Monday, August 20, 2018

Oshkosh, Rod Stewart and Monday mornings

IT'S A FIVE CUPS of coffee kinda Monday morning in the rainy Q-Town ....

- I worked my last Gus Macker tournament of the season over the weekend in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. I love Oshkosh. If I had a million dollars I'd buy a summer place up there - the downtown is vibrant, the river and lake areas are gorgeous, and the locals were complaining about it being really hot on Saturday - 83 degrees and sunny, with no humidity. They have no idea how good they have it ....

Major fun inside this place Sunday with Gus.
- The Oshkosh organizers are awesome and everybody is super friendly. The tournament moved this year to the parking lot next to the brand new Menominee Nation Arena, where the Wisconsin Herd play. The Herd is the NBA D League affiliate of the Milwaukee Bucks. We moved championship games inside to the arena and played on a replica floor of the old Mecca Arena, where the Bucks used to play. Geesh, what a fun time!

- I got home at midnight, and who rolls up behind me but my neighbor, Mike Sorenson. I figured he was shooting another Bad Wolf Media concert. So who was it this time? "Cyndi Lauper and Rod Stewart. They are both still amazing performers," he said. So that's our Calftown Hood - one guy comes home from shooting pictures of rock legends, the other from working for Gus in another far-flung location.

- Sheryl kept herself busy at the store and did a bunch of stuff around the house yesterday, like trimming the Rose of Sharon and cleaning carpets, and entertaining three dogs and a cat. A couple of weeks ago she slipped on our back porch steps and broke two small bones in her vertebrae (L5). There is little she can do except wear a brace and deal with the back pain, unfortunately. Her sleeping is greatly impaired by the pain.

- Believe it or not, the fall prep sports season is upon us, meaning I'm back to work for David Adam and the sports guys at The Whig soon. Already? And kids are back in school? Already? Really? I like Michigan's idea - it's actually a state law that you can't start until after Labor Day, because of the massive summer tourist season.

We are still having our August Sale. Bass players come in and get 10% off bass guitars, bass strings, and bass amplifiers. Really!

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Changes downtown

LOTS OF ACTIVITY and changes going on down here ....

- Our friend Kris Kutcher is moving his hair salon business from next door (511 Maine) to the 700 block of Hampshire. Kris sold his building to a local businessman who has big plans for the space. We are really sad to see Kris go - he's been a great neighbor and friend. But it sounds like a good move and we wish him well.

- The old Phoenix Nightclub building a block east of us has new owners with big plans. Another hair place is going in the back of the building, and our tenants, Electric Fountain Brewing, are also leasing space. EFB is not, repeat, NOT, moving from its location in our building. They are expanding and putting in a roaster in the new spot and doing some other things. We love having EFB in our historic bank vault space and we wish them the best as they push upward and onward.

- The Red Light Bar & Grill is opening in the Granite Bank building across the street. There's been a few businesses in there over the years (I really miss the old Washington Perk) and we are ever hopeful this one will be a success.

- Don't forget that tonight is the Summer on 6th event between Maine and Hampshire. The first two were a blast and Noah McNally is the musical entertainment tonight. Let's hope the rain holds off until later and we have another good one on 6th street!

- And lastly, we have some amazing new Roland keyboards in stock and have already sold a few. The Roland RP-102 can be programmed from an i-Pad and you can actually get a free i-Pad if you buy the keyboard from us. Sheryl is playing stuff on it from her spot behind the counter and it's very cool. Come down to Fifth and Maine to check it out!

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Cleaning means remembering some of it

I'VE BEEN CLEANING out boxes of stuff looking for my Canadian citizenship card. One of these days I will stumble on it. In the meantime, I have several large garbage bags for stuff I'm throwing away from years gone by.

For some reason I saved a lot of my Alpena News columns and stories. I saved virtually nothing from my days at The Whig, mainly because most of it was archived and most of it (crime and courts) I don't want to relive, anyway.

I found all kinds of documents and photos from the Alpena years, 1989-96. One picture shows me on a baseball field talking to a bunch of kids and coaches. I can't remember the event at all. I'm in a lot  of softball team photos ("Mike's Bar Champs" doesn't ring a bell). Here's Emily in my old office crawling under my desk - now I remember I used to walk her down to the office in the afternoons so she'd fall asleep.

There's a photo of me and Mickey Redmond, the legendary Detroit Red Wings player and announcer, at a charity softball game in Alpena. The Wings came up several times to play golf and softball. One year I was the Alpena Area All Stars manager. I remember some wild nights with Sergei Federov and others, but I don't remember the games at all. I talked to Mickey Redmond? It was pretty cool, even though I don't remember it.

We had three Gus Macker tournaments in Alpena (93, 94, 95). We had 750 teams each year. Geesh! These were the glory days of Gus expanding across the country. I was a member of the Macker Backers in Alpena and they were awesome tournaments. I think. I remember being chased down a street late one Sunday afternoon by a bunch of mad parents after a bitterly contested game I reffed, but that's about it.

I saved the columns but tossed most the game stories, features and previews. I remember a lot of games, but I've forgotten a bunch, too. Apparently my buddy and neighbor, Mike Wojda, coached his Hillman Tigers in a Class D football playoff game. It was in Indian River. There was a lot of snow. Hillman lost on a last-second Hail Mary pass. How can I not remember that? My name is on the story and it's pretty detailed, so I must have been there.

Sometimes you have to read something to jog the memory. Apparently I helped my neighbor, Max Lindsay, put up a basketball hoop for his son Eric and his buddies. I wrote a column about it, and it might be the best column ever. I laughed out loud five times when reading it - now I remember the adventure of putting it up, and Eric looking at it and saying, "Great. Let's play hockey guys!"

It's a trip down memory lane, what little I remember of it. My overall impression is the seven years in Alpena were awesome, and I still miss the little town in Northeast Michigan, if not the nine months of winter.

I have the newspaper clips to prove it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Wacky instruments in stock

EVERY NOW AND then Steve Rees gets busy and cleans out his vast selection of whacky, weird and amazing used instruments. He brought over a bunch of stuff Monday and we are filled with all kinds of cool things.

So, in no order, we have a several banjos, a banjo uke, banjola, Tater Bug mandolin, an Erhu, wooden alto recorders, a crystal flute, a Jackson 8-string electric, an Egyptian instrument called an Oud, cymbals and cymbal stands, gig bags, a crate acoustic amp, a marimba, a xylophone, a gorgeous Pizzacci acoustic with case, and a washboard bass.

Yup. A washboard bass. It's attached to a metal bucket and has a single string on a stick. You tune it by moving the stick back and forth. Its just very ... Steve. 😊

Sheryl has the items up on our Facebook page, but you really need to see some of these to appreciate them.

Long live the Oud and Tater Bug!

Monday, August 13, 2018

Tariffs hit us at Fifth and Maine.

THE INCREASE IN tariffs will be felt everywhere, including Second String Music. We received an ominous email from one of our major suppliers Friday, and it warns that prices are going up after the next round of tariffs later this month.

A lot of retailers are stocking up before the prices rise. We can't do that. We are careful about what we buy and we try to offer internet-friendly prices, as best we can. That being said, expect prices to rise, and significantly rise, as the year wears on.

What really worries us is that suppliers are saying items are out of stock. We have enough trouble getting quality guitars in the store, like our amazing Takamine acoustics. A fresh batch arrived today after many months of delays. The struggle will hit home sooner than you think.

