Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Not all bad in 2020

MOST PEOPLE ARE bidding farewell to 2020 with angry emojis and lifted middle fingers. As our girls Avenue Beat love to sing, F-2020. It's been the most challenging year for us at Second String Music, both in the business and personally.

But, it hasn't been all bad ...

The pandemic closed us down for 11 weeks, and our good friend Frank Haxel died in early April. We couldn't even have a proper funeral and sendoff for Frank and we miss him a lot. The service itself was small but I will never forget the people who lined 18th Street, especially at 18th and Seminary Road. We'll have a proper bash for Frank when things get better, rest assured.

While we were shut down, Sheryl and I painted the entire downstairs of the house, put in the garden, rebuilt the back fence - remember the dirtball who crashed into it? Good times! - and I did a few zoom guitar lessons. Somehow we managed to open back up and get through the rest of the year. We had a great Christmas and we feel confident about 2021.

The Cheeseburgers haven't played since March. But Cori and I did a few outdoor shows and we had a blast doing Facebook live stream shows. No worries - we will be back!

Other local acts found ways to keep going. I love what Raised On Radio is doing tomorrow night for New Year's Eve, a live stream show to benefit Horizons Food Pantry. 

We've cleaned out our Fifth and Maine building and filled a massive dumpster with old furniture, construction debris and bird poop. Second String Music celebrates 10 years in February, and we probably will have to hold off on the bash, but it will be a glorious occasion when it does happen.

And my guitar lessons continue to rock. I have great students. In fact, we have a waiting list and I have a lot of students, a nice challenge to have. I keep learning and exploring new things on the guitar and I'm still average. But I'm getting better, too!

Be safe out there, Q-Town. Here's a better year in 2021. Count your blessings and we will see you around Fifth and Maine in a better time.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The Christmas lottery story

 I AM NOT a fan of the lottery. Too often it takes advantage of people who should be spending their money on food and bills instead of false hope. The odds of winning are astronomically against you. I can see how you'd play it just for fun or to give as a gift. But the hope of all your problems going away if you win is not happening.

There are exceptions, of course. One of them happened on Christmas Eve at Second String Music. It was about 2 p.m., and a mom wandered into the store looking for a nice acoustic guitar for her young daughter. We had one left, a 3/4 size Fender. "Oh, she'll be so happy!" the mom said.

Turns out she had $5 in her pocket when she went to work in the morning. She stopped to buy a lottery ticket and won $100. So she bought more 5 more tickets, and kept winning. Soon she had $500 and decided to get her daughter the acoustic guitar she had been wanting for Christmas. She came to see us, kept her fortunate winnings local, and I guarantee there was one happy little girl in Quincy on Christmas morning strumming a new guitar.

At Christmas we see many people who just want to do something nice for their friends. I was getting ready to close at 4 Saturday when a woman strolled in needing a restring. She's a nurse on the COVID-19 floor at Blessing. Man, did she have some stories. I was more than happy to help her get strings and to fix up her guitar. It sounded good as new and I left the store at 4:30 thrilled to have helped.

This morning the post-Christmas shopping continues, especially with gift certificates. Sheryl is busy ordering to restock the store and we are grateful for surviving 2020. Our special for the rest of the week is a free Snark tuner with any purchase over $30. We are changing things up for 2021!

Monday, December 21, 2020

Live (stream) at Christmas ...


WE MISS LIVE
music so much. My hands literally shake from not playing live. We did a HartLyss livestream Saturday night and it was a blast. Thanks for hanging out with us and we are hopeful for better days ahead and playing for you again, live and in person.

We think it's best to wait until things get better. Christmas will be really hard for a lot of people because it's not safe to have a big gathering. Be careful, Q-Town. Wear a mask and pray we get through winter.

I am playing at a couple of Christmas services this week. The legendary Steve Barteau and his band The Non-Perishables are having a Salvation Army show Wednesday night. Steve is one of my pride and joy guitar students - he showed up a few years ago wanting to learn guitar because he was going on a mission trip to Honduras. "Do you know how to play?" I said. "No!" he said. "I have two months to learn a song. Let's go!" Now he's leading the band and they play all over the place, a lot of Washington Park and church gigs. Rock on, Steve!

On Thursday I'm hanging with Tom Dickerson and the Faith Prez folks for a Christmas Eve service. We've been doing livestream services on Sunday morning and it's fine, but it's also empty in the church and the feel is not the same. Thursday night we are live streaming again to the parking lot, so you can enjoy the service from your car. 

And ... we are rocking and rolling at Fifth and Maine. Four more days until Christmas! We still have some great guitars and ukuleles in stock and ready to put under the tree. Tons of stocking stuffers too!

Peace Love Joy and Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Lead guitar and jamming

I AM NOT a lead guitar player. I never have been. I never will be. But I can try until my fingers can't bend and press down on the strings.

Great lead guitar players, and there aren't that many, make it look effortless. It's not. It takes years of practice and dedication, like anything else. If you think Eddie Van Halen picked up the guitar and started playing Eruption right away, well, it didn't happen. 

Great guitar players in general are wired differently from other human beings. Sure, you have to have technique and good equipment and training, but the great ones have something intrinsic in their playing. As soon as you hear Jimmy Page or Mark Knopfler or Pete Townshend or The Edge, you know it's them playing. You can just tell. That alone makes them great.

There is emotion in great guitar playing. Stevie Ray Vaughn poured his soul into his playing, as all great blues players do. Eric Johnson has been offering free guitar lessons via Facebook since the pandemic hit (he asks you donate to a local food bank in exchange for watching) and sure, he flies around the fretboard like a maniac. But more often he's bending notes and explaining technique that seems to come from inside, not just by ripping off notes.

Playing fast does not make a great lead guitar player. The thing I've been stressing in lessons lately is that less is more. It's a great metaphor for life, too. It's how and when you play the notes, not how fast.

During my Covid quarantine, I started listening to songs I haven't heard in years, and I jammed along for the first time in years. It's how I learned to play. We are taking a break from lessons during Christmas and I'm giving many of my students a list of great jam songs, with suggested ways to play lead guitar with the song.

Again, I'll never be very good at lead guitar, but it's sure fun trying to get better. Last summer when Adam Yates and I recorded our 1/5 and Maine CD at 505 Studios, I had to put some lead on a few of the songs. I missed the mark more than I made it sing, but the solos didn't turn out that badly.

Rock on and keep playing, with whatever you aspire to get better at and master.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Take COVID seriously

WE ARE IN the third week of shutdowns in our state due to Covid. On Nov. 20, restaurants were ordered to not have indoor dining, and other activities and businesses were also curtailed.

Our numbers in Quincy and Adams County are drastically improved, mostly because of the free mass testing. But we are lumped into a region with some rural counties where Covid continues to run rampant. My fear is that those rural residents simply couldn't care less and think it's all a big joke. I am here to tell you Covid is no joke and you don't want to get it. So who knows when we'll be in the clear? 

I can't remember the last time I went out to eat. Wait. I can. It was in June for our wedding anniversary. It was in an outdoor dining space, Tiramisu. It was amazing, as always. 

Right now, there is no way we are going out. Sheryl and I do our best to support our favorite restaurants by ordering food to go, but we are watching our pennies and our small business has been affected by the pandemic, too. 

