Wednesday, May 29, 2024

I'm getting exciting to see Dr. Hart!

 WHEN EMILY WAS little, and we had a big event coming up like a birthday or vacation, she'd say, "Dad! I'm getting very exciting!"

Now her father is getting exciting, because I'm going to see the newly minted Dr. Hart in Rochester, N.Y. It's been almost a year since we hung out and I miss her a lot, and of course I'm one proud poppa.

It's just a three-day visit and we don't have a lot of plans, except for one day, and I'll probably spill the beans about her Gaelic Football adventures later. I just want to hang out. What's also terrifying and thrilling at the same time is renting a car and trying to find my way around Rochester.

"Rochester isn't that big, dad," Emily says. She rolled her eyes. I saw it. And we were on the phone. 

She's getting ready for her big move to Florida, and she starts her professor job at UF in Gainesville in August. Geesh. Now that is exciting!

In honor of Dr. Hart, I present to you this amazing baby picture, and quite possibly the best Herald-Whig column I ever wrote. Emily found it when we were on a family Zoom and started talking about Harry Potter. She loves Harry Potter. We went to see one of the movies a long time ago and I had no idea what was happening. But it turned into a good column idea.

I just re-read it. I have no memory of seeing the movie. The reason it's so funny is because it's probably all true. In truth you find the absurd and the laughter. 

Rochester, hope you are getting exciting!

Friday, May 24, 2024

I still love you if you don't know Van Halen

 WE HAVE A lot of problems. War, greed, inept political leaders, crumbling streets, the high cost of snacks, even making a 6 when you are right beside the green in 2. Chaos! It's enough to get you down if you think about it too much.

But how do you cope when you hear a Lab Brat say, "I don't know who Van Halen is. What does he sing?"

Earlier this week I told some of the Lab Brats about a milestone birthday coming up. I won't tell you how old. It's .... old. I said, "I'm gonna have a party, and I'm hiring Van Halen."

One of the Lab Brats said, "Tough to do since he's dead." Another said, "You are really that old?"

But it was the third Lab Brat, and I won't embarrass her but her initials are Connor, who really stunned me when she admitted she'd never heard of Van Halen.

Momentarily stunned, I dropped my transport bag and fell on the floor. Somebody mopped my brow and got me some water. I ignored the caustic "You probably shouldn't drive" and "Are they from Germany?" comments from other Lab Brats.

I will give Connor a pass here. She is young and helps me carry heavy stuff into the lab. She also doles out excellent advice about dry skin care. So I won't diss her.

Eddie Van Halen is one of the greatest guitar players and musicians of all times. Ever. I like Van Halen AND Van Hagar. I even liked Gary Cherone's one failed bid to sing with the band. Van Halen wrote and played some great classic rock songs. Nobody sounded like them. Nobody played the guitar like Eddie. Sure, they were a walking rock and roll soap opera.

Maybe it's just a connection to a younger self.

When the album 1984 came out, we watched the premier of the "Jump" video at a friend's house in Grand Rapids, Mich. It was Jan. 1, 1984. We were amazed - Eddie is playing keyboards! Then the rest of the songs came out and soon we were cranking "Panama" and "Hot For Teacher" and even "Drop Dead Legs."

If you want to talk cultural significance, well ... there's a reason Eddie's guitar is in the Smithsonian Institute.

In the summer of 1983, a friend gave me the first Van Halen album, which I still think is one of the greatest rock and roll recordings. I was18 and rebelling from the whole Calvinist thing at the time and identified with "Running With the Devil." Hey baby, "Ain't Talkin' Bout Love!" Songs like "Atomic Punk" and "Erruption” careened off the rails and blew me away. Who was this guitar player and this crazy lead singer? It seared into my brain and I still get fired up hearing "Jamie's Crying."

So maybe it's more about identifying a simpler time, and rock and roll roots.

Other younger Lab Brats know Van Halen, or at least, "Jump." At 9th Street, Lead Lab Brat McKenzie started asking everybody who the man in black was, and that got some really interesting responses. And if you really think about it, not knowing Johnny Cash's nickname might be a bigger faux pas than not knowing Van Halen.

