Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Too much for a new building?

THE CITY OF Quincy is negotiating with an Iowa firm to build a large building at Fourth and Maine, vacant for a year since the Newcomb burned down. Click here for The Whig story.

As a business owner a block away, I like the idea of having 20 market rate apartments, though I question if they will be filled. I also like the idea of having more than 4,500 square feet of retail space on the main floors. Both apartments and other businesses will drive more people downtown.

It could also mean parking issues, though we have more parking down here than people think. I do not like the idea of the city leasing four of the aparments to maintain occupancy rates. The city has no business getting into something like that, but that's just my ill-informed opinion.

The city would have to provide up to $3 million in incentives. Really? Is it just the cost of doing business? Or is this Iowa company taking Quincy to the bank?

I won't judge the appearance of the building from a drawing in the paper, but it looks a little cookie-cutter to me.

Remember the history of this location, and the infuriating former owner from Chicago who didn't give two bleeps about Quincy and thumbed his nose at us for years. Maybe it's worth it to give in and make a sweet deal. And nobody from the community stepped in to make a bid on the property, which is disappointing.

Let's get somebody and something up at the corner, but let's not sell the farm to do it.











Monday, September 29, 2014

Mosquitoes and not scratching your back

THE GIRLS FROM Avenue Beat put on two great shows this weekend. Saturday night at the lovely home of Dave and Shari Brown, Sam, Sami and Savana wowed a big backyard crowd. Dave and Shari were gracious hosts and the girls made some much-needed cash for their November trip to Nashville, when they are recording at the famous Blackbird Studios.

That's not a bug on the left. It's just Avenue Beat's Grandmother Willow.
Sunday afternoon was a blast at The Dock. But the girls once again learned a valuable lesson - you can never be too prepared for anything to happen.

The Dock is a very cool outdoor bar along the Mississippi River. But around 6:30, the mosquitoes started coming out, and they were hungry.

Sam Backoff was playing guitar and singing when she started making faces. Turns out a big old blood-sucker, and I don't mean a Nashville record label executive, landed on her shoulder and started going to town.

"Well, I couldn't stop playing," Sam said. Well ... you could of. But you are young and a trooper and you just kept going, which is a good thing.

She turned around and there was a nasty welt on her shoulder. Fortunately a well-prepared fan came up and doused the girls in bug spray, and the gig was finished without further blood-letting.

So. The Dock. River. Mosquitoes. Bug spray.

Every gig has a story, girls. Every gig.




Friday, September 26, 2014

Attorney quote machines

ONE OF MY favorite parts about covering crime and courts for The Whig was hearing what a certain State's Attorney would say in court.

Jon Barnard didn't mince words, and he certainly made them sing. When talking about a defendant having the misfortune to be charged time and time again with the same crime, he'd talk about the guy "being on the cover of Bad Luck Magazine."

One of his best was during a trial of a meth head who was driving a car and crashed it, with one of the passengers dying. Barnard described the vehicle as a "meth-stoked rocketship of doom." Our copy editor at the time made sure that ended up in 80-point headline type.

Jon had a good one earlier this week, during a sentencing for a local man who pleaded guilty to a child porn charge. I'll spare you the details, but let's just say the defendant's story about the child porn on his computer changed several times. This prompted Jon to say the man deserved the "Barry Sanders Award for open-field shiftiness."

Except he eventually was tackled. And not on his way to the end zone, but on his way to prison.

I shoulda been a lawyer. I could have used that last sentence in court.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Travis leaves, and it's raining

WE JUST HAD to pull the plug on another Concert On The Plaza. This time, the students of Culver-Stockton College were denied a chance to a play in the First Mid-Illinois Bank plaza.

Two weeks ago, we had to call off George Cate's show because it was cold and rainy. Thankfully the group Pepper Cheese (a couple of miscreants) were able to play last week.

We still have two, and possibly three, shows to go. I am blaming former District chief Travis Brown for the bad weather - Travis leaves for another job, and the last Blues In The District was a cold night. Travis leaves, and two of the three plaza shows get rained out.

