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.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Lost child found

SHERYL WAS WORKING in the front yard Sunday morning around 8 when she heard someone screaming “MOMMY.” She ignored it and kept on clipping the front shrub near the neighbors yard. The screaming continued and got just a little bit more frantic so she put down her shears and stuck her head over the shrubbery. Way up the block was a little girl running up the sidewalk screaming for her MOMMY. Diaper, T-shirt and socks. Perfect.

She went over and calmed the girl down and asked if she knew which house was her mommy's. What car? What is mommy's name? Last name? If you have ever talked to a 2-year-old, you know that Sheryl couldn't understand a word. So she called 911 and asked for assistance.

Several Quincy Police officers showed up. They decided to have Sheryl keep her in the house while they canvassed the block. Mom and dad would be missing her soon so they were totally confident of finding them.

The toddler had a fresh diaper on and looked healthy. Strange, a little one like that roaming around the street. You think the worst and you wonder if there are other issues at home, etc. Sheryl told me not to put those negative thoughts out there. She was sure it was just a child that had gotten out of the house somehow.

With permission from the police officers, we made her scrambled eggs and bacon, and gave her chocolate milk. She had quite the appetite. Bacon and eggs - yum!

When the officer came back, the little girl got scared again and insisted Sheryl pick her up and hold her. The officer asked the little girl a couple of questions but still got nothing. We told him it was fine. We could just keep her calm and keep her company.

A few minutes later, an officer located mom. Turns out she lived nearby and had been up really early, and she simply fell back asleep. Apparently the little girl managed to get outside and on the porch, then wandered away and became disoriented.

Mom was glad to see her baby. After some thorough questioning, police determined there was no willful neglect. I've seen the mom with several small children before and she keeps a close eye on them when they are walking out to the car or playing on the porch.

Sheryl used to be a foster parent and her old shepherding skills came in handy. We'd like to think our little stretch of Calftown is a safe place and we all look out for each other, but you always wonder about the world, too. 

It ended well and I still make a mean breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon. She did drink my chocolate  milk. Hopefully I’ll get over the trauma.

Monday, August 3, 2020

No seeds for squirrels

ISN'T NATURE WONDERFUL? Isn't living in harmony with our fellow living beings a joy and beautiful to behold?

It is. Unless you are a squirrel and you are eating Sheryl's sunflower plants.

Sheryl grew some beautiful sunflower plants in an area separate from the garden. They were doing really well until last week, when she noticed several had been destroyed at the stalk. Upon further observation she noticed a squirrel doing all the damage, likely to get at the seeds in the flower itself.

Squirrels put their lives at risk when they are in our yard. Our three dogs love squirrels. Genie, our English Shepherd, is the only one fast enough to catch them. Most of the time the dogs charge off our porch and into the yard when they see a squirrel, and it climbs up one of the two bigger trees, chittering back and angrily defending its right to cross our yard. We also have a pear tree with tons of pears this year that are actually edible, so they go to town when the dogs aren't around.

On Saturday afternoon I was in the middle of a busy day in the
music store when I got a text from Sheryl. Attached was a picture of a dead squirrel. Apparently it was eating the sunflower plants again and this time, Genie managed to murder it. BAM. One quick lunge and the squirrel was in trouble.

I think Genie and Angus played with it for a while but it didn't take long for the lights to go out. Then Sheryl went to take a look and noticed Malcolm licking the squirrel's face, so it was time for the Squirrel Removal Posse to get rid of the body.

The squirrel looked younger and not fat but full. It's been a good growing season in the Calftown hood and they've taken full advantage. The sunflower patch was just the most recent section to take the squirrel hit. Good for them, except when the dogs charge out to defend their turf.

This morning I was back there and two young squirrels were hopping along the fence and squeaking like mad at me. "Killers!" they said. "Murderers! We are only getting ready for winter! And do you know how bleeping good sunflower seeds are?"

The dogs came out and the squirrels ran away. "You were destroying our plants. Enter the yard at your own risk," I yelled.

Ah, the balance of nature.