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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Vinyl Find: Bluegrass Brigade

I'm far to lazy and cheap to be much of a vinyl collector. A lot of the stuff I'd really like on vinyl, lots of other middle aged guys would like to have those records back, too, so despite all the ways vinyl is superior to CD, I have a hard time shelling out $15 for a record I have on compact disc.

And as far as the lazy factor goes, I'm a bit of an audiophile but I also like putting music on as a background to other activities (such as writing this blog post—I don't have to get up every fifteen minutes with CDs). But every once in a while, in the thrift stores I'll find something interesting enough and cheap enough. By interesting, in part, I mean stuff that obviously isn't likely getting re-issued in an updated format, especially local stuff. Back when producing your own album meant coming up with pretty big bucks for a pressing.

Case in point, I came across an LP in good shape of the 'Bluegrass Brigade' recorded in 1981 in the Ozarks. Hand drawn front cover art in one color (Reflex blue, no doubt they saved a $25 Pantone match charge using a house color at the printer), black & white back side with liner notes obviously done on a typewriter and then shot on a camera (no scanner back in 1981). I can't tell if it was self-produced or just a micro-label, though the difference is mostly semantics (and I guess, who wrote the check for the studio time, printing and pressing).

It's a solid album, too. Old school bluegrass, it's not breaking any new ground but then it's not really trying to. They're still around apparently, Jack and Mae Burlinson, Jim McGreevy and Don Montgomery. Their Facebook profile doesn't mention the fifth member on the LP, Rusty Dutton, but having four of the five members still playing as a band 34 years later is something of a miracle. I might have to find a gig they're playing and take the LP jacket for autographs. I did that to Mike Metheny when he was editing the Jam and I found a copy of his Blue Jay Sessions debut LP.

Monday, May 25, 2015

I Drank Bird Spit (and I Liked it)

When Corinna and I were first dating, one of the things we found we had in common was a propensity to buy drinks that appeared to be packaged as a dare.

We're both into ethnic markets, and in fact the first time she came over to my house she commented that she'd never seen anyone else with her spice cabinet. Which is to say everything you could season food with from the far corners of the earth. Some of those spices, when we consolidated households, were truly out of hand, especially when it would turn out to be a seasoning neither of us liked but had both bought to try.

It's getting to the point where it's hard for me to find beverages I haven't tried. In fact, I'm pretty sure I've had the calamansi soda before, it'd just been a while. The Bird's Nest 'white fungus drink' though, that was new. Very sweet and viscous with large pieces of agar agar in it. I usually think it's a mistake for the people labeling these things for export to the United States to use the f-word on the label. Wood ear mushrooms become 'dried black fungus' with sloppy translation and while we've all eaten it in Chinese takeout hot sour soup, most Americans aren't going to put something labeled 'black fungus' in their cart.

Apparently, though, the 'bird's nest' part isn't just a nickname, there's actually bird's nests used in making the beverage, namely the nests of a swift that makes it's nest mostly out of dried spit. Not much spit gets into the finished product, while the 'white fungus' is listed as 20ml/L, the bird's nest is last, after artificial sweeteners and thickeners and whatnot, as 1ml/L. I'm pretty sure one milliliter per liter concentrations of rat poop are routinely allowed in food by the USDA, so I'm not sure what the bird's nest really contributes to the finished soft drink.

So from a standpoint of marketing to Americans, 'white fungus drink' is a way better label than 'real reconstituted bird saliva beverage.'

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Eminent Domain

I took Mo to this exhibition by Matt Rahner at the downtown central branch of the KCMO public library.

It documents the abuse of power by Kansas City, Missouri's sorry excuse for 'government' at the expense of some of its most vulnerable citizens.

Basically four blocks of the inner city was taken by eminent domain and razed to make way for a new police station. At least a police station is a public building, these kinds of shenanigans are most often gotten up to to put, say, a Home Depot and Costco in a spot taken by a dirty book store, a funky old jazz club and a half dozen prostitutes. Or, worse, to put a BMW dealership where some middle class people had old-ish houses and a car dealer was content to sell VWs.

As far as how vulnerable this neighborhood was, how unlikely they were to be able to muster the means to thwart a city takeover, one of the subjects in these photos was murdered about a year after his portrait was taken on moving day; another subject was wearing a t-shirt memorializing another youth who was gunned down before he was old enough to legally drink. For those of us who grew up in suburbia it's hard to even grasp this, if a teenager is killed in the burbs it's front page news for about six years. It's not something that happens a couple of times in a four block area every year or two.

