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“Road To Austin” — Maybe Not Your Kinda Trip

April 6th, 2014 · Tags: Arts · Cities


Director, Gary Fortin


I’ve always thought there are, for the most part, two types of concert films. There is that film from a once-in-a-lifetime moment in music history — the kind that influences you to bite a hole in the side of your cheek, as you watch, regretting so desperately that you were not there. Then there’s the concert film that leaves you thinking, “I’m sure I would have enjoyed that concert IF I had been there.”


No two ways about it, I love live music and music history, so I always scan the film festival schedules first looking for rock ’n’ roll shows. So, when I saw that The 2014 Dallas International Film Festival included “Road To Austin,” I was ready to rock.



Tragically, I almost missed “Road To Austin” because the road from Fort Worth to Dallas was clogged — with traffic from road construction (of course), a NASCAR event, The Final Four at “The Death Star,” the film festival in Dallas, an ever-present equestrian event … hah and a giant TV-watching event in Downtown Fort Worth. After some creative navigation through the northwest part of Arlington to get to the Mockingbird Station part of Dallas .. I made it. (The old Dallas/Fort Worth metromess got game too …)


Apologies to the film’s director and stars … I hope the first minute was not the high note of the show … missed it.


So … about those two concert film categories. I would have to put “RTA” somewhere in the middle. Much of the film is concert footage. And to my liking, one of the first songs is the strongest — a total white-man soul blowout … a high adrenalin version of Clapton’s “Layla” — featuring the team of Bobby Whitlock on Hammond B3 organ and his wife CoCo Carmel on sax and sharing vocals. This song alone made me wish I were there, and I would consider buying the soundtrack solely based on their fast — no wait, slow — now fast — now slow “Layla.”


It is not often that I am stumped, but I did not know the Whitlock/Carmel pair … even thought they had worked with Derek And The Dominoes (Clapton). More interesting, in Googling the film and the soundtrack, it took me a minute to find them in the write ups … among all the big names who delivered substantially lesser performances … Interesting. Ha .. it’s funny and cute to watch the couple get friendlier and friendlier on stage as the film progresses. I digress …



In addition to the concert, “‘Road To Austin’ chronicles how Austin became the Live Music Capital of the World dating from 1835 to present day” — according to IMDB. There’s great history of German oompah bands, Tejano, Antone’s and the hallowed Armadillo World Headquarters. Awesome.


Road To Austin


 The film is a bit of a hybrid of lots of things — concert film, power-point-like slide show with funny animation, one-on-one interviews, Austin history 101, a great tribute to Grammy-winner Austinite Stephen Bruton … and lastly, perhaps most unusual a call for donations. Don’t get me wrong, I support the idea of raising money to help pay for Austin musicians’ medical expenses … I just didn’t expect to see that take over the end of the film (spoiler, I suppose.) I mean … ha … Obamacare has them in good hands now, right:)

Stephen Bruton, RIP


The film is also a huge “let’s promote that Austin is the greatest and perhaps only star in the music universe” thang. Certainly, the title gives that away and Austin may be one of the best music cities in the world … but I think there is some license there. The film points out Austin’s 13th Floor Elevators band were the first to ride to the top of the psychedelic experience, to the chagrin of many a Haight-Ashbury travel agent.


But … hmmm … seems like that little Buddy Holly thing out in Lubbock might have been even more significant … just sayin. Oh … and besides the opening “Layla,” two of the bigger presences in the film are Fort Worth’s Delbert McClinton and Lubbock’s Joe Ely. (Even if he moved to Austin, Joe will always be Lubbock … where The Clash discovered him, before taking him to tour in Europe.) Thank God the film didn’t try to feed me that Stubbs BBQ is some sort of Austin legend (also Lubbock).


Lastly, I have to say that I agree Austin is the musical Mecca of Texas. So why in the world does Kris Kristofferson have such a prominent role in the film? Perhaps he was the closest with Bruton(?). But, we’re talking about a man known for writing great lyrics for others and growing a gray beard at the age of 20 — not for his singing. He would not make it very far on Idol or any of those shows that feature the voice, despite his Rhodes scholarly ways. And yet … and yet, KK drones away for 2-3 songs in the film … but it seems like 10. Why? I mean, Austin has so much to offer, thus the film. (Ha … yes … I will never forget seeing KK booed as he took the stage at a Willie Picnic … I digress.)


There is one Austin guy who gets a lot of stage time — who, bless his heart doesn’t have much of a voice, but he has soul. The one key ingredient he adds is to say “Let’s let the dog have the yard,” inviting a Bruton guitar solo.



I knew in advance the film would focus on Armadillo HQ, so I was hoping to see more footage of big events there (Clash, for instance) … also, the fact that Willie appeared only via closed circuit TV to say “Howdy” … for me those were obstacles. I still think they nailed it on “Layla” – 4 pings. Bonnie Rait does a great job. Ian McLagan is always fun. Bob Schneider was a bit boring, surprisingly … and operatic singer Cara Johnson knocks it out of the park with a classical piece, proving rednecks like purdy thangs too.


Another spoiler alert … yes, people will clap at certain parts of the film (ha … not even the right moments.) And … last spoiler — the artists in the film can’t hear you clap.  That is all.


Know what I sayin?



DIFF2014 – Take Two … Not A Bad Night At All

April 5th, 2014 · Tags: Arts · Cities


Bad Dude

I love a good t-shirt. And I love a good spoof. Hard to say which I heart more. But when the two come together, oh happy day. So, on the photo gauntlet red carpet for The 2014 Dallas International Film Festival, I spotted this t-shirt. Soon I learned the hipster donning such was none other than the director of one of the best films I have seen at the festival.


Eric Hueber, writer/director of “Flutter” wasn’t wearing Armani or Klein or Versace or Lauren … he was was wearing Kurt. Kurt Russell. Have you seen this shirt? Oh how I wished I had seen it first. It is a play on the old “I Heart NY” t-shirt. Except, instead of a heart, the shirt designer inserted a rustic, faded, vintage photo of Kurt Russell with an eye patch. Anyone who was once a pimply, teenage boy can tell you it is a photo from Russell’s cult favorite, apocalyptically bad film “Escape From New York.” (Through the magic that is 150 cable channels, I have seen bits and pieces of it dozens of times. Who knows, with NetFlix, made I will actually watch the masterpiece un todo one day.)


Escape From New York


So … I mentioned I love a good prank. Let me also mention that I am really stupid, and anyone who knows me can verify this. I use that to my advantage, at least in my mind. So I like to say really stupid things and see how people react — kind? … aloof? … annoyed? So, rather than comment on the originality of the director’s black Aquaman looking sports goggle glasses, I had to comment on the shirt.


“Hey man! Loved your film “Flutter,” but I really, really love-love your t-shirt. That’s “The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes,” right? See … I was taking a chance here. I knew the director was pretty young. There was a pretty good chance that “Escape” was the director’s first taste of Kurt Russell. But … to us real film veterans, we all know that is when Kurt’s career had already begun a 40-year downward spiral. “Escape” for Russell was sort of like Michael Jackson hitting puberty and his voice changing. It was the end of his best material, his child career stuff … however MJ is more widely known for the inferior “Thriller” instead of “Stop The Love You Save.” Follow that? So … the director may or may not have been as familiar with Russell’s early years — churning out Walt Disney hit films about horse races, family bands and computer geniuseseses. See … I was kind of punkin him. The two Kurt characters were polar opposites, and no human could ever confuse the two. But me.


Ha … I think he just saw through the ruse and realized I was an imbecile. Politely, he explained the guy with the eye patch was not Kurt Russell in “The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes,” but was actually the “Mad Max-like” savior of humanity from New York.


Computer Wore Tennis Shoes


I guess you would have had to have been there. I was amused and it helped pass the time as stars and soon-to-be stars were paraded before our cameras.


On a more serious note, Hueber and I discussed the little animated surprises that just seem to pop up in an otherwise straight-forward real life film. How did he decide exactly how much animation to insert into “Flutter” … not too much or too little?



“Ha. We put in as much as we could afford. I would have put more,” he said. The first time the animation took over the screen, I immediately thought of some Monty Python animated clip, stuck in a skit, out of context. No connection. Hueber said he was a fan of all animation in general.