I have mixed feelings about restaurants staying open and defying the order. On the one hand, they have a right to make a living and to try and get by. There are some places that still have indoor dining but are strict about masks and limiting capacity. Then there are others that have defied it from the start and couldn't care less. A crowded bar or restaurant is a breeding ground for Covid, and if you still think it's all hoax and is just like getting the flu, I've long since moved on and dismissed your ignorance and stupidity.

I always liked the greaseburgers from 8th and York. Never again, sadly. If you have blatant disregard for the health of our community, I won't support that. If you lead the charge against wearing masks and social distancing, I will remember your words and actions.

The pandemic has killed live music and it's killing me not to play, so don't say I'm on a high horse and have no idea how Covid is screwing everything up. It's taken a huge bite out of my gig income and our music store. Supporting small business means also supporting the health of everyone that shops or works in our community. If we don't have citizens, we don't have business. I can't believe we still have to tell this to people.

I'm also recovered from Covid. I lost two weeks of guitar lessons, and as a self employed person that hurts. Covid has affected everyone's life and it will continue to get worse if we can't come together and take it seriously. 

Meanwhile, Sheryl soldiers on and lives in mortal fear of getting the virus. That she didn't get Covid when I did is a minor miracle. Sheryl wants to stay alive, and has no intention of proving how serious Covid is by getting the virus. She would certainly be in that 1% that die, can you imagine?

We all want normal but the longer it takes for this community to take this virus seriously, the longer it will take to get there. With the promising vaccine news, here's to hoping by spring we'll be able to rock and roll again.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

First time for flu shot

JUST GOT BACK from my annual physical at Quincy Medical Group with Dr. Rick Noble. I trust my doctor. Rick has been a huge help in my life and I value his advice and care.

I got a flu shot for the first time in my 56 years. I normally get a mild case of the flu once or twice a year and it's no big deal. But last February I really had a nasty case and eventually got a steroid shot. I started feeling better immediately. But I'd rather not go that route again.

So, I got the shot. Some claim it doesn't work and just makes you feel worse. Sheryl felt that way for years but decided that this year she would get the flu and the pneumonia shot to help boost her immune system. With COVID even her minor stubbornness has been changed.


We also talked about antibodies. Since I'm recovered from Covid, save for minor fatigue issues, I'm being tested for antibodies. They are formed by the body to fight off the virus and stay in your system for a time. The latest CDC research indicates they are seeing people with Covid antibodies up to eight months later. 

The most interesting thing to me is Dr. Noble saying they are learning things all the time and stuff changes all the time with Covid awareness. And yes, most people who get it will be fine. But we are still hearing about supposedly healthy people getting the virus and having serious issues. Right at Blessing Hospital, a man I know was just put on a ventilator and is fighting for his life, because of Covid.

I'm still wearing a mask, washing my hands, staying socially distancing. My guitar students are now 12 feet away and lessons are given in the big back room at the store. We are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel with vaccines being approved, but we can't let our guards down. We still encounter people coming into the store without masks who "thought all that nonsense was over with." And, as previously mentioned, we have no patience for that ignorance. 

I had some blood drawn and I'm waiting to hear what my anti-body count is. If it's strong, I will consider donating blood and plasma, because it's desperately needed. Even in the year of a pandemic donating your antibodies is a good thing you can do for your community health

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Not Normal Christmas

SADLY THE DISTRICT DID not have a big tree-lighting gathering in Washington Park this year. The past few years the park has been packed as the lights are officially turned on.

Instead, The District decided to do a vehicle parade Saturday night, and it was a huge success. Lots of cars circled Washington Park and then headed to the Quincy Fire Department for a toy giveaway and a greeting from Santa. This is the new normal during a pandemic and shows the spirit of our downtown - Covid be damned, we were lighting the park!

The line of vehicles last Saturday around SSM.


Sheryl and I are not huge on Christmas decorations. Our 503 Maine space is really decked out because the Adams County Democrats are renting the space until April, and they really got into the spirit of Christmas with the window decorations.

We decided to put out our tree in a window facing Maine Street. The lights on the wall have been up since last year so that was easy. Throw in the Singing Santa and you have our Christmas spirit.

So a big thank you to Bruce Guthrie and The District staff and volunteers who got the park ready. If you haven't seen the lights in Washington Park, head downtown at night. It's really quite spectacular. It gives us hope that things are turning around and we might get back to normal in 2021. Maybe. 

Also, we had a great Small Business Saturday and we appreciate everybody stopping by for a safe and easy Christmas shopping experience. We are here during regular business hours (10 a.m. to 6 p.m. M-F, 10-4 Saturdays) and as always, shop local!

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

The death of Black Friday

I JUST GOT DONE reading several articles about the death of Black Friday. Having a cattle call sale and packing shoppers into an enclosed space while fighting over cheap merchandise just isn't going to happen this year.

Thank God.

Black Friday is the very worst of us all. I only went once, 21 years ago, to do a story for The Whig. It scarred me for life. How anybody could enjoy the claustrophobic crush of saving a couple of dollars over a home electronics item that will be on sale for the same price in January is beyond me.

At Second String Music, we will open as usual Friday morning and have our usual prices on our awesome, Fender, Gretsch, Takamine, Jackson and Alvarez guitars. We have lots of eye-catching ukuleles. We have stocking stuffers for your favorite musician. It will be unhurried and easy. We are requiring masks and keeping the number of people in the store within required limits. But - we are open and we'd love to see you!

Our Special through Christmas Eve is as follows: Buy a guitar and get a free Ernie Ball guitar strap and 4 free Dunlop picks. We have some great starter guitars in stock and pretty color guitars for those that want that. All are new and have been setup for immediate play.

One of the things the big box retailers are stressing is online shopping. That's fine, and far safer than going out, but it's not always best. Remember that your small local businesses need you more than ever during a very trying time.

Let's hope we all get through the holidays safely and with our sanity still intact. We'll make it easy on you here at Fifth and Maine!

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Rapid testing works

SHERYL DECIDED TO use the Adams County rapid Covid testing facility this morning. It opened Monday to a huge response. From the time she left the house, went to the facility at 33rd and Broadway (enter on 33rd), got tested and got home, about 45 minutes passed. 15 minutes later her phone rang and a county representative gave her the negative result, thank God. The whole thing was painless and free. Yup. FREE. 

Sheryl was pretty sure she didn't have COVID, but she's dealing with her usual seasonal allergies and it had been a full 14 days since I came down with it so she just wanted to be sure. Several hundred people have tested positive using the facility, and I'm going to guess most had no clue they had COVID. 

That's the insidious nature of the virus - it can smack the shit out of you like it did me for two days, it can put you in the hospital and even kill you, or you can not even know you have it. The majority of people who do get it are fine, but quarantining to stop the spread is crucial.

More testing not only makes sure we find cases and stop the spread, it also gives us a more accurate infection rate than the general 7 day floating average. In a week we will know exactly where our infection numbers are and will have more people quarantining to put a halt to the spread of COVID in Adams county. This is public health and safety at it best. Work with the system to keep us all safer.

If you live in Adams County and are on the fence about getting tested, just do it. It won't take long. It won't cost you a dime. The test is non invasive (it's just nostril swabs, not the brain poke like we had to endure two weeks ago). 

The news about potential vaccines has been encouraging, too. We are in the darkest hours of this pandemic, but there is some light ahead. Stay safe, wear a mask, don't let your guard down, and maybe sooner than later we'll be in the clear.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

No Store Party

FOR THE FIRST time since we opened Second String Music nearly 10 years ago, we are not having the annual Saturday Before Thanksgiving Store Party.

