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Top Offense, Stingy Defense Battle Under Houston Sun

September 24th, 2017 · Tags: Cities · Sports · Wi-Fi

Have Helmet, Will Travel

Houston versus Texas Tech … a great matchup pretty much ignored by the favor-playing, subjective major media, but #IIWII.  The reality: the most prolific offense in college football was facing a team on a winning streak … a team led by the best defender in the country … a D squad that was giving up only 9 points a game … A game ignored except for someone’s quirky sense of humor — assigning the former, much-maligned, totally unsuccessful Texas Tech replacement coach Tommy Tuberville as a play-by-play announcer.  What were they thinking?

Meanwhile, the media machines shamelessly promote Texas Tech’s former second-string (or possibly third string) quarterback — Baker Mayfield —  for The Heisman … amazing how much better a QB he is with the best players in the country surrounding him.  Was The Heisman ever really about best individual player in the country, or has it always been a team award?  I digress.

 

 

 

Moving on … Houston’s TDECU Stadium provided excellent Wi-Fi, although the game-time temperatures and the sweltering humidity melted my handheld device and me:) No seriously, the Wi-Fi was excellent … a near perfect score … 6 pings.

Interesting to note that the game featured a patriotic rendition of The National Anthem, without any distractions for people who respect our country and appreciate those who have given everything to make this country the greatest on the planet.  I digress … Correct me if I am wrong, but I think the two teams were still inside the locker rooms during the anthem.  I am not for sure, because I was focused on The Color Guard and Old Glory. So, perhaps Houston game planners decided to skirt the issue.

Is anyone stopping to think? The kneeling during The National Anthem began as support for a group founded to support people who resist arrest by the peace officers who are charged with the deadly job of maintaining order in this country.

 

Another note: No kudos to University of Houston Sports Information folks who didn’t even respond to the PingWi-Fi request for media credentials, although we covered The Coogs before they were cool, back in the Kevin Sumlin/Kliff Kingsbury/Case Keenum days.  So be it.  The Ping sports action shots suffered, having to shoot from the bleachers, with the cheerleaders between us and the action.  Not a terrible thing, though. PingWi-Fi made the best of the situation.

 

Tech Has D?

Being a lone Red Raider in a Houston Coogs stadium, I didn’t know what to expect.  But it was a lucky day.  A cool guy and his son — both rabid Houston fans — joked with me, complimented Tech and yelled their guts out for the other team all day … all while being an excellent host and friendly competitor — the way sports is supposed to be. Kudos to Houston for welcoming its opponents! Ha … later, the dude went to get a beer and food for his son, and all hell broke loose.  Houston scored immediately, after the Coog fans left their seats.  So, the rest of the game we superstitiously joked that he should go stand in line again, as Tech pulled away again on the scoreboard.  The Coog even offered to go stand in line just to buy me a water, if it would help his team.  Ha … we also were unified in our applause — for the flag, for injured players on both teams when they recovered … and especially every time a little cloudcover gave us some relief from the heat.

 

Kyle Allen

On the field, the game was pretty sloppy.  Tech pulled out a win, but had there been eight more minutes in the game, I am not sure the outcome would have been the same.  Both teams were zapped from the heat and humidity, but there is no doubt the guys from arid Lubbockland were feeling the effect more.  The Tech passing game never really found its rhythm, although there were a few nice plays.  The running game made the difference.  Is Tech’s Desmond Nisby the Red Raider’s most physical ball carrier since Bam Morris?  Regardless … he busted through from three yards out for Tech’s first touchdown, making it 13-0 in the first.  And he led the blocking for other rushers all day long. Tech led 6-0 early on two field goals … then later missed two field goals.

I haven’t poured over the stats, but in real time, it seems the Texas Tech defense is improved … greatly improved … gang tackling!

 

Shimonek

Interesting to note that Houston passed the ball more than Tech.  The Red Raiders’ Nic Shimonek was 29 of 45 passing on the day. A pair of Houston quarterbacks went 32 of 52. (Both Houston QBs are named Kyle … Aggie offspring?)

Houston QB Controversy

Texas Tech doubled Houston’s production on the ground, 200 yards to 110 yards.  Neither team did well on third down.  Tech failed to convert on 13 of its third-down attempts.  Houston struggled on third as well, missing out on 12 of its opportunities.  Not sure either team were on their game, although the quarterback change for Houston late in the game totally changed the momentum … but too little too late.  Overall, Houston turned the ball over five times, to Tech’s one.

It’s difficult to say how many Tech people were in the crowd.  Red Raiders were asked to wear black shirt in the stands, because Houston was decked out in red.  However, this Tech fan included, many ignored the black shirt invite because of the heat.

 

Wyatt, John

One of the better parts of the day was crashing a Houston tailgate party.  After circling around the Frat Row tailgates, I landed in the PES Alumni tent (Professional Excellence in Selling) … hosted by my nephew. Did you know The U of Houston is worldwide renown for its sales program? Anywho … excellent  breakfast burritos and cold beverages and friendly salespeople.  Ha … there was even a nice cameo by my “niece-in-law” Tara and young, 1.5 year old Cougarboy Wyatt.  Ha … the salespeople were handing off Wyatt like he was a box of crackerjacks … good family times.

So … it was fun … and although not pretty, it was a W against a tough team.

Know what I sayin?

Houston Dirty Gig Continues … #IIWII … Rap About Nothing

September 17th, 2017 · Tags: Cities · Music · Satire

 

When you were a child, did you know what you wanted to be when you grow up?

I knew what I didn’t want to be at about nine and it involved math.  Ha … I recently figured out that I was good in math back then only when it involved memorization — pluses, minuses, multiplication tables and all of that. Not so much the reasoning, formulated part of math.  Mix in an X or Y variable, and … (as you read this, make that sound effect of a brain exploding).

My math impairment was quite evident to me early on as I would help my dad raise/feed/count cattle on the farm.  I could carry and bust open a rectangle of baled hay as good as the next kid … but when it came to counting cattle, I was worthless.  Ha … I can remember my dad driving the pickup truck across the pasture and slowing moving into a herd of cattle.  “You count every cow that’s on your side of the pickup, and I’ll count mine,” my dad instructed.  About 20-25 head into the count, some heifer would reverse it’s course and head back into the herd behind me … and of course while she did that two or three steers would rush over into the group that I had just counted.  I would subtract the one and carry the three and all of that … but when Dad asked me “How many?,” he would get a definitive “uhhhh” from my side of the Ford.  We would have to start over.  Dad didn’t like that much.

Flash forward about 50 years and I pretty much have the same counting skills.  Ha … so I have to laugh that The Dirty Gig in Houston has me rescuing various companies’ documents that have been all but destroyed by the flood waters from ol’ Hurricane Harv. We are rescuing soaked “banker box” files of personnel records and medical records and what have you — the things that businesses have to retain.  Some of them are in that zone where the company is required to keep just one more year.  So they have limited importance, yet have to be retained all the same … I digress.

The point is that attention to detail is crucial.  Ha … as I told one of my bosses … pretty sure I am the last person in the world who should be doing this.  Just like the bales of hay, I can still pick up a 50- to 70-pound, rectangular box of mushy paper mache with the best of them … But counting, labeling, filing, organizing hundreds of boxes at every company.  (My brain just ‘sploded again …”)

Man … paper soaks up water like a sponge, and keep in mind these are “black water” ingredients, comprised of water and unknown microscopic beasties from sewage plants, chemical factories, street runoff … you name it.  It Nassssssss-tay!

But that’s what we do.  On a Dirty Gig, I might be in a warehouse ordering forklifts, pallets and drywall … or I could be operating a manlift a few stories high above the parking lot of a skyscraper … or I could be overseeing a crew that is ripping out walls and tearing up carpets … or cleaning computer equipment …  It’s always different.

Ha … this time I am “a documents expert.” This gig even included rescuing a disgusting, filthy, smelly, disintegrating vault full of cash at a bank that had been underwater.  Money laundering at ground zero … ha … but sadly, the currency — every red cent … or brown, slimy, greenish, moldy bill — is shipped away to be destroyed and replaced with new bills, in case you were wondering.  Actually the cents … the coin … will be cleaned and put back into circulation.

Thank goodness the bank folks were on site to keep me honest … in my count, that is … No twenty dollar bill is worth losing one’s job, nor their soul … I digress …

So we have counted and packaged and hauled and put the wet, salvageable documents in “reefer” trailers to freeze them and arrest mold growth.  Kind of cool, pun intended.

But even counting money can become mundane, and the mind is prone to wander.

Especially when driving around a city the size of Houston in a truck, bouncing from project to project.

As with any Dirty Gig, it is those mundane moments when I tend to get by with a little help from my friends.  Thank goodness for the laborers who help on my team.  Some of them actually work.  A few of them can even keep up with this farm boy … But almost all of them are entertaining.

In fact, one of my team is a somewhat notable rapper around the Houston music scene and has a high-quality, well-produced video on YouTube … and he even has played on stage at Austin’s SXSW Festival.  Several other workers dabble in this art form — so foreign to my musical ear.

Ha … there have been plenty of moments when someone broke out into freestyle, rhyming “mold” and “gold” and “truth be told” and stuff like that.  I think one verse had a “Kent” and “spent” and “rent” among the impromptu base lines and rhythms.

Serious conversations about rap have ensued in which I have predicted the genre has a limited life span — because there are only so many words that end in “a-t-i-o-n” … “imagination,” “indignation” “sensation” “destination” … and stuff like that.  This comment earned no street cred whatsoever from my workers, by the way.

But I have been keeping my mind open and my horizons broad, switching the truck radio to various urban format radio stations, with mixtures of R&B, hiphop and rap.  Ha … I even rapped in Spanish to my non-Spanish speaking workers.  They didn’t know it was just a poem that Señor Thompson required students to memorize in Spanish 101 back at the Vega escuala.  Ha … the workers just heard a slight repetitive rhythm and some foreign words that rhymed, busting from this guy.

And then something magical happened when — as rap artists — we started to collaborate in the cab of the truck, stuck in traffic and cruising through toll plazas and such.

We started to collaborate after hearing a rap song by Yo Gotti, Mike WiLL, featuring Nicki Minaj, that utters “Rake it up … Break it down … Bag it up … Rake it up, rake it up,”  and such over and over …  Then the song turns into a rant or diatribe about “ho’s” “N-words” and such.

I’d had my fill.  I said, “Guys, I hope that is not your favorite song,” and I reached over and turned off the song, hurriedly, before the repetition made me go insane.

(I would include the link, but the lyrics are pretty off-color … You can Google if so inclined … Or maybe you, or heck, maybe everyone in America already knows the song.)

The guys of course laughed at me, as I ranted about the repetition … then I finished my comment with the all-encompassing, multi-purpose, over-used wisdom of the last 10 years or so, with the cliche, shaking my head … “It is what it is.’”

Soon one of my workers was freestyling and we were making plans to produce a rap video all about the hard street life in Houston, the floodwaters, the challenges to work when companies are underwater … and then the chorus, or main rap would repeat “It is what it is” … “It is what it is” … “It is what it is” … duplicating the simplicity and sound effects and repetition of the “Rake It Up” song.

We were brilliant.  Everything was flowing … We talked about inserting one “bridge” in the song — a transition between other similar parts of the song.  The bridge would feature a bunch of young children voices from the school yard, jumping rope and happily chanting and laughing “It is what it is.”

