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Saturday, April 29, 2006

Untitled Essay #437

Bye Bye Bacon

One of the best political blogs in Iowa has gone into the great beyond. "Who's Makin' Bacon" has kept me entertained and informed for myriad months, and I'll miss it now that it's gone. The blog went from zero to being one of Iowa's staple blogs in a matter of weeks due to it's insightful, non-partisan, clever content. I can only hope that Mr. Bacon, whomever he is, will come back in a different guise some day. With sadness I take Bacon off my blog roll...

Common Sense

Is the phrase "common sense" now oxymoronic? I wonder... It's common sense that with his poll numbers in the low 30's, United States President George W. Bush would keep a low profile, check in with the common "man on the street," do something concrete about the looming energy crisis, and in general try to comfort the citizens of this fair nation. That would be sensible. But from past performance, I predict that Mr. Bush will instead find some poor nation (most likely one that rhymes with "Iran") to pick on and will try to fan the flames of "patriotism" to get U.S. citizens to rally around him and chant his name.

I put the word patriotism in quotes in that last sentence as Mr. Bush has a different definition of the word than I. To Mr. Bush, a patriot is someone who blindly follows Mr. Bush. To me a patriot is someone who will do whatever it takes to protect this country - including disagreeing with our government and Mr. Bush. There's an excellent discussion of patriotism that took place a few weeks ago here. Be sure to read the comments - that's where the good stuff is.

I once played with a guitarist who played louder when he didn't know the song. I never figured out why... Mr. Bush is a lot like that - the more unsure he is, the louder he gets.


With gas prices nearing three bucks a gallon (and over in some places), people are now loudly wondering what to do. I have a few simple ideas...

1. Ban the manufacture and import of SUV's and large trucks. "Oh, I need an SUV to carry my kids around." Bullpucky. The world did just fine in the world before minivans and SUV's. We carried our kids around in (gasp) regular automobiles. It worked just fine. Trust me. If you need a large truck because you're a contractor or a farmer, fine - get special permission from the government to own it, and pay the special "big truck tax." Anything over 4,000 pounds is considered a commercial vehicle and is taxed accordingly.

2. Ban the import and manufacture of cars with regular gasoline engines. All vehicles shall be E85 capable hybrids. (E85 is 85% ethanol and 15% regular old gasoline.) Heck, I'd even ride an electric motorcycle if it looked cool enough. I'd miss the "vroom vroom" noise, though...

3. We need to make alternative energy affordable. One way to do this is easy enough... Personal windmills. They have these in England, and they really work. You put a small windmill on your house, and it supplies a pretty heft majority of the electricity you need for day-to-day living. Why don't we have them here? Why are people still dying in mine accidents to supply us with coal to make electricity with when the wind is blowing right past us every day? It is my unproven belief that the energy companies are suppressing the technology. I read about one man who had a windmill installed - it cost him $40,000 - only to find that the energy company wouldn't let him use it. The energy cartel was worried that the man would dump the excess electricity he generated and didn't use back into the energy grid, thus earning a refund from the electricity company. In England they've made the units much smaller, and the energy companies are embracing the technology. How does this help with the price of gas? Simple - we now all have hybrid cars, remember? Plug your car into your windmill and charge it up. The government NEEDS to push this sort of thing - instead of giving tax breaks to the oil companies, give tax breaks to people who install wind and solar devices, and give more government funding to companies that develop such technology. Perhaps it could even be mandated that every government building get retrofitted with such technology to prove its feasibility.

4. Anyone remember riding a bicycle? Maybe instead of the government giving each citizen a hundred bucks as a bribe to forgive congress (which is what leading republican Bill Frist wants to do - it's a buyoff, pure and simple) they should give each citizen a bicycle. "Here's a hundred dollar voucher that can only be redeemed at the bicycle shop, please don't drive your car quite as much" makes a lot more sense to me than "here's a hundred dollars, please forgive us for being inept politicians."

5. How about finding alternative fuels for semis and airplanes?

6. Your teenager needs a summer job? Have him build himself a rickshaw and send him downtown...

We have to remember, folks, that the high price of gasoline is simply due to the high price of oil. We have to remember that we use oil for things other than gasoline. Things like plastics and heating. Heating. I'll say it again - heating. This winter is going to be harder than last winter.

Something to think about: When President Bill Clinton took office, gas cost around $1.10 a gallon. When he left office, gas was somewhere near $1.25. In his eight years in office, gas went up fifteen cents. Mr. Bush took over when gas was $1.25, and only six years later the price is nearing $3.00 a gallon. Mr. Bush is proud of his "Texas Oilman" persona. I'm sure that he's equally proud that his oilman friends are getting hundreds of millions of dollars in their retirement packages.


I've been having strange dreams lately. I went through a period a few years ago where in my dreams people kept cutting my fingers off. (I make a living typing and playing bass, so my fingers are important to me. Especially my nose-itching finger.) Those dreams went away, though... Now I'm dreaming a lot of my grandparents, who are all deceased. I cry a lot in my dreams. I'm often up to my waist in water, and I'm usually running. I'm never running away from anything, particularly, but rather I'm generally running to my wife.