Also notable during the night .. a threesome of  film types who insisted I take there shot together, after I had shot them separately. Just as the camera shutter was about to click. producer/actor Steve Eckelman raised his fist in the air … almost like a victorious salute on an Olympics winner’s stand. The woman in the middle just smiled. Then the other guy, dressed in the Austin, Texas uniform — beard, pearl-snap western shirt and glasses — flashed the Texas Longhorns finger sign.



I put the camera down.


“Hey … put that thing down,” I spouted, in mock disgust.


He smiled and said oh, sorry. (I did’t really care.) But was trying to get response and facial expressions. So, I said, “Why don’t you give me one these.” I showed him the proper technique of making one’s palm, forefinger and thumb into the “Guns Up,” trigger happy gesture of Texas Tech. (Hey … Peter Fonda, “The Easy Rider” flashed the “Guns Up” for me on the red carpet a few years, back, why can’t you?)



Oh my goodness … you would have thought I had informed him that his pearl snaps were not snapped evenly. I think he got a little upset. And his witty reply, “Sorry, my test scores won’t allow me to do that.” … Ha … or something like that.


“Sir. I assure you, I was found to be academically unfit for much better schools than UT.”


Damn it! He saw through me and realize just how stupid I am. He got me.


No seriously … we joked about the friendly rivalry, as we both quietly thought about how much we hate the arrogance of the other’s school.

A Wilson


Well … I shook his hand and went back to shooting stars, starlets. Most of the players from “Flutter” stop to chat. Also on the rug were “the other Wilson,” Andrew Wilson (“Satellite Beach”) – certainly not the conversational one of the three.


Perhaps the biggest stars of the night were two regulars from HBO’s “Bad Blood” and AMC’s “Breaking Bad” … Ha … not a “Bad” night. Both Lindsay Pulsipher and Jesse Plemons also were in “Flutter.” Pulsipher flourishes in the baking of medicinal brownies. Plemons shows off his singing and guitar playing … a slightly more likable character than the murderous apprentice cook Todd in BB. Still … I commented to him in my worst Middle Eastern accent, “You know … you are a vurry vurry bod mon.” Not amused. I think he took it personally … or maybe just had enough grip and grin for one night.


Still … it was a good night in Dallas.

Know what I sayin?



Dallas Kicks Off DIFF14 … Red Carpet With 50-1 Underdog!

April 4th, 2014 · Tags: Arts · Cities


DIFF14 Group

Lights. Camera. AK-SHONE! It is one of our favorite seasons, kicking off The 2014 Dallas International Film Festival, despite northern parts of the Metroplex getting pounded by strong winds and hail. The Dallas evening was picture perfect.


Wow! Dallas has changed so much since we began covering this annual event. The opening night red carpet was presented outside the bright/shiny Dallas City Performance Hall … just up the street from the impressive Meyerson, near the AT&T Performing Arts Center in the Arts District off Pearl and Flora … a stone’s throw away from the Klyde Warren Park over the freeway. Nice job, Big D! (I will have to do some more Wi-Fi snooping …)


Speaking of the improvements to Downtown D, the president of Downtown Dallas Inc., John Crawford joined the film stars on the red carpet, so I took the opportunity to joke about the old rivalry between Fort Worth (an awesome downtown too) and Dallas. “Dallas is great, but faithful to Fort Worth and the legend of Amon G. Carter, I brought a sack lunch … rather than spend ANY money in Dallas,” I quipped. Crawford was a good sport and laughed along … adding that today there is much more of a spirit of cooperation between the two great cities.


Being such the Fort Worth guy in Dallas, I d-near lost my car in the parking garage, despite taking photos of the space number and floor number. Popping up from the underground concrete cavern, I hit Flora street, looking for the event. I saw a camera man, with headphones and figured he was the odds favorite to lead me to the carpet. I followed …


I’ll be … the guy turned and started filming. Ha … I thought he was shooting me, until he turned, walked right past me and filmed the guy walking beside me. I deduced the other guy was famous. I looked him over … and did not know him … but could see he was “probably somebody.” Later, I met him and interviewed the guy on the red carpet.


“Biker Dude”



The guy was Christian Kane … appearing at DIFF14 just in time for the Texas launch of a new film about horse racing — an underdog tale … or maybe “underhorse” – “50 To 1.” Chris-K represented in a casual hot rod t-shirt, ball cap and motorcycle boots. We of course talked motorcycles, and he told me about his new first love, a vintage Italian Moto Guzzi he is restoring.   In 50-1, he rides a Harley … and a horese. I digress …


We talked about the film on camera, and in typical PingWi-Fi fashion, the audio is pretty dismal, inspite of acquiring yet another new microphone. Oh well … apologies for that. (Thank goodness still photos don’t have sound … what a stupid comment … can’t believe I said that.)





Briefly, we got to meet Emma Fuhrmann and hear her firsthand account of working with comic genius/crazy man Adam Sandler.


And then there was this one actress — Texas girl Alisha Revel — who spotted my camera focused on her. Rather than your typical glamour, red carpet shot, she shot me a “high sign” (I think it is called) … you know the thing the Little Rascals did where they put their hand by their throat and waved, awkwardly. Pretty funny.




When Ms. Revel entered my airspace on the red carpet gauntlet, I pushed for more and I flashed her the secret sign of the Junior Birdmen … where you invert your forearms, make a loop with your index finger and thumb, and hold your hands to your eyes to make a mask. Pretty complicated, this time-honored tradition …


But — what a nut! — she flashed it right back and now that photo is quite the hit on my Facebook wall.


It was good to see Gary Cogill on the red carpet now as a filmmaker … the former, long-time film critic at Dallas’ ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.,


Oh and speaking of timely, we chatted with Dallas actress Farah White. She is in several films at this year’s festival, including “Flutter.” Timely, because yesterday afternoon before the event, I screened “Flutter” thanks to the Dallas PR team for the film, through the magic of Vimeo and the all important password — over at the balcony worldwide headquarters of PingWi-Fi.


Farah, Alisha


“Flutter” … a delightfully quirky film, up for bragging rights in the festival’s Texas division, all about a young boy with glaucoma. Anyone who has ever listened to reggae man Peter Tosh knows there is only one cure for it. (Hint … if you are afflicted you might want to move to California, Washington or Colorado.) The film is exceptional at creating a world of the most meager, “white trash” surroundings, and one woman’s ability to rise above that to provide love, care, happiness and special brownies for her son. There’s also some animated surprises mixed in here and there. Highly recommended.


Yes … I asked Farah if she was carrying “medicine” with her … but she showed me inside her purse. No brownies …




Fred Schepisi (no relation to celebrity chef Rory, I don’t think) director of “Words And Pictures” was there in his trademark fedora, and it was really cool to meet Jim Wilson and Faith Conroy who collaborated on “Dances With Wolves” and now are promoting, their latest, what I called “A Rudy With Horses” (“50 To One”). The team is touring the country to promote the film in a wrapped vehicle. (Been there, done that …)  Road trip! (


Jim, Faith “50 To 1″

Hugo Perez

Ha … and now the daunting task of trying to identify all the people in the photos …


Just one day done at the festival. Loving it!


Know what I sayin?

Sick Shootings: Pinging An Alternative To Violence

April 2nd, 2014 · Tags: Cities · Sports · Wi-Fi



It’s happened again. The unthinkable — a shooting rampage at Fort Hood in Texas.


Undeniably, senseless violence is happening more and more and more … whether it is Islamic extremists, bullied teens, shell-shocked servicemen. Unfortunately, it is going to continue.


What do we do? What do we do?


Obviously there is also a movement in this country that will use events such as the shooting in Texas to promote an unprotected citizenry, as un-American as that might be. Regardless of politics, can anything be more illogical?


The root of the problem is misguided doctrine, illness and social failure. Guns do not cause these problems and taking guns away from responsible people will have zero effect on the problem.


If every handgun were thrown into the ocean tomorrow (as Lynyrd Skynyrd lamented) it wouldn’t matter. If some fruit loop wanted to take out 10 or 12 people, they could do it easier with a Prius than with a Glock. Think about that. Here’s an example. Although it appeared to be a drunken, horrible accident, the car vs. concert goers horror down in Austin a month ago at the SouthBySouthwest Festival illustrated that point all too well.


