Tuesday, May 31, 2011

It's Hell Getting Old

I've been dealing with annoying back pain for a few years.  The pain has really spiked to mind-numbing levels over the last twelve months.  I rode 650 miles one day last week and was ready to sign up for a spinectomy by the time I got home.  With a 10,000 mile journey commencing in less than a month, I realized I had to do something fast. I just hope it's not too late.

I pay good money into insurance every month, so I finally got off my ass and saw a back specialist.  I was expecting a diagnosis of flattened or excessively bulging disks.  I wasn't expecting arthritis.  I'm only 48 years old.  The doctor pointed out several previously broken bones, which were apparently still visible on my x-rays.  He added that it was a wonder I can stand up straight at all.  Looking back, I suppose he's right.  Between martial arts, motorcycle racing, and a lifetime of general stupidity, I've broken both collarbones, multiple bones in both wrists, my left ulna, my right radius, cracked a vertebra in my neck, fractured my right tibia, broke my nose three times, crushed the tarsals in my left foot, broken all ten toes, and had my broken jaw wired shut.

The doctor prescribed some anti-inflammatory meds along with some core training rehab at a local physical therapy clinic.  Hey, I'll try anything.  I'm in the gym at least five days each week anyway, so if these exercise techniques yield improvement, I'll incorporate them to my daily workout regimen.  I admit however, that I'm uncertain what improvements might be realized with so little time before I depart on the Alaskapade.

I've always felt age is irrelevant and I believe I live a younger lifestyle than many guys half my age.  After all, it's not how old you are, it's how you are old that counts.

Arthritis.  Who would have thought?  It's hell getting old.


Monday, May 30, 2011

Please Take a Moment…

If you’re off work today, please take a moment to reflect on why.  There are many who don’t view Memorial Day as just a day off from work.  If you have a few minutes, watch this video.  It's funny and profound.

Friday, May 27, 2011

MadStad Engineering Wind Screen

This is a total geek entry.  If you're seeking entertainment, This one might not be for you.

Klock Works Screen (Useless)
I've been toying with the idea of getting a new wind screen for Hester before leaving on the Alaskapade in June.  The 2010 stock Road Glide screen is about as useless as Ruben Studdard's body guard.  Upon a recommendation from my dealer, I tried a screen from Klock Works.  It looked really cool, but was actually no more functional than the stock screen, which sits on a shelf in my garage. Its designer, Brian Klock is a land speed record tuner and says his screen adds stability and front end down force at speeds over 160mph. Great. Next time I'm shooting for a land speed record, I'll look him up.

ClearView Drive-In Movie Screen
I traded that screen for a really tall ClearView model.  This one was so tall that I looked through it as I rode as opposed to looking over it, which is the preferred method.  The ClearView blocked wind alright. It was so large that all the wind was blocked and I was sweating bigtime while riding across the Utah flatlands last year in late July.  It blocked so much wind that I could actually smell my farts at 70 mph.  The ClearView was also awful in the rain.  I rode through a torrential flood and despite applying RainX, the screen beaded,  fogged, and sent droplets up and over the screen and onto my dash.  It was so bad that I was looking around the screen to see where I was going.

WindVest Ferry Crossing
I bought the WindVest screen I have now for a steal on Ebay and it looks good, but its short height is only moderately functional in terms of wind blockage.  Granted, part of the riding experience is the wind in your face and I love it for a while.  But on this journey, I'm looking at ten to fifteen hour days in the saddle and even the most hardcore of truck dogs would seek cover after a while.

Up to this point, finances kept me from purchasing a new screen and I was pretty much resigned to reinstalling the drive-in movie sized ClearView for the Alaskapade.  I also briefly considered a taller version of the WindVest, and then learned about a new twist on the old windscreen concept.

MADSTAD Engineering in Dade City Florida specializes in motorcycle windscreens and has a new model designed specifically for the Harley Davidson Road Glide.  MadStad's founder Mark Stadnyk takes a unique approach to solving an age old problem for bikers. The MadStad system is essentially two screens in parallel, separated at precise distances and angles using specially-designed RoboBrackets. The separation between the parallel surfaces allows for an equalization of air pressure behind the main shield resulting in the airflow being directed up and over the rider and eliminating the vacuum that causes turbulence.  This turbulence results in watery eyes, visors flipping up on their own, neck fatigue, and an enormous sound of thunder in a rider's helmet that becomes headache-inducing on long rides.  These are all elements that I have always just accepted as a part of riding. 

I installed the MadStad system on Hester and immediately liked the look.  It is a very different appearance from a Road Glide screen, or any other bike screen for that matter.  I know many riders who ride with the tiniest windscreen available because it looks cool and their solution to the helmet thunder is to ride without a helmet. I won't attempt to debate the helmet issue here; I choose to wear one.  As for looking cool, I gave up cool when I moved up to a touring bike and placed a priority on riding comfort.  Call me an old fart, but I've placed seeing over being seen when I ride.

Star Wars' Boba Fett
The comfort versus cool debate not withstanding, one reason I chose the Road Glide is its modern look.  I've never been into the classic Harley styling with leather, fringe, and conchos.  I admire those bikes, but they're not for me.  The MadStad wind screen system definitely looks modern and compliments the Road Glide. It sorta has a fighter jet profile crossed with cleaner version of Boba Fett's mask.  Still, appearance only carries so much weight with me. With a 10,000 mile journey through a wide range of temperatures ahead, performance will be key, so I installed the MadStad system and hit the road.

The MadStad system installation is a bit more complex than your average windscreen install.  This stands to reason as the system is more complex.  Trust me, this is a system, not just a tinted piece of curved plastic.  The instructions are thorough, but I recommend reading through them completely before beginning the install.  The system arrived professionally packaged with each piece well-protected in multiple layers of bubble wrap.  The kit includes tools needed to assemble the system and thorough, professionally-printed instructions with illustrations. 
Robo Brackets on the Base
The short gloss black aluminum base replaced my stock screen and mounted directly to my fairing.  The RoboBrackets attached to this screen provide an adjustable base for the windshield.  The brackets are installed onto the aluminum base before the base itself is mounted to the fairing.  The biggest pitfall with most windscreen installs is losing well nuts inside the fairing.  I employed a method recommended by Chain on RoadGlide.org wherein the well nuts are partially threaded onto the windscreen screws before the screen is mounted to the fairing.  Only the center hole is a complete hole, the other four attach points are slotted, making the base installation much easier for one person.

Base & Brackets Installed on Hester
Once the base is installed, the RoboBrackets can be adjusted to support the windscreen in a wide range of positions to meet the rider's preferences.  The instructions offer setting suggestions specifically for the Road Glide.  For instance, the RoboBrackets can be installed two ways, one of which will allow the screen to be adjusted much higher.  Thinking traditionally, I thought taller would be better.  MadStad recommends the lower setting for the Road Glide.  My gut told me to do the opposite for more height, but I figured the designer knew what he was talking about and took his advice.  The eight RoboBracket bolts are adjusted with a small, flat 10mm open end wrench and an allen wrench,each of which are included in the installation package.  These are small enough to conveniently pack away on the bike should quick adjustments on the road become necessary.  The windscreen is secured to the RoboBrackets with four T screws included with the kit.  These screws make removal quick and tool-free.

The installed system has a unique appearance that quite honestly, some might not like. I do for the reasons stated above and I think the look would grow on most people who gave it a chance.  The bottom line for me is performance.  I'm not a motorcycle enthusiast; I'm a rider.  As such, I'm open to seriously explore any part that can make my rides more enjoyable and safer.

So how does it perform?   In two words: It rocks!  Granted, it took a few runs and adjustments to dial-in the perfect placement.  But once I did, I was very happy with the result.  When I looked at the instructions to write this review, I realized the settings were exactly as MadStad recommended in the first place.