It's all good. Times have changed and kids these days are into different things, and I'm too old to disagree or get upset about it. Once I get off the floor when hearing they have no idea who Van Halen is, I'm okay. 

And I need all the dry skin care tips I can get from Connor.


Wednesday, May 22, 2024

The new wallet

 EVERY FOUR YEARS I get a new wallet. Or, more accurately, Sheryl gets me a new wallet. 

Wallets are like socks. Even if they get old and smell and have holes in them, you don't throw them away. Why? They hold everything in, whether it’s toes or credit cards. And so what if the leather, or pleather, or whatever they call it, starts peeling off like a bad sunburn?

On our morning dog walk the other day, Sheryl noticed the old crumbling wallet and announced she was getting me a new one. I'd been meaning to do it. Really. 

"If you remember I got you one a few years ago. I got two actually," she said. "I wasn't sure which one you would want. So we gave the other one to Clark."

"Clark" is Dr. Clark Andelin, a baby delivery doctor at Blessing Hospital. Back then he was a guitar student. Now I see him weekly when I'm delivering stuff to his 927 Broadway office. These wallets hold a lot of irony and I bet Clark has no idea his wallet is four years old. I wonder if it looks as battered as me. And my old wallet.

According to Sheryl's shopping history (a thing, really), I got a new wallet in 2016, too. If she says so, it's true.

The good thing about getting a new wallet is you clean out the old one and fine stuff you had no idea existed, like old college IDs and membership cards to historical societies. Geesh! I finally found that elusive orange Dunlop guitar pick I like so much.

So I have a new wallet. And I feel like a new man. Actually, I feel like a man who has a wallet that isn't broken in yet. I need to sit on it and lose it a few times before it actually feels like it's mine.

Thank you Sheryl and thank you old wallet for the memories, and onward with new leather or pleather!

Monday, May 20, 2024

Bo knows national anthems

 WE HAD A great weekend playing shows with The Whatevers. Friday at noon Allison Hutson and I played at the downtown Plaza show - it was warm but bearable, Big Bros BBQ was off the charts and we had a great time.

Saturday night we played at the St. Peter's block party. We were really looking forward to having drummer Thomas Gunsten and bass player Joe Desmond with us. We had an amazing practice in the garage a few days earlier and had a few new (to us) songs to unleash. Playing with a band versus a two-piece acoustic duo is quite different - but when a band clicks, there's nothing like it.

A few hours before the show, Joe messaged us and said he was dealing with a horrendous migraine. He said he'd give it a shot, but that was a bad idea. Having dealt with migraines, and how it affects vision and balance, there was no way he was going to play a three-hour show in the early summer heat.

So Thomas, Allison and I did it. I played acoustic guitar instead of turning up the electric. You know what? We had a blast and we played out hearts out, and that's all you can ask. Everybody seemed happy with us after the show so I'm chalking it up as a win.

The  moral of the story is to keep going, no matter what life throws at you.

Before our St. Peter's show, 10-year-old Bo Weiman played the national anthem on his guitar. Bo has been a guitar student for two years and has blossomed into a musician - he also plays organ, piano, drums and bass guitar. When he recently declared Eddie Van Halen was the best guitar player of all time and that the Beatles were cool, well .... we have a little rock and roll monster on our hands.

Bo decided he was going to play the national anthem by memory, not with his music in front of him. A bit into the song he hesitated and momentarily forgot where he was. It was only a second or two and no big deal, and the main thing is that he kept going. He. Kept. Going.

Later his mom said Bo was bummed. It's a normal human reaction - we all want to be perfect all the time. But it just doesn't happen - every singer and player wants the perfect song, every band wants the perfect show. Believe me, there were at least five times Saturday night I clunked a wrong chord or screwed up an intro. It happens. We try and strive to do better.

So I'm proud of Bo. And how many 10-year-olds do you know who'd even think about playing his guitar in front of a bunch of people, especially the national anthem? 

Bo is destined for great things. I just hope he remembers all the little people who helped him along the way, like his 5-foot-19 guitar teacher who is amazed every time he plays.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Young people and priorities

 I HAD A conversation yesterday with a young Lab Brat. She is only a few years out of high school. She is full of potential. 

