Archive for ‘Ramblings’

December 10, 2006

Ed.

I recently took on a new position at Union Cab of Madison: I am now co-editor of our monthly newsletter The Dispatch. I’m still driving my same two shifts a week but now have a small–but essential–part inside our company. The Dispatch is an internal newsletter which means that its function and design (and content) are only for coop members. We don’t keep it internal because we publish trade secrets or gossip about our customers but because most of what goes out is information that might be helpful to our drivers and staff.

My co-editor Paul is also a driver but he has assorted other jobs like photo clipping for the Wisconsin State Journal. His focus is the layout and design of The Dispatch which works out great. I did some design work in my years at Impressions but found it frustrating and time consuming. So my role is doing some writing but mostly taking submissions and doing real editing. Oddly enough, this is my first job in this field and so far I’m loving every minute of it.

In college I was a master at writing papers. I took so many incredibly boring courses–there are many periods of literature that nobody should have to endure–that I had to learn how to crank them out. After a great poetry class and some encouragement from my peers, I figured out that I was much more interested in writing songs and I gave up all formal writing for good. Ten years later, I’m still writing songs–not as many as often but they still appear–and trying to get back into the writing business. This blog was more or less created with that in mind and I’ve found that writing is hard work but the more I do it, the easier it is to create good stuff. My first piece for The Dispatch was a book review of the 1943 Golden Book The Taxi That Hurried in which I examined the political overtones of this beloved children’s book (I can put it up here if anyone wants to read it).

I am a pretty fair writer but a much better editor. I’m a good songwriter because I’m a good musician and someone who is fascinated with language but I wouldn’t be anywhere if I wasn’t my own harshest editor. I won’t let a song out of my site until I’m confident I’ve boiled it down to the best possible point. This has made the return to long form writing somewhat of a challenge. I want what I write to be pre-edited before my fingers do the typing and unfortunately the world doesn’t work like that. So I’m learning a lot from the articles submitted to The Dispatch. All of our regular contributors have given me the green light to edit as I please and with this freedom I can turn good pieces into smooth professional writing.

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November 16, 2006

River Road

We took a trip up to the Twin Cities this past weekend. On Friday morning we got caught up in the aftermath of the Giant Accident on I-94 outside of Osseo. The radio said there were 50+ cars in the ditch due to the sudden storm that started as rain but turned to sleet and eventually snow. We literally spent four hours in one spot. The only station with traffic updates was a modern country station, so we had to endure a long stretch of that ghastliest form of entertainment. The songs themselves weren’t horrible–though many lyrics made me cringe–but my biggest complaint was the production style. It literally sounded like every song was recorded by the same band in the same studio and they picked a couple of different male singers and recorded them with a computer and spliced the whole mess together. While some songs hinted at different arrangements, they all melanged into the same shapeless country song by the end. Boy, was I was glad when the traffic started moving!

We stayed in downtown St Paul at the City Center Hotel. From our hotel window on the 15th floor I could read the electronic ticker of Minnesota Public Radio. I’d not been in the Twin Cities for over a decade and I’d never spent any time in St Paul. Our hotel was on the Skywalk and that was a blast for Soren, even though it was a weekend and nothing was really open. Downtown St Paul looks sort of like downtown Des Moines but bigger with a funkier vibe and with some cool older buildings. We went to the Children’s Museum, ate some awesome food at Everest on Grand and went to Ikea. We toodled through downtown MPLS so I could see First Avenue, which I am ashamed to say I’ve never been to. We hung with one of Deanna’s friends and had more awesome Thai food at a place which was also on Grand but whose name escapes me. On Sunday we packed up and hit the road to find a bakery before we left town. We wound up in the eastern part of St Paul in a little town-within-a-town called Phalen Park. The bakery we sought was no longer there but had been replaced by a charming Mexican bakery so we grabbed some pastry, drove around the cute little Phalen area and hit the road. We followed the Mississippi River on The Great River Road which was gorgeous and worth the extra hours of travel time.