This violent epidemic is spreading and it is time for more responsible people to prepare themselves because they or someone they know will be in harms way.



Editor’s Note:

Ironically, I had just completed a gun training course hours before the nightmare at Fort Hood sequel. My heart pours out to victims, their loved ones, the authorities, the first responders, the caregivers and yes even the perpetrator. No disrespect is intended toward any of them by the timing of this blog post … This piece was already in the works before the April 2 shooting. If anything like the insanity of the military base shooting ever happens around any of my loved ones — anywhere — I pray that someone has taking measures to prepare and equip themselves to neutralize the situation.


End of sermon …



In this PingWi-Fi blog, as the name suggests, we explore just about any place that may have Wi-Fi. When we heard about a shooting range in Frisco, Texas that has branded itself as a country club for sports shooters, we were intrigued. If a shooting range uses plush leather couches, gourmet chefs and private membership perks … surely they have thought of wireless Internet as a value-added proposition for their members and visitors.


Yes please. The Frisco Gun Club assured me they offer Wi-Fi … so there was little choice. I had to check it out. And, wouldn’t it make sense to not only ping the Wi-Fi hotspot but also to experience the club on a deeper level?

So, I signed up for my first gun training … If you don’t count the years of instruction from my father and my brothers way back when on the family farm.


So … about the Frisco Gun Club … It is north … about as far north as you can go in the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex … out where Frisco meets farmland. Ha .. there are wheatfields along the road at that part of the North Dallas Tollway and the cross street Eldorado.




And of course, the 50-mile trip from Fort Worth to Frisco was a great opportunity to put some more miles on the Triumph T-Bird. “On a steel horse I ride …” So the saddlebags were packed and packin so to speak, for two visits to the club — first for the classroom training and test, and then for the qualification shooting on the range.


The first visit, it was a cold, cold ride — a day for leather head to toe — windy and in the forties. Ha … it was pretty humbling to go up to a building, shivering — knowing that it was filled with gun enthusiasts who thought I was crazy. Prolly …


Yes. Thank goodness for leathers. Nice to see North Dallas aggression gets up early and is alive and well on the tollway, as coupe after coupe had to prove they could take curves as fast as a motorcycle, only to get smoked on the straightaways … I might add.




On both visits, I arrived early. On the first visit, I used the extra time for for a much needed coffee at QuickTrip. When I returned to the club, it was still locked. Rebuilding my faith in my fellow man after the death threats on the tollway, I accepted a neighborly invitation from a fellow shooting enthusiast. I took Wayne up on a warm seat in the cab of his pickup. Interesting guy … a retired IT professional who – with his wife – had once owned a boat repair shop in the Virgin Islands, among other adventures here and there. He too was very concerned with the changes in society around us.


Soon the doors were opened and we filed into the classroom with far more enthusiasm than I remember from other school experiences. And there was a lot to learn. Repeatedly the instructor emphasized option one — if you are ever in a situation with the potential for things to escalate and where you or someone else probably will get hurt, look for a peaceful resolution or an exit. If there is no resolution or exit, and the threat continues … well, then you go to plan B.


About plan B — “stopping the aggressive behavior” … there were lots of safety tips, philosophical judgement calls and rules/regulations discussed.


(By the way, in the news the night before my class, a “civilian” woman in Dallas, who was licensed to legally carry a concealed fire arm, stopped a robbery on a transit bus.)


The class was a pretty wide demographic mix of young/old, men and women and all types of professions — with a common interest in a safer society. And if you know me, you know I loved that the instructor was equally experienced, informative and so very dry — mixing in some humor to make the learning go down easier. He knows his stuff and I am pretty sure he lives it 24/7. Do not break into his home …


A few highlights: The instructor told about the endless hypothetical questions students ask … “If aliens crash land in my backyard, can I …”; stories about people loading bullets backwards into clips and claiming the weapon just jammed … things like that. The take home there … the gun alone will not protect you. Education and training might.


Did you know it is still legal in Texas to have a gun rack in the back window of your truck? People don’t do it as often these days because the criminals steal their guns.


Very important, we learned the places (in Texas) a licensed person cannot carry a gun … not ever — a polling place, school premises, a courthouse or a building used by the courts, racetracks and the secured portion of the airport. There are other places where you may see guns are prohibited by posted signs. Take the class — really interesting.


Frisco Gun Club


Lastly, a civilian licensed to carry a gun has no legal responsibility to jump into a situation.


I passed the test, missing one question that the entire group missed. My compliments to the state employee and their wording on that one question. Everyone knew the material … understood the concept … but we just couldn’t decode the interesting wording of the question. To the writer: If you had been an intern during my 20 years in communications, I would have been embarrassed for your school. If you had been an employee, I would have fired you.


I digress …


For the shooting qualification, again, I was packing heat in the Triumph saddlebags for a nice ride to Dallas, and was there bright and shiny. I was fortunate to have another good instructor, one who stressed my favorite topic before entering and once in the enclosed range – safety.


Qualification shooting went pretty quickly and was lots of fun. After my first two or three shots the instructor asked about what I called a “farm boy” way of gripping my pistol. Later he said that after watching me a while, he saw I knew a little somethin somethin and he just let it be. To qualify, a shooter had to score at least 175, in shooting targets at varying distances. Oh, I pinged the target alright — 244 for the farm boy.



During the visits, yes … I used the Wi-Fi and was happy to learn there are actually three hotspots scattered out among the indoor rifle range, the upscale restaurant (with a chef trained by Wolfgang Ping … er I mean Puck) the retail counters and the gourmet coffee shop. And yes, the restaurant does offer wild game on the menu. The Frisco Gun club is said to be the only shooting facility in the country with an upscale restaurant. I wonder how many offer Wi-Fi – 6 pings.


Back in the back, the indoor rifle range is really cool. My guide and I donned ear protection as we walked a long corridor to the entrance for rifle persons. Man! Some guy was shooting a rifle that was Chris Kyl-esque. Even with ear protection, quite a boom … and quite a rush when the moving air hits you in the chest. Wow.


For the rides back home, I did a back road (380 … like the gun, sorta) from Frisco to Denton and then 35 to Fort Worth on the first visit … a nice ride with less traffic, although the few cars on the road will attempt to take your life for no apparent reason. I hit a nice Schotsky’s — which I love love — in Denton and fired off a few tweets with their Wi-Fi, of course. After my second trip to Frisco, I said hello to the George W. Bush and/or Sam Rayburn tollways. Nice rides as well .. cloud covered, no rain, and warm as Spring is in the air.


Know what I sayin?

Fort Worth Downtown #1, Rates 6 Pings On Writer Scale

March 20th, 2014 · Tags: Cities · Wi-Fi

As a travel writer – gone months at a time — it’s probably no surprise that my home town changes while I am on the road … a lot.


After a couple of recent back-to-back two- and three-month excursions I returned to find that Fort Worth now has this awesome plaza in the downtown area. Like most of the other cool things in Fort Worth, it is branded Sundance (Sundance Square Plaza) and you can bet the Bass gang is behind it.


I was blown away. It is so wide open, yet surrounded by our trademark sky scrapers and a few new mixed usage structures. There are monstrous “umbrella” sculptures for lots of shade. Most of the place is smoke free … And fear not, the plaza preserved the wonder cattle drive mural on its northern border … or more accurately, makes it the centerpiece.


The new layout also has one of those modern fountains, where water shoots up from the floor sporadically … the type you can find in a a dozen locations around the country … and yet there isn’t a one that kids don’t love. Hmmm …. I might run through the thing myself if the temp hits the mid 80s again this week.


It made my heart dream of youth as i watched two kids throwing a Frisbee in and around the fountains. This is how city life is supposed to be.


All of this is to say congratulation to Fort Worth for being named #1 on the list of The 10 Best Downtowns 2014 by


Billionaire Brother @ Bux


Foat Wuth #1




The acclaim doesn’t surprise me, but the plaza did. So, as soon as I stumbled upon it, I of course tested for Wi-Fi. WHAT!?! On the first visit, there was no Wi-Fi to be found, except some home-brew wireless over on the corner of the square complements of Starbucks. As is the tendency, I of course fired off a tweet or two and ranted a little on Facebook. That’s when the social media pros at Sundance gave an update that Wi-Fi was on the way, and they invited us back.



