Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Stay out of it, Mayor

THERE WAS AN ordinance introduced at last night's City Council that would give the mayor the authority to appoint the chiefs of police and fire department. Not only that, the chief's term would end when the mayor's term ends. 

Ludicrous, underhanded and reeking of partisanship are descriptions that come to mind when looking at the issue. 

First of all, the chiefs are picked by a three-person commission. These three men, all good citizens of our city, take the applications and carefully go through an exhaustive process. The idea is to let them do their job and to keep favoritism and politics out of the process. And it works.

The commission got it right when they hired Rob Copley chief of police all those years ago. They got it right when they hired Joe Henning as fire chief. But now the commission is being called into question shortly after they picked longtime Quincy Fire Department firefighter Bernie Vahlkamp as the new chief to replace the retiring Henning.

Mayor Mike Troup says the ordinance was introduced because of cost issues and "accountability" after the commission picked Vahlkamp.

Read between the lines here - "cost" has never been an issue before. And "accountability" means somebody got their feelings hurt and threw a fit when their candidate didn't get the fire chief's job. 

Interesting how the ordinance was posted on the agenda on Friday, yet neither chief nor many of the aldermen were contacted about it or told it was coming. Neither were the commissioners. This is a big issue and it caught a lot of people by surprise. Intentional? You decide.

Look. If you are the mayor, or an alderman, or a member of the city administration, you are not supposed to have your buddy or your friend or your guy be the chief of police or fire chief. You are supposed to work with the person in charge, not manipulate or direct them to any certain policy. 

Why change something just because your person didn't get picked? Or are there other issues out there we don't know about? It give the impression that the mayor and his administration are trying a power grab to gain more authority. 

All I can tell you is the three men on the commission - Steve Meckes, Barry Cheyne and Kerry Anders - are good men who have quietly done a good job for many years. Ironically they are selected by the mayor to be on the commission. In fact, the commission was formed in 1972 and has rarely missed the mark when picking a new chief. 

Stay out of their way, mayor. They know what they are doing. It's one less thing you need to worry about.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Bank robbery across the street

THERE WAS A robbery at Mercantile Bank yesterday afternoon. It's right across the street from Second String Music. The man came in, got an undisclosed amount of cash, and took off on a motorized bicycle. This was about 1:15.

A few minutes later we noticed Quincy Police officers standing on the corner, and more officers arriving. They locked down the doors and stood in front of the entrances. They found a guy who saw the robber flee north on Fifth Street. Instantly the Web Warriors started making the usual ignorant comments on one of the social media sites, like "good for him" and "only in Quincy." 

This was the first bank robbery I can remember in a while. There were some horrific robberies when I was at The Whig. Hannibal banks got hit a bunch of times in a row and I'm not sure they caught the bad guys. The notorious Richard"Sincere" Carr, one of the biggest dirtballs to ever float through Quincy, robbed the credit union that used to be near 14th and Maine, right across the street from Quincy Junior High School. They locked down the school and eventually evacuated all the students to the high school. That was one chaotic and messed up day. Thanks, Richard. I'll never forget you or all the other stupid and downright evil stuff you did. And I assume you are still enjoying the hospitality of the Illinois Department of Corrections.

More than two hours after the robbery, Quincy Police officers noticed a man at 18th and Broadway who matched the description of the bank robber. They quickly moved in and apprehended him. QPD says all the money from the robbery has been recovered. So it looks like they got their guy and all is well.

The man's name is Samuel Kenwick. He looks vaguely familiar. But it's hard to say if he's a downtown regular or just a drifter. One thing I learned writing about crime and courts is that there are two sides to every story and often more to the story than meets the eye. But in this case, it's hard not to speculate.

Maybe he needed bigger tires on his motorized Duicycle. He might not quite be all there - police said the suspect was wearing clothing that matched the description of the bank robber. Who would be seen at the busy intersection of 18th and Broadway just a few hours after robbing a bank? Change your clothes, you silly goose! Maybe he was having a cold one at the local tavern, or getting a prescription at the drug store near the corner, or at the gas station scratching off a lottery ticket.

The one thing not to take lightly is the trauma induced on the bank tellers. There was no mention of a weapon being displayed, but we tend to downplay just how terrifying it can be to go through a robbery. There was a really good SSM customer who was in the store just after it happened. He is a therapist. "I probably will get some business from this," he said. And he wasn't joking or being facetious. It's a terrible thing to go through. And with this mask business going on, you can't blame the tellers for being jumpy or wondering just who is going to wander through the doors next.