Travis doesn't have to come back, though it would be great if he did. He simply has to call the weather gods and say, "I put that big geek from Second String Music in charge of the Concerts On The Plaza. Now give him good weather dangit!"

Make the call, Travis. Sunshine and blue skies for the next two or three Thursdays. Guaranteed.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A tale of empty houses

OUR BLOCK IN Calftown is quiet and a nice place to live. One thing I don't like, however, is the fact there are four vacant houses in our block.

One is on a corner and should be torn down, and the owner, if there is one, should be forced to swim against the dirty Mississippi River current. He or she or it has never taken care of the house or lawn. Nobody has lived in it since we moved into our house more than five years ago. It's falling apart and there's no way it is move-in ready. It's pathetic, really, an eyesore on a block that has really nice houses.

The house next to it just got fixed up, after being empty for about four years. It was completely gutted inside, got a new roof, and the outside was transformed into a respectable two-story structure. It's now for sale. I hope we get good neighbors - almost everybody else on our block is great.

The other one across the street went into foreclosure last year. At least the bank or somebody mows the grass and keeps an eye on it.

Then there's the house down on the other corner. It's been empty for maybe three years, until a Quincy guy bought it. The guy's father is slowly fixing it up, which is better than not fixing it up at all. I guess.

The first time I saw the gentleman, I went up to say hello, and he scowled at me and went back inside. Later I learned he was mad at Lucy, our late Border Collie and the best dog ever, because she dared to walk on his lawn.

I call him the Crabby Old Man. I know it's not a very Christian thing to do. But he's crabby. And old. And if he doesn't like my dogs, well .... there are places reserved in other places for people like that.

I've stopped walking Tucker and Bella around the block by his house during the day, when he's there. We go up the alley instead. The weeds are much friendlier to us.

I hope he gets the house fixed up, eventually, and we get more good neighbors when he rents it out. But the dogs and I will say hello to the weeds until he does.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Angus The Young and running down the alley

ANGUS THE YOUNG turned 5 months old last week. He's getting a little bigger and calming down, but he's still a puppy and he still terrorizes Tucker, chases squirrels and follows Sheryl everywhere she goes.

My wife should be a dog trainer, because she's worked wonders with Angus in a short time. When she says "No bark," he stops barking. When she says "down," he gets down. When she says "jump on the bed and lick your dad's face because it's time to get up and he's a lazy so and so," Angus jumps on the bed and licks my face.

And Angus helps keep Sheryl warm!
But ... we still have a long way to go.

This morning we were going to work and Angus was off leash by the car. Instead of jumping in the back seat ("load up" which he typically obeys), Angus decided to bolt down the alley.

We were looking for him when suddenly Jim, our neighbor a few doors down, turned into the alley in the city bus that he drives. Angus, of course, had gone all the way down the alley, but he showed common sense and decorum by hastily scrambling on his little legs back toward us when seeing the bus.

Jim knows us and the dogs, so he patiently waited until Angus was out of harm's way. It's nice to have good neighbors!

So we'll work on keeping Angus on the leash until we get IN the car.

There are days when I'm in favor of Angus catching the city bus, but generally speaking I like the little guy and he's certainly added a lot of life to Hart Manor.

During the day he basically sleeps by Sheryl's feet at the store, chases Fast Eddie, goes for Washington Park walks and entertains customers.

It's his world. Or alley. Hop on the bus, Angus.

Better yet, just hop into the back of the car. It's safer for everybody.

Monday, September 22, 2014

House of the Cheeseburger Sun

THE CHEESEBURGERS HAD another interesting weekend. Interesting is putting it lightly.

First of all, a gig is a gig. You are paid to play, and so you play to the best of your ability, even if everybody bolts to watch trucks go bogging through drained ponds. You Can't Make It Up.

Saturday night we showed up at The Elks to play for a class reunion. I thought it was the class of 1984, right up our alley. Then we thought it was 1964. When we showed up, we realized it was the class of 1959.