We'd always gather and have more fun than should be allowed, with a jam session, a big toast to our late friend Pat Cornwell, and a lot of laughing and celebrating. But having more than a few people in the store at one time isn't a good idea - Quincy has declared a State of Emergency and the COVID infection rates are spiraling out of control in this country.

It's still OK to remember Pat. Have a toast on your own if you knew him. We'd usually do it around 6 p.m. with some nasty cough syrup, also known as Southern Comfort. Watch out, it's potent.

Thanksgiving and Christmas take on different meanings during 2020. By not gathering this year we are ensuring that most people will be here to celebrate next year.

I'm just glad to be out of quarantine and feeling a lot better. We've resumed guitar lessons this week and we've had some good sales days recently. 

Be safe out there.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

You Don't Want This

WE ARE ALL tired of hearing about Covid-19. We are tired of reading about it. We are tired of seeing the startling statistics - yesterday in Adams County we had 117 reported cases and the positivity rate is creeping up to a staggering 20 percent.

We are all tired. 

But .....

Don't let your guard down. Don't go into the grocery store without a mask just one time. Don't forget to wash your hands after handling money or touching something you don't normally handle. Don't say "Screw it, I'm going to the bar and hanging with my homies " and breathe on people.

Why? Because I'm hear to tell you getting Covid-19 is no fun.

You. Don't. Want. COVID.

I'll spare you the details. Let's just say I think I was a little lax just once. And I very likely got it because of that one lax moment.

That's what is really pissing me off - we've worn masks, washed our hands, tried to stay socially distant, tried to be as careful as possible.

But I still got it. And you don't want to deal with it.

Sheryl didn't get it. She didn't get it because she doesn't let her guard down. She wears her mask. She washes her hands all the time. She won't let anybody in the store without a mask. She walks the walk and doesn't apologize for it. 

We've both stopped caring a long time ago about pissing off non-maskers and hoax believers that try to come into the store.

You. Don't. Want. This. 

Here's the list again - wear a mask, wash your hands often, stay more than 6 feet away from people, stay home if you are sick and don't let your guard down. It is more than we are used to but enough to keep you healthy.

I'm in quarantine until Saturday. The one thing we don't talk about is the mental toll COVID takes. I haven't had a face to face conversation with a living human being in a week. I've barely slept worrying about possibly infecting others. Fortunately Sheryl is taking care of bidness in the store and getting me groceries. Fortunately none of my guitar students have caught it. Giving lessons 8 feet apart and wearing masks has yet again saved us.

If you are tired of being tired of hearing about COVID, here's one last bit of advice.

Don't get it. You can decide, and your behavior and choices matter.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Horns and Trumpets

THE TRUMPETS IN town decided to have a vehicle parade Saturday morning. They came up Maine Street honking their horns, driving people mad with obnoxious noise. There were a lot of pickup trucks with flags, a lot of revving of engines, and a lot of middle fingers sticking out of windows. It was classy for sure..

One of the flags had the slogan "No More Bullshit." Finally, something we can all agree on! When he came back again, and again, and again, the flag had wrapped around the pole sticking out of the pickup truck bed and you couldn't see it. 

Look - I don't care who you like. Just don't honk obnoxiously, especially at 5th & Maine. Maine Street between Fifth and Sixth has tall buildings where the sound reverberates and amplifys. The horns were deafening at times, much to the delight of the Trumpets and much to the dismay of the people who live and work in the area.

The parade did nothing to sway anybody's vote - it may have deepened the resolve of the other side, and also motivated some from the opposing side to remember to vote on Tuesday. That's a win no matter how you think. Everyone should find time to vote this year.

They kept circling Washington Park and coming back. Suddenly two young people appeared on the southeast corner of Fifth and Maine with a sign that said "Honk 4 BLM." It certainly got quieter at the corner, and there were a lot of angry and confused looks from Trumpets as they drove by for the 10th time.

There was nearly a crash at the intersection when a vehicle stopped and the driver started yelling at the two young people. The vehicle almost got rear-ended by a large semi. The two young people came out into the street waving their sign and it nearly got very ugly. It wasn't a smart thing to do and they were lucky they weren't run over. They moved back to the sidewalk and I simply walked out and told them to please be careful. They stayed for about an hour. Happy to get some peace and quiet in the midst of all the buffoonery.

Others reported dangerous traffic on Broadway too. It was a clown car parade for sure.

Jump up and down all you want. It makes no difference, none. I made my noise by voting early and I suggest you vote, too. That's the biggest statement you can make, and it doesn't involve wasting gas or obnoxious honking. Tuesday can't come and go fast enough.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Help for Mara

FOR THOSE OF you who think COVID is a hoax, that it will go away after the election, that we have rounded the corner and are containing this virus, that we should just live our lives and all get it since it's out there anyway, I have two suggestions.

The first is anatomically impossible and there are kids who read this blog so I won't say it out loud. The second is to go over to Blessing Hospital and see if you can hang out with the Clingingsmith family. 

Actually, you can't.

Mara Clingingsmith of Quincy is fighting for her life in ICU as we speak. She's been on a ventilator for more than two weeks and her husband can't be in the room with her - he has to look at her through a window. Her kids have to wait in the parking lot. Blessing is locked down because of COVID and rightfully so. Five members of Mara's family have COVID, including her daughter who was 33 weeks pregnant. She was airlifted to Springfield and had her baby by C-section. 

A Go Fund Me page has been set up for Mara and her family and has more of her story. Mara is head of the Better Business Bureau in Quincy and a lot of people know her. She was making masks when she was stricken and now it's our turn to help her and her family.

"So what? It only hits people with underlying conditions. You get a headache maybe. Quit interfering with my freedoms!" say the ignorant masses. "This is no big deal."

Sorry to burst your bubble, Web Warriors, but it's far more serious. It's killing people. Today the Adams County Health Department announced a staggering 84 new cases (this is a daily count) and there was another death and we are up to 22 that have died. Adams County has at 13.5 percent positivity rate. Our region is climbing above 8 percent and is in danger of having restrictions imposed again. One of the parochial schools closed because several teachers tested positive for COVID. 

I think people are tired of hearing about it and are letting their guards down. With Thanksgiving and Christmas looming, it looks like a long winter ahead.

Be a decent person and wear a mask. Be a better person and help out Mara and her family.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Different Season

THINGS ARE LOOKING very different as we head into the Christmas season 2020. COVID-19 has had a huge impact on small businesses like ours, and Second String Music normally does very well in the days leading to Dec. 25.

This year, we ask you to support your local businesses as much as possible. Instead of heading to St. Louis or Springfield to do your shopping, give your Quincy businesses a chance. You might be surprised at what you find in terms of price and service.

One of the main things to change with us is special orders. Things are just not as readily available as they used to be - we have very patient customers waiting for items as we speak.  Special order waits can be as long as six months right now. That is hard to deal with even in normal years. We are juggling having as much nice stuff in stock versus what we can afford to buy and put on the floor. 

There will be no store party this year, and that's leaving a huge hole in our hearts. Every year on the Saturday before Thanksgiving we've hosted a gathering at Fifth and Maine. But not this year. COVID will still be a major problem and a crowed party isn't possible.

There will be no tree lighting ceremony in Washington Park, but the lights are still going up and The District is looking for volunteers Nov. 7. Click here if you can help.

