I’ve always been curious, and I always thought I would see the world, or a major part of it. But from my earliest memories, I had no clue how to accomplish that. For a time, I settled for letting the world come to me, so to speak.
Like my buddies, I am sure, I always tried to learn whatever I could about the outside world from the people who moved to or passed through our little farming/ranching outpost near the New Mexico Border.
I can remember quickly befriending a kid from (what I then considered to be a big city) Lubbock, who conveniently moved in behind our family’s house. Another new friend came to Vega from Liberal, Kan., by way of his dad’s first stint as a high school principal. I don’t know where Chano was from, but I was intrigued by his tales of playing marbles with a dried-up, hardened cow’s eye. Debbie was several years older and worked at a cafe when I was in high school. She gave me insight into the New Mexican way of live, albeit quite different, although only 35 miles away. I think Robert was from Canada, and I taught him how to catch a football and to play tennis. Bob and Steve experienced culture shock after moving to Vega from Wisconsin. Pretty sure I met them on their first day in town. The Miller sisters had all kinds of “big city” experiences and music to share when they arrived from Oklahoma City. Tonya told me that the band Kansas played at her brother’s high school prom back in the Sunflower State … There was a family named Meyers who moved to town for about two weeks, their dad having been a stunt man in California passing through on old Route 66 …
I have many wonderful memories of all of these old friends – each one a “Johnny come lately” for a bit. Each was so interesting in their own way … but no one in my mind, was more interesting than my friend Cork.
As the story goes, Cork — in his early teens — had run into some trouble in his home town and therefore moved to Vega to live with an older brother. Vega or time … an easy decision, or was it?:) Cork moved from one of the toughest, most blue-collar areas in Michigan (Flint/Flushing) to Vega … population 838 back then, (… think we are up around 930 now …) Flint, you may know is at more like 100K population, and is the birthplace of General Motors, and pretty much ground zero for the United Auto Workers union.
For an eight grader, Cork was already street wise and small-town me, well, I was ready to take notes. Surprisingly, after a few years he was transformed into somewhat of a cowhand, but there were a few rough times in the transition … Cork’s transformation – was much to the amusement of all of my buddies and me. I’ll get back to that in a moment …
As background, my friends and I were farm kids raised in a very strict school system, each one of us answering to even more strict parents … and perhaps even more important than that, we all had ingrained in us a high standard of character, morals and pride in our school … like many a small town, this moral fiber was intertwined with the importance of sports and education. We were taught and believed wholeheartedly in this way of life. And other than sowing wild oats on weekends, we were pretty well behaved … at least in school activities.
Enter Cork from another world. He had to, first of all, have his long hair cut off to even attend our school. He quickly learned that he also had to pull up his jeans a little to fit in. He complied somewhat … But, you know, you can take the boy out of Detroit, but you can’t take Detroit out of the boy.
I am guessing all of my friends can remember Cork getting in trouble from time to time .. but especially one day in an 8th grade boys science class. By most people’s standards, it was a silly thing. The rule at our school was no candy in class. We were all pretty much rule followers. So, as silly as it sounds, we were all a little taken aback when the teacher called out Cork and asked him just what he thought he was doing eating candy in her class.
“What is that Mr. Shaw?” she demanded in a bit of a huff.
“Mulk Duths!” he replied in a garbled, mumbling, smacking response deep from a mouth filled with chocolate.
In our straight-laced, obedient world, we found this just funny as hell.
But it was what happened next that pretty much blew our little farm boy minds.
“Mr. Shaw, spit that out, and meet me in the principal’s office … WHAT was that?”
To our horror … remember we were already having a little trouble digesting that someone would break the no-candy rule … to our goody-goody horror, our jaws all “hit the ground” when this purportedly troubled teenager muttered a very harsh message to the teacher.
We were in total shock, as was the new teacher, I am sure. What a weird mixture of wanting to bust up laughing and fearing any and all wrath toward the perpetrator and the witnesses as well. How funny/awkward.
That is one of the earliest and most vivid memories of Cork. As he conformed (a little) and transformed and began to fit in he was taken under the wing of a local cowboy/trucker and his family and soon Cork was sporting cowboy boots with riding heels, a cowboy hat and a Levi jacket. It was pretty amazing to see the change. After such a rocky start, Cork was eventually named a class favorite by his peers. As freshman he and I teamed up as driving partners with Coach Miller in Driver’s Ed. We had us some quality time on the roads of Oldham County, out towards Boot Hill Cemetery and Old Tascosa … West to the New Mexico line … South to the agricultural center that is Hereford … East to The Cadillac and on to Amarillo …
It seemed after a while Cork fit in better than I did. He eventually drove a water truck as his job — delivering water to all the local farms and ranches and soon he knew all the backroads and ranches and the cowboys and characters who lived this rugged lifestyle.
But before Cork became a cowboy, you can bet I was quizzing him for information about the big city … especially the music scene. Let’s see, all of this was about 1974 … when shock rocker Alice Cooper was doing teenage rebellion anthems like the teen angst gold “School’s Out” … and Alice — a bit of a rebellious hero of mine — like Cork, for all practical purposes hailed from “Detroit City” to which Alice alludes in “Be My Lover.” I remember that Cork and I had common ground in our taste for Alice.
“ … Told her that I came from Detroit City and played guitar in a long-haired rock ’n’ roll band …”
This of course, was before Alice and his “Welcome To My Nightmare” phase and his downward spiral into horror, and bondage and all that crap … I digress.
