Friday, January 30, 2009

NPR Economy News

I had to chuckle a bit when, this afternoon on NPR in Charlotte, the broadcaster mentioned, "...President Obama's gigantic stimulus package..." Ok, I'm sorry. It's late.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Haircuts, Gasoline and Tough Choices

My dad was the director of the Southeast Rio Vista YMCA in Huntington Park, California in the 80's and continues to be a part of the "Y" to this day. But, as he told my brother and I, years before that, when he was first trying to gain college course credits and employment through a YMCA program, he found that he had an important decision to make one day.

On the morning of the program interview my dad needed to get a haircut. The year was 1970 and he had pretty shaggy hair and thick mutton-chop side burns and he said, "The people I would be working with through this program would not have approved of long hair." So, he thought he would get a haircut on the way to the interview. He got into the car, which was a 1956 Corvette that he was borrowing from his brother-in-law and discovered that the fuel gauge was down to "E" (my dad told me that because he was a starving student it was always on or near empty). Not having much money at the time, he realized that he had only enough for either the haircut or gasoline. He chose gas and just hoped that the interview went well. It did, but afterward the hiring manager shook his hand and mentioned that my dad needed to cut his hair before he started working there...

Fast forward to 2008. My younger brother was going to be interviewing for a teaching position at the community college. He had been working as a volunteer coordinator for a non-profit cleanup project in the National Forest which didn't pay much money and only lasted for the summer. Along with the interview came the excitement of finally getting to put his degree to use and money was getting tight and he needed some steady dough for rent and to pay off his student loans.

The day of the interview came. He got up, had some cereal, brushed his teeth and shaved, noticing in the mirror that his hair was looking a little unkempt. "No matter", he thought, "I'll get a haircut on the way to my interview." He got into his car and as he started the engine he noticed the fuel gauge. His chin dropped. Shaking his head and laughing to himself, my brother grabbed his cell phone and called my dad to tell him about the important decision he had to make...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Snow Day in Charlotte!

This morning I woke up and found my front yard covered in snow. Now, I know, there are going to be people in the midwest and the Great Lakes area that are going to say, "Snow? That's not snow." There are people who have it much worse/better when it comes to snow. Where I grew up, in the San Joaquin Valley of California, winter temperatures could drop down pretty low, but never cold enough to really snow. We got hail and sleet. Our family would have to drive up to my aunt and uncle's house in the mountains to see any real snow. So it was pretty exciting for me to wake up here in Charlotte, North Carolina and look out my front window and see snow coming down. The kids in the neighborhood were already up and out the door wrapped up in there winter wear throwing snow balls and making snow angels. Another couple we know were out walking their dog. And here I was, the Californian, out in the driveway dressed in my PJ's and moccasins taking pictures.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day

It's Martin Luther King, Jr. Day today. But as you've, no doubt, been hearing and seeing on the radio and television, this year's MLK Day is slightly different. It falls on the eve of January 20th--the day the United States of America will officially call into office an African-American president. I use the term "call into office" because that's what so many Americans did this year when they cast their ballots. They called Barack Obama into office. They asked for a change in the way the country governs itself. But not only that, they asked for a change in the way our country views itself.

Tomorrow is going to be a big deal! I've been listening to interviews on the radio featuring prominent African-Americans in our country--politicians, writers, war veterans, responding to questions about what today and Barack Obama's inauguration means to them. Most said that they never thought they would see this day. Many were proud of their country and the steps forward that it's taken, but also mindful of how far America has to go.

I'm not black. I didn't march with Dr. King. I didn't experience the civil rights movement of the 50's and 60's. But I have a lot of hope in people. As an American I'm sharing in the excitement of this time. I haven't always been proud of things that have gone on in this country or that the United States have been involved in with other countries, but I've never been one of those people to say that I'm going to move to Canada because I don't like a particular administration in office. It's kind of like my father. He may not have always been proud of everything I did, in fact, I know I disappointed him many times, but those things never amounted to him not loving me and encouraging me.

Things have been bad. The current, soon-to-be past administration was disappointing in many ways, but let's not dwell on them. This is a time of encouragement in our country.

I'm excited about tomorrow. I have to be honest, I didn't really think I would be seeing the inauguration of an African-American president. But I'm thrilled. I'm proud knowing that in my lifetime I can look back and show my children and grandchildren one of the "high water marks" of American history.