Don't let this pandemic get in the way of the spirit of Christmas. Support small and local businesses. Wear a mask in their stores so they can stay open. Be of good cheer and hope for better times to come soon. And take time to reflect and appreciate what we have, and what is to come.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Farewell Tony Lewis

JUST WHEN YOU think 2020 can't get worse, you learn one of your early musical heroes has passed away.

Eddie Van Halen was a punch to the gut. The news this week of Tony Lewis passing away at age 62 won't have the same impact to most, but it's knocked me down and I'm having trouble getting back up.

Tony Lewis was the lead singer and bass player in The Outfield, an English band who released the epic Play Deep album in the mid 1980s. I may have listened to Play Deep every single day of my senior year at Central Michigan University, and that's not an understatement.

Most people know The Outfield for "Your Love" and "Everytime You Cry." But the entire album rocked and didn't have one bad song. Every now and then I'll get out the Outfield's greatest hits and remember, but this morning I'm actually cranking out Play Deep and going back in time.

Some of my more musically-inclined friends made fun of my love for the Outfield. It's OK. It's not even a guilty pleasure. I just like their songs and the guitar tones and Tony Lewis' voice. 

Good lord - "61 Seconds," "Mystery Man" and "Say It Isn't So" are pop rock masterpieces. It's literally been 30 plus years since I've listened to Play Deep front to back and it's still a beautiful thing.

John Spinks, the guitar player, died six years ago. Now Tony Lewis is gone, "unexpectedly" according to his website. And another part of my younger self is gone, too. 

At least I can still listen and go back.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Two long weeks

 I HATE ELECTIONS. They turn sane people into morons. They turn people against each other. Blind ideology replaces common sense. It's two weeks until Election Day, 14 long days, and I can't wait for it to be over.

I made the mistake of accidentally watching one minute of a local TV station's newscast last night. It had a nationally syndicated report about reporter fraud. It was among the most one-sided and stomach-turning propaganda pieces I've ever seen. I quickly turned the TV off. I will never, repeat, NEVER, watch that station's newscast again, and I won't click on their website either, even though it's a source for local news. Pathetic. I have friends who work there and it's sad.

Look. I don't care if you are an R or a D. I am neither. I vote for the best candidate, regardless of party. I've already voted. If you want to know who I voted for, come talk to me. But only if you are a registered voter, and only if you want to discuss reasonably. Lies and propaganda aren't allowed.

People on both sides are so worried about what the other is doing. This party is stealing signs, this party is signing up dead people to vote, this party is violating election rules, blah blah blah blah. This party has a sign up on a church property, or has put a billboard up and is causing traffic crashes, or has a huge banner flying on Broadway.

Who cares? If a big sign is going to sway you one way or the other, you got much bigger problems.

Instead of obsessing about the other guy, focus on the issues. Contribute to your candidate's campaign. Encourage people to register to vote. And, of course, get out there and vote. Every vote does count no matter how often you are told it doesn't. REALLY.

And when this bleeping thing is over, it's over. We have always survived a 4 year presidential term and we will continue to survive presidential terms. We move on, work harder and pray for our country to be better. No ranting and raving allowed after November 4th, it won't end well if I have to hear it, promise, because I'm already tired of all the bullshit and I want it to be over.

Two weeks? Ugh. I want it done now.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Ruxlows give firefighters love

MY 16 YEARS at The Herald-Whig are mostly a blur now. I walked past Fifth and Jersey last night and saw the lights on the third floor and thought, "Geesh. Did I really quit more than eight years ago?" You blink and it's just a fading memory.

Every now and then you hear or see something, maybe an anniversary of an event, and it triggers memories. Since I wrote about crime and courts, not all memories are pleasant. But most are, including this one prompted by this Facebook video from the Ruxlow family to the Quincy Fire Department Engine No. 5 staff.

Almost 10 years ago, little Kendalyn Ruxlow was run over by a vehicle on the family driveway. What happened next was due to quick response from Quincy fire, ambulance and police crews. She was whisked away by ambulance and some say it's a miracle she lived or didn't have more serious injuries.

When it first happened we had a very short story in the paper. But I was curious and I kept hearing more about it. I wondered, what do the parents think? What actually happened? I managed to track them down, and at first they didn't want to talk. 

For some reason, they finally relented and I met them at the old TGIF restaurant. I recall little about the interview or the story itself, and unfortunately you can't access the Whig archives and find my columns unless you subscribe.

They were very nervous at the time and I couldn't blame them. I assured them it would be fine. Turns out it was a very good column, solely because of the subject matter.

I've run into the Ruxlows a few times since and they have always been gracious and thankful for the column, and for getting through the entire experience. I actually said hello to Kendalyn a few months ago in the store, and it's hard to believe that was 10 years ago.

The Ruxlows presented a beautiful plaque for the Engine No. 5 firehouse. It expresses their gratitude to the fast response and quick thinking of the firefighters and first responders who were there moments after the call. 

As Kai Ruxlow, the father, says in the video, it was the worst of days but it turned out to be one of the best. We've all blinked and it is 10 years later. What a great gesture from the Ruxlows, and well-deserved for Engine No. 5.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Last Outdoor Show

CORI AND I (HartLyss) play our final outdoor show of the year this Saturday at Tipsy Bricks in Hannibal. We've done three shows there this summer and we always have a blast with our Hannibal crew. Lisa, the bar owner, is very good to us and we always look forward to crossing the river and hanging out by the levee. Bricks has a very nice wraparound porch so there's room to stretch and stay socially distant. The weather forecast keeps getting better and it may cool down a bit at night, but not enough to keep us from hooting and hollering.

Soon fall will roll into winter, and venues and bands are faced with some tough choices. We are seeing more Quincy places open up for live music, and I have tentatively booked a few shows starting next month for indoor venues. But the news this week concerning the spread of COVID-19 in our area isn't good - the positivity rate in Adams County is at 10 percent and Marion County (Hannibal, Palmyra) is at a staggering 15 percent right now, so no way are we playing indoors for the next few weeks.

I am not afraid of COVID-19. I just don't want to get it. So much is unknown about the virus and I'd rather not find out in person how it may or may not mess with me. Both Sheryl and I have said this a million times already but Sheryl has Type 1 Diabetes and has no wiggle room here - if she gets it she will get very sick and that means I'm in charge at the store, which means there is no store. If she has to stay home, there can't be guitar lessons. It's a domino effect that hurts all of us, and could kill her.

Second String Music requires masks and if I do go out (grocery store, etc.) I always wear a mask. I am doing in person guitar lessons but we are 6-8 feet apart and I will wear a mask during lessons if the students feels more comfortable. So we limit exposure as much as possible while still keeping the business open. We feel relatively safe. 

Who knows? In another month things may be better and we may try to play an indoor show or two. But we won't take unnecessary risks and we urge everybody to be safe.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Small Business during a global pandemic

WE AREN'T SURE everyone know this but there is a global pandemic of COVID-19 circling the planet. It has contributed to the deaths of 211,000 people in the United States of America alone. The worldwide death toll is staggering. It is hard to comprehend that there are people that do not care about people dying from this virus. 

News flash - we care deeply that people are dying unnecessarily and we require that if you come into Second String Music, you wear a mask and socially distance. 

There are no exceptions. I'm sorry if that bothers you. Yes, Sheryl is a mean old bitch for requiring you to wear a mask before coming anywhere near her. Yes, Sheryl will ask you as politely as possible to stop in your tracks and make sure you have your mask on your face properly. She will even remind you to pop it up over your nose if it happens to slip down. We agree with you. It is annoying.