So any who … all these years later, I find myself traveling and exploring in and around “Detroit City.” Day after day I have heard the local Classic Rock station use that “Detroit City” line from Alice Cooper to promote their station. It’s a natural, and it makes me think of all those good times, way back when.
But it wasn’t until I drove from Warren, Mich., through Flint and on to “P the UP” … to Ping the Upper Peninsula, that I remembered a crazy Texas immigrant named Cork.
Cork, if you’re out there buddy … Thanks for some wild memories …
So … I had one day from the Dirty Gig here in Michigan, and I headed North … past Flint, past Flushing, past Saginaw (Have I told you that I once had a huge turtle named Saginaw … because thats where we found him in the middle of the highway … Saginaw, Texas?) … and on up to Traverse City, a nice little city on the bay, across Lake Michigan to the northeast of Green Bay, Wis. The timing was somewhere between premature and perfect … because there was a noticeable change in the leaves there further north I traveled.
Everywhere were signs that sounded like a “Who’s Who” of the storied U.S. auto industry … Cadillac, Mich., Pontiac, Mich., and yes I see that GM also makes a Traverse now …
During the journey, at first the surroundings were somewhat nondescript. Sure there were lots of trees and gently rolling hills … but not much diversity in the terrain. It got better. And to my surprise, I really enjoyed the view when I hit more and more farm land. Ha … I never think of Michigan for farmland, but I saw many an acre planted in near-ripe corn, and I saw lots of sugar beet fields as well.
About the time I hit Traverse City, the color change in the leaves pretty much just exploded in all kinds of reds and golds and greens. So nice.
Apologies and pity … that I had only a few hours. In Traverse City, I started the visit in a quirky way, hitting a large impressive Goodwill store — on the lookout for bizarre local t-shirts … a fun game I started back in California a few years ago. Hmmm … I considered a United Auto Workers t-shirt … but thought some would not realize it would be total tongue-in-cheek, since I am not exactly pro-labor unions. I drove on.
Wow. Traverse City has quite happening little touristy downtown area, and to my surprise, I whipped into a parking spot quick and easy on a Sunday afternoon. I hoofed it up and down both sides of the retail district, hitting bookstores, tea shops, t-shirt shops, ice cream shops. The Wi-Fi? … I found several hotspots among the usual suspects. I mean, Wi-Fi is everywhere after all …
A shame that the weather was somewhat cool, a little breezy and bordering on overcast at times … in this sweet lake/shoreline/beach resort community.
So, I will just blog about this one place that is now “kinda special to me.” The Cherry Republic. Love the name. Love the fruit. Love the concept … LOVE LOVE all things cherry, and like the “Cold War-esque bear in their logo. I sampled at least one cherry version of just about every candy, snack and pickled concoction on the planet … In my extensive research, I learned that the white chocolate covered cherries last longer without melting in your hand, than the chocolate covered cherries … not that either spent much time in my hand.
I “shotgunned” a nice cherry cola from Cherry Republic … and I checked in on Facebook using the free and easy Wi-Fi hotspot … nice people, these cherry fanatics — 6 bings … er … 6 pings.
The other place of most interest was the local ice cream parlor. I felt no guilt whatsoever when I skipped the vegan and ignored the gluten free … and went straight to the good stuff. My calorie overload of choice – a waffle cone anchored with dark chocolate amaretto ice cream and then a generous scoop of honey lavender on top. Yum …
After a break-neck tour of Traverse City … I headed over to the stomping grounds of another old acquaintance — Charlevoix, Mich. At the opposite end of the acquaintance spectrum, I have a former client who did well in retail and cashed in his chips so to speak, and acquired a nice property in Charlevoix. I had never been to the lakeside, resort community before, and had always been curious. So … don’t know when I will ever pass this way again, so I had to see Chuck’s little play ground on or around the tiny passageway that connects Lake Michigan with Lake Charlevoix. Timing is everything. I got to town just in time to watch the street bridge over the waterway rise up to let boats pass by underneath … one of the hotter attraction in town I am sure, on the hour and half-hour. I did a quick walk out to the lighthouse, just west of the bridge. No Wi-Fi … then I stopped by a barbecue place called SOW — Smoke On the Water. Ha … love the name and all of its ’70s rock implied goodness. I picked up a Charlevoix t-shirt with a moose (I love an t-shirt with an antlered beast) to add to my new Detroit Triumph motorcycle shirt and my Motown Records shirt …
But sadly … after so much driving and so much reminiscing, it was time to turn around on this one-afternoon excursion and head south on The Dixie Highway back to the Detroit suburbs. First, the iPhone GPS app. took me through some really nice backroads. Is there a scenic backroad setting on the phone??? I had to accept not-enough chilling and not-enough Wi-Fi exploration for my taste … but sometimes you just have to take what you’re given here in Detroit City.
Driving in and around Warren, Michigan, Bloomfield Hills, Beverly Hills, Oak Grove, Royal Oak … marveling at how lush and green the grass is in this place. Driving by the golf courses, i am thinking it is a wonder golf wasn’t invented here. Immaculate. Plenty of forestation in this glove-shaped, land swatch between several Great Lakes. So humid. A few of the leaves are blowing off … No color changes in the trees yet. Wait a week or so. The shadows, however, are fall-like. The shadows are long, and subconsciously you know the sun has moved and soon the warm weather will follow it. This place will become a deep freeze. Everyone knows it … and they are embracing the pleasant sunshine today, en masse.
