UNCORKED

September 25th

We arrived at the Silver Springs Campground, in Stow, Ohio, on Sunday, the 22nd of September,  sometime between 3 and 4 in the afternoon.  As I mentioned in a previous blog, one of the features of the park is a dog park, called “Bow Wow Beach”.  A couple of other campers told me that it is rated as one of the ten best dog parks in the nation.  I don’t know who rates dog parks and assigns their value, but I can say that it is an excellent place for dogs to roam free.  There is a pond that I am told was originally a swimming hole for humans, now given over entirely to dogs.  Rufus likes wading in, although he hasn’t shown any interest as yet in swimming as such. Even so, he and I have visited Bow Wow Beach every day since setting up camp.  At night, we have had a tired, more relaxed, and definitely more mellow puppy to deal with. 

Wednesday night, I played the Uncorked Wine Bar, in Akron.  At first, Rachel, the bartender, wanted me to set up outside on the back patio.  I played my first set out there.  But we are officially in the season of Autumn now, and the nights are starting to get chilly.  Only one or two brave souls amongst the customers were willing to join me on the patio.Uncorked, Akron

“I am braving the chill of the night air for my edification,” said one gentleman.  He strolled about the patio while I played a song or two, then retreated back inside to the bar. 

After the first set, it was agreed that I should move inside to better commune with audience there.  The Uncorked Wine Bar is just that: a place that features a wide selection of fine wines.  It is also an art gallery, however, and is presently featuring a collection from various local artists who had all submitted works for a local competition.  As such, there were some edgy works on display.  One of the winning pieces was a circular mural of sorts; a melange of images meant to comment on GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms), and their effect on our environment and on us.  I took a few moments during one of my breaks to examine it.  The images were tangled into each other in a nightmarish way that effectively portrayed the artist’s feelings and intentions on the subject. 

I met Jill, the owner of Uncorked.  She and her husband make yearly pilgrimages to Colorado (to Estes Park, in particular), so we shared stories about the recent floods out there (sidenote: although I did not catch his name, Pony informed me later that the gentleman who had come out looking for “edification” was Jill’s husband). 

Jill owns three dogs and a cat (the mirror of our own collection of pets), so we chatted for some time about dogs and cats and such.  Jill is one of those folk who feels more like an old friend, even on meeting her for the first time.  She bought a couple of CD’s for her personal collection, and we talked about the possibility of my returning sometime next July (at this point, a lot of the places I have played so far have asked about when I could return to play again; a very encouraging sign, that).

Pony made the acquaintance of a couple of the customers, including a gentleman (Ray) who teaches at the University nearby.  The three of us had a conversation about academia, the exploitation of adjunct professors, and other issues of contemporary economics.  These are the perks of my job: the chance to meet new and interesting folk. 

And still, given our circumstances, each day stands out from the day before.  It is an intoxicating experience, that. 

SCRATCH TRACKS PART II

The day after our gig in Flint, I played a couple of hours at Agua Dulce Coffeehouse, in Monroe, Michigan.  This was another lovely gig, in a place that really knows how to make a fine cup of coffee (or so my wife will attest; I never acquired a taste for coffee, myself).  Again, Mark (the manager) and Cheryl and Tony (a couple of the owners) made us feel very welcome, as did the clientele.  One guy bought three CD’s via the PayPal credit card processing feature we now have on Pony’s smart phone (a good investment that piece of equipment is proving to be).  Agua Dolce, MonroeWe spent one more night at the fairgrounds, then used Sunday to travel to our next destination.

We have ended up at Silver Springs Campground, in Stow, Ohio.  It is technically a city park, and a real treasure.  In addition to the usual amenities (again, electricity, a dumping station), there is a fantastic dog park where Rufus can run free and wade into a pond and play with several other doggies.  Rufus is happy as a pig in poo.

Myself, I am still wrestling with a nasty case of poison ivy.  A good 40% of my body is now covered with a rash.  Pony looked up poison ivy on the internet to confirm the symptoms.  My suspicion is that Murphy got some on his fur during his little adventure at Lake Manawa State Park, and it was then passed on to me.  One of our errands on Monday was to grab another tube or two of hydrocortisone ointment at the grocery store. 

