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Monday, July 25, 2016

Finding a Silver Lining at a Silver Diner

I’ve driven the some 260 plus mile stretch of Interstate Highway 64 between St. Louis, Missouri, my birthplace, and Louisville Kentucky, my home for the last thirty years, hundreds of times.
That stretch of interstate’s not a very interesting road: straight and flat for the most part with few stops along the way. Sometimes there’s flooding along the sides of the road, in Indiana and Illinois, sometimes there’s construction on the road. I’ve run into some major storms while driving that stretch. But it’s always been just a means to an end, getting from one city to the other.
The people in the car and the purpose of the trip vary. Holidays and special occasions: the car laden down like Santa’s sleigh with Christmas presents, our two sons when they were young and a big collie dog.
Traveling to my parents’ and my in-laws’ 50th wedding anniversaries, which as coincidence would have it, were the exact same date.  To accommodate our attending both, my in-laws had a lunch-time celebration; my parents an evening event.
I remember that trip because we were in a particular hurry; my husband got a speeding ticket. Our parents who were retired and relatively healthy at the time would have told us to take our time. I could almost hear my Dad, “Better to arrive in one piece and late than get in an accident.” I have to admit we haven’t always heeded the advice to take our time.
We’ve driven that interstate in sickness and health:  hurry-up trips when a parent or a relative was sick or had died. Depending on who was doing the driving we often compared our drive times, my husband’s always the shortest. When I drove alone it added fifteen to thirty minutes to the time, either because of extra stops or a lighter foot. Music, audio books or games, depending on our moods and who was in the car helped to pass the miles.
Many of the Louisville to St. Louis trips were over the last decade of my and my husband’s parents’ lives. Stress and worry were a constant on those drives as we often were racing to a hospital or rehab center because of the latest chapter in a string of difficult times. So many trips that only a few of those drives do I remember specifically.
The reason for one drive on that same stretch of I-64 was to return from a weekend get-together with two best friends from high school. We get together at least once a year, sometimes in fun locations, such as a five-day trip to Asheville, North Carolina. But many times our get togethers are just a quick add-on to a trip to our hometown to see family and friends.
Our friendships, originating when we entered an all-girl high school at ages thirteen and fourteen, have lasted now fifty years. Like traveling that interstate, our friendships have been in good times and bad. We’ve been in each other weddings, celebrated the births of our children, and for two of us, our grandchildren. We’ve shared the difficulties and joys of raising children, working in jobs we loved or hated, going back to graduate and law school. More recently, we’ve laughed together over the indignities of age. We have seen some husbands come and go, and have shared our sorrows with the passing of all of our parents. This trip, time and money led us to decide on a short trip to our hometown.
After a fun weekend and saying goodbye to my friends, I headed home on Monday morning, spurred to get an early start by my husband who had been watching the weather. He often checks the weather radar even if we are just crossing the street to walk the dog in the park on a cloudy day, frequently saving us from being caught in a sudden downpour. He advised I should leave early to avoid a line of severe weather coming in from the north, predicted to arrive in Louisville at 5 PM eastern. With the early start I thought I was on track to beat the storm by a couple of hours.
Stopping at a rest area in Illinois I saw a text from my husband updating me that the storm now had changed paths and likely would intersect I-64 right after Evansville, Indiana by early afternoon. My thoughtful husband suggested I stop in Evansville for a couple of hours to let the storm pass.
My husband and I had stopped at that exit just two weeks befoe with a packed lunch for me and to buy McDonalds’ happy meals for our grandkids. That trip with our two grandchildren in the back seat had been an unqualified delight. We went to a Cardinal baseball game, explored the twelve story playground that is the City Museum, and ate genuine frozen custard from Ted Drewes, coincidentally my very first employer. Giggles and “stump the grandparents” on a Presidential 20 Questions game passed the time on the drives there and back.
Evansville is the approximate mid-way of the drive, and would be a convenient stopping point for lunch again today. Except for the fact I had no packed lunch and all of the fast food restaurants at that location, where we had stopped hundreds of time to get gas, stretch and use the rest rooms, are not particularly friendly to someone with a gluten allergy, such as me.