If we can't order stock, we can't stay in business. But hey, we're tough, just like the American farmer. We can take it.

This whole business of "short-term pain, long-term gain" is utter bullshit. I don't believe a word that comes from the White House, and they couldn't care less anyway. I'll stop now.

We are battered by cheaper online sales, sales tax, property taxes, building costs and just trying to pay the mortgage. So what's a minor thing like tariffs going to do?

I'm all about buying American. But we as a country are all about WalMarting our way through life and getting the best deal possible, no matter where items are made. Unfortunately, most are made overseas.

We'll wait and see what happens with tariffs. But be prepared to pay more, and let's hope we can take it. Shop local, small business to ensure your own economy stays as strong as possible in the upcoming and unsure economy. We are bracing for a storm.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Ref shortages

THERE ARE HIGH school football teams in our area moving games from Friday night to Saturdays because there aren't enough officials. That's right - you can't play the game unless you have refs. The Whig broke it down in this excellent article, and it's a tough deal all the way around.

I've often thought about getting registered for hoops and football, even umpiring. My excuses are that I play in four bands, I work at The Whig in the sports department and I like quiet Friday and Saturday nights every now and then. Excuses, I know.

After working for Gus Macker in Burlington, Iowa, this past weekend, it again amazes me the amount of abuse officials take when trying to do their jobs. This was a first-year tournament and the local organizers did an excellent job, but we were shorthanded for court refs, and we scrambled. I ended up doing about a dozen games, and most of them were OK, but a few weren't.

It's not my fault your player elbowed the other player in the throat on the way to the basket, and I called an offensive foul, and you got all bent out of shape and told me I was terrible. I'd advise you to jump in the Mississippi River (it was about 30 yards away) but then you'd get even madder.

What I always say about events like Gus Macker is that 99 percent of the parents and fans get it. But it's that 1 percent causing all the problems. There were a couple of dads coaching 10-year-olds on one court getting way bent out of shape at their kids, and they tried yelling at me a few times, but it was windy and the PA system was really loud and I couldn't hear them, and when they realized I couldn't have cared less about their ranting, they gave up and yelled at their kids instead.

I wonder if this is why we have a lack of high school football officials. You are going to take abuse, no matter what you do or what teams are playing. Is it worth that $70 to get yelled at all night? Sheryl says this is exactly the reason we have a shortage of substitute teachers in the school district....

So the next time you are at a high school football game, and there's a call you don't like, and you start jumping up and down and hollering, stop for one second and think about it.

Nah. Keep yelling. Maybe we'll find enough officials someday to do all the games.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Holy Hairy Cat Chairs, Batman!

WE HAVE A room in the front of Second String Music used for storage - repairs, band instruments, assorted items. There is actually two rooms with a door we leave open.

Behind that door is a chair. It's a nice chair. We have had it ever since we opened the store more than seven years ago. But it's behind the door. So our cat, Fast Eddie, lays in it all the time. Before that, Luckycat Vegas lounged away the music store days in peace and quiet.

This chair, technically, is blue. But it looks white. That's because there's seven years of cat hair layered into the fabric. I have tried cleaning it and pulled out at least seven pillows-worth of cat hair. But I don't have the patience to clean it.

So we have put it on the sidewalk. It's free. We call this a "Calftown Garage Sale" and it's an effective way of finding the chair a new home. We did the same thing for some battered chairs and sofas at the old store.

You'll have to de-fur it. It's doable. It just takes time and patience. And it's a nice chair. Meow and you are welcome.

We'll see how long it lasts on the sidewalk.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Monkees and history

LATELY I'VE BEEN digging The Monkees. It's an utterly fascinating story, four actors cast into a 1960s TV show, lip-syncing one great song after another. The band members didn't play much on the first monster records, but later morphed into creative musicians, and they are still out there, the ones that are left.

I'm using "Last Train To Clarksville" in lessons. Geesh, how come it took me all these years to realize this is a thing of genius? It rolls off the G octave in the riff and the inversions are maddening. It's no surprise the California-based Wrecking Crew played on much of the Monkees music.

The best part is when a younger person gets a charge from a song that is 52 years old. FIFTY TWO. Almost as old as me, and that's pretty bleeping old.

One of my young ukulele students learned it yesterday and said it was "pretty cool," and you can't get much better than that. She asked what the song was about, which led to a short conversation about when it was written, what the country was going through at the time, and the fact it was about a soldier about to embark to Vietnam. "And I don't know if I'm ever coming home ...." It's just a catchy pop song, but it's poignant and the student was fascinated.

Who knew a Monkees song could be used in guitar lessons and to teach history?

It's yet another powerful example of how great music is timeless.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Sidewalk Sale Saturday

THE DISTRICT HAS been approved by the city to have sidewalk sales on Saturdays in August. We think this is a great idea, and I'm already thinking of things to put out there. We have a lot of stock right now and a special on bass guitars and amps (10 percent off this month), so we'll put some stuff out and see what happens.

I have a guitar or five I could sell. Which one, or ones? This Saturday. Fifth and Maine. Be there. I'll have them priced to sell. I have a couple of amps, pedals, and who knows what else I might be able to find. We'll rock starting at 10 a.m. as long as there's shade and the weather is decent.

The city does have ordinances about sidewalks. There are some businesses down here that blur the line, and I can see why the city has rules. On the one hand, it's cool when places like the Tap Room and our own Electric Fountain Brewing put tables out and dress it up - EFB has some nice planters and even a bike rack. But they had to get a special permit for those. It is all about keeping things clean and accessible.

The other night I drove past the new bar on Maine, Joker's Lounge. There were some chairs out and there was a spirited game of bags going on, and I thought it was a great way to advertise the bar.

Other businesses tend to put out .... well, stuff. It makes the sidewalk look a little junky, to be honest. There's a fine line between creating a street vibe and making it look messy and unorganized.

Anyway, come see us Saturday morning, assuming we survived another epic Blues In The District on Friday night. We'll be on the sidewalk for that, as well.

Monday, August 6, 2018

More new Fender stuff

WE GOT MORE new Fender guitars in Friday at Second String Music. It's always fun to open boxes and pull out amazing guitars. The newest members of our family, and I hope they find new homes soon, include a gorgeous blue Telecaster and an American Elite bass. Plus we have a killer deal on a new Tim Armstrong Hellcat acoustic you have to see and play to believe.

We also had a dad who ordered a Classic Series 50s Stratocaster for his son for his birthday. The kid had no idea what was going on when he came in to check guitars out. We suggested he play a couple of guitars for fun, and after he played the 50s Strat he started swooning. I was back in lessons when the father finally broke the news and told his son the guitar was his for his birthday, and Sheryl says it was quite the scene.

Earlier we had a woman come in and buy an acoustic guitar for her granddaughter. Again, it's not how expensive the guitar is, but it's the gift that counts, and the gift of music is a powerful thing indeed.

You can always be good to yourself, too! We can make it happen at Fifth and Maine, and as always, it's an honor and a lot of fun to help give the gift of music.

Sale this month - all bass electric, bass acoustic, bass strings and bass amplifiers are 10% off. That saves you the sales tax and 2% which makes them CHEAPER than the internet! Sale is good through August 31st and applies to in-stock items only.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Six years ago? Geesh ....