The abuse is so bad, I think we really have to look at taking eminent domain authority away from governments altogether. Especially city governments: the only reason Merriam wanted to consider a few blocks of homes 'blight' is because BMWs sold at Baron's would yield more sales tax than the area was coughing up in combined sales tax on VWs and property taxes on modest, old-ish homes. They over-reached, and it took a decade or more before IKEA built an ugly-ass store on part of the 'blight.'

So I say take the authority away. Let them whine about how they had to spread their police station out over seven sites in a twelve block area because they weren't allowed to push people out against their will. Deal with it, you pricks, you shouldn't have abused your authority.

I don't think Mo dug it as much as I did. And we had a total transportation fail because I drove there, meaning I had to hunt the access to the parking garage (which is a cool garage, made to look like a bookshelf), and then had to fight traffic that spoke in quarter inches coming out of downtown because of some event at Bartle Hall. If me and Mo had walked a block from my house we could have caught the 101 bus which goes about a block from the library. I'd be out of pocket a whole dollar more than I was as it was, but I wouldn't have had to jack with that parking and traffic bullshit.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

National Orange Popsicle Week

So I was riding home from work and I was riding hard, making good time and on a bit of a deadline. Corinna had been taking care of Mo all day and I needed to get home and relieve her so she could get a workout in and blow off some steam. My usual route home by bike used to take me down Brookside Boulevard until I got to Ward Parkway, then I'd turn left and cut over to JC Nichols Parkway which becomes Broadway as you go north. I did this for years until I realized that Main was actually a better street coming up from the Plaza. So now I generally take Brookside Boulevard and stick with it as it becomes Main. It's a climb from 47th up to the American Century complex but it's six lanes and the outside lane is more or less a bus lane so you have more breathing room from cars most of the time.

As I started my climb, I noticed the Nichols fountain (with the horses) was dyed orange. This I couldn't figure, if anything I would think it would be blue since the Cardinals were in town for an inter-league stand against the Royals. Pink for breast cancer, what is orange? I had to find out. Which meant figuring a U-turn on a six lane arterial in rush hour. Could it be worth it?

National Orange Popsicle Week. They were giving away orange popsicles and trying to promote awareness of stroke in young people. I knew young people can have strokes, same as heart attacks, but then I had a heart attack at 32 myself (and was in cardiac rehab with a 27 year old). I guess the founder of this group had a stroke in her early 20s and the first thing she asked for when she could speak again was an orange popsicle.

I guess there are worse things you could build awareness around. She could have asked for three fingers of Scotch and a cigar, right? Maybe a margarita with a salty rim and a can of Pringles.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

My Lovely In-Laws

It turned out to be a full weekend. Mo's graduation, Tour de Bier, my big bimonthly freelance project. I took Monday off work to offset some of the work time I knew I'd miss over the weekend, though I had no idea really because since Corinna's Mom and stepdad were also in town for a visit (this was on the calendar long in advance, I just didn't process what it meant). Which meant dinner guests (in addition to my in-laws on Friday and Sunday evenings because that's just how we roll.

More accurately, it's how Corinna rolls. I like to entertain, too, but my efforts tend to extend as far as, while I'm filling up the grill with food posting pictures to Facebook with a blanket invitation for any of my friends to come on over and chow down. I think I'm a pretty good cook, so's Corinna, and we set a good if sometimes unconventional table, yet we pretty much never get any actual takers for that.

Case in point, Saturday evening of this weekend when I grilled six pounds of hamburgers and almost ten pounds of tuna steaks. These were cut from an enormous tuna 'loin' Corinna found at a bargain price, and since I was cutting the steaks myself they were about one and a half to two inches thick because fresh tuna should be rare. Living in Kansas it's hard to get sashimi grade tuna, and a Tokyo sushi chef might have turned his nose up at this stuff, but it was remarkably fresh for midwestern seafood. I think the huge piece has advantages: the spoilage bacteria that create that 'fishy' smell are, I'm pretty sure, aerobic. So the more surface area you have in storage, the faster that stuff can affect more of the meat. A 9.8 lb 'loin' with the skin on, there's as little surface area as physically possible there, and it had obviously been vacuum sealed and frozen that way (I wouldn't be surprised if this was done on ship).

We didn't have any takers Saturday night, like I say, but Sunday we had neighbors in addition to the visiting family. Of course I took pictures, but like most homes, our house is like a cave the Taliban might hide out in from a lighting/photography standpoint and almost nothing I took turned out worth a shit. So right before I took Gwen & Tim to the airport Monday morning, I had them stand with Corinna in the front yard with the harsh sun in their face for a shot. I really enjoy them, wouldn't mind a bit if they visited more often but distances being what they are I totally understand why it's usually a once a year type thing.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Tour de Bier 2015

Tour de Bier is such fun, I really didn't have time for such this weekend but I did it anyway.