I had visions of super-slow motion video sequences, showing us tough guys hopping out of our truck, walking with swagger and throwing down lots of hand gestures … rounding the box on the back of the truck and throwing open the door to reveal a truckload of money … You can picture that right?

Then our marketing minds took over.  We quickly slapped together the acronym IIWII and noted how cool those letters look, side by side.  In our minds, a hashtag was born too — #IIWII … we had plans for that to become a logo … maybe a gold piece of jewelry dangling from our necks … and to have IIWII on t-shirts and oversized ball caps.  Brilliant, I say.

Ha … as a joke, I grabbed a black Sharpie pen and wrote IIWII on a piece of that sticky, blue painter’s tape.  As a joke, I stuck it on my new rap partner’s back … kind of like the old “Kick Me” prank that kids paste on the backs of other kids.  My friend Ellis thought it was funny and he is a good sport, so he just left IIWII on his back even though he knew it was there.  Later, when we stopped to grab lunch at a neighborhood Kroger, he still had the blue tape on his back as we both headed over to collaborate on some hot chicken wings from the deli.  Ha … as Ellis was grabbing some tasty yardbird from under the heat lamps of the buffet, some stranger was in line behind him.

The stranger grinned as he saw the blue tape on Ellis and said, “You know someone is playing a trick on you, right?”

Ellis — or Yo-L.S. as I call him — grinned back, never stopping from his mission to load his plate.  He turned to the stranger and just said, “It is what it is.”

Ha how subtle … how funny.

… The next day, our B.I.G. bubble burst when we Googled again and this time found that there were in fact several songs with “It is what it is” lyrics.  Darn it!  They beat us to it. One of the songs was a rap song that pretty much was identical to what we were doing.  They say great minds think alike.  Does that include rap?  Could it be that I had heard this rap song before and subconsciously had planned to rip off the man?  Ha … I don’t think there is much chance of me accidentally being exposed to any more rap than I have to be … nor plagiarizing intentionally or otherwise. Chalk it up to coincidence … 

“Chalk it up, chalk it up.”

“Chalk it up, chalk it up.”

“Chalk it up, chalk it up.”

(staggered base beats on 1, 3 &4 … electronic clap sound effect …)

“Chalk it up, chalk it up.”

“Chalk it up, chalk it up.”

“Chalk it up, chalk it up.”

Know what I sayin?

A Little Rain, A Little Ride Washes Away The Hate

September 15th, 2017 · Tags: Arts · Cities · Politics

 

Currently, The Dirty Gig has stationed me in Houston, in the wake of one catastrophic storm as a second just had its way with Florida after ravaging all the vacation islands.

We’ve all read so many tragic stories of individuals and even entire families being overtaken when their vehicles failed to negotiate flood waters.  It’s no laughing matter.  It could happen to anyone.

So I am hesitant to retell my recent brush with “turn around, don’t drown” — not wanting to seem callous or flippant toward others whose stories did not have happen endings. But, I vowed to share a few more thoughts from a recent road trip.  Here we go.

My brush with troubled waters — a split-second decision to cross or not to cross water — happened near the end of my 2,000-mile motorcycle trek to Wyoming for the eclipse. Curious, if anyone has researched the weather trends after total eclipses-es-es … considering the moon’s effect on the oceans.  I digress …

After miles and miles of beautiful, hot sunshine through the golden country and greener pastures of the heartland, bad weather caught up with me in one of the more harrowing points of the journey — the bottleneck where interstate highway squeezes through the mountains at Raton Pass, New Mexico on the Colorado border.  Ha … even while fearing for my life, I was laughing that my Triumph bike might be thinking, “I am Thunderbird … I bring you heap big rain, Ke-mo Sah-be.”

Raton Pass is a fun ride on a bike, even among four-wheeled motorists who fail to see the dangers in cutting off or tailgating a motorcycle on a steep grade at 7,834 feet above sea level.  But then, add rain and decreased visibility to the mix and the mountains take on a new persona.  Rats.  Rain hit me dead on at Raton, and for once, I backed down and took refuge under the wing of some gas station.  Forty-five minutes later, there was a slight let up.  I studied the weather app and thought I saw a window of opp … and I rode cautiously toward Clayton, New Mexico — a barren stretch — and then on toward the Texas border.  Ha … I was pretty focused on the slick roadway in the rain. I passed the Capulin volcano and never saw it through the rain, even though I am quite familiar with it … having ridden both Triumphs up to the rim of the dormant volcano other other journeys.

The rain stopped near Texline, Texas and I scooted on down to Dalhart, Texas, now dry on the bike from the welcomed breeze.  I served the Thunderbird some gas, and headed toward Amarillo … dry and happy.

When I hit Amarillo, another storm blew in, and rather than taking the loop north of town, I chose the seedier side of Amarillo — The Boulevard — a more direct route with the potential for more lighting.  Amarillo Boulevard, the once-proud twin sister of Route 66 … now a shady lady of the night in this thriving Interstate/agricultural/energy economy. It’s a different world, in contrast to the more widely known cattle baronesses and wheatheart pageant winners that grow in the Amarillo area.  It didn’t matter how much neon lighting there was that cold, wet night.  The rain was about as hard as any I had ever seen, so unrelenting.  I hung out at some multi-cultural, multi-functional convenience store with a drive up window for booze … expecting to share the dry corner of the store with Amarillo’s working girls.  I guess the ladies were smart enough to get out of the rain sooner than me, so I drip dried alone.  Another 45-minute wait ensued before I dared to continue east.  Hmmm … Amarillo Boulevard was not nearly as well lit as I expected, once I passed the bars and motels and convenience stores.

 

As I continued in the rain, I got lucky.  A traffic sign caught my eye, declaring, “Road May Flood.”  I took heed and motored on, but more slowly and watchful, as the rain continued.  Then came my hazard.  At the extreme east end of old Amarillo, the boulevard dipped down out of sight beneath a humble railway bridge.  I coasted closer and saw water.  There was no current, a good thing.  But it was very dark.  I was about two miles from a nice warm shower and a soft bed at a new Holiday Inn Express.  Behind me was cold and dirty street life. Turning around was an option, but not a good one. The water appeared to be about four inches deep.  “I’m going for it.”  Wrong.  The water was more like a foot and a half deep, and quickly swallowed my front tire.  I didn’t know if it would get even deeper.  What to do?  I had committed.  There was no turning around.  Was it better to ease through or rush?  I heard the water muffling the exhaust and I feared stalling.  I gunned it and the front tire splashed a channel through the water, most of which landed in my lap. But I made it through.

A few days later, as Hurricane Harvey approached The Texas Gulf Coast, my friend “Ferg” posted on Facebook the wise catch phrase, and I repeat: “Turn Around, Don’t Drown.”  My story could have had a much different ending with just a few different variables.  I tend to be lucky and live to fight another day:)

Before that water obstacle, my ride had been one of reflection.  Roadtrips are a “good place to get some thinking done,” to borrow a Phish phrase.

 

… To borrow a phrase

On the road to the eclipse, pertinent song lyrics and rock ’n’ roll lore danced in my head.  Most notable, Carly Simon’s lament to the vanity of Mick Jagger came to mind “you flew your Learjet to Nova Scotia to watch the total eclipse of the sun …” Ha … I thought of how funny it would be to show up at an eclipse viewing party wearing a scarf that was apricot (as Mick is described as wearing, in the song).  I thought of a famous Grateful Dead concert, where Jerry Garcia and my more-favorite Bob Weir and the band played a concert in front of The Great Pyramid during an eclipse.  Pretty heady scheduling, that one.  I thought of Pink Floyd’s famous live performance among the ruins of Pompeii, and all of their Dark Side of the Moon imagery … as the miles rolled past.

And how about “I’m being followed by a moon shadow, mood shadow …”? I wondered how many FM stations were playing that hit by the artist formerly known as Cat Stephens in anticipation of the eclipse.

But beyond the music and the eclipse, my mind was troubled.  Just before I left Fort Worth, I had written something critical toward a group of people who were spreading hate and inciting violence in the name of hipsterdom.  I was not politically correct in doing so, but then I have never in my life cared about the status quo.  In my comments, I was open minded … perhaps a dangerous thing in these troubled times.  You see, it didn’t matter to me which side of the political fence a group of protesters were on in recent violence in Virginia … Yes, I’d say most definitely that one of the groups was wrong.  Actually, I didn’t agree with the other political side either … but as an American I supported whole-heartedly the controversial, non-PC group’s right to express even the most unpopular, perhaps unintelligent opinion.  For the record, I  do not and never have supported any group that hates another group based on the color of their skin … period.  But I did see — as one of a dying breed (an objective journalist) — and pointed out that both sides of the protest in Charlottesville, Va., were wrong … and furthermore, I pointed out that there is a genocide taking place in the United States that is much more worrisome than the threat of any historical statues.  But the real genocide (abortion) doesn’t get headlines in a fake news world.  Blah, blah, blah … …

Here’s the point.  After I posted the open-minded remarks, an old college friend basically called me out for supporting free speech and open mindedness and grouped/labeled me with the neo-Nazi protesters.  Ha … I assure you nothing could be further from the truth … I was stunned and insulted.  Understatement!  It was not an easy decision to hit the friend-eject button on Facebook, but I did it.  Still can’t believe it.  Accused of racism and losing an old friend … over social media propaganda and politically correctnegativity … (I just coined that … use it)

I must have rehashed in my mind that social media exchange for several hundred miles … so sad. Well, they say a motorcycle ride is good to clear the head. Good thing.

I rode on.

The motorbike is not only a hate eraser, it’s a time machine.  Magically, I was transformed back to my childhood.  Remember when we all used to pump a fist up in the air, from the backseat of the family car, to get truck drivers to honk their airhorns?  It works with trains too, if you are speeding along beside them on a scenic highway.  That happened … several times on the long ride.

Mentally, I put the world and all its troubles in timeout and breathed in the scenic beauty of the Creator … and forgot about mobs destroying man-made statues …

 

Kent County Jail

A few more highlights from the journey …

On a backroad between Fort Worth and Lubbock, I nearly ran out of gas.  My planned fuel stop happened to be in a tiny town with no gas stations — “What the dickens?” — no gas in Dickens, Texas.  The next town was about 22 miles away, and my gauge promised only to take me about 20 of those.  So I backtracked a little and headed south to Spur, Texas for fuel.  With fresh gas in the bike’s belly, I sped on and daydreamed past my turn off, adding about 30 miles to my journey north.  However … it was a good thing.  I came across this fantastic little intersection, with an old, abandoned, stone-walled jail from another era in Clairemont, Texas.  How cool.  Very much a ghost town, but it’s the former county seat. Great place for a photo or two … my first visit to Kent County, btw … And … The jail house rocked …

This Texas backroad (82 and 114) is a new favorite and one of the best parts was a quick visit to my alma mater, Texas Tech.  “My how you’ve grown.”  People dismiss the school and the town of Lubbock, a lot … but that’s understandable.  If you have never lived there and seen how beautifully the red tiled roofs and Spanish architecture come alive in the early Fall, with dreamy blue skies and billowy clouds in all directions as far as the eye can see … well, without seeing that … you just wouldn’t understand.  And then there is the excitement … the buzz when Lubbock gets its Tech on … when students return to classes and the population of the midsize city swells with metropolitan kids from Houston and San Antonio and Dallas … and Vega … or wherever, bringing lots of input from different circles … 

There is an excellent Starbucks just beyond the shadow of The Jones … The AT&T branded stadium at Tech … which has served me a mean helping of Wi-Fi and green tea on several occasions.  The Wi-Fi there is excellent and there’s top-shelf people watching … from cotton farmers to students, to professors … to bikers … oh … that would be me, the longhaired guy in head-to-toe leathers.  Ha … I bet no one would ever guess the “biker” was once the entertainment editor across the street at the college.  Ah the memories … And then it happened … that perfect motorcycle term of endearment.  A young college dude walked over to crazy-looking biker dude and complimented me on my Triumph parked near the front door … Man I love Tech!