You know when you show up it's gonna be interesting when five people say, "Please turn it down." Uh ... we haven't started. Yet. "I know, but it's going to be too loud. So turn it down."

Right.

Just another Sunday for The Cheeseburgers!
So we toned it waaaayyyy down in the first set and people seemed to be happy enough. As the crowd dwindled we cranked it back up, and the people who wanted to have fun had fun. You'd be amazed at the number of people who like "Brick House" - even if it came out well after they graduated from high school. We got done a bit early, the organizers were happy, and we went home for a few hours of sleep before doing it again Sunday.

This time it was in Hannibal for the Hannibal County Club party. It was a smaller and older group but they were really into it for a while.

Among the five of us, we probably know about a million songs. Sometimes we'll do requests if it's the right place, and Sunday was the right place. A gal begged us to play "House Of The Rising Sun," so Burt dialed up the lyrics, we figured out the key and chord progression, and we pulled it off.

And they fed us after the gig.

We are busy in October - click here for our schedule. More Cheesey adventures await, I'm sure.




Friday, September 19, 2014

Happy Birthday, little (big) girl!

OK. IT'S YOUR birthday, Emily Hart.

So let's celebrate. I think we should play sock football in the backyard. Maybe shoot some hoops across the street on the neighbor's driveway. We could play a game of Candy Land, watch Sesame Street, and tonight before you go to bed, I can read you your favorite book, "Goodbye Moon."
YA BIG!

What's that? You are a little bit too old for all that stuff?

What? WHAT?

You are 23 years old today?

Man ... I shoulda never blinked.

When she was little, Emily used to look at me and put her hands on her hips and say, "YA BIG!" She would never finish the sentence. It was always just, "YA BIG."

Happy birthday, Ya Big. Happy birthday to the big goofy girl who is funny, ridiculously talented on the oboe and leaves an impression everywhere she goes. I bet there's a little gathering in Rochester, N.Y., tonight, and her fellow oboe students may raise one or two in her honor.

Love and miss you, Ya Big!




Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Easy Peazy!

JUST FINISHED A "practice" with The Mighty One, Adam Yates, in the back of Second String Music. Adam and I are playing tomorrow at 11:30 a.m. at the Concert On the Plaza near Seventh and Maine, in the First Mid-Illinois Bank park.

Our practices are rough. Here's how it works ...

ME: How about we do this song?
ADAM: Sure. This one would be good, too.
ME: Great! Maybe this one would work.
ADAM: It does. And so does this one!
ME: Wow. We're done.

I wish everything was so easy peazy. Anyway, we are ready to have a great time tomorrow until 1 p.m. You can grab lunch from the Butcher Block or Maine Course and listen to a little Pepper Cheese music.

See you there!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

If walls could talk

I HAVE A friend who bought a building and is renovating. He tore down walls and made a big mess, and he found a brown bag stuffed behind an old water heater.

Inside the bag were, well, magazines. With pictures. One was for the girls, if you know what I mean, and three others were for the guys. They dated back to the mid-70s.

Also in the bag were items to, well ... to be safe. Because if you were going to fool around, even in the carefree and excessive 1970s, you had to be safe. I guess.

Apparently the space was used by a rather well-known dentist back in the day. That, of course, leads to all kinds of speculation and rumor, which is what this blog is all about. It could give new meaning to terms like "cavity" and "filling" and "flossing on a daily basis," but that's cheap and sophomoric humor and I simply won't go there.

And "dentists playing doctor." Sorry. I couldn't resist one more.

Ah. If walls could talk. I bet the walls in our historic Second String Music building have some stories, too. Of course, I don't want to necessarily hear them.

Or find what's hidden in them.




Monday, September 15, 2014

Church changes

I WENT TO church Sunday night for the first time in months after a busy summer. Vacations and gigs? Sure. But no excuses.