In our store you must wear a mask. You have other options for your musical needs and we are perfectly fine with that. Shop online if you refuse to wear a mask. Shop in the pawn shops over in Missouri if you refuse to wear a mask. We are done trying to make you understand how important this is to us.

Small business has always had its customer service challenges. Anyone that has worked retail can tell you some horror stories. In the year of COVID-19 those horror stories have taken a turn and become nightmares. Stop making us have to defend this decision and try to embrace this mask wearing phenomenon. I look a lot better in mine because it covers up most of my face. Sheryl like to say her nose looks great when she wears a mask.

Think for one moment how many people a small retail store are potentially exposed to in just one day. Then consider the owner has a condition that makes them more likely to die from this virus if they contract it. We are open, we are trying to be polite, and we support your town and musicians no matter how bad an attitude you may have about wearing a piece of cloth over your nose and mouth.

We believe in science. We care that none of our employees or customers contract the virus. If you can't care even a little about others, do not bring that to our store.

Mask up. Be safe. Have compassion and understanding for your fellow human beings. And let's hope we can all get through this to tell about it. 

Thursday, October 8, 2020

History of Hart house

 SHERYL HAS BEEN having fun using the Quincy Public Library's online newspaper archive to find out more about our house. She is still looking for a photograph from back in the day, but she has found out about previous owners and some interesting stories.

In 1903, a police officer named Tom Ryan lived in our home. His neighbors were Fred Brinkoetter and William Adams. All three families had noticed chickens disappearing for a few weeks, one or two each day. Each had chickens in the back yards. The wife of Fred Brinkoetter decided to have a chicken dinner, so she dispatched her husband to the chicken coop behind the house to get a chicken. Lo and behold, Fred found a chicken with its wings tied together. The chicken had "evidently made its escape from someone who caught it with the intention of carrying it away." A count of chickens revealed several missing.

This, of course,further incensed the neighbors. There was such an uproar that "it is said a shotgun and not the police will be brought to bear on the thieves."

Fast forward 117 years later and you might have the same reaction to a vehicle and garage being defaced, probably right by the long-gone chicken coop, but we don't own a gun and we'll just let it go at that.

At least three people died in our house - Mary Hynes in 1897, Bridget Ryan in 1908 and Andrew Richter in 1917. 

Miss Mary Hynes died from "hemorrhage of the stomach" in the house Oct. 6, 1897. Her mother was Mrs. Bridge Ryan, and she was the sister of officer Thomas Ryan, of the police force. There are no clues as to the circumstances of Mary's birth to Bridget. Sheryl needs to know if Bridget was previously married but the newspapers don't tell us much. She is described as the half sister of Laura Ryan in a 1902 obituary.

Bridget Ryan died of "grip and asthma," or flu. She was considered one of the pioneer residents of Quincy. She was also "one of the oldest and most devout members of St. Peter's Catholic Church." Born in County Tipperery, Ireland, she immigrated to this country at an early age. She was the mother of the aforementioned police officer, Tom Ryan. Tom eventually became police chief. WOW.

Andrew Richter was the father of Theresa Ryan. She was the wife of Bridget's son William Ryan. Andrew was 79 when he died of "senility." Andrew was an immigrant from Westphalia, Germany and lived in Quincy for 53 years.

Sheryl learned there was a fire in the house and the stairs to the basement had to be rebuilt. There was also a mention of Esther Likes, who had a beauty salon in the front part of our house in the 1960s. That explains why the washing machine and dryer are in the front room, where Esther likely had plumbing put in for the salon. The room used to be an open front porch, and the transom window over the entrance to the living room is still there.

There were other interesting tidbits and it's nice to know a little bit about our Calftown house, built in 1885. Again, it would be really cool if we could find an old photo or two.

Next up, Sheryl says she might poke around the library newspaper archive to learn more about our historic Fifth and Maine building. There is no doubt there's lots of history to sift through.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Eddie was an alien

 SHERYL ASKED IF the rest of this week and next would be "Van Halen Week" in guitar lessons.

Yes, and no. But, Yes.

First of all, there was only one Eddie Van Halen. When put into context, his playing on Van Halen  revolutionized rock and roll. There were tons of shredders after him, and plenty of copy cats, but there was only one Van Halen.

I can't do what Eddie Van Halen did on the guitar. I can't even come close. So I don't even try. I can show guitar students how to do tapping on the fretboard, and explain how Van Halen made the noises he did, but to replicate it would be silly.

Yesterday afternoon I had a couple of younger students simply listen to "Eruption." The noises coming out of that guitar still sound other-worldly 42 years later. The expressions on their faces were priceless. So yes, there will be listening and appreciation, but not much copying what he did.

RIP, Eddie. More than your blazing riffs and frenetic solos, I'll remember you for amazing songs and a love of the guitar. Rock lost a giant yesterday and nobody, nobody, will ever be like him. 



Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Quincy violin maker

SHERYL GOT AN email this morning via the store from a person in South Africa. They have an old violin and written on a label inside the F hole is the name J.A. Carpenter, 1526 N 8th, Quincy, Illinois. A violin maker in Quincy?

Sheryl likes doing research, so she looked up Carpenter and Violin on the Quincy Public Library's historical archive newspaper site. Turns out there was indeed a James Carpenter who made violins in Quincy. It's quite the story.

J.A. Carpenter moved to Quincy in 1912. Sheryl found an article about him in 1913, he was accused of passing off a fake $10 bill to buy something. Apparently he sold a violin and got an altered $1 bill, and he vehemently protested his guilt despite the evidence. He was referred to as a "strolling musician" and was the brother of William Carpenter, who was a "well-known police character." He swore that he had received the fake bill from someone buying one of his violins and was just trying to get rid of it so he could recoup his money from the violin sale.

In 1960, the newspaper did a story about Carpenter. He lived at the Illinois Veterans Home and he still had a work shop at 1526 N. Eighth, near the veterans home (it appears to be a vacant lot now). In that small workshop Carpenter made violins, selling a few to children and then a limited number all over the country. 

The article implied he didn't make much money, and it took him three months to make one of his better violins. The paper describes them as exquisitely carved out of different kinds of  woods. Carpenter said his better violins sold for between $500 and $1000. 

"Some day the work of the frail, bespectacled Quincyan may be hailed as ranking with the great master violin makers of past centuries abroad," the paper stated.  

The person in South Africa was grateful for the information. How the violin traveled across the world is probably another great story. Sheryl was glad to help them find out more about their instrument, and now we know more about a musician from yesteryear in Quincy.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Mail

MORE THAN a week before Emily's birthday, I sent her a card with a little cash. I carefully wrote down her new address in Rochester, N.Y. I put the card in the mailbox across the street.

About 20 days later, it has yet to arrive.

Emily said, "Don't worry dad. Maybe it will still show up." Maybe. I'm not counting on it.

Apparently there has been slowdown in our U.S. Mail system. I have written thousands of letters and never, repeat, never, had a letter not get to its intended destination.


Maybe I wrote the address down wrong. Maybe it got stuck on something else and is in some distribution center. Maybe it got thrown away or chewed up by a machine or misplaced.

Who knows? It's just sad and I'm not sure there is anything I can do about it.

This year Sheryl signed us up to vote by mail. She's already sent her ballot in, by mail. Apparently you can track your vote to make sure it gets to the right place. 

I am not sure about putting it in the mail. I may just take it three blocks north to the county clerk's office and deliver it by hand. 