Making fun of people who are gluten free is almost a national pastime now. It was a running joke in Asheville on the comedy bus tour my friends from high school and I took last year. Tom Waits, George Clooney and David Letterman championed “Free the Glutens” on one of Letterman’s last Tonight Show appearances. Articles abound with reasonable arguments that, except for the small percentage of the population with celiac disease, most people do not benefit from avoiding gluten.
All of that is fine, except for those of us who do have celiac or gluten intolerance. Even a tiny crumb of bread or cross-contamination with a wheat product makes me sick for days. There currently is no medication to help the gastro-intestinal discomfort and flu-like symptoms that result from a mistake at a restaurant. For that reason, I avoid most fast food restaurants and those without a gluten-free menu.
As a result, on long car trips, airplanes and at airports, concerts and stadiums, to name just a few gluten-free-hostile venues, I often find myself painfully hungry if I don’t bring my own food or if the venue does not permit outside food.
I wasn’t looking forward to prolonging my stop in Evansville this time, knowing all of the usual restaurants we had tried involved fast food and the only likely gluten-free option would be a drink. Nevertheless, I reflected that sitting with a bottle of water at a rest stop is better than trying to drive through a severe storm.
I recalled another trip home from St. Louis when an unexpected storm caught me in blowing, blinding rain where I was afraid to pull off the road but also afraid to continue on. Eventually, I was able to follow the taillights of a large truck and pull off at this same Evansville exit, hunkering down, along with a lot of 18-wheelers at an abandoned service station, as golf-ball-sized hail pelted the overhang.
I didn’t want to repeat that experience so I pulled off at the exit. Since wasting time was the point of my stop, I drove a half mile past McDonalds, Arby’s and the service stations. I had seen a new sign for a Denny’s and could not recall seeing that restaurant at this location.
Finally, I spotted what looked like a 1950’s-era, silver diner, tucked near one of the motels, barely visible from the road. I figured it would be more pleasant to drink an ice tea and sit at a table, even if I was hungry, than to sit in my car and wait for the storm to pass.
Stepping out of my fourteen-year old, boxy Toyota that no one would mistake for a time-traveling DeLorean, I nevertheless felt a bit like Marty McFly as I walked into a diner that looked like it had been transported from an earlier era.
The diner oozed the same old-fashioned charm on the inside as on the outside. A friendly waitress seated me and provided a menu, at which I barely glanced. After ordering ice tea, I asked the waitress if they had anything gluten free. To my surprise she pointed out the menu was color coded and clearly marked for guests with food allergies.
I thought the diner must be from “Back to the Future 4”, the yet-to-be-made sequel where the past combined the best of the old and the new, including foods labeled for people like me with food allergies. All gluten-free choices were clearly marked.  In addition to salads and entrĂ©e choices, sandwiches could be ordered on gluten-free bread. Breakfast, including gluten-free pancakes, was served all day. This was Nirvana for someone with celiac disease. I confidently chose a gluten-free salad, with grilled chicken. A meal that easily would satisfy for the long stop as well as the rest of the drive home.
Before leaving I asked the waitress when this Denny’s diner had opened. I expected it had been recently. She said she’d worked there for the last fifteen years. Apparently, we had just never ventured more than a mile off the interstate.
After a long-ish lunch break I called to check in with my husband of 43 years. I was beginning to think of him as my “personal weather man”. He said the storm had passed, the highway beyond Evansville should be clear sailing. He also suggested I take my time and travel safely. Strange words from one who in past years had often wondered why it took me longer to make the drive.
Driving home I thought back to one other Louisville to St. Louis trip. Ten years ago, on the day my Dad died, I quickly threw a few things in a suitcase and headed to St. Louis late in the afternoon, a time I had never made the drive. My husband and sons would join me the next day. I cried a little as I drove, but kept on that straight stretch of highway without stop until I could see the St. Louis skyline from Illinois. A sight I’d never seen before: a gorgeous sunset, framed by the Gateway Arch, hit me like a blow to the chest. My tears stopped and I smiled. I could almost hear my Dad say, “Stop and look at that amazing view.”
This trip to St. Louis and back to see my “besties” was not life changing. Nor was my short detour and stop at the Denny’s silver diner at the Evansville exit. Though failing to heed the changing weather and getting caught in a bad storm could have been.

