Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Retreads and self publishing

I'M NOT REALLY retired. More like, a retread. Or retried.

I will say my stress level is waaaaaayyyyy down. And I like giving guitar lessons in the afternoons and not feel like I've been hit by a truck at work all day.

Sheryl continues to amaze me because running a business and dealing with all the different personalities is not easy. I like hanging out and schmoozing while she does all the real work. She left for a few hours earlier today and I was amazed at the people who came in and all the stuff we looked for, sold and talked about.

Sheryl insisted I write a short story and it turned out to be a good experience. We are exploring the brave new world of self publishing, so you may be seeing some stuff soon. My first story is about a guy who gets fired from his band and all the whacky stuff that goes on with playing music. The harder I tried to exaggerate the more realistic it became. No wonder Edge cried when he saw Spinal Tap.

Tonight I'm thinking about writing about my mom and the week I spent on my uncle's Lake Michigan beach seven years ago right after she died. I kept seeing her drift down the stairs to the beach and I still am not sure if I was dreaming.

We'll put a few stories together and see what happens.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Reasonable (and therapeutic) band practice

HAD A LOT of fun practicing last night with the band Reasonable Doubt. We play Saturday in Paloma's park at 5:30 p.m. and it will be a blast.

Reasonable Doubt is basically the old Funions. Adams Yates, Mark Brei and Jon Barnard make up the core of the band. Chris Cornwell usually sings and plays guitar but had another commitment Saturday so I'm taking his place, hardly an adequate replacement but I will do my best. Jack Inghram and Paul Lester also play when available.

I love playing with Adam. He is a talented all around musician who plays keyboards, drums, harmonica and sings. Adam simply loves to play and I am proud of the fact that a few years ago, I went over to his house to jam and got him interested in getting out and playing in a band.

These guys don't take themselves seriously and we laughed as much as we practiced last night. They do a few songs I'm not familiar with so it will be a challenge and I hope I'm up for it. I'm a very average guitar player at best and JB will do most of the lead stuff, but I like stepping outside the comfort zone and at least trying.

Plus we get to do a few Funions originals, and I'm all about that.

This has been a rough week in many respects, and when I found out last night that my health insurance had been canceled (by mistake, I hope), I was glad to take my frustrations out on my guitar and amp, and it was just fun to hang with the guys and bang out some tunes.

Goonies racing into Lake Michigan
Music, as always, is great therapy.

So, with my ears still ringing and this image from a glorious Lake Michigan beach day stuck in my mind, here's to my last day at The Herald-Whig. The party is on at Fifth and Maine this afternoon!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

I Will Miss The Rush

ONE OF THE things I will miss about being a newspaper guy is the rush of covering a big story. It doesn't happen that often, but when there's a big event and you have to figure out what's going on and why, well, it's kinda cool.

Reporters at The Whig are now required to work, on average, one night a week. I don't like it, but I understand it, because there is no such thing as a deadline anymore - www.whig.com took care of that a long time ago. And I could get a lot more done at night when the phone wasn't ringing and there wasn't the general chaos that sometimes envelopes the newsroom.

Tuesday night I was at work and getting ready to head home when across the police scanner came those dreaded words - "shots fired." I looked at Julie Marra, our excellent young copy editor, and said, "We might be here a while."

Over the years I've learned that when you hear about something on the scanner, you don't jump up and head right out. You sit and listen, because you can gain good information from police communications.

This shooting took place in a Quincy housing project. I heard officers talking about getting more help for a large crowd gathering, then officers looking for a man with a "10-32," which means somebody with a gun.

Going down to Indian Hills at night when there are cops everywhere, a big crowd gathered and a guy loose with a gun isn't my idea of a good time. So we sat and waited for a bit, heard they found the gun and the guy who was shot, and then I scooted down Fifth Street to check it out.

The person involved apparently shot himself in the chest. Police had the place taped off, and family members who were obviously upset were yelling at some of the officers standing by the door. Quincy Police Sgt. Bryan Dusch bore the brunt of their frustrations, but never once did he raise his voice or get mad. He was firm and he told them they couldn't go back inside the apartment, since an investigation was still taking place.

Sgt. Dusch was busy with a bunch of stuff, so I waited for a few minutes. Patience is not something you learn, it's something you earn. Everything happens in good time, even with an editor waiting to hear back and a story ready to be written. When I finally talked to him, he couldn't have been more helpful and professional.

I went back, wrote a short story, and went home.

In the old days, it would have floated my boat, but not so much anymore. It's time for somebody else to get the rush and tackle the big story.

It will be interesting when big stuff happens to be on the outside.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

What Am I Gonna Do?

WHEN PEOPLE FIND out I'm leaving The Herald-Whig after 16 years, and 24 years in the newspaper and journalism bidness, they ask me what I want to do.

Truth is, I'd love to keep writing. I can do that to an extent on this blog, and being free from the paper will open up a lot of doors and let me expound on a lot of otherwise taboo subjects. Freelancing is always out there, too.