Invitation accepted. Game on.



Well played Sundance. Twice this week I have rumbled around town, camera and laptop tucked away in the saddle bags and got on line in the plaza. The Sundance network appears to be quite secure, easy to get on and works throughout the plaza. I just wish there were a couple of more artistically sculptured, elaborate fountains like some of the other great cities – 6 pings.




After testing the Wi-Fi, I continued to stroll around the plaza … full of memories or ghosts of Sundance past.


There is a new permanent stage on the West end of the plaza, close to where my son and I enjoyed ska artists The Specials so many years ago. That temporary stage, one that over the years featured spaced-out polka, outlaw country, reggae, red dirt americana, the blues … you name it.


A block away is what was once the first AMC downtown theater. The Bass group and AMC Theatres opened that — bucking the national trend for new theater openings in suburbia only. I remember we had a PR coup in landing the story of a local movie theater in The Wall Street Journal, and then Governor Ann Richards attended the grand opening. Good times.


Ha … for one of their later promotions of the theater, AMC scheduled an actual wedding for the premiere of Steve Martin’s “Father of the Bride” and asked yours truly to help in the promotion … It was quite a fancy affair, complete with an angelic girls choir singing as they rode up the shiny escalators.


The wedding was pretty perfect, but in promoting it, I tried to get even more on the menu. By coincidence, love balladeer Neil Diamond was playing a gig in Fort Worth that week at the convention center, so I walked down the street and just went on in during one of Mr. Diamond’s rehearsals. I popped the question to his management, but he turned down the chance to sing to the couple at the wedding. Can you believe that? What a memory that would have been, and what a gesture. I digress …


Then there was the year of a failed Blues Christmas concert … an event that had more Christmas trees for decoration than people in attendance …


And all of the Main Street Festivals and concert after concert …


Perhaps my favorite concert moment in Sundance: One night cold weather hit a downtown event, so there were only a few hundred people remaining downtown as the headliners played. A Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex favorite — a bluegrass/punked outfit called Killbilly was onstage in the cold, playing for me and only a few others it seemed. They played their traditional show — lots of breakneck speed banjo, nasally but animated bluegrass singing … a heartfelt Motown classic “My Girl” mixed in … more bluegrass … when it seemed the band just said “It’s cold and the heck with it. We’ll play whatever.” They went into a raw. hard rock laced, yet poignant version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing.” I had seen this band a dozen times and that was the only time I ever heard them cover Hendrix. It was just so surprising to see them shift gears from Bluegrass to a heavy, heavy blues rock vibe without flinching. It was kinda special to me. Ah the memories …


Know what I sayin?

Sharing Love With Austin – SquareRüt, Beyond SouthBy

March 18th, 2014 · Tags: Arts · Cities · Coffee Shops · Wi-Fi

A good friend of mine just posted a story from The Austin-American Statesman that questions whether or not Austin “drinks too much.” Ha … Define too much. What was it Jimmy Kimmel said, he was in town not for The SXSW Festival, but an intervention. Something like that.


Anywho … Then there is the ongoing love/hate thing Austin has with SXSW. Some think SXSW is right up there with burnt orange. Others — lots and lots of locals hate SouthBy. I mean … There are lines for admission everywhere you go. Even more traffic. Locals go on about everyone at the festival looks the same – Justin Bieber hair, beard, nerd glasses, skinny leg jeans … Oh … and there was that horrible drunk driving thing this year. Yet, SXSW brings the best entertainers in the world to Austin … and Lady Gaga.


Well … I think I have found the cure for all that ails Austin. The Rüt! … SquareRüt, Texas’ first kava bar.


Mike Love, courtesy SquareRüt


Just like last year, I rode a motorcycle down to Austin during SXSW this, only difference, I didn’t shell out $1200 for “media passes” so that the media relations people at the festival could treat me like crap, since I am an independent blogger. This year, I was in town and didn’t even go to SXSW. I’m not sure if that makes me a loser, or a wannabe non-poser. I digress …


Instead, this year I saw a music act that was in Austin for SXSW — traveling all the way from Hawaii — performing at a non-festival sanctioned event. Ha … I guess going around SXSW was like that song “take back the power.”


Guess what? I liked this event better than anything I have done at several SXSWs in the past.


Yes i have been to Austin’s SquareRüt Kava Bar numerous times, but last Friday I think I saw the place really hit its stride. There was something about roots reggae and the kava root that worked. Vibe they call it. (Ha … and no hangover.)


So, If you want to keep Austin Weird, I think the atmosphere at the show was right for you. If you were a holistic medicine practitioner, you might have found a new source for healing there. If you like reggae …. well … irie! There was quite an eclectic mix, both reggae fanatics and kava connoisseurs. But no alcohol.


The kava flowed freely, with a one-time charge for a wristband (merely a two-digit wristband if you can believe that during SXSW), which also included island food and a hula demonstration at the end of the evening. Ha … my coconut shell runneth over … The place was full too, but luckily The Rüt has lots of patio space where the crowd could overflow and fire up their e-cigs or more traditional smokes.


But about the music … My friends have been telling me about Mike Love for a couple of years. (No, not the 70-year-old Beach Boy … Happy BDay to that Mike Love, btw). This Mike Love is the leader of a two-mon ensemble that can hold their own with just about any living reggae act. (I read they recently toured with one of of my favorites — Groundation — pretty impressive.)


Share the Love:

Mike Love


And so interesting visually … not to be racist, but these guys are noticeably white. I mean, admit it or not, you would notice that too if you saw them perform. But this ain’t your average white band. To demonstrate their love of Jah, and reggae and I assume all the herbs that go with reggae, these Love brothers have the traditional dreadlocks on overload. We’re talking mega natty dread … Singer, guitarist, Mike Love has blond ropes dangling down to the back of his knees, when he stands up to poke a foot pedal with his bare feet. (I’ve only seen one guy in Austin with longer hair – David Allan Coe, Farm Aid, 1986, but rumor has it those were extensions …) Love’s “brother” … baba maybe raw baba Sam Ites, the percussionist of the group, has dark dreads to his waist …. ha, pretty conservative in comparison. Great duo … thank to lots of talent and lots of looping technology and pedals … they sound like a bigger group. But the thing that really worked for me was their ability to harmonize. I am a sucker for two-part … and falsetto … and man can Mike Love hit a high note … huh huh … get it “high note.”


And like I was saying, SquareRüt seems to be coming into its own. Wonder how a regular, weekly reggae night would work out, although I know they have had other groups like Ashes of Babylon and such … and helped sponsor a Wildfire event a while back.


All of this is to say … the world is flocking to Austin’s door, seemingly trying to discover the next big thing by shooting their selfies at SouthBy. And here on South Congress, Austin has an island gem … the only kava bar for thousands of miles … perhaps the best one this side of Tonga … and you would think it was too weird for Austin. Can that be? I don’t think so … I think that once the five coolest people in Austin discover SquareRüt, the rest of the Longhorns will get in step.







Oh … and of course when I wasn’t draining kava from a coconut shell, I was up and running on the free Wi-Fi. I saw a few folks shooting videos of the show too, which I assume they were uploading from SRüt’s hotspot – 6 pings. (I took off one point because although the caterer’s food was excellent, a little Sterno ritual fire under the pans might have helped.)


Bula! (That is islander, for know what I sayin … sorta.)

Ping In A Palace: Checking Canyon’s USA Today Find

March 10th, 2014 · Tags: Cities · Coffee Shops · Sports · Wi-Fi



The Wichita State Shockers were playing the Indiana State Sycs of the storied Missouri Valley Conference on TV this weekend, and one couldn’t help but think back to the golden age of WT … No not White Trash … West Texas … the college formerly knows as West Texas State University. The Buffs. Now, West Texas A&M … Ha … thank God that college kicked me out so that I will never be an Aggie!