HARD TO BELIEVE it's been six years since I gave my notice at The Herald-Whig. It capped 16 years at the paper and 24 years as a full-time journalist.

I have no regrets.

The decision was all about timing. We had just moved Second String Music to Fifth and Maine and we were expanding. My guitar lessons were beginning to grow, but I had issues scheduling because The Whig started scheduling reporters on random nights during the week.

I think writing about crime and courts for a dozen years took a toll. You saw the worst of humanity, yet you also saw the best and the courage of crime victims. I learned our criminal justice system was far from perfect, and there was no such thing as the truth - just shades of the truth.

I'd go to a courthouse, watch a hearing, and I'd walk out saying, "Wow, I've never seen anything remotely like that before, or that crazy." Then I'd go back the next day and it would be even nuttier.

I was tired, burned out. The newspaper business is a young man's game, though several experienced reporters are still plugging away at Fifth and Jersey. Most of the copy staff is new. The people in charge are new. The Whig realized our online presence was the wave of the future, so we were taught to shoot video, write blogs and become much more active on social media.

It was fine, but I wanted to write, and I didn't want to write about routine board meetings, the first snow of the year, health fairs and gas prices. Look, they were all timely subjects and certainly of interest to a lot of people, but not to me, and that's when I realized I had to get out.

Two years ago I came back to work for the sports guys, just a couple of nights a week, and maybe cover a game every now and then. They'd like me to do more, but I'm content just keeping the skills sharp and actually trying to figure out how to get into my Whig email. I get a lot of satisfaction from working with the young people David Adam hires every  year. Most of them are college kids, and they come in raw. The ones that stick it out get better and their work effort and appreciation for sports is contagious.

People still come up to me and say they remember reading my columns and stories. Last week a woman said, "How come I haven't seen your name in paper?" I told her I left six years ago. "Really? I had no idea," she said.

Humbling, to the last, just like the job.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Don't text and drive

MAYBE WE ARE noticing it more, but people seem to think it's OK to text and drive, or even talk on the cell phone and drive.

It's not. First of all, it's against the law. You can argue all you want about how unfair it is and how your civil liberties are being violated, blah blah blah. The fact is, people who can't take their eyes off their phones shouldn't be driving.

This morning at Sixth and Jefferson, a woman heading south almost crashed into me. She had two little kids in the back. She had her head down and was laughing at her phone. She even held it up as she went through the intersection. I got there a full five seconds before her, but I saw her texting on the phone, so I waited, and sure enough, she didn't come to a complete stop and just kept going.

The dogs and I weren't pleased. When I honked, she merely looked up, shrugged, then looked back down to keep texting as she headed south.

Sheryl says she sees it all the time. Maybe I'm just becoming more aware of it. On Maine Street the other day a driver was wobbling all over the place as she blabbed on the phone. I just saw a guy at Fifth and Maine stop at the last second for the red light. Fortunately it didn't interrupt his conversation.

What it really comes down to is this - do we need to talk to somebody or send them a text so badly that it's worth crashing into somebody else for? Can we put down the phone for a few minutes and not drive distracted? If somebody texts or calls, can we simply wait? Certainly there are exceptions, but not many.

The answer for many people in our cell phone-happy world is ... no. And that makes it dangerous for all of us.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Park it on the street, scooter boy

I TAKE THE scooter to the store a lot in the summer. Most of the time I park it on the sidewalk right in front of the store. Technically this is not legal, I guess.

Yesterday we got a visit from a QPD officer. He wasn't happy to have his time wasted. "Somebody called and complained," he said. He wrote me a "warning" ticket. I had no idea the fine was $4,000! I better start saving my pennies. We are not positive who complained about it, but we have some ideas. The bottom line is that you can't park the scooter on the sidewalk, even though it isn't in the way and isn't bothering anybody. The law is the law.

Parking around here is a bit of a sensitive subject. Do unto others .... but only for two hours at a time.

Sheryl doesn't like it when I park the scooter on the sidewalk, either. She puts it by the yellow line in front of the store on the Maine Street side. We both have our reasons, and basically it's to keep a small scooter from sucking up a parking space on either Maine or Fifth streets.

But. If you complain, and it's not legal, I will comply. So I am parking the scooter on the street, and it's taking up a parking spot, and I'll move it every two hours so I don't get a parking ticket. Right.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

All caps, all shouting

RECENTLY THE GUY who lives in the White House sent out a tweet in all caps, threatening to not trust Russian translators and warning us to stay away from Canadians. Wait. What? Actually it was about Iran and how we'd wipe them off the face of the earth if they didn't stand for our national anthem at NFL games, or something like that.

I worked full-time in journalism for 24 years. My mother was an English teacher. So I know a bit about the language. To me, typing in all caps means you are full of bluster and you are lazy, or you didn't notice the "caps lock" button on your computer keyboard.

All caps is OK in certain instances. I got REALLY pissed off, as opposed to I got really PISSED off. See? It's the whole "less is more" thing, where strategic use makes it more effective.

This morning on our cemetery walk, Tucker and Genie chased a rabbit into a wooded area and disappeared for about 10 minutes, then came out wagging their tails like nothing had happened. "YOU MORONS!" I all-capped. "WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? DO IT AGAIN AND YOU'LL SUFFER THE CONSEQUENCES THE LIKE THIS WORLD HAS NEVER SEEN!"

Tucker looked at Genie and said, "I think he's threatening to put us on leashes." They both rolled their eyes. And I realized how dumb I sounded and looked, which is PAR FOR THE COURSE.

A long time ago there was a Facebook page about Quincy history. There was a woman who typed in long and irrational comments in all caps. I ignored it until one day when I pointed out to her all caps was distracting and made it seem like she was shouting.

Geesh. You would have thought the world was ending. The woman started WEEPING and CRYING and accused me of BEING A BLULLY (her spelling. Really. You can't make it up).

A whole bunch of people started bashing me and apparently since she was blind it was the only way she could see the letters she was typing and the words she was misspelling. When it was pointed out that she could make the letters bigger on her computer (Ctrl + really works!), the outrage became insane. So I left the page.

You just can't win with people who use all caps, so don't even try. If they want to shout from their keyboards, let 'em. Proper English is a dying thing anyway, with BTW and LOL and WTH part of our everyday vocabulary today. WTF? Look - the guy who is shouting at Iran is a CLA (Capital Letter Abuser) and I am CLU (currently laughing uncontrollably).

Shout and All Cap away. I just won't read it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Katie plays Friday!

KATIE HOGGE IS playing Friday for our noon blues show in Washington Park. Katie, 16, is one of my long-time guitar students. She's an excellent player and singer, and I encourage you to come check her out. It starts around 11:30-ish and goes until 1 p.m. The weather will be nice, there's plenty of shade at the northwest corner of Fifth and Maine, and the Butcher Block will have the grill fired up. Oh, and it's free.

Katie asked me to play a few songs with her. She certainly has eclectic tastes in music, everything from Carrie Underwood to Echosmith to the Ready Player One soundtrack. Katie would like it if we'd learn the theme to Knight Rider, since she's obsessed with the show, but we've put that on the backburner for now.Maybe the best thing about teaching is the variety of music you learn. Seven years ago I hated country music, but now I at least have an appreciation for some of the great guitar players in the genre. The pop music of today is pretty bland, but every now and then I'll hear something wild and out of the ordinary, and maybe even with guitar in it (gasp).