Show Me the Money

Every now and then someone will say, "You should write a book." I agree. I really want to write a book. I'd love to get paid for my writing, or my photography, or my bass playing... I just don't know how to go about doing it.

People tell me to start with the underground newspapers. Hmmm... I've written enough stuff in the local "independent" newspapers for free, I don't really want to go there again. It always starts out innocently... "Hey, do you want to write a piece about the local music scene for our paper?" Sure, I'll do that. No problem. The next week, "Hey, do you want to write something about your cat this week? We really liked your last article..." Sure, okay. The problem is that after the second free article, I'm considered "a writer," and I'm expected to go to meetings and make deadlines and take assignments. But I never get paid. Sure, it's nice to get published, but after a while a few bucks would be nice...

A few days ago I was working on a poster for a local photographer who's targeting musicians. It's a nice colorful poster, touting the virtues of a band being photographed, videotaped, etc. and what good it can do for a band's image. At the bottom of the poster there's a montage of photos of bands that the guy's taken in the past. When he looked at the proof I sent him, he e-mailed me back. "Hmmm..." he said. "I kinda need to get a picture of a white female singer." I e-mailed him back and said, "You should go to the Chesterfield on Wednesday nights for their jam session - they have a wide variety of artists you can take pictures of to use on your poster." I attached a photo I'd taken the previous week that happened to be sitting on my desktop. "Look at the photo I took, for example," I continued. "You can see that you can get real close to the subject, and the lighting's good. I recommend you go there and take a few pictures next week for your poster."

I was a little surprised at his next e-mail. "I really like that picture you took," he said. "We'll put that in the bottom left corner of my poster."

Well, I'm pleased that a professional photographer liked my work well enough to use my image instead of his own on a poster that promotes HIS photography, but I was rather disappointed that he didn't offer to buy the image for a few bucks. The general public may not realize it, but photographers do charge for their work - often several hundred dollars for a good image coupled with the subject's legal permission to use the photo. If I needed a photo for a brochure I'm designing, or whatever, I would never dream of asking a photographer to go out and take a professional photo for me for free - that's their lifeblood, their income. But I guess my stuff's different. I even got the subject of the photo to give the photographer permission to use the picture. For free.

Am I being greedy? I'm simply thinking maybe it's time for me to get a little money for this stuff. I want to write for money. I just don't know how... (Anyone out there need a freelance writer who's also a graphic designer, amateur photographer, and half-baked bass player? I live in Iowa - my overhead's cheap...) I'm growing weary of punching a timeclock.

South Dakota

I'm breaking a self-imposed ban today. I have not spent one thin dime in South Dakota since they passed that law banning abortions in the state. (I think that abortion is something that should not be taken lightly. However, I do not think that the state should legislate morality.) My wife and I, however, are on our way out the door in just a minute to go to a performance of A Prairie Home Companion at Vermillion, SD. I promise that after today I shall continue with my economic boycott of the state of South Dakota. (It's not as easy as you'd think; we live just a few miles from the border. Sioux City is in Iowa, South Sioux City is in Nebraska, and North Sioux City is in South Dakota.)

Monday, April 24, 2006

Random miscellany

His Majesty

I told my wife that people out there in the blogosphere are referring to U.S. President George W. Bush as "the Chimperor."

"Oh, that's not nice," my beloved wife replied. "Those poor monkeys don't deserve to be compared to THAT."

(I got the cartoon off someone eelse's blog. I hope that's not illegal! If it is, someone tell me and I'll take it off...)

Bizzy Daze

Things have been busy around here lately. Last Saturday I started sipping on silly Belgian ales pretty early. In fact, we had hot dogs and beer for breakfast. It was yummy indeed! I spent most of the day Saturday sipping slowly on various tasty beers, actually... I had several of New Belgium's "1554" ales, a couple Boulevard Wheats, a Boulevard Irish something or other that I've never tried before, and a few more, I'm sure. Apologies to anyone who tried to talk sensibly to me that day - I was slightly pickled.

We ended up going to the Icky Nickel (a local establishment) for dinner (and beer), then on to LeMars to visit my brother and our nephew, Hunter, and our beloved Goddaughter, Mad-Dog Maddie. (The other niece, Peyton, wasn't there. That made us sad. But we had fun anyway. Hunter made funny faces at us. We laughed.)

Once we got back home, we happily fell promptly to sleep, smiles on our faces. The next morning, we grumpily awoke, grimacing in pain. Both Dagmar and I were very ill all day Sunday (and she didn't even have any beer, either). Cramps, nausea, headaches, the whole nine-yard ball o' wax. It sucked. What made it worse is that Sunday was the best weather we've had yet! It was 78 degrees and sunny, not a cloud in the sky, no wind - perfect! We closed the drapes, shut the door, and pretended it was raining.

Poor Dagmar is still ill, actually.