So … one a day off from The Dirty Gig, Ping did some “war driving” as they used to call it, scouting out places with Wi-Fi. My first free moment here in Michigan, I headed out to Grosse Pointe … yes the community featured in the John Cusack film … the assassin comedy.
While the mansions are incredible, I didn’t see that many retail establishments to ping on the Jefferson Avenue drag. (The downtown area was another story …) Grosse Pointe … a wonderful line of mansions, stretching along the shoreline of Lake Saint Clair … opulence! Hmmm … should I crash in on the upper crust?
So … pondering my sailing attire, as I drove by, I called the yacht club, but got voice mail right away and came to my senses/lost my nerve … decided not to talk my way into their flotilla … He’s “Not The Yachting Type.”
Anyone else remember this one-hit wonder, why the strong finish? I digress …
Can’t believe I chickened out. That’s not like me. As a blogger I tend to go in places, boldly, as if I am a wedding crasher. Guess I wasn’t on my game.
In the ensuing days, I made various stops at one of two Starbucks on Gratiot in Roseville, Mich. … interesting mix of people, including a street hustler whom I overheard accost 3-4 tables of ladies asking them the same question: “How does this Wi-Fi work?” Hey buddy. This is my corner … my schtick:)
I landed at the northernmost Starbucks on Gratiot and always found an easy chair and great Wi-Fi on all of my visits.
Great. Not too far from the water, yachts and mansions, without the pretension. Just need to throw out obnoxious street types who run off the paying customers – six pings.
Glad that I left the shoreline of Lake Saint Clair for a while, I toured more wealthy areas further “inland.” My exploration took me to Bloomfield Hills … with purpose.
The designation – Chase Bank in Bloomfield Hills … great service, nice guy at the desk … He snatched up a PingWi-Fi shirt, which was a good trade for a new debit card. Seems some hoodlum had compromised my old debit card and attempted to swipe it in Houston. Sounded like a pretty smart scam, targeting a Texan, with a bogus purchase in another Texas city.
However, Chase was all over this, since their records indicated most of my swiping has been in Michigan for the last month. Good looking out! Chase gets 7 pings for the hook up on new plastic.
Birmingham … another really nice community with a happening retail, restaurant, coffee shop scene around the downtown area … a pretty cool Police Department building at the heart.
In Birminghamn, I staked a claim on an easy chair at Starbucks for a couple of hours and people watched a slightly older demographic than what I had seen over in Rosedale. Speaking of older demographic group … I took note that Duran Duran will be playing soon in the cool older Birmingham Theater in the downtown area.
Birmingham, Mich., is the U.S. headquarters for the company that takes this blogger all over the world on The Dirty Gig. What a great place for a headquarters … you know, if you have to work …
Other points of interest … Motown! Of all the things to do in Detroit, visiting the record label museum was first on my list. However, the Motown Museum is closed on Sundays and Mondays … so that blew my Labor Day plan. Maybe there will be another chance. I took my selfie with The Temptations backing me up (their photo is displayed in the window), checked to see if there was Wi-Fi and hit the road … ha … listening to “My Papa Was A Rolling Stone.”
Another mainstay here in Michigan has been Leason’s Dairy Bar & Grille. They have the dubious honor of being near my laundromat, so they have become a fave … they have Wi-Fi and they cone a mean waffle, so to speak.
Just wish that Leason’s was open a little later in the evenings. Great Wi-Fi, and luckily I am able to grab the booth with the one electrical outlet on most nights … great nostalgic jukebox and vintage rocker photos everywhere. That spells “malt shop” in my book – 5 pings.
Then here’s my hotel … Although the Wi-Fi is average, I have stayed at worse places than The Baymont Inn. At least this place awards “frequent flyer” points. They have been dealing with my quirkiness for about a month now. Ha … hope they don’t rate me as a guest on a scale of 1 to 7.
The Baymont gets 5 pings … decent Wi-Fi, a pool, acceptable breakfast … but 3 days and two frozen rotisiary chickens in my fridge, several complaints before you changed out the faulty ice box? My favorite thing at Baymont? The night shift lady — probably a student — with the best disposition every morning at 5:45 as she prepares breakfast for us after her all-night shift. Such a great thing to see a person who is happy in their job. Her name? Why it is the same as my favorite country song ever … “Ruby.” She assured me that millions of old guys have quoted the song, telling her “don’t take your love to town.” I digress …
Hmmm … thinking “out loud” … maybe a trip over to Ann Arbor, Mich., to see if the Wolverines are hanging out, licking their wounds from the 31-0 shillelagh shellacking at the hands of The Irish on Saturday.
Well when I drove into Ann Arbor … The Blue Leprechaun was still standing despite the Wolverines getting clobbered by The Irish … what was it, 31-0? (Oh … sorry, I already said that didn’t I?) Wonder if that Leprechaun crafts blue beer???
Down the street, I pulled over to park and to my surprise was apparently on Greek Row, as about 150 young ladies (potential pledges) marched into a three-story house, all the while, the members serenading them … a bit like the song of the sirens, sucking them in, methinks.
Once afoot, I headed down University and stopped in a Mediterranean grill — Oasis Mediterranean Grill. I had hummus on my mind for several days already, then saw the sign that said “Free Wi-Fi.” That pulled me in ever bit as surely as the angelic, inviting voices of serenading sorority girls had done with the unsuspecting freshmen a few blocks away. Yum … a plate of lamb and chicken kabobs, a great garlic paste, the aforementioned hummus and a passel of rice. Ha … for nostalgia, I had a Mellow Yellow (what an unusual drink to feature in any restaurant, much less a Middle Eastern eatery,) although I am sure it was my first fountain version of the ‘70s Mountain Dew knockoff soft drink.
