August 2013 Archives
- If you seek longevity as a musician, acquire some skill on an instrument other than your voice. Inevitably, the old guys lose the upper registers (or in the case of Gary Lewis, all the registers), but the horn players can rock it until the day they pass to that Great Spit Valve in the Sky. Chicago has done a good job of finding younger replacement vocalists (who are also great instrumentalists) while keeping a core group of four original members.
- On the other hand, it doesn't matter how menacingly you thrust your trombone at the audience, that instrument will never be sexy. (I'm looking at you, James Pankow.)
- The WinPAC continues to impress as a classy venue, but bands need to realize that they're not playing to a 50,000 seat amphitheater, and the audience really can hear quite well even if the volume is only cranked to, say, eight. An eleven on the volume dial is just painful. (And then again, I'm willing to entertain the plausible suggestion that I'm simply getting old and crankly.)
- According to the female half of the couple with whom we attended the concert, Colour My World is a frightfully boring song. I confess that I had forgotten how much I agree with that assessment.
- On the other hand, I could have listened to Chicago's arrangement of Steve Winwood's classic I'm A Man all night long - even cranked to 11 - as well as the encore performance of 25 or 6 to 4.
- To the person sitting either directly behind me or next to me who made an unfortunate dining choice before the concert I offer one word of advice: Beano. Seriously, folks...it's an intimate venue; skip the pre-concert beans and broccoli next time. K'thx.
- Wally Reyes is a fairly recent addition to the group, giving a stellar performance as a percussionist, and apparently having the best time of anyone on the stage, judging by the big grin on his face throughout the performance. Based on his enthusiasm and energy level, I would have never judged him to be almost 60 years old.
- As long as I'm complaining about the loud music, I might as well throw the lighting guys under the bus, too. We're sitting there in the cozy semi-darkness and suddenly we're hit with a few hundred-thousand-candlepower spotlights, and it's not an enjoyable experience, unless you were planning on burning out your retinas later anyway. Don't do that. We don't care if the band sees us or not.
- I attribute this next observation to the relatively advanced average age of those in attendance, but we as a group were an awfully polite bunch of drivers when exiting the parking lot after the concert. Despite the large crowd, traffic moved quickly, and I saw a lot of considerate people taking turns letting people into the flow. Well, there was one driver in a Mercedes coupe who apparently had more important things to do than the rest of us, but the exception made the rule even more obvious.
- I wonder if I was the only person in the audience who, after hearing Walter Parazaider's flute solos, thought it would be really great if we could get Jethro Tull to come to Midland.
...I might as well crank it to 11 myself, with a bonus observation...
- What's up with encores, anyway? Who are we fooling? Who are they fooling? Just play the song(s) you knew all along you were going to play, and spare us the requirement of offering the adulation that earns us the privilege of hearing them. K'thx.
- There's a guy named Bob Buckter who paints ladies. It's not what you think. He colorizes Edwardian and Victorian houses, and the results are stunning. Here's a gallery of some of his work; the before-and-after comparisons are particularly striking. But the obvious question is...who do you get when the need for repainting inevitably rolls around?
- I mentioned Twitter above. Twitter gets a bad rap, primarily from people who either have never used it, or never figured out how to use it properly. Here's a hint: pick who you follow on Twitter according to your hobbies and interests. You might then be surprised at its usefulness. But enough of the soapbox; if you use Twitter, you might find tweetping.net interesting. Granted, it's a hipster website (do we really need to see worldwide Twitter activity in realtime?), but it's also a very pretty one. And the world needs more pretty websites.
Are you as shocked as I am that the interior of Africa has apparently not discovered the joy of the tweet? But see that pinpoint in West Texas? Guess who. Uh huh.
- At great expense to my emotional stability, I have resisted the urge to join the Johnny "Call Me Johnny Football But Only After You Allegedly Pay Me Some Money" Manziel imbroglio. And I'm still not going to waste valuable pixels at this point; I'm sorta over JFFM, especially after his parents tried to go all medieval on my alma mater. My message to them is simple: Don't blame A&M for your deficient parenting skills, mom and dad. You're the Chief Enablers of his ingrained penchant for boorish behavior. And read this article.
- For those for whom one or two pictures of your awesome burrito at Freebirds just aren't enough, there's SnappyCam, a $.99 app that lets you use your iPhone 5 to take 20 full resolution photos per second. Even if you have an old-and-busted version like the iPhone 4S, you can grab 12 frames per second, according to this review on PetaPixel (which, by the way, is a recommended follow on Twitter for anyone interested in photography - @petapixel).