My theory about live music is that it's not about hitting every note perfectly. It's about the energy and giving it your best, no matter if there's two people or 2000.

Katie has been working very hard to be ready for Friday's show. I encourage anybody who appreciates music and the talents of young people to come check it out. I'm very proud of Katie and she's come a long way on the guitar, and she has a bright future, indeed!

Friday, July 20, 2018

Huddle up to get through the storm

Tucker cowers in the corner ....
IT WAS beautiful last night on Sixth Street Thursday until about 7:45. Then dark and ominous clouds started rolling in from the north, the temperature dropped about 20 degrees, and it looked like a massive storm was about to hit us.

It swirled all around but the rain never came until later. North of us, especially in Iowa, people weren't so fortunate, so we are grateful we didn't get hit hard.

Our dogs hate thunderstorms. Tucker skitters around and can't be still. Angus and Genie take the cuddle approach, as you can see in the photo. Sheryl will sometimes give Tucker a doggie downer to calm him down. But last night he suffered through the store sober as a dog.

Now it's beautiful in the Q-Town, and we are ready for another fun weekend. Soul Shaker is back in Washington Park tonight as part of the Quincy Park Districts summer concert series, and we take the park over tomorrow for Back The Red, White & Blue.

We weathered the weather. Let's rock and roll again!

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Back The Red White & Blue back in the park

HOPE YOU CAN join us for the second Red, White and Back The Blue Festival in Washington Park Saturday. It starts at 2 p.m. and goes into the night, and our little jam band Pepper Spray is playing from 7 to 10.

This event honors all of our area first responders - police, fire, ambulance and others who put their lives on the line daily to serve. We are feeding a bunch of them. Back The Blue is free and there are lots of kids activities - you gotta see Jim Percy's magic act at 4 p.m.

We had a blast doing it last year, though from what I vaguely remember Frank Haxel opened the cooler a little bit too early and things got fuzzy later on. It was because of the heat. Right. Anyway, it's supposed to be a lot cooler and beautiful in the park Saturday, and we promise to behave this time. Ahem.

These outdoor events are dependent on the weather, and it can be frustrating. Last Saturday we watched helplessly as a massive front came through just as Pepper Spray was supposed to play before a Quincy Gems game. Cori Lyssy and I are supposed to play at 6 tonight for the party on Sixth Street, but we'll have to keep a careful eye on the radar this afternoon and keep our fingers crossed.

There will be no such worries Saturday. See you again in the park!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Reynolds family and Mike's fight

IN THE EARLY 2000s, I started making home visits to give guitar lessons. One of my first students was Mike Reynolds, the young son of Tom and Kelly Reynolds. I'd go to their house for the lessons and inevitably they'd end up feeding me or asking me to hang out.

Mike and his sister were very good students and the Reynolds were gracious hosts. I spent a few Easters and holidays with them, and when they moved to Chicago maybe 12 years ago, I went up there for a weekend and had a blast.

Mike (far left) and his family.
A few years ago, I was giving a guitar lesson in the back of Second String Music when a strapping young man came to the door and said, "Hey Rodney, I'm in town for just a day or so but I wanted to make sure to stop by and say hello." I didn't have much time to chit-chat, and to be honest, it took a while to realize it was Mike. He'd obviously grown and filled out and he looked a lot different from the little guy I knew.

Early this morning, Mike Reynolds passed away. He was in an ATV accident about a month ago, and he gamely hung on until today. His organs were harvested and eight people will be recipients. That's the Reynolds family I know - giving and full of love and concern for others.

Can you imagine what they are going through right now? They started a Facebook page called Pray For Mike and there's been a tremendous outpouring of support. The Reynolds still had many friends in Quincy and it's  heartbreaking to see them go through this, and reassuring to see they are still a family of faith and hope.

Peace, Reynolds family.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Painting in progress

TURNS OUT THINGS weren't quite so bad when it came to the ceiling in Second String Music. The leaking didn't do any permanent damage and a crew is here patching and sanding, and the area will be painted.

We feared the entire area would have to come out and be replaced. It would have been really expensive and messy, so we are grateful it's just a paint job. We've gotten the second floor condensation thing figured out and should have it rerouted without issue.

We hired Ted Johnson to do the painting, and his crew is very good. They've put plastic around the entire area and hopefully we keep the dust down. They just finished sanding and now they've put on the first coat of primer - hello fumes! I'm feeling reaalllllyyyy good. You might get a deal of a lifetime on a guitar if you come in now .... just kidding. But we did have to step outside for a short time to clear our heads.

I wanted Dutch orange paint to go up there, but again, Sheryl is the voice of reason and it will be the same white color that's up there now.

So for the next day or so, excuse the mess. We've had to sardine everything into the west half of the store, and a lot of stuff has been put in the back until the job is done.

And that should be it. No more major repair projects for us, right? Bwahahahaha. Right.

Long live old buildings.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Stay cool, blues lovers

IT'S ANOTHER ROCK and roll summer weekend in the Q-Town. The talented Zeke Cernea plays at noon today in Washington Park, and local band Soul Shaker is in the Washington Park gazebo for Blues In The District tonight.

It's gonna be hot - be careful with those adult beverages and drink plenty of water. Much of the park is in the shade and hopefully we'll have a decent breeze to cool things down as the shadows lengthen. We'll be on the sidewalk, though we might wait for the shade to creep over Fifth Street.

Pepper Spray

We'll try to keep cool Saturday afternoon at QU Stadium - Pepper Spray is playing from 4 to 6 p.m. for the Quincy Gems beach party. And Sunday night from 7 to 10, Cori Lyssy and I host an acoustic jam session at The Club Tavern in Quincy. Matt Roberts Blues Band normally does Sunday nights but they are out of town doing a show, so Cori and I are excited about hanging out at The Club.

As always, stay cool and laugh if you can. This woman did. And I couldn't stop laughing with her, either. Cheers to another great weekend!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Ceilings, water and more water

WE HAVE A new tenant on our second floor. But that means old problems become new again.

Last winter we turned on the second-floor furnace and a few days later water started dripping out of the ceiling on the east end of our music store. Thankfully we caught it in time, moved the instruments, turned the furnace off, and called a plumber to check it out.

Of course the plumber couldn't find anything. The condensation from the HVAC unit on the second floor goes into the last remaining 1896 marble sink. We figured it must be a pipe leading from the sink, so we gave up and forgot about it. The ceiling has water stains from years ago, so it's likely been an issue for a while. Funny, though - when we first fixed up the second floor space and the HVAC was used, it didn't leak.

Last week we rented space to a young man and he's renovating the space. It will be way cool. To stay way cool, the air conditioning is on. And .... yup. More leaking. We've got a temporary solution - the condensation pipe is now draining into a big bucket. Yes! More trips up to the second floor to drain buckets! I really miss going into the second-floor crawl space every time it rains, but I guess that's what a new roof does for you.

Fortunately it doesn't go into the Electric Fountain Brewing. Unfortunately, we need to fix it. So Monday morning, Ted Johnson and his crew are coming over to take down the ceiling. Wednesday, a plumber arrives to check the pipes. It will be messy and expensive. We've removed everything from that area, even propped up the stage onto the wall.