Nice guys working at Oasis. They customized the menu for me, to create a sampler for less than four people. I am considerably less than four … and they are most ping worthy — 6 pings.
Next, I was headed to a little boba tea place spotted on University, when a cool little corner coffee shop distracted me. Espresso Royale, since 1987 they say, is the place to be (at least on Sunday afternoon). Ha … ER is on the edge of the University of Michigan campus, at the corner of bearded dude and black stretch pants. Man there is diversity on this campus … with a leaning toward our Middle Eastern friends, one might deduce.
At Espresso Royale, I had a fine, crafted (ha!) Italian soda … I laugh every time I hear someone describe a drink or a brew as crafted. Oh the pretension … I digress. Great Wi-Fi at E. Royale. I fired up Mike Love’s reggae channel on Pandora via the laptop, and sent out tweets praising SquareRüt for turning me on to Mike Love’s Hawaiian haole reggae. Streaming is a great test of a joint’s Wi-Fi network, and despite the dozens and dozens of laptop types on-line, Royale’s streaming never missed a reggae beat.
This place is like college Nirvana on a Fall afternoon, with temperatures in the low 80s. I bet it was one wild place pre-game yesterday.
Ha … I thought it was cool at face value … then looked deeper … there is a basement too, filled with tables of kids studying and caffeinating, in some great A/C I might add. Pretty cool – 7 pings.
Outside E. Royale, there was one blonde young lady with an “in your face” green t-shirt, the morning after (remember, the shellacking?). Ha! I read her shirt twice, before realized it said, “Fight me, I’m Irish.” On the first reading, I mistakenly thought the verb was a little less innocent.
Great … Finally saw a young man with hair down to his arse … keeping that whole thing alive, whatever that is … Restored my faith in college kids everywhere.
Funniest band name spotted on a t-shirt – Trampled By Turtles.
So where did that boba place go? Ah there it is … just past a place called BurgerFi … hmmm … was that a Wi-Fi reference? A Marine reference? Maybe a fraternity thing? I may never know. It was empty, so I moved on.
Walking, walking … on to find the boba … the tapioca-ball-and-tea goodness. As I walked on, I marveled at how upbeat the kids here seem to be, after what had to be an embarrassing loss … life goes on.
Finally I made it to Mo Mo Tea shop and got my boba on (assuming you have read this blog and know all about the Asian treat with the yummy tapioca floaties mixed in…). Yes, Mo Mo has Wi-Fi. If you hurry, the passcode is Summer2014. I opted for an almond flavored tea. Love the wide .38 caliber straws used to transport these things from the cup to your mouth.
Interesting … at first blush … was loving the place, then encountered a pungent funk … of course it was emitting from the couch where I had chosen to sit. Ha …”I swear it ain’t me.” I excused myself … no not for that … However, I did have to visit the boys’ room to relieve my bladder of all the crafted liquids. That’s when I noticed something really interesting. When I went to the water closet, it was the very first time every that a bathroom — in any of the thousands of coffee shops and tea rooms I have visited — smelled fresher than the cafe proper. Weird. Whatever … but regardless of the odor, I could manage … I had to. My laptop battery was low. So … boba on, funk soul brother. Ah good news. Someone left, and it seemed “the fragrance” walked as well.
Time to test the boba Wi-Fi. “Let’s try some reggae channel streaming at Mo Mo to test hotspot” … no wait. I punched in a new channel on Pandora just for this occasion. How about we listen to … Yo Yo Ma at Mo Mo? Makes sense to me. Ha … fired up the Yo Yo station, and the first song they played was called “Momotaro.” (Follow all that?) Perfect, and a faultless Wi-Fi stream to help me chill with Yo Yo’s cello. Wonder if Yo Yo ever considered creating the MoMotown recording label … I digress.
It was hard not to be swayed by the initial hygiene thing … but great Wi-Fi and a stellar, full bodied, unpretentious, well crafted boba. More bobas per capita in their cups than any one cafe I have seen … Love the sealed drink lids at boba joints … Still wondering what it means on the lid, where it says “Ping Guo.” Hmmm … One last thing, should I challenge the waitress to arm wrestle for a “Got Boba?” t-shirt? The front of their shirts feature a crazy little stuffed bear … kind of a cross between a Grateful Dead logo and a Hello Kitty sticker. Love it – 6 pings.
It’s Labor Day and I am sitting just beyond the shadows of multi-story skyscrapers of Detroit — their outer walls adorned with the names and logos of car companies, like so many decorative hood ornaments on a grille.
Earlier this morning on my way to Bell Island, just off the shoreline of this once booming city, and then on to Motown in the heart of Detroit, I motored by the offices of the UAW. Motor City. (Cool logo, by the way, for the United Auto Workers union, with workers icons lining the perimeter of a huge circle, emulating the spokes of a wheel … or at least that is my interpretation … I digress.)
… Kind of strange to be in this bastion of American unions on Labor Day. Can’t remember the last time I heard this holiday given so much attention in the media. … Certainly never has been a big deal for me and my peeps. Ha! In Texas I think Labor Day is lightheartedly viewed as a “much-needed” three-day weekend … Ha … after only one week of school.
