spot. Smith traveled around but eventually settled in Dallas. He died in 1991 in Dallas.

I would be surprised that anyone living on Old Alsdorf Road today knows that a musical revolutionary once lived on their road. Wish a sign or something could be put up on the side of the road or something. Maybe I should contact a county commissioner or something. That would be a pretty cool thing...a lonely signpost reminding the few passersby that genius once resided there.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Grovey in France



This is The Roy Hargrove Quintet back in 2007 in France. Such a great concert. I don't usually like to watch concerts on video. I prefer just to listen. But this is so good. Grovey has had some tough times since this gig. But he seems to playing a lot more these days. I wish him nothing but the best. Wish he'd come back Texas way...after all he went to high school just down the road from where I teach!


Monday, March 20, 2017

Back



We're squinting in this picture. The sun is in front of us. Dallas and the new Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge is behind us.

Well, we're back from Spring Break. We stayed around home. It was a nice break. Ate at good restaurants, took long walks to the park, went to the movies, watched Netflix, cleaned out large swaths of the house and generally relaxed.

44 more school days until summer. This has been a chaotic school year. Construction, moving classrooms and a restructuring of my Advanced Placement courses has made for a rather stressful school year. But we're in the homestretch. There is light at the end of the tunnel!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Training



Nothing more American than baseball and jazz. Listening to some Coleman Hawkins while the boy practices. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Some of the Good Stuff...

Friday before Spring Break. Foggy and gray outside. Good time for some of the good stuff. The Jay McShann Orchestra featuring Charlie Parker on the alto saxophone. Early 1940's.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

McShann the Man


Just bought this book ^ last night on the Kindle. Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of  Charlie Parker by Stanley Crouch. I will let you know how it goes. Charlie Parker is one of my favorite musicians. Stanley Crouch is one of my favorite essayists and critics. I got big hopes. 

It's starting off well telling stories of the Jay McShann Big Band back in the 1930's. I had the honor of meeting Jay McShann in 1994 or 95 at the Charlie Christian Jazz Festival in Oklahoma City. He was getting up there by that point but could still play like fire. His small group burned up the stage. There wasn't a big crowd which is a tragedy since more people needed to see this master who died in 2006. 

So afterward I watched in amazement as the crowd just kind of dissipated and Jay was still on the stage with his group just talking. So I walked up there and introduced myself. I told him I was from Kansas City and had grown up listening to his music. I told him I was a big fan and he had been a big influence on me and my playing. 

He was the nicest guy. Super friendly and generous with his time. We talked for about thirty minutes about Kansas City, Charlie Parker and jazz. This guy didn't have to give me the time of day. Here I was, a skinny white college kid just walking up and he was willing to chat about the old times. A legend willing to hang out and talk with me. 

So yeah, this book is starting off right. Jay McShann should start off more books. 

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Sun


Heck of a sunrise on the way to work this morning. 

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Yardbird



It's raining this morning so I'm listening to Charlie Parker.

Yeh, you can use any old excuse to listen to Bird.

And he's from the town where I grew up. That's a good excuse too.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Rushmore


Gonna go check out Rushmore this summer. Maybe also Crazy Horse...



Saturday, March 04, 2017

Friday, March 03, 2017

Last Soccer Night


This is my last night to work soccer. For the past seven seasons I've served as the P.A., scoreboard operator, music supervisor and ran the clock for the Kaufman Soccer Program. I've had a lot of fun calling goals in the spring. It's been a fun gig.

But these late nights are wearing on me. And I'm missing a lot of my son's practices and events due to soccer nights. I figured it's about time to hang up the mike. Plus, they are getting a brand new press box for the stadium this summer with a new sound system and scoreboard. I really don't want to have to learn a brand new system when I'm kind of ready to give it up anyway.

It was a good seven years. I had fun watching more than 100 soccer games over the years...and I got paid to do it! Part of me will really miss it. But it's time.

"Welcome to Lions Stadium. It's Soccer Night in Kaufman, Texas."