I had hoped for some improvement at highway speed.  The MadStad system certainly delivered that, but I was surprised at the noticeable improvement at slower speeds too.  The area between myself and the dash is as calm as being in the eye of a hurricane. In fact, it's so calm it's almost odd.  I hit the highway and crossed a few lakes where the wind is always shifting and turbulent.  The difference in the amount of wind noise was startling.  Granted, I have fairing lowers, which cut a great deal of turbulence, but the decrease - even with them installed is impressive.  My stereo came through loud and clear, even while playing audiobooks.  The most noticeable improvement is felt while wearing my modular helmet.  Half helmets don't encapsulate and resonate the sound from the wind beating on them like enclosed helmets do.  This encapsulated resonance creates a thunder-like sound inside the helmet because the ears are covered. When this occurs, even the modular helmet's internal stereo speakers are rendered almost useless.  I used to crouch down to eliminate the thunder when it got to me on long rides.  I'm sure I looked like Quasimodo when I did that.  Even though the MadStad system is shorter, the wind is still directed up and over my helmet for a quieter ride.

Final Thoughts
MadStad is on to something here.  I predict others will produce similar solutions as this system gains popularity.  I hope buyers remember who the originator was.  Road Glide riders are known for buying multiple windscreens in search of the quietest ride. The MadStad is my fourth, including the original. Roadie owners who are considering a new windscreen can save themselves considerable time, money, and effort if they give the MadStad a serious look first.  I doubt I'll ever get to compare the MadStad system to the Klock Works at 160mph, but the fart test is almost certain.


I Have the Coolest Friends

This rendering of the Alaskapade logo was hand cut with a plasma cutter from 1/8" mild steel by my friends at Steel Images in Waxahachie, Texas.  I thought it was just too cool to not show it off here.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

CB Part III - The Final Act

If you're wondering what this entry is about, check out part one here.  If the lack of direct Alaskapade relevance bothers you, skip this and check back here in a few days.

After weighing our options and reviewing our set list, we decided to just do the Denton biker bar gig as a foursome.  Ken and Stu were good singers and we could adjust the key of any tune to meet their vocal range.  We could always add more guitar and keyboard solos to fill in time if needed.  We rehearsed almost every night before the gig and hammered out three good sets.  The show went off without a hitch; or at least none that our audience noticed.

Deb - Get the Reviewer's Point?
I ran another Craigslist ad, only this time we decided to look for a female singer.  A good-looking woman up front with a wider vocal range would add a whole new dynamic to our show.  It would also prove to add a whole new level of drama.  We ran through a dozen prospective singers and settled in on one named Debbie.  Deb had a great voice, a strong stage presence, and she could belt out the Janis Joplin tunes like Pearl herself.  Best of all, she showed up knowing every tune we sent her before the audition.  I never found Deb attractive, but apparently the guys in our audiences did.  She was once described in a performance review as having "just the right mix of femininity mixed with slutty skankitude". She was actually proud of that description.  The rest of us were just happy to get press.

Deb's voice and Ken's were dynamite together.  With those two singing most of the lead vocals and Stu's harmonies, there wasn't much we couldn't do in terms of tunes that were live performance worthy.  We started working as the house band at a little dive called The Boxcar south of Dallas.  This was a great gig because we played Friday and Saturday nights and could leave our gear on the stage between shows.  We started playing local town festivals and events, weddings, and private parties and our reputation around town was growing.  The private parties paid well, but the crowds were pretty cold until they got liquored up.  We had to play enough popular tunes to keep the crowd engaged until they warmed (boozed) up, but save some for the later sets when they actually paid attention to us.  On the other hand, bar gigs didn't pay too well, but all our friends could come and they dug us from the very first note to the last tune of the night.  We could pull friends up on stage to sing with us, play the cowbell, maracas, whatever.  Our bar gigs were more like parties.

As time went by, we had become friendly with many other bands and would often refer them to booking agents or others seeking to book a band for a gig we couldn’t fill.  That courtesy was often extended back to us and we always appreciated it.  One of those bands was called Mosaic Minds.  The Minds had a very talented lineup of multi-instrument capable players, which yielded a very diverse sound.  The leader of the band was a guitarist/drummer who was basically a hippie throwback from the 60’s. All of his tunes had a "save the planet" and "love your brother" feel, but the riffs were infectious and the lyrics were catchy.  The Minds were fun to hang out with and we always enjoyed playing with them. If they weren't playing a gig and we were, we would see them in our audience.  Their singer was a twiggy thin Asian girl named Julie who was a trained vocalist and was seriously looking to “make it” in the music business.  Julie was so skinny that one of our fans once commented that somebody should put a cheeseburger in their tip jar.  The consummate professional, Julie would hide out backstage and warm her throat by singing through the scales before every gig.  This was in stark contrast to all of us, who basically just showed up and played.

In a show of support for the hippie mindset that the Mosaic Minds perpetuated, we were asked to play a gig with them that benefited the North Dallas Food Bank.  This was an all day event that would wrap up that evening with the headline act closing the show.  If I remember correctly, we flipped a coin to see who would close and Code Blue won the toss.  The closing band was considered the ‘headline act’ and there were some acts around Dallas that refused to play any other slot.  We just wanted to play and were happy with not going on stage at 3:00pm.  The members of the Minds shared a common feeling that music could cure the ills of the planet and that all we needed to do was reach out to others and let the healing begin.  This was real Kum Bay Ya stuff that usually made my skin crawl.  Still, they were such nice people; I always just smiled and held my tongue around them.  At the Food Bank benefit, Julie had the brainchild idea to launch helium filled balloons with the Mosaic Minds email address written on a piece of paper inside them along with a message of hope and compassion for whomever might find them.  Excuse me while I stick my finger down my throat.

After their set on stage, they all went outside and ceremoniously released the balloons.  It was a calm summer day and all the balloons rose quickly and drifted out of sight.  Everyone looked at me as if they expected me to make a mockery of it.  I remember looking around at everyone with my hands out and a facial expression that said "what?"  I was very respectful of their intentions and just smiled and nodded as the scene played out.  A few days later, I was reading a review of the gig in a local Dallas entertainment paper and the balloon incident was mentioned.  I had done my part and was respectful.  Now it was time to have some fun with it.

I Googled marine sanctuaries in Europe and found one in Finland that specialized in rehabilitating whales and other endangered sea mammals.  The sanctuary web site listed names of the prominent research PhDs on its staff.  I picked a name, went to the Finnish Yahoo site and created an email address for it, and then added his photo from the sanctuary web site to the email address profile.  Then, I wrote a short letter saying that the sanctuary was attempting to rehabilitate a female dolphin named Gracie who had been previously tagged and was being tracked by the Institute.  I wrote that Gracie had been pregnant with a near full-term calf before ingesting a Mosaic Minds balloon in her blow hole and I added that although the calf was stillborn from a lack of oxygen in the womb, Gracie still held on to a 50/50 chance of survival.  I ended the letter saying that all of Finland was holding its breath (pun intended) and that if time permitted, I would keep them informed of Gracie’s progress.  I copied and pasted the text of the letter into a Google language translation site to render it in Finnish and then after a couple of weeks, emailed it to the address in the balloon using the PhD’s account I had created.

It was a few weeks before we saw any of the Mosaic Minds again and I had pretty much forgotten about the letter.  One of the Minds' members named Ruben worked in the library at the University of Texas at Dallas.  He and Julie had been a couple in the past and she confided in him that she received an email that she couldn’t read, but that clearly had the words “Mosaic Minds” in the text.  She was ecstatic at the possibility that one of their balloons actually made it overseas.  Julie forwarded the email to Ruben and he being a research tool expert in the library, quickly found a way to translate it back to English.  Imagine her horror when she learned what the email said after translation.  The UTD library also afforded Ruben a means researching the “facts” and he verified not only the existence of he Institute sanctuary, but also that of the PhD whose name I used on the email.  My practical joke had grown legs of credibility.