As I begin blogging, I’m sitting in Starbucks in the affluent Grosse Pointe — one of the original urban flight-to-the-suburbs communities — just northeast of Detroit … on Labor Day — somewhat of a guest here in Michigan. Grosse Pointe, Gross Pointe Farms, etc. … all side by side and their backbone, Jefferson Avenue lined with mansion after mansion … no doubt the results of better days for the car industry and this city.
Anywho, I don’t want to be disrespectful and focus much on just how anti-union I am, since I’m here in auto manufacturing country, but I will share some quick opinions.
First, wholeheartedly I think there was a time when sweat shops and child labor absolutely necessitated the rise of unions to protect workers — no question. However, those days are long gone. Today, as an outsider, I have to wonder how unions — a system that compensates based on membership and seniority on the job rather than performance — can be that constructive. It seems to be counterintuitive … if you believe competition leads to improved performance and quality.
How can a guaranteed, ever-increasing wage do more than drive prices up while spreading complacency in the workplace? How can our industries remain competitive in a global marketplace when we inflate production workers’ salaries and therefore production costs?
Isn’t the end result that there will be fewer, albeit higher-paying jobs? As I look around, I don’t see our workforce (or population) shrinking … How can it be good to “handicap” U.S. industry with labor contracts that seem to ignore all laws of economics?
But what do I know? I am just a dumb farm kid from Vega, but that’s not to be confused with a vegan. I digress … And no, with such views, I am typically not confused with any other sort of liberal lifestyle or opinion for that matter.
More blog pondering … curiously strategic that The Vice President of The United States was here today. I suppose that is a better decision than a round of golf. … Here to beat the pro-union drum and stir up support from a traditional Democratic power base. Maybe it is just me … but didn’t hear a lot of hoopla about the visit. The TV stations reported the visit, but there didn’t seem to be any huge vote of confidence or an overwhelming show of support … no roaring crowds of union members hoisting the old VP up on their shoulders. Could it be the even the working man is very concerned about the current administration’s void in leadership and the globe in chaos? I don’t know. Is it such a leap of faith to think a guy who ratchets wheels onto a pickup truck chassis is also concerned with terrorist jihadists bent on destroying us. I think so. Ha! Bet your arse you didn’t see me walking across the street to hear what Mr. Biden was selling.
Would I be giving any thought to all of the “haves and have nots” if I wasn’t seeing the different socio-economic realities along Jefferson Avenue. Interesting. If you have never been to this city, as you leave the suburbs, there is an abrupt end to the opulence. The most drastic I have seen in a city … like a prosperity on/off switch has been flipped as you cross the intersection of Jefferson and Alter. Night and day. Instantly, the demographics change from three-story homes with columns and acreage to the type of sub-groups who huddle up on sidewalks in front of empty buildings that are now in decay, although there are still signs of nice architectural design, once upon a time.
It’s no secret. Detroit is in trouble. We all know the city went bankrupt. I guess the saddest thing I saw was a multi-story, brick, abandoned YMCA building. The entire roof was caved in, with the sky showing through, although the rest of the structure appeared to be salvageable. Near the top, on a ledge was a 12-foot tree, awkwardly jutting toward the sky … a sapling that somehow sprouted then flourished in refuse left behind, as the building was neglected. Nature taking over where man had failed. Ha … maybe that is a sign of hope.
Now forget all that depressing stuff … hear this. I am convinced Detroit and the auto industry are about to turn a corner. I have been fortunate to see some more positive things here around Motor City. The Dirty Gig brought me and my colleagues here to assist with courthouses and automobile plants that were deluged with floodwaters a few weeks back. We’re in the bowels — the dark tunnels … in the design rooms and in the display areas … and all around the high-security campuses … we are seeing some very cool, promising, innovative stuff.
Because it is such a spy-vs-spy industry, I shouldn’t even tell you specifically where we’ve been working. And I can’t give much detail … but we have seen not only next year’s models but also unannounced concept cars … sports cars … smart cars with even more revolutionary size/design specifications … luxury cars … variations on older, reliable themes and totally new designs. So competitive and security-sensitive is the place, that we have even seen drones with security cameras hovering overhead — presumably to monitor our activities. Around the facility, we see next-year’s models driving around with the bodies encapsulated in cocoons of packing materials … so the vehicles can be tested, but not in view of the wrong eyes. Pretty interesting. A portion of our workplace is elbow-to-elbow with one company’s research department. Who knows what all that entails, for the cars of the future … And I am sure I don’t know how this fit in. One afternoon, I saw what appeared to be a skateboard racing down the street. As it zoomed by me, I saw that it was a motorized skateboard, remote-controlled from a nearby office, with a stand-up outline of a man “riding” the thing. Ha … a skate punk drone. Interesting.
And so where does this lead to? My story. For some reason, I am working a new position on this Dirty Gig. I am in supply … Ha … I am the supply department, with a couple of hired laborers. Nothing exciting … order what we need, and try to get it delivered “yesterday.” All the time, trying to guess the exact point when one task will be finished, and the corresponding supplies are no longer needed.
As I try to make heads/tails of the supply and demands, I am reminded of the humorous TV views of Wall Street traders, where the guy has a phone to each ear, and he is yelling “Sell, sell, sell” into one phone and into there other, “Buy, buy, buy.” My stint in supply has been about that crazy. Anyone know where I can unload about a pallet-full of now unneeded yellow rubber boot covers? Oops.
But I don’t want to downplay the scope of my responsibilities on this job. Seems just about — everything … and I mean everything — has the potential to be the supply guy’s job.