It's OK. It's an old building. We understand the challenges. Anybody out there want to buy some nice guitars so we can afford it? Doesn't work that way, unfortunately. So we'll tough it out and get it done.

Drip, drip, drip. That's the sound of our old building. It's not always music to our ears.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The watch that won't die

WE ALL HAVE things we treasure and want to keep. They aren't really worth that much, but they have personal value, more than anything.

About 12 years ago, I was walking down the Lake Michigan beach near my Uncle Peter and Aunt Helen's house, halfway between Saugatuck and Holland. I looked down and saw an Eddie Bauer watch sticking out of the sand. It was in the tide and the waves were crashing over it, another minute or two it would have been covered up and probably lost forever.

The watch was ticking and set for Central time, meaning it likely belonged to one of those BIPs (Bleeping Illinois Persons) from across the lake. Somebody probably went swimming and it either fell off or was knocked off, or maybe it was just thrown from a boat. Who knows? It worked and I loved it and started wearing it.

Still ticking!
A few years ago it quit working. I took it to Dame & Hurdle down the street and they put a new battery in it, but it quit again. So I bought another watch. For some reason, I didn't throw the Eddie Bauer watch away.

The watch is a reminder of walking the beach. On Ebay they are going for $65, so it's not about the monetary value.

I bought a different watch from Dame & Hurdle and liked it a lot. But it grew legs and disappeared recently - I think it might have been at the Cape Girardeau Gus Macker. I felt a little naked without a watch, so the other day I rummaged through a desk drawer and found the old Eddie Bauer.

I took it to Dame & Hurdle. They put another battery in it. And now it's ticking away like nothing ever happened, as if to say, "I've been here the whole time, you big silly. Put me on your wrist! I make you look cool! Well, just kidding. I don't work miracles, you know."

Time to keep track of time again, Eddie. Thanks!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The things we hear at SSM

THERE IS NO such thing as a bad question or comment when you come into Second String Music. A lot of people are intimidated about buying a guitar or seeing if we have certain items. It's like going to the hardware store - I'm completely lost, and unless the clerk is friendly and looks like they want to help, I'm not going there again.

But you know you are about to embark on an adventure in a music store when hearing the following:

"Well, I don't play guitar, so I'm sure you can't help me."

"Are you the owner or do you just work here?"

"Are there any other music stores in town?"

"I bought this online and now it doesn't work."

"Do you have spare parts for a 1973 Electromatic self-tuning ebow bridge?"

"You don't have records anymore? When did you stop selling records?" (Answer: About two years ago)

"It has to have 24 frets. I can't even try anything with less frets."

"It would be great exposure if your band could play at our benefit."

 "Do you give kazoo lessons?"

"I'll be back to put a down payment on it next week." (hahahahahahahahaha)

"Why don't you fix the elevator?"

"If I owned your building I'd turn it into apartments."

"Is this the coffee shop? Can I just go through that door to get there?"

"I love the door that leads right into the coffee shop!"

"It must be a pain to take the cat home every night." (hahahahahahahahaha)

"I love your dog (Angus). Can I take him home?"

"Why are you begging me to take your cat home instead?"

It is always an adventure owning a small business or even owning an old historic building. We have challenges every day,  but our customers are the best. We love you all!

Friday, July 6, 2018

Rock, no blues, tonight!

BET YA A dollar we have a few people show up at Washington Park tonight for Blues In The District. It's been two weeks since the last one and music-lovers think Blues is every other week.

Tonight in Washington Park!
Nope. Blues In The District is the second and fourth Fridays of June, July and August. That means we are in the midst of a three-week break. The Quincy Park District smartly stepped in and now we have three bands playing on the off weeks, starting with last Friday's Raised On Radio show in Washington Park.

The Cheeseburgers play tonight. And it won't be 100 degrees! And there will be shade! And we aren't on a rickety flat-bed trailer for a stage! Heaven! WIN! Remember, we all have to pitch in to Make America Grate Again.

It's going to be a tick over 80 degrees, the humidity is down and there is a ton of shade in the park. And ... you can bring a cooler. Please behave. Or don't, we are fine with not behaving.

Anyway, let's rock the park and have ourselves a beautiful Friday night in downtown Quincy, and we look forward to local band Soul Shaker playing next Friday for Blues In The District.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Cleaning an old building

SECOND STRING MUSIC was closed Wednesday in observance of July 4. Or, more accurately, we took glorious naps and I played with the Cheeseburgers at a very warm LaHarpe fireworks show. It was nice to have a day off, but today is Thursday and it feels like Monday, and tomorrow is Friday and we get to do it all over again with another rock and roll weekend.

So what did we do yesterday morning, with the temperatures already in the 90s and the humidity the same? We cleaned the second and third floors of our historic downtown building. Smart, right? Sheryl came up with all kinds of devious ways to induce sweat and it was nasty, grimy, filthy and sweat-soaked hell. Very satisfying.

We've got a new renter coming in on our second floor, so it had to be done. We swept up probably three years of dust and dirt, especially from the roofers who were in and out in May. We mopped floors. I vacuumed like a maniac. We moved a bunch of stuff from the hallways, and along the way I found historic Second String Music items like the scaffold used at our fifth anniversary guitar smashing, and Frank Haxel's beer can bowling contraption. No worries - they are safe and sound, ready for the next round of anniversary silliness.

Speaking of anniversaries, it's been almost exactly six years since we moved from Eighth and Washington. Geesh, the memories .... Bill Calkins stopping traffic on Eighth Street so we could move Alan Lawless' "Great White Buffalo" truck, and all the people who pitched in. Sheryl spent an entire Saturday night packing, and I remember after we got everything over here collapsing in a heap and wondering if we'd make the right location decision. I think it took her six weeks to unpack it all while Frank installed slotwall and built lesson room. Aaaaahh the good old days.

Obviously, it's worked out.

It's nasty work, cleaning an old building, but it felt good to be done and it's definitely better up there. That's the thing about cleaning - you hate doing it and it's a giant pain, but it's worth it. We are also making plans to clean and paint the exterior of the building, just the first floor. We have put off that task for way too long.

Cleaned up and cleaned out. Hopefully we won't have to do it again for a while.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Lotsa shows coming up

SUMMER IS THE busiest time for playing. So much going on, with four different groups. Yikes!

So I'm writing this out to keep track. Remember, support live music! Of particular note, The Cheeseburgers play this Friday in Washington Park. A lot of people think Blues In The District is every other weekend, but it's not - it's the second and fourth Fridays of June, July and August.

Wednesday, July 4 - Cheeseburgers at the LaHarpe (Ill.) Community Fireworks, 6-9 p.m.
Friday, July 6 - Cheeseburgers at Quincy Park District Summer Concert Series, Washington Park, 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Friday, July 13 - TBA
Saturday, July 14 - Pepper Spray at Quincy Gems game, 4 to 6 p.m.
Thursday, July 19 - HartLyss at Summer on Sixth Street party, 5:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 21 - Pepper Spray at Back The Blue party in Washington Park, 7 p.m. (but stuff starts mid-afternoon).

Monday, July 2, 2018

Mauled again for the last time

ONCE AGAIN, WE'VE survived a Maulers show. Survived is a good way to put it, since watching the Maulers involves screaming and covering your head and trying to breathe as fireworks fall in your hair.