Today (Monday) I woke up feeling a bit better. I held my carcass under the shower for the allotted amount of time, then trudged off to work. I'd almost forgotten that we'd torn the entire office down last week so some contractors could tear up the carpet and put down some nice institutional tile (we chose "Nursing Home Beige" over "Hospital Gray"). So both G4's, one elderly G3, two anonymous PC's, scanner, very expensive platemaker, desks - everything - was lurking in a discomboobilated mess in the storage room, blocking the freight elevator and one of the collators. So, when I got to work, feeling vaguely ill, I was NOT happy when the boss said, "Gee, the new tile makes the floor look great, but now the walls look crappy. Do we have any paint? I need you to stop what you're doing and paint these walls." Half an hour later, I was slapping white paint on a white wall, feeling about as productive as anyone can be, painting a white wall white. About the time the fumes were really starting to do a number on my poor aching tummy, my buddy showed up.

"Oh, man," he said. "I'm so hung over I could cry, but I'm too dehyrdrated to make tears." I looked up from my task. My poor cohort was standing there, very sunburned, with a pasty green complexion peeking through. "If we didn't need to move our desks back today I wouldn't have come in to work... What the heck are you doing?"

"I'm painting," I said. "See?" I waved a brush at him. His eyes crossed slightly and the greenish tint of "pasty" started showing through his sunburned face a bit more. "Gah," he said. "It stinks!" He made a "glump" sort of noise deep in his throat and bolted for the back room. A few minutes later I could hear the happy "tap-tap-tap" of a graphic designer with a headache working on an Excel database. I knew that's what he was doing. I could tell by the cussing. Graphic designers simply don't speak Database. If we could understand numbers, we'd have jobs that pay more.

I have to admit, seeing someone in more pain than you often makes you feel better.

By about 11 in the morning, the boss had come out to say, "I'm tired of watching you paint. We're going to get back to being a print shop again. I need you to stop what you're doing and start moving your desk back in - we need to keep feeding the presses." Okay. Fine by me! So I finished up my corner of the office, realized it was lunchtime, set the paint roller down and went to put food in my head.

When I got back from lunch, my trusty sidekick had finished his database work and was back in the office, slopping paint at a wall. He still looked green. Green and red. "I'd like to help you," I said, "But the bosses told me to stop what I was doing and get my computers set up again."

After a few minutes of mumbling and pointing, I got both the bosses to help me move my desk back into my corner. It should be noted that my desk isn't really just a desk, it's a "workstation." It's kind of like a big "W" that comes in six sections and wraps around behind me. When it's set up, I have a printer behind me, phone and "works in progress" to my right, Macintosh in front, whatever I'm working on at the time to my left, a RIP station behind me to my left, and a PC station on my far left. It took three of us a good forty-five minutes to move all the pieces in. My hungover buddy was the only one with enough common sense to figure out how the whole thing bolted together, so the poor guy ended up under the desk with power tools. I'm sure that made his head happy.

Just about the time I was plugging the mouse into my Mac, one of the bosses wandered past. "We need to get a plate made on this job," he said, waving various bits of paper under my nose. "I need you to stop what you're doing and get the platemaker up and running." By this time I had a room half painted and a computer half installed. I was getting tired of stopping what I was doing... Oh well - I get paid hourly...

I cleared a path through the debris in the back room and got the other boss to help me push the platemaker back into place. (A platemaker, by the way, is a complicated machine about the size of an ATM that shoots a laser image onto a piece of plastic about 20 inches long by 13 inches wide give or take about two feet, then dunks the piece of plastic into several chemical baths similar to a photographic darkroom, dries it, and spits it out. We then take the plastic plate, wrap it around a cylinder on a printing press, and viola! we're off and printing. So we go straight from our computer to the plate and skip the manual darkroom process altogether. See? Now you learned something.) We got the machine jiggled into place, slapped a level on it, and realized that one corner was low. Of course, my painting buddy with the hangover was the only one in the room bright enough to turn a wrench...

"Hey," my boss said to my buddy... "I need you to stop what you're doing and level this thing." Eyes were rolled and sighs were heaved. My buddy ended up laying on the floor again. He gave up painting altogether at that point.

By the time we left, the computers were half set up, the walls were mostly (but not all) painted, and the boss was STILL saying, "I need you to stop what you're doing and..."

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Stop it already

Enough is enough, now...

So I tell everyone that the best beer in the known universe is Abbey, brewed by the fine folk at the New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado. Now I go to the only store in a 95-mile radius of Sioux City that carries the beer, AND THEY'RE SOLD OUT. (Well, I didn't actually go myself. My wife, Dagmar, was running errands and volunteered to pick some up for me, and some for my mother-in-law, too, who tried it and liked it.)

"The man here tells me he's never seen them run out of Abbey," she told me on the phone. "They've been selling a lot of it lately, I guess. I found one lonely bottle of Abbey way in the back hiding behind a Red Stripe, so I bought that for you..."