Golden age? Yes. I was at the small college during two significant periods. One was the release of the film Animal House. And yes, living the lifestyle to imitate the “high art” of Animal House led to my invitation to leave … no doubt. But more significant than that, that period was the Golden Age because WT was a Division I, national basketball powerhouse back in those days in the Mo Valley Conference. I have fondly told many a surprised friend that my high school teammates and I used to travel to WT games in Amarillo to see The Buffs, led by a future NBA star, Maurice Cheeks (one time NBA assist record holder and NBA coach) squaring off against the Indiana State squad, led by some white kid named Larry Bird.


Mo Cheeks




That was basketball at its finest and perhaps WT at its best.


And many of you know there are other great things at WT … like that little old canyon up the road … Palo Duro Canyon, the second largest canyon in The United States … second only to The Grand Canyon. You knew that right?


Palo Duro Canyon


Here’s something you might not know about WT, WTAMU and Canyon, Texas. I certainly didn’t. Canyon has one of the best coffee shops in the entire nation. It’s true … I was visiting family in nearby Wildorado recently, wondering if there was anything I needed to blog about, before I headed back to Fort Worth.


There was. First, I learned that my nephew’s daughter, Lauren, was competing in a track meet at Canyon High School. She wasn’t just competing. She was making history for her team, The Pampa Harvesters. She was one of two of the very first wheel chair competitors to compete in a Texas UIL sponsored high school meet. She did great. She puts the shot, as I like to say … and she is quite a competitor.


Lauren Makes History


Well … any who … when I heard Lauren was competing, I made plans to head over to Canyon. That very morning, I also randomly saw a ranking of the best coffee shops in the country, as listed by USA Today. Having sampled the beans in 48 states, and several countries … I read the list to see if I agreed. There were some on the list I had already written about and concurred.


BUT … but, i had never even heard of Palace Coffee Company in Canyon. It certainly wasn’t there when I was removed from the student body at the hometown university. Well, I don’t think so … although coffee was not my beverage of choice at the time … I digress.


But, there it was — Palace Coffee Company — on the USA Today list and on the square in Canyon. I had no choice. I hopped in the PIngMobile early and hit up the Palace before Lauren’s track meet. False start! Ha … enthusiastically, I showed up ready to caffeinate at 7 a.m. Ha … there was no one there but me and an empty VW Hippie Wagon, branded with a phoenix and the Palace name.


Andrew, Kevin


As I tweeted that morning, “What kind of coffee shop doesn’t open by 7 a.m.?” Well … things may move a little slower in Canyon … so I went and toured the nearby campus. Lots of positive things happening over there. I had seen the new venue on the southeast corner of the college on a previous drive by … but never stopped (The First United Bank Center) .


That day there were lots of cars and something going on at the center — at 7 — even before the coffee was ready. So I parked, walked in and stood on line. Thank goodness I quickly asked what the event was … Ha … it was youth gymnastics … Not wanting to be the old guy at the kids gymnastics meet … I left.


Also, noticed a great facelift on a great museum … The Panhandle Plains Historical Museum — a great collection of neolithic stuff and oil boom stuff — was all bright and shiny. Wonder if they have any Georgia O’Keeffe works on display. You know she taught art at WT, right? (Yes, that was before my ever so brief academic career at WT …)


Panhandle Plains Museum


Back to Palace. This time, one of the baristas was opening the doors.


Well let me tell you … so worth the wait. USA Today … I concur, even though I hate to agree with you. As a journalism major (in my more successful go at college at Texas Tech) we were told that USA Today was probably the “death of the newspaper as we knew it.” Ha … we didn’t know it would be the Internet that would rip the entrails from the journalism industry. I digress …


So, this Palace … Right off the bat … FREE Wi-Fi … don’t tell anyone but the passcode is madhatter … which does take me down yet another of my infamous rabbit trials … When the coffee man told me “madhatter” a light went off. I remembered that a photo I saw once of Amarillo millionaire prankster Stanley Marsh 3 featured him dressed as a mad hatter. I asked if there was any connection. I have interviewed Marsh 3 a couple of times … and have always been a fan of his art and his creative antics … (the above-board antics … not the crazy stuff that has been in the news in recent years.)


Coffee Silhouette


No … “mad hatter” had nothing to do with SM3 … but it would have been sweet irony if it had. You see, when I entered the coffee shop, i had some reading material in my computer case. There were some farm documents and other papers my sister gave to me from my mother’s estate. One of the documents, strangely, was a plaintiffs argument in Whittenburg vs. Marsh … from a celebrated scandal in which Marsh 3 supposedly falsely imprisoned a young man …. long story.


Whittenburg vs. Marsh


Anyway … my mom was not a big fan of court proceedings. Why did she have a copy of this court document? I can only assume that she saw it somewhere and saved it for me, like she did Cadillac Ranch postcards and other things associated with SM3 … weird and quirky train of thought right …


(Ha … let me know if you’re interested, and I will send you a copy of the bizarre court document.)


So, I read the SM3 court document while I enjoyed Wi-Fi, had a black cup of coffee in some generic gimmee mug with some unknown company’s logo and I had probably the best blueberry scone in my lifetime so far. Why are scones hard as a rock at other baked goods counters, yet the ones at Palace are soft, moist and delicious?



I don’t like to agree with USA Today, for reasons previously mentioned … but this time I do. Free, strong Wi-Fi, a shabby chic boutique next door, piano on the sidewalk, great original artwork, a stage, a bench with lots of power outlets for students or bloggers and some awesome early morning sun if you count 8 a.m. as early morning …. and best of all, friendly people! The Palace gets 7 pings — perfect score.


Lastly … all this talk of mom and her papers and such made me a bit nostalgic or whatever … another item my sister saved for me was a copy of a book I worked on many years ago and had given to Mom. The book is NOLAN RYAN: The Authorized Pictorial History. And, it is a coffee-table sized photo book as the title implies … Well … Palace had a pretty good collection of coffee table books, but I was so enamored by this place, I thought it needed one more.


I wrote a little memorial to my mom in the book and left it there for others. Stop by The Palace and see if it is still there … Let me know, okay? What the heck … sign your name in the inside cover pages of the book too.


Know what I sayin?

Baseball, Black History Month In KC … Every Day Is Wi-Fi Day

March 8th, 2014 · Tags: Cities · Sports · Wi-Fi



The first visit to The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Mo., I came up empty. There was a slightly less-than-friendly greeting at the help desk, and I was told I could not take photographs in the exhibition — even if I was a member of the media — not without an appointment, anyway.


Bummer. I thought the NLBM would be the perfect complement to the PingWi-Fi coverage of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.


I walked away.


Had it not been for the timely scheduling of “42,” HBO’s well-done film on the Jackie Robinson story airing back in my hotel room I wouldn’t have gone back. But, timing is everything.



After seeing “42,” I had to go back. Yes, I did things properly, called ahead and scheduled a photo tour. (I for one, didn’t know all of the JR story …) You may know, Robinson played for the Kansas City Monarchs before Branch Rickey of the Brooklyn Dodgers realized three things: segregation was wrong; there was better baseball being played elsewhere; and there was more money to be made by expanding the talent pool and the audience of the league. Rickey signed Robinson for the Dodgers, stealing him away from the Kansas City Monarchs and the rest is history.


KC Jackie Team


Branch Rickey


In my opinion “42” does a pretty good job showing the hardships for Robinson and the courage shown by a few of his supporters – both black and white.


Jackie Robinson


So about the museum … lots of vintage photography and artifacts. Even the most absent-minded sports fan who visits will soon realize the Negro Leagues story is much more than a sports story — more of a civil rights story played out in the baseball genre. And it is a story of innovation and great contributions … Did you know the Negro Leagues hosted the first night games under the lights?



And the exhibit is quick to point out that when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, it also signaled the end of the Negro leagues. As talent migrated to the majors, the Negro leagues invited in women players and even resorting to clowning in the games. Could this have led to basketball’s Harlem Globetrotters?



Great news. The Museum does have Wi-Fi as does the American Jazz Museum in the same facility — The Horace M. Peterson III Visitor Center — all near the corner of 18th and Vine … the corner of baseball and jazz, I say – 6 pings.


After I toured the facilities, watched the film clips and read the kiosk info, I hit the gift shop. Ha … yes, I guess you would have to know me, my bizarre take on things and that I am not prejudiced (I hate most people regardless of their skin … just kidding) … but I so wanted a t-shirt printed with a word that Samuel L. Jackson can say ever so comfortably in a film, but I have to be careful to use delicately in a blog. (No, not “the” word … but the other word, so to speak) I like shirts that get reactions out of people – that’s my point.


