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.