Anyway, First Union Congregational Church finally got rid of the awful carpet in the main greeting area. It was red and just so ... Congregational. Or Christian Reformed. But not Methodist. Hey. A church joke! Don't laugh so loud.

They also moved a long row of photos of previous pastors from the hallway by the offices. If I'm the pastor and I have to look at those pics every day I go to work, well ... I'd want them moved, too.

First Union has a long and proud history in Quincy. There is nothing wrong with celebrating the past. But wallowing in the past is part of issues with churches these days.

Good for Rev. Chuck Hetzler and the church for doing little things to move forward. And big things.






Friday, September 12, 2014

Hey. Here's our album. It's free!

LEAVE IT TO the world's biggest and most pretentious band to make an 11-song album and have it delivered free of charge via iTunes.

U2 has delivered Songs of Innocence, and leave it to the lads from Dublin to rewrite the rules about how music is presented to the consumer. Apple wrote a huge check to the band, and then decided to make the new album free on iTunes.

Sheryl said it downloaded automatically last night, but this morning she had to download it on another computer from the cloud, whatever that means.

Reaction ranges from delight, indifference and anger. People who listen to music and are OCD, which is what iTunes is all about, don't like the fact something has popped up and made available. It's out of order. How dare U2 inflict this on me? U2 doesn't care - they got paid, and they are reaching out to new audiences.

Sadly, there's no anticipation for a new U2 album - they finished it last week and boom, here it is. There's no new leaked single. And there's no longer an investment on behalf of the consumer, except for their time. And time to just sit and listen doesn't exist for most people. I played the Joshua Tree a million times right after it came out. But I never listen to entire albums anymore.

Reviews are favorable. Many say it harkens back to the band's earlier work, which is good for me, because I devoured Boy, October, War and The Unforgettable Fire like candy.

Sheryl just purchased the Wynton Marsalis and Eric Clapton CD, Play The Blues, and she loves it. She's listening to the whole thing. I think she'll do the same for the new U2 album, but first things first.

I'll listen. Hey, I've got it. I didn't pay a dime. All I have to invest is ... myself.

And here is how Bono put it on the band's Website.

"Part of the DNA of this band has always been the desire to get our music to as many people as possible. In the next 24 hours, over a half a billion people are going to have Songs of Innocence… should they choose to check it out. That is so exciting. People who haven’t heard our music, or weren’t remotely interested, might play us for the first time because we’re in their library. Country fans, hip hop afficionados from east LA, electro poppers from Seoul, Bhangra fans from New Delhi, Highlifers in Accra… might JUST be tempted to check us out, even for a moment. What a mind blowing, head scratching, 21st century situation. Over 500 million people… that’s a billion ears. And for the people out there who have no interest in checking us out, look at it this way… the blood, sweat and tears of some Irish guys are in your junk mail."


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Screwing up the story

I WONDER WHAT to do when I see a local reporter completely screw up a story. Do I say something? Am I being a pompous ass as a former reporter by mentioning it at all? Or should I just shake my head and let it go?

I screwed up as a reporter more than once. Most of the time it was because I was misinformed, or not informed, or in too much of a hurry and not careful.

I remember right after I got out of sports, this was probably around 1999, and the boss told me I had to cover a Quincy Park District meeting. I was told it would be short and to the point. During the meeting, in the blink of an eye, the board members passed some sort of tax increase, or something like that, and it went completely past me.

I didn't even know how to spell levee, or levy, or whatever it is.

The next morning (this was before the web, when we actually had deadlines the morning after a night meeting), the boss was upset, and rightly so. I had to rewrite the story, get ahold of the board members again, and we messed the whole thing up.

The moral of the story? Don't send me to board meetings, of course.

So. I'm gonna let it go. I  feel sorry for reporters who are told to do stories about complicated legal issues - I did it for years and it wasn't easy, and I made my share of mistakes. I'd always laugh when seeing a wide-eyed media guy or gal wander into a courtroom, with no idea what was going on.

I stay away from certain local media sites, which has helped keep my blood pressure down, and it's all good.