But the real answer to the question is, well, I don't know. Part of me thinks breaking away from any kind of media job is a good thing, but I'm listening to all and every offer and option. I don't want to limit myself. I do want to get out of the comfort zone and test myself.

People ask if I'm going to stay in the store and "chase my passion," and I would, but I would drive poor Sheryl crazy. She's got Second String Music handled. I need to do something else to pay bills and get the most out of myself.

So. What does a burned out newspaper guy do? I have writing and computer skills, experience in TV and radio, blog writing and video editing. I am good with people, try to see things from all angles, think a little bit before jumping off the cliff.

I've been pounding the pavement this week, and I hope something comes up soon. I survived a panic attack at 3 a.m. the other morning, and we are prepared for this to take time.

My first job was at Advance Newspapers in Jenison, Mich., right out of college. I worked there for a year as a sportswriter, and then I was let go because the summer was upon us and they said there was no need for one of the full time guys. A dishonest boss and people who talked behind your back became apparent, and it hurt. That summer was one of the longest of my life, but I learned a lot in the three plus-months between jobs.

Things worked out. They always do. 

Friday, August 17, 2012


YESTERDAY A GUY came into the store and was very rude. He wore out his welcome. I'll be nice to him if he comes back because in retail you can't burn any bridges, but his behavior irked Sheryl and me.

Logan Kammerer
This guy is a good musician who has been in the store before, but never bought anything. That's OK. We have more than a few folks who just like to wander in and hang out, and we are all about that.

So this guy starts bashing our prices. "I can get that a lot cheaper on the internet," he says. He was looking at one of our nicer higher-end guitars and said we were "way off" on the price. Sheryl looked it up later and actually we are right on.

If you think our prices are too high compared to the internet, you could be right. We try to match online prices but there are times when that simply isn't possible.

There are two ways to approach us about it. One is to be a jerk and complain. Thank you, keep driving through.

The second is to come to us and say, "You know, that Dean guitar is awesome, but I found it for a bit less online." Our comeback will be, "Let's talk and see if we can work something out."  We stress service after the sale and the 4 free private lessons from Vancil with any instrument purchase is a sweet enticement to buy local.  Where on the Internet will you get treated so well?

A little civility can go a long way.

Molly on the Accordian
Before I got into this retail bidness I used to buy music stuff online. You take a chance when you do because you never know if something will show up in one piece, if it's actually as good as it seems on the computer screen, etc. I prefer to try a guitar and see how it feels and sounds before buying, and many of our customers feel the same way.

I also tried to support our local music stores, and on more than one occasion I paid a few more dollars. That's OK. I spent my money at local business, and it was worth every penny.  Shopping at my local music store just feels right.

Come in and talk to us! We appreciate feedback. And civility. Amazing, how everything works out when you use common sense and are polite.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Resume resumes

I HAVE THE rest of the week off, then one more week at The Whig.

Then I'm officially unemployed.

I'm terrified. But I'm feeling good. Great, actually. And I'm winning the battle with my Dutch Calvinistic guilt. I've been in the journalism and newspaper bidness for 24 years, and why shouldn't I go after something else on my terms?

There are some intriguing things out there already. I'm prepared to spend some time finding something else to do, and I do need something else to do. Plus there's the huge smelly pile of goo called health insurance, and don't get me started or there will be anger management issues and we'll have blog violence.

The store is set with Sheryl and a part-time employee. I'm not needed sitting around and playing the guitar and generally getting in the way. And ... I need something to do, something that will challenge me and pay the bills.

I don't necessarily want to deliver lunch, water flowers or cut grass for a living. But I did get a little defensive when somebody suggested "it would be such a waste" if I didn't write.

I watched Caddyshack last night and when Judge Smails delivered the classic line, "Well, the world needs ditch diggers too," I laughed again for the millionth time. But it's so true. And if I dig ditches and I'm happy, it's all good.

I aspire for higher ditch digging callings. Head above water, Hoser. The adventure begins.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Cheesey Good Time

THE CHEESEBURGERS HAVE been on a really good roll lately. Harty Har Har. The more Cheese, the better!

We have had a string of fun shows. Last weekend was the Quincy Boat Club street dance, followed by a massive wedding reception at the Ambiance. Friday night we played at the Knights of Columbus Barbecue, Quincy's annual end of summer bash, and it was more fun than should be allowed.

Some folks say the K of C crowd is more into watching than dancing. Guess we proved 'em wrong,  because after about a set we had the patrons going pretty good, and they stayed up in front the rest of the show.

A good gig is all about the crowd. If they are into it and dancing and hooting and hollering, it makes everything easier. There were a bunch of loyal Cheeseburger fans and a lot of people I know in the crowd, and that translates into energy from the band.

Our bass player, Jeff VanKanagen, had family in town and it was a riot watching his little granddaughter dancing all over the place. We even got his awesome wife, Mary, to play the cowbell with us. I practically shed a tear on stage.

It was also great to see a couple of my guitar students in the crowd because I think they can see how much fun playing music can be. Big shoutout to Kristin Martin and her mom for putting up with the big goofball on stage.