Four years ago, Brien Murphy and I were honored to play at the last ever Maulers gig. It takes place every years at Swinegrass, the home of Randy and Marcy Phillips. Note that every year it's the final Maulers show, and every year they have another one. So I play every year and it's a blast.

Yes, Ted, they are wiring up pyrotechnics behind your butt.
This year I ended up jamming with Burt Shackleton and Sam Middendorf. I threw the set list away and we bulldozed our way through about eight songs, and it was soooooo much fun. The last time Burt and I stood on that Swinegrass stage was seven or eight years ago, when Marci and Randy got married and we played at the wedding. All I remember was Randy saying "I do" in a Gumby costume and the wedding party dressed in Monty Python and Star Trek garb. I'm not making it up.

The Maulers are a mock rock band with a decorated and dubious history. Also, Wavin' Pete and the Wagonmasters played, as did Oompah Pete and Der Wagenmeisters. You haven't lived until you've seen Sam do "Crazy Train" on the accordion. We'll just leave it at that.

Between the Wagonmasters, oompahing and the Maulers, I played a couple of songs with Pete Magliocco. He nailed "Louie Louie" and sang every word to every verse perfectly.

As for the Maulers, well, you know it's a great gig when you look behind you and two guys are wiring up explosives behind the stage. And I'm putting that mildly. I came up to Randy when he was arranging the set-closing fireworks and he nearly had a heart attack when seeing my unlit cigar. "Don't worry. It's out," I lied. "Good. Because my face is two inches from a jet stream of explosives," Randy said. Put it this way - if you want to see it for yourself, Maulers fan Mike Provine got some excellent video. Stay patient until the end. If you can bear it.

Let Jason Warren from the band Johnny 7 explain it to you ....

"Just a fair warning to: when attending a Mauler show, do not leave your windows open. This morning I found two mortar shells and the drive back home there was an interesting smell of sulfur!!!!"

All in all, it was another great night in "rural" Coatsburg, and I'm sad it's the last one. Until next year, anyway.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Journalists, neighbors and friends

I FOUGHT THE urge to post anything on social media yesterday after learning of the senseless attack on the newsroom in Annapolis. Sometimes we grow immune to these things. Not now.

I never felt unsafe in a newsroom. Still don't, working nights during the sports season. In all my years covering crime and courts for the Whig, there were only two occasions when I felt threatened, and neither was in a newsroom.

But you wonder how safe you are, especially in this day and age. Journalists are being assailed and attacked like never before, and it angers me beyond repair.

So I was heartened when hearing the chief of police in Annapolis say the shooting yesterday really hit home, because it's the local paper and the police interact daily with the paper and the staff. Hmmm ... just like good old Quincy, Illinois. I always had a good relationship with the Quincy Police Department. We didn't always agree on things but we kept it professional and I eventually made friends with more than a few men and women over there. One them is one of my best friends today.

We are your neighbors, your friends, or just the guy you know around the corner.

Most importantly, the good people of the paper in Annapolis prevailed. "I can tell you this - we are going to put out the damn paper," said reporter Chase Cook. And they did.

To the POS who did this - you lose, you coward. I am trying with every fiber of my soul to not judge and to understand. But I can't. So I hope you rot. If I see your name in print, I will instantly forget it.

I won't forget the people at the newspaper. In Annapolis, they are neighbors and friends - real people, doing the best job they can do.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Angus the water dog

ANGUS THOROUGHLY ENJOYED our Canadian adventure. He's quite the water dog and enjoyed endless games of retrieving sticks and Frisbees from Lake Simcoe. We'd be gathered around the campfire at night and Angus would disappear. Then we'd hear splashing and look over and see him frolicking around in the water.

So. Where to go in Quincy when Angus needs his water fix?

On the first night of our trip, we stopped in Vicksburg, Michigan, to visit the Barnards. They live right by a lake, and Angus of course jumped in. The lake is clean but full of weeds and algae by the shore, and Sheryl removed a large leech from Angus' belly after his swim. So we are looking for cleaner options. This, of course, takes the Mississippi River out of the mix.

We could call up our friend Ferd Niemann and see if we can take Angus to his pond off of South 24th Street. We got some good skating in last winter and it would interesting to check it out in warmer weather. Of course Angus would be interested in the beautiful horses at the farm, too. Maybe too interested. Maybe that's not such a good idea.

Curtis Creek might be an option. We had a good rain the other day and it should be moving pretty well. There are a couple of good spots to take Angus and check it out. I think there is still a spring by the South Park duck pond - we used to take Lucy over there to hose her down when she got muddy.

Randy and Marci Phillips live near Coatsburg and have an awesome pond, but it doesn't really have a shallow end, and Sheryl points out that Angus likes to feel the bottom when swimming in and out.

It's supposed to be 100 in the shade again this weekend, so we may just take Angus down to South Park and find him a good spot to splash around in. I might just join him ....

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

March this Saturday

ALL ACROSS THE country Saturday, June 30, marches are being planned to demonstrate opposition to the policy of separating migrant families crossing the southwestern United States border. Quincy will have its own march Saturday at 10 a.m. in Washington Park. Join us at 5th & Maine.

It's being organized by Indivisible of Adams County. The march is designed to bring awareness of the policy, continued separation and how it impacts children. The focus is on a positive message of "Keeping Families Together."

Participants are urged to wear white to show unity.

You can agree or disagree with so many of the issues. I am all for strong borders and legal immigration. I'm not sure how that translates into destroying the family unit. We are compassionate people. Keeping children away from parents seems barbaric to me.

Here is a bit more information from the group ....

As part of the administration's "zero tolerance" approach to illegal immigration, children have been separated from their families at the border while the parents are held for prosecution. Last week, the Department of Homeland Security announced that nearly 2,000 children had been separated at the border over the period beginning April 19 and ending in May. An unknown number of children taken from their families in June. There is no current plan to reunite these children with their families. Even though the revised policy claims it will reunite families, it may still incarcerate the whole family. 

Our message is that Families Belong Together and children must be reunited immediately with their families.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

World War II and immigrants

IN CANADA EARLIER this month, we heard some amazing stories about my family in the Netherlands during World War II. My Opa Hart was in the Dutch resistance and helped hide Jews from the Nazis. He was wanted by the dreaded Gestapo and had to spend much of the war on the run and in hiding.

One day he came home for a short visit. The Germans were tipped off and arrived within minutes. So my Oma Hart hurriedly dressed her husband in a woman's shawl, put a baby in his arms and a pillow over his head, and told him to crawl into bed.

When the soldiers came past him, my Oma Hart said, "Oh, that's just a young mother staying with us." The soldiers moved on.

Oma and Opa Hart rarely talked about the war. I think my Opa Hart, a pastor, had to do some terrible things in the resistance movement. The movie Black Book chronicles resistance activities and what the Dutch had to do to survive. Small wonder, then, they kept those awful years to themselves.

Aunt Willa, Uncles Peter, Michael and Henk
My Opa Hart was part of a resistance group in his church. My Uncle Henk says that most of those people were shot or deported to concentration camps for hiding Jews. My Opa Hart and one other church member survived.

My father was born in December 1938 in Oostwold, Groningen. In 1941 the Harts moved to Velp, Gelderland, near Arnhem. This was the scene of a horrific battle known as Operation Market Garden and chronicled in another film and book called "A Bridge Too Far." My father remembers ashes falling from the sky for many days after the battle.