Is it levee or levy? One of these days, I might just figure it out.







Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Fall Concerts On The Plaza

WE ARE DOING the popular Concerts On The Plaza series again in downtown Quincy, sponsored by Culver-Stockton College.

We'll have music every Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. The First Mid-Illinois Bank has graciously allowed us to use their beautiful venue, located on the north side of Maine Street between Sixth and Seventh.

Frank Haxel, because he doesn't know any better, is running sound and carrying equipment around. So be nice to Frank and buy him a hot dog or something. The Butcher Block and The Maine Course are the lunch vendors.

More info on this event and some other cool stuff coming up downtown is on my Local Q blog.

I think it's fitting we have the talented George Cate playing for us this Thursday. He's a paramedic, and we remember 13 years ago what happened in New York, and all the public safety workers who paid the ultimate price that horrible day.

CONCERTS ON THE PLAZA
Sept. 11 - George Cate
Sept. 18 - Adam Yates and Rodney Hart (Pepper Cheese!)
Sept. 25 - Culver-Stockton College students
Oct. 2 - Seth "Freight" Wade
Oct. 9 - Steve Rees


Monday, September 8, 2014

Hitting that stupid little white ball

OVER THE WEEKEND I played in a two-man scramble golf tournament with my old Herald-Whig boss, Don Crim. We had a lot of fun at Cedar Crest, the weather was incredible and we played with some really good guys.

I used to be good at golf. In Michigan I was hacking three or four times a week during the summer. Even my first few years in Quincy I tried to get out.

But a balky back, a new bidness and just time itself means no time for golf, and that's not a bad thing.

I can still hit that stupid little white ball. I just don't know where it's going. If you don't like the way I play golf, stay the heck out of your own fairway!

A scramble means we both hit the ball and then we take the best shot, and hit it again. So here's what happened this weekend - we both hit off the tee, we hit it again, and I flubbed the chips and putts, while Don didn't. We finished about even par in the middle of the pack, but we should have done better. Don made a couple of monster putts, and I showed the deft chipping and putting touch of a bull in a guitar store. GUH.

Anyway, it was a lot of fun. My golf season is probably over. Tramadol and Coors Light are again my best friends - I barely got out of bed this morning, I can't sit or stand for any length of time, and guitar lessons should be interesting this afternoon. "OK, this is OUCH a barre chord OUCH and let's play OUCH some easy scales OUCH."

Yes. I know I'm in the wrong fairway. Get out of the way because I am hitting again.




Friday, September 5, 2014

Emma's Special Friend - sweet!

I WENT TO St. James School today to be the Special Person of the one, the only, the legendary Emma Backoff.

Wait a second ... are you EMMA BACKOFF? Really?

The one, the only, the awesome EMMA BACKOFF!
Emma is in sixth grade and she rocks. Her big sister takes guitar lessons at Second String Music and her mother, Kiki, spoils Fast Eddie rotten with catnip and treats.

Emma's teacher is Mrs. Schaffer, who loves what she does and is very good at it. St. James has small class sizes and friendly teachers and staff.

Emma interviewed me for a class project. She asked what things were like for me in sixth grade. Sixth grade? I can't remember what I had for breakfast this morning. Once we got the whole running water and electricity thing figured out, I think life was pretty good for us back then.

Emma is a sunny girl who is always smiling. She asked me what advice I would give her, and I said, "Don't blink." The smile turned into a look of confusion. "It goes by fast," I said.

Ohhhhh. The smile returned and I laughed out loud.

I had a great time and it was my honor to be Emma's guest for the day.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Getting old at 50

SO IN A few months I turn the big five-oh. We are having a small party at Second String Music that should rage for, oh, the next decade. You know, when I turn 60.

I am feeling old these days. I played golf last Friday and my back is still barking at me. I am cranky if I don't get at least eight hours of sleep. My daughter Emily is almost half as old as I am. She used to be 1, and I used to be 25. A million years ago, anyway.