Days when I am not actually playing gigs remain busy enough in their own right.  There is always practicing guitar (interspersed with writing and/or learning new material).  But we often look for a public library, or a Starbucks, or some other place with WiFi, to get onto the internet and work on the website.  Actually, Pony has assumed the role of webmaster, while I use the “Gigfinder” feature at the Reverb Nation site to research more potential venues to play.  Huge chunks of time are devoted to sending out EPK’s (Electronic Promo Kits), and making follow-up emails and/or phone calls. We have altered our travel plans slightly, where we look to travel next week to Annapolis, and spend a few days with friends there.  While there, we hope to catch up on more internet work:  perhaps getting things set up with Pandora, Amazon, Itunes, and a few other internet options.  We look to return to the DC area again in late November, to spend Thanksgiving with my sister and my nieces, so this excursion to Annapolis may lay the ground for some more gigs a little later on. 

In some ways, I am probably working at least as hard as I ever have.  On the other hand, we have been graced with staying in some beautiful places.  And Rufus and I have had some fine, long walks and discovered many an interesting trail.  And to be fair, I love the work that I am doing.  It might get old for some of my friends to hear me say that, but I am grateful to be able to still say as much. 

 

THE GOOD BEANS CAFE

September 20:

We made it on Thursday, the 19th, to a county fairgrounds on the edge of Ann Arbor.  While perhaps not quite as scenic as some of the state parks we had camped in so far, it had all the amenities (electricity, water, a dump station, and a shower house) and was sort of midway between the two gigs I had in Michigan.  We then learned that there was a dog show scheduled on the fairgrounds for the weekend: Irish and Gordon setters.  Rufus was over-joyed at the prospect of meeting so many new doggies. 

My gig on Friday, the 21st of September, was at the Good Beans Café, in Flint. 

Good Beans, Flint

Good Beans, Flint

I cannot say enough good things about Good Beans.  The performance space is a nice, intimate sitting space, with a lovely, open stage, a really fine sound system, and some excellent acoustics made even more welcoming with a healthy dose of local art mounted on the walls.  Ken, the owner, is a kind and generous host, with a keen interest in promoting musicians, as well as the arts for the town , and the town of Flint itself. 

Ken informed us that the Café is located in a part of Flint known as “Carriagetown”.  It is a neighbourhood nestled in between a university, two other colleges, and a hospital, and was described as a “walk to work”neighbourhood, where GM workers used to literally walk from their homes to work at the auto plant in town.  All of this is a history that was rather colourfully detailed by Michael Moore in his documentary, “Roger and Me”.   I asked Ken what folks in town thought of Mr. Moore.  He told me that it was a pretty mixed bag.  While there were some who fiercely defended him and his movie, there were others who felt he had sort of kicked Flint while it was down. 

“It didn’t make it any easier in trying to sell people on the virtues of Flint,” remarked Ken. 

In the Café, there was a pile of fliers advertising a house for sale.  Built in the late 1890’s, some 2900 square feet, with five bedrooms and two bathrooms (some flattering pictures on the flier), the seller was asking $55,000.  Ken told us he had a four-bedroom house he was trying to sell for only $10,000 and still couldn’t find any takers. 

Earlier that day, I was reading an article in TIME magazine about all the grand projects Google was launching.  I would like to invite Google to consider building a plant for R and D in Flint.  Honestly, while it is true that there are parts of the town that look like a war zone, it is a place that is ripe for a renaissance.  And Pony and I both thought it was a town that deserves a new life of some sort. 

I played my heart out at the Good Beans Café.  We sold a couple of CD’s, made some extra money on tips, and left hoping that we will find our way back here again, someday. 

Music and Art

Music and Art

WHEELS KEEP TURNING (OR DO THEY?)

September 19:

“I’ll bet you’re awful glad to be out of Colorado right now,” a guy (who had introduced himself as Darrell) said to me.  

This was in an RV park in Logansport, Indiana.  And for the record, it was raining at the time.  In fact, it was raining pretty hard, and had been since the night before. 

It was not as bad as the rains in Colorado, however.  That much was true, and for that we might own a certain measure of gratitude.  Even so, there I was, standing in the rain in Indiana, staring at a flat tire on the RV.  _MG_0394

We anticipated a bit of fixing up to be part of acquiring a used RV. We took it in to Best Auto, in Arvada, where they replaced some badly worn brakes, fixed leaks in the pipes, and saw to a few other quirks, here and there.  But, of course, it is the road that really lets you know how ready your vehicle is. 

During the first leg of our tour, on Casper Mountain (in Wyoming), some of the folk we were camping with alerted us to the fuel leak in our  generator (described in greater detail in an earlier blog).  Then there was the problem with the battery in our tow-car.  It was on our way to the gig in Ames, Iowa, that one of the spark plugs apparently flew out of its mounting, taking the ignition coil with it (we were told, by the way, that this is such a common flaw of Ford engines that there is even a kit specifically built and supplied to auto mechanics to address the problem; which makes me wonder about a possible collusion between the Ford Motor company and auto mechanics). Then another flat battery in the tow vehicle.