I did almost hear my Dad’s voice again as I thought about the silver linings on this trip that will keep it in my memory as one of the memorable Louisville to St. Louis trips. I’ve come to treasure the value of family and good friends, reliance on my husband with his thoughtful concern, and I also found a great new stopping point for lunch where I can safely eat along a commonly-traveled road. How many more silver linings could I want?

Friday, July 22, 2016

Trump, Not the Greatest

Trump now is the Republican nominee for President. Trump has painted a picture of hate, fear and doom. And claims he, and only he, will solve all of America’s problems.

You can rest assured Trump did not steal any of his speech from any previous candidate for U.S. President. Though it bears some resemblance to that of other narcissistic sociopaths. Compare it for example to Alec Baldwin’s speech in the 1993 movie, “Malice” where he announces he is god.

Before Trump’s triumphant and delusional acceptance speech of fear-mongering, the Trump campaign tried to kill the flap over plagiarism accusations against Mrs. Trump. Several sections of Melania Trump’s speech at the Republican National Convention are word-for word identical to Michele Obama’s 2008 speech at the Democratic National Convention.

A Trump Organization speechwriter now has taken the blame for the plagiarism. But the irony continues—since that speechwriter works for one of Trump’s corporations, not the political campaign, the speechwriter’s work is an illegal campaign contribution. No matter, Trump and his entourage roll on. Rules don’t apply to “Him”.

But let’s pause for just a moment and consider the words that were stolen, words that speak of values and giving your word as your bond.

The actual words Melania Trump stole are even more remarkable than whom she chose to steal from. Let’s consider just Melania’s claim of what she learned at an early age from her parents— “you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say…and that you treat people with respect.” The exact same words, by the way that Michele Obama, wife of the first African-American President, whom Donald Trump falsely claimed had been born in Africa and thus was not qualified to hold the office of the President. 

What was it Melania meant when she referred to treating people with respect?

Nothing about Trump or his organization is consistent with living by values. Or people being able to trust your word is your bond.

The history of Trump’s business dealings contains mountains of evidence establishing his words are not his bond. He’s made his money by fast talk, tricks, and unfounded threats of litigation. If people are in his way, he makes fun of them and tries to humiliate them. So much for respect. He doesn’t fairly pay the people who work for him. So much for his word is his bond. His many bankruptcies are in keeping with how morally bankrupt he is.

Just take a peek at what Donald Trump’s ghostwriter has revealed about the dishonest, shady side of Trump. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/07/25/donald-trumps-ghostwriter-tells-all

Of course, now Trump’s lawyers are threatening his former ghostwriter for speaking the truth about Trump.


I pity Melania Trump if she actually believes any of the words she stole and used as her own. I pity all of us if we end up with Trump as President.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Muhammad Ali, The Greatest


This past weekend mourners came from across the globe as thousands from his hometown of Louisville Kentucky lined the streets of his funeral procession. All paying tribute to Muhammad Ali.

Ali universally is recognized with the appellation, “The Greatest”. Years ago, while travelling in London a Pakistani waiter, in difficult-to-understand English, inquired where in America we were from. Upon telling him we lived in Louisville, the waiter immediately replied, “Ah …Muhammad Ali, the Greatest Boxer.”

Muhammad Ali won Olympic Gold in 1960 as the light heavyweight and won the world heavyweight championship in 1964, 1974 and 1978. He was a hero to many and went on to far surpass the realms of boxing.

He also was a poet, recognized for his spoken word albums with two Grammy Award nominations, a humanitarian and a man of religious convictions. Numerous LGBT athletes praised Ali for his authenticity and activism.  http://www.newnownext.com/lgbt-athletes-remember-boxing-champ-muhammad-ali/06/2016/. 

In Louisville, Ali also was a person you might run into on the street or at an ordinary restaurant.