Further north, I hit the town without a frown … Happy, Texas … a tiny place that my tiny town played in sports when I was really young.  Now it is the home of an upstart little bank that could … The Happy State Bank and I chanced to glance over and see one of its ATM machines perched on the side of the interstate, by its lonesome.  Ha … the tiny cash machine looked like some smaller version of the Prada in Marfa art installment (way down south in Texas).

Happy, why the long face?  Like so many small towns, when the interstate passed it by, things slowed down.  Some dried up.  But there is a great little downtown, with cool buildings just begging to be revitalized and turned into an art colony.  Who’s with me?

It was also in Happy that I spotted an antique wooden windmill, branded with the manufacturer’s label:  “Eclipse” … as if to commemorate the journey.  How cool is that!?!  … Couldn’t resist the selfie opportunity, notwithstanding the helmet hair.  (Locks of Love donation coming soon … Woohoo!)

Earlier I rode through Tulia, but sadly, didn’t have time to stop for lunch in the town’s claim to enchilada fame, The El Camino restaurant.

Ha … I even hit Kress, Texas … another high school opponent in those thrilling days of yesteryear.  That’s right, home of the Kress Kangaroos.  How very unlike Texas, that mascot!  A wise man from Vega — a Vega Longhorn — once uttered the spirit-filled challenge, “Get a ‘Roo with a moo!” Ha … I considered checking in on Facebook at Kress just to quote that line as my comment, to check in with my Vega bretheren … but didn’t … I digress …

No pings. No score.

On the way to the moonshadow, I pulled over in Denver to say hello to a friend, a friend with an interesting job.  She is a bit of a farm worker, I suppose.  Ha … a Colorado farmer … or rather, she works in the Colorado version of a farmer’s market … dispensary is the word I’m trying to spit out.  Yes.  She is in the legal weed business.  Not sure how I feel about that now.  (Remember, I am pretty open minded … can see both sides …)  There was a time when I experimented with that sort of thing, decades ago.  Back then I was quite an advocate.  Now, I don’t know.  I will say this, some of my observations now are just as I envisioned as a teenager.  I have seen so many lives destroyed by alcohol, but not by marijuana … But does a “lesser of two evils” build a very strong case?  I don’t know.  Certainly now, I have to marvel at the money that legalized recreational and medicinal marijuana are pumping into the Colorado economy … Lots of Texas dollars … I digress.  Anywho, I did not partake, but I am a sucker for an unusual selfie.  I toured the friend’s dispensary and also the repurposed, huge warehouse that is now a massive, multi-roomed grow facility.  Crazy!  Hmmm … no Wi-Fi, although the dispensary was treating its regular crowd to burgers and hotdogs … to fight off ground zero munchies, I suppose.

After the rainy night in Amarillo, described previously, I headed back home.  For the most part, the weather was perfect.  The back road, (82 & 114) had the best, multiple ingredients — a brand new barbecue restaurant with huge sandwiches, little traffic, lots of distant mesas, famous ranches like The 6666 and The Pitchfork … quaint towns like Seymour and Loving and MEGARGEL!?! What kind of a name is Megargel?

Ha!  At about the 1,940-mile mark of my eclipse trip, I saw clouds forming again.  At Jacksboro, Texas I could see the rain had passed through town just before I arrived.  The streets were wet, and the bike was throwing up a little moisture from the paved surface, but no downpours.  In fact, it was picture perfect.  As the road headed straight for Jacksboro, a huge double rainbow appeared, dead center over the town.  There was no other traffic on the road.  Just me and the Triumph and the colored arches in the sky … as if I was being welcomed into the rainbow gates, cleansed of all social media hate … amazed at the creation … what with eclipses and mountains and rainbows … Life is good.

Know what I sayin?

The Eclipse Roadtrip … ‘Totes’ Phenom!

August 24th, 2017 · Tags: Arts · Cities · Wi-Fi

 Sometimes the road trip is all about the destination.  More often, the journey makes the road trip.  Once in a while the road trip is all about the moment.
 
PingWi-Fi and motorcycle just traveled 980 miles to witness two and a half minutes of solar bliss, the eclipse, in the totality belt … or “totes” as my hipster friends might say.
 

Fort To Fort

 
Well, I would say the total eclipse was a once-in-a-lifetime moment, but I’ve heard there was one in 1979.  Do you remember that one? (No doubt we would, had there been social media …)  I did not, until I saw vintage clips of the news coverage of that era.  Hmmm … ’79 … I was technically enrolled in college so I am sure there were things more important than an eclipse in my limited world view at the time.  I digress …
 
As we were all planning our eclipse trips and eclipse-glasses-wearing parties, several friends commented that they would just as soon watch the eclipse on TV.  I can see that.  After all, the professional photographers for the networks surely captured better images than all us “regular joes” with our iPhones or Nikons or whatever.  I can see that … totes.  However, there was no way TV could provide an accurate glimpse of the moment when the 100% zone went dark.
 
 
Through a lucky twist of fate, I ended up viewing the phenom at historic frontier Fort Laramie in Wyoming.  There were only a couple of thousand people gathered at the fort … nothing like the throngs and traffic jams reported from places like Casper, Wyo., and such.  (More on Casper in a moment …)
 
Fort Laramie
 
So …  about that moment … THE moment.  To begin with, everyone at Fort Laramie partied, and picnicked and hung out for hours, occasionally throwing on the eclipse glasses to see if there was any shadow at all, and then after the eclipse started, everyone took periodic status updates.  Surely that was just like every other viewing party outside the totality belt. But at the last moment, when the moon moved directly in front of the sun, it was like nothing I had ever seen … difficult to describe … an eerie combination of instant darkness, a stillness and a sense of awe and surprise among the crowd … even though we knew to expect it and had waited for hours.  At the moment of totality, we were all shocked for a second, with our mouths open … and there was a collective gasp around the park, sort of nervous laughter … “wows” … then applause.
 

Partial eclipse, cottonwood tree shadow

 
When I say darkness … that was weird too.  The best description may be that it was as if someone entered a room and hit the light switch … but a little light was still leaking in through the curtains.  All of the sudden, there were no noticeable shadows.  I would compare the level of light to that of a normal evening, thirty minutes after the sun goes down. (But a split second before it was bright and sunny.)  And all around there were pinkish-orange, fiery sunset-like pastels on the horizon.  Everone fumbled for our various phones and cameras and video devices to try to capture the impossible … and then it was over.
 
Sadly, I was unprepared … with no tripod that would fit in the saddlebags, and no eclipse filter.  Ha … I tried poking a hole in a cottonwood leaf and sticking that on the camera lens for the old “camera obscura” effect … but no luck … I digress …
 

Totality, Fort Laramie

 
 
Funny … the remaining partial eclipse subsiding was then of little or no interest to the crowd, after the total blackout … people started walking to their cars, dazed and anxious to beat the inevitable traffic jam everyone would face on I-25.  If ever I have witnessed an anti-climactic moment, that was it … after the total eclipse … as we all turned our back on the rest of the show.
 
Half-heartedly, I checked for a Wi-Fi hotspot and found nothing.  Ha … there were places at Fort Laramie where I couldn’t even get cellular service … preventing those instantaneous Instagram shots …
 
Oh those poor devils who were about to join “the parking lot” that was once the mighty I-25 thoroughfare.  I had just a taste of the 25 after the eclipse, as I tried to backtrack the route that got me from my hotel in Fort Collins, Colo. to Laramie early that morning.  Post eclipse, I hit I-25 for about 20 miles.  It was a hot miserable stalemate, so for the first time ever, I did that motorcycle thing that pisses off all the cars, trucks and hippie vans … I jumped over to the shoulder of the road to bypass all the other motorists.
 
For the record, I didn’t feel good about it, but the thought of an overheated Triumph Thunderbird on the side of the road out in the vast Wyoming landscape and a case of heat stroke bothered me more.  Yes. I am a cutter:)  Well, for the most part, no one cared. They were all probably sharing comments on burned retinas in the air conditioned confines of “they cars.” Out of hundreds and hundreds of cars I passed from the shoulder, only one person took offense. One brand new, purple pickup truck with Colorado stickers and various left wing anti-violence stickers tried to take me out, intentionally. He whipped over to the shoulder and slammed on his brakes in front of me.  I acted as I were at an impasse … thwarted … totes … I paused for a moment to let him bask in his self-righteousness-ness … I gave a head fake and passed him all the same as he almost took out a traffic sign in my stead. “So long, sucka!”
 
Even more to that fella’s chagrin, I was soon out of the traffic all together, on a backroad from Wheatland, Wyo., to the city of Laramie (120 miles).  I learned the shortcut that morning through the kindness and camaraderie of a stranger.
 

Dave In Lingle

 
You see, on E-Day morning, around 4 a.m., against all better judgement I headed out north on the unfamiliar backroad 287 from Fort Collins to Laramie … Despite deer and moose and elk and what have you. Well, I rode high in the saddle, eyes peeled, avoiding close encounters with any thing with hooves. Awesome. Hours before sunrise there was still enough of a glow to see the immaculate landscape … Only a few trees in a valley or riverbed, here and there, but immense mesas, jagged cliffs, breathtaking vistas … Oh my! And no traffic to speak of, only an occasional car, readily available to call 911 and scrape me off the pavement if that moose encounter became a thing.
 
Well after the initial morning bliss I pulled off for gas in tiny Laramie and then parked to the side to look at the map again. At that point, my plan was to continue north to Casper.  Two days prior to E-Day, I thought this was brilliant. Who goes to Casper with The Grand Tetons and Yellowstone and Glacier National Park in the vicinity? Well, the day before E-Day, Eclipse Eve, the national news led off with the astounding number of skywatchers who had descended on the rodeo clown of Tasper … er … rather the rodeo town of Casper. A multitude. Crud. “What to do?” I had resigned myself to “make the best of it” and “just get as close as you can.”
 
Then it happened. A moose encounter! A motorcycle roared up to where I was standing at the gas station and this bearded, leather-clad, slightly older dude hops off, smiles and says, “Where ya headed, brother?” I shared my Casper plan and my apprehension about the crowds.
 
“Well hell. You’re welcome to follow along with me.”
 
Prudently, I asked him if this was a ruse to get me out in the country, kill me and fashion a new lampshade and a drum skin out of my hide, for his sweat lodge or mountain lair. He scratched his beard and laughed, and said, “Not really.” With that affirmation, I said, “Let’s go!” He then went in detail about the road to Wheatland and then further north, near the Nebraska border, with a loop around the Grayrocks Reservoir … yada, yada, yada … “Dude. You’ve obviously mistaken me for someone who gives ‘a rat’s ass,’ as some would say. No matter what your plan, it’s better than what I have.”
 
Grayrocks Reservoir
 
I trusted this guy, he was on a bike (the ultimate ice breaker for guys who no longer share a locker room or chase a leatherball …) We shook hands and I learned his name is Dave. (I have never heard of any mass murderers named Dave … okay one David … but regardless …) I thought he probably checked out … And then the moose sighting, referenced above. Dave is the president of The Moose Lodge for all of Wyoming … (you see what I did?) … What a cool, chance meeting … And his story checked out. I verified it by reading his license plate frame on the bike. It said “Mighty Moose” or “Three Moose-cateers” or something like that about the lodge. Seemed legit. Most important, he was a local with good eclipse intel — EI.
 