I have one bottle in the fridge. My wife is bringing one bottle to me soon. Lemme see... One and one, that's... Well, that's two. Two bottles of bliss. (As a friend of mine once said, "Drinking a good beer is like having angels pee on your tongue." I've never really understood that, but it sounds profound. It has an Irish ring to it, somehow.) I have to admit, I'm a little scared. What if I have to break down and drink one of those Miller Lite things that have been lurking in the back of the fridge, terrorizing the tomatoes and teaching my Tobasco sauce bad habits? Now that my palate has been blessed by the Abbey, there's no turning back.

My wife left our phone number at the Booze-O-Rama. The next six-pack is MINE darn it.

In other news...

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ronald Dumsfeld is being a stubborn old coot and there are rumors of a nuclear war with Iran. All of which pales next to my impending lack of quality beer.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Not much happenin'

Busy doing nothing

Somehow I've been so busy doing "stuff" I haven't had time to write. But, you know, other than visiting my family over Easter, I don't really remember what I've been busy doing...

You know, I don't even consider it "mowing the yard" any more. Instead, I'm aiding evolution in developing dandelions that have learned to duck.

Dagmar's mother recorded a bunch of TV shows in German, so I've been watching sitcoms "auf Deutsch" the past few days. At least I think they're sitcoms... It's hard to tell until you see blood, really. For all I know I'm watching the German version of "Cops." But it looks funny, whatever it is. I just heard the phrase "Made in Turkey." The guy who said it was pointing at his pants. That's funny. Isn't it?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Perfect and Utter Contentment

A perfect day!

It was a record-breaking day today here in Iowa. We hit at least 91 degrees - a bit warm for yard work, but perfect if you have a motorcycle.

I have a motorcycle.

After working the requisite amount of hours, my beloved Austrian bride and I took the motorbike for a quick tootle - we hit the backroads and eventually ended up in LeMars, my hometown. We visited the nephew and nieces (who are all adorable - we pinched their cheeks), ate a couple hotdogs at Bob's (a local hot dog stand that's well-known in Northwest Iowa, parts of Nebraska, some of South Dakota, and I've even known people to drive in from Minnesota just to get a Bob Dog), zipped up the highway home, and then sat outside on the front stoop and had a beer. (Guess what kind - I betcha you can't guess!)

While sitting on our front stoop having a beer, we discovered that there are about nine kids under the age of seven living in the house next door. We also learned that there's a guy living in that bus we thought was abandoned.

It was a perfect day. I'd write more, but frankly I'm pooped. I hope everyone else managed to have a happy day as well!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Worth it?


A few weeks ago my beloved Austrian Snickerdoodle traveled the plains to Omaha on a day trip. "Is there anything you vant?" she asked on her way out the door. "Fine silks from India, perhaps, or rare spices from the mysterious Orient?"

"Bring me some beer," I said, pecking her on the cheek.

"I go to the World Market in Omaha and he asks me for beer," she said. "Beer."

"Well, okay," I replied, "get me some exotic foreign beer, then..."

She smiled at me. "He has the world to choose from, and he picks beer. My husband." She kissed me on the nose and headed off for the big metropolis.

About six hours later, the light of my life returned with her spoils of conquest. I forget exactly what she bought, but there was some kind of fancy popcorn salt and six happy bottles of beer. There was a Guinness, something from Germany, a bottle of Texan beer (which I still haven't tried yet - I'm still sore at Texas for foisting President Bush on us), a few others, and a beer called "Abbey." I chose one of the beers at random and put the rest in the fridge and went about my business.

A few days later my wife was again on one of her mysterious errands (I think she was with her mama across town, actually), so I took the opportunity to get some yardwork done. And, you know, nothing finishes an afternoon of semi-arduous yardwork like a happy beer... Again I grabbed one of the "mystery" beers at random.

About an hour later Dagmar came home. According to her report, I was still sitting on the front stoop, bottle in hand, stunned look on my face. "Vhat happened?" she asked. "Are you okay?"

"I think I've found it," I said. "I've finally found it."

"Vhat have you found?" she asked. "Und just when did you lose it?"

"You know how when you're a kid you see beer, and hear about beer, but you've never tasted beer, and you have an idea in your mind of what beer is supposed to taste like?" She nodded, a quizzical look on her face. "Well," I continued, "I just found a beer that tastes like beer is supposed to taste like." I glowed. (Glew?) I could feel my aura pulsing happy colors. The world smiled at me. "It's like, well, bananas and coffee. That's not right. It's like, maybe, I don't know... It's good!"

She pried the bottle out of my hand. "Abbey," she said. "We'll have to remember that."

Well, you know, within days the name of the beer had left me. I couldn't find the empty bottle anywhere, and all I could remember was that taste, that incredible taste! I knew it had something to do with some kind of religious order... "Nun's Buns?" Nah... "Bishop's Balls?" No, that wasn't it, either... Thankfully my beloved remembered the name! I went around for days mumbling "Abbey... Abbey" under my breath, afraid of forgetting the name again. (Notice that I'm not bright enough to simply keep the bottle or write the name down? That may explain why it took me seven years to get a four-year degree...)

For weeks I thought of this beer. The sweet, nutty flavor... The gorgeous aftertaste. But how to find it? I know I've never seen that particular label on the shelf. I couldn't even remember the brewery. A quandary.