In the commemorations of Ali’s life as we mourn his passing at age 74, there are a couple of significant aspects that are glossed over in all of the hoopla of this celebration of a life cut short too soon.

The first elephant in the room we seem to be unable to see is how and why Ali went from heroic, to vilified, to now sanctified.

There’s no dispute about the facts. Ali was a complicated, multi-faceted man and his life was not without controversy. In 1964 Ali changed his name to Muhammad Ali from Cassius Clay, what he referred to as his “slave name”. That and his membership in the Nation of Islam or Black Muslims, as it was sometimes called, and his outspokenness in the Civil Rights movement resulted in a host of very negative reactions.

He later converted to mainstream Sunni Islam. Ali, of course, also attracted wide-spread attention when he sought conscientious objector status. He eventually received that designation but not until after he was arrested and fought his conviction all the way to the U.S Supreme Court for his refusal to be drafted to fight in the Vietnam War.  Although Ali remained free, he was stripped of his title and his boxing license suspended. As the comedian George Carlin intoned, the government had decided that if Ali was unwilling to kill people in war they weren’t going to let him fight people in the boxing ring.

When Ali boxed, he was celebrated by white and black folks alike. But when he spoke, his words elicited hatred, derision and denial from wide segments of America.

During this time, while the media readily referred to actors such as Rock Hudson and Doris Day by the names they had chosen, most of the mainstream media for many years did not show Ali the simple respect to recognize his name change to Muhammad Ali.  

I am old enough to vividly remember the hatred and slurs, the only one I will repeat here, “draft dodger”, that were directed at Ali because of his stance on the Vietnam War and his embrace of minority rights and a religion many didn’t understand.  

Interestingly, the embrace of Ali by mainstream America seems to have coincided with the time, early in his career, when he was just boxing and not yet fully vocalizing his beliefs. And then again in his later years when Parkinson’s for the most part had silenced him. In the early 1990’s one could encounter a mostly silent, shuffling Ali in Louisville, a sad shadow of the proud, strong, outspoken young man he had been.

Today we again are hearing and seeing the same hatred of foreigners, those of another religion, race, sexual orientation, or ethnic group. We are left to wonder what Ali thought about the resurrection of the same ugly hatred that had been hurled at him during his days of speaking his truth to power.

Ironically, the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee Trump, the mouthpiece of much of today’s hatred, chimed in to mourn the passing of this boxing legend, barely pausing for breath as he spews forth hatred of everything Ali stood for.  

Another elephant in the room that everyone tiptoes around is the likely cause of Ali’s Parkinson, the disease that robbed him of speech and easy movement for more than the last two decades and that caused his early death.

I recently have heard and read medical experts interviewed about the type of Parkinson’s Ali had. They say they are trying to find ways to help those with Parkinson’s. As one expert put it, scientists are nowhere close to a cure. Instead they are poking at the edges, trying to find drugs that might lessen the impact of dopamine which treats some of Parkinson symptoms but causes difficult side effects all its own.

But where are the experts or opinion leaders calling out for changes in our sports, our culture, our humanity so that young men can become “The Greatest” without engaging in sports resulting in head blows which in turn result in brain damage? Damage that diminishes the quality of and shortens their lives. Boxing, like some other sports with high risk of head trauma, long has been a ticket out of the ghetto for men of color.

Shouldn’t we recognize they have become gladiators who pound each other for our amusement and entertainment? And shouldn’t we do something about that?

Ali was one of the greatest boxers. Maybe the best ever. But he was much more than that. Ask yourself--would we ever have known him if he had not first made his name as a boxer? We all know the likely answer to that question. And when will we live in a sufficiently  evolved society  where we can appreciate the worth of people without having them first engage in activities, for our viewing pleasure, which shorten their lives and rob them of even a middle age with an intact  body and brain.

We will be a truly great nation when we create paths for all of our citizens to achieve their full potential and greatness without destroying themselves or others to please the crowds.


Friday, June 17, 2016

Our Common Humanity

This is a follow up to my last blog. Two commenters have suggested I should have mentioned the sexual orientation of the victims. And one friend strongly reacted to my failure to focus on the fact most of the victims were gay and were targeted while they were at a gay night club.