Getting out of town was really good for us and being in St Paul again gave me a big bout of City Envy. I’ve gotten it bad in Chicago and San Francisco and Kansas City, although those places are on a much different level. St Paul isn’t really all that much bigger in population than Madison but contains much more of what makes a city cool to me: the massive mixed use, the endless supply of restaurants, the old neighborhoods that are still intact, the towering riverfront downtown surrounded by older bits of city. Minneapolis has the same feel, though on a much bigger scale and with more of a large city downtown. Maybe I have River City Envy. I grew up in Cedar Falls which does have a river (and a falls) but I doubt it was ever navigable. Ames, Iowa isn’t even on a river and was created by a combination of the layout of Iowa State University, the railroad and the Lincoln Highway. And while Madison is technically on the Yahara River, this is not a river city. Much like Ames, Madison was also created by railroads and highways and university commerce (as well as being the headquarters of the state government). I like the old parts of Madison (and I’m lucky enough to live in one) but in the last decade I’ve seen much of it swallowed by gentrification. I’m sure St Paul has fallen victim to the same sort of “progress” but from the pictures I’ve seen of Madison in the early 20th century we’ve wiped out quite a bit of the character that seems to exist in other cities.

October 30, 2006

Hallowed Cab

Another Madison Halloween Weekend is in the can and this time around there were (apparently) no riots on State Street. I drove my longest shift of the year (thanks to Daylight Savings ending), pausing only to eat and catch a few minutes of my friends playing in YAAR! down at the High Noon. There were plenty of freaks out but for the most part my passengers were no different in attitude than folks I might pick up on any Saturday night. Skimpily Dressed Girl again was the #1 female costume. This year men favored pirates and costumes with fur. The smurfs I picked up were among the best costumes I saw–they left an awful lot of blue paint in the back seat but tipped really well and the paint came off with a dry towel. Lots of people still thought I’d stop and pick them up if they jumped in front of my moving cab (“Those customers have a special name…” said one of my co-workers at the end of the night “PEDESTRIANS!”) but nobody slammed or rocked my cab this year. In order to maximize the tipping power of my (mostly) twentysomething passengers, I spent much of the evening listening to Modern Rock rather than my traditional Classic Rock (or Oldies). Over the hours of boring stuff I heard a strange cover: Genesis’ “Land of Confusion” done in a sort of Nu Metal Pop style, complete with throaty metal singer trying to emulate Phil Collins! Hilarious! And I also heard Gerry Rafferty’s ” Baker Street” done as a noisy guitar arena rock track. The song was done straight but suffered from being too simple–some cheesy keyboards would have cleaned that mess right up. In checking the All Music Guide I see that quite a few folks have covered Mr. Raffery’s biggest hit, including: Foo Fighters, Rick Springfield, The Shadows (!) and, most surprisingly, Waylon Jennings.

August 30, 2006

What happened to gum?

It’s 3 am Sunday morning and I’m exhausted but almost done with my cab shift. I stop at Marges’s Amoco to buy a pack of gum as my mouth tastes like its been in a cab all night (which it has). I check out the gum selection and they have quite a few at convenience stores these days, many many more that I remember as a kid. I chewed a lot of bubble gum back then but I grew out of that and now crave something spearminty. Sugarless gum is a total turnoff–sure, the flavor is accurate but the “sweetener” is that same dubious chemical aspartame they use in Diet Soda. Deanna stopped quit drinking her daily Diet Soda long ago and said she still craved it even after 2 years without the stuff (!) so I refuse to put that shit in my body. I walked over to the Wrigley’s section and selected a pack of Spearmint. I checked out the label to make sure the fine folks at Wrigley’s weren’t pulling a fast one on me by switching sugared and sugarless–and lo and behold, not only did it contain corn syrup (as I expected) but freaking ASPERTAME as well!!! It turns out that all the other brands of sugared gum also now use it as a sort of “flavor booster”!!! I almost walked away empty handed but discovered that Big Red–also made by Wrigley’s–is still just made with corn syrup and apparently is good enough not to need extra bullshit added. The next time I’m at Big Lots I’m loading up on Chicklets as I know they are made with actual sugar and gum base and little else.