I know now that I had never really been on a motorcycle ride before that trip!  Dozens of “twistees” through semi-treacherous, indescribably beautiful, pristine mountain passes and endless drops down into the cottonwood valleys, all at 75 to 80 mph. Wow.  I seriously thought, “Can the eclipse top this?” Soon we circled one of the most beautiful reservoirs I have seen … A small “inland sea” of blue, gentle waves guarded by a ring of massive whitish-gray rock formations and a few dozen campsites and tents here and there.
 

Pre-eclipse Ride

 
What an excellent place to view a “clipse,” I thought. Wrong! We rode on. We passed Fort Laramie — the town and the historic military installation — and continue toward Nebraska.  Rugged terrain turned to tame Field-of-Dreams cornfields. What happened to the cliff and mountains and scenic views with twistees, I was thinking??? (“Maybe Dave — The Most Highest of Moose men — has a cool spot in mind.”) Finally we pulled over in a tiny town with a main street, a few 1930s retail storefronts and a small local crowd orbiting around the swimming pool at the city park.  It looked like an excellent place to unleash my best watermelon splash dive, but not really the picturesque landscape I expected for  Eclipsing. Well, Dave was just stopping to huddle up. He was going on to another town — Torrington — or some place, to meet with other Mooses for brewskis during the spectacle. Not knowing the secret handshake and no longer partaking in Moose brewskis, I passed … And sought other options.
 
Ha … I saw the town name. It was one of my earliest considerations for eclipse watching, when I first saw its name on the map. I thought it would be fun for Pingel to eclipse in Lingle … Lingle, Wyo., but that idea had lost its novelty, after the morning of scenic terrain.
 
One option was to ride another hundred miles through Gillette, Wyo., and hit Sturgess, the home of the mother of all motorcycle rallies … A week after all the bikers had packed their saddlebags, and headed through the Black Hills and on home. So, should I head to Sturgiss just to say “technically, I have ridden there?” Pass.  (Maybe I will return some day while the rally is live and kickin.)
 
I said farewell to Dave and retreated, back to the fort, with just enough time to claim a ruined pedestal of the old army fort hospital for my perch.
 

Hospital Ruins

 
My fancy eclipsy shades? … Ha, a lens from a welding mask clipped nerd-like in the center of my cheap sunglasses. But my eyes live too see another day:)
 
“Bring on the eclipse, baby … Clipse! Clipse! Clipse! Clipse! Clipse! …”
 
(next up on the blog, more about the road trip)
 
Know what I sayin?
 
 

Boy Howdy, It Was Glen Campbell On The Jukebox

August 8th, 2017 · Tags: Uncategorized

 

It was about 1972 that my friend took me to the mountains of New Mexico for my first snow skiing trip.  It was the time of my life at that point.  We went to a tiny, family-operated ski resort in Raton Pass, New Mexico.  The ski  instructor taught us how to “snowplow” only and turned us loose.  All day we went up and down the tiny mountain trails. 

We skied and wiped out and took turns picking each other up.  The place was so small there weren’t ski lift chairs, there were these hook-like metal things dangling from a rope that went up the mountain.  The skiers straddled the hook, pointed their skis in the right direction, and the hooks towed them up the hill.

We skied non-stop, but finally the sun went down and four kids in our early teen years turned in our skis and we all walked to the tiny ski lodge — four teens and my friend’s parents.  I can still smell what I think was cindering hickory and pine in the fireplace of the lodge.  We had a great meal in the tiny restaurant.  At that point in life, I had been in very few restaurants.  That too was such a treat … a real holiday vacation, with such great friends … among a great family.

We sat in the restaurant, which also had a bar adjoining it.  I had never seen the inside of a bar before, not even a bar and grill.  Everyone was friendly and we talked and learned that the people operating the restaurant had once lived in my home town.  It was such a wonderful, perfect time in my life.

Well … all of this is leading up to this.  Often in life — at a special time and sometimes also at bad times — we can hear music that becomes “the soundtrack” of that moment.  That’s what happened.  This tiny ski lodge had a juke box.  Someone pumped in a quarter, and it played a mellow song I had never heard before.  I have hardly heard it since.  It was a waltz, certainly not my style of music.  But because of the atmosphere of the place and the special time … it seemed like it was the best song I had ever heard.  So sincere … so poignant.

Though the song was new to me, the singer’s voice was recognizable immediately.  It was Glen Campbell.  We had all grown up watching his show, religiously … and liking most of his songs.  But because of the circumstances … this wonderful time of my life … that “soundtrack” song on the jukebox became my all-time favorite Glen Campbell song, “I Wanna Live.”

I wish I had found a video of him performing it live … in his earlier career, when he was a youthful guitar player with surfer-guy good looks.  Recently, I think most of us have read about how Campbell’s diminishing health had slowly whittled away at Glen’s talent … his life … his personality, in the final years.  This song that I mention overflows with hope … and I guess the slide show someone put together is pretty good.  Lastly … I highly recommend two things.  One: try to find the documentary on Glen Campbell’s last tour … completed even while Alzheimer’s Disease was taking him away … surrounded on stage by a loving, beautiful, talented family.  The documentary is so sad when you see him losing his grip on reality … and then it is so wonderful when you see him come alive on stage, despite his illness. Second: If you have a loved one showing signs of this terrible illness … visit with them frequently and at length while you can.  Shoot a video.  You will cherish it once they are gone … it will give you a chance to always view them as they once were.  Rest in peace, Glen Campbell.

 

Know what I sayin?

The Day ‘The Real Texas’ Burned

July 23rd, 2017 · Tags: Cities

 

Monahans Rainbow

Monahans Rainbow

On the Facebook feed I see, the current cover story in Texas Monthly magazine seems to be the most shared article, ever, for that magazine.  Funny that it takes a horribly sad story to remind TM that The Panhandle even exists.  It’s a great place.  A potential state in its own right, if that myth about dividing Texas into five smaller states ever comes to fruition.

These days, I’m a cityslicker.  There’s a million people all around me.  I love Fort Worth.  I love The Texas Hill Country.  I love the Pecos River Valley.  Houston’s not bad.

But the Texas Panhandle … That is the Real Texas!

The TM story describes in detail the hard work, dedication, loyalty, resourcefulness, love, courage … and the horrific tragedy that took three young lives in the mother of all grassfires last March.  The piece is so well done, but a difficult read for the most stoic eyes.

The article creates a mental picture like a McMurtry novel … cowboys, horses, ranches, generations of family tradition … and yes “Wide Open Spaces” just like that song the Amarillo girl penned.

 

The Day the Fire Came

Incredible the way that beautiful country became a death trap in the blink of an eye.

Skip Hollandsworth — in my opinion — did a masterful job of sharing the entire story, filling in the gaps but also preserving the dignity for the families.

The Facebook posts out there show me that so many people had some connection to the story.  I think one of my friends is related to a pastor in the story, and he knows the family of one of the victims.  One of my kin helped to take care of one of the families, in their darkest hour. I can’t imagine how many volunteer firefighters were involved on that day when fires popped up all over the northernmost quadrant of this huge state.  I bet all of my Texas Panhandle friends have a story …

Reading the article, I was reminded of my own “connection” on the day the news broke about the three young Texans who died near the Franklin Ranch. Hundreds and hundreds of miles away on a project in Monahans, Texas in far West Texas, my buddies and I were alerted to the crisis by the smell of smoke … yes, hundreds of miles away.  We thought the smoke was from a local fire until seeing the news on TV.  A couple of hours later, the terrible story spread around town.  Not just the smoke, but the fire had hit home.  The young woman who died in the fire was from that very town.

Prayers for those families … today more than ever!  Read the article, if you can.

If there is a takeaway … the people are resilient.  Those lost will live in our hearts forever.  The grass will grow back and a new generation of cowboys will fix fence … the same way their daddies did.

 

Know what I sayin?

Breaking Away From Wi-Fi With Pedal Power

July 20th, 2017 · Tags: Arts · Cities · Music · Satire · Sports

My first “attempt” at college was a dismal failure.  It was so bad that I pretty much considered an “incomplete” grade for a course a bit ot a win — as opposed to a fail.  Thank goodness that university kicked me out and saved me a few bucks. Then, I went and grew up, entered another school, and became a very serious student.  Ha.  I think a reformed college drop out re-enrolled may be even more self-righteous than an ex-smoker.  The second time around, I took my college education very seriously, and foolishly I expected all the other students to take it as seriously.

So, in one class the second time around in college, every day when this tall, preppy-yet-disheveled blond guy would shuffle in late, disrupting the lesson for the Italian prof, it pissed me off. Ha! Yes Italian class. It gets better. The tall kid rode a nice touring bicycle. This was the ’80s. Ever see the great coming of age film “Breaking Away?” In my mind, this preppy guy, Doug in Italian class “was that guy” from the movie!

 

So after two semesters of late interruptions, dropped books, perhaps dozing off a time or two, the cyclist was really on my last nerve, as some folk say.

I couldn’t take it another semester and I think I had maxed out my Italian aptitude anyway. But there was a great alternative to another semester in the classroom. The final three hours of the foreign language requirement could be earned on a two-and-a-half week tour of Italy.

Molto bene! (Translation:  I’m down with that.)

So, I signed up for the trip.  Packed.  Ready to leave.  But on the very first leg of the journey, as we prepared to fly out of Lubbock — if I recall correctly — we were delayed as some kid shuffled on the plane late, with bags that wouldn’t properly fit in the overhead compartments.

“It’s him!”

Late. Late. Late.  Throughout the first week, “Breaking Away Boy” was late, forgot his jacket, got lost, you name it.

But for some reason I felt sorry for the guy. I was traveling with my best buddy from the college newspaper. There were a couple of brothers traveling together. There was a deejay from the college radio station, whom I sort of knew. There was a husband and wife … and then there was Breaking Away Boy always sitting by himself on the bus or boat or gondola or whatever. So … one day — totally out of character for me — I went over and sat down by the guy and started talking. You know what? He was a swell guy. (Ha! As “the Beave” might say.) Eventually, we became great friends and for the rest of the trip my buddies and I were the three amigos, Italian version.

Oh … I think Doug was still late everywhere we went.  He even missed a water taxi on the way to the Venice airport (I think it was).  But I had developed some patience … He was so funny.  Two quick memories: Doug had a brand new camera — one of the first on the market with an electronic voice.  He would sneak up behind Asian tourists, and trigger the camera’s computer voice to say, “Too dark.  Use flash.”  Everyone would look around to see where the voice came from.  (Guess you had to be there …)  The second memory: The three Italian amigos were on our knees — as is the custom — solemnly climbing up “The Holy Stairs” of a basilica (a church where the steps are said to have been imported from Pontius Pilot’s court … steps on which Jesus had walked) and my new friend was raving about how this would be a perfect commercial for “Toughskins” — some brand of rugged, durable jeans from Sears that always featured wild kids tearing stuff up in their TV ads.

The Holy Stairs

All of these thoughts came rushing back to me on my morning bicycle ride because of Facebook. The Breaking Away Boy is now a successful attorney in Dallas, and he just posted a photo of his crumpled touring bike. He and some other riders were struck by a hit/run driver fleeing police.  Thankfully, no one was hurt.  No word on whether or not they were wearing “Toughskins.”