Let me first say I am sorry for any offense to my friends and readers. I meant no disrespect to the LGBT community in not addressing the sexual orientation of many of the victims. I strongly believe all people regardless of their sexual orientation, race, religion, gender or other characteristics are entitled to the same respect and full human and legal rights.

I also agree the Orlando mass murders were a hate crime. But I need to add--so was the mass murder of African-American Christians in Charleston, South Carolina. And what about the mass murders of kindergarteners and their teachers in Newtown, Connecticut? Was that not some type of hate crime?

I won’t list all of the mass murders in the U.S. There are too many and too many supposed reasons. All mass murders are hateful abominations we should try to prevent. We all bleed and die when shot by automatic weapons. We all grieve when our loved ones are killed. 

I reject the analysis that the murderers’ rationales, and thus the identity of those who were killed, should be our main concern. Just as I deliberately do not mention the mass murderers’ names, I think focusing on the possible motives of mass murderers’ gives them too much attention. And is not the most useful way to prevent future such attacks.

Trying to make sense of crazy is a waste of time. The Orlando mass murderer claimed allegiance to ISIS. He is reported to also have claimed he was connected with al Qaeda and Hezbollah; he said he hated Americans, Blacks, gays, women and Jews. 

He apparently cased this gay nightclub and also Disney World. One survivor with multiple guns shot wounds said on the evening news that while she and others were trapped in a bathroom with the shooter he asked if anyone was Black. She then repeated his words, “I wasn’t trying to shoot anyone who was Black. They’ve suffered enough already.”  The survivor who was shot three times appeared to be African-American. Even the FBI has noted the contradictory nature of the shooter’s statements.

One of the many unfortunate results of the Orlando mass shooting is that it has made the LGBT population, like other groups targeted by hate crimes, feel even more vulnerable. But I think we do all of the victims and ourselves a disservice if we allow these mass murderers to divide us into insular groups. We should respectfully mourn all the victims and try to help the survivors. We should also reject any aspect of a religion or ideology that lessens the worth of anyone because of their identity.

Any of us could be in the next nightclub, movie theater, mall, school, medical clinic, government office, or place of worship. If we want to try to stop the next mass murderers, focusing on their possible motives is not nearly as useful as focusing on how they get their weapons, usually military-style assault weapons.

Let’s make military weapons unavailable to civilians. And let’s insist our government make reasonable efforts to keep all guns out of the hands of terrorists, domestic abusers, and crazies.


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Love and Hate in America



Just this past weekend I started out writing about how amazing it was to see celebrities and average people come to Louisville, thousands lining the streets, to mourn the passing and celebrate the life of Muhammad Ali. Ali, an African-American man and a Muslim. And a man of peace.

But then real life and tragedy intervened before I posted that essay. Now we are dealing with the aftermath of the largest mass shooting in American history.

It’s probably too early to know what motivated the shooter. He was Muslim and proclaimed he was a supporter of ISIS. He had been on the terror watch list. He also was a domestic abuser with anger issues. And he had easy and legal access to military-style weapons.

So the hate-monger who goes by the name of Donald Trump, who ironically also claims to have been a friend and supporter of Ali, has renewed his call for banning all immigrants who are Muslim. As Trump spews forth his gleeful hatred—tweeting that thousands have congratulated him for “being right” (another lie—fact checkers found only a handful of such tweets) Trump uses this tragedy to sow fear since he believes fear “helps his numbers”.  Trump’s behavior and rhetoric are so eerily reminiscent of nationalistic fascism that it should be making our heads reel.

But no, Trump is not done with his fear mongering and pandering to the worst demons amongst us. He also says he plans to meet with the NRA to find ways to keep Americans safe. There can be no doubt what the NRA’s answer is—more guns in the hands of anyone with the money to buy them.

Appealing to Americans’ fear of those who are different and fear of having their guns taken away, Trump hopes to pull in more votes and more NRA money.