Last night I sat on the back porch, smoked a stogie left over from last weekend's Lake Michigan vacation and listened to the Cubs on the radio. Who listens to the Cubs on radio? Gosh. I have old fogey just written all over me. At least I didn't torture myself by attempting to listen to the Cardinals.

I look up the Weather Channel online even though I'm inside all day. I am teaching students how to play a Cars song, "Just What I Needed," and I thought the mid-1980s was a long time ago, until I realized The Cars released the song and their first album in 1978. NINETEEN SEVENTY-EIGHT?

I was 14 at the time. Guh.

I have socks and T-shirts older than many of my guitar students. Cranberry juice is becoming a food group. I take a complete vitamin pill and a baby Aspirin every day. I had designs on eating an entire pizza a few nights ago but I got full after two pieces. Angus, our puppy, wears me out just watching him and his youthful exuberance.

Then again, Angus spends much of his time at the store passed out under the front counter. At least I pass out in the back on the couch.

Ahhh. Fifty. Bring it on! I'm ready and willing and able. Let's go.

Well, let me take a nap, first.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Lake Michigan video love



SHERYL TOOK SOME awesome video during our Lake Michigan weekend. It takes me back and makes me laugh.

We have an annual tradition when we're on the beach - it's called the Goony Race. You line up and act as silly as possible when jumping into the lake. It serves two purposes - one, the lake can be a little chilly so it's good to run as fast as you can until you go under, and two, being silly is an art and should be taken very seriously, so I'm good at it.

Also, we learned Angus, our puppy, loves to swim. He wouldn't go into the lake due to the crashing waves, a good thing since the undertow is pretty strong, but he loved diving into the creek just down the beach. And he met some new friends!

I can't believe we are into September already. I'll be watching these videos when the weather turns and I'll keep dreaming of summer beach weekends.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Never drive through Lowell, Indiana

I AM TERRIBLE when driving in traffic. I have a bad attitude. I pout. Sheryl says I'm a big baby when encountering highway traffic jams.

I want to kill the bozo who cut everybody off five miles ahead and caused the major backup. Or smack the IDOT idiot who decided to close lanes off 20 miles before the bridge they are fixing.

We just got back from a glorious Labor Day weekend on Lake Michigan. Sun, family, food, music and conversation abounded. It was worth every mile to get there and back.

We got stuck in traffic in Indiana Saturday afternoon on the way up. Okay, no problem, to be expected. I-80/94 is a nightmare and should be traded to Montana for a draft pick. So should the entire city of Chicago. But it didn't cost us much time and we survived.

On the way home yesterday, traffic was miserable before we even got to the Indiana line. So we headed south from Michigan City. I have taken many alternate routes to avoid Chicago but this was a new one.

It was great for a while, until we came to Lowell, Indiana. There is only one way through Lowell. I do remember going through Lowell once a few years ago and thinking, "This place has more traffic lights than Kankakee."

There were no warning signs and little did we know that Lowell has a huge parade and festival on Labor Day. The line of traffic was several miles long to get through town. It was pure Americana - boys in high school football jerseys trying to impress girls, families on blankets watching the parade from the sidewalks, old guys in yellow Lions Club vests waving their arms around, and lots of police cars with blinking lights just sitting there amid the swelling traffic.

Finally, after inching forward for a few miles, we cut away and took a side route. We were stuck in Lowell for maybe 30 minutes, but it seemed like forever. I'm not sure the good people of Lowell know they are snarling up a state highway that runs through town, nor should they really care, but I'm not going through Lowell ever again, so it's all good.

This is yet another reason I love Quincy - a traffic jam is considered six cars waiting at 18th and State. The other day it took me 12 minutes to get to Sam's Club, not the usual 10. Boy, was I ticked off.

We were on I-55 near Lincoln yesterday when we noticed a six-car crash in the northbound lanes. Those poor people going from Springfield to Chicago were screwed, and the line was miles and miles long.

See? I can be a poor sport about sitting in traffic, AND make fun of others who are stuck in it!

Especially in Lowell, Indiana.