Yesterday I was e-mailing back and forth with a buddy of mine who now lives on the left coast. "Man," I wrote, "I had the best beer a few weeks ago. Something called Abbey." Within minutes, my pal wrote back "I know that beer! It's from the New Belgian brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado. They make Fat Tire there. My in-laws bring it to me whenever they go through Colorado..." I do believe my buddy knows beer so well he could probably tell me the exact recipe of the beer, and who designed the label to boot.

I staggered through the rest of the day yesterday, and made it to quitting time today before I broke. I just couldn't take it any more. "Honey," I said into the cell phone as I punched out, "I'm going shopping. Do you need anything?"

"You? Shopping?" she said. "This I have to see. Pick me up." Two minutes later, we were on our way to the first booze outlet. Eagerly I pushed my way to the beer aisle and started scanning labels. They probably had 200 different kinds of beer, but nothing called Abbey. A bit downcast, I led my bride back to the car and we made our way to the next vendor of liquid happiness and joy.

"Can I help you," said the nice lady, after she noticed my wife and I staring intently at the rows of brightly colored bottles. "Yes," I said. "Do you have Abbey? It's made by the Fat Tire people."

"Fat Tire?" she said. "No, Iowa law won't let us get anything from the Fat Tire people - there's too much alcohol in the beer. We have to stay under five percent. You might try South Dakota or Nebraska..." With that we thanked her and headed for the door.

"I'm getting tired," my wife said as we got into the car. "I haven't eaten all day. Do we have to go to Nebraska?"

"It's just across the bridge," I said. "There's a liquor store right at the end of the bridge. It'll only take a minute." Sure enough, a minute later we were across the bridge in Nebraska, perusing the five different kinds of beer in that particular store. Bud, Bud Light, Miller, Miller Lite and Michelob for the fancy folk. "Just one more store," I pleaded. "It's right across the street..." Of course, there was nothing there called Abbey either.

Downfallen, we headed homeward.

"Vell," said my bride, "We can alvays go to Omaha again sometime this summer..." Being too sad to answer, I merely sobbed, dripping beerless tears on the steering wheel.

Once home, I put on my jammies and comfy slippers and resigned myself to one more night without the perfect beer. Dagmar puttered around in the other room. We ate something. It wasn't beer. I probably didn't enjoy it much.

A bit later, I found myself at the computer, randomly hitting keys. Inspiration struck! I started up Google Earth and did a search for "Nebraska Liquor" and started sifting through the results. "Honey," I called. "Did you know there's a liquor store in Dakota City? That's not too far away." She looked up from what she was reading, "You're still thinking about that beer?"

"Yeah, and there's a Hy-Vee grocery store that has a liquor store in it just across the bridge in South Sioux City, too," I continued. "And there's a store in Wayne, and it looks like there are two in Fremont..."

"If you're going to go dat far," my wife said, "you might as well just go to Omaha. We know there's beer there!" I started doing mental calculations. Eight-five or ninety miles to Omaha, sixty-five miles per hour, it's seven o'clock now...

"Vait!" my wife said. "Did you just say there was something in South Sioux?" I nodded. "Why don't I just call them and ask?" She rummaged around and found a phone book whilst I stood in my flannel jammies, fidgeting. She pushed the buttons on the phone with her perfect pink finger as I chewed my nails. She held a mumbled, one-sided conversation while I silently raged. Finally, after seconds and seconds of anticipation, she hung up and said...

"They have it."

By the time she was finished with those three short words, I was running buck naked through the living room, trying to find my britches, flannel jammies fluttering delicately to the floor. Within ten minutes, we were across the bridge, running into the store. I was still buttoning my shirt. "Abbey?" I gasped.

The lady looked at me. "That's funny," she said. "Some lady just called me about Abbey."

"Dat vas me," my wife answered.

The lady looked at us, shook her head slightly, a small smile dancing around her eyes, and pointed to a corner. "I DON'T SEE IT!" I wailed.

"Here it is," my level-headed better half said. "It's right here."

"Oh, man... And they have lots of it, too! How much money do you have?" I said, grabbing wildly at my billfold. "I have five bucks!" My wife rolled her eyes. "This beer better be worth it," she said, reaching for her purse.

We bought two six packs. "Do you sell much of this Abbey beer?" my wife asked the cashier lady. "Or is it just my crazy husband?"

"Oh, no," the lady replied. "We sell a lot of it. We're the only people who carry it around here. One guy drives in from fifty-five miles away every week to buy some." She probably talked more, but I was glazed over and drooling by that point and didn't really pay attention. My wife took me gently by the elbow and led me out of the store.

A mere matter of minutes and we were home again. I put half the beer in the fridge. Dagmar grabbed one bottle and put the rest in a chilly corner of the kitchen. "Hmmm..." she said, peering intently at the label. "It says to serve cool, but not cold. Okay, we have some now." She popped the cap and took a tentative swig. I watched, hopping up and down on one foot, trying to gauge her reaction. Her eyes widened. Her eyebrows went up. Her pupils dilated. "Mein Gott!" she breathed. "Now THAT'S beer!"