A couple of months passed and nobody from the Minds ever mentioned a word of the email.  The next time we saw them; I prodded a bit and while talking to Stu in Julie’s presence, asked him if he had heard about "that bunch of tree huggers that were throwing a tantrum in Finland because some dolphin died".  He knew what I had done and like most of the bullshit pranks I concocted, just went along with it.  I thought Julie was going to burst.  Ruben was no longer in their band and Julie had no one else to confide in.  Seeing her obvious distress and knowing how seriously she took her performances, I decided to let her off the hook and tell her what I had done.  I could barely contain my laughter as I spilled my guts and I honestly thought she would be relieved and grateful to me.  Not so much.  She wouldn’t even look at me the rest of the night and she never spoke to me again.  Ruben sat in with us at a later gig and told me that she was seriously distraught over poor Gracie's calf and was terrified that the band would somehow be held responsible for her death.

We once played an event for the City of Dallas as part of their Friday afternoon Out to Lunch Concert Series. They paid us $1,500 for a one-hour show, and offered an extra $500 if we brought our own PA so they wouldn't have to hire someone.  I agreed to bring the PA and spent the extra $500 on a new amp to drive my sub woofers.  I arrived early and did all the PA setup and then set up my drums.  Stu was right behind me. By the time the rest of the band showed, Stu and I were pretty much ready, so we started goofing off.  Each drum in my kit had a microphone, I mic'd all the stage amps as well.  My sub woofers were powered by a 4,000 watt amp and Stu and I had a blast playing around.  I would hit my kick drum as Stu would hit a deep bass note and the resulting thump would rumble and echo off the downtown buildings like an explosion.  Apparently, it was too much like an explosion because after a few minutes, the Dallas Police showed up and ordered us to stop.  Turns out, people were calling 911 fearing the noise was a result of terrorist actions.

We knew this could be a great exposure gig that would lead us to other opportunities and we were stoked.  We made it a point to dress a little nicer since most of the crowd would be professionals out on their lunch.  Everyone got the memo except Deb who showed up looking like some sort of homeless biker gypsy chick.  Deb's appearance notwithstanding, we played a great set and held a large crowd for the entire hour.  We actually spent less time playing than we did setting up and tearing down.  The quality of venues and the pay improved sharply after that gig.  That performance landed us a private show at the new Dallas World Aquarium, we played for the Dallas Margarita Society, the Dallas International Blues Festival, and a few other local town festivals.  Still, we loved the clubs and we were starting to feel the urge to record a new CD.  Maintaining our family life, jobs, and the band became a delicate balancing act.

The CD was going to be Entitled "Too Far From Home" after a tune Stu wrote.  It was jazzy, upbeat swing kinda tune with a solid hook and an infectious groove.  People couldn't stop themselves from dancing or singing along, which was humorous because it was about someone addicted beyond control and it described how their life was spiraling beyond help and hope - too far from home.  We had several really good tunes, some of which we recorded live, but had yet to get  into a studio to record them properly.  We wanted the second CD to have a full studio sound. the quality of the tunes demanded it.  Any band's sophomore release is a tough one because it's so difficult to measure up to their first release.  The members of a band have a lifetime of experiences and emotions to encapsulate into their first release.  The second release calls upon the experiences and emotions occurring after the first release.  In our case, those included Jim being a dick and Deb falling apart at the seams.

In time, the new CD title would prove to be more than just a cool song as Deb was becoming the personification of its subject matter.  We all drank a little, but she was always getting hammered and doing God knows what out in the parking lot between sets.  We usually loaded up our third set with tunes Ken and Stu could sing because Deb was too blotto.  The crowds were never as particular as we were; as I was.  I was harder on us than our worst critic and Deb's behavior made me want to shove my drum sticks up her ass and shake her straight.  The rest of the guys saw it, but didn't let it get to them like I let it get to me.  At a really nice gig in a Dallas venue we had been trying to get into for months, Deb was belting it out onstage at 110% and we were killing.  We opened up for a Tom Petty cover band called Petty Theft.  Petty Theft's founder was a local Dallas radio station DJ and they had a huge following.  We were stoked to expose our music to such a large crowd.  One of the guys up front at the stage was rocking out in right front of Deb, dancing, fist pumps, the whole nine yards. We were accustomed to this stuff because guys seemed to always dig her, so none of us thought much about it.  During a guitar solo, this guy extended a beer out to Deb and when she went to take it, he yelled something into her ear.  She nodded and yelled "Yeah!" and he handed her some folded papers and then turned and walked away.  I watched all this go down from my drum perch and realized she was just served by a Constable - while on stage - at a gig.  She opened the papers and glanced briefly, then rolled her eyes, tossed them onto the stage, and started belting out the next verse, never missing a note.  We decided to just live and let live.  After all, we were all having a great time and it was supposed to be fun.  Our mindset was as long as her personal life didn't interfere with our working, we would stay out of it.  Then one day the phone rang.  The caller asked if this was the number to reach Code Blue.  Only this call wasn't for a gig.  It was Dallas County Child Protective Services and they had questions about Deb.  In the big picture, a sloppy tune or two was easy to overlook.  But none of us could have lived with ourselves if something tragic happened to one of her kids while she was with us.  She needed to get straight and we needed a singer...again.

Looking back, I think we were at a crossroads.  Did we really want to go through the aggravation and hassle of finding another singer?  Did we want another female?  When we were auditioning singers for what would ultimately be Deb’s spot, we were told that a female front will lead the rest of the band to heaven or to hell.  I’m pretty sure that at this point, we were in Purgatory. We had momentum, we had loyal fans, we still had a desire to play, and most importantly, we had gigs booked.  There’s something about making music that makes a person tolerate a great deal more than he might in other pursuits.  When a group of musicians gets together and it works, the musical synergy is more addictive than any fan adulation or even the money (at least at our level).  We wanted to carry on.

We decided to just play and had several of our female singer friends sit in with us.  We figured if one particular singer clicked and it felt right, we would just make that person a band member an press on.  There was a great deal of talent in the Dallas area and we had no shortage of people to front the band.  We played several shows with Angie who we had met in our earliest days at the Swiss Avenue gig.  Angie had a great voice and I thought she was hot.  I would just stare at her when we played and picture her singing naked.  She and the band had an understanding that she wanted to do more pop material and that if something came along, she would take it and work with us when possible.  Angie did professional voice over work and had parts in animated movies, theatrical productions in Dallas, and was even the voice of a few children’s toys.  She eventually landed a gig with a well-known party band in Dallas and took her exit.  We were happy for her and still wish her well.  I never did see her sing naked.

Big Mike on Sax
We had added a sax player to our lineup, which expanded our set list greatly.  Everything is better with a sax.  Mike was a tall, bald guy who could wail on a saxophone and sometimes played two saxes at once. He would step to the edge of the stage for his solos and then captivate our audiences as he belted them out.  He projected a cool image and made a great sound.

Frances on Vocals
Eventually, we came upon a talented singer named Frances who was raised in a musical family and had photos of herself as a child sitting in the laps of Willie Nelson, Steve Miller, and many others.  Frances also had a terrific look and could command the stage as well as Deb, only without leaving behind the skanky residue.  Frances ran off to meet some guy on the Internet and we never heard from her again.

The revolving door was growing tiresome.  We were always teaching new singers our stuff and working out the performance dynamics with them.  Because of that, we had little time to write and produce new material or even to learn new cover tunes.  The band was becoming job-like and speaking of jobs, I took the one I have now with IBM and hit the road five days a week.  I was generally available to play gigs, but practically never around to rehearse for them.  Without rehearsals, dynamics grow stale and the stage presence suffers.  Any musician will tell you that there’s little worse than playing a bad gig.