- Speaking of photography, whatever you think it might be like to be the official presidential photographer, you're probably wrong. PetaPixel (there you go again) has a great interview with Dubya's photographer, Eric Draper. I had no idea his access was basically 24/7, which had to be simultaneously exciting and, well, creepy.
- Finally, I can't resist throwing in a bike video. These guys have developed a shaft-drive recumbent, for reasons I don't fully understand (heavier? yep. more complicated? check. more expensive? you bet.), other than that's what engineers do. But they're still cool-looking bikes, and the world could do worse than have more cool-looking bikes.
- My insurance company insists on treatment for an undiagnosed malady before I can get a diagnosis.
- The cheapest alternative for the diagnostic treatment (and trust me when I tell you it was nothing exotic) still costs as much as a decent used car.
- The diagnostic facility misinterpreted my insurance coverage, and then never followed up to confirm it, until I pressed the issue.
- And once we resolved the insurance issue - and only then - they offered me a 75% discount on what they were planning to charge the insurance company*.
The final leg of our South Carolina vacation (about which I've written here, here, and here) took us to Charleston, which takes its name from some historic figure (either Charlie Chaplin or Nick Charles, as I recall, although my memory is a little fuzzy).
We arrived on Wednesday afternoon, following a rather harrowing drive through one of the heaviest downpours either of us have experienced. Our hotel was located in the historic downtown area [you can pretty much tack "historic" onto any Charleston-related noun and be OK] which doesn't have the most driver-friendly layout in the world. But thanks to our geographically astute disembodied GPS guide, we made every turn correctly and arrived in pretty good shape. We were immediately greeted by Sam, the bell captain, who, upon learning our names, called us by them every time he saw us for the duration of our stay. I assume he did this for all the hotel guests, and while the hotel consists of only 50 rooms, that's still an impressive performance.
The hotel? It was the French Quarter Inn, and it reeked of elegance. Here's a quick photographic tour; you know the drill - click on the little pictures to see the big ones.
A rare moment without sweating, wheezing runners, while strolling along Charleston Harbor
The US Custom House is rife with pediments, entablatures, dentiled cornices, and balustrades. Why, it even sports an architrave.
The Battery has many statues of historic figures looking solemn or stoic. The more important ones managed both looks.
There were many historic fountains, generally filled with urchins. The human youthful kind, not the spiny sea creature kind. Did you know that the pineapple is the Old South's version of a welcome mat?
These are some serious cobblestones. Also, I was apparently
adjusting the handle on my head when this photo was taken .
Our hotel was just a block from the historic Charleston City Market, which resembled a series of brick doublewides filled wall-to-wall with sweaty people. We bought stuff.
I've seen ivy-covered homes before, but I've never seen ferns growing near the roofline of a three-story mansion.
You'd have to be awfully good with a weedeater to take care of that.
Charleston has many historic and/or old buildings, like The Cathedral of
St. John the Baptist. Many photographers suffer from chronic neck cricks .
I know I've been a bit irreverant with my commentary (ed. - ya think?), but the old downtown area of Charleston really is made for walking, and the beauty of the city is undeniable. It's full of architectural wonders adjacent to high end shopping and enough wonderful restaurants to rival any major metropolitan area.
We were about a mile from the South Carolina Aquarium, so we strolled down one morning and spent several interesting hours dodging the approximately eight million eight-year-olds who had descended like seagulls on the carcass of an exploded Great White Shark. Actually, watching and hearing the kids' reactions to some of the attractions was part of the fun...especially the poor kid who sat behind us in the 4D National Geographic Sea Monsters theatrical showing, and midway through the mildly scary film started blubbering and pleading for "someone PLEASE take me out of here! Please take me out!!" I suspect he had nightmares filled with marine dinosaurs for weeks, poor little guy.
I'm pretty sure the kid was frightened by what was on the screen, and not by what was in the next row.
Hands-on exhibits are apparently a big deal now at aquariums, and this one let kids stroke stingrays - I couldn't help thinking, "Crikey!" and wondering what's next? Let's put a brown recluse spider down your sock and see what happens! - and fondle sea urchins. I stepped on a sea urchin once in Jamaica, and the only future encounter I want to have with one will be with me wielding a 5-pound sledge and a blowtorch.
We try to visit aquariums wherever we go and Charleston's ranks right up there on the Fun Scale. It's actually a combination aquarium and zoo, with small exhibits of birds, reptiles, and mammals, along with showcasing the typical watery denizens...including a two-story 385,000 gallon Ocean Gallery complete with miked scuba divers who narrate and take questions from the audience about the swirling sealife that surrounds them. Very impressive. Here are a few other scenes from the aquarium.