I took a sip. Nirvana. Sheer happiness, bottled. A bit warm, but very, very good nonetheless! I feel complete. I am at one with the universe.

So, if you're looking for a beery adventure, Abbey Belgian Style Ale, brewed by the nice folk at the New Belgium brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado is what you're looking for. They have it at the Hy-Vee in South Sioux City, Nebraska. It's well worth the drive! Trust me.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Ahhhh... That felt SO good!


It's been flying all over the Interweb. Kioti started it. "Hey, what say we all head to Martinsburg for a burger on Sunday?" he wrote to the local group of motorcycle enthusiasts to which I happen to belong (the Okoboji chapter of VROC, "Vulcan Riders and Owners Club"). Within days the e-mails were flying about with startling speed. "Sounds good!" and "Hell yeah!" and "I'll be there!"

The odd thing is that these e-mails were all signed by people named Rock, Kioti, Mag, Bartman and such.

By last night I had figured out about what time the Okoboji contingent would be cruising through town, and when the Sioux Falls group should be there, and when the Omaha gang was gonna hit the bypass. "Vhat time are you gonna leaf?" asked my beloved Austrian Snowflake this morning. "When are dey all gonna be there?"

"Well," I replied, "Looks like they're all planning to hit Martinsburg between noon and one. I'll need to leave at about quarter after eleven, I imagine."

My wife looked at me with that special, endearing, "are you an idiot" look. "You know," she said, "if they say noon, it'll be two before they show up. It alvays happens that way. They'll see something shiny on the way and they'll have to stop and gawk at it."

"Yeah," I replied, "but food's involved this time. They'll be there by one at the latest."

By ten-thirty this morning, the yard had been watered, and I was happily readying myself for the trip. It's a vast forty miles, but one must prepare. First one must dress appropriately. I chose blue jeans and a T-shirt, just to be different. And boots. Now for the fun part...

"Honey," I yelled. "Where are my leather chaps?"

"They're with your helmet," she hollered back from the other room.

A pause. Then, "Honey, where's my helmet?"

After a brief but frantic search, both helmet and chaps were found. Now, to get them on... Hmmm... Er... Well, they fit last year, dammit. "Honey, I can't get my chaps on," I wailed. "My legs are too fat!"

To her credit, my beloved didn't giggle. She dutifully helped me zip the silly things up (for the uninitiated, chaps belt around the waist, and have two chunks of leather - one for each leg - that zip from hip to ankle). "There you go, Tubby," she said, smiling. "All better." (I have to admit, she didn't really say that. I make a lot of stuff up. It's more interesting that way.)

Coat, helmet, cell phone, camera, keys and dark glasses in hand, I hobbled out the door.

Ah, the adventure! The open road! The freedom! The cold, biting wind! The hippie is an idiot! By the time I'd cleared South Sioux City and was heading west on Highway 20, my fingers were starting to ache. It was just a chad bit tilly out there! I surely wished I had my gloves. Me, an Eagle Scout, forgetting my gloves. What a silly thing to do.

In any case, I continued on my way, confident that it would be warmer on the way home again. About that time I came to the top of the first hill and met the wind that would be my nemesis the rest of the trip. I'm going west. The wind is from the south at 25 to 35 miles per hour. Not fun... Ah, well, such are the vagaries of life. From a thirty-degree angle, I clenched a frozen fist and shook it at the wind. "Blow," I yelled to the wind. "Blow all you want, vile wind! I'm going to enjoy myself anyway!"

And I did, actually. About half an hour later, I pulled into Martinsburg, Nebraska - population 103, according to the sign. Personally, I think the sign was a bit optimistic. I was the first one there. Time for some nice color photographs now. I took many.

The first thing I noticed at Martinsburg was my odometer. I like round numbers.

This is Bob's Bar, home of the Big Burger

I've never understood this. A door to nowhere? Cool, in an existential sort of way...

Again, Bob's Bar.

Just up the street from Bob's Bar

As soon as I got off the bike, I had a thought. I opened my saddlebags. Sure enough, there were my gloves. Doh!

Soon after my arrival, the rest of the group started dribbling in. (Most of them do dribble, actually. Some have advanced to outright drooling at times. Especially when they're leering.) The first group to make it was Rock, Bartman and Magdag from the Okoboji area. By the time I got done gawking at Bartman's new fairing on his Nomad, the Omaha group pulled in.

Bartman's award-winning Nomad. Pretty!

Carl, Gunner, Glen and Andy

It wasn't too long afterwards that Kioti and company showed up from Sioux Falls. We all wandered around for a bit, drooling on each other's bikes, then headed in for food.

It needs to be said at this point that the burgers at Bob's are, yes indeed, well worth the trip. It should also be pointed out that I've never, ever seen anyone order a burger and fries and finish both. Most people can plow their way through the burger, but no one can really dent the six pounds of fries they throw at you. (About a third of the way through the meal, I heard someone - I think it was Glen - say, "By the time you eat your way to the bun you've already had a meal.") As you can see in the picture below, your average Bob Burger takes up a pretty hefty majority of the plate...