Code Blue at the end (L to R): Jeff, Ken, Stu, Francis, Scott, & Mike
We added another new singer named Lisa, who was really talented and came from a band with a sizable following.  I stuck it out as long as I could, but quickly realized my travel for work was holding the guys back.  I told them they should seek a new drummer and carry on with the band.  They agreed (almost too easily) and had a new guy in place a few weeks later.  I saw them play and honestly, I kind of felt like I was betrayed.  It wasn’t their fault and the feeling of betrayal on my part wasn’t even deserved.  It's just that Code Blue was Stu's and my baby and I was kinda  bummed to see them play without me.  The new drummer was good, he just wasn’t the right guy.  It's a feel thing and the right feel generates a groove that forms the foundation for the band's attitude on stage, and that attitude translates directly to the audience.  After a few months, the guys contacted me and asked me to come back with the understanding that we would rehearse when we didn’t have a gig and that they would assume the booking and management duties.  I reluctantly agreed, but was secretly very happy.  The other drummer wanted to get back to his previous band, so it was all good.  Being allowed to just show up and play without all the management and logistical homework was great…at first.  I noticed that we had plenty of time to rehearse because we never had any gigs.  I wasn’t doing the booking, so we weren’t working.  I wasn't spending hours a week on our website and writing newsletters, so our name wasn't out there.  MySpace.com had arrived (remember them?) and if you didn't have a place there, you didn't exist as a band.  We finally called it quits a few years ago and parted ways as friends.  Code Blue was over.

Recently, Stu, Ken, and Lisa found a drummer and put together a band they call "508 Park" and they play many of the venues Code Blue used to play.  My only involvement is in the fact that they use my PA gear, but I'm really happy for them.

I miss playing terribly and I still have two drumkits in my office where we used to rehearse.  I’m most disappointed by the fact that “Too Far From Home” was never released. We recorded a few tracks, but never put them together to create a product we felt was worthy of producing.  It's not like we planned on making millions, thousands, or really anything from our CDs.  We just wanted something to show for our efforts and our talents; something to keep.  I want something to hand my granddaughter someday and say, "once upon a time, your PopPop was cool".

Looking back as I write this, when I consider all the band members who came and went, all the gigs, all the broken drumsticks, torn drum heads, empty venues, and arguments on and offstage, I wouldn't trade it for anything.  If I ever get off the road in a job that offers some home life stability, you can bet your ass that my ass will be sitting behind a drum kit.  And when that happens, I hope my friend Stu is in the mix somewhere.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Left Behind

I know I promised to check on yesterday, but I was preoccupied trying to look busy.

At any rate, I’m still here.  In fact, everyone I know is still here, which tells one of two things:  Either Reverend Camping was wrong or everyone I know is so devoid of grace that we all get left behind.  I suspect the former over the latter, but at the same time, pretty much know that the latter was just as likely.

From a completely selfish perspective, I consider it a good thing. I would have taken the Alaska trip regardless, but at least now the roads might be in better shape and gas stations will be open.  I’m sweating the finances enough as it is with today’s gas prices.  I can’t imagine what the post-apocalyptic price per gallon would be.

Crack Kills
 Of all the places to find myself for the end of the world, I have to work the weekend in Washington DC.  That in and of itself could serve as fodder for a pretty interesting article, but I digress. As I sat in the Dallas airport, I couldn’t help but notice the other heavenly rejects around me when I came upon this person in the departure gate. 

  Where is my white robe when I need it?


Friday, May 20, 2011

Happy Rapture, Everybody!

It's may 20th and Reverend Harold Camping, founder of Family Radio Worldwide, has a number of followers who believe his prediction that the Rapture will happen tomorrow.  Between 2005 and 2009, this dickwad received over $80 million in contributions form his whackjob followers.  Camping also predicted the end in 1994.  Apparently people forgot.  P.T. Barnum was right.  Hell, I couldn't even get Google to pay me the $218 they owed me and this tool got $80 million?  If it is indeed the end of the world, I hope Google is left behind to suffer with the rest of us.
Circle Grill Rapture Painting - Bon Appetit! (click to enlarge)
When I was a kid, we used to to go to the Circle Grill near my house for good old country comfort food. On an easel in the foyer was a painting depicting the Rapture taking place right in Dallas. As a little kid, the painting scared the shit out of me. But it also fascinated me and I thought the images of the crashes were pretty cool.  I particularly like the image of Jesus in a linebacker position at the center top.  I remember wondering how everyone knew to wear white robes that day.  Now, I suppose they knew Reverend Camping and had some inside information.

Who's brain trust idea was it to end the world on a Saturday?  I mean, why not on a Monday?  Monday already sucks so bad that most of us probably wouldn't even notice.  Apparently, that doesn't matter because Camping who is 89 years old, crunched the cryptic numbers from the Old and New Testaments and decided that tomorrow is it.  I wonder if he figured out what time zone God is on.

According to Reverend Camping, the Rapture itself will happen tomorrow and will then usher in a five month period of catastrophes before the world comes to a complete end in October.  Whew!  At least Alaska will still be there so I can make my trip.  Imagine the Halloween parties people can throw knowing it's the end of the world.  In case you're wondering if you're mistaking my lack of reverence for a lack of faith, you're not.  Nevertheless, if you believe all this, time is short.  Better be sure you're outside when you hear the trumpets or that you have one of these cool hatches.

I'll check back in tomorrow to report on the status of the world.  It's pretty much a given that if the Rapture takes place, I'll still be here. Besides, my white robe is at the cleaners.


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

30 Days and Counting Down!

The last seven months have really flown by.  And now, as I'm sewing up loose ends and trying to remember all I may have forgotten, it really seems to be flying.  June 18th will be here before I know it and I suspect time will blaze by like lightning when actually I'm on the trip.

Back in October when I decided to make the Alaskapade a reality and actually starting working to put it all together, June 18th seemed like an eternity.  I had eight months to pick dates, sort out the logistics, and prepare.  Now, I'm one month out and I think I've covered all the bases.  I've sought out and found the best deals on reliable yet compactable camping gear.  Funny, but as a testament to my being a magnet for quirky situations, the mere act of buying a tent provided fodder for at least two blog articles (1) (2).  I've secured some pretty cool (albeit geeky) tech gear, providing me with navigation, entertainment, communications, and emergency response peace of mind for my family.  I've routed, routed again, and re-calculated my route and with advice from some very helpful people at HDForms.com and RoadGlide.org, feel pretty confident that the routes I've planned offer a good mix of scenery and interesting terrain.

Martin at Sturgis - 2009
My friend Martin and I talked about making this journey for five years and each year that passed was going to be the one.  Martin is gone now; his life cut short at just 48 years old by a brain aneurism.  When I was considering buying my first Harley, my mother of all people was my biggest cheerleader.  When I commented to her on the economy and made excuses to put it off, mom was the one who said "There's never a good time to frivolously spend money on a toy, but too late will get here before you know it."  Too late arrived too soon for Martin.  As usual, mom was right.

By coincidence, as I'm writing this, "Hold On" by Triumph is playing on the radio. Killer tune; Inspirational and appropriate.

The daily routine takes your soul,
Lost without a trace
It holds you down and turns you 'round
And puts you in your place
Another day, another dollar
Another pretty face
Another chance to lose yourself
In the endless race
Hold on, hold on to your dreams
Hold on, even though it seems
Everyone around you has their little schemes
Listen to your heart and hold on to your dreams

I originally set this blog up to serve as an affirmation to myself - to not let my daily routine take my soul, to not life get in the way and force me to postpone the trip yet another year.  Since then, it has morphed (some may say mutated) into a place on the web for me to vent and as a place for me to satiate my thirst to write.  I've lived a pretty adventurous, albeit whacky life and I have a lot of stories to tell.