But, I’ll be darned if there was a shirt I wanted in the place. The style I really wanted most was an authentic, vintage style of shirts with the old Indianapolis Clowns logo on it. Not there. The Monarchs merchandise looked pretty nostalgic, but not for me. Most of the other jerseys were cluttered with multiple, huge logos in flashy colors … perhaps the target audience being more the rap music artist and not so much the baseball history nerd. Who’s to say? Very interesting!


I did, however, grab a coffee mug with “42″ Jackie Robinson and the other word on the side.  You can find me most days, feeling all historical and somewhat politically correct, drinking from my new Negro Leagues Baseball mug …




Lots of things going on in those jerseys on display and for sale … the aforementioned Clowns … The Buffalo Soldiers (another fave, mon) … The New York Cubans … The Atlanta Crackers … The ECL, The Eastern Colored League … words …


Later, still thinking about the museum, I was driving around the city when I heard the museum President, Bob Kendrick, on a radio public service announcement for Black History Month. The executive said, “It has been said that the Kansas City Monarchs were the ‘New York Yankees’ of the Negro Leagues, and others have said the New York Yankees are the ‘Kansas City Monarchs’ of the major leagues.”


Well said.


KC Chief Vie


Meanwhile … time was running out in KC … here’s what I got:


Roastery, Courtney



The next to last day in Kansas City, I visited the coolest place — The Roastery.  I had passed the coffee shop and bean grinding mega-place numerous times … seeing a vintage bomber suspended in the air, high above … never knowing what it was.  And, sorry to say, as I asked my friends about cool places … no one had mentioned it.  I suppose if you have an airplane on a steel I-beam above your head, people just assume … Ha … got a great chai latte, met another blogger, met another photographer and enjoyed excellent Wi-Fi … Best place in town for my money – 7 pings.




More History, WWI – The National World War I Museum At Liberty Memorial tower offers the best view in town for the KC skyline from its tower, and more Lugers, machine guns, bone saws, mortars, medals, torpedoes, than you can imagine … even if you grew up watching war movies like me.  I spent three hours in the museum and needed a week.  Guns, history, guns, history … more guns … more history … and the bravery … bravery that an exhibit can’t begin to display.  There’s Wi-Fi throughout … a gift shop and a cafe with period snacks in the display case … including KC’s Chase’s Cherry Mash – 6 pings.




WWI Museum




Winstead’s – the hometown favorite malt shop and diner. I frequented two locations, one just east of The Plaza and the other out south near I-35 on Shawnee Mission. Both had great free Wi-Fi … My love ended there. Ha … I awarded the first $0.25 gratuity of my life at Winstead’s on principle. (That’s probably about the same monetary value as .5 pings …) One night I went in for the Wi-Fi and ordered a chocolate sundae to justify my presence. I ask you … what is the crowning feature of a chocolate sundae? The cherry atop, right? Can you believe they brought me a sundae with a smashed, ripped, mutilated and torn cherry on top? Who does that? It’s the principle … Winstead’s is a landmark ice cream joint. How much do you really care about a customer if you can’t even select a good cherry to put on it? Ha … I was going to have a lighthearted philosophical conversation about this with the waitress, and send it back for another cherry. But, I never saw the waitress again. The sundae melted as I waited to discuss the art of sundae making. No pings.




Krispy Kreme – My bad … hit them late in the day on blizzard day because everything else was closing and yuck … the donuts were stale. No Wi-Fi either … but I appreciate their resourcefulness “Just steal the neighbor’s Wi-Fi. That’s what we do.” 2 pings for resourcefulness.




The Elephant Bar (on Metcalf) – The EB was my second-favorite college hangout at Texas Tech, so recently I hit them up in Albuquerque too. Still, no Wi-Fi at The Elephant, sad to say. But, I did eat free. I ordered a steak. It was a bad sign when the waitress apologized for my meal being late, because someone had given my steak to another table. Finally, a piece of meat was put before me but it was cold. I sent it back, not unlike a battered cherry, and quickly the manager hovered over me, comping my meal and getting more meat for me. Hmmm … this one was warm but smaller … Did they microwave the one I sent back. Still … they attempted customer service. Unlike the soda jerk at Winstead’s, my server did well financially at The Elephant – 3 pings.


BBQ — Earlier, I think I mentioned the great barbecue at Arthur Bryant’s, the 18th & Brooklyn location (no Wi-Fi, no frills other than fountain Big Red). Everyone told me Oklahoma Joe’s was the best in KC, which makes no sense from a branding standpoint. Even more senseless, the joint was never open on my day off from the Dirty Gig. Lastly, in the BBQ genre, I did one of several Gates BBQ locations. I highly recommend the burnt ends sandwich at Gates, if you have lots of sauce. Most intriguing, the technology … not Wi-Fi but an antique looking system of multiple ceiling fans, belts and pulleys that cool the cafe.


The Midland Theater — There is nothing I love more than live music when out on the road. So, it was devastating that I didn’t get to see The Pixies in this older, intimate live music venue. Media pass …. DENIED! (My compliments to the band’s media relations person …)


Starbucks — No tour of a city would be complete without a visit to the green thing. Pretty sure the Starbucks on Broadway in Kansas City was not only mentioned, but received high marks in my first blog years ago. Yes, I hit it again and again. Great people watching … But a bone to pick. The drive up window is unAmerican, I say. What sense or fairness is there in waiting on the people first who are either too lazy, too important, or just too darned rushed to come inside? I mean …. wait on them, but don’t make me wait when I am first at the counter. Agreed? Ha … and I noticed something I have never seen at the hundreds of Bux I have done around the country. When I ordered my trademark green tea frappuccino, the baristas scattered. (Finally one girl drew the short straw and made my drink …) It must be one of the more difficult concoctions in their repertoire. Leave it to me to make their life difficult. Elsewhere … the Starbucks in The Plaza … awesomeness.



Highly recommended by my buddy Roberto, my next stop was Broadway Cafe. I headed on over with great expectations … yes to Broadway in Kansas City. How can this be? What a cool looking place, but no Wi-Fi!?! But I am open minded and decided to give them my money anyway … However, that wasn’t as easy as you would think. I stood in line for about five minutes, at the counter … at the front of the line, when i noticed they were taking money and serving people who walked up beside me. Heck no, I didn’t just let it go. When I asked if “my money was good?,” they said they didn’t realize I was standing at the front of the line, directly in front of the cash register wanting to order something to drink. Well … maybe we do things differently in Texas … and everywhere else in the country/world. Sorry Roberto – 2 pings, those for the excellent lemon poundcake.


Boba – Just around the corner from Broadway Cafe is a cool little boba tea shop … or bubble tea for the uninitiated. Yes, Tea Drops on Pennsylvania has Wi-Fi … and yes they have one of my favorites drinks … served with brown tapioca balls with .38 caliber straws … I asked a few questions, and asked if they could seal my drink with one of their air tight wrappers that was printed with the word “ping.” They apparently mistook my glee for newness. The barista asked if I had been to a boba tea joint before. I bet my first visit in California, back in 2003 predates the KC store … just guessing. Still – 5 pings. Loosen up a little.


And what of Cari-BOO? – Caribou Coffee has always been one of my favorites … since I first encountered them a few years back in the Midwest. Call them a more rustic kind of chain — buckskin motif and antler logos … or something like that. So … I was thrilled when I saw the cool Caribou logo across the street, about a half mile from my Drury hotel in KC. But like I said, Cari-boo! The KC location was the first drive-thru only Caribou I have seen in all my travels. Maybe next time … They are known to serve up good caffeine and iced treats, along with Wi-Fi.


Caribou Coffee


Speaking of the Drury … our relationship started slow, and thanks to some great Wi-Fi and even more stellar customer service, the stay was great. It was at The Drury — Kansas City often being a test market for new products — the one of the hotel clerks gave me my first Oreo with red peppermint filling (“stuff”). Hey … not bad! But … it so looks like a black puppy, with black lips, showing his tongue … I digress …


And lastly … the place I saw most in KC … The Fountain View Apartments, near the square. Ha … I saw them for about 60 days consecutivley, because our team was doing some work there. Although I did not live in the apartments, I would say it looks like a very cool complex. The first thing I did was check for Wi-Fi networks around the property.