While we were happily gorging ourselves and making giddy "erp" noises, another group of bikers made their way past us to a back table. There were a LOT of bikes in that small town today!

These are the "other group's" bikes.

Buddy Rock, gawking at the pretty Kawasakis.

After stuffing ourselves to the gills and paying our bills (mine was $3.95) we all wandered back outside, and soon were splitting off in our various groups to head homewards. I hitched up with the Okoboji crew and headed back up Highway 20 towards Sioux City. It was still windy.

It was a GOOD day. I'm happy. I had a good time meeting the "new" people, too! (Why is it that everyone I've ever met who drives a Kawasaki cruiser is nice? What do the mean people drive?)

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Slightly Hung Over

The Jam

"Okay," said my beloved Viennese bride, "I can drive you to the Chesterfield for the silly jam session, but I'm gonna come home and sleep. I'm tired. Can you find someone to give you a ride home?"

"I'm sure I can," I said. I hate bumming rides all the time, but I really don't wanna get pulled over for drunk driving. I'm happy my wife is willing to drive me to drink every now and then. "Russ and Denelle are going to be there. He'll give me a ride, I'm sure." Russ and I were in two bands together, Hippie Go Lucky and the Smokin' Clams. I like Russ. He's a nice guy.

"Oh," said my wife. "Well, if Denelle is going to be there, maybe I'll stay and watch for a little bit. But I have to be home by 10:30..." I danced a little jig of joy. I like hanging out in bars watching bands play, but it's not my wife's cup of tea, so I always enjoy it when she comes along with me. I like her. She's nice.

We got to the club at about 8:30 or so. My wife opened the trunk (or "boot" as the English would say) of the car. "What are you doing?" I asked. "What's in there?"

"I bought Russ and Denelle's boys some little Christmas presents," she said. "But we haven't seen them since Christmas last year..." She rummaged about in the trunk (or "boot" as the British would say) and found the packages, and off we went to enter the club.

Five minutes later, beer in hand, I sat at our favorite table. A few musicians (Wavelength) were wandering about aimlessly on stage, as is their wont. Within a few minutes they started playing... With the happy addition of some guy playing keyboards. I don't know who he was, but he was pretty good. Whilst my wife and I were gawking at the band, friends Ritchie and Sarah joined us. Ritchie is a fellow bass player. I like Ritchie. He's a nice guy.

After a few songs, the band on stage decided it was time to drink beer instead of play. "Hey, we need people up here," hollered bass player Ed into the microphone. "Radloff, get up here." I looked around. My buddy Russ still wasn't there, and he was the guy I really kinda wanted to jam with. "Hey Ritch," I said, "you wanna play now?"

"No," he said. "Not really. I'm waiting for Russ." It should be noted at this point that Ritchie and Russell are brothers. Not seeing any other bass players in the room, I allowed myself to be persuaded to get on stage. I was sad. I wanted to jam with buddy Russ. Oh well... He and Ritchie like to play together too.

Once ensconced on stage, I immediately noticed something. The keyboard was right in my way. I was kinda stuck back there by the drums (which is okay, just limits the mobility a bit). The next thing I noticed is that the song was going pretty well, considering none of us on stage had ever played together before, other than the odd song at a previous jam. In fact, I kinda liked it. The next two songs went really well, too. I was happy! Giddy with glee! Joyful!

The next band wandered up towards the stage, so I relinquished the bass, grabbed my beer and headed back for the table. Just as I sat down, Russ and wife Denelle showed up. "Hey," he said, "wanna jam?" You have to realize, jam session etiquette forbids me to take two turns so close together when there are other bass players in the room. "I just got done," I said."Oh," said he. "Oh."

We all sat and watched the musicians play for a while. Rock, funk, punk, classic rock... Good stuff! After a bit, Ritchie and Russell came up with a few songs they wanted to play and put their names in for a time slot on stage. Very shortly thereafter, Ritchie was dragging his shiny new-looking upright bass onto the stage and Russ was tuning up. They play well together! I was surprised at the good tone Ritch got out of the upright - usually they sound a little clunky or thin for rock 'n roll in my opinion (but perfect for jazz, which they weren't playing). I applauded. My friends play well. I was happy and drank more beer. They finished to a flurry of applause and came back to the table. We were happy. We drank more beer.

"I'm getting a bit tired," my wife said eventually. "It's past my bedtime."

"Yeah, me too," I replied. "I'm a little sad I didn't get to play with Russ, but it's time to go home."

Just then a guy walked past, pointed at me and Russ and said, "You guys are next."

Hmmm... That changes things. Dagmar and I sat back down and patiently waited until the band on stage finished up, which they eventually did. To my dismay, however, a few other people hopped up on stage right away. Russ and I looked at each other and shrugged. Our wives looked at each other and shrugged. I waited to see how the little drama was going to play out... What was the consensus going to be? Were we going to stay for a few more songs so we could jam, or was everyone going to decide to go home? The tension was palpable. (Not really.) We decided to stay.