"Because it's mine." - Hank Reardon/Ayn Rand
I haven't told many people this, but a few months ago, a producer from the IFC cable channel offered me $15,000 to allow a camera crew to tail me on the Alaskapade and let them produce a "reality-based documentary".  The money looked good, especially given the skyrocketing price of gas.  But in the end, I know that "reality TV" is generally the farthest thing from what reality is and their documentary could easily end up becoming a mockumentary with Hester and I as the butt of the joke.  Martin and I deserve better.  Under the terms of their deal, I would give them exclusive rights to this site, everything I've written, and all video action in perpetuity.  I realized that although my writing is just a semi-passionate hobby, my thoughts are worth more than $15,000 to me and I declined their offer; twice.  I'd rather do it all for free and maintain my independence. It has occurred to me, however, that as our Presidential administration continues to show ZERO leadership with respect to fuel prices, I may be questioning my decision a month from now.  IFC TV aside, the 16,000 site hits I've gathered since October have inspired me to carry on with my writing under another blog after I return from Alaska.  Details on that will follow my return.

I still plan to produce my own video diary of the trip.  Although the movie poster and "theatrical" trailer atop the Alaskapade page are mostly a goof, I'm taking three HD cameras with me and plan to capture as much of the action as possible. One camera will be helmet mounted, one bike mounted, and the third is a handheld. I have a vision of how I want the end product to look and anyone who knows me knows I'm pretty good at chasing down and realizing my visions.  Nevertheless, given the vision I have in my head, the expert editing and creative input I've been receiving, and my propensity to find myself in the middle of stupid situations, the Alaskapade movie should turn out to be pretty entertaining.

I'm sorting through the available technologies to provide timely updates from the road.  I've found a way to link the transmissions from my satellite transponder to this page with Google map updates of my location every ten minutes while I'm moving.  I have over 200 subscribers who will receive the updates on the fly and even a few Twitter followers.  I've had many wishes of good fortune and safe travel as well as numerous expressions of envy and predicted vicarious living through these forthcoming updates.  Rest assured, I don't take all this lightly and will do my best to measure up to your expectations as well as my own.

So join me as I count down these last thirty days and then join me on the road beginning June 18th.  This will be the trip of my lifetime and I'm happy to share the experience.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Alaskapade Mapping Update

I was stoked.  I've been working feverishly behind the scenes on a mapping process for this site.  In that pursuit, I duct taped and super glued a bunch of unrelated applications together to get my Spot GPS satellite transponder to update this blog with a live map of my location as I ride the Alaskapade.  The idea is that when I'm gone and unable to get to the Internet to update the blog, readers can surf to this page and the map will be at the top of the screen.  I rode 650 miles in one day from the Dallas area down to Galveston and back and had the Spot device uplink my location every ten minutes.

It worked flawlessly. There was a Google map that you could zoom, pan, scroll, etc. Then, when I went to disable the location placement function on the geo server I use (because I don't always want to be tracked), it deleted all the plots from the 650 mile ride and there is no way to recover them.  It just left an empty map on my page, which I took it down because my error pissed me off.  I will ride some this weekend and reinstate a map, but at ten minute placement granularity, it won't be as representative as the one with 14 hours of location recording had.

I'm happy with the results, but pissed at myself for screwing up the ability to demonstrate it here.  At least I know how to prevent it from happening again and the good news is it will work as I hoped with no intervention on my part (after I kick it off) when I leave next month.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

By Popular Demand - Stupid Part IV

For those of you jumping in without reading the articles in chronological order and wondering what the hell this has to do with the Alaskapade, the next paragraph is a repeat from a previous entry.  Everyone else just skip down.

I was sitting in a client's conference room in the midst of pre-meeting smalltalk when a co-worker brought up the Alaskapade and asked when I was leaving.  One of my clients asked what he was talking about and my co-worker pulled up the Alaskapade.com page on the conference room's projection screen.  We had but moments before the meeting kicked off, so there wasn't much time for me to explain.  There was time, however for my client to express his opinion that "this has to be the stupidist thing [I've] ever done".  My first instinct was to argue the purpose for my trip, but this is my customer and IBM probably wouldn't appreciate that.  So, I just grinned, nodded, and bit my lip as the meeting started.

It did get me thinking though.  I know I'm firmly resolved in my purpose for the trip and I also know that I've done many things more stupid than this.  There are too many to list without starting another blog, so I thought I would describe my top three in no particular order.

Those three came and went and they prompted many readers to write in and comment.  Most of those comments were something like "Anyone who does that kind of crap must have more than three stupid stories to tell."  I'm not sure how to take that except to wonder how they knew. 

Nevertheless, here's Stupid Part IV - Kickboxing

["Oh yeah! You're winning! No get back out there and finish kicking his ass!"]

After my encounter with Larry, Darryl, and Darryl, I decided to never knowingly put myself in a position to be an unwitting victim again.  I began training in Song Moo Kwan Tae Kwon Do at a local school near my home.  This class had been in place over 25 years with the same two instructors. Their system had a foundation which far exceeded the school's owner and some anonymous photo of a Korean "Master" hanging on the wall.  They also held classes in which my sons and I could train together.  This was nice because my boys were far enough apart in ages to always be on different teams and leagues in any given sport or other activity. As such, I relished the opportunity for the three of us to do something together.

Where the adults were concerned, ours was a full contact class.  We always wore protective gear and no one was out to truly hurt anyone else, but it was understood that shit happens and I was always sporting a cracked rib, a black eye, or a fat lip. As I worked my way through the ranks, various martial arts tournaments would come and go, but I was never really interested in them.  Tournaments were for the most part a game of tag where anything more than slight contact was penalized and usually grounds for disqualification.  The fight scenes in the Karate Kid movies were crap.

We were trained with the mantra "you prepare hoping you never have to use it" and we all nodded in agreement, but the reality was that everyone in the class secretly fantasized about an altercation wherein we would kick the ass of someone who deserves it, using the techniques we practiced daily.  Before class one night, word was spreading about an upcoming kickboxing tournament and everyone was buzzing about it.  These events usually had a few low-level professional bouts preceded by several amateur matches with fighters at various levels of capabilities.  I had always shunned traditional martial arts tournaments because they seemed lame, but these would be full contact, multi-round events where a guy could learn first hand how his skills stacked up against others.  I asked my instructor what he thought of my training for and entering the event.  The techniques used in kickboxing were quite different than those we were learning, but he and his instructor agreed to train me if I was willing to do so outside of class.  For weeks before the event, I would go to my instructors house and get my ass kicked by whatever guest bully he had show up to beat on me that night. I came home one night with my jaw so swollen I couldn't talk, much less eat.  I had been knocked cold from a heel rake delivered by one of my instructor's fellow teachers.  We were working out in the grass between the houses and I never saw it coming.  One second I was throwing a punch and the next, it was lights out. I came to looking up as a fuzzy rendition of my instructor was digging in my throat trying to prevent me from swallowing my mouthpiece.  I tried to avoid talking when I got home because I knew how much crap I'd take for doing something so stupid being the sole bread winner in the house.  Truth was, nobody at home knew what I was doing or what I planned to do. I never even told my family about the match or its outcome.

Kickboxing rules are different than regular martial arts competitions in many ways, most notably of which was full contact was not just allowed, it was expected.  I felt like I had an advantage, or was at least at par with my competition because our class trained the same way.  Part of our training included visiting other classes, one of which on one particular night was to a class where absolutely no contact was allowed.  From the youngest kids to the adults, the students were terrified of us.  I remember thinking what an injustice this school was doing to its students, wrapping them in belts having never really been hit.  Our organization was old school and our founder, now in his mid 60's, didn't believe anyone who hadn't been knocked out cold in training deserved to wear a black belt.  I still had a few years to go before my first black belt test, but I knew I already had that square filled.