Ha …. I saw another college buddy on Facebook posting about his recent bicycle ride through Montana! Wow! We don’t call him Bicycle Bob for nothing!

These days, I am riding my bicycle religiously, hoping to get back in shape.  I had noticed a direct correlation between me buying a couple of motorcycles, dust settling all over my bicycle and a noticeable “spare tire” around my waist.  So, I developed a rewards system.  My new rule is that I cannot ride my motorcycles until I have completed two bicycle workouts.

Weird.  After parking the bicycle for a couple of years, it truly was scary to hop back on, riding with my head out over the handlebars, instead of in the laid back position like on a cruiser motorbike.

For several rides on the bicycle in Fort Worth’s Tanglewood, Overton Park, Trail Lake, Trinity River areas, I had already been collecting notes for a potential blog.  But … frankly … I didn’t think there was enough material from my observations. Oh well:

The Wave

First off, on the bike trail, there’s the issue of the wave, or lack thereof.  It seems weird to me that bicyclists pass within inches of each other on the bike trail, but do their best to be too cool to acknowledge.  Most don’t wave, say “Hi,” or say “Kiss my butt or nothing” (as my dad would have said in reference to nonchalance). This is weird.  Bikers (motorcyclists) wave two fingers to each other across six lanes of traffic at 80 m.p.h.  I mean, I have had strangers — ranging from retired dentists on BMWs to bad Banditos on Harleys — give me the friendly biker wave.  But you mean to tell me these tough guys with their shiny helmets, cute shorts and matching jerseys and shaved legs on bicycles are too tough to greet another rider!?!  Weird.  (Ha … about the most I have heard out of a stranger cyclist is “Hey, wear a helmet” … to which I offered an alternative idea on where to park his shiny Trek. I digress … )

It’s A Bike Trail

Most of the people walking or jogging along the morning ride are nice and courteous.  But then there are some who are — best case scenario — oblivious.  Typically, when I ride up behind them, some know that “on your left” is a warning that a cyclist is about to pass. Others react like it is a challenge to a duel.  Some signal that they heard me by raising their left hand.  Some flash me a really nasty and/or surprised look even though the big sign at the trail head clearly reads “Bike Trail.”  The worst scenario is when people have their earbuds in, are listening to music, don’t hear even the third warning … then they say something nasty as I pass cautiously … because it is my fault.  Cranky old Kent has responded a time or two that “it’s a bike trail” after all.

The Other Left

It seems crazy to take this so seriously, but a few years ago, a woman in Dallas was killed when a bicycle and a pedestrian collided on a bike trail.  I don’t know the details, but I am willing to bet one of the two people was on the wrong side of the trail.  Of course it is keep right, unless you are passing, just like on American streets/highways.  Ha … at least once every day, I throw out the obligatory “on your left” and the pedestrian counter-intuitively hops to the left, in harms way.  IF I miss them, I of course, say “the other left.”  Most smile.  Some don’t speak English … and apparently haven’t learned we drive on the right side of the road in this country.

Political Statement

Lately, I have also noticed lots of immigrants from the Middle East and also from The Southern Hemisphere who, when walking toward the bicycle, refuse to yield or step to their right, continuing to walk on the wrong side of the path, even when they see a bicycle approach.  What’s up with that?  They must think I have good brakes.

Take The Short Road

This observation is all about human nature.  Every day, on the same paved trail, I hit a spot where the concrete curves, doubles back, and forms a half circle at the edge of a park, before crossing the road.  I have never seen another cyclist, a jogger, or person walking follow the paved trail.  Everyone — but over-zealous Kent, apparently — takes the short cut and kills the grass.  This might make sense if they were rushing to catch a bus.  Most of them are decked out in running shoes and fluorescent tank tops, acting all iron-person like, and no doubt wanting to text their friends about how they killed a five-mile jog.  But they cut across the lawn — killing the grass — to save themselves 20 extra paces in their “brutal” workout!?! Human nature … cutting corners.

Rescued Yoyo Terrier — More Important Than You

For Pete’s sake, if you are in a public place … any public place, assume that there  probably are other humans in the vicinity … no matter how much you love dogs and hate humans:)  This happened just this morning.  As I approached some woman with her back to me, as she walked her dogs, I called out “Coming up behind you ma’am … On you left.” She kind of flashed me a half-smile that could not hide her disappointment that I may have interrupted Floofy’s poo time.  She stepped to the side and one dog followed.  The other — a tiny, yelpie and delicate lap ornament of a dog, saw this as a great opportunity to test it’s boundaries.  The tiny dog was ‘street legal” so to speak, on a leash … but it was one of those fish reel, or dog yoyo leashes that let the dog run free for about 15 feet … or until they are squashed by a bicycle, which ever comes first.  The dog pulled away from the owner, tugging a red warning string behind it, as it crossed in front of me about 10 feet away.  Did the woman reel the pet back in.  Heck no.  Did I mention I have bad breaks.  They were squeaking, rubbing the last graphite or whatever off of the disc brake pads as I nearly put Floofy in a different statistical category.  But … stopped just in time.

Zyn To Win Soundtrack

Last thought.  Man where would exercise be without iTunes, Spotify, or whatever and some nice earbuds or blue tooth headphones.  What music do you run to or ride?  Interesting.  I shuffle the same 700 songs on the iPhone, whether I am riding a motorcycle or the bicycle.  But it is amazing to note the different effect songs have on me in those two different scenarios.  A mellow rocker by The Doobie Brothers, or Classic Beck or a soulful Black Keys or spaced out Flaming Lips tune can “tell me” to hit the throttle on the motorcycle … But then the same song, when heard on my bicycle, tells me to ride slower and smell the flowers.  Ha … maybe I was just winded.  Anywho … I think pretty much everyone works out to music.  Which reminds me of my dream the other night.

I have an acquaintance who leads spinning classes or Zyn22 on stationary bicycles.  I dreamed I was invited to visit the class, and asked to be the guest deejay.  Ha … the riders in the room were younger than me and probably wanting Bieber or Gaga or hip hop.  I decided they should broaden their horizons.  For warming up, I played the live version of Deep Purple’s “Space Truckin.”  Ha … you should have seen the arms and fists pumping in the air when these ladies, on their stationary rides, heard their first Deep Purple organ solo.  Then we mellowed down and let the ladies chill to Fort Worth’s own Leon Bridges’ soulful “River.”  But I thought the class was going to fall asleep, so we kicked it back into overdrive with music to get the hearts pumping … The ladies had never heard REO’s “Golden Country” before — the live version with the sirens at the beginning … and oh that guitar solo.  I thought their heads were going to explode as they pedaled faster and faster and … So, still in the dream, the ladies said they all thought REO was a soft rock ballad band … or a flavor of Thai ice cream on Barton Springs in Austin (yes there is an OREO Speedwagon flavor at Holla Mode Thai Ice Cream).

Holla Mode Thai

They had no idea that REO Speedwagon was once a rocking guitar band.  But in my Classic Rock bicycle riding dream, it rocked they bootays.

Know what I sayin?

Strawberry Fields For Wi-Fi … Forever

June 26th, 2017 · Tags: Arts · Cities · Coffee Shops · Uncategorized · Wi-Fi

Imagine mosaic

 

“No one told me there’d be days like these … Most peculiar, mama.” – John Lennon

After the most recent trip to Strawberry Fields in Central Park I saw that a Facebook friend posted that it was Worldwide Beatles Day. What a coinkydink … rather … “most peculiar.” I really hadn’t even planned to go to Strawberry Fields and didn’t know about the Beatles event, but that is how I roll … or prefer to.

My travel philosophy on the blog is to plan little and see much … and occasionally stumble upon some nice surprises.

As usual, there were lots of tourists stopping to pay their respects to John Lennon at the little acreage … Perhaps more than usual. Have you been there? Frankly, there is not much special about Strawberry Fields, other than the Imagine mosaic in the sidewalk and a plaque or two. I had expected a rose-and-hedge lined English garden. But then again, imagine the value of the land that was set aside to honor the Liverpool lad.

Strawberry Fields

So as the tourists streamed through, some guy “was crucifying John Lennon” … (a great line borrowed from a John Mellencamp song,) referring to cover bands playing songs of The Beatles. This guy was a solo act, belting out and falsetto-ing his way through classics … He must have played every Beatles song he knew, because I listened for a good while and he was still playing as I left. Funny. When he sang, he came across as an artsy, sensitive, soft-spoken minstrel. But between songs, his more harsh New York persona came out as he joked and also harassed the passersby who didn’t leave cash in his guitar case. Busking with attitude, I suppose.

After several songs, I concluded that he didn’t sound like Lennon nor McCartney … not even Harrison. Ha! It was more like Ringo singing all The Beatles classics.

Regardless, as I left I threw in a buck fitty, as he took a break on his cell phone. He thanked me, and I quipped, “A righteous, live version of ‘Helter Skelter’ would have gotten you five bucks.” He laughed, but it was not to be.

 

Goathead Stick Profile

The first part of the day was a 7-12 Sunday morning at the rail road power station — cleaning soot-covered, giant transformers on “The Dirty Gig.” Then after a quick lunch, I hoofed it over to Socrates Sculpture Park, where Broadway Avenue hits The East river in Queens. Socrates is a park built on a former landfill, and features what I perceive to be sculptures made of found objects juxtaposed with more traditional sculpture. For instance, there are huge goat heads (not the thorned variety) scattered about the park … and also life-like goat statues impaled on golden painted rebar. Interesting.

Socrates Ghetto Blaster

 

Socrates Hoodie BW

 

Goat Rebar

 

Next, I headed southwest of the park, along The East River, and headed out across the first bridge I saw. It was considerably smaller than the Brooklyn and the Queensboro bridges … Interesting thing about this bridge — it only goes halfway across the river, which landed me in the center of Roosevelt Island. I’ll admit that I knew zero about the island … not even the fact that it was once known as “Hog Island.” Perfect. Explore!

Roosevelt Island

My “keen” sense of direction soon led me to a Starbucks along the two-mile island, with exceptional Wi-Fi, a few of New York’s finest hanging out, and an oddity. Many of the NYC and Manhattan Starbucks have added, industrial size, portable air conditioning units this summer. Lucky us to be in NYC during the heat …

The island is mainly home to large apartment towers, condos and public housing with some nice restaurants and cafes mixed in. There’s nostalgia too, in the form of adults playing kickball in the shadow of the Queensboro bridge, looming high above. Once there was a prison there, and on one end of the island there is a park designed by notable architect Louis I. Kahn. (Think I’ll go back for that …)

So I found my way onto the island easy enough. “How to get off? Glancing around I saw the bright red cars of the Roosevelt Island Tramway. Cool … I hopped on and got a great birds’ eye view of Midtown Manhattan as the car dangled on rusty cables several hundred feet over The East River between the bridges.

 

Roosevelt Tramway

On the other bank of the river, I hopped off the tram, meandered through Midtown, and ended up on the west side of Central Park and then on to Lennon land. When I had my fill of Beatles tunes, I walked 30 blocks south, down 8th Avenue, hopped on my friend the E Train, and then across the river, back to Queens Plaza. Fun day … albeit without much Wi-Fi. No Wi-Fi on the tram!?!

DSC_8284

 

Earlier in this NYC residency … just a few days earlier, on another day of exploration, I returned to what was my first lodging ever, in New York City — the building that previously housed The New York Downtown Athletic Club … yes, the previous home of The Heisman Trophy. The club moved out of the area years ago, after suffering some damage during the 9-11 attack. Since that time, developers have bought and refurbished the old art deco building, and put it on the market as apartments and condos.