She has a steady boyfriend. She said, "I want to get married young and start a family. I want to be a mom so bad!"

Initially I was taken aback. You don't run into many young people today who have this attitude. Or do you? Juggling the career with a raising a family, especially for a women, is really hard. 

I tried to tell her to wait and enjoy being young and to not jump into anything right away. I said, "Don't blink, because suddenly it's 30 years later." So she blinked and she smiled. It's what she wants to do.

Later I realized I was being a jerk and hypocrite. Who am I to tell anybody what their dreams are, what they want to do? I. Am. NOTHING. I have no right to tell anybody how to live their lives.

So later I apologized. The older I get, the more I apologize. I'm still lousy at it. We ended up having a really good conversation. She wasn't offended in the least and she understood the point I was trying to make.

She'll make a great mom someday. If it's sooner than later, good for her and God bless. 

Me? I'm searching for insomnia cures, getting to know my urologist really well and strumming one chord at a time. And trying to stay in my own lane and not be a jerk.

It's really hard, sometimes.

Thursday, May 9, 2024

Second Stringers play again at Mayfest


Photo by Mike Sorensen/Bad Wolf Media

CAN'T WAIT UNTIL Saturday's Mayfest event in front of the historic Dick Brothers Brewery in Quincy. For the second straight year, the Second Stringers will take the stage near 10th and Jersey and rock your socks off!

It's been a while since Jim Percy, Dave Schaffer, Brad Fletcher and I have played. We had some really good gigs lined up last year but Mother Nature got in the way several times. Lately Jim, Dave and Brad have been playing with a new band called Out Of The Ashes, and we are busy with other projects. The Second Stringers were sort of thrown together and formed by accident anyway, so playing a show now and then seems about right.

We’ve had a couple of practices and it’s just like …. Falling off a bike!

We play at 1 p.m., followed by the Heidelberg German Band, Violet Hill and Soul Experience. We are on the big Quincy Park District stage and we have the awesome Chris Cornwell doing sound for us. It's a great feeling knowing all we have to do is show up and play and Chris will take of everything.

The Second Stringers are mostly a classic rock cover band, though we'll throw in a few surprises and maybe a song or five that you know but haven't heard in a while. These guys are great fun to play with and are always up for musical adventures. Plus we are playing for "only" 90 minutes, which means we can leave it all on the stage.

There is nothing like a well-organized street party, and kudos to Bret Austin and everybody involved for making this a great event. The weather is supposed to be perfect and there will be a lot of people hanging out. There are things to do for the kids, tunnel tours and all kinds of fun to be had.

See you Saturday!

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Lisa Neisen and 25 years

 I WAS AT Blessing Health Hannibal yesterday for the noon delivery and lab pickup, and I noticed a big tent set up and people gathered, presumably to eat lunch. It was BHH's annual employee appreciation cookout, and at the urging of lab and purchasing staff, I stopped by.

Standing there, of course, was my friend for many years, Lisa Neisen. Her title is something fancy now, like Administrative Director, Corporate Communications. When you have a stray comma in your title you've either been at the job for a while or awesome. Or, in Lisa's case, both.

Some 25 years ago, Lisa worked for Blessing PR. I joked about her writing my Herald-Whig health page stories. She laughed and said, "I don't even remember that!"

Well, I do. I can't remember what I had for breakfast, or the fact my Urology appointment was Tuesday and not Monday, or what time my skin cancer screening appointment is Friday, or when my latest credit card payment is due.

But I remember Lisa and her fellow staff members Steve Felde, Jenn Drott and Emily Robbearts. I think Ann Awerkamp Dickson was their boss. They worked out of the old St. Mary's Hospital Building on Vermont Street. Now it's just a big field - I think they put a plaque where Steve used to sit with the inscription "STEVE DID SOMETHING HERE."

I remember them mostly because they were very kind and patient when dealing with a nervous new reporter. In 1999, I switched over to the news side from sports and jumped into a whole new world. I was put on the health beat, and the Blessing PR staff made it easy and helped me navigate through an often confusing and intimidating time.

I always looked forward to meeting with them and figuring out stuff. If I needed something, they always delivered. 