I've been to the civil rights museum in Memphis, TN twice. It's the place where Dr. King was assassinated. It's a powerful place. It gave me chills and made my eyes water when I saw the balcony where he fell. But I was also inspired. The Lorraine Hotel was such a humble place. It wasn't a plush hotel where dignitaries or celebrities stayed. It was a small motel, but it represented to me the power of humility and strength in ordinary people who act against extraordinary circumstances.

Here is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech in it's entirety. And I know you're probably thinking, "I don't need to listen to it. I've heard it millions of times." But I encourage you to listen to it just one more time. It's a good one.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Sarah Palin's 15 Minutes: Sour Grapes & The "Mainstream" Media

I’m not a very political person. I try to avoid political debates. But Sarah Palin is one person I can’t ignore. When Sarah Palin was introduced to the world I remember thinking, “Wow, this person has really charged up the Republican party. McCain might be able to take this election.” And then she began speaking.

I had pages of ranting sentences about why I didn’t like Sarah Palin and that she was one of the reasons I didn’t vote for McCain. It was making me tired, so I’ll spare you. I’m not going to rehash all the Palin criticisms that you heard during the campaign season because, if you’re like me, you had almost forgotten about the John McCain/Sarah Palin adventure. To be honest, I haven’t even heard McCain's name uttered in quite some time. But Sarah Palin doesn’t seem to want to go away. She keeps thrusting herself back into the spotlight and then complains that the spotlight is too hot.

A few days ago I read a couple of articles on about Sarah Palin complaining that she hadn’t gotten a fair shake from the media. The articles are taken from an interview Palin gave on Jan. 5th. She was “perplexed” that Tina Fey had become Entertainer of the Year and Katie Couric’s ratings have risen, suggesting that these elements say "a great deal about our society," whatever that means.

During her most recent interview, Palin comments about how she knew the first Couric interview didn’t go well and couldn’t understand why they went back for more. She complained that the “mainstream” media continued getting the facts about her life wrong and refused to change them. She talked about the “hypocrisy” of the media and voiced her disappointment in it for relying on the “lies” of anonymous bloggers for its news sources. Palin mentions her naiveté, believing that the media would be nice her.

It’s the media for goodness sake. That's what they do. I once saw a headline on a newspaper at the grocery store that read, "Rednecks Shoot Down U.F.O." You better believe I bought that paper! The media is going to dig and dig for stories and mold that information in order to sell newspapers. They just didn’t have to dig that much with Sarah Palin. And I seem to remember her being irritated that the McCain campaign didn’t give her more opportunites to talk to the press.

Palin wanted to know if the media would treat Caroline Kennedy the same way. I don’t know Caroline Kennedy. I don’t know about her politics, but Caroline is running for a Senate seat not Vice President! I'm almost positive Sarah Palin would not be up in arms about all this had she won—I mean, had John McCain won. Hillary Clinton lost and I didn’t hear this much about the hypocritical mainstream media.

Palin didn’t like the questions that were asked of her by Katie Couric, but will she eventually complain about these new sets of questions? This newest interview smacks of sour grapes. She’s getting all poo-poo faced about these mean people making fun of her. Can she find nothing else to speak out about? Is there nothing else she can get fired up about? The economy? Jobs? Healthcare? Environment? Foreign Affairs? Poverty? Nope. Saturday Night Live. Mainstream media.

Sarah Palin seems to be scratching and clawing at just about anything that will extend her 15 minutes of fame, just like an old American Idol contestant. I’m waiting for her to shave her head and show up at the MTV music awards. I mean, take O.J. Simpson for example. We hadn't really heard from him in years and then bam!, he busts into a Vegas hotel room, heads back to court and back onto our T.V. screens.

Mrs. Palin, I know you seem disturbed by how cruel the media can be, but don't use the same media that you're shocked by to keep you out on the newstands. Especially when you don't have anything of substance to say. Yes, it's a media circus and it seems you're just the "mama grizzly" in the center ring again this week.

I didn’t feel like posting the video of the interview on my page, so if you want you can check it out yourself:

photos at top from left to right: American Idol contestant Willian Hung, Britney Spears, O.J. Simpson, and Andrew Meyer ("Don't taze me bro'")

Monday, January 5, 2009

For Auld Lang Syne: New Year's Eve 2008

I’ve made my living as a musician for the last 10 years and have usually had to work on New Year’s Eve. Plans for that evening would be laid out months in advance. I wouldn’t have to worry about it; what clubs to go to, their cover charges, who would drive. I would just have to sit up there and play, collect my dough at the end of the night and go home. It was great.