Anyway, we are glad nobody was hurt, the bad guy was presumably caught, and the money recovered. Just another afternoon at Fifth and Maine!

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Sound like SRV? Good luck!

 A YOUNG MAN came into Second String Music Tuesday and started asking questions about tone. We played a couple of the amps we have in stock, like the Fender Mustang modeling amp and the Katana. He is a fairly new player and he couldn't believe what kind of sounds were coming out of the amps.

Then he said, "How can I sound like Stevie Ray Vaughan?"

The short and simple answer is, of course, you can't. Or can you?

It was easy to see what the young man was implying. He loves the blues and he wants a tone like one of his guitar playing heroes. I'm all about that - I love chasing tone and sounds, though I'm not a guitar gear head or amp fanatic. Most of what I do in The Cheeseburgers and other bands is pretty straight forward - get a nice clean tone and then dial in an overdrive sound for rock songs and leads.

There are plenty of players who can mimic Stevie Ray's sound. But nobody sounded or played like him, or ever will. It was the way he approached his tone and style. He used super thick guitar strings and different amps during his day, but he never used a ton of effects or pedals. 

Great guitar players are dime a dozen. The ones who are legendary are the ones who have recognizable tone. As soon as you hear Jimmy Page, Lindsay Buckingham, Angus Young, Eddie Van Halen, Pete Townshend, Eric Johnson, Tom Scholz, The Edge (just some of my favorites), you know it's them. The guitar and the tone is a reflection of their soul and spirit. It's what makes them special.

I often refer to great guitar players as being from other planets. They are wired differently than regular human beings. They also pour thousands of hours into their craft, and have a pure love and discipline to their art. And playing the guitar is an art.

It's great if a students wants to learn an AC/DC song, or figure out how Slash played "Sweet Child of Mine." Yesterday I had a student asking some technical questions about Slash's approach, and then I realized this young man is a way better guitar player than I am, or ever will be. So be it. He's taken off and is heading for a higher ground in guitar adventures, and that's a good thing.

So here's the simple answer to a very hard and complex question. How can you sound like your guitar hero? Put in the time, chase the tone, and keep striving for bigger and better things. 

And, most importantly, be yourself and believe in yourself. Your sound will emerge.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

School band season again

SCHOOLS ARE BACK in session this week, which means it is school band season again at Second String Music. We are partnering with the Music Shoppe for instrument rentals, and we have the books and supplies like reeds, oil, rosin and music stands.

Getting started in band can be a little intimidating. Work with your teachers and listen to your child when it comes time to picking an instrument. Renting is a great option because you pay a little at a time and can return the instrument any time if the child loses interest.

Sheryl spent a very long day last week putting a slew of instruments into inventory, and she's also training myself and our part-time guy, Steve, to correctly fill out the paperwork and make sure the students have the books and stands. 

As COVID Delta variant is still making in person transactions troublesome, Here are a few modifications to make the rental process easier in our store.

1. Please leave your child at home if possible. We realize some parents simply can't do that with younger brothers and sisters around. We are just trying to minimize the number of people in the store at one time, and rental season can get a little crazy around here.

2. If your child is playing a stringed instrument, please measure them at home. Here is the link to a measurement guide for Violin and Viola. Your band teachers can help you with this too.

3. We are not requiring masks in the store, yet. But that could change if infection rates continue to rise. Please be prepared for that possibility.

4. If anyone is even feeling a little sick in your house, please do not come into the store. You can order an instrument directly from The Music Shoppe or go to the Instrument EXPO in August at Baldwin School.

5. Yes, we are sick and tired of COVID-19. Yes, we wish it was over and life was back to our new normal but it isn't yet. Please be considerate of Sheryl's autoimmune disorder and her need to avoid getting this virus. She runs this place and without her the store can't function.

Let's have a great musical school year!

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Bill Klingner Trail is impressive

  THIS SUMMER I'VE been getting into riding the bike. It's great exercise and a fun way to explore Quincy.

We tend to live in our own little worlds and are creatures of habit. Riding the bike breaks habits and it's fun to veer off traditional paths and discover the many neighborhoods that make up our fine city.

Until last month, I didn't know about the Bill Klingner trail, and I suspect a lot of Quincyans have yet to check it out. That's OK, because it's world-class and the less people know about it, the better. More room for us, right?

The trail starts at Parker Heights off of Bonansinga Drive. It winds all the way up to 24th street, and if haven't been on it and are just looking for a leisurely pedal, you might want to ease into it and enter from Bob Mays Park on 18th, because it's a steady uphill climb from the bottom road to 24th. There are only two real tough stretches, one when you first enter and another between what would be 8th and 9th streets. Going up, or east, is a great workout, and the reward is going back down without doing much pedaling.