Ha! Hotspots are everywhere … and to the freeloader’s chagrin, all of the Wi-Fi networks were securely locked down and password protected. I noticed that first … next I noticed they were all from the same Internet provider, and lastly that all of the hotspots also had a matching guest hotspot. Obviously, someone had done a good job to land a contract at the apartments and install the equipment, creating somewhat of a plug-and-play solution for new tenants … or so it would seem. Maybe everyone does that now … I don’t know. Haven’t lived in an apartment in many years. But if I did … this place would be a candidate. They have their own cool little Internet cafe in the office area too.


A few more observations about the place: lots of ornate metal work that creates the best afternoon shadows: the apartments are walking distance from The Plaza, with gates backing right up to the river walk; there’s a huge park for dog- and people-walking across the street to the east; it’s just a stone’s throw from the great Nelson-Atkins art museum … and my favorite … a great view of sunset on The Plaza, with geese landing and taking off constantly, honking away in the pastel light over the river.


Thanks for a great time, Kansas City … Oh … and I got to visit with an old college roommate, K.C. … LOL … “the other Kent.”


Know what I sayin?


KC Contrail sized









KC To St. Jo-Mo … Wi-Fi & The Cherry Mash Up Roadtrip

February 5th, 2014 · Tags: Cities · Satire · Wi-Fi


The Kauffman

I had yet too hear the weather news on Ground Hog Day, so I hopped in the car, chasing my own wintery shadow around The Cities — KC K and KC Mo. I don’t remember much about Kansas City from my first blog visit, back in 2003 … mostly I remember The Plaza and all the wonderful fountains, the statue of native American “Massasoit” cloaked in a pinkish/purple sunset and The Cheesecake Factory. This time around, I am quite enamored with The Kauffman Performing Arts Center and also all the old renovated buildings and cool businesses in The River Market district.


The Kauffman


On my first full day out and about, I stumbled on the River Market area, and as I dissected this retail zone, I happened upon a vintage, hole-in-the wall diner, The City Diner. Nothing fancy … one of those places that has obviously been there forever, with old bar stools, interesting characters, and engaging waitstaff … but alas, no Wi-Fi at The City … The word around the campfire is, however, that you can filch a network hookup from a neighbor …


But I look at situations as a glass half full, right? There was plenty to enjoy from my barstool at the front counter … the gritty feel, the eclectic menagerie of workers and the crazy regular sitting nearby, an elderly man spinning on his barstool … When one of the waitress said she wanted something to drink, he piped up: “Do you want a drink? Do you want an alcoholic beverage?” I smiled at the waitress. She said nothing and made no eye contact. The room went silent for just a split second. No one said anything … then the sound of clanking plates and rattling silverware resumed. Bizarre.


He made random comments about whatever, for about 10 minutes … loudly wrestled a newspaper, occasionally commenting to no one about a headline … grabbed his order and left. I figured he either owned the joint, or was casing it … one or the other.


City Diner


Ha … and I wonder what the waitresses thought of quirky me. When my waitress asked to take my near-empty food basket away, I jokingly waved her off and called “Time out!” I explained to her that even though it looked like I had finished my meal, that in fact, I had not finished because I still needed to take a photo of the last french fry.



“Say what?” her facial expression questioned.


I explained that I wanted a photo of the french fry … took the shot, and said take it.


Scratching her head, she returned to the kitchen. I realized they were probably a little concerned, with two bonkers customers in one day — Ground Hog Day — so I invited her to see the shot on my iPhone.


“Doesn’t that look just like a profile of the space shuttle?,” I asked her.


She wasn’t very enthusiastic, but she replied it was “more like a jetliner.”


She had a point … I closed the photo and forgot about it …


As i enjoyed what I am guessing must be The City Diner’s trademark – a fried porkloin sandwich with horseradish, I remembered that for several days I had been considering a daytrip to St. Joseph, Mo. … St. Jo-Mo.


Now I had my opportunity.


Why this? Well, you see, St. Jo is the home of Cherry Mash – third oldest candy bar in The United States (ha … and the birthplace of Jesse James … THE Jesse James). I have been doing my part to keep this candy brand alive, for the last month … well actually most of my life … on every road trip, when I can find the sweet mound of chocolate covered cherry sweetness. I have been tweeting photos of the brand, posting them and sporting about a bag-a-week habit of Chase’s CMs since i got to KC. You know them right?



I know them all too well. First as a kid, they were my mom’s favorite back then, which made them my favorite, which I would sneak from her stash at every opportunity. I remember she would sometimes take a bite out of one and save it for later. You could see the teeth marks cutting into the chocolate and that fuchsia/cherry colored cream inside. Ha … It was like a forensic record in sugar. You would think her leaving her mark on the tiny round mound of chocolate cherry goodness would be enough to keep it safe. Not with me around. I would snatch it up and finish it off, if I found it.


Well, as some of you know, our family lost Mom last year. I thought it would be a fun little tribute to go see the place where her favorite candy originated. (She was kind of zany too …) And, she so liked her some candy. For Cherry Mash to be her favorite said a lot!


I left the diner, plugged in the coordinates for the city of St. Jo, and headed out. Five minutes after I had snapped the photo, I was in the car, on a bridge crossing The Missouri River. I looked down below the bridge, just in time to see a train crossing a trestle below. Any guesses on what coincidentally was the cargo on the freight train?


I was blown away. I have never seen such a thing on a train before. There were three or four jetliner bodies, partially assembled, unpainted … in profile … no wings, just a nose, tail and the fuselage. I looked for a place to pull over on my bridge for a photo. There was no place to stop, so you have to take my word for it … Yes … pretty much a perfect visual pun of the french fry described in detail above.


God’s sense of humor, I call it …


On to St. Jo.


It is important at this point to mention that I didn’t drive north through the Missouri farmland blindly … well, not totally. I had gotten on the Cherry Mash Website and sent to them an e-mail asking about tours. The Website stated fairly specifically that they do not give tours … but in my line of work, it helps to be persistent. Even if I couldn’t tour the place, I had heard there was a factory store. What the heck. It was only about an hour away …


I drove around St. Jo for just a few minutes to study the architecture of several wonderful old buildings, and I totally gawked at the huge courthouse. I think it was the courthouse, but as I circled it, I never saw a sign???


“I’m done now.”


I pulled into the parking lot of the YMCA and fed the GPS the address for the candy factory. Off we headed, our destination about five miles out of town. Have you driven with a GPS? … It makes navigating a breeze … until you get to one of those creative intersections with oncoming traffic from five directions, a roundabout, and a few one-way streets thrown in. I tried to follow the evil headmistress GPS voice word for word. When she ordered turn, I did. Which put me on a pretty empty street, except for three or four cars coming right at me. “Those idiots. They’re all going the wrong way,” barked Mr. Safety to himself. Quickly I pulled into a driveway and corrected my choice of directions.


I couldn’t believe it. There wasn’t a patrol car in sight. Yes, this is Groundhog Day, i joked to myself as I drove on, in the correct direction.


A few minutes later, I could see the familiar Cherry Mash logo on a building a few hundred yards away. In a parking lot nearby, there were two police cars, side by side, with the officers chatting. “Cherry Mash must have the same effect as donuts,” I surmised. (I also remember Chase Cherry Mash had a little character called The Candy Cop.)


KC Chase Cop sized


I looked further up the street, and saw one vehicle at the factory. And there was a gentleman outside. I drove a little faster, passed the police, and I saw him lock the door and head for the Chevy Suburban parked outside. I pulled up just as he was opening the door to The Chevy.


“I guess this means I am late,” I said, kind of pleading in my tone.


He replied, “That depends … depends on what for?”


I explained that I had come all the way from Texas (which is true without some of the weeks and weeks of details) to see the place that makes my mom’s favorite candy. He said they were closed, but there was a store.


“Can I buy some candy? … Do you have t-shirts?”



He nodded and said, “Come on in, but we’re closed, so I can’t make change and can’t take plastic.”