May 25, 2006

This Space is Your Space

I often wonder, when I log onto MySpace, about the “Cool New People” feature. I’ve never clicked on any of these faces as I imagine doing so would take me to some anonymous, hastily assembled page. When my page was new, I had nothing on it, no pictures, no personal information and no friend links. Are these new people really “new” in the sense that they’re unfamiliar to me but are already hip to the vast cosmos that is MySpace–or are they the wide-eyed uninitiated folks who are unaware of the consequences of their new computer-based-lifestyle? And that only leads me to this burning question: was I ever featured as one of the “Cool New People?”

May 22, 2006

Scully

On Saturday night we put our beloved dog Scully down. She’d been sick all week and had been nursed back to the point that we were going to try to see if she could recover without more costly medical attention. We brought her home from the hospital and she lay outside in the sunshine while Soren and Deanna pulled weeds. That night she ate food but could not keep it down and we had decided that the emotional roller coaster needed to end. Our vet arrived and took care of her and it broke all of our hearts in a way that I cannot describe.
I’ve had much experience with death: my mother died when I was four; one of my best friends when I was twelve; on of my cousins was killed by a drunk driver; most of my grandparents are also gone. Those experiences left me very stoic but ending Scully’s life was difficult and extremely emotional. She’d been with us for most of the eight years Deanna and I have known each other and was around for my transformation from an angry depressed loner to a family man with friends and hope for the future. She was fierce in her protection and gentleness with Soren. The hardest part beyond my own feelings of emptiness is how to work it with Soren. He’s three years old and I don’t know how much he understands. He’s been very angry and defiant this week so I know he is going through the steps that all of us deal with yet he doesn’t realize what is happening. As I said in the email to our friends: we will all remember Scully but Soren may not, so I am creating a book of her life and compiling pictures of her so that he may remember the gentle creature who was around at the beginning of his life.

May 17, 2006

Leave your heart behind

San Francisco was a lot of fun. Here are some of the highlights:

–Walked through Chinatown and indeed it is like being in some city in a foreign land, albeit one with that understands its tourist aspect. We bought Soren a kite at a place that had a decent mix of authentic kites as well as lots of Sponge Bob and Dora the Explorer types.
–Ate several great meals and a couple of fantastic ones. The best places were the smallest, one being the Nob Hill Cafe which is about as big as my living room. If you weren’t looking for it you would walk right past it as there is no sign but the food and neighborhood feel were authentic. A pair of identical twins who must have been in their late 70’s in matching wigs and makeup and outfits showed up to enjoy a meal at their favorite table. On the sidewalk in front of the cafe they were accosted by many locals who wanted to kibitz or have a picture snapped with them.
–Checked out Amoeba records near Haight Ashbury and resisted snapping up many many records. I didn’t really feel like buying another suitcase just to feed my vinyl cravings
–Found several b & w photo booths and used one to capture 4 snaps in the way that only a photostrip is capable of.
–Waded in the Pacific which was beer-cooler cold.
–Walked around onFisherman’s Wharf but did not make it to Alcatraz. The old buildings along the wharf are cool and the outdoor kill-and-cook-right-in-front-of-you crab places are neat but the surrounding streets are overrun with junky tourist shops and Starbucks’s and the like (I noticed a GAP was about to open on one corner). I did notice that the local IN-AND-OUT BURGER was located right next to a Hooters.
–Missed the largest fireworks display ever in California (it was happening over the bay while we were downtown blissfully eating Indian food, wondering where the crowd was on a Saturday night)
–Watched local news coverage of the fireworks and laughed out loud when the reporter said the display was “unlike no other.”
–Went to see the really tall trees in Muir Woods which is literally a 30 minute drive from SF.
–Went to Sonoma and did my first wine tasting which was charming at one place (where our friends joined a wine club) and dismal and disappointing at another (where the servers were busy flirting with the drunk young hotties) but overall very cool. Sonoma Valley looks like paradise and I kept reminding myself that SF is only an hour south.
–Chilled in Berkeley with our friends and ate Ethiopian.
–Checked out the University of California at Berkekely and saw many folks wearing shirts that just said “CAL” on them. Are all the Universities out there just referred to as “CAL” or is that a local thing? I forgot to ask of course…
–Did the very touristy riding of a trolley (very cool) and riding a cable car (not as cool but probably necessary as those hills are murder).