We managed to make it as far as Indiana before the incident with the flat tire.  Ultimately, it turned out to be a bad inflation-stem (“Someone put a rubber stem on, and truck tires should always have metal stems,” I was told by Dave, at Cass County Tire).  I have a goal: to make it more than Five hundred miles without needing some sort of vehicular repair.

SCRATCH TRACKS

I itch,

I’ve been itching for a little over a week now.  It is a killer combination of mosquito bites, chigger bites, and a bit of poison ivy. I am pretty certain I acquired all this new sensory stimulation while traipsing through the woods of Lake Manawa in search of our wayward kitty,

With Murphy, it always seems to be a form of tough love.  He is a very cute, fluffy puffball.

That’s why we haven’t killed him.

Yet.

For those who have not grown up in the Midwest and may not be familiar with chiggers, they are a small bug that hide in the grass, waiting to get into the tight places of your clothing to bite you.  There was a notorious incident my senior year of high school, when I spent the better part of a summer working for the Des Moines County Conservation Board.  Most of the work was mowing the grass and cleaning the latrines at the county parks, but there was one day when the supervisor assigned three of us to spend an afternoon clearing a drainage ditch.  It was hot and sweaty work, but, as it turned out, not a very long job.  The three of us had the job done in a little over an hour or so.  One of the other guys suggested that, instead of heading back to the shop (where the boss would only give us something else to do), we might just stretch out on the grass and listen to the Cubs game on his transistor radio.  We agreed that sounded like a fine suggestion. 

I don’t know about the other two guys, but that night I counted over 100 chigger bites, most of them where my jeans had hugged closest to my body.  It still remains one of most vivid memories of torture I know. 

This latest case is not quite that extreme.  And I have been slathering on anti-itch ointment every every evening, and I can start to see the various red marks receding.  Strange as it may sound, it is years of meditation that actually help in this case.  I stay grounded in the present.  I take almost anything one moment at a time (it is thinking about how long you have been itching, or wondering how much longer you may yet itch, that can make the experience all the more excruciating). 

And I occupy myself with playing guitar, booking more gigs, and writing.  And as annoying as the itching may be, it is tempered by the experience of living in state parks, wandering the trails and enjoying the scenery.  After nearly two years of walking around Lake Arbor, Rufus and I are now enjoying walks in beautiful places across this country.  I enjoy the scenery, while Rufus has been taking in thousands of new smells. 

Today, we pack up camp and head for Michigan, where I have two more gigs this coming weekend.  That sort of itch (the itch to keep moving on), that sort of itch I can handle very well.

 

A HOUSE CONCERT BY ANY OTHER NAME

The next gig was a venue called The Space For Ames, in Ames, Iowa.  It was a commercial space in a building that included a spa, a Korean restaurant  called The Scallion (and very popular, from the traffic going in and out that I saw), as well as one or two offices of one sort or another.  The performance space itself was adorned with an art installation from Lindsey, a graduate student at Iowa State.  I was one of some half-dozen acts scheduled that night; the only “touring artist”, and the unofficial headliner, given an hour set while the others varied from 15 to 30 minutes.  I was also scheduled in the middle of the line-up, which also suited me just fine.

It was a good crowd that filled the room.  They were a very welcoming audience as well, making for a thoroughly enjoyable evening.  I don’t mean this so much as a brag, but with such an encouraging  audience, I did one of my best sets.  Every tune, every piece felt confident.  Over the years, I have had the pleasure of studying guitar with Ricardo Iznaola  (who leads the guitar program at University of Denver).  Ricardo has such a mastery of his instrument that, to watch him play is to see an artist with the most direct connection between him and his music.  On a night like the one at Ames, I had a glimpse of what that must feel like.  It is a form of Satori; a natural high of being firmly in the moment. 

I want to take one moment to send a shout out to my old friend and Coe College classmate, Doris Nash.  She works as a costumer for the Iowa State theatre dept., and made it out to the gig to hear what I am up to these days.  It was good catching up with her.

The next day, I had a gig booked at the Morning Sun Care Center, in Morning Sun, Iowa.  It was about 150 or so miles from Ames, so we packed up early and were out of Prairie Flowers State Park by 8:30 that morning, giving us more than five hours to make it to Morning Sun .  Once we were on the road, I urged Pony to head to the back and take a nap on the bed.  Rufus joined her. 