Like the other day. Our teams had finished work in a building at one end of the complex. Well, in a flood situation where water supplies and electric utilities are shut down … one of humanity’s most basic needs is accommodated within the fiberglas confines of a horrible little thing called a porta-john.
Perhaps it is obvious, but the porta-loo (as they call them in New Zealand) is one of the first things to arrive on the job and the last to leave. So, when we packed our things to leave an area … we had to move these “honey pots” as they are also sometimes misnomered. Who’s job was it? Supply. But, thank goodness I had help.
Enter what I can only describe as “the poop train.” Three comrades and I had to mount up on forklifts, drive to the far end of the facility — yes, on the first day that the auto professionals were back on the jobs driving their new vehicles and dressed in coats and ties — and transport poo. Ha … we had quite a little caravan … moving slowly, flashing hand signals before a turn, tooting our horns to warn on-coming traffic, avoiding any bumps in the road as to rule out any sloshing … Ha … Yes I know … very gross. But this was our important mission that day, and we were just the guys for the job:) I had to joke that we were “taking our …. and going home.”
Mission accomplished and no “hazardous materials” left the tiny buildings. Hmmm … wonder if there is a union for potty train conductors, where I can file my grievance for that little Dirty Gig.
At some point in my childhood, viewing the world through National Geographic, I learned about bears storing up calories and body fat before they winter in a cave — only to come out lean and even more mean when hibernation is over.
For me … just the opposite.
I spent a couple of months underground on The Dirty Gig in Columbia, Mo. and still bare the extra tonnage — a combination of doing most of my lifting with a fork and/or a forklift … oh and that little ice cream three times a day habit that I acquired in Mizzou.
However, I did master the dormant part of being in a cave. Dormant from a blogging standpoint. Seems I can’t bring myself to think of a word to write lately. Maybe I needed closure. You see, after my team boxed and trucked 300,000 books to Texas for cleaning, the job wasn’t finished. I had returned to Texas, but still had Missouri and the cave in my subconscious as we worked on the books in Texas.
So … this is an attempt at closure … the last thoughts on the Dirty Gig at Mizzou:
One of my BFFs recently told me that this blog is evolving into a motorcycle diary. Is that so wrong? No seriously, PingWi-Fi is and will always be a Wi-Fi/travel/rock music/sports/art/food/photography/motorcycle blog – Ha!
But to her point … The job in Missouri was greatly enhanced by the two-wheeler. I was fortunate enough to fly back to Fort Worth from Columbia, Mo., after a few weeks on the job and then ride back to Missouri on the Triumph. Quality time! Pretty sure I have ridden every backroad from Columbia to Jeff City a time or two, and every other direction out of Columbia — and I have ridden up on some interesting stuff. Missouri is not filled with rugged mountain beauty, but the rolling hills of farmland and rivers and bridges and salt licks and country homes with perfect multi-acre yards is very relaxing and appealing.
On one such ride, I turned off to visit a little river hamlet, only because it’s name was interesting. (Ha … and yet I cannot even remember it as I write, nor can I find it on the map???) That is when I discover a tiny music festival — a combination of tie-dye, hillbillies, music fans, junk cars in yards, and nice people on the banks of the river.
In Columbia, you could usually find me slurping on a green tea frappuccino at Starbucks … but most significantly, sampling the free Wi-Fi from Which Wich next door to Bux … WW had a better Wi-Fi hotspot. I intended to write about WW from inside their store, because just prior to the trip, I had brunch with one of the WW field operations executives. I was shocked to learn that the CEO of WW is Jeff Sinelli, a Dallas entrepreneur and once an acquaintance back when he had Genghis Grill and I had PingelPR … seems like yesterday that Jeff and I shared lunch at his first chain, as I tried to win his PR business back in the day. He has done well! Is it just me … or is there something subliminal in the name and logo for WW? (I always think of witch … and think the triangles in the logo are reminiscent of witch hats … but maybe that is just me???) I digress … but while on the topic, also want to note that in Nashville, I saw two WWs on the same street a few blocks apart. Interesting …
The Triumph motorcycle also took me to Fulton, Mo., home of the National Churchill Museum — on the campus of Westminster College where the visiting British leader coined the term “Iron Curtain” in his “Sinews of Peace” speech. My client/buddy and I rode our bikes to the museum one weekend, dodging rain storms here and there along the way, reaching the museum just as a wedding party took over the place.
It’s a picturesque site with great architecture and a swatch of the Berlin Wall … but frankly, Winston, I found the Keep Calm t-shirts cliche and lacking. My goodness. Churchill has one of the most well known mugs in history … and not a single t-shirt with his likeness. Really?
Beyond motorcycle rides, Columbia offers only the things of which college towns are made. So of course I partook in hippie coffee shops, the Magnetic Zero concert … stuff like that, and an all-encompassing Wi-Fi hotspot that covered the entire Mizzou — even the picturesque Francis Quadrangle with its icon columns – the only remnants of Academic Hall that had a little meltdown in 1892. I tweeted and updated and enjoyed great people watching from the Quad — in the shadow of the Thomas Jefferson statue, at the very heart of American journalism … or what used to be objective journalism.
Elsewhere on campus, the PingWF Tour was fortunate enough to catch The Tigers play the eventual World Series champion Vanderbilt Commodores. Baseball, hotdogs and Wi-Fi! This project also allowed me spare time to ride over to two of America’s favorite pastimes — The College World Series and … Ha! … The National Quilting Museum.
Yes I had the obligatory hamburger at Booches — a Mizzou institution with beer, burgers and billiards. Pretty awesome. Darn near worth the wait at the bar, and the rude waitress, as the bearded guy sweat over a hot grill near the entrance, cooking them as fast as he could.