The most difficult part of kickboxing for me was learning how to actually box.  The rules dictated that each competitor had to throw a minimum of six kicks in each of three three-minute rounds.  You could pummel your opponent, but if you failed to get your six kicks in, you lost the round.  Kicks were my specialty.  I had developed a wicked hook kick roundhouse combination with my forward leg that always caught my opponents off guard.  I just needed to work on that boxing thing. I went with my instructor to watch a kickboxing match and was shocked at what I saw.  These guys weren't martial artists.  They were all boxers who learned how to throw six kicks.  The irony was that you didn't even have to land the kicks.  The usual tactic seemed to be to just toss 'em out there in the general vicinity of your opponent and then slug it out for the remainder of the round.  I decided to take a different approach.

The night of my tournament arrived and I drove out with my instructor and his instructor, Mr. DeLuna.  I observed a few matches before mine and was pleased to see that my expectations had been met.  These guys also appeared to just be boxers who threw six kicks per round.  They even wore boxing trunks.  When my first match was called, I entered the ring in a full training pants with  my gi top wrapped by my blue belt.  The crowd was mostly silent except for the few friends I had there. Their cheers were drowned out by the snickering and outright laughter from others, but I paid them no mind.

As the bell rang out calling the fighters to center ring, my instructor looked me straight in the eye and told me to stick to our plan.  I had trained with he and his fellow instructors for a few months, but suddenly I had no intention whatsoever of applying what they taught me.  My opponent looked to be about my age, 31, but he had long jet black hair, was cut like a boxer, tattooed, and totally ripped.  I had short gray hair, was cut like a pancake, had no tattoos, and was slightly torn at best.  We touched gloves after the first round bell tolled and he started with the typical boxer dancing, bobbing, and weaving. I assumed a defensive stance with my weight on my rear foot and my arms positioned to protect my chest and face.  As he danced and moved around me, I just pivoted on my back foot, staying sideways relative to his chest.  This made me a slimmer profile and therefore a smaller target.  All he really had in his fighting arsenal was a straight jab.  My stance made me more elusive than the typical fighter he faced who stood face to face with him.  I figured out quickly that for all his muscles, he had no flexibility.  He had a hard jab, but that was it.  When he punched, I moved ever so slightly causing him to miss and stammer forward.  Throwing a full force punch and missing is much more exhausting than when the punch connects.  I heard someone in his corner yell out "kick".  He threw a half-assed forward kick in my general direction that was barely waist high.  I could throw side kicks that were head high.  Part of my instructor's training regimen was to have us stand sideways right next to a folding chair and side kick over it.  If I kicked too low, I kicked the chair and it hurt as bad as any punch or kick from an opponent.  That training technique was instrumental in my discipline development and my high side kicks were a reward.  About a minute into the first round, I figured out his pattern.  He would fake a jab twice with his left hand and then throw a right hand.  About every third set of these was followed up by a half-assed kick.  I maintained my stance, staying completely passive.  The crowd started booing at me and my instructor was pulling his hair out.  This was years before the Ultimate Fighting Championship and mixed martial arts became popular.  The crowd wanted a fight and I was taught not to fight.  I was taught to respond and eliminate the threat with minimal effort. About the time my instructor yelled out "sixty seconds", my opponent repeated his staple move.  I flinched slightly to the right and I could hear his fist whoosh past my left ear as he stumbled forward.  I pivoted to the left and launched a head-high side kick with my right leg that caught him square in the under left side of his jaw.  I remember seeing what looked like a slow motion view of his head slamming sideways on to his right shoulder.  The sweat from his long hair splashed off his shoulder and he dropped to the mat.  The crowd was silent.  It even took my friends a few seconds to realize what happened and respond.  The ref pushed me to my corner and gave my opponent (who had stood up by this point) a standing eight count. This scenario repeated itself twice more before the round ended.  He basically walked into every kick I threw.  After the third knock down, the ref called the fight.  I won.  I won in a single round against a boxer and I never even threw a punch.  In fact, I only threw a total of three kicks the entire round.  Ironically, had the round not ended before the TKO, I would have lost it because I didn't have my six kicks in.  The ref raised my hand in victory and the only cheers in the place were from my instructors and my friends.  My opponent hugged me and I stepped through the ropes and hopped to the floor.  I had about thirty minutes before my next match which would pit me against another first round winner.

My instructor was simultaneously happy and pissed at me.  He asked me if I had forgotten everything I learned the last few months.  I told him I learned from him, but what I learned most was how to exploit the weaknesses in the techniques they were teaching me.  He told me I was being cocky and that cockiness would cost me.  I outwardly feigned confidence, but I knew I was lucky.  My next match was the last of the first round winners.  When they called me for the next round, my opponent wasn't there.  They had to call in an alternate who hadn't fought all night because he arrived too late.  My corner was concerned because he was fresh.  Hell, I was fresh.  All I had done was throw three kicks and then rest for half an hour.  What I realized that my corner did not, was that this guy never saw my first match.

The clang of the bell sounded the start of the second round.  We touched gloves and I assumed the position.  My new opponent was a Hispanic guy who apparently spoke no English.  He started bobbing around and then just stopped, dropping his hands and looking at me as if to say "didn't you hear the bell?"  I seized the moment, launched a spinning back kick with my right leg and burying my heel into his breadbasket.  Down he went, but this guy bounced right back up.  I caught him off guard, but I didn't hurt him.  As the ref gave him a standing eight count, my instructor yelled out to me "You think lightning's gonna strike twice?"  I just shrugged, reinserted my mouthpiece and flashed a black toothed grin.  This match went longer and I actually got some hand strikes in.  The boxing gloves made it difficult to strike in the manner in which I was accustomed and had trained for over the last couple of years and by this point I had forgotten anything I had recently learned about boxing.  I figured out I could throw ridge hands and strike with the side of my hand and throw backfists.  I loaded up a backfist with a full 360 spin to the right, connected on my opponent's right ear, and knocked out his mouthpiece.  The rules dictated that if a fighter's mouthpiece was knocked out, it couldn't be replaced until after the round ended.  My opponent looked at me wide-eyed and motioned with his gloves towards his face as if trying to point.  His lips were wide open and his teeth were clinched.  He was saying something in Spanish, but I never got it.  Then I noticed that he had braces and was trying to show me.  I nodded, kept my strikes low, and finished what proved to be a pretty dull round.  The third round wasn't much more exciting, but I stayed close to him, marginalizing his legs, and we exchanged a lot of punches.  I took a few good shots to the head during that round.  I knew I won the first round, but I wasn't totally confident in the second and third.  To my recollection, they were close and I was gassed out.  The judges scored me the winner of the second round and in the end, although a moot point after the first two, I won the third round because my opponent failed to get six his kicks in.  Lightning had struck twice.

I had to wait about an hour for my third match.  The third guy was an Italian dude who was younger and leaner than my first two opponents. He wore full length gi pants wrapped by his black belt which was adorned with several gold stripes.  He wore no shirt and had a Ferrari symbol tattooed over his heart.  After seeing him, I was wishing I had braces to point at; or maybe a cane; perhaps a walker with tennis balls on the bottom.  He was a badass and I was in trouble.  We both knew it.