I know this because, as I was reminiscing and taking a few photos, a young professionally dressed profession woman (on a Sunday) approached me and struck up a conversation about the building.

Ha … she is a real estate agent and was hosting an open house for several of the apartments for lease and for sale in the highrise. In all honesty, I am probably not the target demographic to be renting or purchasing an apartment on the southern tip of Manhattan down around Wall Street … I think she just wanted to see if I had gotten any good photos.

But still … I wouldn’t turn down an invite to check out some NYC upscale. I was pretty sure this woman was legit and that I would not be knocked on the head and kidnapped and sold into slavery or anything like that … she looked legit enough. But, it was not until I saw her business card that I felt 100 percent safe going into the building with this, a complete stranger. On her business card — what really put my mind to ease — was her profile photo. Again, in the photo she was quite professionally dressed. Ha … but at a glance, I detected that in the photo she also had a rather large parrot on her shoulder. She had me at parrot.

Know what I sayin?

Pinging PK: Cutting A Wake Away From Wireless

June 13th, 2017 · Tags: Sports

Texas has many lakes.  But Texas has one real lake.  You see, all of the lakes in Texas, barring one, are man made.

The one real lake, Caddo Lake, is described in native legends as a miracle of the earth opening up and taking on water with help from the creator.  The rest of the lakes are the result of some well-placed dirt and concrete to hold back the natural flow of various rivers headed ultimately to the Gulf of Mexico or the Gulf of Oklahoma:)

Thinking of water, I am reminded of a recent photo from a small-town, end-of-school celebration in which the seniors pooled their resources and made a “redneck swimming pool” from bales of hay for the walls and a waterproof tarp liner, all assembled in the school courtyard.  Redneck kids know how to hold their water, so to speak.  They grew up ushering irrigation water down dusty furrows to the thirsty crops on their ancestral land.  They splashed in it after the crops had had their fill and the waters ran on out of the fields and gathered at the end of the rows in the tailwater pits of their youth.

For those who make a living raising crops up from the dusty Texas tabletop, water is life — whether it falls from a thundering sky or bubbles up at the foot of a spinning windmill or sprays from a pivot irrigation system.  There’s no better sight than the heavens watering a young stand of green wheat.  There’s no better taste than cold windmill water, pure, pumped up through rusty pipes from the mighty Ogallala Aquifer beneath the farmers’ feet.

 

To the boys and girls of summer, water is the fount of eternal youth — for boating on the lakes.

Water.

 

 

What I wouldn’t have done for just a cool drink of bottled, clear goodness as I flew back to Fort Worth Monday on the Triumph motorbike … flying over the hot, hot asphalt in a ride from about a hundred miles west of the city.  But, it was time to get home.  My “pony smelled water,” as we once said on the farm. Meaning, there was no stopping the steel horse on the return journey.

 

Biker's Tan

Biker’s Tan

The ride to the lake had been a slower pace, however, filled with the beauty of cedars and mesquite trees, magnificent rocks jutting out from the ridges, the twisting road passing ponds and crossing rivers … alongside country estates … horse farms and cattle operations … over The Brazos … Dry Creek … Keechi Creek … Rock Creek … Salt Creek and more.  The smell of cedar, fresh mowed clover, a blanket of wild flowers …

The destination for this ride — Possum Kingdom Lake.  Such a simple, folksy name, harkening back to frontier days.  The reality — a water sport destination … a pretty lake lined with chiseled cliffs, expensive real estate and top-shelf vacation homes.  Love it.  PK was legendary in my youth — the place where the FFA kids went wild on their annual getaway.  My fraternity friends also frequented the lake for adult shenanigans, and since moving to Fort Worth, there have been several outings on the lake with more of a family orientation.  My children first tried their hands at waterskiing there at about the same time I was hanging up my limited skiing skills.

 

Texas Lakes Ranked

It has always been a special place, although I don’t get to PK as often as I would like.  Possum Kingdom is only about the 18th largest lake in the state by water volume, although I always thought it was top three or four. (Can that be true?)  Definitely, PK could swallow up my first ski lake, not unlike one big fish gulping down another, and it is often considered to be the best of the man-made Texas lakes.  As mentioned previously, the area around the lake offers many farm-to-market roads and backroad highways that are a treat on a motorcycle.  These days it is that ride that draws me to this special place.

 

BRAZOS RIVER AUTH (1)

But, a few years ago, for me there was a more productive attraction to the lake.  It was a cool assignment to develop the annual report for The Brazos River Authority  … a project that included a fun photo shoot at PK’s iconic rock formation “Hell’s Gate” and even a tour under the massive dam.  That was fun and interesting and more than a little eerie. I digress …

But the foaming waves and the glassy, smooth water in the mornings and evenings on the lake provide the best of times.  There is nothing like speeding across the water with little resistance, hydroplaning with only limited risk of injury from falling on the water.

I will daydream of lake memories forever, but I also think my Monday trip to Possum Kingdom was  inspired by this:

Most recently PK channeled some lake magic my way via some Fort Worth friends.  The friends had “rescued” a vintage yacht years ago, restored/repaired/loved the vessel and created an amazing legacy on the water with their family.  Their good fortune is not one of those things that creates envy  … it is more of a source of happiness to know that they had this special craft.  It was family.  Their PK memories sound like a bit of heaven to this former dirt farm farmhand, a hand so pitifully watersport-deprived as a youth.

 

The Helm

The Helm

Very cool.  Anyway, I was lucky enough to tour their boat last year and sort of realized vicariously the times they must have had … All while appreciating the vintage quality of the craftsmanship … the beautiful woodwork of the interior and the deck … the classic hardware … even  time pieces designed specifically for this … it was luxurious cruising from a different era … the classic look of the helm, from a time when more attention was given to the steering wheel than the instrumentation.  And it was apparent that such a craft requires so much upkeep and maintenance and ongoing TLC … especially a vessel well past its fourth decade of service.  It’s a 1971 Chriscraft Constellation, one of only 10 produced that year, I am told. About 10 tons … by some estimates.

And now it’s gone.

Though the ship has not outlived its usefulness, sadly, it no longer is a good match for my friends.  As if some member of the extended family were coming of age and leaving the fold, they sought suitors and interviewed potential new captains, and found a younger couple ready to pour even more love into the operation and enjoyment of the boat.  … So happy to know that its legacy will continue, soon to be reinvigorated, on the waters of PK.

I hope to see it on the water soon, even if my vantage point is a motorcycle on a nearby cliff across the harbor, or even from a younger, speedier boat cutting across the old yacht’s wake.  Hope you will watch for this well-seasoned yacht at PK too.

Know what I sayin?

The Long Winding Road That Leads To NYC Wi-Fi

May 29th, 2017 · Tags: Arts · Cities · Coffee Shops · Hotels · Music · Wi-Fi

4TH Big Flag

Happy Memorial Day! Thank you to all who have served and especially for those brave souls and their loved ones who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

With all due respect for the holiday, PingWi-Fi.com is open for business and blogging …

On the second free day in Manhattan, I blogged for a couple of hours in my favorite Bryant Park, south of the mammoth green footprint of Central Park.  Then I ventured to Times Square.  More than anything, I wanted to see the tribute for the victims of the insane car/pedestrian attack … that atrocity on the very day I arrived in New York.

 

Empire Clear

Empire

Hmmm … I can’t think of many other reasons to do Times Square, other that to blog that you did.  It is a mass of the darker side of humanity — where even civilized people resort to more animal instincts to push and shove.  Sure, the people watching is fascinating, especially if you like immigrants who have yet to assimilate into American society … you know, mixed with tourists taking photos of advertisements … Ok, ok, I have taken some shots of the huge format ads in this market too … but anywho.

Man … I just heard Stevie Wonder’s classic commentary on inner city New York — “Living For The City.”  Such social commentary, voiced in a positive, musical way … and now my new theme song for this trip. (Heard on Classic Long Island Radio … available anywhere on the Internet, btw.)  Oh wow.  Classic Long Island just played my favorite Aretha Franklin … evah!  “Sparkle!” (Do you know it … one in which Curtis Mayfield influenced her to sing and showcase that voice, rather than yell … )

Back to the streets … It was with misguided farmboy pride that I took note that the Ping had the longest hair of any man in Times Square, barring one.

Yep … The Naked Cowboy! … Ha, the fellar is getting up there in years but still draws a circle of women, desperately holding on to every note from the Fruit-Of-The-Loom crooner’s guitar.  Yes, captain undies is aging a bit.  Have you seen him?  Do you admit it?  One has to wonder if he will soon hang up his briefs and let the next generation of naked cowboys serenade the women of Manhattan.  Will the Naked Cowboy 2.0 trade in those tighty-whiteys for boxers? Will there be alternative Americana skivvy skiffle bands?   Will this tripping troubadour prance around Time Square forever?  I digress …

 

Coke Adds Life

Coke Adds Life

Yes … about an hour of holiday overflow at Times Square was about all I could take.  There wasn’t a single thing that warranted removing the Nikon from the backpack, in my opinion … including the hefty ladies painted red, white and blue accompanying an old man in a blond wig impersonating what the lost left think of President Donald Trump.

Oh … but the architecture of this city … and the people watching up and down 5th Avenue, The Avenue of The Americans, Broadway, 42nd Street … the subways! Priceless.

 

East River

East River

Priceless, unlike the free CDs some rap “musician” pressed into my hand, as he guessed that I am from Australia.  Great gimmick.  They find out your name, personalize and autograph the CD sleeve, and ask for a donation so they can “go on their world tour.” Ha … “Go … fund me, buddy.” The psychology … they have written your name on the cover, so you feel bad and buy the thing.  Ha … he didn’t realize he was dealing with a disaster-cleaner-upper (see Dirty Gig throughout this site) and I advised him that cleaning chemical compounds AC12 and/or OC24 will kick that sharpie’s ass.  And I handed it back. Wished him luck.

The Eastern version of the rapper’s scam was perpetrated around the streets by Buddhist monks. The grimy, orange-robed “holymen” get up in your grill and force a thin, shiny, gold-colored medallion into your hand, and pretty much force you to take it as they grab your hand to bless you with a handshake from a very grubby hand … just before lunch time, I might add … and they say “Take … and take eternal peace.” Finally, you accept the piece of junk so they will leave you alone.  Then they say eternal peace will be $3.29.  You can guess where — in my mind — I told the monk to put his peace token. I much prefer the yellow-robed Buddhist beggars in Asian who sit outside McDonalds, stoically and humbly, with a metal pan for you to offer up alms … guys who live in spiritual, poverty bliss … who can glean the Egg McMuffin remnants off a discarded wrapper like a Dyson in a whirlwind … I digress.

However, I am not always as patient and kind, as with the reverence I showed to this man of the cloth (probably a plumber from Queens, moonlighting in a toga for a little extra coin).

Because … it seems … Pretty sure my transformation into a curmudgeon is near complete.  I find myself increasingly blurting out the things that previously were safely contained in thought bubbles above my head.  Ha … is it age? Turrets?  Is it road weariness?  Common sense in a counter-intuitive, rude, president-bashing world?