During many rides over to Jeff City (as the locals refer to the capital, Jefferson City) I frequented a little ice cream shop near the capitol for waffle cones and Wi-Fi. And yes, the Triumph was always a conversation piece. I was approached by a nice professional couple who were sporting a very space-age looking, ultra-aerodynamic Victory cruiser. Very cool, sleek, modern. We traded pleasantries and Web sites … And on another visit to the same location, I was approached by a middle aged guy riding a blueish, almost purple Harley.
The Harley dude shared a few suggestions about scenic backroads and then he shared one of the more interesting stories I have heard in a while. He is a minister, who fairly recently had been fired from his position of leadership, then was hired back … after he purportedly pistol-whipped one of his parishioners (… get this, the beaten one happened to be an ex-lawman). The pastor is said to have learned of the second man making improper advances toward another member of the flock. A fight ensued and everyone was packing that Sunday … apparently. The pastor was reinstated after more details came to light about the ex-officer’s history. Pretty wild. (You can Google this and find some of the information.)
So any who, after a great visit to Missouri, there was another opportunity for a long ride — home. Riding from Texas to Missouri, I had travel the fastest route — taking the major freeways and the toll road through Oklahoma … with little scenic relief until I hit the beautiful Lake of The Ozarks area about an hour southwest of Jeff City.
On the return trip to Texas, I portioned a 10-hour ride into two days through The Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas and down through the Ouachita Mountains. Columbia to Jeff City to Springfield, then down to Hot Springs and then over to Mena. As luck would have it, I hit rain at sunset, juts south of Springfield, Mo. Slow rain at first … then horrible from Branson to Clinton. Eventually, it was totally blinding, so I pulled over at a gas station in Arkansas. I probably could have continued, slowly, but it was the cars around me that were more of a threat than the lightning … I think.
So, I pulled over, parked and walked inside some gas station store, me being the subject of lots of stares and comments about being a fool out in the rain … and nice concerned comments too. Criticism accepted, but hey, I needed to get home. Once out of the rain, I ordered up whatever the fried food was at the counter and a Gatorade when there was a huge lightening bolt nearby. All power went off. The cashier was helpless without juice for the cash register and she felt sorry for me, so she gave me the food and drink. I told her the price was right, so “How about a hot coffee too?” She obliged and told me I was welcome to stay there out of the rain … for about 15 more minutes when they closed. Luckily I had already gassed up before the lights went out. I waited as long as possible and got back on the wet bike and wet road. The rain had let up a bit. It was still a little hazardous, so I took “’er easy. “
Ten miles up the road, the rain lifted, but the road twisting up and down and around the mountains was covered with those low hanging clouds and/or fog. It was pretty surreal on its own … but then as I rode further the fog began to turn all sorts of colors, in bright quick flashes … This ride was just before the Fourth of July and throughout the Ozarks people had taken a break from their homemade distilleries and meth labs and were firing off do-it-yourself pyrotechnics shows of patriotism. Ha … the colorful, flashing skies looked like that one seen in “Apocalypse Now” where Martin Sheen and company reach the end of the river in their quest for Marlon Brando, the rogue officer hiding out in the jungles. Ha! I will take an “Apocalypse Now” scene over a “Deliverance” scene in backwoods Arkansas any time.
That night I made it to Hot Springs at midnight, a trip that normally would have gotten me to my hotel by about 10. Lucky for me, the hotel clerk whom I called could not even tell me how to get to her hotel. (No GPS as I move on the bike.) She said … “Oh it is a major rode that you need to turn on, but I can’t think of the name. It is by one of the two Walmart stores … “Well that helped.” …. I was pretty amused (not) when I figured out she couldn’t recall the name of Airport Road … you know, the road named after that little thing where airplanes take off and land. I digress …
I took a hot springs-like bath to ward off hyperthermia, slept like I invented the concept, and rose early to get back on the bike just after sunrise … and on this the final day of the ride, ended up with nothing by sunny skies through some of the prettiest country I have seen. Around Mena near the Arkansas/Oklahoma border their is a scenic route that crowns the very top of a steep mountain range, for several miles. Awesomeness. On 270, Albert Pike Road — near Mount Ida I think it was — i spotted a scenic overlook and slowed down for a quick “smell-the-roses” moment.
As I pulled to a stop, I noticed that there was another motorcycle already perched on the side of the hill … a black Harley, stripped down and chopped out so to speak — a little more hardcore than my touring bike. And as the owner turned away I noticed the “colors” on the back of his leather vest. Early on in the blog, back in Winston-Salem I had the fortune to ride the hotel elevator with several Hell’s Angels. (It’s all there in the Ping blog if you care to search for it …) And on this day, I met my first Bandido. Ha … what to do? “Should I hop back on and ride away?” “Should I tell him black is my favorite color?” I decided to just chill and say hello and fall back on our common denominator — motorcycle road conditions. He told me the road was clear behind him, in polite enough terms. So we talked for a minute or two — when feeling more inquisitive than I should have — I asked him a little bit about his motorcycle clan. Then — for the life of me, I don’t know why — I tried my hand at humor. I asked him, “Say, you’re not going to kill me or anything, are you?” There was a moment of silence, allowing ample time to rethink the wisdom of the joke as my life flashed before my eyes in my imagination. After a couple of awkward silence seconds, he looked at me and smiled and said, “Nah, I don’t have a shuffle to bury the body.” We laughed — me a bit nervously. I wished him luck with whatever it is he does, and rode on.