We were surprised at how nice everyone we met was. The only stuffy response we got was during a mix-up with our hotel (our stay was a gift and so our reservations didn’t have our names attached) and we realized that we might have been taken a bit more seriously had we been wearing business suits. As we were wandering around admiring the views and the buildings Deanna said “apart from the fact that we could never afford to buy a house or own our horse, I’d love to live in San Francisco.” I felt much the same way–I love cities and how so much goes on in such a little space. Chicago is where most of my family is from and through my many visits I’ve never gotten tired of exploring anywhere we could go. I’ve been to Kansas City a couple of times and found SF had the same feel. We crammed an awful lot into our four days and the whole time I kept wishing we could stay on and soak everything up.

May 7, 2006

Goin' to Cali

This week Deanna and I are going to San Francisco. She won a recipe contest back in 2005 and the grand prize was round trip tix and two nights in a swanky hotel. I’ve never been to California which strikes many folks as strange. I’ve been to plenty of places but got to most of them in my car and Cali was always a bit too far away. One of my best friends from high school went to college in Claremont at Harvey Mudd but I could never afford to go see her as I was a college rich in time but poor in money. Former Madisonians Brady Potts and his charming wife Mary are out there but they live in LA and while I’d thrill to see Hollywood and all the wackiness I am at the mercy of the almighty budget. SF works out great anyway as my college pal Mary is in school at Berkeley (or “Berzerkeley” as she calls it) so we’ll get to see her. We’ve got some guide books and are taking suggestions as to what to see in our 3 days or so out there. I’m definitely going to Rhino records to pay tribute. Soren is staying with his Grandma and Grandpa while we are gone. This will be the longest we’ve been away from him in his whole life and the longest I’ve been away (Deanna went to a conference in DC last year for 5 days while I stayed home) so this is a big deal for the whole family. We all need a vacation and I know we’ll all miss each other but feel great to do something different. Being a parent is a great job but having a few days off from it will undoubtedly make things even sweeter when we all get back to our lives.

May 3, 2006

Blargh

I’ve been slacking on keeping the blog up. The last two weeks were so busy: doing stuff for my record, practicing for the Forever Changes show (which went splendid and filled Mickey’s on a Sunday which rarely happens unless there’s a national holiday on Monday), recording some Matt Joyce stuff, going to work, dealing with Soren’s mystery illness (low grade virus apparently) and trying to also find time to spend with anyone who is not immediately involved in those endeavors (like Deanna). But, the blog must go on. I’m taking the week off from most things and trying to psych myself up for some recording on what would be a practice day for my and the boys.

I have a nice list of blogs that I read all the time and I should get that up here on the front page sometime soon. Folks have linked up to me and I appreciate that so over the next few days I’m gonna have the webmistress go to work and then get some actual content up here. Doing a rock opera has stirred my brain and damnit I might be putting one of my own together. Yeah yeah I don’t even have my damn other record finished and here I am already thinking to the next project or perhaps deciding to make it my current one. Anyway, more sooner rather than later!

March 2, 2006

Soda Pops

Anyone remember “Like Cola”? Last night in the cab I spotted a semi trailer near Monona Bay painted with the logo and was so shocked that I almost drove into the water. Like was around 20 years ago and just the thought fills me with nostalgia for 6th grade, a strike of awe about being able to remember something so long ago and a strange smile about how freaking long ago that was and how old I must be.

Here’s another funny pop link, to Ok Cola. I never saw it in Iowa but bought a bottle of it in 1995 just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park. The soda was undrinkably horrible and the packaging gave me the creeps. Years later, when Ok Computer came out I had a daydream about Radiohead bringing the brand back to life.