I don’t know, but these off-the-cuff remarks have helped me cope along the way and you are invited to used them whenever applicable. For the sake of other travelers, this is a compilation of polite little Ping-isms that will assist you in navigating New York, or any city for that matter:

  • “This is a bottleneck (in the grocery aisle).  Move.”
  • “This is called a bottleneck situation (at the velvet rope in the museum). Move.”
  • “Move your cart or arse to one side of the sidewalk as you read a text.”
  • “Stopping your baby carriage at the foot of the escalator to change that dirty diaper may be a bad idea.”
  • “If you aren’t courteous enough to avoid me when you walk, I do throw elbows.”
  • “You know, if I twist just right, my backpack comes up just to your face level.”
  • “Couldn’t you have waited to expel that after the short elevator ride?”
  • “You do know there is a tiny bathroom on the plane, right?”
  • “Move at least six feet from the breakfast buffet if you are going to continue to pick your nose.”
  • “Yes you can sit your plastic bag on any table in the cafe, except for this one.”
  • “Hostess, could you choose a table for me a little bit closer to the foul bathroom?”
  • “Sure buddy … no better place to blow your nose than the condiments counter at Starbucks.”
  • “Yes I ordered something else off the menu, but  somehow I feel obligated to eat and pay for the wrong item you brought me.”
  • “Well thank you for coughing on me, because merely burying your head in your sleeve is so anticlimactic.”
  • “You won’t mind if I neglect to shake that hand you just coughed into … will you?”
  • “What a great strategy to get smoking outlawed universally … your standing in the door opening to blow smoke back into the hotel.”
  • “It is cuter when your kid’s fidgety spinner toy flies into your stack of waffles, not mine.”
  • “Thank you for hitting me in the back of the head with your coats again, as I sit on the museum steps.”
  • “Exploding things in your microwave at home — cool.  Hotel breakfast buffet — uncool.”
  • “You know, that device around your waste, the one holding up your trousers, will curtail that rude misbehavior in your 5-year-old … in a flash.”
  • “If you roll your eyes one more time at that young mom doing her best to quiet an infant — just being an infant — I will twist your ear off.”
  • “By all means cut in line, you are obviously much more important than everyone else.”

Ooh … so much bad karma.  Good thing I believe in the Living God and not karma. And yes, I could use much more kindness, joy, humility, thankfulness and brotherly love as Jesus taught … but I am trying … forever a work in progress, we Christians …

Sunday, I did stream my home church, back in Texas, to my hotel in New York  … maybe Ted’s message on “eating spinach” … taking the bad things in life to experience joy when you might not expect it … will prevail in me …

ChristChapelFortWorth

Ha … Do you know the old joke?: “Your karma ran over my dogma.”  Love it … I digress …

As I passed one of several obnoxious, booming sound systems of people chanting sophomoric ghetto/jumprope cadence poetry, with aggression, attitude and a monotonous beat (hip hop/rap artists), mentally, I thought back to the wonderful musicians from the day before … playing for donations all over Central Park.  Musicians who have practiced and slaved and practiced for years to perfect their creativity and musical artisanship … Throughout Central Park these guys select the alcoves under arched bridges for the awesome acoustics.  I threw a few bucks here and there into their accordion cases, their guitar cases and their hats as I listened and even recorded a few musical passages.

 

Central Accordion

My favorite of the day was an old gentleman of color, small, bandy-legged, cotton for hair and beard, and one booming diaphragm firing up some of the sweetest trombone love I have ever heard.  And I hate the trombone … or at least I thought I did because my parents forced me, unsuccessfully, to try to play the thing in grade school … Ha! I ended up cutting the slide off the thing and making a bong from the instrument in college, with a carburetor from the “spit valve.”  Don’t tell anyone.  I digress …

For the record, these days I don’t even drink alcohol, so it is doubly quirky that I need a wineglass in my hotel. It seems, I so enjoyed wine in a wine glass in the old days, that is the way I now enjoy tamer fruit juice.  So, when my hotel didn’t have a loaner glass, the other day, I walked to a nearby bar and offered to buy a wine glass … if the price was right.

“That’s a new one!  You want to buy a wine glass!?!  How ‘bout I sell you a shot and I just give you a glass?” the young bartender said, scratching his head.  I said, I don’t drink so he turned to the manager, who went in the back of the bar to bring the owner in on this negotiation.  Ha … alone … the bartender asked me what I bid.  “Well a wine glass is about a buck at Target, but I don’t have a Target … so two bucks,” I said.  “Make it three!” he countered.  I was pulling out three greenbacks, and snatched up the stem, when the manager returned.  “Ten dollars.”  Well … see you later Mr. No-Fun Bar …

So anyway about the Central Park musicians, as I walked up, this ‘bonist was playing the sweetest, mellow brass version of “The Theme From ‘Exodus.’” Do you know the old instrumental classic?  This perfect musical moment was bordering on spiritual … and then boom … just like that, he morphed the song into the theme from “Mary Poppins” … “chim-chim-cheroo” and all that … a few seconds later, he attacked and won with his version of Chicago’s 25-or-6-2-4.  And then after a few seconds, back to his signature tune … the instrumental version, emulating “Good luck will rub off when I shake hands with you.”  (Hey! That was pretty much the same thing the monk was selling.  Wonder if Buddhists believe in Mary Poppins???)

There was a cool jazz trio, with a sax and a stand-up bass at the park trail where I took lunch, on a bench under a canopy of green.  Ha … I washed essence of monk from my hands, ate, gave them a few bucks, and then pulled off my glasses and popped in my contact lenses as the band played on.  The band didn’t stop to tell me so, but I bet they were thinking “you know, this is the first time we have ever played for a guy putting in his contact lenses.”  Bar mitzvahs … maybe … but not this.

Another park bridge featured a tiny, ancient Asian man, playing an even more ancient stringed instrument — lets just call it a FOO … an unknown instrument From Oriental Origin. You would know the sound, and perhaps the name of the instrument … prolly has Kyoto in the name … It is that more squawky cousin of the violin … more tinny … but also played with a bow.  Metaphorically, his sweet music transformed the under-bridge “amphitheater” into the underbelly of some Chinese junk out on the open seas … or a an opium den … or whatever Asian cliche setting come to mind.  It was excellent.

And then there was the mad Pole playing some pretty mad polka on his accordion … I threw down my back pack a few feet away to enjoy the billowy wailing of his keyboard … when I was subtly accosted by some older cougar in those cataract-easing oversized, dark shades.  She read my t-shirt as her ice breaker.  “Triumph … that’s a motorcycle right?”  She had me at “motorcycle.”  No better way to engage a scooter guy than to startup a chat with motorcycle talk.  Our ensuing conversation was a New York combo of weird, perhaps creepy and also kind of interesting — talking to her for 10 minutes or so … ha … mainly listening … as she told me of her 35-year career as a chef and her exploits with Euro tourists on the back of a BMW bike roadtrip … and her plans to also someday start a blog.  I listened, politely, secretly glad that this professional cook’s fingernails were much more clean than her toenails protruding from flipflops … I guess we all have our quirks … I liked her.  I am sure she just goes to the park for conversation and is very nice.  I thanked her for an unusual, but pleasant New York moment.

Meanwhile … Travel blogging is happening.  The Dirty Gig in Queens (working on a huge transformer/power substation for a railway system that go toasted) took a three-day holiday.  Some co-workers flew home.  Me?  A three-day “shore leave” in the Big Apple?  I take that.

Here we go! (When did “Here we go” become a thing, that most bands say it at least once on stage???)

 

Trump Tower

So … as you probably know, when in New York just hop on a train, and head into Midtown, choose north or south and walk.  You will happen upon all the hotspots.  Perhaps none more timely than my first stop in Manhattan.  I saw police barricades, which caught my attention. I looked up and I saw gold.  Ah … Trump Tower!  This is the second time I have “stumbled” on Trump’s place.  The first time, a few years ago, I noticed a very nice tour bus parked on the street.  Then I noticed a 7-ft, 4-inch German dude with a Dallas Mavericks bag climbing aboard the bus, followed by a bunch of 6-8 dudes.  What were the odds, for a Forth Worth guy to happen upon The Mavs in Manhattan after a road game?  I guess that was when The Donald and The Cuban were on more amicable terms.

This time, the secret service and police officers and anti-terrorism squad and what-have-you made it even easier to find the 14-karat skyscraper.

You bet I checked the Wi-Fi inside and grabbed a couple of Trump shirts.  I was kind of hush-hush about the the shirt grab.  I didn’t want to be inundated with souvenir requests … sorry.  Ha … some of you think I am kidding.  Even more than I expected, business was booming at Trumpville.  The lower levels of the tower were crawling with excited tourists from all over the world.  Don’t believe every negative thing you hear on a biased evening newscast.

Oh … the Wi-Fi I used at The Trump was provided by my good friend Starbucks.   It was typically good.  They tend to standardize their offering, dontcha know?  I supposed the coffee giant has no problem making money off the folks who visit and/or work in Trump Tower … despite their whacky politics up in the PacNorthWest.

Safety is what we do.

No Donald or first family spotted, or it may have been a perfect score of seven pings.  Good hotspot, great souvenirs and people watching with machine guns ready … six pings!

Any time I visit New York, I hit The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Fact checkers check me, but I believe that is where I saw a great exhibit of weaponry throughout the ages, just a few years ago … hmmm or was that The MOMA? … complete with decorative, gold-inlayed hand guns.  Uncanny, isn’t that … in crime-ridden, misguided, gun-fearing New York?

2 Egyptian, Temple sized

The ancient Egyptian stone temple, reassembled in a huge, naturally lit wing of the museum, I love most (written in the vernacular of Yoda for no apparent reason).

But regardless, The Met is a central hub of activity, and a nice reward for my three- or four-mile trek through Central Park at this point.  Hmmm … I wasn’t feeling the Wi-Fi love in Central Park, and I find that surprising for this advanced city.  I digress …

The Met had quick, easy and smart Wi-Fi … There was no password required per se, however they asked my e-mail address, which I readily donated to their cause.  (The next day I got an invitation to join as a member or to browse their Monet poster prints and such online.  Smart.

 

Met Sailors

The Met

Also interesting and you may know, The Met displays a suggested admission price for various age groups.  But, they accept whatever donation you wish to give.  Anyone bid $1 like on Price Is Right? I stepped up to the plate, and suggested they put $5 back on my debit card, since we were again in a “Go-Fund-Me” frame of mind.  Just kidding … I gladly donated what I determined to be a working-journalist contribution … Somewhere between the going rate of eternal peace and the senior citizen discount price.

Back to Central Park for another walk and soon I poked my head out of the trees to check out The Guggenheim Museum.  I have never visited it before, having had a previous bad experience there.  Ha … the bad experience was walking all the way there and finding it closed for renovations … years ago, but it left a big “closed” sign in my subconscious.

The Guggenheim Wi-Fi was a similar sign up to The Met hotspot.

 

3 Guggenheim Spiral sized

Guggenheim

Love it.  The Guggenheim is an architectural masterpiece, and totally out of this world … unless you have ever walked up the circular path of a parking garage … relax New Yorkers … I was only joking.  The Guggenheim is roughly 10 stories of art gallery, with a circular ramp that corkscrews around the open atrium.  The atrium has a colorful, static sculpture dangling … the “trademark” of Alexander Calder.  (Hey by the way, anyone know what happened to the monstrous, red, steel, Calder piece that used to be in Downtown Fort Worth???) The Guggenheim’s spiraling ramp has a wall on one side — or otherwise you would be outside … and the wall and its nooks are covered with masterpiece after masterpiece from the worlds of painting as well as various sculptures.  There’s Degas, Picasso, Manet, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Pollack, Kandinsky, Chagall  … shall we go on?