It seems to be growing in popularity but this is only my second one. I rode it last year, set out to do the long route and ended up settling for the middle length one when I realized I wouldn't get back until everyone was going home.

Like the song goes, I'm built for comfort, I ain't built for speed. I can do the miles, a century or better no problem, but I'm fast like a fat lady on a Rascal scooter.

It was so freaking windy, damn. My first multi-day self supported bike touring adventure taught me not to whine about headwinds, it did, but these were as stiff. I wasn't injured and limping back on a fully loaded touring bike, so no whining was in order but they were challenging.

Then, too, when I was fighting my way from Roulo, NE to Atchison, it was a one way trip. I knew that unless these winds did a 180 or died off I would get some help coming back.

And I did. And it was glorious.

I often struggle to channel intensity into my rides. I tend to ride casually, not with an 'as fast as you can' kind of urgency. But sometimes I get in the zone, and I did for this one. I averaged almost two miles per hour faster than my normal average speed. Well, that is I did until we got back to knuckleheads. I averaged 9.9 mph for that first 38.81 miles I rode on Sunday.

According to Algebra, my 9.2 average for the 46.11 I rode total that day, well, after they got a veggie burger and two beers in me I rode home (against the wind) at a whopping 5.5 mph. Yikes. It's like the frustrating double-nickel of cycling.

It's interesting at this event to see the mingling of cycling culture with biker culture. Knuckleheads is mostly a Harley rider type bar. It's a roadhouse type environment, great place to see shows, but on a Sunday afternoon, most people who role up on two wheels usually aren't their own motor.

I wouldn't say there's a clash, it's a peaceful co-existence, but the bikers and the cyclists are visibly not the same species.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Graduate: Saga of a Done Monkey

I had a bit of an old man moment the other day when I noticed on a friend's Facebook profile that he was born the year I graduated high school. Well, what really made me feel old was that this wasn't someone I think of as a kid, it was a guy I think of as an adult. Younger than me, obviously, but he's a grownup.

Though I suppose having my youngest daughter graduate high school is a sign of middle age. It's not like I knocked up a girlfriend in high school, I was in my late twenties when my kids were born.

I was kinda struck by how big the graduating class was. Gardner only had maybe 10,000 people when we moved there in 1997. I didn't move there to perpetuate sprawl, I had a job in Gardner for a bit over ten years, so I moved there to cut my commute down rather than the typical American model of competing to live as far as possible from your paycheck. The town has been a hit with the sprawlers. The growth has slowed down since the housing bubble burst, there was about a decade where they were throwing up houses as fast as they could haul lumber in.

The first order of business, once I found a seat (they'd moved us indoors for fear of rain, though I guarantee you none of these kids would have melted, their parents either), was spot my honyock. The gym was at capacity with close circuit TV piping it out for all the grandparents and uncles and whatnot who wouldn't fit in the bleachers.

All these hundreds of people are there but for the most part everyone is interested in just one kid, the one they have graduating. Sure, our kids have friends and we like them well enough, I guess, but I'm sure everyone wishes the rest of the kids could kind of speed it up a bit.

Actually I ended up shooting quite a few shots of other kids as I tried to figure out my best strategy for photographing Mo as she crossed the stage.

I was able to get on the end by the stage but was up relatively high, top of the lower section of bleachers. And if I was able to get closer than I could in the football stadium, the lighting in gyms is infinitely shittier. You could farm mushrooms in a field house. So I played with various combinations of high ISO, my 18-105mm kit lens (which is slow, only f3.5 even at 105mm and gets even more sluggish as you zoom in) and my 35mm prime lens. I'd shoot a few pics of other people's kids and chimp them, trying to figure out what was worse, the noise of high ISO, the blur of the shutter being too slow for hand-held shots, the lack of telephoto on the prime lens, etc. I've coveted a prime 85mm for a long time, and I think I would have been glad to have one today.

Then we all retired to Mo's mother's house where both sides of the family converged on a table spread with Mo's favorite foods. A couple of her teachers stopped by, which was super sweet.

I'm proud of Mo, of course. I also realized how lucky I am that divorce didn't have to stay ugly. It had it's moments back when the wounds were fresh, but not everyone is able to throw parties together with their exes like this, and that puts people in a place of having to choose which side to celebrate with and puts one parent or the other in a losing position for, say, a graduation after-party. But then, my own parents modeled that well, in fact they carpooled down to the whole affair, my Dad and his wife and my Mom.

A few years ago, Mo had finished a meal and while she was still at the table she was reciting dialogue from a video (she does that a lot), something about a monkey. And I asked her what kind of monkey she was and she looked at her plate and said, 'Done monkey!' There's a program that she'll actually attend until she's 21 that's on the campus, but as far as being a high school student, she's officially a done monkey.