2020 can't end soon enough.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Band instrument rental season is different

 EVERYTHING HAS A different feel to it this year because of COVID-19. School band rental season is no different.

We are stocked with Music Shoppe instruments and ready as we can be for the annual onslaught of questioning parents and budding band musicians. But we would like parents to know a few things before they come into the store to rent instruments.

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

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

3. Remember, we enforce the mask rule at Second String Music. We have masks for sale for $1 if you forget or don't have one. 

4. If anyone is in quarantine in your house, please do not come into the store. You can order one directly from The Music Shoppe or go to the Instrument EXPO on October 14th!

5. and finally. Yes, we are sick and tired of COVID-19. Yes, we wish it was over. No, we don't think it's a hoax and we do think masks work. We were threatened with a lawsuit last week from a man we asked to leave because he wouldn't wear a mask. Evidently he doesn't know the law or care about his own health. We do.

Our hats are off to the music teachers in our local schools. All teachers, actually. You are commended for being flexible and patient during an unprecedented time. We will all get through it, hopefully safely and alive.

If you have any questions, please call us at 217 223-8008 BEFORE coming in the store. Thank you.


Monday, September 28, 2020

Malcolm's first mole

 IN THE HART doggie house, Genie is the primary mole killer. She's an English Shepherd with a nose for snatching moles right out of the ground and then having a good play. Malcolm will join in and lick the mole. Then Angus comes over and puts the poor thing out of its misery. Snap.

A few days ago Sheryl was walking them at their usual romping grounds when she noticed Malcolm dancing around with something in his mouth. Genie and Angus were off digging in another spot. Lo and behold, Malcolm had snatched his first mole! This is a rite of canine passage, and Sheryl was quite impressed. The other two came bounding over and Angus again made quick work of snapping its little neck. Genie was praised for her excellent teaching  the fine art of mole snatching.

We had quite a rain last night, so there are fresh mole hills all over the place. I have a feeling it won't be long until Genie and Malcolm start having a competition to see who can dig the most up. Winner gets an extra treat after the walk. Woof!

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Starbucks at Hy-Vee

THE HY-VEE GROCERY store at 14th and Harrison is putting in a Starbucks. In Calftown, this is big news. Many of us can't get enough coffee and the thought of instant access to massive caffeine overload is a huge deal.

I'm in the store at least three times a week. I love the Harrison Hy-Vee. It's clean, stuff is clearly marked, and they are enforcing the mask rule. The employees are super friendly and always go out of their way to say hello and help you find stuff. When it gets busy and the lines pile up at the register, a manager makes an announcement and POOF three cashiers appear out of nowhere to speed things up. 

There was a bank in the Hy-Vee for several years. It was never busy. I can only remember one time where there were more than two people in line. The bank employees were again very pleasant but looked bored stiff most of the time. So it came as no surprise that the bank branch didn't reopen after the spring COVID-19 lockdown. 

A few weeks ago the bank walls were torn down and the remodeling began. The other day there were several important-looking men flipping through construction blueprints and rubbing their foreheads in dismay, which I've been told is normal behavior when you are building something. Another guy was poking around above the drop ceiling and another was sitting on a fork lift awaiting instructions. I think at one point he put it in reverse so the BEEP BEEP BEEP sound could echo through the store. But he could have been backing up on purpose. I was distracted because I was staring at my receipt and rejoicing in the 3 cents earned on my Hy-Vee gas card. 

Putting the Starbucks in the store is a stroke of genius. Who doesn't want an iced mocha latte with caramel swirl and macadamia milk? I'm fine with Starbucks and I know people who work at the main store on Broadway and it's great the three times a year I go in there. But I'd rather go to the smaller coffee shops in town.

Still, the thought of coffee while doing early morning shopping, or the Sunday afternoon rock and roll recovery shopping, is indeed tempting. I will probably succumb. There are worse vices in the world.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Sun smoked out


 IT'S BEEN A beautiful week weather-wise in the Q-Town, but it's been strangely overcast and the sun has been obscured by smoke from wild fires out West.

The photo to the right was taken Monday night from the roof of our Second String Music building. It was indeed eerie looking right at the sun without squinting. It almost looked like the moon. The light didn't slowly fade as much as it just turned gray and then black.

Contrast that in the photo above from the night before, same vantage point, when the skies were clear and the daylight faded past the Mississippi River.

It's fitting this is happening in 2020, the most messed up and strange year ever. Here's to hoping we have more sunsets in beautiful light to bring on the night. And sunrises, for that matter.

Friday, September 11, 2020

It's an Election Year. Be careful out there.

POLITICS IS SERIOUS business. I get it. The upcoming election is huge. But some people involved in politics often lack a sense of humor. So if you are easily offended or if you think the election is already rigged or certain candidates are backed by aliens, stop reading right here. Or, have somebody read the rest of this blog to you, which I suspect might be the case anyway.

I am not a member of either party. I have opinions and I will vote. If you want to know my opinions, call me. But opinions are like assholes - everybody has one, nobody needs two, and they often smell. So save it if you want to comment on this and tell me how to vote or how wrong I am. 

This morning, Sheryl discovered a political bumper sticker on her car had been defaced. I will not tell you what it said. But it was written in marker. So some dirtball actually walked down our alley, saw the sticker, went home, got a marker and came back and wrote on the bumper sticker. Now THAT is dedication. Congrats, dirtball! You get the Dedicated DipWad Award! Lots of people in Calftown get it, so it's not that big of a deal.

I do have an opinion about people who deface political signs or cars, and people who steal signs. Now would be a good time to have the person reading this to you read very slowly so you understand every word - 

IT. IS. ILLEGAL.

There aren't enough Dedicated DipWad Awards out there to give you but the police would like to have a talk. Just stop.

Don't bother commenting on this blog, or on Facebook, if you stole the signs or wrote garbage on a political sticker. Tell the person who is reading this you and writing your comments to stop. They'll get removed the minute you post them. 

If you want to put a sign in your yard, great. If you want to gather in a parking lot and then drive down Broadway honking and waving flags, super duper. If you want to park around Washington Park and jump up and down and tell us how great your guy is, good for you. I won't be around but I have no problem with it. 

The beauty of living in a free country is that you have freedom. Your freedom ends when it harms someone else or their property so be careful. Especially around Sheryl... she's had enough of your stupidity.

This is an election year! Go out and support your party and your candidate. But don't cross the line, and don't tell me who to vote for or why. Otherwise, you will be sentenced to laughing for five minutes every day until you cheer up.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Cleaned out and rented

 WE'VE BEEN CLEANING the daylight out of the upper floors of our historic Second String Music building. Into the 503 Maine space formerly occupied by Electric Fountain Brewing went massive amounts of old drywall, windows, insulation, furniture and bag after bag of dust, dirt and crumbled plaster. Throw in a small mountain of scrap metal and the space quickly got filled.

On Monday our friend Kate Daniels came into the store and asked Sheryl to help with an Adams County Democratic Party project. Then she asked if the 503 space was still for rent. When learning it was and negotiating monthly rent, we asked when she wanted to move in.

"Uh, how about now?" she said.

So 503 Maine is the new temporary headquarters of the Adams County Democrats, and will be through next spring's municipal elections. Sheryl had been doing research on what to do to get rid of the small mountain of junk in the space. Tuesday morning she called Clayton Roll, a young Quincy man who owns Rolling Operations dumpster rental. Two hours later we had a large dumpster in front of 503 Maine and we started filling it up. 