I still see Steve wandering around the Blessing hallways. I think Ann and Jenn still work for Blessing, too. But I mostly see Lisa. She's usually holding a clipboard and going or coming from a meeting. The years have been very kind to her, much like she was kind to a clueless former sports guy a quarter century ago.

All these years later, I'm spinning around in circles for the same place I used to write stories about. It's proof that awesome people like Lisa are the ones who make the world go around.

Friday, May 3, 2024

Not a weatherman

 I AM IN trouble with a Lab Brat. Her name is Ashleigh. I gave her a wrong weather forecast yesterday.

"I have a bone to pick with you," she said, after it hailed golf ball-sized pieces of ice and rain flooded roads yet again yesterday afternoon. "You said it wasn't going to rain."

I was loading up my Blessing vehicle for the afternoon Hannibal run around 3:15 yesterday when Ashleigh and another Lab Brat walked by. They were on break and decided to take a walk. All day it had been sticky and threatening, but the rain kept sliding north. Now the sky to the west was black and the air was still - sure signs of nasty weather on the way.

"Is it going to rain?" Ashleigh said. 

"Nope," I said. "Wanna drive to Hannibal with all this stuff in the back?"

"Hahaha," she said, staring dubiously at the black sky and presumably rolling her eyes as she kept walking.

A little after 3:30, I was on Ill. 57 near 12th Street when all hell broke loose. The golf balls pounding the metal roof of my van sounded like bombs going off. I couldn't see because of the rain and the wind blowing debris sideways. So I  pulled over and waited it out, and waiting is something a lab courier isn't very good at doing. After a 15-minute wait, I kept going through the driving rain

I finally got back to 11th Street in Quincy more than half an hour late. Were the Lab Brats concerned about me driving through Armageddon?  

"You were wrong about the rain," Ashley said.

"It rained?" 

"Yes! We went outside and we watched it!" she said. She was very excited.

Look. We all want to be Rich Cain and try to get the forecast right. But let's face it, we can't always be like Rich, or his amazing daughter Audra, who took guitar lessons from me and is a rock star. But that's besides the point.

I just drive through it, splash through it, pray my windshield doesn't crack when being bombarded by hail, slow down and let idiots in large trucks roar past me on highways, or pull over when I can't see.

I'll try to be a better weather guy for the Lab Brats. Or give them simple advice, like, "Stay inside when it's storming."


Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Going out to eat = $$$

 MOST LATE AFTERNOONS DURING the week I eat at the Blessing Hospital cafeteria. It's really good. You can stuff your face with an entree, salad and drink, and it's cheap - less than $10 for a full meal for a Blessing employee. 

Every now and then I run late and I have to grab something on the run. In Quincy, this is a challenge. Drive-throughs can be busy and the food substandard. And expensive, for what you get.

There are great restaurants in Quincy. Tiramisu is my favorite. 8te Open is running a close second lately. I do love Jimmy Johns, Chicks on the River and Platt Daddy's. People have their favorites like Tower, The Abbey, Kelly's, etc. It's likely more than tradition than anything.

I prefer to stay away from the chain places - the other night I got Taco Bell and it was awful, and horribly overpriced.

One of the Blessing Lab Brats suggested QDoba by whatever they call the Quincy mall these days. It turned out to be amazing - the burrito was almost bigger than my head. They make it right in front of you like a sandwich place, and the employee was very helpful when putting it together.

I got it with chips and salsa and a small drink. It was $20. What? 20 bucks? 

Then I thought about it. Gone are the days of restaurant workers making $5 an hour. More power to them - restaurant jobs are challenging, to say the least. The rent in that place must be astronomical. And if you think we pay more for food these days, well .... so do restaurants. So we don't have to like it, but I get it, and once in a while it's not a bad thing to support them.

You get what you pay for. I'll be back, every now and then. There was a steady stream of people coming in to eat and picking up orders on a late Monday afternoon, so hopefully it's doing OK.

My hat is off to restaurant owners and workers everywhere. It's a huge part of what makes Quincy special. There are a ton of places I haven't mentioned and a goal is to visit as many as possible

Eat on, Q-Town!