After Germany invaded, my father remembers tanks lining Roozendaase Straat, where they lived. My dad and his brothers were talking to the German soldiers, and they asked for a cigarette. They brought it to my Opa Hart. He asked, "Who rolled this?" When told it was German soldiers, he spat it out and scolded them for their efforts.

In early 1944 it became dangerous for the family to stay in Velp, so they walked for two days beside a horse-drawn wagon to the home of my father's uncle and aunt, Oom Jan and Tante Nel, in Emelo. They stayed in a monastery overnight. They lived in a big house with 25 people, including several Jewish children.

The winter of 1944 became known as "the hunger winter" because there was little food. The Harts stayed alive by eating duck food. Yes, duck food. The children were separated from the adults at dinner time so the children wouldn't see the older ones gag on the food.

On D-Day, my Uncle Henk and Uncle Bill were taunting the German soldiers with other kids. The Germans knew their days were numbered and were scared, so they started grabbing baby strollers and wagons to load up belongings and flee. One soldier became incensed at the taunting, and he fired his pistol at the children. My Uncle Henk remembers the bullets whizzing by as they turned and ran.

Uncle Anton and Bill
When they were liberated by Canadian soldiers, there was a massive celebration. Then several young women were rounded up, brought to the town square, and publicly shamed. Their heads were shaved and shit was poured on them - they had German soldiers as boyfriends, you see, and the residents took out several years of frustration on them.

Several years later, with the Netherlands still struggling and no jobs available, my Opa and Oma Hart immigrated to Canada with their seven children. Yes - IMMIGRATED. Those were hard years, not knowing the language and customs of another country. Yet the Harts thrived, and eventually most settled in the Toronto area. My father married an American girl and lived in Canada for 15 years as a pastor, then moved to the United States. He eventually became a U.S. citizen, so he technically immigrated to this country, as well. You may not realize I am an anchor baby with dual U.S./Canadian citizenship.

I am proud of my Dutch heritage. It is great to know we had a brave history. I am proud to be the son of an immigrant. It is a huge part of who I am, and nobody can deny it.


Monday, June 25, 2018

One gargantuan weekend

QFEST WAS .... HUGE. Massive. Gargantuan. Extremely big. If you catch the license plate on the rock and roll truck, let me know, cuz we got flattened over the weekend, and we loved every minute of it.

The weather cooperated, the artists were interesting and our music in the Washington Park gazebo went really well. Loved the Quincy Community Theater's "Mama Mia" flashmob. Loved the little Fifth and Maine sidewalk jam before the street concert. And, as for the street concert itself .... yeesh.

Jared and the Gentlemen opened. In all the years I've been in Quincy, I don't think I've heard or seen a better local band, period. They'd crank out the usual cover band staple and come back with a Rush or Zeppelin tune that just floored the big crowd on Maine Street. They. Were. Amazing.

Jared and the Gentlemen KILLED IT Saturday night! (Photo/Mike Sorensen)
Griffin and the Gargoyles were spot on, too. There are more than a few bands which could take notes from watching a well-oiled party band like Griffin. They played for three hours and didn't take a single break, and most of the time one song seamlessly meshed into another. By the time they started the crowd was packed halfway down Maine Street to sixth, and geesh, it was fun. Frank Haxel and I kept the left side of the stage safe and the trombone player appreciated the beverages - hey, it was humid and you gotta stay hydrated, right?

Griffin himself came into the store just before taking the stage and bought a beautiful Gretsch ukulele for his 12-year-old daughter. He didn't have to do that. Lord knows there are bigger music stores in St. Louis, he has his pick, and he could have waited until he got home, but he supported a small local business and his bandmates couldn't have been nicer.

What a weekend. I slept for 10 hours last night, slept like the dead, and I might just live to tell about it. Of course there are two more gigs this weekend and a whole summer of fun ahead. Let's not call QFest a warmup, let's just call it a massive kickstart.

We are off and running!

On my way to the gazebo Saturday ... which guitar to use? (Photo/Chris Kelley)

Friday, June 22, 2018

Ready for a wild weekend

IT'S HERE, THE annual Q-Fest in Washington Park, and we are really excited to be in the thick of things at Fifth and Maine.

Artists are already arriving and setting up tents. We are having our noon blues show under the QU tent just west of the gazebo, with the fabulous Bella Song performing, and James Armstrong takes over tonight for the Blues In The District. It's going to be a bit cooler and hopefully the rain stays away.

We love this event and it's good for us. That being said, Maine Street will be closed between Fourth and Sixth starting at noon today. We are not happy with the streets shutting down early - with Blues In The District tonight, you are really cutting off access to the park, businesses and a lot of the park, and it will be a bit of a cluster down here tonight, so please come early and be patient.

Somebody setting up said something about this being about art this weekend, not about blues. Well, this isn't true. Music is art, no matter what the form. And we have tons of talented performers in the gazebo this weekend, all local and all very talented. The street party tomorrow night is right in front of the store on Maine Street and will be off the hook fun.

Jared & The Gentlemen, a Quincy band, opens at 6 p.m. The headliner is from St. Louis and called Griffin and the Gargoyles. Once again there are some who suggest we should only have local talent for a big event like this. I could not disagree more - if we get a chance to see a killer band in the street downtown, it's a great thing, and we intend to enjoy ourselves to the hilt.

So, see you downtown for the party!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

806 S. 9th is awful

WITHIN HALF A block of the Hart White House in Calftown, five houses are empty. FIVE. One is for sale and the sale is pending. Two have been vacant for years with little hope of somebody moving in anytime soon. One is ... well, taken care of. The owner is on the lam from the law so his mom comes over to mow the grass and keep an eye on the place.

One small brick house on the northeast corner of 9th and Washington is about to fall down. It's owned by a person from out of town who couldn't care less about it. The city comes a few times a year to chop down the weeds. It's sad that people don't care.

And then there's 806 South 8th Street, Quincy, Illinois, 62305.
A picture, 100000000 words.

The woman in there rents the house. She attempted to mow her grass in May. There are two lawnmowers on her porch. There are usually trash bags, mattresses and debris all over the place, too. She mowed half the lawn in May. And now it's overgrown with weeds, strange-looking plants and corn. Yup, corn. The squirrels drop the kernels and they sprout up in the grass.

Part of me thinks she's just a little overwhelmed. The city came by and shut off her water not long ago, and the rental place reclaimed appliances and a big television. I'm not sure what kind of struggles she has but her landlord is giving her plenty of leeway, for some reason.

So I try to have some sympathy for her. Unfortunately, the sympathy disappears when we see all kinds of people coming and going from the house at all hours, and we think there are four or five other people living in the house from time to time. Last year there was a massive brawl in her yard, and not long ago we had to call the cops when she was arguing with a man in front of the house.

The owner of the house couldn't care less, and it's really disappointing. All he wants is the rent money, presumably. Is he even getting that? It's on the resident to take care of the house and the lawn. If they don't, well, so what? We are confused.

I know, I know - first world problems. But we all do our best to keep our properties up, and it does drive property values down when other neighbors and residents simply don't give a bleep. We live on a residential street with houses. We care about our neighborhood and neighbors.

Done venting. Don't feel better. And I hope the yard gets mowed soon, though by this point you'd have to take a machete to chop down the taller plants and weeds. Yes, the city has been notified.