You go over Cedar Creek a bunch of times on bridges, there's tons of green space, and the other day I saw rabbits, squirrels and even a deer wading in Cedar Creek. You pass the tip of the Veterans Home cemetery, go under several massive arched bridges, and while the trail does twist and turn a bit, there are no blind corners or really dangerous spots.

The trail is used and used a lot. Yesterday morning there was a bunch of kids running, probably a club or school team, and it was a bit hard to pass them because they were spread and on the wrong side of the trail. The pavement is wide and clearly marked with a yellow line down the middle. This leads to another point for cyclists, and the ones I've seen on the trail follow this rule - SLOW DOWN. When you are coming up somebody from behind, don't blast past them, especially if they have a leashed dog with them.

The other night I came up on a grandma and grandpa walking with their very young grandson. I could see the little boy was weaving around and very excited about the adventure. So I slowed way down, and sure enough, he jumped right out in front of me. He was in no danger of being hit, and the grandparents were a little embarrassed. I assured them it was fine, and I think a generational family walk like that on a beautiful trail is indeed a beautiful thing!

Also, wear a helmet. I've never been much for wearing one before but I am now, and it's because you can't predict what the other guy is going to do.

I wish there were more ways to access the trail for bikers. Right now Bonansinga Drive is an excellent way to go because the city is tearing up Broadway below the Bayview Bridge. So there isn't much traffic. I have noticed a lot of loud pickup trucks tend to blast down the road, and I mean blast. There is a bike path on either side of the road and it feels safe, but it's still unnerving when a vehicle roars past you at excessive speed.

Bob Mays Park is a great place to park and then go on the trail, but getting to it from the south end of town on bike means going over the Tom Awerkamp bridge by Quincy University's North Campus. Going south means barreling down a steep incline. Coming up the bridge is a huge challenge. Not sure if there's something to make it safer, and I only go down the bridge if it's a little later in the evening.

These are minor issues. Lately I've been going down Bonansinga Drive, up and down the trail, then going back into town up Cedar Street. The another night I managed to get up Cedar to 3rd Street, a very steep incline, and up pulled Cori Powell-Green and family, laughing at my out-of-shapeness. Hey. I'm trying! And the more I do it, the better I feel.

A ton of planning and work went into building the trail, and there are more plans to eventually extend it east from 24th. I'm just grateful for the two miles they've built and it's a stunning testament to the beauty of our parks and trails system.

Check it out for yourself if you haven't been on the trail. I guarantee you'll love it.


Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Busted window at 5th & Maine

SOMEBODY BROKE A huge plate glass window at our Second String Music store Monday night. I got a call from the alarm company about 8 pm. Sheryl got a call from 911 dispatch to tell her the police needed her at the store. We were there a few minutes later, and so were the police. The glass shattered and traveled at least 20 feet into the store, a huge and gaping hole. The window is right at the corner on the Maine Street side.

The officers (who were excellent, as always) talked to a few of the Washington Park people, but of course nobody heard anything. There were reports of a couple arguing loudly at the corner right before it happened. Who knows? It wouldn't be the first time somebody punched a window in anger. We haven't heard yet about any suspects, and the police are checking with local businesses to see if surveillance cameras picked up anything.

It left Sheryl and I sweeping up glass and wondering who would do such a thing. There's been an uptick in interesting people wearing backpacks wandering aimlessly around the park in the last week. We haven't ticked anybody off in a while or kicked anybody out of the store. Sheryl did make a lady angry last week when she asked her to stop parking in the alley behind the house but that couldn't be who did this.

Sheryl made a few phone calls and tracked down our awesome alderman, Jack Holtschlag. He came right over, looked at the window, then went to his construction company office and found two large pieces of plywood. Sheryl taped the shattered glass still in the window, and a few well placed screws later, Jack had the plywood in place and the building secure. 

There were no blood trail or spatters. I wonder if somebody had a bat or something to smash the window, because it likely would have cut the hand if punched. It takes tremendous force to smash a window that big.

Leo, from Custom Glass & Glazing, will be here today to assess the damage and get the glass replaced. It's not the first time we've had a window shatter, though it is the first time it's been intentionally done. 

I'd go on a rant about the piece of shit who did this, and how we'll post a reward for information leading to a conviction, and how it's a sorry state of the world when a business has to put up with a costly act of  vandalism. But I won't, you know. We'll get it fixed and move on. Such is life and the world of a small business. Thank goodness we have invested in an alarm system with glass breakage detection.

But if you hear anything .... let us know.