This year was different. No gig. My plans for New Year’s Eve came down to either spending a quiet evening with one sister-in-law, her husband and a couple of their friends, drinking wine in their warm living room near the fireplace, watching the ball drop on T.V., or go out with the other Sister-in-Law, The Sister-in-Law’s BFF, The Brother-in-Law , The Cousin and two of her buddies from college.

My wife looked at me and said, “Honey, what do you want to do? I could go either way.”

Oh no, I thought, don’t make me decide! It’s the dreaded, “Do-these-jeans-make-me-look-fat?” decision. On one hand I know my wife likes to go out dancing with her sister, but on the other I think she would probably enjoy a quiet evening just as much.

So I tried to outsmart her. I restated both ideas in slightly different ways and laid out a few other details hoping that she would make the decision because, honestly, I couldn’t care less.

Here’s the thing: I don’t care that much about New Year’s Eve. In my opinion, many people use holidays like New Year's Eve as an excuse to get even more hammered out of their minds than they usually do on a normal Friday and Saturday night. They hold New Year's Eve up on a grand pedestal, one that they engraved the night before with the words, “Greatest Night of My Life.” They expect so much out of their New Year's Eve that if the insane events they’ve built in the minds don’t actually come to fruition they look back at their etched pedestal with regret and disappointment; even though they’ll be going out the following weekend and doing the same thing, just without the ball dropping in Times Square.

We finally decided on going uptown.

Here now, is a log of the events that took place during my New Year's Eve. Enjoy:

We began the evening at The Sister-in-Law’s house. My Brother-in-Law had already started on a bottle of Jameson.

Said hey to The Cousin and introduced myself to her college buddies Beef and Wheezy.

The Sister-in-Law's BFF passed out party horns.

Pestered Sister-in-Law’s precious cats until it was time to go.

The cab arrived right on time, driven by a very nice, courteous and friendly man from Africa named Raphael. We packed 8 people into 6 seats in his mini-van taxi and headed downtown or uptown, whatever. On the way, one of The Cousin’s buddies, Wheezy, told a joke about a dog licking his privates. Raphael laughed, but not that much. I stared out the window hoping the night would be over soon.

We eventually arrived at Connolly’s, a nice little pub downtown, and squirmed out of the taxi like a bunch of circus clowns busting out of a VW bug. We stood on the sidewalk getting our ID’s out, bright eyed, so full of hope and excitement for a great New Year's Eve.

I liked Connolly’s. It was dark and not too busy and the Guinness tasted great. The music was good and we were still able to chat without screaming at each other. Wheezy and Beef left early because one had met a girl who was going over to a club called Dixie’s. We stayed at Connolly’s a little over an hour and then it was decided that it was time move on to a place called Alley Cats for dancing. I downed the last bit of what would be my only beer the entire night and headed out the door.

10:45 pm
The walk to Alley Cats was freezing!

Along the way we passed a large number of police officers scattered throughout the uptown area. They were like action figures with an assortment of cool accessories. Some were up on mechanical lifts looking down over the drunken pedestrians. Some were on foot, some on bicycles, others on those two-wheeled Segways that Mall cops ride. I even saw a couple of officers holding what looked to be paintball guns.

10:50 pm
Stood in line at Alley Cats trying to get closer to the heat lamp near the entrance. We stayed about 10 or 15 minutes and then members of our party started changing their minds again because they wanted to dance and they didn’t like the band that was playing and the DJ wasn’t coming on until midnight.

As a musician, I usually always take the side of live music and scowl at the DJ who takes all the work away from the musicians, but I have to admit that even I was disappointed in the band. It sounded like a teenage, indie-rock, garage band. Sorry fellas. So we ducked back under the line divider and into the street again.

The Cousin decided she wanted to go to Dixie’s because she and Beef, had agreed to make-out at midnight and she didn’t want to miss it.

The Cousin split off and the rest of us decided on going over to a place called “Home” which is really where I wanted to be at this point, at home in my living room having a glass of wine, watching a movie with my moccasins on.