 

5 Paris Through The Window - Chagall sized

“Paris Through The Window,” Chagall

Next rant … Bryant Park … contagious.  You know how someone sneezes or coughs in the coffee shop or conference room then the sniffles and coughs and such reverberate around the room?  Or when people yawn, all of the sudden everyone is stretching their faces and arms at the same time.  Well, in Bryant park where everyone is hanging with family, friends and lovers I noticed a trend circling the park not unlike the wave at a sporting event.  A young couple kissed, and lo and behold the couple at the next table kissed … then another … then another … I mean, I worry about so very few original thinkers in this world today, but at least if you are going to trend, a kiss is a nice way to get on board. I took action to make sure I wasn’t sitting too close to any strangers … I digress …

 

NYC Skyscrapers

Yes, I took a chance on the free Wi-Fi at Bryant Park.  It had all the looks of a municipal Wi-Fi hotspot, with a splash page, requiring that I claimed I read the disclaimer, before I selected to join.  Ha … I don’t think phishing schemes bother with the fine print acceptance form, but I don’t know.

pingx6-score

 

 

Bryant Park has superb people watching, lots of sun on a cool afternoon, decent Wi-Fi — heavily tilted toward the locals, rather than the tourists encountered at the museum.  Most of this blog was written at a tiny table, sitting in a very uncomfortable, yet nostalgic metal and wooden fold-up chair … (pretty sure I now have “BRYANT PARK” waffled into the skin of my back from the engraved label … six pings.

Hotels … let’s talk hotels.  Rising out of the metropolitan sameness like a magic castle and/or military fortress was The Plaza Hotel.  Anyone old enough to remember the ups and downs of Leona Helmsley?  … Her place, R.I.P. But, my “travel agent” somehow left me off the guess list at The Plaza.  I marveled at it as I walked by, wondering how much they must charge for wireless Internet.

My slightly more humble accommodations started in Queens, close to The Dirty Gig at an older facility, now branded as a Holiday Inn Express.  I am not too choosy and thought it was fine.  Interesting that it apparently was affordable enough that some peopled actually lived there full time, while we were only guests for a week.  As mentioned previously in the blog, The HIE has good Wi-Fi, but it did that bothersome thing where it asks for the passcode EVERY time you log on … even if you power down and back up in the same day.  Hate that.  And then there was the unannounced password update.  Being the detective type that I am, I knew this to be the case when I couldn’t get on.  A call to the front desk, and I too was in on the secret … this new weekly passcode.

pingx4-score2

 

 

Nice staff at The Holiday Inn … a new friend from Azerbaijan … “Anna from Azerbaijan” she is now called.  Hard to believe the old Soviet block dissolved so many years ago that this young lady in her 20s was pretty much raised in the United States … hardly a trace of an accent.  We like Azerbaijanis because they rhyme with pajamies … 4 pings.

All around the Holiday Inn were The Poles.  Delis with polish sausages and polish pickles in brine … and churches dedicated to St. Stanislas … And new frozen treats from their homeland … which apparently must be awash in blond hair.  As I did laundry on Flushing, in Queens, a young Polish American was detailing his FWD Jeep out came over and stopped to chat for a while.  He even offered for me to use his Wi-Fi hotspot!  (I asked him if he was stealing my credit card numbers as I logged on …)  I really don’t expect people in a New York borough to be so nice.  Life is good.  He was a caterer, whose American dream started at minimum wage and had elevated to a couple of hundred dollars per hour for his catering expertise.  He said the three-bedroom apartment he shared with two women — also Polish — ran about $1500 a month … slightly less than what I expected, but he explained there wasn’t a mass transit stop in his immediate neighborhood.  Good to know.

If you tire of Poles … there’s always TV … Weird to watch portions of both Dallas’ Byron Nelson golf tournament and Fort Worth’s storied Colonial from my hotel room in New York.  No coverage available, that I could find, of Big 12 baseball, despite the high national rankings of that league’s teams.  Ha … but women’s software was everywhere on the telly.  Anyone else notice the urgency with which the sports channel is wooing women and alternative lifestyle viewers in the selection of what they choose to cover?  Look for the FFL soon … The Flag Football League, where there are no head injuries and hitting below the waste is encouraged, ever so gently. I digress …

Back to hotels — the group consensus among my co-workers was that we deserved better than the aging Holiday Inn Express with its many many security guards (you know they have to be there for a reason).  So, while some coworkers were back home for the holiday, my friend Brent and I moved, seperately, to a newer, more swank, boutique hotel — The Home2 Suites by Hilton.  We are closer to the city with an awesome view, though still in Queens near the Queens Plaza area, so immediately we noticed more parking hassles.

Oh the hassle of storing a car, having to get someone to go get it … to hop in the car, drive it with my own natural intelligence (don’t get me started on the science fiction evils of letting cars drive themselves …) just to go to a supermarket … if you can find a supermarket.  Sure I love the neighborhood deli for smoked meats and a cold pop … but you cant do any serious shopping there.  You have to carry if for a few blocks.  And, my family has strict instructions to just go ahead and shoot me if I ever succumb to using a little luggage cart for a small bag of groceries, a laptop or my carry-on case.)

I think our team may have to flip coins to see who gets to park their rental car at night and who gets to drive around all night, hoping to park.  The Wi-Fi seems to be excellent at Home2, with a definite upgrade at the buffet breakfast … a more upscale gourmet approach to waffles, fruit, pastries, oatmeal with some gouda to accompany the sausage buns this time.

Jessica

Jessica

I have no idea where my new friend Jessica, at Home2, is from … but she is already one of my favorite people in New York since she texted me the street address of the hotel, when I told her my e-mail itinerary had an errant link to the address.  She also tried her darnedest to upgrade me to a nicer room with an even better view.  Still working on a top floor space, but meanwhile, my sixth floor space affords a nice enough view of Manhattan … not bad for night photography and a little blogging too.

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Jessica could have 7 pings on her own for her attention to detail and superb customer service … but alas the parking situation — a fact of life in New York — deducted one point — 6 pings.

Fun game going on at the breakfast buffet … a huge, trash-dumpster variety of fly (not everything is bigger in Texas) has learned exactly how the automatic doors work … and he buzzes in to check out the buffet, goes outside for some stagnant air … comes back in to land on a croissant … flies out to see if people are curbing their dogs … yes … ooh. Swish. Buzz.  Swish. Buzz …

For something entirely different, the other day, I also checked out a kava bar in Brooklyn, House of Kava.  Nice place. HOK is much smaller than the kava bars in Austin, Texas, but then everything is bigger in Texas … wahmp, wahmp wahmp … I remembered tweeting about this New York kava bar when I first learned of it opening … two-three years after SquareRüt in Austin.  But I liked HOK, on my first visit.  I didn’t even check to see if HOK has Wi-Fi.  I was busy listening to the enthusiastic spiel of the cafe’s owner, a New York transplant from Florida (where most mainland Americans first discovered the drink from the South Pacific).

I preface my opinion of House of Kava — in full disclosure — by saying my family owns SquareRüt and I have a hand in the Texas kava brand.  However, that being said, I found the Fijian strain of kava served in Brooklyn to be less earthy (a good thing) but perhaps less potent than the drink I am accustomed to back in Texas — the latter being a strain of kava from Vanuatu. In addition, instant powder kava was not available to take back to the hotel.  Bummer … Lastly, there was a major difference in philosophy between the New York kava joint and those back in Texas … kratom.  Kratom is an additive or optional ingredient in kava in Florida and in New York, for example.  The owners of the SquareRüt locations, chose not to go down that road, due to some controversy.  Google it … you decide.  I almost deducted a point because the kava tender forgot about me for a while … but he earned the point back when he told me that he too was a Ween fan.  Ween was playing that night in Brooklyn at a new venue called Brooklyn Steel.  Didn’t get to go, to either of the two Ween shows on consecutive nights … but I so want to check that concert place out.

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House Of Kava is tiny, and after a quick sales pitch to accept kava, although I have dabbled in kava for years … I felt stranded at the bar … perhaps it is a New York thing … five biased pings … even though the Yankee kava and the Southern kava forces are following each other in social media.

Hmmm …. What next?  I headed out to Battery Park the other night, but just drove around and went home after finding no place to park.  In retrospect, I think the GPS took me to The Battery rather than Battery Park.  I have seen the park before, but it has been years.  I thought perhaps the changes after 9-11 may have made it less accessible.  I will try again.  It offers a great view of The Statue of Liberty without leaving Lower Manhattan.

I always marvel at the number of tourists who travel to Lower Manhattan to make selfies at the bull statue on Wall Street …

Bullish Showdown On Wall Street

The other night, after Central Park and the two museums, I headed south in Queens, along The East River, enjoying the urban renewal or gentrification starting to sweep Queens, with its close proximity to pricey Manhattan.  There are lots of high rises going up and an eclectic mix of young urban professionals (if they still use that term), affluent immigrants and the previous predominant demographic groups still holding on to their foothold as a wave of new blood moves in.

The Gutter, Brooklyn

The Gutter, Brooklyn

Excellent.  I saw a redbrick warehouse of a building — as I walked near the river — with a new sign: “The Gutter.”  “I know this place …”  No wait.  The Gutter I know from this blog, a few years ago, is in Brooklyn.  So, I poked my head in.  It turns out this gutter is the sister of The Gutter in Brooklyn. It is a very hip little bar and grill, retrofitted with four or five bowling lanes.  How fun.  This Gutter just opened.  Sorry to say, The Queen Gutter doesn’t have live music like its Gutter sister.  (Something sounds really wrong with saying “queen gutter” and “gutter sister” … I digress.)

The Gutter Brooklyn

Random, recurring thought as I walk and/or drive just about anywhere in New York.  I noticed this three years ago when I worked on a different New York job … and it is even more prevalent now that medicinal marijuana is acceptable in The Empire State.  There must be a lot of ailing people seeking medical relief.  The smell of ganja is EVERYWHERE in New York, from the sketchiest public housing project to nice revitalized brownstone neighborhoods, to hotels of all calibers.  And believe you me, this is not the grassfire variety at the concerts of my youth.  There is this ever-present aroma of The Garden of Eden … everywhere.  And that’s all I’m going to say about that …

 

The Beatles

Final thought.  My “sponsor” normally doesn’t spring for Sirius satellite radio in my rental car.  But this time, either through oversight or luck of the draw, I have great tunes!  You’ve “heard me talk” of the wonders of good music to provide the soundtrack to a great road trip … Well … I am convinced there is no better soundtrack for New York City than the All Beatles station on Sirius radio.  Visualize the historic television footage of the live performances on The Ed Sullivan Show in New York … or the footage of The Beatles rocking Shea Stadium, the boys almost audible above the shrill cries of tens of thousands of insane fans … All those masterpieces: I Want To Hold Your Hand, Help, Love Is All You Need … The Walrus Is Paul … While My Guitar Gently Weeps … Penny Lane … Helter Skelter … Yesterday … Get Back … and of course Strawberry Fields Forever … a must when you cruise around Central Park and its tribute garden to John Lennon.  That, to me, is a New York State of mind. Have you tuned in? … The playlist is comprised of The Beatles recordings … the Beatles later solo projects and even some pretty interesting covers and/or songs by artists connected with The Beatles … perhaps most notably Bad Finger, McCartney’s proteges — the first non-Beatle act on Apple Records … I digress … Hmmm … wonder if there is a Sirius channel for The Clash.

Here we go …

Know what I sayin?