We are taking some time off. We had a gig scheduled Saturday at Adams Trading Post, but one of the band members has some important family business to attend to, and that always comes first with us. September and October are filling up fast, and hopefully I will update the Cheeseburgers schedule on our Second String Music blog site.

Some 37 hours later, I still can't move. Always the sign of a good show!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Cured With A Summer Sun Kiss

SHERYL AND I just got back from the best five-day vacation, and I learn every year that when life wears you down, being kissed by a Michigan summer sun on a Lake Michigan beach cures everything.

We had great weather, big waves, family time and the sand is still stuck between my toes. Sunday we were at my uncle's house near Holland and Monday we drove to Hoffmaster State Park near Grand Haven. The campsite was perfect despite our loud and parentally-challenged neighbors, and there is something magical about sitting in front of a fire as night slowly falls.

There is something about sitting on a Lake Michigan beach. You jump in the warm water, get tossed around by the waves, come back to your chair and dry off in the warm breeze. Sunscreen and cold beverages are the only requirements. If you close your eyes and have sudden clarity, that means beach therapy is working.

We drove to the east side of the state to visit family Thursday and made it back last night. I've made this trip a billion times by myself, and I must say having Sheryl drive the last half of the trip made it a lot easier. Plus I managed to finish Beth Lane's book about the Pfanschmidt murders near Quincy 100 years ago (more in a later blog).

Alex Sanders worked in the store for us while we were gone and I can honestly say I had no worries, none, about Second String Music while we were gone. Sheryl really missed the dogs, and next year we'll think about a canine-friendly beach area.

Back to reality today. I am tired but feel really, really good, which means a right decision was recently made.

I might make campground reservations now for next year!  Till then, enjoy this years Goony Race at Uncle Peter's.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Ready for a new adventure

SO FRIDAY I turned in my notice at The Herald-Whig. It's been 16 eventful years, full of highs and lows. I appreciate everything the paper and company has done. I work for a great boss, Don Crim.

It's just time to do something else. Exactly what something else is to be determined.

Burnout is a scary thing. I want to make sure everybody understands this was on me. When you don't want to go to work anymore, grinding it out is bad for all involved.

I haven't looked for another job while employed at The Whig. I was asked yesterday what I wanted to do and really, all doors are open and I'll consider just about anything.

I am not quitting to work at Second String Music. Sheryl does an incredible job and we have excellent help. Someday we'll be able to use the store income to carry our household freight and I'll be able to piddle on the guitar all day.  For now, we are happy it is doing well, growing and paying its own bills.

We are scared and excited. I was warned about jumping without the parachute. In the end, I did what needed to be done. We are ready for the next chapter.

Sheryl and I are heading for some beach time to decompress, and not think about the next step.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Comfort Zones

SOMETIMES I THINK settling in is the most dangerous thing.

We all have comfort zones. We all strive to make things as easy as possible. But I'm not sure we were created to have things easy.

I'm struggling with comfort zones right now. But I'm ready to deal with them.

Our new business, Second String Music, is definitely not a comfort zone. We went from paying cheap rent in a small and out of the way building to taking a giant leap to Fifth and Maine. It has been terrifying, exhilarating and a blast all at once. Sheryl and I face a future dotted with challenges and questions, and we are ready.

You can have comfort zones in your faith, work and relationships. I don't think God wants us to be comfortable. I think He wants to challenge us. I'm really going through the grinder right now when it comes to church, because it became too routine and comfortable. That fell on me and nobody else. So I've taken a big step back. I have no idea where it will lead.

I tend to become complacent. I avoid controversy if possible. Part of it is the newspaper reporter in me, not taking sides, trying to be as fair as possible. When somebody is angry and yelling, I let them vent. Most of the time there is little you can do. I learned that the hard way working for Gus Macker all those years. Listen and move on.

I walk away from conflict. Sheryl won't accept that and she's very good at making us face our issues. I hid for years in a basement and thought everything would work out fine. Geesh, figure it out, Hoser! I am a fortunate man now, indeed.

Big life decisions make you take a step back. I have more important things to worry about than people who use exclamation points all the time, or Facebook know-it-alls who type in all caps.

Playing music is putting yourself out there. Fun? Yes, more than you can imagine. But there's the uncertainty of it all that puts you on the edge. We have three huge Cheeseburger gigs coming up and two are at places I've never played before but always wanted to play. Friday night we're at the Quincy Boat Club Street Party. One week from Friday we are at the biggest party of the year in Quincy, the Knights of Columbus Barbecue. I have no doubt they will be epic and we'll be ready, but you never know what the weather will be like, if the crowd will accept you, if we'll have band or sound issues .... you roll with it, and it almost always works out.

There it is. "It almost always works out." Actually, it always works out, in one way or the other.

Can you tell I've got a Lake Michigan beach on the brain right now? I'm ready to do nothing, even if I have to do something uncomfortable, like drive for hours, find more ice and put up a tent.

I'm ready to put myself out there. Really, really ready.