Of course, he ignores the fact that more guns will not keep us safer. But we should not ignore the facts. The myths the NRA relies upon to reap blood money for the sale of weapons are completely rebutted by facts.

1)   The NRA and its ilk like to say, “People not guns kill people.” But in fact, guns, particularly assault and automatic weapons, are extremely effective at killing lots of people. A person with a knife, a baseball bat or a brick can perhaps kill one or two before someone can stop them. A crazy person with an assault weapon can kill dozens or more in the same time.

2)   The NRA is looking to put more guns in the hands of “good guys” who can stop mass shootings. In the real world, an untrained “good guy with a gun” is totally ineffective at stopping a mass shooter.


3) We need to use mental health resources to identify crazy shooters in advance. Sure, many of the mass shooters are crazy. But we have no reliable way to identify who is both crazy and likely to become a killer. So, while efforts to provide mental health services are a great idea there’s no indication that’s likely to prevent the next mass shooting.

4) “The Second Amendment prevents any restrictions on guns in America.” Baloney. Without a long legal dissertation, it should be recognized that the Second Amendment, like all of the Amendments in the Bill of Rights, is subject to reasonable restrictions. For example, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently recognized, there “is no Second Amendment right for members of the general public to carry concealed firearms in public.”

The last thing we need are more guns. There already are as many guns in the U.S. as people. Americans die by guns at an unparalleled rate compared to any other rich, western country.  All those guns have not made Americans safer.

“In the United States, the death rate from gun homicides is about 31 per million people — the equivalent of 27 people shot dead every day of the year. The homicides include losses from mass shootings, like Sunday’s Orlando attack, or the San Bernardino, Calif., shooting last December.” 
No other equivalent country comes anywhere close to the U.S. in the loss of life from guns.

In the aftermath of the Orlando tragedy we need to hear all the voices for peace and love rather than this hate-mongering fascism. We particularly miss the voice of Muhammad Ali, a Muslim and man of peace to rebut the hate-filled fear mongering that is alive and prospering amongst us.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Road Trip and TangentialThoughts

We were driving back from the Nowhere Else music festival in Ohio last weekend. One could go to  many tangential places, real and imagined, with that thought—where do you go when you are leaving Nowhere Else? But that’s too easy a prompt so I won’t go there. But we did take some tangents, at least in thoughts, along the way.

Of course we played music from a variety of the musicians we’d heard. But a car road trip is also a  particularly good location and time, conducive  to chatting and tangential thinking. Why else do so many movies and novels make use of the road trip to move the conversation and dialog along? 

Such plot devices and the movies and novels that utilize them would be a good topic of conversation if one ran out of thoughts. But we had no such dilemma. Close proximity, time, nothing to do but drive and talk. One idea just leads to another. Some are on straight lines, some are tangents.

We talked about the concert highlights, the songs and groups we’d particularly loved. The additional ones we wished we’d heard. How one song leads to thoughts of another  song or another musician. The brain seems to want to flow from tangent to tangent.

How interesting the Nowhere festival had combined art and music.  We contemplated how much fun it would have been to stay another day, join the nature walk with Linford, the song-writing workshop led by Joe Henry, the drawing workshops, and then stay for another afternoon and evening of music. Too bad we hadn’t planned for that extra day.

But there we were in the car heading home through Ohio to Kentucky. And we had our share of tangents of thought. We had seen a rainbow after the skies had cleared following Lucy Wainwright Roche’s performance during the thunderstorm. The last music festival we’d attended had been in Maui at World Whale Day. Maui is famous for spectacular rainbows and we’d made a habit of counting how many we’d seen. Rainbows in Ohio are no doubt rarer but obviously still occur given the right conditions and a little magic.

Which made us think of Joe Henry’s mention of magic at his recording studio in the basement of his home in California. He referred to his home as the “old Garfield house”. Neither of us knew anything about the Garfield house other than to assume he wasn’t talking about “Garfield the cat” of the comics. I speculated the Garfield to whom he referred was the actor John Garfield since houses in California often are named for the famous actors who built or lived in them. My spouse said he’d been thinking of  President James Garfield, though neither of us thought he’d had any connection to LA.