We recruited Isaac Smith from our 505 Maine Studios space, and he got his young son Jaden to help out. Soon we were swinging heavy bags of dirt and the tons of junk into the dumpster. A couple of

hours later we had had it filled to the top, and we tossed an old couch on the top to smash it down.

Clayton was awesome. He was willing to work with us if we needed a bigger dumpster, but fortunately the dumpster was exactly the right size. Sheryl messaged him Tuesday afternoon and he was there 20 minutes later to pick it up. His prices are fair and we are relieved to get all that junk out of there.

Yesterday I took two Jeep loads of scrap metal to Alter. In the end I got a mere $20 for the scrap, but the fact it was finally out of the space and not in a landfill was more than enough to make it worthwhile. 

Our new tenants started moving in literally minutes after I left with the last load. They are happy, we are happy, and our chiropractor has picked up more business this week (Sheryl is there as I write this).

We highly recommend Clayton if you need a dumpster for your trash. Thank you Isaac and Jaden as well!

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Malcolm turns One!

 WE HAD ANOTHER birthday of significance recently  - Malcolm, our little Cowboy Corgi of doom, turned 1-year old last Saturday. We celebrated with a long cemetery walk, some belly rubs, and treats. Well, actually, it was just another day at Fifth and Maine and in the Calftown Hood. Malcolm loved it.

Malcolm is fierce, irascible, demanding, a cuddle bug and super friendly with strangers. He has a habit of chasing rabbits down cockleburr-infested hills in cemeteries and barking at other dogs walking around Washington Park. He loves stealing the ball from Uncle Angus, which often sets up a cacophony of barking and mayhem. He's very good at stealing the food off your plate (Sheryl is still traumatized by the "pork chop incident" the other day) and he fails to understand why I would give Genie some love and not pet him at the same time.

And just when you want to yell at him and banish him into the puppy corner, he wiggles his little Corgi butt and stubby tail, perks up his ears and turns his head sideways. "Hey," he says. "It's not my fault I'm awesome and you love me. And you didn't finish the belly scratch from earlier today."

I think a lot about Tucker, our beautiful Border Collie who passed away a few weeks after Malcolm came to live with us. Malcolm has filled the void and is working on becoming a part of the two-headed dog with Genie. Tucker and Genie were inseparable most days. Sheryl expects him to start riding around on Genie's back someday...

Our lives revolve around Second String Music, guitar lessons, big gardens, three dogs, and two cats. And it's a good thing. Our lives would be boring without these great animals/babies.

So happy birthday Malcolm, you little bleep. I'll give you another couple of belly rubs this afternoon at the store between lessons.

Here's to many more, and keep the barking down a bit, would ya? What? He's a Cowboy Corgi? Oh. Never mind.



Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Happy 100th birthday to our elevator

SUNDAY WAS A historic day at Second String Music - our birdcage elevator turned 100 years old.

Sadly, it's been about half that time since the elevator worked, to our knowledge. It was operated by hand and took doctors, lawyers, opticians, florists, bankers, and many others to their respective offices.

It was made right here in Quincy by the Hollister-Whitney Elevator Company. It's still in remarkable shape - the motor doesn't work but it is still up by the roof, along with the braking system.

The ropes and cables are still intact and it's perfectly safe to walk into, though we keep it closed off. It was covered up by drywall for many years, likely since the 1970s.

George Lewis, who owned the building back then, told me that it never worked when he had the property. We do know that Mercantile Bank sold the building in the early 1960s and moved across the street. Likely what happened is many tenants moved out, and as the building grew empty, the owners didn't want to maintain or fix it, so they boarded it up.

The day we bought the building in 2013, Frank Haxel and I went into the basement, broke off the lock to the elevator shaft, and opened the doors. There was nothing in there, but when we looked up we could see the underneath of what looked like the birdcage. We removed the drywall on the first floor, and there it was, encrusted in many years of pigeon poop but still remarkably well-preserved.

Several Hollister-Whitney employees have seen the elevator. I would think there would be more interest from the company, which was only about a year old when the elevator was installed.

If an elevator ever goes back into the building, the old one will have to be removed and will be quite a conversation piece. I know a downtown building owner who sold his for a good price, so it's worth a penny or two.

Sheryl recently removed the drywall from the upper floors, and it's made a huge difference, especially on the third floor where it was really dark. The light now flows from the shaft and brightens the area considerably. The elevator shaft is not accessible since it is caged and gated all the way to the top.

The elevator isn't original to the building, as it replaced the one installed in 1896. We know it's 100 years old because of the plaque inside the birdcage - 8-23-20.

Up by the roof where the motor and braking system is enclosed, there is a signature on the wall of the person who probably oversaw the installation. His name is H. Hoener, and it's dated 8-26-20. One could surmise he worked for Hollister-Whitney.

There is other writing on the walls all over the building, including the signature of A.A. Brown, who inspected the electrical wiring sometime in the 1920s. Again, it's speculation, but we wonder if that's the founder of Brown Electric in Quincy.

So happy birthday again to our elevator, and we are proud it once transported some of Quincy's more prominent citizens many years ago.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Back to school, strange days indeed

 TODAY IS THE first day of school in Quincy. Emily graduated from Quincy High School 11 years ago (yikes) so we have no direct connection to the schools anymore. But we pay taxes and we pay attention to our school system, and the music program has a direct impact on Second String Music.

I'm glad we have a superintendent like Roy Webb, who is very good at communicating on social media and addressing concerns. To the many people we know in our education system, we wish you the best of luck and hope everybody is patient and understanding.

The logistics are staggering. How do we ensure a proper education with reduced classroom time and online learning in place? This puts a lot of pressure on educators and parents alike. Basically, Quincy Public Schools is doing both in-person classes and online classes, meaning students are only coming to school a couple days of the week, also spending time at home learning online.

Please check out this really well-done video by the Wall Street Journal, which sent a reporter to Quincy last week and did a very fair and thorough story.

I hope I'm wrong about this, but I don't know if we'll get very far with students in the classroom. Our COVID-19 numbers continue to rise and a lot of people around here just don't take the pandemic seriously. When they have a friend or family member, or they themselves get it, maybe they'll change their minds. But we aren't holding our breaths.

Many of my younger guitar students are going back to school. We are worried about them bringing COVID into the store and not know they have been exposed. Kids going back to school affects us all no matter how much you try to ignore a global pandemic. Please be safe out there.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Great gardening again

SHERYL'S GARDEN HAS gone crazy as usual this time of year. We have tomatoes, eggplant, and cucumbers coming out of our ears. Our big challenge is to figure out what to do with it all. Obviously, we are enjoying the fresh produce for lunch, dinner, and snacks.

Sheryl delivers a lot of fresh vegetables to our neighbors. The other day she drove across town to bring some of our super hot peppers to a guy who wanted them. We are glad to make sure our garden bonanza gets shared.


We've had a lot of rain this summer, and that means mosquitoes, lots of them. It means Sheryl can only go back there for a short time until they drive her inside. The same thing happened last night when I tried to sit out by the fire. Oh well. At least we are keeping the bug spray people in business.

Last night Sheryl pulled out some of the basil to make the garden less crowded, and it smelled awesome back there. The garden looks great, smells great, and produces a ton of healthy food. It's worth breaking my back to get it tilled in the spring and the time (in short bursts) Sheryl spends picking weeds and gathering the vegetables.

Maybe when we retire we'll just open a Calftown vegetable stand and keep the Hood healthy!