Calftown proud, baby.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Back from Canada

WHAT A BLAST we had at the annual Hart family reunion near Orillia, Ontario. It was four days of driving and three days of fun in the sun, and worth every minute we spent in the car. We got to see Jon and Mariann Barnard in Kalamzoo to boot, along with Sheryl's Uncle Schuyler Davis, Aunt Connie and Cousin Bryan that live in Pontiac, Michigan.

Will gives good tummy rub.
We stayed at Geneva Park, a YMCA camp on Lake Simcoe, part of the Georgian Bay. Our Cabin was within feet of the lake and the beach. Except for not having bathrooms (they were a short walk away), the cabins are rustic and perfect. It's different for men, of course - third tree from the left, Hoser. They are updating the cabins and the new ones will have bathrooms, so when we come back in a few years it will be a little better. Sheryl adapted but does love a clean bathroom.

The best part about being there is the suspension of time. You do what you want, when you want. Heading to the Chippewa tribe-run humidor to get real Cuban stogies, duty free? Go for it. Jamming with cousins Klaas, Roland, Edward, Mark and Uncle Ron? Make it happen! Drink real Canadian craft beer for lunch? Done! Sheryl enjoyed the special roasted coffee created by Mark Hart, lots of fun and laughs with Natalie, Amy, Michelle and Ingrid - all Harts. It was incredible to hang with a bunch of family that actually like to hang out together.

My favorite part was when my Uncle Henk and Uncle Peter told stories about World War II in the Netherlands. My Opa Hart was active in the resistance and some of the third generation were held spellbound by the stories. That's going to be the subject of another blog, along with immigrants coming to Canada and later the United States.

Loving the crisp water!
Angus also had a blast - he's a water dog all the way and there were endless games of chasing sticks and Frisbee into the lake. At night he'd disappear and we'd hear splashing from the lake, and there he was, frolicking around and cooling off.

We had perfect weather, just perfect. Great company. Music all day and night. Geesh, it was a little slice of heaven. Even the border crossings were smooth, though we dealt with typical construction delays on the highways. Also, I-94 around Detroit is brutal, even worse than Chicago, and that's really saying something.

Our other dogs and cat were well cared for, and Steve Rees did his usual fine job manning the store. Now we are back and I'm recovering just in time for another great weekend, this time Q-Fest in Washington Park and on Maine Street in front of Second String Music. We are open Friday, Saturday AND Sunday (12 - 3 pm). Come by and hang out.

Thank you, Hart family, for an amazing time. We can't go every year, but already I look forward to the day we return!

Monday, June 11, 2018

Keep the street open, please

WE ARE A little sensitive when it comes to street closures around Second String Music. We understand it happens during events, and we are fine with it. But when a construction company taking out air conditioners across Maine Street doesn't pay attention to the street closure permit, well ... we are still nice about it. Sort of.

Saturday I was gone working for Gus Macker in Cape Girardeau. It was awesome, thanks for asking. Anyway, Sheryl arrived at the store and found Maine Street between Fifth and Sixth blocked off because of the AC units being removed. She'd been alerted by email by the city about the closure, which was just for Maine Street between 5th & 6th.

However, the construction company also put barricades on Fifth Street, which wasn't in the permit. Sheryl went out and politely asked if they could move the barricades, as drivers of vehicles coming up to the intersection were getting upset and it was unnecessary to place them on Fifth.

The worker didn't appreciate her request. Sheryl was as polite as possible and actually found the whole thing quite amusing. It was really funny when a little white car driven by a little old lady simply ignored a poorly placed blockade and puttered through the crane area down Maine street, causing the flustered worker to run after it and his boss to curse him out from the lift nearby.

"I'm only doing my job," the worker said. "Well, your permit doesn't allow you to block Fifth Street," Sheryl said. She went back in and alerted the proper authorities, and they guy actually took the blockades away from the intersection at Fifth. Sheryl then went out and thanked him, but the guy wasn't happy and said to her, "You could have been nicer about it!" Apparently he hasn't seen Sheryl when she isn't being nice..... She told him to re-evaluate his definition of nice and walked back into the store.

Later, Officer Erin Dusch showed up, she and Sheryl agreed that people needed to actually look at their permits and to not illegally block streets. Fortunately the rest of the day went smoothly, even though they finished up an hour later than they were supposed to. Sheryl let it go. It's all peace love joy at Fifth and Maine, you know.

We will have several events in the month of June that will block 5th & Maine. Please keep in mind that the store owners on Maine need YOU to shop our stores even when the streets are blocked. Have patience with us, with the downtown events and help us stay in business by shopping your local small businesses.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

A pro at getting lost

I AM A PROFESSIONAL when it comes to getting lost and taking the wrong road. It's an acquired skill, mostly from my mother. I'm not proud when it comes to getting lost, though I can usually figure it out. Usually.

Tomorrow I'm heading to Cape Girardeau, Mo., to work for Gus Macker. I'm stopping in St. Louis to pick up Marshall Newman, the event manager. I have his address. I have the directions.

And, I will get lost.

In the immortal words of the J. Geils Band, "It's okay I understand this ain't no never never land." My lack of directional skills drives Sheryl nuts, and understandably so. She can find places by following her nose. No GPS needed.

We are soon heading to Canada (assuming what's his name, the guy at the White House, hasn't done something else dumb to endanger border relations to the north) and I will put Sheryl in charge of the directions. We made it the last time we went there, three years ago, and I remain ever hopeful we'll arrive in one piece and without getting lost.

At least I'm a pro at something.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Where is our trip to the White House?

IN 2007, THE Herald-Whig sponsored slow-pitch softball team dominated the Division IV league. I don't think we lost a game all year, and we ended the season with a convincing win in our final game to clinch the championship. We celebrated with beer and champagne showers, and the trophy is still sitting on a filing cabinet in the Whig editorial department.

I think we were called the Herald-Whig Demons. Don O'Brien, then the sports editor, wrote a blog recapping each game. It's probably still out there on the dark web. It was required reading after each game. 

My memory is foggy in general, but I seem to recall us trying to arrange to visit the White House to commemorate the remarkable season. Unfortunately two of us didn't stand for the national anthem before a game ... wait. We never did play the national anthem before our games. What the ... no wonder we didn't get an official invitation!

So I called the White House the other day and asked if we could still get in - it's only been 11 years. The assistant to the district supervisor of the left half of the cubicle told me our request would be filed and considered, since there are no other teams visiting the White House right now.

He called me back this morning. "Sorry, you SOB," he said. "You have no respect for your country since you didn't stand for the national anthem. Plus we found out you are Canadian and used to write for the fake mainstream news. VERY SAD. We don't like journalists and we hate Canadians and our beer is better. So. Don't call back."

Rats. Time to come up with another way to celebrate our historic milestone of a season. We could congregate at a Blues In The District this summer, or gather at a local pub, or even go up to Moorman Park, the scene of many a Demons triumph.

Or we could visit the REAL White House. You know, the Hart House Manor in Calftown. It has white siding, barking dogs and a cat that thinks she's a dog, our kitchen is torn apart and the garden in the back is completely out of control. In other words, it's chaos in Calftown, sort of like it is at the other White House.

Wait a second ... Chaos In Calftown would be a GREAT name of a band. We will hire them to play at the Herald-Whig Demons championship celebration. It will be more fun, anyway. Besides, it's too hot in Washington this time of year.

And we'll party like it's 2007.