The back road was dotted with antique cars, restored or abandoned and ripe for pickers. I took a photo in some hamlet with my Triumph Thunderbird juxtaposed with a ‘60s era Ford Thunderbird (thinking my car collector friend Derik would love it). I made a mental note to take a phone number off of several ‘50s era houseboats, land locked on the side of hill, for sale. And rode on, marveling at the scenery … mountains, trees, oh the smells, birds bridges, lake after lake … so different to take it all in … in the wind, rather than from a car.
There were several hours of Oklahoma backroads with nice farms along 70 from Hugo to Durant — a natural progression between the mountains and Texas.
Finally I reached Texas and soon found myself being challenged by bad-attitude drivers at top-speeds on 75 north of Dallas … a rude welcome back to Texas. But, thank goodness for the George Bush turnpike, I got out of the haters and enjoyed a more peaceful cruise to the mid-cities and then on to Forth Worth. Home. Safe. Sunburned. Content.
I have never been to a biker bar per se — excluding one of the incarnations of Main Street Saloon in Lubbock — well … because I am merely a motorcycle nut. Big difference.
Regardless, when I heard about a little bar and grill dedicated to bikes — called Triumph — over in St. Louis, I had to get over the bike and on over to Arch City. PingWi-Fi featured St. Lou back in 2010, but there is always room for more exploration.
So, I cruised up to The Triumph Grill on a Sunday. That was good and bad. Good because I had my choice of anywhere I wanted to park. Bad, because the Triumph dealership that actually opens into the back of the restaurant was closed.
“This ain’t no biker bar.”
The Triumph Grill is a fairly upscale restaurant that just happens to be owned by another motorcycle nut, apparently, and the two-wheeled lifestyle is featured throughout the main dining area, the bar, and various side rooms for small groups and special events. Most cool — the annex … The Moto Museum, a gallery of vintage motorcycles from all over the world. The museum aint no “meat-and-taters place either … more of an international palate for cycle enthusiasts — a 1975 Bultaco dirt bike from Spain, in pristine condition; a 1949 IMME from Germany; a 1955 Bergmeister Victoria; a Nimbus from Denmark: a Swiss 1932 500cc Motosacoche; a Derny and a Peugot from France … and many more.
Ha! There’s even a cycle made of lumber! (The thought of splinters …)
So, I had brunch and tested the wireless network before a photo tour of the place. Great Wi-Fi, a more-than-decent crab louie salad, but as the waiter warned me the red velvet cake was a “little dry.” Ha … at first bite it was somewhat reminiscent of a cellophane wrapped Little Deb treat … but with much nicer presentation. Interesting. The color scheme of the desert was almost the exact shade of my Triumph Thunderbird LT — maroon and black … parked just the other side of the window. The treat needed lubrication. So, I kickstarted the cake with some ice cream. Then it was pretty delicious. Outside The Triumph Grill is a great little sidewalk seating area. Have to admit I didn’t like the Frank Sinatra-era music playing, but I had earbuds, and I guess that music genre does establish a classy vibe here among all the motorcycle posters …
Great Wi-Fi … someone open up the dealership, and please get some Triumph Grill t-shirts!\
Wouldn’t be social media without taking photos of my food right? But the best thing? The people. I would have never understood this before I bought a bike, but I now understand it is such a mobile conversation piece. Young and old school alike, more and more, strike up conversations to talk about the motorcycle … anywhere I park. I swear half the over-50 population, at one time in their youth owned or rode their friend’s Triumph. The visit to the Triumph Grill was no different.
After I enjoyed a good meal, a slightly-older gentleman — a professional looking gentleman, probably on vacation– commented on the Triumph Thunderbird LT waiting on me outside. He expressed a great appreciation for the overall design of the bike, but mentioned he had a Harley Davidson in his youth. Doesn’t matter. We talked bike for a while, and moved on to college sports. He and his wife and another couple were all visiting from Alabama.
Joe, LaNelle, Kathy, Donny … “Roll Tide!”
Nice, nice people … we exchanged Roll Tides and Guns Ups and talked SEC vs. Big 12 and baseball and The College World Series and of course more motorcycles. A Harley man, but he loved the T-Bird … Good answer.
They were quite interested in the blog, especially after I told them their photo would be on it. So, I explained to them that the blog was educational … And (kiddingly) that I always tried to bring people up in the world, a little … So I had them all imitate me, as I flashed the Texas Tech “guns up” hand signal. Ha … they all complied. Fun group
For one last silly punch line, among new friends, just before I got up to head to the men’s room, I excused myself for butting in and interrupted yet another group at another table and asked them to keep an eye on my cameras and computer because “those people are from Alabama” … pointing at my new friends.
Vroooooooom! 6 pings — 1 down and 5 up just like the 2014 Triumph Thunderbird LT … but please, open the dealership on Sundays, if you are not going to sell Triumph Grill t-shirts of your own. Gotta have a t-shirt!
I was 21 and had talked my way into an interview with the college newspaper because I had earned some stripes at a few hundred rock concerts — and I was savvy enough to dress up a little with a corduroy blazer for the interview (even though the boss was another college student).
Somehow, I was given the job as an entertainment/features writer.
One look at the map and you see why Edward Sharpe &The Magnetic Zeros played Columbia, Missouri — a college town — on a school night. Smack dab between the larger venues in Kansas City and St. Louis, the Mizzou crowd gets some great acts on off nights.