The bell rang out to start the fight and we touched gloves.  I assumed my defensive stance and hoped for the best.  He displayed no caution and ran in on me fast.  I threw a block with my left hand and tried to side step him.  Right about then, I heard what sounded like a really loud buzzing sound.  I remember thinking "I wonder what that is..."  Simultaneously, I felt what seemed like a jackhammer "buzzing" the sides of my head.  I'm pretty sure I knew what that was.  My ears seemed to clog up as if I had a severe cold and everything sounded muffled.  This guy was hitting me so hard and so fast that I never saw the punches coming.  He could kick too and his kicks weren't half assed.  They landed and they landed hard.  At one point I remember we were almost toe to toe and I was looking him square in the eye when suddenly, I'm staring at his feet going up sideways from the mat.  In fact the whole ring is sideways and nobody was falling over.  This was because I had fallen over immediately after he cold cocked me in the side of the head with his left foot.  The next thing I knew, the ref was giving me a standing eight count and I didn't remember standing back up.  The first round ended and I staggered first to the wrong corner, then to mine.  My instructor and friends were laughing their asses off.  I practically barfed out my mouthpiece and asked "How am I doin'? Am I winning?"  Mr DeLuna stifled his laughter and said "Oh yeah! You're winning! Now get back out there and finish kicking his ass!"

The second round began and I decided I needed a new strategy.  Duh!  The reality was it didn't matter what I did.  This guy had my number and there was nothing I could do except try to maintain some dignity and survive three rounds.  I began to notice an odd smell.  It smelled like something was burning.  I rubbed the sweat my face with my sleeve and it was smeared with blood.  I remember wondering "how'd that get there?"  I must have landed something.  Maybe I am winning.  I was so punch drunk I didn't even recognize the smell or taste of my own blood.  By this time, It seemed like someone had turned out some of the lights around the ring.  It definitely seemed darker.  I threw a few kicks and eventually heard my instructor yell out "six!", indicating I met the minimum.  Oh good!  Now I can run around and try not to get hit.  Suddenly, I had tremendous respect for those boxers who just hours before I had thought of as lightweights.

The second round ended and it occurred  to me that I may have been lied to by my corner after the first round.  They were all still laughing their asses off and urging me on as I sat in my corner.  I wanted to quit and I told my instructor I was done.  Then, Mr. DeLuna (who was a short, fat little Mexican in his late fifties and a total badass) spoke up and told me if I quit, he'd kick my ass worse than he (pointing to the ring) ever could.  Mr. DeLuna commanded respect.  He came up through the ranks the hard way, a direct protege of our organization's founder with all the old school rules.  It was his influence that drove our class and he did not tolerate anything less than 100% effort.  I knew he would do exactly as he said he would and I figured I looked better getting pummeled by the guy in the ring than by a guy eight inches shorter than me with a Santa Claus belly.  When the bell rang, I jumped up as if I thought I had a chance and we touched gloves.  The rest is pretty much a blur.  I know I got six kicks in, although they could have landed on my own head as far as I could tell.  I never imagined a human could move as fast and hit as hard as he was hitting me.  To this day, I suspect he was just toying with me because he could have easily knocked me out; probably in the first round.  The bell mercifully rang and it was finally over.  Lightning struck again.  Only this time, it struck me square in my ass.  We hugged it out and as the ref lifted his hand, I could barely lift my head.  I made it three rounds with this guy and tried to feel proud about it, but a part of me knew that he let me finish standing.

After the match and after I regained lucidity, the Italian bought me a coke at the concession stand.  He had just got his ass kicked in his next match. I was shocked.  If he got his ass handed to him after beating me like he did, how big a pussy must I have been?  He told me that he saw my first two matches and admired the fact that I tried to represent the art; the martial art.  I wasn't so sure I did a good job of representing anything except for Tampax.  See, it was common in the fighting world to use cut off tampons to stop nose bleeding and my instructor had stuffed on up my nose after the third fight.  I had a string hanging out of my nostril the whole time I was talking to him and others after my fight.  I remember looking in the rear view mirror on my way home, seeing the string, and thinking "Jeezus Christ! I AM a pussy!"


Sunday, May 8, 2011

On Mothers' Day

Your mother is always with you.

She is the whisper of the leaves as you walk down the street.  She's the smell of bleach in your freshly laundered socks. She's the smell of certain foods you remember, the flowers you pick and the perfume that she wore.  She's the cool hand on your brow when you're not feeling well. She's your breath in the air on a cold winter's day. She is the sound of the rain that lulls you to sleep and the colors of a rainbow when you awaken.

She is Christmas morning.

Your mother lives inside your laughter and is crystallized in every tear drop. Your mother shows every emotion; happiness, sadness, fear, jealousy, love, hate, anger, helplessness, hope, excitement, joy, and sorry - and all the while hoping you will only know the good feelings in life.

She is the place you came from; your first home, and she is the map you follow with every step you take.

She is your first love, your first friend, even your first enemy, but nothing on earth can separate you; not time, not space, not even death.

- Sherry Martin

Friday, May 6, 2011

Code Blue Part Deux

If you're wondering what this entry is about, check out part one here.  If the lack of direct Alaskapade relevance bothers you, skip this and check back here in a few days.

The tracks for 508 Park were cut and we waited for the recording engineer to work his magic with the mix down.  That process included adjusting various levels, emphasizing this, minimizing that; whatever it took to make us sound better while maintaining our goal of not overproducing the record.  I thought the recording process was tenuous, but this was a mind numbing process.  The five of us all had opinions to offer on how the finished product should sound. Most of us were concerned with achieving a well-balanced sound and our input was along those lines.  I was primarily focused on the CD packaging and wanted to ensure everyone’s opinion and creative input were represented.  Jim’s input was consistently “I wanna hear more me”.  Once the mix down was complete, I delivered the master recording and artwork to the shop which would mass produce the CD for us.  I had been a PC geek for years and had some experience with graphics, but I was not prepared for the requirements that a four-color production would entail.  I learned fast and was happy with the final product.  The disc itself had a reflective image of the front of the 508 Park building.  It was a nice, professional touch for a low budget release.  The next obstacle was getting writing credits right.  It’s funny how when we were writing the tunes, everyone had input and the spirit of sharing and collaboration was high.  But once a name was to be assigned in the form of a writing credit, Jim’s ego had some competition.  I didn’t write anything, so I could care less other than I wanted the liner notes to be accurate.

I had read horror stories about bands being screwed over by record companies, former members, competing bands, etc. and ultimately losing the rights to their own material.  I wasn’t worried about a record company as much as I was worried about Jim.  We decided to copyright the CD and formed an equally-owned legal business entity. I had already trademarked the name Code Blue as a musical body, an action which would prove to be fortuitous.  Code Blue was a common band name, but none of the other Code Blues out there seemed to have any more notoriety than we did.  Still, it wasn’t uncommon for me to receive an email from some other like-named band from Austin or Houston demanding that we cease and desist using their name with threats of legal action if we didn’t.  They would usually cite the fact that they’ve been around longer or some other bullshit.  I usually just ignored them, but if they persisted and threw out the legal card, I would reply to them with a scanned copy of my copyright and trademark with a recommendation that they back off or my lawyers would be contacting them. Lawyers?  We ain’t got no stinkin’ lawyers. But it always worked nonetheless.  My feeling was they play where they are, we play here, and neither of us are likely to ever cross paths, so just go play your music and leave us alone.

All of us (except for maybe Jim) saw the band for what it really was; a creative outlet; a hobby that paid (sometimes).  When it didn’t feed our wallets, it almost always fed our egos. However, Jim wanted to be a rock star and would do anything to get there.  Code Blue was a stepping stone for him and he made no bones about it. The rest of us never felt threatened by this for two reasons. We saw the musical talent around us and recognized that there were some monster players out there with amazing talent that dwarfed us by comparison.  If those guys never “made it”, we never would.  We also knew that to a certain degree, we had brand recognition and could have another singer on board in a heartbeat if push came to shove.