The Morning Sun Care Center is a different sort of gig, but still one that I dearly enjoy playing.  The audience there wants more in the way of stuff they can sing along to.  I still mixed in a few of my original tunes, as well as some covers from a couple of my CD’s, but for the most part I stuck with John Denver, Hank Williams, the Beatles, and other favorites that they could join along.  On a couple of songs, one or another of the residents got up to dance to the music.  Angie, the Activities Director, told me I would be welcome back anytime, and also shared with me the names of a couple more care centers  in the area that I could look to contact,  Since we were already talking about returning to the Pizza Shoppe Collective (in Omaha) in December, it seems like a good idea to make it back through Southeast Iowa at that time, as well. 

After  the gig, we made our way to Geode State Park, about midway between Mt. Pleasant and Burlington, IA.  These are old stomping grounds, where I grew up.  The next gigs are two in Michigan, set for the 20th and 21st of September.  That gives us a few days to spend a bit of time with family and friends, and to camp out for a day or two in the Burlington Public Library; again, making use of the WiFi and plotting where our tour goes from here. 

And one of the things I would like to observe at this point is that I find myself feeling evermore firmly rooted in the present moment.  Every day feels more unique.  I am surrounded by loved ones, doing what I dearly love, and learning new things all the time.  So far, so good.

HAVE YOU SEEN OUR KITTY PTIII

Murphy grew to be the biggest of our three cats.  And as he grew, two thoughts seemed to take hold in his brain.  The first was that he should be king.  This meant establishing dominance over Zebie and particularly Sam.  Murphy would lie in wait to pounce on Sam.  But Sam has become a master of “Kat Fu”, the ancient art of Kitty Combat.  Murphy would leap at Sam, and Sam would perform some small, subtle movement, and the next thing, Murphy would be flying like some maniacal dust mop across the hardwood floor.  Another moment, and Sam would be standing over him, one or two paws pinning Murphy to the ground, as if to say, “You still have much to learn, young Grasshopper.”

The second abiding activity for Murphy was to escape.  He was always trying to get out of the house, and became especially adept at observing when one of us was less than attentive while going through one of the doors.  To be fair, most of the time he only went out a few feet, then to roll onto his back and glory in his triumph.  Often he was content after having achieved this goal to have Pony pick him up and carry him back inside. 

When we made the move from house to RV, he found a way to slide open one of the screens one evening (causing Pony to get dowel rods to keep the screens propped closed).  But again, he was usually fine with proving his point, and usually settled on top of one of the tires, or in a gap underneath one of the sliders, waiting for us to find him and carry him back in. 

Early Monday morning, and I am wandering ever farther afield through the park, vainly searching for our lost cat.  I hate contemplating the notion of traveling on without him, but it hard not to consider that possibility. 

We go into town for a good part of the day to take care of business.  We split our time between a McDonald’s and a Starbucks, making use of the WiFi to work on the website and to use Reverb Nation’s gigfinder feature to look for ever more potential venues.  This is often followed up with a few phone calls,  I feel good about adding a new date at the end of the month, in Akron, with the possibility or one or two more in the Akron/Cleveland area to be confirmed in a few days. 

Getting back to Lake Manawa, having a light dinner, then more searching about the park in the growing darkness.  Another camper tells us he thought he saw our cat in a particular patch of woods.  It is truly evening by now, and I go traipsing through that particular stand of woods with dog and flashlight (Rufus is not trained as a tracker, but I nurse some small hope he might help us flush Murphy out).  The only thing I think I found in that search was a bit of Poison Ivy. 

It is past 11pm.  Pony and I return to the RV.  I start washing dishes.  On the dashboard of the RV is a Buddha statue with a place to set a tea candle.  Pony does so, lighting the candle, then heading back out into the dark.  Later, she tells me that she went out to sit on a bench in the dark, and meditated.  She visualized a blue glow surrounding our RV, and in her mind she saw that glow extend out to the border of bushes where our kitty had originally vanished. 

All I know is that I was washing dishes and suddenly I heard a soft mewling.  I could see the other two cats and knew it wasn’t either of them.  I could still hear it; it seemed to be underneath the RV.  I went outside and found our prodigal cat under the RV.  He was thinner by at least a couple of pounds and quite happy to come inside for some dinner and water.  I picked him up and shouted for Pony with a mixture of laughter and sobs.  Now we could continue our journey.

Home at last, relaxing

Home at last, relaxing