A few fidgety songs later, Russ and I were finally on stage. I was happy! Then I saw that former Clammate Rick was fiddling around with the drums and congas and stuff, and that made me happier! Ken was on stage, too, so we had two great drummers playing with us. Wheee! (Ed took the picture, by the way. I stole it from his website.)

We started off with an instrumental surf medley we did in both Hippie Go Lucky and the Smokin' Clams. It was fun! I was tickled several shades of pink!

Then we played a blues song. Oh joy! Rapturous joy!

Then we did a punk version of "Ring of Fire" that I've always liked. My life is complete. I have officially gone over my happiness quota. It felt SO good to play with familiar players and jam on songs I actually knew. Jam sessions are fun, but it's so much better when you know what you're doing, and are confident with the people around you!

To top it off, my beloved bride supplied me with a Boulevard Wheat at the end of the night. A treat indeed!

Here are a bunch of pictures Dagmar and I took...

Me with some guy who can sing and drummer Ken

Buddy Rick from the Smokin' Clams, waiting to drum

Charlie from Wavelength

Jerry, also from Wavelength

Guitarist Extraordinaire Jeremiah

A pretty picture

The Brothers Howard, Ritchie & Russ.
This is the first time Ritch brought his upright. Nice!

My buddy Russ. We were in Hippie Go Lucky together,
then later the Smokin' Clams for a while.

Just an old-fashioned jam...

Conga-bongos are cool.

Good stuff, Maynard!

This was the first jam I've been to with keys. 'Twas nice!

Fellow bassist Ed. I never get tired of taking pictures
of people taking pictures. It tickles me. Dunno why.

The magical fingers of the sound guy, Robert.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Spring Fever?

Waiting for the Trees

Yep, it's springish out there today. Yesterday, too, really. But there still are no leaves on the trees, so the skyline looks a bit stark yet. Lots of mud, some grass, naked trees, it's Iowa in April.

"It's spring!" I said to my beloved Austrian bride yesterday. "In a few more days we'll be able to get the bike out of storage and go for a ride!"

"Yes," she said in that perfect accent of hers. "It's nice to hear de birds twitching in de trees again."

Time Warp

I could swear I got to work about sixteen hours ago at 8 this morning, but it's not even lunch time yet. Is this what Einstein was referring to when he talked about relativity? To me, I've been sitting here staring at this computer for sixteen hours, when in reality it's only been three hours. So my job has a 16:3 suckiness ratio today.

This afternoon I will go home, do some spring chores (gotta mow and trim real quick, then water the new patch of what I hope will be grass eventually), check my e-mail and grab something to eat. That'll put me at about 6:30, I imagine. Then I'll wait for another twelve hours for it to be 8:30 so I can go to the Chesterfield's jam session. Time is indeed subjective, I guess.

(When I typed "jam session" it came out "ham session." I almost left it that way. It fits. Lots of people on stage hamming it up.)

It's a bit later now. I had to do some actual work, since I am at work, you know. I found it odd that I went home for lunch, sat down, ate a cracker, looked at the clock, and was already late getting back to work. There's that pesky time warp again! Maybe it's a corporate thing... The big businesses got together and decided that from 8 in the a.m. to 5 in the afternoon they're gonna make all the clocks run slower to get more work out of us poor peons while simultaneously shrinking the hour between noon and one to fifteen minutes.

DeLay That

I saw on the news today that Texas Republican Tom DeLay decided not to run for re-election. The former House Majority Leader is awaiting trial on money laundering charges, and is the target of a federal investigation that has revealed that one of his top aides was running a criminal enterprise out of DeLay's office source. Mr. DeLay insists that he has never done anything wrong, yet he's dropping out of the race. To me that implies that he's running scared - he knows that the investigators are going to find something, or the Texas people are going to find him guilty. He's also tied up in the whole Jack Abramoff scandal as well.

On the news, Mr. DeLay said that this was not a fall from grace, as he's always in God's grace. Must be nice to be able to do dirty rotten things with a clear conscience. "God will forgive me. I don't have to apologize or feel guilty for anything, even though I did dirty rotten things." (He didn't say that, actually. I did.)

Mr. DeLay won his primary in Texas, but said he dropped out of the race NOT because he's a dirty rotten man who's done dirty rotten things, but rather because he thinks the Democrats might beat him.

I hope that Mr. DeLay's trials and investigations and whatnot go quickly. I'm tired of seeing him on TV.

What's the Big Hairy Deal?

Katie Couric is the big hairy deal, I guess. Everyone seems to be talking about her moving from whatever inane morning show she's on now to some other network to be an anchor. I'm happy that the networks are having female anchors, but I'm not sure Ms. Couric is a good choice. She seems too giggly while at the same time taking herself WAY too seriously. And she has no neck. That bothers me.

I wish her well - I sincerely do - but I'm still rather skeptical. Who knows? Maybe it was the editor of the inane morning show she was on for the last 15 years that made her do giggly inane pieces. She might be a good journalist who was forced to do silly things.

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