Ken, aka Mr. Do It All
None of us (again, except for maybe Jim) ever expected the CD to launch us or anything. All I wanted from it was a piece of history; something to show for all the work we put into playing.  Anyone who thinks playing music in a band is easy has probably never done it.  Getting a group of people who have egos strong enough to stand before complete strangers and perform to work together, think alike, and just generally cooperate is a challenge.  On weekends when we played both Friday and Saturday nights, we usually blew off rehearsing the next week just so we could get away from each other.  By the third night on a three day weekend, we could barely stand to be in each others’ presence; and we were part timers doing this for fun.  I can’t imagine trying to live together on a tour for months on end.  I had neither the chops nor the commitment to put up with that nonsense.  After a long gigging weekend, I almost looked forward to getting back to my real job. Almost.

Having a real CD gave us a little more clout when it came to booking gigs and I always included clips from the tracks on the demo disk which was part of our promo pack. I knew the booking manager wouldn’t listen to any song entirely, so I picked the best parts of the best tracks and included them along with some live recordings to prove we really had people who liked us.  Code Blue was working as often as we wanted.  We weren’t getting rich by any means, but we were having a great time and I was able to sock away my share of the pay to buy more gear.  I became a gear junkie.  My drum kit never grew.  I played a 1974 Ludwig kit, usually just four shells and two cymbals.  I learned early on that the noise I could make with more drums and cymbals was negligible compared to the effort it took to haul, set up and tear down the larger kit.  Besides, having fewer pieces made me more creative with the ones I had and I felt it made me a better drummer.  I was into the PA gear and I owned everything the band had.  Unfortunately, I was also the only one who knew how to set up and configure it all.  This was probably for the best because I had a system.  Every cable was coiled into its own zip lock bag. and was packed into a specified case.  Every microphone had its own foam rubber storage spot in the trunks that hauled the gear. I even had a network diagram illustrating how and where every cable plugged into every piece of equipment.  Anyone who knew me personally was shocked at how neat I was with my gear because I was then, and still now, am a slob in most every other part of my life.  Nobody else in the band seemed to understand vocal compressors, feedback eliminators, and crossovers, so I did it all.

Me & a Rare Beer Shot
The more we played, the more the four of us gelled as a unit.  Notice I said four. Jim’s ego was growing so large that the rest of him barely fit on stage. He would go on tirades and throw fits which would as a result, get us banned from the venue. This usually happened when he drank which was usually all the time. Jim’s drinking at gigs forced me to institute a no bar tab for the band policy at the bar for whatever venue we played.  Besides, we had enough fans buying shots for us.  We (Jim) didn’t need any more.  The straw that broke the camel’s back was placed there after a gig at O’Riley’s in Dallas.  We had been trying to get into that venue for a year and when they had a late cancellation, I got the call.  This would have been a rare, albeit well-deserved weekend off for us, but we all wanted to play this venue, so I booked it and called the guys.  We played really well and the crowd loved us.  The bar made a killing and the management liked our show.  We sold a pile of CDs and the tip jar was stuffed.  Jim had been hitting on this blonde bartender all night and became increasingly frustrated as the evening went on because he wasn’t getting anywhere with her.  When the gig was over, we all did our usual banter with our friends who had come to see us play as we packed our gear.  Some people even asked us to autograph the CD they bought.  That was always odd to me and I never felt worthy.  Jim’s usual trick when it came to packing up was to grab his microphone and stand, proclaim “I got my shit”, and leave the rest of it for us to pack.  Sometimes he would hang around, but that was when he was broke and needed the cash from the gig right away.  I handled the majority of the booking and payment arrangements and as such, was the one who had to hunt down the venue management to get us paid.  For some reason, Jim took it upon himself to collect, and used that as a reason to hit on the bartender some more. She wasn’t having any of it.  I was doing my thing bagging up my drums and dismantling my hardware when I hear Jim screaming over at the bar.  I leapt off stage and got to the bar in time to head Jim yell “…you fucking bitch!”  Earlier that night, I spoke with the owner as we were loading in and he asked me how we wanted our money.  I replied “In cash”.  He laughed and said he would divide it any way we wanted it, so I asked for five envelopes with an even split.  The bartender had deducted Jim’s bar tab from his envelope and apparently, that didn’t leave much.  About the time I got there, the owner came bursting out of the office behind the bar, walked up to the bartender who was now crying and said “What’s the matter honey?”  The bartender was the owner’s wife.  I tried to smooth things over, but the damage was done.  This was the fourth venue that we were banned from because of Jim’s actions.  Jim was a misogynist who had no respect for women whatsoever.  He admitted to being married and divorced twice and was always chasing skirts.  He had a Realtor license and would con his way into working for high end brokers until his draw ran out and then he would move on. He was a first class dick, but the man could sing and write.

Dennis & Stu
Afterward, Jim had a few words with Ken and Dennis and they were now packing up and keeping to themselves.  Stu was also keeping to himself, but he was as angry as the rest of us.  Stu was probably the smartest guy in the band. He was by far the most educated.  He was a deep thinker and it showed in his lyrics.  A wise man wouldn’t mistake his quiet disposition for weakness.  When we were in junior high, Stu had finally had enough hazing from some stoner freak and pretty much disassembled him in gym class.  For my part, I was fucking furious.  Our name was Code Blue, but I was seeing red.  I was standing at the front of the stage meticulously coiling and bagging cables when Jim walked up and spouted off about what a dive the place was and how he did us a favor.  In a rare display of tranquility, I just looked away and kept working.  Not willing to leave it alone, Jim hopped up on stage, got right in my face, poking his finger in my chest and said “What!? You got a problem with me too?” I maintained my composure and while slowly, yet deliberately pushing his finger down, quietly replied “If you say one more word to me, the last thing you’ll do before you die is taste your own blood.”  Jimmy Wise, as he liked to call himself, wisely turned and walked away.  The bar’s front doors were locked and we had to exit from the back into an alley.  I had moved my car there to load out and was standing there when Jim made his exit.  Startled, he turned and hustled back in and asked Dennis to escort him out because he wasn’t going to give me a shot at him alone in a dark alley.  What a douche.  One of his original tunes we performed was called “Drama Queen”. I had no idea that he had written it about himself.  But I digress.  I had no violent intent towards him.  He was out of my life and he didn’t even know it yet.  Dennis walked out with Jim and he drove off.  That was the last time I ever saw him.

The rest of us met up in the parking lot and collectively spoke aloud what we had all already decided.  Jim was out.  We had gigs booked the next weekend and we needed a singer quicker than quick.  It was 3:00am and we were emotionally and physically beat.  We decided to get some sleep and discuss it the next day.  The next morning, Jim sent me an apologetic email.  In it, he wrote that he was willing to stay with the band, but added “you have no right to threaten my life, man.  You don’t get to do that.”  I chuckled as I forwarded it to the other guys.  The four of us got together that afternoon on the phone to be sure we were all still on the same page after some much needed sleep.  Ken, as the elder statesman of the band and the one Jim respected the most, volunteered to make the call to Jim.  It's a good thing nobody changed their mind because I had already edited Jim out of the web page completely.

Jim's Typical Pose
Jim told Ken that he had been considering leaving the band at the end of the year anyway.  He also demanded his share of the potential CD sales.  Jim figured that with 500 CDs left at $10 each, he was due one fifth of the potential $5,000.  We all had a good laugh over that one.  Ken was going to meet up with Jim to hand over some gear he had left in my studio.  I handed Ken a box of 100 CDs with instructions to tell Jim he could sell them for whatever he wanted, toss them out, whatever.  I learned later that he took them to independent CD shops around Dallas and left them for consignment.  I wasn’t concerned about them.  I had recouped my production and duplication investment and then some.  I wasn’t in this for the money anyway.

 There were more pressing issues at hand.  We had a gig at the largest biker bar in Denton in six days and we needed a lead singer.