11:10 pm
The walk to “Home” was excruciatingly cold. Bitter cold, cold that freezes your jaw and makes you talk funny and slow.

11:15 pm
We got into the club and actually found a table! It was warm! They were serving food! I wanted some scotch to warm up my insides. It was perfect! Right? Wrong.

We sat down and The BFF wanted to go to their favorite neighborhood bar, The Thomas St. Tavern, instead. The Sister-in-Law, who was starting to feel the pressure of the evening settle in around us, said that that would be a good idea. At this point, my wife and I looked at each other. I could see it in her face. A look of, first, disappointment in herself because there was a time when she loved going out with the girls and dancing and having a couple of drinks, and second, a look of I’m-sick-of-this-of-crap. She said, “I would’ve been fine anywhere we went. But if we’re going to go somewhere else we might as well just call it a night.” I concurred. I said, “You know what, why don’t we just go home. You guys can go and have fun at Thomas St. and we’ll just head home and relax.”

Of course this made The Sister-in-Law feel worse. She had now taken all of our New Year’s Eve pedestals onto her shoulders, trying to balance them to keep them from falling and shattering all over the street. She laid out her argument for Thomas St. Tavern and finally I turned to my wife and said, “Ok, honey, let’s just go to T St.” It was nearing 11:30 and I figured we could at least get in on the countdown with family and friends.

11:25 pm
So back into the taxi. Drive across town to get to T st. The BFF had run into other friends sitting around a fire pit outside and invited us to sit out there with them. “Are you kidding?” I thought. “It’s freezing out here!” Maybe if you created a ring of bonfires and let us sit the center then maybe, but one little gas fueled boy scout campfire wasn’t gonna cut it.

My wife and I found a table inside with The Brother-in-Law. The Sister-in-Law and The BFF eventually followed. At this point I was starving, and had to pee somewhere back around the time we left Connolly’s. I went to the men’s room. We ordered food. I had the most amazing Reuben sandwich, maybe because my stomach was eating itself. My wife ordered another beer but eventually just gave it to drunk Brother-in-Law. We got some free champagne.

11:59:50 pm
Countdown. Watched the ball drop in Times Square. It felt strange to me to actually be on the east coast when the ball dropped. Being from the west coast the T.V. networks always had to rebroadcast the countdown so it would line up with Pacific time.

12 am
I kissed my wife and took a sip of champagne. Didn’t finish it.

12:15 am
A fight broke out. A huge tangle of bodies almost like a rugby scrim or a ball of mating snakes bumped into our table. A big bald guy was angry about something, pointing back at another guy and shouting obscenities as other people tried to keep them separated and moving toward the door. We snapped pictures.

12:30 pm
Wife and I decided to leave and believing that cabs would be showing up every five minutes ended up having to call three cabs before we could get one. I had been waiting outside in the cold for about 15 minutes when a group of patrons in their late 30’s came out holding up one of their intoxicated friends who looked like a punch-drunk prize fighter that just competed in a beauty pageant. They helped her walk out to the curb, her eyes half-closed and glassy, her sparkly “Happy New Year” tiara hanging crooked on the side of her head.

To my surprise, one of The Prize Fighter’s friends jumped out in the street and stopped a cab just pulling up. I couldn’t believe it.

I had been standing out in the cold waiting for a taxi and this guy thinks he can just jump out in the street ahead of me and “steal” my cab? I said, “Hey buddy, I was waiting for that cab.” He ignores me, opens the sliding door and rushes back to his group of friends. And in the second it takes him to get back to the curb the beauty queen prize fighter squats down into the gutter and vomits all over her fancy new New Year’s Eve pants and the street.

Now with all the attention drawn to her, I see my chance. I looked back through the front window of the tavern and motioned to my wife. She raced out and as the group was helping their friend finish her vomit session we jumped into the already opened door of their cab and drove off.

1 am
The drive home was quiet, so good and quiet. One of the first things I said was, “Next year we’re staying at home.” My wife agreed with me before I even finished my sentence.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Parking Garage

I was in uptown Charlotte, NC yesterday and discovered a pretty amazing parking garage located near the corner of 5th and Wilkes Place. What you're seeing are small reflective plates that are shimmering in the wind giving the effect of ripples of water. Not bad for a parking garage. The city probably bulldozed over some historic building or site to put it there, but at least they made it interesting.