Thank goodness I wasn’t carrying a C Note. I would have dropped it. He showed me around a bit, and I scoped out the shirt I wanted, and I saw a huge box of the candies. You bet I wanted both, so I started counting cash … aloud … so he would know the situation.


“Twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven … That’s all the cash I have on me.” (I was already playing rock/scissors/paper in my mind to determine whether or not I buy more candy, or a shirt, when) he said, “I’ll sell you both for twenty-seven dollars.”


I grabbed a red shirt to add to my fashion collection, and a 24-pack of the mashies, and we had a nice chat. I believe he said his name was Barry. I do know he said I was a very lucky man. “Why?” I asked.


He explained that the store is not open on Sundays … ever. “See those police cars? They were just out here and they called me to come turn off the alarm system …” A false alarm. Ground Hog Day! … I wondered what caused the alarm. Had someone called in a bomb threat? … a cherry bomb threat, maybe? Or was this the St. Jo version of swatting?


Who knows? But whatever set off the alarm and brought the police, probably saved me a traffic ticket and helped me score some excellent Cherry Mash swag instead of a wasted trip.


I took a few shots of the antique Chase’s Cherry Mash point-of-purchase displays, an old invoice, some historic photos, miniature delivery trucks and other Cherry Mash memorabilia. (Wonder if there are collectors? I think I just became one)… Most interesting: did you know that in the 1970s Cherry Mash test marketed a “Coconut Mash” wrapped in a similar design as Cherry Mash, only brown? Barry explained it had a coconut center, and was quite delicious, but it didn’t take off … not like the CM!

Cherry Mash

Barry was so nice and full of information … took great pride in telling me about the brand and about the various TV shows that had featured the candy several times. He said you can tell when their episode of “Unwrapped” airs, because the Internet sales go crazy.


But, Barry shrugged a bit when he told me there was no Wi-Fi for me.


Not a problem. I got what I needed and more, so I headed to my car. That’s when Barry handed to me one of the vintage design Cherry Mash coffee cups that I had been eyeing. We like our fans of Cherry Mash … and Texas has been very good to us … especially West Texas. (Probably my family’s patronage, I suspected …) What a sweet guy!


Know what I sayin?

Blogging About My ‘Drury Existence’ – Kansas City & Wi-Fi

February 4th, 2014 · Tags: Cities · Hotels · Wi-Fi

Drury With Bus


Finally, a day off from The Dirty Gig, because we are “snowed out.” … This time the PingWi-Fi tour stops in “The Cities” — Kansas City, Kan. and Kansas City, Mo. … time to shoot photos, test Wi-Fi, blog, listen to music…


I am reeling at just how well Apple iTunes Radio knows me (or have they have somehow “roboted” through my computer data?) — the other night I selected Sparkle Horse and iTunes radio, a station I for new and eclectic sounds. Listening to it, I was reminded of how The Flaming Lips dedicated a song to the leader singer of Sparkle Horse, in a concert soon after Mark Linkous killed himself. When I saw The Lips in concert the first time, they dedicated “Waiting for Superman” to Linkous and mentioned they also played the song in memory of Elliot Smith a few years earlier, “when he allegedly killed himself.” I guess “Waiting For Superman” is their designated suicide song … I digress … Any way … the point – I was impressed that iTunes played Sparkle Horse, Flaming Lips and Elliot Smith in a row, just for me.


Linkous of Sparkle Horse


Love it when things come together. Here’s another one … This time it is the work worlds colliding … careers, past, present and alternative … kind of cool. Let me set this up …


Years ago, at a large agency in Dallas, one of my PR clients was a bus company — the same bus company whose vehicle almost went into the Mississippi River when the bridge collapsed in Minneapolis, Minn. Luckily, that story had a happy ending, at least for the client’s bus and the school kids on board. A driver heroically got the kids to safety and was rewarded monetarily and with several TV interviews while the PR team was on site there in Minneapolis. A PR win.


Bridge Collapse


I am reminded of that event every time I walk to the parking lot of my hotel. The company’s busses and cars are all over the parking lot here in Kansas City. Apparently there is some training facility nearby, and many of the drivers are sharing this hotel.


So that is one little interesting career note about this hotel, The Drury Inn in Merriam, Kansas.


Even more interesting, my two current careers have intersected here at the corner of Drury and Inn … The Dirty Gig meets the travel blog. I am staying in the Drury — enjoying great Wi-Fi I might add — and writing about it. In addition, I was surprised to learn that the lower floor of this very hotel flooded right after I went to work the other day. (You know that is the kind of thing we handle on the Dirty Gig part of my travels … when I am not travel blogging.) My temporary residence is now also a client, more or less.


Instantly my Imagination went wild … me asking myself … “Oh wow … I didn’t flush anything … uh … ‘problematic,’ did I?” Good news, it wasn’t me. But there was a hot mess as they say. Great news. It was fixed immediately.


Later I heard that a pipe had broken. I heard this little clean up was quite the funk … but I didn’t have to deal with it. Local Kansas City guys from the disaster company I travel with were on the hotel job, and my assignment was elsewhere, near Kansas City’s Plaza. But, from “water cooler” chat, I do probably know more than I want to know about the flood … but that’s another story. No one’s fault. With the recent bitter cold, there have been pipes freezing, thawing, bursting all over The Cities.



So about this Drury …


Let’s talk Wi-Fi first. The network here is great, perhaps as good as any I have encountered at a mid-range affordable hotel. Free. It has performed well — allowing me to download the entire “The Clash Live At Shea Stadium,” lickety-split, off iTunes, without a glitch. Also, my laptop finds and reconnects to the network very quickly, when I venture out of my room on the third floor to the lobby, near the free popcorn machine:) I was so impressed from the point I checked in. The front desk not only knew the hotspot name, they were kind enough to warn me against the weak hotspot of a neighboring company. On the Drury hotspot, I FaceTimed a little, and I was impressed with the clear picture of my friend in New York City.




Hotspot … hot popcorn … take off one point for the “hot mess.” Drury Wi-Fi in KC gets six of seven possible pings.


Elsewhere in The Drury, I have enjoyed the free dinner’s each evening and felt like a big shot as I bought complete strangers drinks with my complimentary hotel drink vouchers, that would otherwise be wasted (since I don’t drink). By the second week of the visit I had learned the meal schedule — chicken strips, pasta, hotdogs … repeat … with a side order of mac & cheese.


I guess most people don’t stay in the hotel months at a time and have no idea of what to expect. However, I do get the impression that some people picked this hotel for their stay based on the free food/drink provided. Call me a travel snob, but I think the demographic mix and the conversations at dinner reflect this.


“I am at the ‘Durrie’ off I-35. When you come to tow my car, it is the white one that won’t start in the parking lot … yes … “Durrie” … D-O-O-R-E-Y,” I overheard the other night … I digress.


Another night there was a lady with a service dog … who took great pride in having trained her own dog, (as she should be). Then there was an elderly couple with long, “Wavy Gravy” hair (long hair like I rocked for a while) … with apparent home-made trims on their bangs … The stylish couple jumped into the dog conversation, to compliment Drury on allowing their pets to stay in the hotel.


After three nights of the couple’s dogs barking all night, very near my room, I was not quite so proud of Drury’s stance to elevate canine needs above human guests. Surprisingly, when I called the front desk to see if the management might ask the dog-love couple to stifle during the night, I was told to see if it happened in the night and call the desk if it did. Somehow I didn’t see that being very pro-active … and believe you me, no one at the front desk would want to talk to me after I had been awoken for the second or third night in a row. The problem persisted, no change, until the dog show hit the road.


Drury Inns


Things got better.


Disclaimer time … I realize as a travel blogger it is probably not fair for me to stay in a hotel for months at a time and divulge all. I see all the ups and downs that a one-night or two-night guess might miss. I usually try to take this into consideration … sort of.


So without airing all the hotel’s dirty laundry, the other day there was an issue in my room. Just one of those things. I complained a couple of times, and then the manager took control of the situation and upgraded me to one of the biggest rooms … just in time for the game that was supposed to be “The Super Bowl.” Good call, Jessica.


Thanks to the manager’s quick action, the cranky guy in 312 is now the very happy guy in … let’s just say … a bigger/better room not to be disclosed because it is where I keep “all my pertinents and such.”


Know what I sayin?