They claimed this albino gator was alive, but we watched it for approximately 14 hours and never saw it move.
It was only later that we learned we'd been looking at a poster for the gator exhibit.
Did you know that some owls really aren't all that wise?
What do pelicans dream about?
One of the exhibits was entitled Madagascar Journey, featuring the habitats and inhabitants of the island. It included a large lemur exhibit (well, the lemurs were pretty much regular size) with a tunnel that kids could crawl through and then pop up into a plexiglass dome in the middle of the action. Of course, if you know lemurs, you know that their primary action is sleeping, but I'm sure that between naps they were entertained by the kids.
On the way into the exhibit, we noticed a huge crowd pressed up against a small glassed-in enclosure. There were too many people to tell what it was, but everyone was rapt in their attention to whatever that enclosure contained. By the time we left, the crowd had thinned and we understood what had them excited. It was feeding time in the python cage, and the main course starred a little white rat. I tell you this up front so that you can scroll past the following pop-up photos if you so choose. (Weenie.)
This bridge actually has a great bike/walking path along its entire span, and there were scores of people taking advantage of it.
We rented a couple of paddleboards at Nature Adventures Outfitters, where you launch directly onto Shem Creek, a quiet waterway that's practically teeming with dolphins. A couple of them surfaced close enough that we could hear them exhale and see the spray from their blowholes.
Debbie keeps an eye out for dolphins on Shem Creek.
Shem Creek opens onto Charleston Harbor, and if we looked closely, we could see the general area of our hotel in the distance. Paddleboarding in open water is a bit more challenging than in the calm of a sheltered creek, but the only trouble we experienced was when a jerk in a speedboat pulled up right behind me and gunned the engine, trying to knock me off the board with the resulting wake. (Didn't work.)
The Gilligan's Island theme song kept running through my head.
We headed into a freshening breeze (that's sailor talk, of course), and eventually got close enough to the Crab Bank Seabird Sanctuary to realize that the noise and the smell were sufficient to convince us we didn't need to get any closer. In any event, there's a bigtime fine associated with going ashore on the 22-acre sandpit island, which hosts an amazing variety of birdlife.
At the same time we were heading into the Harbor, a huge container ship was coming in. The ship was the MSC Heidi, a 1,089' 108,000 ton deadweight container vessel registered in Panama. I figured it was a couple of miles away from us, but we turned around and let the boat's wake carry us back toward land. The Heidi ended up docking close enough that we could see it from our hotel window, and I would have loved to see the gigantic container cranes unload it, but I never saw it happen.
It's difficult to imagine just how honkin' big these cranes are.
They reminded me of something out of Star Wars or War of the Worlds.
No Charleston trip report would be complete without talking about the food. Oh my. Each restaurant tried to outdo its competition in trumpeting its fresh, locally-sourced seafood and produce, and every meal was memorable. We ate dinner at three different restaurants, each one with a very different approach:
- Our first night, we dined at Tristan, which is actually attached to, but not affiliated with the French Quarter Inn. Tristan is the kind of restaurant you'd see spotlighted on The Food Network, with the chef competing in Iron Chef. This is a destination for foodies, and for "adventurous" eaters who - like us - don't recognize many of the ingredients comprising the dishes set before them. We had the five course chef's special, and I couldn't name for you a single dish. We were both glad we ate there, but it wasn't our favorite meal.
- The next night we walked a block to the Lowcountry Bistro, an unassuming narrown, two-story restaurant on Market Street. Their menu was more our style, with plenty of recognizable dishes like shrimp and grits with fried green tomatoes (which I had), and crab-stuffed flounder with white cheddar and ham grits (which Debbie had). I also had a delicious appetizer featuring pork belly, which is the grub-du-jour in South Carolina. We highly recommend this restaurant.
- Our final night in South Carolina, we elected to go in a different dining direction, and went to Mercato, also located a block from the hotel on Market Street. Mercato is an Italian restaurant with a great atmosphere, especially if you get the big table right in front of the smooth jazz trio - like we did. The food is very good, although nothing spectacular (with the exception of their pork belly appetizer, an imaginative cannelloni dish that was amazing). Again, we highly recommend Mercato, especially if you want a change from ten days of seafood.
The complimentary breakfasts at the French Quarter Inn were up to the standards you'd expect from a highly-acclaimed hotel. No sign of DIY waffles or little boxs of Raisin Bran. Instead, they offered DIY mimosas and fresh berry-and-yogurt parfaits, individual breakfast quiches, chocolate-filled croissants (Tristan provided their pastries, and those we could recognize - and appreciate), and much, much more.