So, we consulted that miracle of modern life.  Even when you have just left nowhere and still aren’t anywhere, you can research almost anything. I typed in “Garfield house” and “Joe Henry’ studio” on my smart phone and learned my husband was closer to the right answer than I. 

The Garfield house, where Joe Henry’s magical studio is located, is so named for Lucretius Garfield, the widow of President James Garfield. The house owned by Joe Henry is listed on the National Registrar of Historic Places and features a basement studio where a mind-bogglingly diverse collection of artists have recorded a dazzling array of hits.

If we were keeping score I’d have to give my spouse one point for making the President Garfield connection. But we weren’t keeping score, just passing the time and the miles.

At that point I’d looked up Joe Henry, his studio and the Garfield house. But somehow we circled back to John Garfield the actor, my wrong guess. John Garfield  has his own mind-boggling list of movies to his credit. 

My spouse suggested John Garfield was the actor who played Nick Romano in the Humphrey Bogart movie,  “Knock On Any Door”. I’d had the advantage of seeing a photo of John Garfield whose ruggedly handsome face was not the pretty boy actor who had played Nick—his  most memorable line was “Live fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse.” I would get one point if we were playing for points as it was John Derek, not John Garfield, who played Nick Romano; he who lives fast, dies young and leaves a good-looking corpse at the end of the movie.

We continued to chat about what we thought were some of the highlights of the festival. The unique blend of voices, different musicians and singers, each bringing something special to the day and evening. Birds of Chicago still resonated in our minds and the car stereo.  Then we changed to Over the Rhine and the Band of Sweethearts. Though we’ve heard them a number of times, they are always  a particular delight: the magical quality of Karin’s vocals blended with the mix of songs she and Linford have written and the solid musical performances of the entire group.

We found ourselves laughing about Karin’s encounter onstage with a June bug, one of a few large insects that had joined the celebration under the tent after dark. 

My spouse said he thought there was another name for this type of flying beetle that we’d used back in Missouri where we’d both grown up. Again I researched on my smart phone.  June bug, of course, is a cute name for a menacing-looking bug. I learned the so-called June bug is from the genus phyllophaga. I found lots of other names for June bugs, such as May bugs, New World Scarab beetles, and June beetles. But I could not find a name that rang in the hidden recesses of recognition from our Missouri childhoods. But it didn’t matter. 

June bug research also reminded us of the little  2005 movie of the same name, without the space between the two words. “Junebug”, and the rave reviews from critics like the now passed Roger Ebert,  propelled Amy Adams to the “A” list of actors. Thus, we were able to digress into Amy Adams movies, movies about insects and lots of other only tangentially-related topics. A great way to pass the miles and the time on a summer road trip.

If you happen to know any other names for June bugs, the insect not the movie, or grew up in Missouri and recall what name they were given in that part of the country, please add in the comments. Or share your own tangential thoughts. Happy road trips. 


Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Good Times Like Nowhere Else Music Festival

We hadn’t been to an outdoor music festival in a long time. In fact the last time was for World Whale Day on Maui

So when we headed out Saturday morning for the Nowhere Else Music Festival in Ohio, I wondered if we were too old for this type of event, particularly with the uncertain weather of late May in the Midwest. Would it be too hot, too sunny, stormy, too cool or too buggy after dark? Would I find anything to eat since I have a gluten allergy? Hard to know. So we went prepared for anything and everything.

 I packed enough food for a village and a variety of drinks into a wheeled cooler, several sensible footwear choices, hats, jackets, sunscreen, insect repellant, towels and umbrellas, chairs, and a picnic blanket. We left the love beads and other hippie paraphernalia at home. In truth we have long since lost any  festival paraphernalia, unless you count our camping chairs.

We ended up arriving at the Nowhere Else festival later than we’d intended. A little plumbing emergency at our new home that resulted in some plunging of the toilet and two baskets of wet towels to deal with before our departure seriously delayed our heading out. But it was a nice day, a little overcast and the first real summer heat was upon us. Maybe we should have packed a portable fan?