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Facts about downtown, not political jibberish

 A MAN IN Quincy recently decided to run for mayor. There was a story about him in Sunday's Herald-Whig. I think it's great he's running for office, even if he has no experience. If somebody thinks they can do better, they can file the paperwork and get to work, and let the voters decide.

This man had some interesting things to say about downtown Quincy. According to the paper, he wants to redirect riverfront development plans toward encouraging economic development in The District.

"I like the idea of focusing on Washington Park," he told the paper. "I can just imagine how all of those empty storefronts could all be businesses, how we could have more upgraded apartments in these buildings."

He has the right to say what he wants, and he can "imagine" all he wants. But here are some things to consider from a person who's worked down here for nearly a quarter of a century. I worked at The Herald-Whig for 16 years. Sheryl and I moved Second String Music to Fifth and Maine eight years ago, and we've owned the building for seven.

First of all, downtown storefront occupancy rate is above 90 percent, according to Bruce Guthrie of The District. Yes, there are some unfortunate examples of neglect, but there are lots of people trying to make a living down here, and there are more and more people living downtown.

I walked around Washington Park and counted the number of "storefronts," a term subject to debate. There are a couple of places not open to the public but certainly occupied, so I've included them as occupied. I counted all the buildings around the square, including all four corners.  By far the most exciting news is what's coming in the old building at the southwest corner of Fourth and Hampshire. There are construction crews in there as we speak. I won't spill the beans because I'm not sure the new owners have made it public yet, but it's an incredible addition to the square.

There are 30 storefronts. There are five that aren't "occupied" at the moment. The biggest holes on Hampshire Street are the old Winter's West Wing and O'Griff's properties, and they've been for sale for a while. There is interest but it could take time. There is one more debatable unoccupied space on Hampshire. I'm counting the Washington Theatre as occupied.

On our block there are two "unoccupied" storefronts. So I've come up with five total. Out of 30 properties, that's an occupancy rate of 85 percent. Is it good? Well, no, to be honest. It needs to be 100 percent. But it's not as horrible as many people believe. Also, when elected, will the new mayor shop downtown and shop local if our percentage is "only" 85 percent?

As for renovating upper floors in downtown buildings, yes, we could be better. But take a look at what Sixth Street has done in recent years, and the west side of Washington Park. The apartments are incredible and new businesses have added a ton of flavor down here. Will our mayor live downtown?

Sheryl and I have spent a lot of money and time renovating just the first and second floors of our historic Dodd Building. Sadly, the top three floors are not in good shape and require extensive renovation. We've spent the last month cleaning those floors and the basement, and it's nasty work but it's got to be done because our building is for sale. We are in no hurry and it's our fervent hope the new owner will have both vision and resources to make the upper floors spectacular.

There are programs to help and the city will match funds if you do decide to renovate apartments, but it's a competitive process, and we are simply not in the business of being a developer for a five-story building.

Since the man running for mayor thinks we need to renovate all this space, I'm asking him to come up with some concrete ideas, not just say it needs to be better. Of course, it needs to be better! So on his first day in office, I'll come down to Eighth and Maine and he can just hand me a blank check to renovate my building, and everybody will be happy. Maybe he can loosen up the building codes and give us exemptions on the fire code. It's easy to point out what needs to be done. It's harder to come up with practical and affordable plans to make it easier to accomplish.

There is a billboard at Eighth and Jefferson of the candidate. I'll reserve comment, other than saying posing in a military uniform for a political ad is interesting, at the very least. Best of luck to the candidate as he moves forward. In the Whig article, he says he'll connect with people via Facebook and social media. I'm taking a Facebook and social media break right now, so I guess we'll talk later, if he wants.

If he does come to Second String Music, he has to wear a mask, though in the article he says he's "neutral" on the issue of a citywide mask mandate. I do invite him to call Bruce Guthrie at The District office if he wants accurate information.

Downtown Quincy has come a million miles, even in the seven years we've been here. We have a million more to go. Solid ideas and plans backed by practicality are needed, not general perceptions and inaccurate viewpoints. Come down here and talk to the people who live and work down here, especially if you are going to run for office. We'll be all ears.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Sign? What sign?

SIGNS, SIGNS, EVERYWHERE A SIGN at Second String Music. We have signs explaining WHY masks are required in our store, we have a sign letting people know they can purchase a mask for $1, we also have two signs at the door telling people that masks are required in our store. We also have a sign of Uncle Sam pointing at YOU to wear a mask. Signs. Everywhere.

Many people get it. So it is baffling to witness people that just don't know about the virus and how serious it is, but as Sheryl says, "We are done making excuses for them."

We just don't understand why people don't see the signs. Perhaps they have other things on their mind when they come in. Maybe they think the signs don't apply to them. Or, as one man from a neighboring state recently said, "COVID? I thought that was over."

On Saturday afternoon I was by myself in the store and three customers came in without masks. I educated all three about why we require them, and they all understood and bought masks. Actually, I forgot to charge one of them because I usually add it to the sales receipt, but it's no big deal to forget once in a while. He actually thanked me for the mask and said it was a good reminder for him to keep it in his vehicle and take it in with him while running errands.

We are still considering the open by appointment only route. I'm going to be extra careful while doing guitar lessons in the back and make sure we are being socially distant and safe. We have students from Palmyra and I heard there was a big event there this weekend. It is frightening to think a student could bring COVID into lessons and we need to stay vigilant.

I'm sick and tired of this stupid virus and I want it to be over. Isn't everyone? If we'd all be smart about it and mask up, we could get back to business as usual much sooner. The longer this virus is spiking in our community we are endangering the lives of our medically fragile citizens. A national proclamation for mask wearing would be nice but I don't see that happening. Dang, even a local proclamation would be encouraging...

Thursday, August 6, 2020

No Cheese

THE CHEESEBURGERS ARE taking a break. All five members agreed this week we will not play again in 2020, in light of COVID-19 concerns and Kirk Gribler getting the virus.

Kirk is still struggling with fatigue some three weeks after getting COVID-19. This is no hoax. This is real. His health is paramount and we aren't going to mess with it. Replacing him, even for just a show or two, wasn't appealing to us. 

We haven't played since March. We canceled our Music Under The Stars show in Hannibal in two weeks. This was a bucket list show and we are bummed. It would have been one of the better shows we've done, had we been ready. But the band was not ready. We had a few other shows planned, but almost everything got canceled during this long and strange F-2020.

So, The Cheeseburgers will not book any shows for the rest of the calendar year, and we will wait to see what 2021 brings. I think we'll play again at some point, but our days of playing regularly every weekend are long gone. There are fewer places to play and it gets harder and harder to practice and prepare.

Then there's the physical effort involved. I'm not complaining - playing music for people is a blast and if it looks like we are having a good time, well, we are. But the last few years haven't been as fun, and it takes two or three days to recover after a good night. We have a lot of stuff to set up, and it requires back-breaking lifting and hauling. Again, no complaints, but we aren't spring chickens anymore.

A few weeks ago I saw Non Stop play. They are a local country cover band. They are really good. The gig was outside at a benefit and the crowd was small, but the band couldn't have cared less. They were busting their butts to entertain on a steamy summer night, even though most of the people there hung out by the beer truck (never put the beer in the back. That kills the crowd's interest in the band every single time). As I watched I thought of the countless times The Cheeseburgers did the same thing.

It's been an amazing 10 years with a lot of great players. Now it's time to put The Cheese in storage for a while. Hopefully we get back and hot off the grill again.