When we arrived the party was in full swing. Volunteers directed us to park amongst the hundreds of other cars in the grassy fields. Someone had vacated a space just past the VIP parking section. We walked the short distance to the large tent and found two empty chairs with a great view of the stage. 

Larry Groce, of Mountain Stage was performing with his wife. They are both talented musicians and were performing Lyle Lovett’s “If I Had a Boat” to the audience’s obvious delight. We thoroughly enjoyed that song and the rest of the set of bluegrass favorites. Groce, in his bib overalls, and with a folksy style and humor, also served as host throughout much of the day.

Next up were Lily and Madeline. The two lovely sisters have very sweet and harmonious voices and their set was delightful. If I had a wish it would only be that their set had been a bit longer and had interspersed some of their covers of energetically-paced songs from their album.

The next performer, Joe Henry, brought his own distinctive singing and songwriting which soon filled the tent. Joe Henry spoke a little about the magic that has occurred at his recording studio in the basement of the old Garfield house in California. One particularly memorable story concerned trying to keep some of the magic that surrounded the singer, songwriter (as well as Renaissance man) Kris Kristofferson who Henry credited with writing songs about  very specific topics but that then have universal elements. 

Into Joe Henry’s set he was joined by his son and standout saxophone player, Levon Henry. 

Again I wished that this set list had been longer. And had included the song about Willie Mays (“The greatest center-fielder of all time; Stooped by the burden of endless dreams” ) and America spirit (“His and yours and mine.” ), “Our Song”. I hope Joe Henry sang “Our Song” the second day of the festival. So many of the lyrics speak to the angry political season we are enduring:
This was my country
This frightful and this angry land
But it's my right if the worst of it might
Still somehow make me a better man

Later, Karin Berquist and Linford Detweiler, the Over the Rhine hosts of the festival and creators of this music venue, paid particular tribute to Joe Henry, highlighting his contributions in producing two of their beautiful albums, as well as thanking him for introducing them to a number of the musicians performing at the festival. As they noted, Henry has produced music for many musicians, including some in the line-up.

For some reason, Willie Mays was still sitting in my mind, and I could only think how the next group, “Birds of Chicago” certainly fit the bill as all-star musicians. Allison Russell’s full-bodied singing blends beautifully with the outstanding playing in a host of rollicking songs that brought the audience out of their chairs and to their collective feet. Something very unique in the chemistry of this band that made the audience call out for more.

The sky was darkening with an approaching thunderstorm as the next performer, Lucy Wainwright Roche, took the stage. She has a stand-out voice and performed several songs, interspersing a casual telling of her travels as a musician, as introduction to “Deliver Me to the Next Best Western”. 

The ensuing  sudden thunderstorm caused Lucy only the slightest of pauses as the crowd under the tent made way for those who had been outside to find shelter under the big tent. The thought occurred to me, if only the politicians, political parties and this country could be as accommodating as the attendees of this music festival. Made me think of Over the Rhine’s song, “If a Song Could Be President”.

Lucy used the interruption to tell a humorous story about performing in Lithuania to an unreceptive crowd, only to discover that at the mere mention of basketball she was suddenly a hit. So she told of how she had performed a sing-along there of Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart”, substituting “basketball” for the title phrase. Lucy then led the Nowhere crowd in a stirring rendition of that song with the original lyrics. I will confess by this point, as the storm had passed, I headed to the portable toilets but could still participate in the sing along. This was no reluctant crowd.

One might think this line up, particularly “Birds of Chicago” are a hard act to follow. And they would be for ordinary performers. But as the sun set on the Nowhere Else Farm,  Over the Rhine and the Band of Sweethearts closed the day with the unmistakably beautiful vocals of Karin Berquist and their compelling sound and original songwriting to end a magical day. 

A little story-telling and goofiness, in particular, Karin’s encounter of a star-struck June bug, brought the day to a close that no one was quite ready to have end. But there was a promise of another festival day, starting with art, nature hikes and song-writing workshops to be followed by another afternoon and evening of music. 

Ah, if only we had planned to stay both days of the festival--maybe most of my wishes would have been fulfilled.